Duke Engage Cairo 2013

A Student Blog

14 July
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Hearing the Voice of Freedom at Pizza Hut

Hearing the Voice of Freedom at Pizza Hut

“I’d like a margarita pizza with extra tomato sauce.” The waiter smiled and took my menu, adjusting the bill of his black cap to make sure the words “PIZZA HUT” were prominently displayed above his forehead. It’s a reminder of my failure to find cheap vegetarian food here in Naama Bay. Much like an Egyptian boardwalk, Naama Bay is a haven for tourists in the beach resort town of Sharm El Sheikh. Its streets are filled with vendors hawking fake watches and miniature pyramids. There are restaurants on every corner, whose owners boast that their steak and squid is the best in all of Egypt. But for us nebaatis of the world—the vegetarians—the pickings are quite slim. And after walking aimlessly through the maze of shops and streets, literally dodging a man riding a camel, I reluctantly settled for an overpriced slice of Americana: PIZZA HUT.

Waiting for my pizza to cook, I glanced at the TV. Actually, to be precise, I should say TVs. There were seven of them mounted on the walls—large, flat screen, and each beaming the same wide-angled shot of Tahrir Square. Since the beginning of the June 30th uprising, I’d seen that shot over and over again. It was an ocean of humanity. Hundreds of thousands of protestors standing united, waving the Egyptian tricolor, shooting fireworks in every direction, and painting the stars green with the odd laser pointer. When the cameras zoomed in close and picked up audio, the TVs projected the roar of the crowd in blaring unison—echoing from every wall. It was surround sound on the cheap.

My waiter returned with a bottle of water and we chatted as he poured some into my glass. His name was Ahmad, he was 32, and he had lived and studied in Cairo for years before coming to Sharm El Sheikh. I asked him if he had stood in Tahrir two years before and he nodded, “I’ve faced tear gas, bullets…. I was there and I was part of our Revolution.” He turned and pointed at the TV, “You see those people? This is the heart of Egypt. We voted for Morsi. I did too. But Morsi has betrayed us. He promised to rule for all Egypt, to include liberals, to form coalitions. He lied. Now, he rules for only the Brotherhood. He is an elected dictator, and that is not democracy.

Ahmad left to check on other customers, but his words still hovered over me. During my time in Cairo, I had a firsthand glimpse of the systemic problems facing Egypt. The national fuel shortage had created unbelievably long lines at gas stations and taxi fares doubled in some cases. Power cuts were commonplace and would regularly interrupt the English classes I taught twice a week. Even tourism, once accounting for one-third of Egypt’s GDP, had plummeted dramatically in the past year. But despite these obvious ingredients for unrest, the anger in the streets directed at Morsi seemed to emanate from something much more visceral: pure frustration and fury. Ahmad’s sense of betrayal echoed the opinions of dozens of my Egyptian friends, who felt like their Revolution was being coopted by the Morsi and his Islamists, that this once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform Egyptian politics would soon fade fast.

Nearly lost in these thoughts, I was jolted back to reality by a sudden commotion that had started in the restaurant. A bearded man burst in through the glass doors and shouted something I couldn’t catch in rapid-fire Arabic. Quickly the waiters dropped their things near the cashier and ran towards the TVs, huddling around them with bated breath. I didn’t understand—what had happened in Tahrir? Had there been violence? Had Morsi cracked down on the protestors? Standing up in my seat, I craned my neck towards the TVs to see what the excitement was about. I had expected a scene of pandemonium, of clashes between the Brotherhood and the protestors with Tahrir being torn to pieces. Instead, I saw the TVs cut to a solitary figure standing behind a podium, flanked by Egyptian flags. The man’s black beret, khaki shirt, and chest-full of medals indicated that he was from the army. The generals had finally decided to weigh in.

Chatter in the restaurant immediately came to a halt and one by one workers streamed out from the kitchen, abandoning the pizzas. First came the cooks, their hands and aprons still caked with flour; then the managers, followed last by more waiters. A few of the men draped their arms around each other’s shoulders like soccer players before a match. A few muttered silent prayers and anxiously twisted their wedding rings as they watched one of the seven screens and listened to booming echo of the general’s voice.

