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Mountains and Deserts

I fail, once again, at posting. Apologies! So you get a two-in-one deal here: my trip to Mt. Sinai AND my trip to the Black and White Desert! And in a separate post, my mom’s visit to Egypt for the first two weeks of April.

A few weekends ago (okay so almost two months ago) I decided I wanted to spend 21 hours in a bus, breaking it up with climbing Mt. Sinai, supposedly the mountain where Moses got the Ten Commandments.

I did it through a tour group, which was all Egyptians and me. They all thought I was the crazy foreign girl, which is fine, I am. The drive to Sinai (which is a peninsular region in Eastern Egypt. Big deal, wars fought over it, borders Israel and the Gaza Strip, right next to Jordan and Saudi Arabic, Suez Canal is there, anyway) IS SO LONG. 10 hours on the way there. We left from Heliopolis an hour later than expected, and somehow or another, that meant instead of getting to Mt. Sinai at 1 in the morning, we got there at 4 in the morning. Part of it is to do with that fact that every three hours or so we had to stop the bus and soldiers at checkpoints would come and check everyone’s ID/passport.

Since we were climbing Mt. Sinai in order to watch the sunrise from the top, and we got there at 4 and it’s a 3 and a half hour hike and sunrise is around 5:30….yeah. Did not make the sunrise. Saw it from about halfway up the mountain. It was still incredibly beautiful, and hey, we only had to do half the hike in the dark. The hike was a bit strenuous, but it was really just a lot of walking uphill, not anything too serious. The kicker though is that the last part of the hike is 750 steps, the final part of 3,000+ steps called the Steps of Repentance (or something like that), the other way to get up the mountain. We made it to the top, and took in the gorgeous view, which included Mt. St. Catherine’s, the tallest mountain in Egypt.

I’m too lazy to upload photos (also internet is being spotty), so I’ve made my Facebook album of photos public – go browse through those, starting with this one.

We eventually mustered ourselves to go back down the mountain – which I practically flew down, I was tired and hungry. We had lunch at a hotel restaurant, then got back on the road around 2pm. It took us 11 hours to get back. ELEVEN. I cringe just remembering it. And at a certain point in the middle of the night, a checkpoint made all of us get off the bus with our bags to check to see if we had narcotics on us. Except they didn’t check my bag, just looked at me and motioned me back on the bus. Life in Egypt.

We get back to Heliopolis around 11:30 and hooray, one of the guys on the trip gives me a ride back to my flat on the other side of town.

The end.
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On to the White Desert!

A few weeks ago, a group of friends and I, plus a group of other people we rounded up, so 15 total, took a one-night trek into the White Desert. Once again, too lazy to upload photos here, but album is public on Facebook and you should check it out.

The White Desert is so named because of chalk-limestone formations created back when the whole area was a shallow sea (think 500,000+ years ago). It’s quite an alien landscape, and indescribably beautiful.

A small caravan of two mini-buses picked up our group in Zamalek on an early Friday morning, driving us out to the desert. It took about 5 hours, through bleak landscape (most of the desert in Egypt is flat, rocky, and boring). We arrived in Bawiti, the oasis town on the edge of the Black Desert, and stopped at the International Hot Springs Hotel, through which we had arranged our desert safari. It is owned by a German and Japanese couple, who are awesome and the husband (Peter) is hilarious and very attentive. We had a lunch at the hotel, then loaded up into 4 SUVs with our guides, and our cooler full of alcohol in the back of one. We drove off into the desert, ready for adventures. Our first stop was Crystal Mountain, which is not much of a mountain and is not really made of crystal, but of calcite. However, it was quite interesting and fun to clamber about (once again check out the album on Facebook). We then drove off further into the White Desert, stopping at interesting chalk formations on our way to our campsite. As the sun began to set, we reached our site, and while our guides set up the Bedouin-style camp, we scampered about, exploring the landscape. Eventually, dinner was served, and it was DELICIOUS. Soup, vegetables, chicken, rice…so good. We ate with all the heavens laid out above us and only a few lamps and a fire to light our meals. Once we finished dinner, my friends and I grabbed beers and wandered off into the dark to sit, listen to music, chat, and occasionally just fall into silence when the overwhelming sense of humility from being in such a place quieted our minds and tongues. We had opted to not have a full tent for us built, but only walls supported by the SUVs, so that our final blanket was a ceiling of stars. To roll over and wake up in the night with that above you is comforting and terrifying. I could definitely get used to it.

