March 26, 2010
During our time in Egypt, we have taken a lot of pictures and some video. We have been able to share some of our pictures with you on this blog, but we didn’t have the right software to upload our videos. We finally got around to purchasing the software we needed to convert the video into something we could upload and share, so that’s what this post is all about. We aren’t able to directly upload the videos into the blog itself, but we can upload the videos on to You Tube and share them with you that way. Simply click on the videos below and they should play.
The videos were taken waaaay back in August when we visited the Giza Pyramids and in October when we went camping in the White Desert. The first is the initial view of one of the pyramids when we arrived.
The second video is a view of that pyramid up close, to give you an idea of how massive it really is.
The third video is a shot from further away of all 3 pyramids (notice the 3 camels at the beginning if you look closely). The desert surrounding the pyramids is what most of Egypt looks like outside of the cities
The fourth and fifth videos are back and front views of the Sphinx, which is located next to the 3 Pyramids of Giza. They were doing some restoration on it when we were there.
The sixth video is of someone singing in the Sultan Mosque, which we visited the same day as the Giza pyramids in August. You’ll need to have audio for this one–I recorded it simply to hear him sing. Not as stunning on camera as it was in the Mosque, but you can get some idea.
The seventh video is of the Black Desert, when we went camping in late October. Nate filmed it on the top of a mountain….its a great view.
The eighth video is of Nate doing ‘extreme’ sand dune jumping in the White Desert. The sand dunes were incredible and the sand was soft–perfect for this type of activity!
The ninth and final video is from later that evening, when we were camping in the desert. The guys who took our group camping are Bedouin and are typically found in the more rural areas of Egypt. Their culture is one that we’ve really enjoyed the most while in Egypt–the food, the art, and the people. The video is from part of the drum circle/singing that they did while we sat around the campfire. You will also need audio for this one.
January 3, 2010
Nate and I ventured south to Aswan and Luxor Egypt right before Christmas with our friends Jeri and Zach. We flew out of Cairo to Aswan to begin our trip. We found Aswan to be a pleasant and relaxing area–the Nile actually looks somewhat clean and the surrounding area is much less chaotic and polluted than Cairo. We relaxed on our first day in Aswan, taking in the views and hanging out with our friends. The following day, we traveled south to Abu Simbel, a temple located 3 hours south of Aswan. Abu Simbel is an ancient temple situated about 20 km north of Sudan’s border and right next to the man made Lake Nassar. While inviting, the lake is home to many crocodiles and feeds into the Nile…not the ideal place to go for a swim! We spent a few hours at the temple (did I mention we got up at 2:30 am to trek down to Abu?) and started our return trip to Aswan around 9:30 am. We arrived back in Aswan and relaxed the rest of the day while preparing for our trip to Luxor the following day.
We took a train the following morning from Aswan to Luxor–it was a 3 hour trip. It was very pleasant with surprisingly beautiful and interesting scenery along the way. The landscape was scattered with lush green farms, modest homes and several donkeys.
Once we arrived to Luxor, we were greeted by our hostel owner and escorted to the Hotel (Oasis Hotel–if you’re on a budget and traveling to Luxor, I highly recommend it!). From there, we set out on foot to explore the Temple of Karnak and Luxor Temple. Both were astounding and it was quite surreal to see some of the enormous columns, obelisks, and statues. We chose to see Karnak during the afternoon and Luxor temple at dusk. Wonderful contrast, both were amazing! Tired and hungry after our long day of travel, walking, and temple visiting, we walked to a pub in hopes of finding ‘real’ pub food and drinks. Unfortunately, we still only found local Egyptian beer and pub food–it still hit the spot.
The following day we ventured over to Luxor’s ‘West Bank’ (on the west side of the Nile–we were staying on the east side which is where most of the city is located). We first traveled to the Valley of the Kings, where many of the pharaoh’s tombs are located. We saw three tombs–all were spectacular and incredibly old. We weren’t allowed to take in a camera, so no pictures of that unfortunately! Next was the Temple of Hatshepsut, a complex dedicated to a former queen. Finally, we stopped at the Tombs of the Nobles, where we saw the paintings and carvings along the tomb walls of stories from more ordinary daily activities (tombs of the pharaohs showed more majestic scenes full of gods). We then stopped at the Colossi of Memnon which are two huge statues that still remain standing. They once marked the entry way to another temple but all that’s left are the two statues.
On our last full day in Luxor, we spent time walking around the city and shopping. We found some lovely carved Alabaster candle votives and other local souvenirs. Exhausted, but excited from our trip, we departed from Luxor and arrived home in Cairo on Christmas Eve morning.