Two minutes passed by… five minutes… and soon almost ten. The general was still speaking… I listened intently straining to pick out the odd word in Arabic. I heard a mention of Morsi… and then midway through the sentence—BANG!

What happened next was a chaotic blur of raw emotion. Thunderous applause and cheering! The waiters jumped up and down, Ahmad sank to his knees—ALLAHU AKBAR!—and outside the crowd’s roaring crescendo rang throughout the crisp night sky. Men and women ran through the streets—dancing, waving flags, and whistling loudly. Taxi drivers at the street corner slammed on their horns—Beep!…Beep!…Beep Beep Beep! I knew then that it was done. Morsi was finished; Tahrir had triumphed yet again.

The TVs quickly cut away from the general to a female news anchor sitting in front of a desk, beaming with jubilation. She held both hands up to skies, her eyes wide open and frenzied; and though her voice was already hoarse, she began to speak faster and faster, “Morsi is gone! The people are free, praise be to God! The anchor repeated these declarations over and over again, punctuating every volley with a full throated “ALLAHU AKBAR!”

Surveying the room, I couldn’t sit still. I paced about the restaurant, surging with energy, shaking hands and congratulating all the waiters—especially Ahmad. But more than anything I wanted to be outside, on the streets. And so on a whim I switched my order to carry out and bolted out the door clutching my pizza box. Bobbing and weaving through the crowds, I bathed in the ruckus. Drums pounded. Music blared. Three men even danced to the “Soulja Boy,” wearing white Islamic robes, and as I passed them I couldn’t help chuckling—only in Egypt.  I broke out into brisk walk and then a sprint, running through Naama Bay. The seafood restaurant owners called out offering discounts on their best squid, but I ignored them and jumped into the first cab I could find.

“Take me back to Royal Grand Sharm,” I told my driver. He nodded and didn’t even ask for a fare—all he seemed interested in was punching his horn. The streets were utterly jammed, and I watched as cars playfully rear-ended each other in the cramped quarters. No one seemed to care at all. Drivers and passengers, sitting in different cars, shook hands through the windows, mouthing “Al-Hamdu lillah!”“Praise be to God.”

We broke through the jam and made our way towards the highway, which lay adjacent to the Red Sea. The air was much cooler with the sea breeze and the night much quieter too. As we left Naama Bay behind, I scavenged through my backpack for a pencil, and in the dark began scribbling notes and phrases atop my pizza box. “I’d like a margarita pizza with extra tomato sauce….Allahu Akbar…Soulja Boy. Glancing back at me through the rearview mirror, my driver smiled and asked, “What are you writing about?” I couldn’t say for sure. Was it a coup? Was it a revolution? We would find out in the morning. But for tonight it didn’t matter. A taxi swerved past us and its horn sounded the familiar celebratory call “Beep!…Beep!…Beep! Beep! Beep!” I turned to my driver, and smiling to myself, told him I would be writing about that taxi. Tonight, the sound of its horn was the sound of the people, the “Sout Al-Hurreiyya,” the “Voice of Freedom.”

03 July
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Final Reflections

I wrote this before receiving the news that I was going home:

 

As many of you are probably aware, Egypt’s crisis has made international headlines. While we are currently safe, taking refuge in Sharm El-Sheikh, 300 miles away from Cairo, I still think back to my home away from home.  A feeling of guilty looms over me. While I am sitting on the beach, many people I know back in Cairo are participating in this “second revolution.” As I scan the news, I am looking for familiar faces. The news is almost surreal, seeing places that are so familiar to me. The televisions in the lobby have been airing the revolution, and there are always Egyptians watching it. However, none of the other guests seem to be paying any attention to the news of the country they are in. It is frustrating, how is no one caring about what is happening seven hours away?

It has been 3 days since we arrived in Sharm El-Sheikh, and unfortunately, the situation in Cairo does not seem to be getting any better. We now are faced with the possibility of returning back to America. Initially, I was incredibly disappointed. The ten other students I am with have become my best friends. I love Cairo, and miss my apartment in Garden City. I love the Egyptian people. Despite the consistent news coverage in places like Tahrir Square and Heliopolis, I have yet to read a report about the Egyptian people. Egyptians are among the most hospitable, welcoming, and helpful people I have ever met, and for the sake of all the Egyptians I have come into contact with, Inshallah, the situation will be resolved quickly and peacefully.