I woke up early in the morning, and found Megan and Mugant had gotten up with the sunrise (I was a bit late for that, but I see it 5 times a week anyway thanks to my job). We decided the best way (by we I mean solely Mugant, he’s very inconsiderate) to wake everyone else up was to play music very loudly. Eventually, a lovely breakfast was served, we scampered a bit more as the guides packed up, and we headed on to the Black Desert. The Black Desert is primarily igneous (formed from lava or magma) mountains that formed a few million years ago in a large crevice in the earth. We reached one mountain, and while some climbed up to the very top, I stayed only halfway up and danced. After our mountain, we once more piled back in the SUVs and drove back to the hotel. We cleaned up a bit, thanked our guides and Peter, piled back into the mini-buses and headed back to Cairo.

It was a quick weekend trip, with quite a bit of travel, but the destination was worth it.

 

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Lessons from Teaching 3

As of 8 days ago, I’ve been in Cairo for 5 months.

And as of 16 days ago, I finally (or publicly) made the decision to leave Cairo this summer.

Originally, about a week ago, I had this long, detailed post going into my reasons behind why I am choosing to leave and the various responses I’ve gotten to my decision. But I deleted it.

I am happy with my decision. I know that the future is uncertain for me – I don’t have a job lined up, or even a country lined up (I’ve applied to jobs in some other countries already) – but I don’t feel afraid. I am happy with my choice, and that is enough.

Tomorrow I head off to the beach, to Ain Sokhna with friends. I’m excited to get out of Cairo for a few days.

The new quarter at my school has started, and while it is certainly no walk in the park (more like a walk in a pitch-black forest and I keep bumping into trees and shrubs, saying mild obscenities and then veering off in another direction), it is getting easier. Namely, my students are not as incredibly awful as they were the first few weeks I was their teacher. I think they’ve resigned themselves to the fact that the old teacher is not coming back and they’re stuck with me, so it is better to try and appease me than try and fight me (mostly). They are still rambunctious, disrespectful and lazy, but it isn’t like we’re pulling each others’ teeth anymore.

What I’ve learned in the past two weeks:

1. Be confident in who you are. Even if you are bumping around in that forest, say, “Meant to do that.”
2. Think like a student. What kept you engaged when you were in school? Children haven’t changed that much, what applied then applies now.
3. Tomorrow is always a new day. Don’t let the craziness of one day drag you down for the rest of the week. It isn’t worth it.
4. Be your quirky self. Don’t compromise your position as a teacher, but be yourself (relates to number one). Even if your students think you’re kooky, you’ll feel better being who you are.
5. Be organized. Makes life so much easier.

These past few weeks have been good to me, in many ways. I have gone out with friends frequently, made new friends, started a new tutoring job, and had time to think about my life. There have been some dark moments as well, ones that make me think on life all the more.

All in all, I am content with where life is at. Could it be better? Sure. But I am living with no regrets. And it is a glorious way to live.

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Birthdays and Such

A few exciting things from the past week (outside of teaching):

January 12 marked four months of living in Cairo! Still can’t believe I’m here.

January 16, I turned 23! Two and a third decades on this planet, whoa. It was a pretty tame birthday, in many respects. My students sang me Happy Birthday and we had a potluck at lunch at work, although mostly everyone forgot about it and so only a few people brought dishes, but it was still nice. I do like the people I work with, by and large. They can be a bit standoffish at times (namely the ones close to my age and that live near me. What’s up with that?), but most of the women are lovely.

That evening a friend was hosting a homemade Punjabi dinner, so one of the Matts and I went to that. It was good meeting new people, chatting with friends, and of course eating delicious food. They also sang Happy Birthday to me.

My flatmates also, in a case of self-motivated kindness, bought a toaster oven for the apartment (which I’d been saying I’d get). So, hooray, for soon I will be making baked potatoes and grilled cheeses and other things including but not limited to toast in that sucker.