We have spent the rest of our time here relaxing and eating. We are excited to have taken such a fantastic trip and to share it with all of you. We figured the blog entry should be shorter because the really interesting part of this entry are the pictures (below). There are a lot, but we have tried to include the best ones. Nate labeled them–to view them individually and in a larger view, click on the individual picture you’d like to see and it should open in a larger window. Enjoy!
December 9, 2009
Trip to Dahab–Part 2
Entry by Wendy
Sunday, Nov. 29th
After our 30 hour trip to and from Jerusalem, we woke up after 6 hours of sleep (we got home at 2 am) and started the morning by enjoying a leisurely breakfast followed by reading on the 2nd level of the restaurant. Nate and 8 other people went on a 4 wheeling excursion into the surrounding mountains and I got a massage (I went with the two other girls who went to Jerusalem). After that trip, we needed one! The four wheelers were only gone for a few hours, but enjoyed spectacular views and a brief stop to a Bedouin oasis. Before dinner, Nate and I did some shopping along the promenade (fun!). That evening our whole group had dinner at the Funny Mummy restaurant. Everyone was sad to think about leaving the next day and we were all tempted to stay since both the university and the school were closed due to H1N1 until Dec. 6th.
Monday, Nov. 30th
Reluctantly, we left Dahab and enjoyed our shorter trip home (only 7 hours!). Dahab was such a fun, relaxing, and exciting place and we are seriously considering going back again soon. I would highly recommend traveling there to anyone who is in Egypt! To view the pictures more clearly, click on each one individually and it should bring up a larger version.
December 9, 2009
Trip to Israel
Entry by Wendy
The hotel we stayed at arranges day trips to Jerusalem. Since it was a holiday weekend (Eid), the usual travel days were different and there were fewer trips going to Israel. Originally we were supposed to leave on Saturday night and return late on Sunday. However, we ended up as add ons to an existing trip that left on Friday night and returned late on Saturday. Normally, the trip we would have chosen would have included other tourists who mostly spoke English and would also include an English speaking guide for the entire trip. Upon booking, we were told that due to the special circumstances of the weekend, we would be going with a Russian tour but that we would have an English speaking guide.
We were supposed to meet at 10 pm on Friday night to travel north to Taba, the town located on the border of Egypt and Israel. We received word around 7pm that we needed to leave at 9pm instead, so we rushed through dinner and raced back to the hotel to pack the few items we needed. We left just after nine—five of us crammed into a truck driven by a hotel employee. We were driven to a lonely gas station in Dahab where we met a lovely British couple on holiday, Nigel and Kim. We soon found that they were just as clueless as we were as to how the trip would progress. Nevertheless, a mini van was waiting at the gas station to take our small group of 7 to rendezvous with the Russians in a few hours (yes, we felt like we were in a spy movie). Our driver sped along the winding and hilly road north to Nuweiba and then eventually to Taba. The trip should take about 2 hours, but we didn’t arrive to Taba until after midnight. Along the way to Taba, we stopped 3 times and just sat there while we waited for the rest of the Russian group to meet at the various hotels and join the group. Somewhere along the way, we picked up two Russian travelers in our mini van.
Eventually, after 2 am, we were ready to cross the Israeli border. The huge group of over 30 Russians, the Egyptian guides, and our small group of 7 advanced upon Israel. To cross, we had to proceed on foot, so we were instructed to go through the Egyptian and Israeli checkpoints and get on a charter bus, which would be waiting for us on the other side. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, of course it wasn’t that easy. Because of my unique employment situation, I did not have a valid visa in my passport. I have an expired tourist visa and I was concerned about it (you have to renew your visa by entering and exiting Egypt, which we hadn’t done since August or by receiving a work permit), but was reassured by a lot of other people who said I would just have to pay a fine and purchase a new visa upon re-entry. Apparently expired tourist visas in Egypt are fairly common. Anyways, as soon as we got up to the counter to exit the country, I had to step out of line and go to an office off to the side (by this time, everyone from our group had long gone and were somewhere in the line to get into Israel). The person who processed my fine too FOREVER and wrote it up in about 4 different books. Eventually, they let us go and I had to pay a small fine, but they assured us when I came back through, I would just need to purchase a new visa. Finally we left Egypt! On the Israeli side, we were immersed in a crowd of other Russain tourists (not our group)—apparently Saturday is Russian tourist day to Jerusalem (and I’m really not kidding!). We got up to the first check point in Israel—I was let through without issue, but Nate’s passport was held. They instructed us both to continue on and Nate could pick up his passport on the way. We of course received no explanation as to why they help his passport. We finally got to the final checkpoint, where we were asked the length of time we’d be there, why we were there, and finally, how would we understand what is going on if we didn’t speak Russian? (see, I told you it was the official Russian tourist day!). Nate was instructed to return to the front desk and retrieve his passport. His passport and phone were swabbed to check for explosive materials/powder (apparently he looks very suspicious). FINALLY—just after 3:30 am, we made it through and joined our charter bus full of Russians!