However, last night, when the army issued the 48 hour ultimatum, my thought process began to change. While I still miss and love Cairo and want more than anything to go back, I realize that in the short four weeks we’ve been here, we’ve seen so much. This country is embarking on its second revolution, and we saw the lead-up to it.  We’ve seen the gas lines, and the frustration that it causes. We have seen the frustration with the electricity shortages, and the chant of “Morsy, Morsy, Morsy!!” each time it happens. We’ve spoken to people who have advertised their participation in the revolution; many of these people are our friends. We’ve seen people gather in the streets to demonstrate their opposition to Mohammad Morsy. We’ve seen the graffiti, telling Morsy to get out. In the Metro, we’ve seen countless young Egyptians pacing the subway platform asking people to sign the Tamrood petition. We’ve experienced things that no one else ever will.

In addition, I feel as though we have completed a job here in Cairo, although it may not have been what it set out to be. The term “ambassador” often is associated with either celebrities or people employed by embassy. Now, in Egypt, ambassadors carry with them a bad reputation. Ambassadors have begun to overstep their boundaries and began to give political advice to the leaders of a country that is not their own. However, I don’t think this is the true meaning of an ambassador. While it may sound corny, I believe that each and every one of us has become an ambassador. We are coming in, as Americans, to teach English to Egyptians. However, many times, our discussion morphs into cross-cultural discussions, where we talk about controversial issues, and get both sides of the story. My students are ambassadors of Egypt, we are ambassadors of America. For many of us, we don’t come into contact with Egyptians every day, so our view of Egypt and Egyptians comes from the media. Now, however, our mindset is totally different. Should we come back to America in the next week, all I will talk about is the good of the Egyptian people, and how I genuinely wish for peace back home.

For many Egyptians, we are the only Americans they have ever met. I’ve had many students say to me, “ I didn’t think I would like America, but then I met you.”

We have left impressions on each other that will last a lifetime.

 

Some people may make the argument that Morsy was democratically elected, therefore, he must remain in power for his term. Ideologically, that makes sense. But when I see the poverty, the gas shortages, the electricity shortages, and am constantly hearing about how freedoms are limited under Morsy, I realize that talking about a leader stepping down isn’t black and white. I am not advocating for Morsy to take action either way; I don’t even know what is best at this moment. What I do want, is what’s best for the Egyptian people. I want safety and security for all the people living back there. If that means that things need to change, so be it.

Regardless of what happens to our DukeEngage program, I hope that this turmoil is resolved, that the Egyptian people continue to be strong, and that the country of Egypt can get back on its feet. Egypt deserves better.

28 June
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Because Egypt

Throughout the almost two weeks that we’ve been here, we have had uncountable moments of bewilderment, and we often ask ourselves questions that begin with the word “why”: why do people sometimes drive on the sidewalk during the frequent periods of heavy traffic, why must crossing the street resemble the game of Frogger, and why is there a horse in the back of that pickup truck? In reality, these are pointless questions with useless answers; they’re a just reflex to the strange sights, sounds, and smells around us. But all of the Duke Engage-ers quickly learned that we could spend our time in Cairo being confused, but it’s much more enjoyable if we can accept the oddities as they are, and continue on with our adventures the Egyptian way. So whenever a strange Cairo occurrence seems to baffle us, we no longer bother asking why; we just skip straight to the answer: “Because Egypt.” Let’s cut out any frustration or bewilderment and just embrace Egyptian ways, letting any unfamiliar obstacles pass by with acceptance.

