Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The View from Metro Tower

For all I know the building with the Metro supermarket has a legit name, but I'll probably never find out what it is. It's the apartment building with the Metro market and everyone calls it Metro Tower. If you've read any of my past posts, you would know AUC is going through negotiations with the student union over tuition increases. So we don't have classes this week. Some of us decided to see the view of Zamalek from Metro Tower in the day, before we went downtown. The view was awesome.
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Now there are many awesome roofs in Cairo, but I like this one because it's real. It doesn't have any lights, you have to be careful not to trip over wires, and there are satellite dishes everywhere. It's the realest roof you're going to get. Nothing fancy, but a beautiful view. Another awesome part about this roof: during the day you can see the pyramids.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Thoughts After a Month

It's almost been a month since I've moved my whole life to Cairo. There's no question, I miss my family and friends a lot, but this experience was one of the greatest decisions I've ever made. Yes Cairo may seem a little volatile at times, with protests at the American Embassy, but it's a great time to be living in Egypt.
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So far I love it all. If you know me, you know I can complain about anything. I definitely have my complaints, like I would anywhere in the world. So let's start with the hardest things to adapt to:
  1. My biggest complaint is definitely the air quality. The air on campus is clean, but it's also in the middle of the desert. In my defensive, I also run. So the air quality is definitely an issue for me. They say living in Cairo is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
  2. This is a very male dominated society, and I knew it would be before I moved here. Excluding school and the dorms, I really don't interact with Egyptian women on the streets. If you decided to take a stroll on the sidewalk against the Nile at 9:00pm, you'll notice that about 95% of the people on the streets are men. This isn't really a problem, but it can be a bit intimidating when you're a woman walking around the street at night. 
  3. Everyone smokes cigarettes! Well at least all the men, (and like I said above) that's about everyone on the streets. Cigarettes are very cheap here compared to the US. I remember when I was a kid in Florida adults could smoke in restaurants, but that was just a memory. Here you can basically smoke anywhere (it's the exact same way in China). I always forget that one of the coffee spots on Zamalek allow smoking. Every time I walk in, I'm hit with a cloud of smoke!
(Disclaimer: While these things may make it a little harder to adapt, they are in no way 'deal breakers'. Crime is not a major issue here, the cost of living is amazingly cheap, and there is never an issue with finding amazing things to get yourself into.)
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 So now that I'm done complaining, I can tell you what I really love about Cairo. I really won't be able to articulate how amazing this city really is. I could never really do it any justice. It's definitely a city you need to experience, not read about. It's the noise, it's the smells, and it's the people.

  1. One of the greatest things about Cairo is the never ending amount of cool stuff to see. So you have day to waste in Cairo, what do you do? You could go to the biggest mall in all of Africa, you could go to the Pyramids, take a felucca down the Nile, or anything else this city has to offer. I am constantly stopping to remember where I am. Last night we celebrated a friends birthday on a boat on the Nile. 
  2. The people are awesome. Egyptians have an amazing sense of humor. Don't get me wrong, I've definitely crossed paths with some assholes and almost got into it with some chick at the grocery store, but people are people. Places around the world are known for their peoples demeanor, and the people here are pretty awesome. They love to joke around and talk trash, so you know I'm getting to know everyone. 
  3. Things are pretty cheap here. Now I'm a little reserved to say everything, because that's definitely not true about American products. For example, a bag of Tide (laundry detergent) in Cairo can cost you $25. Yes, twenty-five dollars! The Egyptian equivalent is much cheaper, but if you want specific brands you're going to pay for it. I also live on an island that caters to a specific demographic, so if you go to markets outside Zamalek you'll pay much less. There's a falafel places that sells one falafel for 2 Egyptian Pounds (EGP). The exchange rate is the following: one dollar gets you 6 EGP. So that's about .34 cents for food, and it's really good. Depending where you go, a bottle of water can cost you .30 cents. You just need to know where to go. I'm constantly surprised how far my money will go here.  
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 Now you've read some of my likes and dislikes. There isn't a city in the world without the good and the bad. It's all about how you can adapt to it. Straight up, some people may not be able to handle everything Cairo throws at you, but this girl has no problem. It's a city where you must be tough with people so they don't rip you off, a city where men dominate every aspect of society, and where social unrest can result in a protest any day. With all that said, Cairo is an amazing city and it already feels like home.