We traveled for a few more hours and arrived at the Dead Sea a little before 6:00 am. Most of us slept a little, so we were feeling a little more refreshed, but still amazed at how bizarre the whole trip had been so far. Before we were allowed to get off the bus, a guide came on and spoke about the history and facts of the Dead Sea and Israel—or so we think! It was all in Russian and there was no one there that spoke English. We got off the bus, very puzzled, and tried to decide how to know when to get back on the bus. Finally, out of frustration, our friend Mary exclaimed: ‘Do any of these Russians speak English!?!’. Another bus driver behind us (not ours) said ‘some do!’ and he proceeded to help us figure out what time we had to be back on the bus. We spent some time at the water (none of us went swimming) and watched the sunrise while enjoying coffee and croissants. We could see the hills of Jordan across the water—it was beautiful. At 7:10, it was back on the bus!
We drove a few more hours and finally arrived just after 9:00 am in Jerusalem! Right away, we were amazed at how clean it was (after months in Egypt, not seeing piles of trash everywhere accompanied by a persistent haze of pollution was a very welcome sight!). We were thankfully met by a wonderful Armenian tour guide who took our small 7 person English group. Our tour guide spoke fluent English and grew up in Jerusalem. He is a practicing Christian and was a wealth of knowledge.
We started the day by walking through the outdoor markets—there are a few sections. We started at the Islamic section, which was similar to what we see often in Egypt and is said to be the route that Jesus walked before he was crucified. Next, we progressed to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is a historic complex of several churches connected and housed under one building. There, we explored the Greek orthodox chapel, the Armenian chapel, the catholic church, the chapel of mary magdeline, the Coptic church chapel, the slab where Jesus’ body was laid (and we touched rose scented holy water!) and Jesus’ tomb. We spent the majority of the morning there and could have easily spent the entire day there!
From the Church, we progressed through the Christian quarter, which houses several shops and markets containing ‘gifts from the holy land’ and walked through the Jewish quarter which was closed since it was Saturday. We then proceeded to an area overlooking several sites in Jerusalem—the Mount of Olives, the Wailing wall and the Church of Ascension, among others. From there, we rushed down to the Wailing wall, where we were able to go up to it, touch it, and observe others who were there in meditation and prayer. Since it was Saturday, parts of the wall were restricted to those of Jewish faith and we were also not allowed to take pictures or submit notes into the wall.
From the Wailing wall, we re-joined the larger group on the bus. Our small group must have done more things, because the entire Russian group was waiting and didn’t seem too happy that we were getting on after they did. Right away, we noticed that a young couple, who had been sitting near us, were missing. As the Russian guide made final counts (I pointed to their seats and said they weren’t there, but that didn’t make a difference), the bus pulled away without them! We kept telling people and finally our tour guide told the Russian tour guide, but they didn’t stop the bus and kept going. Finally, Nigel (the English guy) let our tour guide use his phone and our guide called the missing couple. They found a taxi and met us in Bethlehem. I was astounded that no one seemed to care that they had just left the couple in Jerusalem—when we met up with them in Bethlehem, they were thankful for being notified they had been left behind.
Bethlehem was strikingly different than Jerusalem. The majority of inhabitants are Palestinians and they are separated by a large wall from the rest of Israel. The town of Bethlehem reminded me a little of Cairo—it was obviously less wealthy, some of the streets had piles of trash and rubble and the buildings were plain and sand colored. We stopped at a gift shop to purchase more gifts and then went to a lovely restaurant that served us lunch. Yummy! After lunch, we went to the Church of the Nativity, which is where Jesus was born. The old chapel has been rebuilt due to a fire several hundred years ago before 500 AD, but was rebuilt and still remains today. For more history on the church, visit this website: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/israel/bethlehem-church-of-the-nativity
We waited in line to enter into a underground area, where Jesus was born. While in line, a different Russian group tour guide tried to cut in front of us (I think she assumed we had cut in front of her group), but Mary wasn’t having it and nearly got into a fight. Well, perhaps that is a bit dramatic, but there was some verbal exchange and raised voices from our group. Very funny after a long day! We finally made it down to see the nativity and wandered back out of the church into a more modern chapel. We were quickly ushered out because a service was set to start soon and we eventually got back on the bus.
