Street savvy in Cairo

28 April 2008

Traffic in Cairo is pretty intense. By intense, I mean Cairo is the second biggest city in the world, but the streets seem to be extra small—at least for how many cars they try to fit in each one! And the drivers never follow the street signs, and the lines on the road are more to differentiate between the sidewalk and the road than to actually show cars a “lane” they should drive in.

For example, in the US, you can find two and three lane roads, with many more lanes in bigger cities. People usually stay within their lane, and they signal when they want to change (sometimes).

In Cairo, on a three lane road I have seen up to six or seven “lanes” of cars that could fit across (the cars are smaller here so they can fit more in). The lanes don’t stay consistent, either, with five cars in one section, and in front of them six lanes of cars. Most, if not all cars here have scratches along the sides from scraping other cars as they are driving along, and the bumpers are a mess.

Needless to say, crossing the streets as a pedestrian is quite an exciting experience. To cross, you have to start across the road, dodging cars, and continually stop as other cars pass by you until you get to the other side. Last year when I was here our tour guide told us that we would probably be unable to get across and that we should just follow Egyptians. (I didn’t even try it.)

Last night, however, as my friends and I were taking advantage of “slumming” opportunities in downtown Cairo, I led the way in crossing the road. I realized I had succeeded when I saw an Egyptian following us! (True, she was an old woman that had a hard time walking, but the fact remains that instead of following Egyptians, an Egyptian followed me!)

Expensive water and a new friend

28 April 2008

Yesterday I was grumbling and complaining about how expensive the bottled water was from the hotel. The day before I had purchased a liter water for 4 Egyptian pounds (the exchange rate is about 5 pounds/dollar) from a store right around the corner from the hotel. However, the next morning when I tried to buy the same liter of water from the hotel, it cost me 13 pounds. I was outraged at how much I had just spent (even though it would have cost more than that in the States—it is the principle that is important!), but I had asked for the water from one of the kitchen/concierge (whatever they call them) people, and each person I spoke with was so amazed that I spoke Arabic (good thing too, because their English was not that great).

This morning when I walked in to eat breakfast, all of the people that I spoke to in Arabic yesterday were standing at the door welcoming people. They said hello to me in Arabic and I responded happily, thinking that I had accomplished something great because the hotel people remembered me.However, then as I was eating breakfast the woman who had helped me yesterday came over and started talking to me in Arabic. She wanted to know where I had learned Arabic, how long I was staying in Cairo, etc etc, and then asked if we could be friends.

Naturally, I said yes!

So, she gave me her telephone number and asked me to call her when I was in Cairo again, and then asked for my phone number! Unfortunately, I don’t have one yet, but she told me to call her when I got one.This was an exciting experience because one: I made a very nice friend just by speaking a little Arabic; two: I understood a lot of what she said even though the restaurant was noisy and I couldn’t hear her half the time, and three: I was able to respond correctly most of the time in Arabic!

I guess that water was worth every pound I paid!

Electrical outlets and expensive appliances…

28 April 2008

As soon as we arrived in Cairo I went to my hotel room, showered, and began to fix my hair. I had no problem with my dual voltage blow-dryer, but my expensive straightener was another story. In the States, it heats up to 410 degrees in about 1 minute…and here, with the voltage going through it twice as quickly, it was at about 600 degrees in one minute. Unfortunately, I did not realize that it was so hot until I smelled my hair burning…and then looked down and say that the desk had melted where the flat iron was sitting! The next morning when I turned it on it no longer worked—I could feel the electricity pulsing through the plates (kind of a scary experience!) but no heat.

Oh well, all part of the experience, right?

I’m here. I’m safe. I’m happy.

27 April 2008

The trip has gone off mostly without hitch so far—surprisingly! They didn’t even weigh my bags at the Salt Lake airport, and I was sitting in my seat at the gate less than half an hour after getting to the airport.