But it helps that the people are great. Everyone loves to say that the people of a foreign country are friendly, but let me describe my impression of Egyptians in a more accurate and honest way. First and foremost, they are very goofy and affable and generous. Our friends from the NGO Resala have taken us to restaurants, on boat trips, and even to their friends’ weddings; they have been incredibly welcoming to the Duke Engage students, and are always—I mean always—telling jokes and laughing (except when they are singing and dancing). And strangers are welcoming, too. Though it is not uncommon for foreigners to be taken advantage of for a quick buck (especially by taxis), many times have Egyptians aided us out of thoughtfulness.  Two Duke Engage-ers and I were taking a taxi home the other night, and the aggravated driver unexpectedly said “call a second taxi” and kicked us out at an unknown intersection. Immediately, recognizing our unease, nearby Egyptian traffic workers started flagging down taxis and insisting that they take us home. They weren’t successful and unfortunately, soon had to leave for other duties. But after they left, a teenage Egyptian boy saw us from afar, and picked up the slack. He would even jump in front taxis to get them to stop for us. I don’t know if I could say that I would have done the same if I was in America and the roles were reversed. With their help, we got home with no problem.

That being said, Egyptians are much more assertive, mostly because their culture facilitates that aspect of their personalities. They are not afraid to argue when they might be taken advantage of, and they will push and shove to get on or off the metro. But that’s okay—and really, it’s necessary to be that way when haggling is normal, traffic has almost no rules, and people will pack onto the metro like sardines. No one is aggressive, but they are not afraid to raise their voice to defend themselves: it is simply the norm. For example, after being taken advantage of by a taxi driver, an Egyptian friend from Resala taught me that usually you will just have to yell louder to get your way (“Shaghala al 3adaad!”). Raising your voice in America is extreme, and will attract a lot of attention if it happens in a public place. But in Egypt it happens everywhere, it’s just the way things get done.Why?… Because Egypt.

24 June
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Kids will be Kids

 

People are just people, and kids are just kids. I sometimes find that human nature is clouded by talk of religious ideology, political rhetoric, and cultural differences. It’s easy to forget that people living halfway around the world still love doing the same things we do.

After only three weeks of Ana El Masry, I’ve started to realize how these kids are just like kids all around the world. They LOVE junkfood. I cringe every time I see them running around with an empty Twinkie wrapper, bracing myself for the imminent sugar rush.  Secondly, they NEVER get tired (and I mean never). They like to compete for our attention. And, at this point, I’m convinced they love driving us crazy. They’ll be scaling the walls, and in our limited Arabic we will try and get them to stop. They’ll point and laugh at us, come up and hug us, then go back to doing what they’re doing, recognizing that they really have us all wrapped around their fingers. They love to be carried everywhere. They love to sit in our laps. They love jumping on us. They love hugs. They love affection.

At very young ages, these kids were deprived of parents, the people who love and nurture us until we are adults. Now, though, they have each other, some dedicated caretakers, and, for a short time, us.

When watching the news or reading different articles, it’s easy to get sucked into the negativity of the world. There is enough war and violence to sell newspapers and keep attention on the 5 o’clock news. But its important not to forgot those people who don’t make headlines, who are just luck us, and deserve the same attention.

Meet Busey, one of the girls at Ana El Masry. Her hobbies include playing with hair, being chased, and cuddling.

Meet Busey, one of the girls at Ana El Masry. Her hobbies include playing with hair, being chased, and cuddling.

18 June
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Finding Beauty in Cairo

It is hard to believe I have been here in Cairo for over a week now.  The hazy skyline, uneven streets and relentless traffic seem as if they have all been a part of my life for years.  During my first glimpse of Cairo the day I arrived in Egypt, I was struck by the city’s beauty despite the astonishing amount of trash laying on  the streets.  Even the buildings are covered in a dusty brown that never seems to be ever washed away.  And the smog…it never allows for the sky to be anything but a shade of grey.  Yet during any drive along the Corniche, one of the main roads near our apartment, I can glance to my left and see the glittering blue Nile.  And then I am reminded of Egypt’s stirring, inexplicable beauty nestled amongst the seemingly unbeautiful.

Let me explain what I mean when I say beautiful.  This summer one of the NGO’s I am volunteering with is called Al Resalah.  Resalah is an all-encompassing NGO that participates in a wide range of activities, from working with orphans to clothing distribution to offering skills classes.  Our DukeEngage group provides English lessons through Resalah.   The first day of class was a slight disaster; we mistakenly thought the class started at 6:30pm instead of 6pm.  By the time we realized our mistake it was 5:58pm.  Because we also had to traverse through Cairo’s nightmarish traffic, we did not arrive at Al Resalah until about 6:45pm.  Of course this was after getting lost on the street where the taxi dropped us off; this made us even later. The cherry on top came half an hour after later when the power went out and the entire building was thrust into darkness.   Yet Ahmed, one of Resalah’s staff members and is also student in the English class I help teach with Maura and Anand, said something that stayed with me longer after the lights came back on.  He explained that there is rarely a more beautiful thing when people are able to come from all parts of the world and realize how connected they all really are because within each of us, we have the same inside.  The amount of optimism in his voice was haunting.