That concluded our day in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which was really amazing! Tired, but in high spirits, we started our long journey home. We sat in Bethlehem for about an hour due to checkpoints or a traffic jam—not sure which. We traveled back for hours to the Dead Sea, where we stopped briefly to use the restroom and grab sandwiches (it was nearly 9pm by this time). We were maybe out of the bus for 15 minutes when one of our Russian companions hurried up to me and motioned for us to get back on the bus. A few of our group were in the bathroom, so I was trying to explain they’d be there in a few minutes (of course no one understood me). Honestly, it had just dawned on me that even though we spent a good portion of the day with these people, no one had extended any smiles and had largely ignored us the entire day, even though we tried to be pleasant. The only people who spoke to us were the couple sitting in the back with us, who spoke a little English and who the bus had left earlier (I think they were grateful for us actually saying something). Feeling frustrated and alienated, we continued on our journey back to the Israeli and Egyptian border.
We finally arrived and got off the bus. Our small group walked toward the first Israeli checkpoints, where we were greeted by a petite female guard (although small, she looked like she was tough!) who said ‘hello’ to me (I was one of the first ones in our group) but then took a double take and said very nonchalantly, ‘do you have any weapons?’. Of course I said no and kept walking (she proceeded to ask the rest of our group how many of us were there and then let us go). Our other friend Jeri gave her passport to the second Israeli guard (who was checking passports). When she handed over her passport, the guard asked her what her nationality was to which she responded ‘American’ as he was looking as her passport. He responded with ‘no you aren’t’ to which she said, ‘uh, yes I am!’. He let her go without argument.
We got through without any more issues and got a bunch of chocolate at the duty free shop and progressed to the Egyptian checkpoints. We had all been joking about all the trouble Nate and I caused on our way out of Egypt, but since we had asked and paid a fine already, I assumed we wouldn’t have any drama on the way back in. Feeling confident, I plunked my passport down and said ‘I need to purchase an entry visa’. Our guard was very cranky and yelled a bunch of things and angrily motioned for us to follow him. Here we go again! This time, we were escorted into a different office, where the guard angrily spoke to another guard while motioning to me and my passport numerous times. Finally someone said ‘your visa is expired’. I said I knew and showed them the receipt for the fine I had just paid and then said I was told I could just buy another entry visa here (which signs also explicitly say you can do at the points where you have your passport checked if your visa has expired). They said I couldn’t and then said I had to go back to Israel and get a visa at the U.S. embassy in Israel. At this point, I was sleep deprived and drained from our trip and I started yelling. In hindsight, probably not the smartest thing to do, but I was so frustrated that I didn’t care. I told them I was not going back to Israel and that I needed to get back to Dahab tonight and that they would let me buy a visa here. After a few tense moments of me yelling (I could feel my cheeks burning), slamming my receipt on the desk and them yelling back at me, they finally told us to sit down. A different guy (someone who I assumed was with our tour company) came in and spoke to them. They then allowed us to walk 5 feet to the currency exchange bank, which also sells entry visas. I purchased one, they put it in my passport, and let us through without any issue. We have heard a lot of stories about border guards scamming people in ways that benefit them, so I’m sure they would have benefitted in some way by sending me back to Israel to buy my visa instead of just letting me buy one there. However, since we put up a fight, they let us go. Nate thanked the guy who came in (the one I thought was from our tour company) and spoke with the border guards. The guy told Nate he needed more than a ‘thank you’ and demanded Nate give him 15 dollars (US). Nate didn’t have that on him, but refused to give him a bribe anyways (I was already across by this point, otherwise I think I might have smacked that guy—probably good that I wasn’t there). The guy started yelling at Nate and told him he was going to revoke my visa (which is impossible, he can’t) and Nate walked away.
So, there we were at 11 pm, safely across the border and back in Egypt waiting for our ride to take us back to Dahab. And we waited and waited. Finally, the tour company had us get on a random bus with a different group of Russians to take us back and drop us in Dahab. Now, we were all fully aware that at that point the tour company had screwed up because we should have gone back in the same mini van that brought us to Taba. The bus we got on was packed and we barely fit on the bus. The group had apparently been waiting for a while already, because we got lots of very nasty looks when we got on. No doubt that we were blamed for the long wait, even though we were just thrown on last minute.
