Saturday, August 28, 2010

Les Misr-ables

As I predicted, the last six days weren’t nearly eventful as that first one. After bumming about the city for a few more days I moved into the dorms at the American University in Cairo. The drive out here was eye-opening, in that there was absolutely nothing but construction to see. We are quite literally in the middle of a desert.

I have had a cell phone for a week and have gotten three texts. So this is how the other half lives! The three texts were all from the phone company, confirming I had activated my phone. By the third I felt they were mocking me, as if to say you know you’re phone is on, why aren’t we seeing any activity on it? I’m anticipating a fourth text from them suggesting a singles botche ball league or something.

The campus is really beautiful and new. The food options: McDonalds, Subway, a bagel place, a candy shop, an Italian place, and a few small cafes. Oh and there’s an Egyptian place too. I hope I can adjust! The campus has been pretty empty this week, but everyone says it will be packed in a short amount of time. For now, though, it’s just the international students. Almost all the international students are Americaners, with the exception of my Canadian roommate. I tried to withhold any Canadian jokes for as long as possible, but that didn’t last long. He laughs though and put it gently, “USA and Canada have a brother-sister relationship.” The fact that he put it gently is a clear indicator who the sister is in that relationship.

On our first day we went to a nearby town, and there turned out to be a grocery market. Not having very much Egyptian pounds with me, I made the rational decision to buy 30 eggs, the most versatile of foods. But it was all for naught as we soon discovered when we got back there were no pots, pans, plates or utensils for preparing the food. Since then we’ve been observing the Ramadan tradition of fasting, with occasional snack food from the candy shop, as most of the other places aren’t open yet. When we finally do get a pot, I’m planning a Cool Hand Luke egg eating contest.

The next day all the international students went on a hellish trip to the old religious parts of Cairo. I saw three churches, each more boring than the last (with the exception Baby Jesus occasionally hid in some of them), an equally boring abandoned temple, and the oldest mosque in Cairo, which political correctness obligates me to say was really interesting. And in truth that was probably my favorite. A telling sign of the desperation of the group was when the tour guide asked, “Ok so do you all want to see another church or a dungeon?” and everyone shouted dungeon without hesitation. The dungeon was hot and cramped, but I didn’t mind; anything to feel again. When we returned eight hours later, Richie had moved in, but I was too tired and hungry to care. A few hours later though we played some futbol with the Egyptians living on campus, which was a really good time.

The next day was Friday, when the campus and country shut down for the day, especially during Ramadan. Nothing is more frustrating then spending a half hour lathering oneself in sunscreen, only to find out the pool is closed that day. We are in the middle of the desert, but we may as well have been stranded in space. We had yet to master the AC, so things got very cold. There was absolutely nothing to do. One of the few times I walked out of my room, I found Mitch huddled over the Mr. Noodles cup he had bought, scraping the insides for some sustenance. Things were dire. The light at the end of the tunnel was an orientation lecture at 5 that promised food to all who came. Right before we went Ryan arrived, equally excited about the prospect of food. An hour and half later of being told expulsion awaits those caught with alcohol and members of the opposite sex (and possibly playing cards?), there was still no food. Luckily a place similar to AU’s tavern was open, where we had sandwiches and lived to see another day. After dinner we went on a falluca ride on the Nile, which is a sail boat. Ritchie and I went on a boat with about 15 Egyptians, and it was really nice. The half hour ride convinced me of two things: I will never learn or speak Arabic, and I will die of second hand smoke before I leave here. Besides that realization it was a pleasant ride, by all accounts.

On the ride we saw some magnificent hotels which were very modern and luxurious. On the bus ride to and from, however, we saw terrible poverty. The distribution of wealth is terrible here. Half of all Egyptians live on less than a dollar a day, and the city is absolutely filthy in most areas. I thought Chemonics was clearing this mess up? Or have I been reading resumes for nothing all summer?!

Also, one final note, it occurred to me during one of the nights I laid awake adjusting to the jet lag, that famous ex-pat Gertrude Stein or someone equally irrelevant to history had termed the generation after World War I the Lost Generation. Now, as an ex-pat myself, I wonder if it is my place to term our generation the Lost Generation? The series lasted about as long as the war, if not longer, and we certainly lost our innocence with all the deaths. I don’t know, it seemed a more complete parallel at 3 in the morning, but maybe it’ll come back to me.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pyramids and Camels, but Mostly Camels

OK so after writing this, it appears it is longer than your standard blog post, but believe me each word is necessary for the full effect of the story. So, while I realize only Mom and Leslie will read this in one sitting, maybe some of you lesser Adam-fans can break it up into chunks? Sorry!

Today I dropped hundreds of dollars, got baked, became intimate with a minor, and wasn't even at the Delta Chi house. Instead, I was riding a camel to the Pyramids. The loss of hundreds of dollars wasn't too bad, since it was in Egyptian money and it came out to be like $50 American. And I got baked in the everyone-told-me-to-wear-more-sunscreen-but-I-didn't sense. And the minor was a sprightly 15-year-old boy named Rugul who I shared a camel with for an uncomfortable amount of time (really any amount of time is an uncomfortable amount of time to be riding double on a camel).

To take a step back, the girls (Emily, Maddie, and Zoya) I am traveling with really don't waste time jumping into things. I linked their names to their blogs to make fact checking my stories easier for everyone. So read their blogs for more insightful and accurate but less entertaining blog posts. Zoya isn't trendy or self-centered enough to get a blog yet, but I expect the title to be something like In Love in Cairo, details to follow.