The Protests at the American University in Cairo

When I lived in Florida we had hurricane days. When I lived in Washington DC we had snow days. Here in Cairo, we have protest days. This is my first semester at the American University in Cairo as a graduate student and we've already had two days of classes cancelled this semester. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Egyptians love to protest.
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The protest is a result of a 7% tuition increase, which seems to happen every year. The first protest happened a couple days ago, when students locked the gates to campus. Classes were cancelled, people were stuck in the desert, and students blocked the gates with their cars. The protests are backed by the AUC's student union. They definitely have the right idea, but are totally wrong in their implementation. Don't block people from getting to their classes and if you're going to keep people in the desert give them water and bathrooms.

The second protest was yesterday. No classes and the gates were locked again. I'm not going to lie, I kind of like not having classes, but I'm still paying for the ones I miss. The school announced that the missed classes will be rescheduled. Some students on Facebook have been posting that the school will be meeting with the administration over tuition increases. I would love to get some extra cash credit to my student account. I'll keep you guys posted.
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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Actual Protests at the American Embassy

Let me begin this post by saying I sometimes don't follow rules.I've already blogged about the protests and let everyone know everything here is great. So here's the story about how I actually saw the protests. Three of us began our adventure downtown. We didn't plan on just strolling into the protest. We wanted to see at what safe distance could we actually witness history happening. Trust, it was a planned approach.

Our original plan was to go to the roof of the Ramses Hilton, a couple of blocks away from Tahrir Square, to see if we could see the protests. The rooftop restaurant on the top floor didn't open for a couple hours, so we decided to just walk around and see what we could find. As we were walking towards the Egyptian Museum, I could see a large crowd of protesters waving flags. We decided to walk around the museum and change our course around the square towards the Nile. As we were turning the corner, a guy stopped us and asked if we spoke English. He basically explained the safe places to walk around and gave us a stopping point where we shouldn't walk past.

 While we were walking towards the crowds of people, there were some people leaving the protest. Some of the men had surgical masks on to shield themselves from tear gas. It was very intimidating to know that a couple hundred feet away people were protesting the American Embassy. So we were walking towards the protest, when we were stopped by a group of men. They signaled to us to turn around. With a wave of a hand and a shake of the head, we knew we had to listen. It really meant a lot to me that these people wanted to prevent us from walking into an unsafe situation.

I wrote the previous blog post on the protests the night I went downtown.I didn't want my father hearing about my little adventure on my blog, so this post had to wait until after that skype conversation. I could blog about the protests, but I had only seen what everyone in America had seen on television. I wasn't trying to get hurt, but I wanted to witness history from a reasonable distant. There were students who voluntarily went to the protests and students who had the misfortune in getting caught in the protests on the first day. I spoke with some of the students who got stuck in the protest, and they said some people said some mean things to them. That was it. No one was hurt. Those guys who warned us on the street didn't want to see us get hurt. The people of Cairo have really impressed me with their kindness and hospitality. I never expected anything less, but people are people.

After we were advised to turn around, we walked to one of the bridges over the Nile to get back to Zamalek. Everything was fine. I never felt unsafe the entire time I was downtown. I had to witness my first protest in Egypt. Egyptians loved to protest. I've see three protests since I've been here: a football(soccer) protest for Ahly vs. Zamalek, the protest at the Embassy, and a protest at my school. I'll explain about the football protest and the school protest another day.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Al-Azhar Park

Some of us went to Al-Azhar Park to watch the sunset over Cairo. Of course we didn't get a chance to see the sunset, but it was amazing. There was a big group of us that took two different cabs. Our cab driver was awesome. He got us there in no time, we didn't get lost like the other cab, and he bought us all some sugar cane drinks from a street vendor. After we arrived, we waited about 15 minutes for the other group of people in the other cab to get there. Couldn't have asked for a better cab driver!