We finally arrived back to Dahab at 2 am and hightailed it off of the bus and went back to our rooms. It was nearly 30 hours after we had departed the previous day (we were supposed to arrive back at 10 pm on Saturday instead of 2 am on Sunday). While the trip to and from Jerusalem and Bethlehem was bad, our time in Jerusalem and Bethlehem was great and our whole group agrees it was worth it. I will never take a trip like that again (although I would like to go back to Israel for a longer period of time) but it sure made for a lot of funny stories! Unfortunately, I think we inadvertently re-started the cold war. Oops! Enjoy the pictures below–To view the pictures more clearly, click on each one individually and it should bring up a larger version.
December 9, 2009
Entry by Wendy
Trip to Dahab, Egypt–Part 1
For Thanksgiving/Eid break, Nate and I traveled with 10 other people to a town called, Dahab which is located on the far east side of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. Dahab is considered a laid back area and caters to travelers who could be categorized as backpackers. There are a lot of cheap places to stay mixed in with newly built resorts, local shops and a plethora of restaurants. Dahab is right on the red sea and you can actually see Saudi Arabia across the water!
We chose to go to Dahab on the recommendation of our friend Ramsey, who grew up part of the time in Cairo. He recommended we stay at a place called the Penguin, which offers lodging for as cheap as 10 dollars a night (that’s with a private bathroom!) including breakfast. The Penguin also offers a lot of day trips to surrounding sights and they have a reputable dive center.
The majority of the people who went work at Nate’s school. We took a mini bus (seated 20) to Dahab. It picked up everyone at Nate’s school at 4 o’clock on Wednesday and swung by to pick me up at the University. Earlier that day, I had received an email alert from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo warning of travel along with northern Taba Nuweiba Road, which is the most direct and fastest route to get to Dahab. This warning was especially geared towards travelers driving at night and without an armed guard. Our driver had never driven that way and didn’t feel comfortable taking that route anyways, so we took a longer route. The trip should normally take around 7 hours from Cairo—this route took us over 9! We didn’t arrive to Dahab until nearly 3 in the morning! We were all really tired, but excited to be there and had entertained ourselves by coming up with funny names for each other’s future children. Nate and I had a lot of suggestions (funny first names seem to go well with Anderson), but our favorites included Ash (boy) and Apricot (girl) or Falafel and Baba Ghanoush. When we arrived, the desk attendant was sleeping, so it took him about 15 minutes to wake up—he was really disoriented and couldn’t find anyone’s reservations at first. Imagine waking up at 3 am and finding a group of 12 Americans who are tired, loopy, and demanding—probably not the most pleasant experience. After 15 minutes of confusion, we all got our room keys and eventually got to bed around 4.
Thursday, Nov. 26th
The next morning (Thanksgiving day!), we all had breakfast at the Penguin restaurant (free breakfast—yeah!). You could choose from a variety of breakfast entrees—everything we tried was great! We had to pay extra for ‘real’ coffee, but it was well worth it! The restaurant is situated right on the water and is Bedouin style—which basically means that most seating is on the floor with pillows to lean back. Very relaxing! Another charming aspect to the restaurant (and all restaurants in Dahab, as we soon realized) is that there are a TON of resident cats. They’re sneaky—they charm you by nuzzling you, sitting in your lap and letting you pet them and then they snatch food off of your plate. The first morning, I had a particularly sneaky cat pop its head up right next to my plate and snatch an entire piece of cheesy toast. He proceeded to eat the entire thing. Its hard to be mad at them—they are cute—but probably not a pleasant experience if you don’t enjoy cats! The rest of the day, we explored the promenade, relaxed by the sea, and had some good food. We didn’t find any traditional Thanksgiving food, but we did enjoy fantastic Egyptian food (some had seafood) and each other’s company. Despite the fact that we were all missing our families and typical Thanksgiving traditions (I know we were!), we managed to enjoy the day.
