Today is January 25, which is a pretty important day in Egyptian history, in case you didn’t know. More on that later.
Because I am in fact here to study, not just be a tourist, I actually have to go to classes! How terrible! While the week-long orientation was really nice to get us used to the city, it definitely put me in a mindset that Cairo was for fun, not classes. Well, that dream was shattered on Sunday, when I went to my first class. Yes I typed that right; something I didn’t realize until right before I left for Cairo was that the class week runs from Sunday to Thursday, because Friday is the Muslim holy day. While this doesn’t make a huge difference because I still go to class for five days a week and then get two off, it does mess with the way that I visualize my schedule in my head. At this point I have had at least one class period in each of my courses, and I think that they are going to be really interesting. As I mentioned before, I am taking a class in Modern Standard Arabic that meets 4 days a week for an hour and twenty minutes each, a colloquial Egyptian class that meets twice a week for an hour and a half a day, and a Media Arabic class for the same amount of time. Suffice it to say that I already have lots of vocab words to remember and a lot reading in Arabic to do. The good side to this is that in addition to the time I have to practice Arabic on the street, I will also have tons of opportunities in the classroom to speak, especially since my largest Arabic class only has 5 members. On a side note, it is a slightly strange experience to be living with 12 other people who are also studying Arabic, because at any time you can ask a question or say something related to the language and people will know what you are talking about. Back home I only have one other friend who is studying with me, so my group work is largely limited to her.
In addition to my Arabic classes I have two other elective courses: Ancient Egyptian Art and Hieroglyphics and Community Based Learning in the MENA Region. Obviously we will be looking at ancient Egyptian art, as well as learning the basics of how to read and write hieroglyphics, so I guess I can count that as another language that I am studying? The community based learning is for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) study and places each student in an internship with some kind of NGO in Cairo to gain experience and experience a different side of culture. I decided to take this class so that I wouldn’t have to sit in a classroom and so that I would have more opportunities to get out in the city and meet people. At this point I haven’t been assigned an organization, but the professor is trying to find me a place with a group that is working on sustainability projects in Cairo. The lead she has right now is with a program that is making solar panels out of garbage, which I think is super exciting and will give me a chance to get back to the activist-type behavior that was a huge part of my life in high school. It is looking like it is gonna be a crazy busy semester, as always, but I can safely say that I am interested in all of my classes and that I am sure the time will fly by.
On a random note, I have come to love the 15-20 minute walk to school. I like to do it alone, so that I can just kinda be in my head as I walk through the busy streets and not have to worry about talking to anyone or sticking with them. I feel like I don’t look as out of place if I am traveling alone and I really enjoy the challenge of crossing the streets when I don’t need to worry about if others are keeping up. Don’t worry, it is a very safe walk and I have never felt any threats as I make my way to class. This being said, I did have an awesome moment on the walk home with a friend the other day; right as we were talking about wanting to go to Europe for spring break so we could cut loose a bit in a less uptight place, we walked past a car blasting Lady Gaga’s Marry The Night. Good to know that even some Egyptians enjoy the mother monster…
Now then, the 25th of January 2012, is the one year anniversary of the Egyptian revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak from his 30 year reign; arguably the first peoples’ uprising in Egypt’s history. This is a pretty big deal, and with tensions still fairly high, there was a lot of uncertainty regarding what was going to happen in the city today. For this reason, we had classes canceled today and were actually confined to our apartments to ensure that nothing happened to us. To further add to the mounting tension, last night it rained in Cairo, which hardly ever happens, and a lot of streets had a few inches of standing water in them; apparently this city is not made to deal with excess water. To celebrate what we all feared might be our last night in Cairo, several of us headed out to Cairo Jazz Club, where we spent a few relaxing hours dancing to a live Egyptian band that played an awesome mix of blues, funk, and reggae. After returning we spent the wee hours of the morning sitting on our balcony and smoking from our newly obtained hookah while looking out at the city. We went to bed unsure of what would await us in the morning and hoping that there wouldn’t be violence or bloodshed. And this is what we got in the morning:
(I did not take this picture; I was nowhere near it)
This is Tahrir Square, the center of Cairo and destination of thousands and thousands of Egyptians to celebrate the revolution and continue protesting. Because I had nothing to do today, I was out on the balcony hanging my laundry out to dry and could hear some of the chants and saw some small groups of people walking to the square and waving Egyptian flags. We had some of our language buddies, local Egyptian students, come visit us and they told us that everything in the square was peaceful and that there were no counter protests that could instigate problems. Looks like we will be staying in Egypt after all! Props to the Egyptian people for standing up for their rights and the best wishes for the success of the newly elected Parliament.