It has been a few days since I updated, cause it has been kinda busy, so I have some cool new stories and pictures for you guys.
The first big thing is that I have made some Egyptian friends! As part of the “cultural integration” aspect of my program, we are assigned language buddies, students from nearby high schools or universities who are looking to practice their English and help us to practice our Arabic and so forth. My buddy is a guy named Zizu, short for Abdulaziz, who is a high school senior who is looking to go to college in the United States, with a bunch of big name schools like Princeton on his list. Zizu and another language buddy, Mohamed, came to visit us on the 25th when we were under house arrest and at some point the topic of Mexican food came up and they promised to take us to go get some in the near future. We set the date for Saturday, and that night my roommate Andrew and I set out to meet Mohamed and Zizu to go to a restaurant called Spectra. After Mohamed came to our apartment, we set out for the metro to meet Zizu, and as we were waiting a group of teenage Egyptian boys came over and sat down with us, excited at the idea of meeting Americans. Though they didn’t speak any English, they knew how to say Obama! and ended up taking a picture with us before getting back on the metro and heading to their destination. The dinner was awesome, I got some enchiladas that I am still eating as leftovers and then we went out for a dessert of rice with milk and ice cream, something I had tried in Spain but did not know that they had here. We spent our time talking about colleges and sports and things like that, and it was a really nice experience to just hang out with some locals without having something that we had to accomplish. There was one hilarious moment when Zizu found out that he had his interview with Princeton in two days and started freaking out, exactly as I would have expected one of my American friends to do. It’s nice to know that some things are universal. The guys made it much easier to get around in the city, and I am looking forward to the next time that we hang out; I think they want to take us to the famous Khana-Khalili market next weekend.
Side note: I saw my first car accident in Cairo a little while ago. I was doing homework and heard a bang and went to the balcony to see that, big surprise, where a road intersects with a circle and there are no yield or stop signs, sometimes you get fender benders. The funny thing about it was that within 2 minutes a whole group of people had walked over to the cars to seemingly do nothing more than stare and add to the disruption of traffic.
We went on another excursion this weekend, this time to one of the oldest mosques in the city, the mosque of Ibn Tulun, which is in Old Cairo. It was a really interesting tour and we got to climb all the way to the top of the minaret, which had an awesome view of the Citadel, the sultan’s palace from the days of Saladin and the Crusades.
This is the view inside the first wall of the mosque, before passing through a second set of doors into the actual courtyard for prayer. This space was created as a buffer from the hustle and bustle of the ancient city, because the mosque was actually right in the center at that time. The outer wall has doors all around it because a bunch of the roads in the city led straight to the mosque.
This is the view through one of the dozens of arches that support the roof of the courtyard, along with the minaret. I really like the ornate decoration of the inside of the arches, which does not repeat for 7 arches all the way around the mosque. The smaller minaret to the right is not actually part of the mosque, it is part of a school that was built a few hundred years later right beside the walls of the mosque. After touring the courtyard we got a chance to climb up in the tower, all the way to the very top platform!
This is a view of the mosque from the top of the minaret; you can see how massive it is and can imaging what it looked like packet with people praying in neat rows. The dome in the center is a fountain that was built a while after the original mosque, and was used for ablutions before prayer. The small dome at the top center of the picture marks the qibla, a decorated niche that marks the direction to Mecca and serves as the front of the mosque. I have more pictures of the interior of the mosque, but I am having trouble posting them to the blog, so if you would like to check out more, as well as more pics from my daily experiences, check out my album on Facebook.
Yesterday we went as a group to see one of the most famous operas, or so I hear, Aida at the Opera House in Cairo. I’ve never been to an opera before, so I was pretty excited to go, though I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures in the show, so I have nothing to show you there, but I can say that they sets and costumes were fantastic. Try to picture 50 plus actors in full ancient Egyptian garb singing in Italian as subtitles are projected to the sides of the stage in Arabic. If you are imagining that you would have no clue what was going on in the show, then you would be in the same boat as I was. Luckily the programs had a short synopsis of each act in English and the work was definitely visually impressive enough to keep my attention.
This is a picture of the Opera house after the show; it is a pretty fancy place with a dome that is visible from pretty far away in the city.
SPEAKING OF FANCY!!!!!
Just to set something straight, I am not going for an Amish beard; I am just kinda lazy about shaving and figured this might help me fit in a bit, plus I can come home and make my beardless friends feel bad about themselves. As far as the blending in thing goes, apparently my beard is a typically Muslim one, with the mustache kept shaved, so I have had multiple people ask me if I was Muslim. And here I just don’t like mustaches…
Today we got hit by the khamseen, strong winds that bring in desert dust and sand that more or less acts like a thick layer of fog. This comes after some rain yesterday that flooded some streets because the city isn’t built to deal with any excess of water, so we have been getting some pretty fun weather, with temperatures reaching 70 degrees! Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in town and speaking at Cairo University tonight, so I will be going to see her and hopefully learn a thing or two.