Friday, Nov. 27th
On Friday, Nate and I got up early to go with a group of people on a snorkeling/diving excursion to some nearby sites. There were 4 divers (Nate included) and 3 snorkelers (myself included) in our group. The divers started by getting dropped off at a site called the canyon and the snorkelers proceeded to the Blue Hole. The first dive was reportedly pleasant—they went about 25 meters down and enjoyed lots of coral and fish. From there, they met up with us at the Blue Hole (the snorkelers had the whole day to snorkel, so we spent the morning in the sun and went snorkeling in the afternoon when the divers arrived). The Blue Hole is one of the most famous dive sites in the world—it is literally a huge blue hole. The entry is from the shore—you enter the water and go about 10 feet and it drops off over 110 meters (not sure how wide the blue hole actually is, but its fairly large)! The divers actually went into the hole a little, but because of the time of day (nearly 2pm) and the waves, the visibility wasn’t that great. As a snorkeler, I enjoyed floating along the side of the coral cliff that stretches down and disappears into a blue abyss. When I first crossed over from the ground and above the hole, I experienced vertigo but soon got used to it and really enjoyed the view. The coral and fish weren’t spectacular, we have gone many other places with much more colorful coral and fish, but it was neat to be there! Other highlights of the trip were eating at the restaurant right by the blue hole, seeing lots of camels, and purchasing handmade Bedouin crafts. Here is a link to one of the local dive shops, which includes detailed descriptions of the dive sites and a map: http://www.emperordivers.com/divesites_dahab.php
That evening, we rushed to catch our ride to Jerusalem at 9pm…but more about that in the next post! To view the pictures more clearly, click on each one individually and it should bring up a larger version.
December 8, 2009
Entry from Nate:
A quick update of what has happened before our Thanksgiving trip to Dahab:
In the last post, Wendy mentioned that my school was closed for 3 days because of a few cases of H1N1. The government shut us down for 2 weeks because of those cases. We attempted to run school online. We have a web system for the school were we can post items and upload documents and such. The school also bought a license to use Windows Live Meeting, which allows us to have ‘classes’ and interact with students by showing them things on their computer screens, text chatting with them, and, when it works, actually talk to them so they can her me and respond. There were some, well many, difficulties with Live Meeting, but we got through two weeks and I actually covered some content. I don’t really know how well the students learned it, but I did some teaching. Students returned to school for 3 days before the holiday break began. The break was for Thanksgiving in the US, but primarily the Muslim Eid al-Adha.
Wendy kept going into her school regularly getting more into doing research. Her school did not close, yet.
November 10, 2009
November 10, 2009
Entry by Wendy
It has been over a month since we’re really updated this thing—I can’t believe it! Well, we did put up pictures, but that doesn’t really count! So many things to update…so, here we go!
School and H1N1
So, the H1N1 scare has hit again, although this time its arrived for real. There are now 3 students at Nate’s school with confirmed cases of the flu and we expect more may develop. Yesterday, all of the staff received a text message at 4:30 am telling them students wouldn’t be coming into school. Yesterday afternoon, the staff learned that the school was required to prohibit students from attending school, but teachers and staff were required to come each day. The school has been preparing for this situation, so they are having teachers prepare lessons and work for students in a somewhat on-line format. Its still very new, so not sure exactly how it will work, but it will have to work for at least two weeks (that’s how long students are out for). That time span runs right up until Thanksgiving break…so there will essentially not be any students in school for three weeks. Traditionally during our Thanksgiving break, or another EID, Muslims head on a Pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. This usually occurs once in a lifetime and thousands go. This year, people are still going, but there are a lot of concerns about what it might mean for the spread of the H1N1 virus. So, naturally, there are all sorts of rumors flying that school could actually be cancelled after that break and right through Christmas. So….if that happens, no students at the school until January! That’s a worst case scenario, but we have learned that anything is possible!
The University is still open, despite a few confirmed cases of the flu. I have primarily been working from home and go in occasionally, so it won’t really affect me much either way.
Camping in the White Desert
Amazing, but unlike any camping trip we’ve ever been on before! Take a look at the pictures—that says it all. Click on each individual picture to get a larger view.
Routine and Garbage
By now, Nate and I have settled into a pretty regular routine. Nate goes into school everyday and occasionally works out a few mornings a week before leaving for work (still think he’s crazy, but I’m secretly jealous that he can get up at 4:30 and resist the temptation to stay in bed!). I have had fairly busy days as well, although it still feels weird not to be going into work most days. I have also been going to the gym (although more like 8 or 9) and coming home to do work from home. I was studying for the GRE quite a bit, but I took it last week, so no more math flashcards for me! I have been concentrating on applying for graduate schools, which is taking a lot of thought and time.
When we aren’t working, we usually do usual boring stuff. We walk to and from the grocery store, go to a local expat hang out called the ‘Ace Club’ (a pub that caters to expatriates living in Maadi), go to the gym, go to Nate’s softball games and hang out with friends. We know which street cats and dogs hang out on different corners….we know which streets tend to be less busy and which side of the road to walk on (no sidewalks here people—it’s a little terrifying when cars come within inches of you, but you get used to it), and which piles of garbage to hold our breaths around as we pass. That’s right—I said piles of garbage. And, they are everywhere. Some really don’t smell much—probably because they consist mostly of cut branches and leaves or non perishable trash. Most, however, are not that friendly to the olfactory senses and the smell is a combination of rancid decay and sulfur. Its spectacularly disgusting and I have actually gagged when passing some of the really bad ones. I don’t know what’s all in some of the piles, but I’m guessing a combination of decaying food and, sadly, animals.