At the Chicago airport, I showed my genius and brilliant navigational skills (after remembering my mom’s story about running all the way through the Chicago airport when she was very pregnant and they had a short connection time only to realize there was a tram) and took the tram. Walked right to the gate, in fact, and showed others in my group how to get there. (Thanks, Mom, for the story—it saved me today!)

On my flight from Chicago to Vienna, I sat by a very nice man who was returning home to India. Since he spoke English (kind of), we talked about India. I kept asking him questions and he kept answering, which was an exciting experience. He probably thought he was fluent in English, but I could only understand half of what he was saying and I am pretty sure he didn’t always answer my questions correctly. I realized that this is where I am in Arabic—that awkward foreigner who doesn’t really know what he/she is saying, but talks anyway.

Vienna to Cairo I sat in front of a little Egyptian boy, probably three years old. He was adorable and we played games between the seat (we were both sitting by the window) for much of the time. They mostly consisted of him reaching between the seat and touching my arm and trying to pull his hand away before I could tag him back. I was hoping to get some Arabic practice, but when I spoke to him in Arabic he didn’t answer. In fact, he never said anything intelligible except “mama” and “bye!” But he was still cute, and helped me realize that I don’t know very much “little kid” Arabic. I can talk about my studies all day, but play peek-a-boo with a small child? How many times can you say “izzayak” and keep their attention?

The weather in Cairo is beautiful—about 70 degrees. Thanks for praying for me, guys! And, tomorrow is the Orthodox Christian Easter and they are in the middle of “Spring Holiday,” so the traffic wasn’t that bad from the airport and we got to the hotel in 1/3 of the usual time. Did I mention that my hotel has working air conditioning? Does life get any better than this?

My “slumming” skills are improving. “Slumming” is what Dil calls walking around the non-touristy parts of the city and finding chances to speak Arabic with the natives. At the hotel I spoke for about ten minutes with the hotel clerk in Arabic (I think it was my “Egyptian eyes” that drew him in—he told me that I have beautiful eyes and that Arabs love green eyes!) (I have blue eyes). I am not feeling the culture shock I felt last year when I was here for the first time. When the security guards and clerks say “Let me help you, beautiful girl,” I just speak to them in Arabic. All the chances I can get to speak are necessary, right?

I have obviously changed my mind a lot over the past year because I think Cairo is beautiful. Wow, did I just say that? I guess I hadn’t realized how much I missed the constant staring at me back in the States!

Well, as my mother always said when I was little, morning comes early, and we have a big day tomorrow. And hopefully my blogs will get a bit more interesting…perhaps when I am less tired?


Egypt: Welcome Back

I am in Egypt. The internet cafe I am using does not have a spot for my flashdrive (at least, not a workable spot--it is just an empty hole) so I can't upload the blog I wrote last night. And the internet at the hotel is a dollar a minute. Well, I guess everything is not cheap in Egypt!


Flashbacks: Egyptian Eyes

When I was in Egypt I tried as hard as I could to avoid eye contact with the men...actually, with anyone. However, old habits die hard, and I look everyone in the eye. In America, this means that you are confident and assertive and well-qualified for whatever you are doing, even if it is just buying groceries. However, in Egypt (and most places in the Middle East) it often means that you are coming onto someone--at least it is usually interpreted that way.

Needless to say, this was a big problem for me.

Although I didn't have blond curly hair and didn't look specifically "American" (I had about 20 different nationalities assigned to me by the Egyptians, including asking if I was from Holland, Europe, etc...but not usually America) so I didn't get as many offers for marriage as the other girls, each person, it seemed like, had to compliment me on my "Egyptian eyes."

Now, I am not sure what qualifies eyes as particularly "Egyptian," but at least ten different people told me that I looked "Egyptian" because I had "Egyptian eyes." I was embarassed, of course, because it meant I hadn't kept my eyes on the ground and had been looking people in the eye again.

However, each shopkeeper wanted to give me a discount because I had "pretty Egyptian eyes," and most marked the price down even more if I smiled! I guess I don't have to be good at bartering--if I look someone in the eye, the price is immediately cut in half for me!