Thursday evening was a party at a friend’s place who is leaving Cairo, so it was goodbye party for her, another fellow, as well as Matt’s birthday party (his birthday was Friday). It was an excellent party, although when it was about 2:45 and someone mentioned to me, “In a few more hours the sun will be up!” I realized I see the sun rise 5 days a week. Did not need to greet it again, so left tout suite.

Friday evening, Kate, Christine, Ryan and Melissa and I went to dinner and drinks at L’Aubergine. It was delicious on both counts. However, I was lame, and knew I had a ton of lesson planning to do for Saturday, so had to cut the night short. Being an adult sucks.

Saturday I Skyped with Sarah, my old roommate hi Sarah I know you’re reading this let’s Skype again soon please. and my parents, which is always nice. I also went to a demo class for Bollywood dancing! I’ve signed up for 5 sessions on Saturdays now, so in a month, I will have some sweet Bollywood dance moves to break out as needed.

So while the previous post was not exactly joyful, hey, at least my weekend was excellent.

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New Year, New Career

A Happy (belated) New Year to you all!

(And a Merry Christmas to everyone celebrating today!)

How has my first week in 2013 been? Pretty great.

New Year’s Eve, I met up with a friend-I-hadn’t-met-yet (we knew each other online), Jennie, and we went to the American embassy for their New Year’s Eve party. It sounds exciting; it wasn’t. Copious amounts of security, awful music, and a guy-girl ratio of 7:1. Not at all fun. However, we made it to midnight, loudly and obnoxiously sang Auld Lang Syne (when I say we, I literally mean only Jennie and I), drank our champagne toasts and then ran for the hills. The hills being the flat Jennie lives in currently. She works for the British Council apart from studying here (she’s still in university) and currently lives with her boss until she finds her own place. It is one of the nicest apartments I have ever been in. Ever. Simply gorgeous. Jennie and I watched The Little Mermaid (yeah we’re the cool kids) and then I headed home. Let me tell you, walking around in a short dress (not even that short it hit my knees) at 2am by yourself in Cairo is not an experience I want to have again anytime soon.

My friend Nora, who is Egyptian, was so kind as to buy me masa harina and sriracha sauce and send them to me when her dad came to visit his family. This means I made homemade corn tortillas – which were then fried into tortilla chips and made pico de gallo to go with it. Glorious. And that sriracha sauce has been going on everything. EVERYTHING. Rooster sauce, I love you so.

Thursday evening, I met up with my old bosses from AMIDEAST. They are here for the first summit of all the education abroad departments for AMIDEAST (it’s a very big deal). Luckily, they had some free time before the summit started. We all went out to Korean BBQ and caught up. I can’t believe I haven’t seen them since May! One of the first things they said was, “YOU CUT YOUR HAIR!” I did, way back in August, but they wouldn’t have known so it was quite funny, since it was old news for me but new information for them. It was however incredibly wonderful for me to catch up with them, and made me miss the AMIDEAST office quite a lot. And miss home. And DC. But made me happy I am here in Cairo too! It was a good night.

Jennie also started up a philosophy book club, and we just had the first meeting on Friday. Our topic was existentialism (although we didn’t discuss much of that) and politics (discussed a lot of that) based on Sartre’s play Dirty Hands. We had 8 people for the first meeting, which was a good turn out. Everyone brought snacks (I brought the homemade chips and salsa – huge hit, made it later for my flatmates, also huge hit) and we had a nice two hour discussion. As it wound down, Jennie asked if I wanted to go see Les Misérables in two hours. I said yes, why not. And then three of the other book group participants came with! Which was wonderful. The film was quite good, although holy smokes so much close-up framing. I have never paid so much attention to people’s teeth in a film in my life.

However, the biggest news is: TOMORROW I START MY NEW JOB! AAAAHHHHHH! I would be insane to say I’m not freaking out, but to be honest, I’m trying not to think about it too much. Obviously I am thinking about it quite a bit so I’m fluctuating between “I got this” and “What the hell am I doing”. Crazy mix of emotions.

Wish me luck for tomorrow!

