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"It is the journey which makes up your life."

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Lo siento for the slowness of updating of late. 'Tis the season for the midterms and the major one of this week was generally considered no less than a massacre.

That said, if anyone still wants to send me postcards or anything, my (much belated) mailing address is:

(Student Name)
AUC Student Residence
16 Mohamed Thakeb Street
(next to Meraashly Church)
Cairo, Arab Republic of Egypt.

This one has been tested out a few times already. Letters and cards not including "next to Meraashly Church" have not arrived, those that have included it did arrive. Please include it.

One last thing before a whirlwind tour of Petra--

Monica Sez:
"List of things in Cairo that must be imported to the U.S. by June in order for me to even CONSIDER coming home: 1) 20 cent ta'amiyya (for TWO, mind you), 2) Khan el-Khalili, 3) Taxis which lack meters but play "It's A Small World" and "My Heart Will Go On" when their drivers brake, 4) Koshari, 5) Freshly-squeezed mango juice whenever you want it, 6) Free delivery of everything and anything at any time, 7) The Friday afternoon call to prayer, 8) The men whose job is to stand at the side of the road and push the cars out of the way (and more than likely to a point where they're bumper-to-bumper) whenever someone wants to parallel park, 9) Egyptians, 10) Men comfortable enough with themselves to wear ridiculously tight jeans."


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

ﺻﺒﺎﺡ ﺍﻠﺧﻴﺮ

sabaH al-Kheer. Buenos días. New experiment: Arabic script. Does it work? Can you see it properly? In any case, Jess was wondering how the sunrise looks on the Nile, so off I went to take more photos. The pictures here show a series of typical sights from crew practice. In the first, (L->R) Ryan, Maple (one of us Katies), Mari, and Leah wait to catch a pre-dawn taxi. The taxi drivers have started to realize that if they happen to drive by the dorm at exactly 5:45am they are almost guaranteed a fare from one of our little groups heading to the rowing club, so we've started to get the same drivers over and over. We practically don't have to tell them where to go anymore (yimeen at the Sheraton Cairo, heena kuwaisa at the Vodafone sign.)

In the second photo, some of the team ergs as warmup before the coach ("Capitan Amr") arrives. I think Liesl, Adrienne, and maybe Sas (another Katie) are also in this pic. Maybe Hyewon also. It's hard to tell. People are blurry.

After erging for 20 minutes or so, enough other people have usually arrived at the club for us to get out the oars and boat. The boat is a monster since it has to hold 9 people, and usually it takes the whole team plus three or four bystanders to help us get it off the rack and into the water. The team rotates between three different sets of oars, seemingly at the whim of Capitan Amr since the AUC women's team is usually the first team to launch from this particular rowing club each morning. There is a set of green-and-yellow striped feathering oars, a set of green-and-yellow striped non-feathering oars, and a set of black feathering oars with little white stickers on them that spell out AUC.
Capitan Amr has been somewhat at a loss as to how exactly he should train a cox who has never rowed on crew before, so mostly I've been getting left behind as the team goes out for practice and told to erg for up to 40 minutes at a time. It's good exercise, and it helps keep me awake during the day, but it gives awful blisters and my Grand Canyon tendonitis has been resurfacing intermittently.

In the third pic, (L->R) random bystander, Leah, Salma (doesn't go to AUC, seems to be a friend of Nancy's), Maple, Adrienne, Nancy (who shows up whenever she feels like it, and is allowed to get away with it), another random bystander, Capitan Amr, Sas, and Liesl.

In any case it seems like none of this team drama is going to apply to me anymore because I'm being forced to quit the team. Sad. :'(

Not because of any particular fault of mine or anyone else's, but because of a simple massive conflict of scheduling and interest. My Society and Culture in Ancient Nubia class is making a once-in-a-lifetime Egyptology-department-subsidized field trip to the Nubian frontier itself (which is to say, Aswan, with a side trip to Abu Simbel) on the exact same weekend as the big competition that the AUC women's crew is being groomed for. I offered to keep showing up to practice (Cairo's quite nice in the early, early mornings), but as it seems Capitan Amr has already found a replacement for me in Salma, there's not much point.

Oh well. Maybe now that I don't have to go to bed so early I'll actually have time to do my readings for class. :P

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Dejehj, Dejehj, Dejehj

Well I found out what that protest last week was all about--chickens. According to the AUC newsletter, The Caravan, and my observations of Cairo in the last few days, poultry will soon be nearly impossible to find in any form in the premises of the city.

We went on a stroll with Dr. Ikram in the Theories and Methods of Archaeology class last week in order to learn how to observe the taphonomy of cultural detritus. We poked at "unofficial middens," thought up a variety of causes for differences in the color of tile on the sidewalk, and generally drew a crowd wherever we went because nobody could imagine why a bunch of students would be staring at a mere pile of garbage.