Flashbacks: "Special Student Price"

Recently the BYU Bookstore has been conducting a survey on how many of their customers are students. Consequently, each time someone checks out, they ask, "Are you a student?" And each time I can't resist saying, "Do I get a special student discount?" (Of course, each time they say, "No, but we do have a 20% discount storewide for the graduation sale!")

Each time I ask this I am reminded of shopping in the Middle East. I must admit, when I first got to the Middle East, my bartering skills were downright horrid. I had to wait to find out what a good price was and then go and barter for a similar price, because I didn't know if I was getting ripped off or offending the person by offering to pay such a low price.

However, in each place I went in Jerusalem, I was instantly recognized as a BYU student and, as such, deserving of the "special student price!" This sometimes was quite a bit higher than the actual price, but I guess they figured if they could pretend that they were giving us a good deal, we would fall for it. Of course, I totally played this one up, saying that as a student, I didn't have the funds (or any use) for their 30x40 foot floor rugs, or the random statues of false Egyptian gods sold at each tourist destination in Egypt.

I do, however, think that I am going to have to use this one again, asking for the "special student price" at each store in Jordan! (And hopefully, my bartering skills will be slightly improved since last time I was there!)


Flashbacks: Toilets in Egypt

I apologize in advance if I get too graphic in describing Egypt's waste system (please notice the lack of the word "sanitary" there). I do feel the need to describe my first encounter with toilets in Egypt, though.

Before we even crossed the Israeli border into Egypt, we had been warned several times about the sanitary situation in Egypt. We knew not to touch the camels, not to eat the lettuce, and not to swim in the Nile. But somehow, no one remembered to tell us about the toilets.

After driving through the Sinai desert for several hours, we stopped at a "rest stop"/restuarant (whose owners, coincidentally, knew the bus driver and paid him for bringing them customers...a common tradition in Egypt) to eat our lunches and use the bathrooms. After eating my lunch, I casually walked over to the bathroom, thinking I was prepared because I had brought my own toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

However, once I got into the bathroom, I was stunned. Inside each stall was a hole in the ground, with a hose you could turn on and off next to the hole to wash everything down. I had heard of outhouses before, but these were missing the toilet on top!

My friends had brought toilet seat covers with them to help with the sanitary conditions of the bathrooms in Egypt. However, to use a toilet seat cover, you need a toilet seat!

Later, I found out that there were a few "flushing" toilets at the very back corner of the bathroom. However, one glance inside told me I had made the right choice in using the hole in the ground. The toilets were full and running over with waste. I guess the reasoning behind the hole in the ground is your toilet doesn't get clogged!

These were the only bathrooms like this I had the privilege of using in Egypt, thankfully, and later I heard that these are "Turkish" style bathrooms--but still, it was my very first introduction to Egypt. I think it might have been a ploy to scare the students away from doing anything stupid or dangerous food/drink-wise in Egypt, and it worked for me. Needless to say, I didn't swim in the Nile or drink the water there--I didn't want to be sick if those were the only bathroom options I had!


Flashbacks: Airports

(Do you see the textbooks in my jacket?)

As my Arabic study abroad rapidly approaches (and I feel less and less concerned about my finals--an unfortunate side effect of upcoming adventure), I have started having flashbacks of my experiences in the Middle East last year. Today's flashback? Airports.

When I went to the Jerusalem Center, we had very strict guidelines of how much luggage we could take over--namely, one suitcase. To supply us with four months worth of stuff. In addition to everything I needed to take over (certainly more than 50 pounds worth--I am a light packer but not that light!) and many of the somewhat useless things on the JC's packing list (a bathrobe? When I can only bring 50 pounds of stuff over? Let's be serious here), we also had to carry over all of our textbooks, given to us the day before we left at orientation.

Needless to say, my 70-pound suitcase (yes I had to pay the fee), my carryon, and my "purse" (it weighed at least 30 pounds...I don't know if it really qualified as a "purse") were still not sufficent for everything I had to take over.