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Rotation, Review, and Regards

It is the last day of 2012! Another full calendar year has passed us, the Earth has fully rotated around the sun, completing its orbit (from this point in the sky anyway, the calendar measurement of time is relative), and life goes on.

I’m a fan of lists – so here is my life in 2012, however self-indulging it may be. (Head to the bottom of the list if you want to read about my Christmas). Oh, and I put in pictures, so this post seems long but the reading is minimal (don’t be lazy).

January 2012: I begin my life as a college graduate by interning at AMIDEAST, working at the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite, and babysitting (always the babysitting!).

January 16, 2012: I turn 22 and get to celebrate with so many of my closest friends. 

A birthday with some excellent ladies!

A birthday with some excellent ladies!

February 14, 2012: Best Valentine’s so far because my diploma arrives in the mail.

Spring 2012: Puppies. Volunteering with puppies. The best! Baked a ton. Including for Pi Day. And Leap Day (Leap Day William!).

April 2012: My APO family got a bit bigger! Went to Foxfield. So many preppy drunk biddies. SO MANY.

PEONS.

PEONS.

Thankfully I like horses.

Thankfully I like horses.

May 2012: The long, long goodbye to DC, filled with adventures, picnics, selling stuff and embraces you wish would last forever. And graduation ceremony times!

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June 2012: One of the best trips I have ever taken, with some of the best people I’ve ever known: California Road Trip with Sydney and Alex (how I miss you so).

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Summer 2012: Unpacking, packing, unpacking, packing. Spending time with my family and friends and my pets. (Also got into a car crash but whatever).

SMUTTY DOG.

SMUTTY DOG.

On a boat in a lake in a park in SoCal with Mitchell.

On a boat in a lake in a park in SoCal with Mitchell.

Late August 2012: My family and I say goodbye to California and hit the road. Destination: Springfield, Massachusetts, my parents’ new home! Driving cross country with 3 pets is a HASSLE.

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Early September 2012: Visit Arthur, Deepika and Sydney for one last time in Boston and Long Island respectively. Relish the last days with my family.

September 11-12, 2012: Move to Cairo, Egypt for a new adventure.

September-October 2012: Take CELTA course to become certified in teaching English.

October 1, 2012: Will’s (my brother) 25th birthday! ALL DOWN HILL NOW.

October 2012: FINALLY SEE THE DAMN PYRAMIDS.

Sphinx too.

Sphinx too.

October-December 2012: Crazy shenanigans in Egypt (see the rest of this blog, duh.)

November 2012: My APO family gets a bit bigger again (hello glittle!) and I have two Thanksgivings.

Family Name: Keefe No Shits Given. Represent.

Family Name: Keefe No Shits Given. Represent.

December 2012: Hired to be a Grade 6 teacher, job starts in January.

December 25, 2012: My dad’s 60th birthday! And Christmas. I spent Christmas with Melissa’s family. I went to their home in Heliopolis for evening tea and sweets. Melissa’s parents were there, and they gave me a beautiful silk scarf. Two AU alum came for tea as well and we all talked and talked and talked. The next morning (I spent the night), we had a big Egyptian style breakfast (with lots of adorable family bickering) with Melissa’s grandmother. Then her, her mom and I went to see The Hobbit. IT WAS SO GOOD. I got a big piece of homemade fruitcake (no really) to take home with me. A simple, quiet but wonderful Christmas. Thank you Mafouz’s!

Oh yes, forgot, Kate, Christine and I went to the Swiss Club Christmas bazaar. This is what happened.

Oh yes, forgot, Kate, Christine and I went to the Swiss Club Christmas bazaar. This is what happened.

Representing AU gorgeously.

Representing AU gorgeously.

Boxing Day Breakfast with the (adopted) family!

Boxing Day Breakfast with the (adopted) family!

December 27, 2012: My mom’s birthday! Happy birthday, miss you and love you!

And that, my friends, is 2012 in not-so-short. May 2013 be filled with the same type of love from family and friends I received this year! Here’s to tomorrow and every day thereafter.

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Job Hunts and Crazy Stunts

It has been one crazy week. And you’re getting one crazy long post for it.