I (Wendy) have finished my Arabic class and am taking a hiatus from more class for a while. I may start up again next spring. I have learned a lot of very useful phrases, basic conversational skills, and most importantly, numbers. With numbers, I can give directions (street numbers, road numbers, phone numbers), negotiate prices or cab fares, tell time, order cheese and nuts in terms of weight….its really been great! I find that you automatically get a lower price on things if you can speak a little Arabic. I actually enjoy bargaining the cab fare with the taxi drivers—kind of fun! Yet another reason to visit us—you get to see me stumble through trying to say the number 15 in Arabic! J
Marriage Proposals and Harassment
On the way to take the GRE test last week, I received a marriage proposal from my taxi driver. Now, this is really common to have happen and is not nearly as creepy as it sounds. The cab ride was 45 minutes long and here’s how the conversation went (this was about 5 minutes into the ride):
Driver: so, where you from?
Driver: Oh, I love America! Very good!
Driver: So, do you have any children?
Me: um…no (at this point, I’m politely trying to study ridiculously hard vocabulary words)
Driver: ah, me either
About a minute passes…..
Driver: I notice that you are very beautiful and I would like to propose a marriage
Me: uh…sorry, I am already married (I hold up my left hand)
Driver: Oh, that is too bad. I have always wanted to live and go to America
Me: um, well I’m sure you will someday
That’s pretty much it—the guy was very pleasant but tried to overcharge me when I arrived at the testing center. I switched into Arabic number negotiating mode and got a decent price, I think.
This is a funny example of how forward some of the men here can be—before we came, friends of ours who have been here told us that I could expect comments like this if I were by myself. Other female teachers and expats get comments like this if they are by themselves too. When I’m with Nate, I don’t receive comments directly. However, there is a fair amount of blatant sexual harassment—not to the point where I ever feel unsafe (in Maadi, there are armed guards every few blocks, so if I really felt unsafe, I would run over to the guys with the guns), but its annoying verging on unpleasant when I’m out alone. I tend to try to dress somewhat conservatively when I’m walking around, especially if I’m walking around alone. I wear long pants and a loose t-shirt or ¾ length shirt (still in the 80s and 90s, so not exactly comfortable!). Still, its pretty common for some men to openly stare, make noises or say things either in broken english mixed with Arabic. This is mostly with the younger generation of men and not the older men—they tend to be more respectful. I realize this sounds horrible, but I’ve almost gotten used to it and if I’m feeling particularly feisty that day, I will give them a glare or just listen to my I Pod. It makes me appreciate home and when we’re home next summer, I am going to wear shorts and tank tops everyday just because I can! J
New Bed? Think Again!
Oh, I can’t end this post without an update on our bed situation, which I wrote about last month. So, as you may remember, we asked for a new bed the day we moved in, back in early September. Well, we slept on the floor (on a mattress) every night for two months and were harassing our maintenance guy almost daily until we finally got a new box spring and mattress last week—only two months later! Well, upon first glance you’d think we got a new bed….but it was pretty obvious that what they did was just re-cover both the box spring and mattress and try to pass them off as new. We still have both and have them on our bed frame and we’ve tried sleeping on it for a few nights. When you look at the mattress, you can see the indentation in the middle and lying on it requires one to enjoy the feel of metal springs massaging the spine. Not fun! We’re supposedly getting a different mattress (we told them it was not acceptable to get the same one back), but I’m guessing maybe we’ll get it by January. Anyone care to start the betting?
Well, as always, Nate and I love to hear from you and keep in touch. Please email us or comment on our blog—we’d love to hear what you think! We miss you all and hope to talk to you soon!