Luckily, I just happened to be wearing a jacket with a full inner lining, easily accessible by a zipper on the side. This means I had space between my outer jacket layer and my inner jacket layer, and I could open up a zipper on the inside of my jacket and reach my hand all the way through to the other side, but inbetween the layers of my jacket (it was for screenprinting).

Before I got to the airport, I realized that jackets do not count as extra carry-on items, nor do they weigh them. In a brilliant move that would save me several times in Jerusalem, I opted to put several of my textbooks, my camera, my passport, and my bag of liquid carry-ons inside of my jacket lining and wear it. It didn't look as silly as it sounds, but did appear somewhat as though I was heavily armed.

I had no problems in the Salt Lake or Houston airports (well, at least with the jacket--I had plenty of other problems and almost missed my flight and lost my passport!), but when I got to the Newark airport we had to go through special "screening" because we were flying to Israel (where everything requires a "special screening"--even entering a public mall!). I sent my luggage through the scanner and set my jacket on the table for the security agent to go through, since I had to walk through the metal detecter.

The guard picked up my innocent looking jacket, ready to discard it to the side for pick-up by me later, but instantly realized that it was full of something because it weighed about 20 pounds more than a regular jacket. She looked all over for how I had concealed these "weapons" in the jacket but was unable to find the zipper opening the inner lining. Finally I walked over and opened up the jacket for her, showing her that I had placed my textbooks inside the lining and ready to take a berating for possibly endangering the airline by trying to get around the carryon limit.

Instead, the security official was so embarressed that she couldn't figure out how to open my jacket that she barely glanced inside the lining, not even taking enough time to see what was inside, tossed my jacket aside, and in a gruff voice announced that I could go through.

I walked away, rejoicing in my obvious victory--but also somewhat concerned for my own safety, as I totally could have gotten away with hauling weapons onto that flight in my jacket!

Just for the record, though, I never would have gotten through Israeli customs without my jacket (and all of my other luggage) being searched at least four times, being questioned in Hebrew and English, and having three "situations" occur where we had to evacuate the building--but that is another story for another day.


Dinner with Arabs

Last night my sister and I were invited to have dinner with one of my Arab students (ok, my only Arab student--I tutor at BYU's English as a second language center, and I have been tutoring him in English all semester) and his Arab roommate. As they are both from Jordan and are both here to learn English (and thus we have a hard time communicating in both English and Arabic! Those conversations are fun...), I immediately said yes.

When we got there, I decided that it was time to practice some of my Arab culture saavy in my eating choices. When a huge dish of rice and bowl of soup was dished up for me, I ate slowly and talked a lot, realizing that if my plate ever appeared half-empty during the meal, more food would be placed on it, putting me in an awkward (and full!) position. I even put only half of the chicken and soup on my rice, leaving the other half in the bowl "to cool."

My sister, however, having just returned home from a mission not too long ago and being used to eating at each home she visited, was not so culture-saavy and dug right in.

The result? While my sister (amazingly!) made it through 3 heaping plates of rice and 4 pieces of chicken, as her plate was continually filled with food as she ate it, I got away with only 3/4 plate of rice and two pieces of chicken (which was more than enough, believe me! It was a lot of food!!).

Perhaps I am a bit more prepared to live in Jordan than I thought!


The Holy Land

The other day the front page article of the Daily Universe was titled "The Holy Land." Naturally, I was interested, but naturally, I was severely disappointed. It was one of the worst written articles I have ever read, even from the DU (read it for yourself here). ("Safety was also reinforced by the Israeli soldiers scattered throughout the city..."I never saw them enforcing anything," Roeller said." ??? "I knew they were there to protect us. We'd take pictures with them."--how does taking pictures with soldiers who are not enforcing anything make you feel more safe?)

However, I did start thinking once again about my Arabic journey thus far, which began with my time spent living in Jerusalem.