Such moments of beauty are also abundant at Al Kayan, the other NGO I am working with this summer.  Kayan is primarily concerned with rehabilitating children living with disabilities and encouraging disability awareness within Egyptian society.  The first day at Kayan I had the chance to work in a classroom of about eight students.  The teachers in the class spoke no English, so the only way we could communicate was through my broken Arabic.  It ended up to be a lot of chuckling as I tried to ask them where they were from and complimented them on their beautiful rings and scarves.  But the best part of that day was when I started playing with Aesha, one of the girls in the class. One of the teachers had been initially reluctant to interact with me, but as soon as I started making magnetic necklaces, bracelets and rings for Aesha, she came over and sat with us and began telling us the words for each of the pieces of jewelry in Arabic.  After seeing Aesha laugh and giggle with all the jewelry, the happiness on this teacher’s face was profound…no, it was beautiful.  I had no doubts that the joy of these children is what drives Kayan’s staff to be continuing to make such an enormous effort for them.

The Nile River at night.

The Nile River at night.

Yet Cairo has not been without its obstacles.  I’ve endured light-hearted ones, from having to pay 30 LE for a taxi ride rather than 12 LE simply because I am a foreigner to enduring strange looks from customers as Tessa, Safiya and I asked for two kilos of sliced cheese at the grocery store (we didn’t realize one kilo is over twice the amount as a pound is until it was too late). But there have been no shortage of hard ones too.   I’ve also had to reconcile with myself just how privileged I am, despite facing my own hardships, and because of these privileges I may not be in the best position to help.  Afterall, the people of Kayan and Resalah understand the ways of Cairo in a way I never will and will continue to have to navigate obstacles I have never and will never have to face within my lifetime, inshallah.  In a little less than two months I will leave Cairo, and it will be these people who will stay and have a much better chance at “changing” lives of their people. So how am I justifying my presence here?   I think the answer is multi-layered. I cannot change scores of lives, but I can use my skills to be a small stepping stone that can help these people reach their goals.  Furthermore, I think every human being should strive to dedicate their lives to improving the lives of others, and DukeEngage is one way to come to terms with how simultaneously challenging and rewarding service is. It’s a brief glimpse into what is means to service entails, and how just because you feel as if you are not going to make a difference, you cannot give up.  You have to keep finding the beautiful in the seemingly unbeautiful.

16 June
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Being Back

They say that distance makes the heart grow fonder. And with the case of Cairo, I’d say this is especially true.

Let me first provide some context. In February I spent a month in Cairo as part of the DukeImmerse program. Within a week, I became very familiar with the streets of Cairo and adopted Cairo as my new home for a month. Now as I have returned, the experience has been quite surreal for me. Even as we flew over Cairo and I looked out the window, recognizing many different landmarks. As we drove away from the airport, it was strange and comforting at the same time to see many of the places that I passed everyday.

Cairo is a crazy place. It is simultaneously super relaxed and incredibly fast-paced. When I first came, it took a little while to become adjusted to this lifestyle, as it is something SO different from the United States.  But now, as I’m back, it took almost no time at all to adopt the “Egyptian lifestyle.”

I missed the people of Egypt; they’re friendly, welcoming, and helpful. And what’s great is that they’re all this, despite the language barrier. I can’t wait to see what the next two months has in store, it’s only been a week and I’m already trying to figure out a way to come back, again.

On our recent felucca ride with Duke graduates living in Cairo, one of the guys said ” You could come up with a million things WRONG with Cairo, but at the end of the day, there’s something magical about this city.” The traffic may be horrific, there may be brutal heat, and I can be flustered with things running on “Egyptian time”; but despite this, I still love Cairo and the Egyptian people. For me, Cairo has become another home away from home, and I’m so glad to be back.