Last Saturday, I met up with Kate and Christine (the AUC interns) in Zamalek and we went to a breast cancer awareness fundraiser that was a 5 hour Zumba marathon. Zumba is a dance/aerobic exercise program that is incredibly fun but man is it a workout. About 700 women were at the event, which was wonderful, and quirky because a number of women were still covered or wearing jeans and heels and Kate, Christine and I are thinking, “Who the heck are you trying to impress?” as we are in our sweaty clothes dancing our butts off (almost quite literally). We only made it through two and a half hours before we realized we just didn’t have the stamina for 5 hours of dancing. But it was great fun, and hey, for a good cause.

(Taken by Kate, thanks lady)Christine and I: Hot, sweaty, and dancing for the cure.

Sunday I started my job hunt in earnest. I replied to four advertisements…and had four interviews set-up by the end of Monday. Ridiculously easy, surprisingly easy, and a relief for me – even though people told me, “You’re a native speaker, you won’t have a problem finding a job.” No, it is still worrisome until you actually start having interviews.

And getting job offers. Every single place I interviewed at offered me a job. But let’s talk about the experiences in detail:

1. Monday I interviewed at a nursery in Maadi (the expat neighborhood 7 miles outside downtown Cairo). I took the metro, which comprised of me walking 25 minutes to the metro station nearest me (and walking here is a bit different that in the States – you’re lucky to find sidewalks for more than 20 yards), catching the metro, switching lines, getting off, getting incredibly lost 3 times, and eventually the owner coming to find me and lead me to the nursery. She was a pleasant woman, and said I would be in charge of 5-15 1.5-3 year old kids. Which is a bit insane. However, she offered too little for me to consider the offer.

1.5. Between my first interview and my second (in Heliopolis, a planned suburb on the complete other side of town from Maadi), I had about 6 hours to kill. So I contacted Sharon, an AU alumna another AU alum got me in contact with. Bill (another AU alum) and Sharon live in the American compound in Maadi – Bill is a foreign service officer at the American Embassy. Sharon currently is a stay-at-home mom, with their 3 year old son Andrew to look after. I went to her flat in the compound, and let me tell you, it is odd. Not the flat, it’s very nice, but the compound. Americans everywhere. EVERYWHERE! In fact, Maadi was a bit odd. For those familiar with DC, it was like an Egyptian version of Glover Park/Wisconsin Ave. Just make it a bit dirty/louder and you’ve got Road 9 of Maadi. Lots of shops and restaurants and everyone just hanging. Odd. But Sharon was lovely, Andrew was adorable. Sharon and I talked about AU, living in Cairo and just general things while Andrew watched a Tigger movie and bounced along with Tigger. It was wonderful and I am excited to meet up with Sharon again sometime soon.

2. My second interview Monday was in Heliopolis in the early evening. I got off the metro, called the guy who I was supposed to meet up with, had him talk to the taxi driver – who got more and more frustrated. Since I had no idea where I was going, I just figured I’d sit back and eventually it would all sort itself out (the very essence of inshallah). At this point it started raining. Yes, raining. In Cairo! It only lasted for a few minutes, but hey, I live in a country that is 90% desert. Ten minutes of rain is a big deal. Eventually, I get to the language school. I’m told to give a teaching demonstration, which I do and I thought I failed at miserably, but apparently not, since I was offered the job. It’s part-time, works on my schedule, and I can add classes as needed. It’s very tempting, but I’m hoping I can do better.

3. Tuesday I had an all day interview in Maadi again, at another nursery that was semi-Montessori in style. I tagged along with a university student who is helping out currently at the place. I would be in charge of 15 1.5-3.5 year old kids, but since they are just learning to talk anyway, I wouldn’t have to create a lesson plan, just play games, sing songs, dance, be creative with them. I’d have assistants to take care of the nasty stuff (anything bathroom related really) and help if the kids get hysterical. The people working there were wonderful, very friendly and young – there was even an older Jamaican woman who has lived in the US for years who was awesome. Of the 4 places, I like this one the best, and depending on what happens this Monday, I will accept this offer.