Before I arrived in Jerusalem, I planned and dreamed and worked for the day when I would live in the Holy City. As an Ancient Near Eastern Studies major, I was more than excited to visit every biblical archeaological site, take pictures of every tel and every Solomonic gate, and most especially finally see and feel and experience all of the things I had been learning about in all of my classes. With my Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia safely packed away in my luggage, I was planning on greatly enhancing my Biblical Hebrew skills and even picking up on some Modern.

For me, Palestinians and Arabs were not even part of the equation. I knew of their existence, of course, but unfortunately my access to biased-American and Israeli news did little to assure me of the existence of Palestinians as real people--they were merely the reason I wouldn't get to visit Samaria, the land of Jacob, and most disappointingly for me, Beth-El.

Even when I got to Jerusalem things did not immediately change. Due to some rather severe warnings from Dr. Kearl at our orientation, I felt that every Arab man who passed within 5 feet of me was about to pull out a knife and stab me (no joke, I really thought this). The Palestinian areas of Jerusalem were littered with trash, the men always welcomed me to "their" country (as though someone could own a country!), and the Arab shopkeepers seemed more than a little shifty. Going to Egypt 3 weeks into the program only heightened my distrust for these strange Arab people, who ask personal questions about your dating life, offer to buy you as their 4th wife, and have absolutely no personal space--something that I prize highly in my own life. I still preferred everything Jewish because I understood the Jews (although some experiences, like the Egyptian girl from Tunta in Cairo, were positive).

However, my attitude slowly changed from intolerance to tolerance, and then gradually to love. I grew to love the Palestinian people and slowly realized that every man was not about to stab me (that was a happy day!). I realized that I loved the things that I understood, and as I came to understand the Arabs, I came to love them, too. (This love is increased exponentially for young Arab children, especially little girls, who are adorable. I wanted to take some home with me!)

After acheiving this state of love for the Arab people, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a new conflict, although this time it was with my own heart. I loved the Arabs and I loved the Israelis, and as I saw them fighting with and hating each other I felt as though my own heart was caught in the battle. When fighting broke out in Jerusalem over a bridge leading up to Dome of the Rock, I looked out from the balconies of the Jerusalem Center and wept. These were my brothers and sisters engaging in conflict!

The deeper I get into my studies the larger the conflict grows in my heart. Although I don't agree with all of the political decisions that either side makes, I love the people on both sides and it hurts me to see all that they are going through.

So, this rambling is leading to one of the reasons I am still studying Arabic. Although as stated before Arabic is incredibly hard for me, takes up all of my time, is very frustrating, and made me lose my eyesight last semester, I feel that I have a mission (yes, and Arabic mission! :) to help the world understand their Arab brothers and sisters as well as their Israeli/Jewish brothers and sisters. Like I said before, I want to change the world.

Whether such a thing is possible for me or not is up for dispute. But, at least I have a goal to work toward when I get sick of translating news articles and vowelling sentences!



Yesterday, I prayed in Arabic in a public setting. I was at a party for people in my Biblical Hebrew class, the teacher half-jokingly (but half seriously) asked if anyone wanted to give the prayer over the food (brownies and ice cream? are these things really going to nourish us or give us strength?) in a different language.

Naturally, I waited about three seconds and then I volunteered to say it in Arabic. Most of the people in the class do not speak modern Hebrew and, after carefully checking to make sure no one spoke Arabic (somehow I missed the guy who works in the office next to me, is fluent in both modern Hebrew and Arabic, and went to Morocco on a study abroad in '06...oh well!!!), I prayed in Arabic. I am no stranger to praying in Arabic, as I do it often in my personal prayers, but this was the first time I had ever done it in a public setting.

It was a victory, to say the least.

It went quite well, actually--but I realized how little I really know how to say in Arabic! But other than not knowing how to say "safely" (instead, I prayed that we might all drive home on a "good road"), it wasn't as bad as it might have been!

The real test, though, will come when I pray with people who actually speak Arabic!