November 7, 2009
We took a trip to the White Desert with a group from school. We caught a bus from Maadi to Bahariya Oasis and village, 5 hours, then changed to 4-wheel-drive vehicles for another couple of hours. We stopped at a large sand dune before entering the Black Desert. There we climed one of the volcano remnants. Entering the White Desert, the guides took us to an overlook before driving down, seeing the sunset, and finding a camping spot. We camped under the stars surrounded by large white pillars. The guides set up a three-sided windscreen using the trucks and cooked a dinner of rice, potatoes, and grilled chicken, before making a campfire. A number of us slept on pads out by the campfire under the nearly full moon. Once the moon went down, we were able to see the stars filling the sky. It got cold in the morning as the sun began to rise warming the sand far to the east causing the wind to blow. In the morning, we have a breakfast of coffee, flat bread, and toppings before visiting some of the landmark shapes like a rabit, mushroom, and chicken. We made one last stop within the White Desert and the Crystal Mountain. It is not much of a mountain but a hill of various quarts crystals. It was a lot of driving to get back to Cairo, but the White Desert was amazing.
October 7, 2009
October 5, 2009
Entry by Wendy
Well, it’s already October 5th and right around this time, Nate and I would be planning our annual fall camping trip up north to Door county. In northeastern Wisconsin, this is the perfect time of year to admire the beautiful fall colors, go on hikes, drive along the coast of Lake Michigan, and enjoy the fall festivals. Oh, and I can’t forget the food–homemade cider, fresh apples and caramel apples, and anything pumpkin. Yummy! As I think I’ve mentioned maybe a million times to anyone I’ve talked to in the past few weeks–we’re missing fall here big time.
We’ve been doing some camping of our own here, albeit not the traditional kind or the kind I’d really like to be doing right now. As you know, Nate and I moved into our new apartment almost exactly a month ago. We’re really enjoying our new place and location–it’s been great! Oh, except that we still don’t have a bed. Let me explain.
The first day we moved in, we were instructed to walk around with the maintenance guy for the apartment and to point out things that we felt we needed to have fixed right away. One huge difference between renting here and in the U.S.–if something breaks in an apartment here, you’re responsible for the entire cost of the repair. Granted, things here are much less expensive, but it still is a pain if you have to replace something big. You do, however, get a small ‘grace period’ right after you move in and so we were making sure we didn’t miss anything that looked amiss before that period ended.
One look at the bed and I asked for a new one. I’m careful not to be too picky with the things we are provided–we are lucky in so many ways and the standard of living that we are used to is beyond what most people here ever get to experience. But–I am not excited about the prospect of bed bugs (other expats here have them already!) and from the looks of the mattress, we would be itchy with sore backs all year. Thankfully, the maintenance guy said that getting a bed would be no problem and that he would get it for us right away. Well, we have gotten used to things taking a while here, so we knew that ‘right away’ means a week or more. Surprisingly, within 4 days of moving in, we got a knock on our door and a different maintenance guy was there with a mattress! He quickly took it into our room and dropped it off. We thought, well…great! Problem solved. Until we walked in–the mattress he brought (not to mention he forgot a box spring) was way too small! The bed frame in our bedroom is made for a full size bed and is not adjustable–the mattress he brought looked like it was a wide twin size. We put it on the existing mattress and box spring and it was quite comical. So, we quickly called the main maintenance guy back and tried to explain that it was too small. He and some carpenters eventually came back to fix some furniture and our tv and when we showed him the extra mattress he had brought, he just started laughing. It was pretty comical! He said that he had another one and would bring it soon, no problem! Well, this time took a little more persistence in getting in touch with him, but he eventually came back just last week with another mattress. He and another guy brought it into the bedroom and put it in the frame. They were just about to leave when Nate and I stopped them–the mattress they had brought this time (still without a box spring) was way too big–it was a queen size. When they dropped it off, they had tried to put it in the frame without luck and it was very obvious that this new mattress was not going to fit, but I think they were hoping we wouldn’t notice before they left. Nate spent 10 minutes trying to explain that this new one wouldn’t work–they were trying to convince him that he could just put it on the existing box spring and let the sides hang over. Then they tried to tell us that you can’t find a mattress or box spring in Egypt for the existing frame–that they don’t make that size anymore (not true, they do!). So funny! Long story short, we finally got permission from the owner to find a new mattress and box spring and she would pro-rate our rent as long as we left it in the apartment when we moved out.
In the meantime and over the past month, we’ve been ‘camping out’ on the floor of our living room by pushing two twin mattresses together and sleeping on that. It actually has been fine, but will be nice not to have to assemble and disassemble the bed every day.
It has been such an amusing experience. We still have all three non-functional mattresses in our apartment, along with the old box spring. They are all stacked up against a wall in one of our rooms–Irish loves to sleep on top of them. So, I guess they’re serving some sort of purpose! We are hoping that once we get our new bed, we can have someone come and pick the extra mattress up. However, if they don’t and if you happen to visit, you’ll have a variety of beds to choose from!