 

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16 June
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What’s the Exchange Rate between Negoom and Schrute Bucks?

We’ve now finished our first week in Cairo and I have to echo Thao’s introductory remark by saying that this has been one of the slowest weeks of my life (in a good way). Every day, starting from when my alarm goes off at 8:00, is completely jam-packed. It sounds sad  but I’m sometimes glad to be stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, if only because it gives me a couple more minutes to rest.

My work here so far has mainly been with Ana el-Misri, an NGO that specializes in caring for orphans that lived on the street. Courtney and I are in charge of teaching English classes to the orphans. We’ve only been to Ana el-Misri 3-4 times now, and there are so many things I could write about our experience.  Our first day was filled with exhilaration—on both sides. The kids were leaping on our shoulders, grabbing at our feet, giving us hi-fives, and demonstrating their mastery of synchronized headstands. It was all fun and games—until we got to class.

I think growing up in an American school system you come to Egypt with certain expectations. You expect the kids to be relatively quiet, to raise their hands when asking questions—you know what I’m talking about. If you’re planning on working at Ana El-Misri, throw all those expectations out the window now. Instead, prepare yourself to be blitzed with a chorus of “ya ustaad!” (hey teacher!), at least one fight a class, caricature cartoons that portray you doing strange things (one kid drew me peeing into my own mouth),  and kids running away from the class. Another kid found a dead mouse and ran at me, holding it by its tail. Communicating with the kids is very difficult—they only know the Egyptian dialect of Arabic while we only know the formal version of the language and a handful of words in the Egyptian dialect. Teaching English therefore becomes hard and I often find myself repeating the words “mish faahim,” which means “I don’t understand” in the Egyptian dialect. What follows is the kid looking at me like an idiot—and I don’t blame them for doing so.

But slowly as the days progress, you pick up a couple of phrases in Ammiya (the Egyptian dialect) and being to lean hard on non-verbal communication: sharp looks, high-fives, and enough nodding to make you look like a bobble-head doll. It all helps, trust me. You also begin to understand what exactly motivates the kids to do work. In my case it was “negoom,” or in English, “stars.” None of the kids know how to draw stars, but they all get really excited when I draw them on their papers. So, using this to my advantage, I created a barter economy revolving around “negoom.” Write five lines of letters, you get one “nigma” (star). Write five lines of words you get “khamsat negoom” (five stars). Write a sentence five times and you strike the motherload ….“aashara negoom” (ten stars)…or “ithnaashar negoom” (twelve stars) if I feel generous. It’s remarkable how something as mundane as stars can motivate the kids to do work—but it does! The kids then began competing for stars, and started wanting to do more difficult work in order to win more stars. At one point, one of my students Mahmoud, stood up on his desk and screamed “I have 33 stars!!!!” It was all working beautifully until one of my students Khalid, discovered how to draw stars on his own and covered his papers in “negoom.” Fearing the collapse of my “negoom” economy with rampant hyperinflation I quarantined Khalid in a corner and gave him a 30 negoom project. Luckily, class ended before he could finish it and collect….but I have to keep my eye on that kid or it’s back to the drawing board.

 

I got back at the kid by writing "my name is Ahmed"  in the speech bubble above the drawing....

I got back at the kid by writing “my name is Ahmed” in the speech bubble above the drawing….

 

 

16 June
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Embrace it

After a full week in Mango City, we sat around the dinner table as a full group, reflecting on our first week, and Ustadth Lo asked us which moments stood out the most. We discussed the love we have for the kids at Ana al-Masry (and the subsequent love we have when we can find a few Arabic words to successfully communicate with them), even when they misbehave and exhaust us with their constant energy, the enthusiasm of our students at al-Resala, our awesome group dynamics, and how much we enjoy making our way in this crazy city that is Cairo.

And then it was Ustadth’s turn.

He reminded us of our first day at al-Resala. We had gotten there late after a miscommunication on the start time, and the few of us who arrived there first (after some more miscommunication with the taxi drivers, as we had a limited idea of where we were going), were thrown into classrooms to start teaching. I, for example, arrived at al-Resala panting, and was then ushered into a tiny, non-air conditioned classroom where 40 or so students were waiting for me. I had no idea of their English level and a limited idea of a lesson plan that was not intended for a group so big. But the rest of the team arrived and we made up a makeshift plan to get us through.