Another thing we noticed on our little jaunt besides what styles of plasticware people around here use and how many flavors of Chipsy packets there are was the massive numbers of shops that had once sold poultry, but now stood empty--their stacks of poultry cages and mounds of sawdust unused, their neon chicken-shaped signs unlit, and nothing more than a small crate of sorry-looking ice-packed fish out front as the shopkeepers' only present means of livelihood.

While I suppose I should be glad that the Egyptian government has so quickly and effectively put a stop to any potential human infection with the Avian Flu virus, by getting rid of nearly if not all poultry in the city, it seems very unfortunate that so many local people have to suffer by this policy.

And just as a note for those of you who, like Ryan, were not certain of the magnitude of the problems Avian Flu presents for the local population, and the size of the effect of the new poultry ban will have on the local economy, the vast majority of the meat available in Cairo is slaughtered on the spot or only an hour or two before sale. There are many butcher shops and poultry shops all over the city, several within less than a block of AUC's Greek Campus. Nearly everyone passes within breathing range of still-living meat fowl every day, and the numbers of local poultry salesmen and butchers are vast.

It also presents an additional problem for me--and my non-eating of red meat. Due to Islamic law, pork is generally not available here, and now poultry is not either. Lamb tends to be a bit expensive, so beef is all that is left. Maybe it'll actually be good for me, and I'll have a reason to make myself go veggie, though it's much harder to eat here healthily here as a non-veg much less as a vegetarian.

Besides, what will I do without my chicken fahita sandwich every day? One can only eat so much foul or tameyya. I'm probably going to end up so anemic that I'll just keel over some day soon.

Enjoy the cartoons. They're also from The Caravan. For reference about the 2nd cartoon, the original Egyptian flag looks like this.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Scavenger Hunt

The day before yesterday--guess what? Randomly, out of the blue, Dr. Ikram invited all the Egyptology/Archaeology majors to come to the Museum for some mysterious important event. One girl, Keli (2nd pic, on the right) and I arrived there a little early. We'd been told to convene in room 39 of the museum. Of course, room 39 wasn't listed on the map, so off we went a-hunting. We headed upstairs for a better view, but eventually decided that in true Egyptian tradition, the completely random ordering of room numbers hid Egypt's antiquities better than any Pharaoh's tomb ever did. We did eventually stumble upon the room we wanted, but there was nobody in it. We were by that point a little late, so we were kind of worried.

Keli and I transcribe together for the Museum, so we decided eventually that it might be a good idea to head down to the cataloging room and see if Janice knew where Dr. Ikram had got to. We got to the bottom of the stairs and ran into Ahmed (He of the Peach Pants), and his sidekick Sotirios (From Greece. Center and Left in 2nd pic, respectively). They weren't sure where Dr. Ikram was either, but Ahmed gloated that he had Dr. Ikram's mobile number, and called her to find out what we were supposed to be doing. Dr. Ikram said to spread ourselves out to collect any stray students and to convene at the Narmer Palette at 4:30. Keli and I wandered off and suddenly found ourselves in the midst of a typhoon of journalists and cameramen. Amazingly, all the nearby tourists seemed unfazed. Curious, Keli and I fought our way to the center of the crowd where we were soon joined by an Armenian student, Arto (people usually call him something else, but I'm not sure what).

We saw an older man with a distinguished-looking beard and a gray suit having lots of lights being shone in his face and microphones stuck practically up his nostrils. We fought our way towards him to see if we could overhear what he was saying and figure out what was happening (we'd realized by this point it must have something to do with the reason we were there). We couldn't hear him, of course, but shortly thereafter el Sr. Zahi Hawass paraded into the room, his entourage trailing. Most of the press people were so caught up in whatever else they were doing that he made it all the way to the one doorway completely obscured behind the crowd before the cameramen realized they ought to be focusing on him.

And so there we were--not 6 feet from el Sr. Hawass and he was talking to the cameras. We couldn't tell what he was saying either, but it was clearly something important. The doorway behind him was cordoned off. Turns out he was there to kick off the opening of a new exhibit at the museum. Also, he has good taste in ties. And he looked really bored with the whole hullabaloo.

After soaking in the shock of standing so close to the man who for all intents and purposes is the entire field of Egyptology, Keli, Arto and I realized it was nearly time to meet Dr. Ikram. We fought our way back out of the crowd and headed to the Narmer Palette's case. There we met back up with Sotirios, Ahmed, and a few others. We waited for a few minutes, but Dr. Ikram was a no-show, so Ahmed called her again.