4. Wednesday I had an interview in a neighborhood a bit north of downtown Cairo at a language school. Honestly, it came off as super sketchy. But they were so desperate! They want me to help create a curriculum and materials – which if they were paying a good salary, I would. But they’re asking for long hours, a lower salary than nursery number 2, and I will tell them no (I’m calling everyone this Monday to let them know my decision). They even called me multiple times later Wednesday to tell me they’ve upped the salary – won’t convince me.

There you go. Regardless of what job I take, I’ll have to pick up some private tutoring to supplement my salary (which is totally in cash by the way. Fun times!)

After my last interview Wednesday I caught the metro to the Opera at the southern tip of Zamalek and walked north to the neighborhood where the shopping is. The last time I did that walk was on one of my last days in Cairo almost two years ago, in the middle of a revolution. The streets were silent then. Not so now. Strange duality in my memories. I completed some errands (finally got a webcam!) and did a lot of things in Arabic, which was great.

Oh! And sometime this past week I went to the Netherlands-Flemish Institute and saw an old Egyptian film with Omar Sherif. Melodramatic, horrible acting – it was a hoot.

Thursday I got up early and headed to Heliopolis again, to meet up with Debbie and her sister Bonnie, two older American women who have lived in Cairo for 15 and 20 years, respectively. I was with them to work on getting my visa renewed (something I’ll have to do every 3 months here). Usually you get this done at the Mugamma, a bureaucratic beast of a building in Midan Tahrir. But you can also get it done in Heliopolis – if you live there (or have someone’s address, thanks Debbie). I have to go back this Wednesday to pick up my visa.

Friday I got up early and cleaned the falala out of the kitchen. It’s still not totally clean, and probably never will be, but I feel better. I’m tackling the bathroom next. Later, Melissa and I met up in Tahrir, where a big protest was going on (or as my cab driver said, “There are the problems there, miss.”) but it was fine. We went and got some food, then headed over to Darb 1718 (where I went to that film festival) for a concert. The opening act was an Egyptian singer named Abo who sung about the revolution and things, all in the Arabic. It was wonderful. Then the main act, Romano Bebop, a Czech gypsy band, played.

As Melissa pointed out, we’ve found the Mecca for hipsters in Cairo – and they brought their expat friends. Luckily, we were in our hipster disguises:

(Melissa wearing the ubiquitous plaid and I with a super ironic cat scarf)

We blended right in. But then I convinced Melissa to buck the system (that’s right hipsters, you’ve got a system):  we needed to DANCE.

Some French Gypsy Jazz

With music like that, you are MEANT to dance and no one was. So I pulled Melissa to the side and we started dancing. And eventually, EVENTUALLY, other people started dancing too. I love to dance, and when music is playing that you’re meant to dance to, I have to get up and do something! So, sorry hipsters, but I’m too cool to be cool like you. I don’t need to dance ironically, I just need to dance.

After the concert was over, Melissa and I caught the metro and started to have some fun, doing fist bumps and acting all thug. The women on the car thought it was hilarious.

Melissa had been talking about how living here makes you shy – you are so conscious of how everyone looks at you, how you dress, what you do, what you say. Life here makes you so aware of others around you. For the two of us, who normally show no fear (and by moving here we’ve sort of proved that), we feel stymied to certain extent. But I’m glad last night we could be quirky and goofy, even if just small amounts.

And that about does it for the week.

Oh, this morning I made pancakes. I don’t have any measuring cups (or really any baking type items) so I had to eyeball everything. The pancakes turned out great. VICTORY!

 

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One Month.

I have officially been in Cairo for one month.

And I have officially finished my CELTA as of yesterday. My last teaching practice I received an Above Standard; excellent way to finish the course. We had a party with the students at the end – everyone wanted to dance and so one of the trainees (who honestly is one of the most irritating people I have ever met) put on….classical music. Yup, real fun party times. I felt like I was in a parlor in the 1840s. But khalas (enough, fine, done, finished), I happily don’t have to see any of the rather annoying people (there were a few, and since there are only 9 people on the course, almost a majority) anymore. But alhamduillah (praise be to God) I AM DONE! 

Up next? Starting Sunday (Egypt’s Monday), I will be frantically sending out my resume, working contacts, calling schools, working my butt off to get a job. I also have to get my visa extended (technically, it expired today) this week, which will be an adventure of its own.