The most memorable part of all of this, as Ustadth explained, was about halfway through, when we were all split into groups, sitting in circles around the room, trying to explain things or write out words on the board – in a dark room without power. As both Ustadth, and later Jack explained, our students were completely immersed in every word we spoke, squinting at the writing we attempted on the white boards. They listened, they were engaged, and whatever we were doing in that dark room was working. We were smiling, they were smiling and learning. We made the most of it.

And that’s the trick to Cairo. And to traveling. And to all of these new experiences we’ve had and will have. As Jack explained to us, we have to embrace it. We have to be willing to use our limited Arabic and make a fool out of ourselves. We have to be willing to make the most of difficult, powerless, sweltering hot situations. And so far, I think, we’ve done a great job of it. We have conversations with our taxi drivers and negotiate with them when they see our flashing “American” signs and try to rip us off, ask our new friends at Resala to give us helpful phrases when we sit around eating whatever food they insist we should try (like kibda – cow liver), and use a mixture of Arabic, English, and hand signals to communicate with the kids. It’s difficult, but we’re trying. And we’ll get there.

Thao and Yasmine

Thao and Yasmine

Maura on the first day of a chaotic art class

Maura on the first day of a chaotic art class

Mahmoud, at a rare moment when he is calm and not sneaking around stealing our lunch and water bottles from our backpacks

Mahmoud, at a rare moment when he is calm and not sneaking around stealing our lunch and water bottles from our backpacks

The full group at the pyramids

The full group at the pyramids

14 June
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Mama Duck and his Duke-lings

Looking back, my first week in Cairo has been one of the slowest weeks of my life. It feels like we’ve been here for a month, and I almost know how to get around Garden City now! You may be wondering about the title… I am referring to our amazing program coordinator, Jack Spencer. Because most of us are first-timers here, we blindly follow Jack around everywhere, closely resembling a mama duck & her ducklings. It’s quite hysterical to watch.

A reservation I had prior to entering Egypt involved our team dynamics… Although we had all met each other before, I wasn’t quite sure if we were going to get along well, but the first couple of days together proved to be some of the funnest moments of my LIFE. I’ve gotten to bond with everyone on the team, and we laugh almost all the time when we’re together.

I work at Ana al-Masry five days a week for four hours in the morning, and then we have Arabic classes Saturday, Monday, and Wednesday, and we teach English Tuesdays and Thursdays. Although the kids at Ana al-Masry can get a little bit crazy at times, we still manage to have a blast there. The language barrier is also an issue because on the first day, I only knew how to communicate with the kids with basic vocabulary, and when they tried to talk to me, I was only able to nod my head. The other NGO we work with is al-Risala, where I teach English with Z! I enjoy teaching a ton (it’s a dream of mine to teach at some point in life), so it has been a blast working there and exchanging culture with the students.

I am super excited because we will be going to Alexandria this next Thursday. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to explore Egypt, and I anticipate learning more about this culture along the way.DSC_0213

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On our first full day in Cairo, we took a trip to the Giza Pyramids!

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07 June
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Day One: Welcome to the Big Mango!

Today, our group arrived in Cairo, weary from our travels but excited to be here! After a brief tour, orchestrated by our fearless leader Ustaaz Lo, our group was fully united (mostly) in front of this juice store. It is located around the corner from our apartment, and will definitely end up being our go-to place for water and juice. It was also the first place we experienced the amazing hospitality of Egyptians. When we first stopped by the store, the owner made a point of learning all of our names, and offered each of us a refreshing coconut drink – it was impossible to resist his friendly insistence, even for those of us who don’t eat coconuts! The second time we stopped by, at the end of our tour, we took this picture with them.

 

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At that point, we were still awaiting the arrival of the final member of our group, Z. The suspense was killing us, but the wait was definitely worth it! Z made all of our days by showing up at the Cairo Airport to be picked up in this:

 

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That’s all for now. Tomorrow we see the pyramids!

 

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