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I guess Al-Azhar is a popular place to visit in Cairo to watch the sunset after prayer. There were families and kids playing in the grass. It was a really nice place to get away from the traffic for a hour or two.

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The grass is green, the air in clean, and the city is breathtaking. This will definitely be a place to visit on a regular basis. They have different food venues, including a restaurant with a man made lake (its more like a big pond).

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There was a couple who just got married at the park, who were seated right next to us. It was nice to see the different families getting together at such a beautiful place for such a beautiful occasion.
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 Here's the lake. It's not much, but when you live in a desert, it's pretty cool.

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Protests at the American Embassy in Cairo

So here's the post I didn't expect to do so soon, drama in Cairo and I haven't even been here for a whole month yet. Protests irrupted a couple days ago at the American Embassy in Cairo after a ridiculous trailer was released that depicted the prophet Mohammed in one of the most blatantly offensive videos I've ever seen. Listen, I'm 1000% for freedom of speech, but that movie didn't even looking entertaining. Team America was funny, but the Innocence of Muslims is a joke. You have to understand that in Islam it's wrong to depict any form of god, prophet, partner, or characteristics of god.

So the protests began. Now I can only speak about my experience in Cairo. Different things happened in different countries, people were killed, and the embassy where I would go for an emergency was surrounded by angry people. Earlier that day, before any protest happened, I was downtown a couple blocks away from Tahrir Square and the American Embassy. I had an amazing time at Khan el-Khalili and Hussein Square, drove home in a taxi through downtown, and never knew anything happened. When I got home later that night, the dorms were showing the news on CNN about the protests. I couldn't believe what I heard on television. An American Ambassador was killed in Libya. If it wasn't for the television, I would have NEVER know a protest was happening at the embassy.

Things are good here. It's a great time to be living in Egypt. People are protesting one of the most important things in this area of the world, their religion. We forget how accepting we are in the states of the freedom to offend. I'll be the first one to fight for the freedom to make fun of anything and anyone, but there are some things that are off limits to some people. It's called respect.

I've been really suprised about how well my dad has been handling the events. It makes me feel good to know when I tell my dad "don't worry I feel safe" he believes me. Although worrying is something he'll never stop doing.

Don't believe what you see on television. They show you want they want you to see. Did you see the protesters with posters that say "Islam against terrorism" and "Thugs and killers don't represent Benghazi or Islam"? Of course not. Everything has calmed down here around the embassy and the protests have stopped. Thanks for all the concern everyone showed. Cairo has been great to me so far and the people are even better.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

An Intro to Halal Meat

So we went to the market across from Khan el-Khalili the other day. I swear by the end of my stay in Cairo, I will know everyone at the market. I've made friends with some amazing people already(see the past post on Khan el-Khalili part 2), and this time some of the shop keepers greeted me with "welcome back".  Four of us girls went out for a day of exploring and picture taking.

Where to begin....how about the markets that sell live animals and those that have animal carcases hanging from meet hooks outside. Listen, I lived in China and definitely saw some nasty stuff there, but the smell of raw meet hanging in the heat of Cairo can really make you gag(and I did). So we found this place that had camel meat hanging outside.

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These other places had live animals that I'm sure they can slaughter there for you. Its smells so gross, but I have noticed that meat in Egypt tastes so much better than meat in the states. Meat in Egypt tends to be halal, including McDonald's. The meat is ridiculously fresh.

For those who don't know what halal means..  The goal is to slaughter the animal, limiting the amount of pain the animal will endure. Followers are not to consume :
  • pork or pork by products
  • animals that were dead prior to slaughtering
  • animals not slaughtered properly or not slaughtered in the name of Allah
  • blood and blood by products
  • alcohol
  • carnivorous animals
  • birds of prey
  • land animals without external ears
I'll post more on food and drinks later.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Cairo Opera House

Some of us decided to go to the opening opera for the  new season at the Cairo Opera House on the island of Zamalek(where I live). Great decision. Now I have never been to an opera, ballet, or anything of that caliber. I've been to my share of concerts, but never to watch an orchestra preform Beethoven's 9th Symphony. It was amazing. The cello was my favorite part of course.