But to mark the ONE MONTH ANNIVERSARY of my being in Cairo, I went to the most iconic site in Egypt:

But let me tell you about the parts previous to that! My friend, Melissa, an amazing half-Egyptian, half-Ecuadorian woman I went to AU with, moved to Egypt two weeks ago to live with her family and experience life in Egypt. We’ve been waiting to meet up until after her dad left (he was here for one of their cousin’s wedding) and I was done with my course. So, today was the day!

We met up in Mounira, a neighborhood south of Midan Tahrir (which had some fun/violent protests today) and to the east of Garden City (expats and embassies) and went to Institut Francais, the French Cultural Center. There is a bistro in the inner courtyard I heard about that serves delicious food in a nice setting. All true! Melissa and I caught up on a number of things, enjoyed complaining about the things we dislike here and gushing on the things we love (to wit: hate the trash, traffic, sexism and increasing religious fanaticism, love the people, history, culture and food). We had paninis with cheese and tomato, coffee, and shared a Nutella-banana crepe, while watching the mix of Egyptians, French expats and their children, and students learning French in the courtyard.

Afterwards, we walked to the metro and headed towards Giza, the closest station the pyramids. This was the first time I’d been on the metro here, and it is nice! It costs less than $0.20 (1 Egyptian pound) to ride, and has two women’s cars so we won’t get bugged by creepy men. We got to Giza, found a cab, and headed off the pyramids.

Typical of Egypt, the taxi driver drove us to a tourist office saying we need to take tour. We refused, but another man, Mahmoud, approached us and in very good English told us we could ride camels or horses into the pyramids. We asked the price, and I was worried about being overcharged (as well as the treatment of the animals), but he said the price would cover our entrance as well as the ride. I was still worried, but Melissa made the legitimate point that tourism has dropped so drastically here, what is a few extra dollars to us when it can mean so much to those whose lives depend on it? He offered 55 LE (about $9) for each of us. So we followed him, got in through the back, hopped on the camels and rode off towards the pyramids.

Melissa on Michael Jackson, her camel for the next hour. Mine’s name was Moses.

We rode for about 45 minutes, like we said, took the back way (also known as sneaked in around security) into the place. Mahmoud offered to marry me because I’m from California. I told him I’m too young for him or anybody. It’s true. We eventually got close to the Sphinx, where Mahmoud dropped us off, thanked us, and said to please refer him to our friends (which I will do!). Melissa and I walked toward the Sphinx, which was a bit crowded (what is it like when tourism is bustling, I wonder).

The Sphinx is smaller than I expected, but still beautiful, even as eternity wears away at it. It is an amazing thing to think about, to look at. This has seen both World Wars. Seen Egypt be conquered and reconquered and freed and oppressed and freed again. History lives in its cracks.

We walked towards the main pyramids next. At this point, it was around 4, and the site closes at 4:30 to start preparing for the sound and light show (the Sphinx and pyramids are all lit up and the Sphinx narrates the history of Egypt as it plays out in lights. I will go eventually), so we didn’t have much time to really get close to the pyramids and appreciate them.

But even in those 30 or so minutes, I was awed. I touched history. Cleopatra’s reign is closer today’s time than to the time of when the pyramids of Giza were being built…that is how old they are. Pompeii would not even be a city for another 1,000 years, much less buried under Mount Vesuvius’ ashes (which happened 900 years after Pompeii was founded). The first recorded dynasty of China would not happen for another 400 years. And guess what? There are even older pyramids in Egypt, older by another 200 years. It is humbling.

Melissa said, “Oh, to have seem them in their glory days!” But even now they are in their glory days. Walter Kronkite said “When Moses was alive, these pyramids were a thousand years old Here began the history of architecture. Here people learned to measure time by a calendar, to plot the stars by astronomy and chart the earth by geometry. And here they developed that most awesome of all ideas – the idea of eternity.” Even though it came from an incredibly selfish venture, the pyramids will last. It is a testament to the human spirit of ingenuity, more than the presumption of eternity, that makes these so heart-stopping, soul-stirring. All it takes is a little imagination to see them across time and space and be shaken.

I’ll be back to see them, that’s for sure. All in all, a great day.

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