After a rather long flight, we stumbled through customs, and found the van the hotel sent for us. Everything that has been said about Cairo roads is true, and for me to summarize them here would be almost cliche. Which I know normally doesn't stop me, but this post is long enough as is.

We got up rul early and had a delightful breakfast. The hotel we're staying at is in downtown Cairo and is run by a couple of Swiss ladies. It reminds me of that one scene from Apocalypse Now. You know, that one. We decided not to wait for the Pyrimads and hopped on the metro to Giza. You could tell we weren't in DC anymore because all the metro escalators were functioning and people acted like human beings. After getting off at Giza, taxi drivers ran up to us shouting prices. We are preetty much the easiest people in the world to convince, so whoever spoke to us last had us. That's when a nice young man came up and told us to take the bus, and he was going our way! We ended up taking a cab (the man was persistant!) and the young man, Omar, came with us. My tan must have climaxed as Mido, the cab driver, insisted on referring to me as President Obama. But thats as political as this blog gets, if you want to hear more on those subjects please refer to Joe Wenner's blog. Omar was really nice and spoke fluent English, and even paid for our taxi ride. We were then unceremoniously dropped off in this little store, where after five minutes of listening (thank god Omar came with us), I gathered we were negotiating for camels. Soon enough we had rented four camels and two guides, one of whom was Rugul, the boy I would get to know quite well in the next three hours. Omar didn't want to go, and now I know why, but he said he would wait for us and that we should go to his house tonight to break fast. Having not said no once this trip thus far, this was no time to break tradition.

I'd like to meet the first man to ride a camel. It takes an interesting mind to look at one and think, "I want to sit on that." Camels are much taller in person, like at least twice as tall as a horse. Or maybe I just think horses are smaller than they actually are too. My guide told me my camel was a great guy, and the camel was nice and all, but he wasn't funny or anything. When the camel first stood up I thought I was going to die. When he kneeled down I thought I was going to die. In between I was thinking of the embarrassment that would follow when I died falling off a camel on my first day in Egypt.

We were making our way to the first pyramid when Rugul decides he wants to ride double. Without warning he got my camel to kneel down and then jumped into the saddle in front of me. Why didn't you bring your own camel, bro! So, as the camel stood up, I was straddling Rugul with the knowledge my life depended on it. It was too hot for me and Rugul to be glued together by sweat and the camel's gait made for uncomfortable rubbing. Don't guys get stoned to death for this kind of thing over here? For a variety of reasons, I let go of Rugul and spent the next two hours clinging to the back hump of the camel with every muscle in my body.

We took a variety of pictures with a disappointing Sphinx and a pyramid or two. I hate to make it sound like I didn't have fun/am the biggest wuss in the world, but it's really hard to appreciate the last remaining ancient wonder of the world when you are faced with the prospect of getting back on that camel. Here's one thing I picked up: One of the pyramids has a gash in it from where Saladin's son tried to deconstruct it. No one wants to live in the shadow of his father, but this kid thought that knocking over a pile of rearranged stones would compare to beating back the crusades? I'd hate to be the guy that told him they couldn't even do that. Oh, this one Egyptian teenager did offer me 500 MILLION camels for Zoya! Little did he know that camels are my second least favorite form of currency, only losing to the Looney (Canada, if you're reading this, grow up).

After the long trek back to civilization Omar had a car waiting for us, along with his best friend Sayed who happened to be a tourism guide! Talk about luck. I grew skeptical of Omar and his friendliness, but still accepted a ride to the metro. The girls have no fear and promised we'd be back at five to break the fast of Ramadan when the sun went down. When we got back Sayed drove us to Omar's, which turned out to be more of Sayed's, who turned out to be Omar's half brother and he had a full family. The meal was good and Sayed and Omar are the nicest people you could ever meet. Their motives are still unclear, except for the fact that Omar made it pretty apparent he wants to marry Zoya. Zoya has a story ready that she's already engaged and is even wearing a ring to prove it. Ah, love!

Now we're back and exhausted, but not too exhausted I couldn't write this monster of a blog post. I'm sure this day was exceptional in the things to talk about, so don't think this is an everyday occurance.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

As salaam al ekum!

As I'm sure you are aware of by now, I've created a travel blog! My parents insist that I won't call them enough, which is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy, and have suggested that I add them as Facebook friends. Obviously, if you have to ask to be my facebook friend, you'll never be my facebook friend. That said, if you are interested in topics ranging from the mundane to the eating of stale jumior mints, click here to see what Joe Gallagher really thinks about the latest internet conspiracy. So, as a healthy alternative, I've created this blog so instead of you spending time wondering what I'm doing in Cairo, now you can be reading about what I'm doing! Also, I remember almost nothing from my sophomore year trip to Germany (probably due to both those beers I drank while there), so I figure this will serve as a good journal of sorts. And maybe pictures? Should technology allow!
The name of the blog is the Prince of Egypt, after one of my favorite DreamWorks characters of all time, Moses. While I hope to make better time than Moses did in traveling to places like Israel, you have to admire the man's desire to see new places (although his nearly pathologic desire to get out of Egypt is a bit worrisome). This title narrowly beat out "Ryan Cassidy and the Sun Fish Kid", after my roommates, but I couldn't confirm Richie has shown his tattoos to everyone at American, although I suspect he has. So yeah, check back when I've actually been to Egypt and hopefully I'll have something to say.