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The opera house is located on the southern part of Zamalek, and it feels like you're in a different world the moment you enter into the gates surrounding it. I think they have the greenest grass I've seen since moving to Cairo two weeks ago. The air smells different, it smells cleaner. The whole set up is very different from the sprawling city and honking horns of Cairo.

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We decided to go to the opera the moment we found out it was the opening show for the season. None of us had ever been to an opera or ballet before, so we had nothing to compare it to. It was well worth the cost of admission(which was so cheap I won't even disclose the price).

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The entire thing was amazing. It was an amazing experience to see people with that much talent making such beautiful music. I've never really gave ballet or opera a try and I'm glad I did. I've always loved classical music, and it was really an awe-inspiring thing to see live. The opera singing itself really isn't my cup of tea, but it was alright. After the opera, we hung out on one of the six bridges over the Nile to get onto Zamalek.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Khan el-Khalili Part 2

So I decided to venture to Khan el-Khalili again, without the tour bus of international students. Amanda, another new graduate student from Philadelphia, and I went out for lunch at an amazing pizza place on Zamalek (I'll blog about food another day). After lunch we took a taxi to the market. The first time I went to the market was at night, so I really didn't know what to expect during the day.

We got out of the taxi on the more "Egyptian" side of the market, where the streets are unpaved and there are butchers shops with dead animals and live animals waiting for slaughter. We started to walk around, when we noticed some guy "following" us. He began speaking to us in pretty good English. Long story short he was basically our tour guide through the "Egyptian" side of the market for free. Amanda and I were definitely on guard the whole time. We had been warned of these men (or any men for that matter) that want to "help" you. He ended up being completely harmless, but he definitely didn't want to let us go. We made up some story about having to meet our friends on the more "tourist" side of the market and he took us there. It was just our luck that in all of Cairo there were some other AUC students there that we recognized and left his ass.

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Amanda and I began our real journey around the Khan el-Khalili we wanted to see. Without the crazy smells of dead animal and chicken coups, and it was amazing. We immediatley became friends with two brothers who own a shop in the market. Their names were Ahmed and Abdul. I really can't explain how kind and funny they were. We ended up in there store three times and two times they bought us water, tea, and a hibiscus drink popular in Egypt.

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Here are some pictures from around the market:

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We had an amazing time. Egyptians really have an amazing sense of humor. Especially the shopkeepers in Khan el-Khalili.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

First Day of Classes!

Today was the first day of classes at AUC. I can't believe I'm officially a graduate student. Honestly, I would be a student for the rest of my life if I could.

The campus at AUC is beautiful. It's in an area of Cairo called New Cairo, which was once a desert and is now a new area being populated by people trying to escape the hustle and pollution of Cairo. The original campus is located downtown in Tahrir Square. The new campus was built in 2008 and is an oasis in the desert built on 46,000 acres of land.

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The campus is obviously beautiful. I feel like I'm walking around a resort in the desert. There are palm trees everywhere, and once the water shortage issues are alleviated, there will be beautiful water fountains throughout the campus.

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It's weird talking to people back home, having to explain why classes start on Sunday. It really makes perfect sense. In Egypt, their weekend is on Friday and Saturday, because Friday is their holy day.

Back to the school, obviously it's amazing, but it definitely doesn't represent the image of Cairo very well. This is a county with water shortages and power outages, and the school has an Olympic size pool.

The food on campus if horrible right now, there's McDonalds and Subway. In the food court, there is construction on a new food outlet. I guess some students decided to use the temporary white wall to voice their opinion about the tuition increases at AUC. The red writing at the bottom says :

Why should we pay more to compensate others failure in managing our money effectively.

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