He spoke to her for a few moments, and looked perplexed. When he hung up he told us all that we were supposed to meet her at the sarcophagus of Hatshepsut. Well, that was easy enough, we thought (except that it's, ahem, unlabeled) since the Narmer Palette is atop some stairs overlooking a large gallery filled with royal sarcophagi. It did seem a strange request, however, considering how close the sarcophagus must have been to the Palette. So we split into two groups and headed down into the gallery. Ahmed's group paused at every sarcophagus to look for the royal cartouches on each one (essentially none were labeled) so Ahmed
could decipher them. Keli and I followed Arto around on a speedier route, Arto spotting Hatshepsut's cartouche at the end of the gallery closest to the Palette. Ahmed's group caught up, and we waited for Dr. Ikram once again. Then once again, the phone call to her mobile.

This time she told us to meet her on the stairs closest to the Mummy Room. We headed to the stairs we thought were the correct ones, then debated whether we were supposed to meet her at the top or bottom. We decided on the top, so we headed up. Turned out we were actually at the stairs near the royal mummy room (under construction), which wasn't the correct one. We started across the second floor in the direction of the correct stairs, but were interrupted by a call from Dr. Ikram, this time telling us to meet her in the animal mummy room. We stampeded towards the animal mummies, getting a bit impatient.

There was nobody in the animal mummy room, so Ahmed confusedly called Dr. Ikram once again. This time Ahmed took off immediately after hanging up without informing us of the next set of instructions. The rest of us scurried after him, book bags flying. When we finally caught up with him, he was at the top of the stairs near the mummy room and Dr. Ikram was berating him for not being able to follow directions.

In any case, we'd found her, and she led us to an upstairs room that was most definitely not room 39, and bade us peer down through the balustrade to the room directly below us. Right below was the room which had been until then cordoned off. It was a new exhibit celebrating the contribution of American archaeologists to the field of Egyptology. She pointed out to us, up above the crowd, various important pieces on display, and important facts about each of them, for example the sphinx of Hatshepsut, done in the style of Amenemhet III--as a means of propagandically recalling the "glory days" or the Middle Kingdom as established by Ryan's favorite Pharaoh, Mentuhotep Nebhepetre (try saying that five times fast).

Once the crowd had mostly cleared, we made our way down to the exhibit hall and were allowed to poke around for awhile. Many famous archaeologists (the Americans being celebrated in the exhibit, I asume) were there, and we got to follow Arto around as he shmoozed with Janice and debated with her the quality of the hieroglyph translations.

Finally the museum emptied out, Ahmed mysteriously disappeared, and we students headed to Felfela for a quick bite of tameyya before heading our separate ways. As those of us in the dorm waited for our shuttle to head off, Sotirios told us how great the Greeks were, and then told us about how the modern Greeks make fun of the fat, scantily-clad Russian tourists that seem to frequent the Grecian shores. Uf.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Cairo Travel Tip #2: Crossing the Street.

Cairo street-crossing is actually quite simple once you accept a single fact: big metal things are going to come hurtling at you, and that's ok.

I've heard it said that traffic law in Cairo is really more like "traffic suggestion," and this really seems to be the case--lane markings are generally ignored, crosswalks don't actually mean anything, headlights and horns are reserved for asserting one's presence, and taxis frequently play this tuneless tinkly music that makes them sound like giant musical greeting cards on wheels.

Nonetheless, traffic does have some semblance of sanity once you become familiar with it. For instance, the lack of defined lanes gives the traffic flow more flexibility. This means that if you cross the street and the taxi hurtling at you has enough room, it will simply drive around you. Lack of lanes also means that drivers tend to be much more aware of what is going on around their vehicle than in other places. In fact, the incessant honking you'll hear in the streets is a not indiscriminate warning from the drivers to pedestrians and other drivers that they should get out of the way.

The basic method of safe street crossing is as follows: ignore intersections and "crosswalks" as places to cross streets. If possible, find a portion of the street that is double- or triple- parked on one or both sides, because the stream of traffic you'll have to cross will be much narrower. Once you've picked an ideal spot, wait until there is a break in the traffic. Any break will not be large, and might only be a break on one half of the traffic stream and not the other. In most Cairo streets, traffic is only one-way. This will make it easier, but if you happen to find yourself on a two-way street, expect to cross each half of the street separately.

When you see a break coming, start walking--don't wait until the break reaches you, because by then it will be too late to get all the way across. Begin by approaching the traffic stream one or two cars ahead of the break. Don't be afraid of getting within a foot or two of the car(s). As long as you're careful, you won't get hit. Once the car you've approached has passed, cross as quickly as necessary to get to the other side and find refuge in the parked up curb.

Bear in mind that there is generally a sort of unofficial "pedestrian lane" just inside the parked cars on either side of any street, as the actual sidewalks are either so crowded with people, debris, and random trees that it's usually less difficult to to simply walk in the street. Once you cross, you'll be safe as long as you're within a few feet of the nearest parked car.

Be alert, learn to walk fast, and cross under the subway when you attempt giant midans like al-Tahrir. That's it. Yay!

P.S. See picture 2 for good technique.