A Much Funnier Blog Than Mine

Dear all, I have recently found a hilarious blog from a woman connected with BYU whose husband studied in Damascus and Amman. She is a fluid writer and describes her experiences living in these countries with her husband in incredibly funny ways. Her posts keep me laughing all day. If you feel you have extra time to learn about a foreigner's life in the Middle East, here are her blog sites:

http://bridgetpalmer.blogspot.com/ (Syria)
http://myadventuresinjordan.blogspot.com/ (Jordan)


A Two-Year Mission

As I sat through two glorious days of Conference this weekend, I realized that my perspective has been off and totally colored by my last study abroad experience. I have been focusing on all of the things that might be unpleasant, totally forgetting that I am a missionary-in-training, and since I am leaving on a mission right after I get back, I should look at this study abroad as a part of my mission. I have always wanted to serve a 2-year mission, instead of just 1.5 years!

However, this will be unlike a "real" mission because, don't worry, I won't be proselyting, or even answering questions about the gospel. Once again this subject is off limit--to the non-members. But Spencer told me that there are quite a few inactive members in the Amman branch--mostly Arab natives--and what better opportunity will I ever have to serve in this capacity? I am a guest in the country so the awkward things I am bound to do are a little more forgiveable. I am there to learn Arabic--and what better way to do that than by being with the natives? And, I am about to go on a mission--so I really just want to serve people and teach them about Jesus Christ, if not through my words then through my living testimony of the restored gospel of Christ.

Today as President Uchtdorf was speaking about President Monson's visit to Germany and his focus on the one, I realized that I am being given a great opportunity to do the same thing. I might be thinking unrealistically, but already I am imagining getting to know the members and the less actives and visiting with them and serving them all the time! Having done the touristy-type study abroad, now I am realizing more than ever that this truly will be my Arabic mission--if I let it! So those of you who read this, pray for me that I will be able to do the work of the Lord in Jordan and that I will know how I can help everyone, member and non-member alike, and prepare more fully to serve the Lord as a full-time missionary!


"This study abroad is just like depression or any other mental illness!" Prep class, day 4

As each day passes and I get closer and closer to this study abroad, I start to lose my resolve. Just a little. So, in the spirit of justifying Spencer's comment in the title, I will now list all of the reasons why I should cancel my application:

1. Cost. This study abroad is quite possibly the most expensive thing I have done--and thanks to the piddlance of $300 scholarship I got from the Kennedy Center, I am paying for it all by myself. The costs have gone up about $2,500 more than I was expecting last summer when I decided to go on this trip. And I am leaving on an expensive mission right after I get back!

2. Most days I hate Arabic. Really, I do. Arabic almost killed me last semester and I even lost my eyesight and had to get contacts. I am sick of vowelling sentences and I am sick of memorizing 100+ vocab words a week, and I am sick of taking quizzes in the hall twice a week, and I am sick of reading things that I am "supposed" to understand only to realize that I don't know 60% of the vocab words. Bully for me.

3. I am going on a mission--a week after I return! Couldn't I just speed up the process and go at the end of this semester...in 3 weeks?

4. I have to sell my car. Now, I bought this car with my own hard earned cash, and I will never get a steal like this again. Plus, I love my little red Matilda with all of her problems.

5. My dear friend Shayla is returning to BYU with her baby as her husband goes to Iraq--and I will be gone. No more needs to be said on the subject.

6. I do not want to go without a shower in the morning! I quite enjoy showering every morning...and I like hot water too.

7. I had enough trouble living with my own family--but living with someone else's family? And we don't even speak the same language!

8. Have I mentioned that I have no concrete goals or understanding of why I am studying Arabic? No goal=no motivation.

9. And speaking of Arabs. Personal space? Nope. A smoking society? Yep. Anything like my I-don't-show-emotion-in-public American counterparts? Nope. Overcrowded? Yep. Concerned with my personal business? You betcha.

But before I get to 10, I realize, who am I kidding? I am about to go and live in another country, speak another language, be another person, practically! Am I stoked out of my mind? Yes!!!

And now I just need to find a way to pay off my student loan...
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