Ok, it has been a little while since I last posted, but this last week and a half have been pretty busy. Today was the last day of midterm week, so this last week has been a blur of take home exams and studying and occasionally not a whole lot of sleep. But all that is behind me now; I feel confident in how I performed on everything, so I can now safely look back at the my small excursions in the past 2 weeks.
Well first of all, I started work at my internship last week; I am volunteering at the Children’s Cancer Hospital of Egypt, which, let me just say, is a big step out of my comfort zone. My job consists of keeping the children occupied while they are hooked up to IVs during chemotherapy, by coloring with them, playing games, or chatting. Besides my general inability to successfully interact with the majority of most children, I also find myself confronted with a language barrier, because the children don’t speak any English. While this means that I can’t express very complex thoughts to the kids, it is giving me great practice in speaking colloquial Arabic and this is the longest period of time that I have had to exclusively speak it. I have had some times where I don’t think that I am cut out for the job, but then I have a fun connection with a child and realize that even though I am a little uncomfortable and feel like I could be using my time on academic things, I am doing some good work and it keeps me going.
The weather is starting to get pretty nice here; there are some days where it gets really dusty and windy and everything turns orange for a while, but in general it is getting downright pleasant. I had classes canceled last Monday, so I took the opportunity to walk to a nearby park and get some quality alone time with a book and some flash cards, and spent abouut 2 hours sitting in a beautiful park watching all of the Egyptian couples come in a sit together being all cutesy. In general, Egyptian couples don’t really date in the way that we Americans think of it, so the opportunity to go to a park where they can hold hands is a big thing; though I don’t think I have ever seen anyone kissing in public. Even though it was a week or so after Valentine’s Day, there were couples carrying around giant bags with hearts on them; apparently Egyptians really like to go over the top for that holiday.
This is taken from my spot in the park, which is randomly located in the middle of the city. One of the funny things about this place is that they have waiters who come around and take drink orders, so almost as soon as I got there I had a guy walking up and asking if i wanted something to drink, who then told me that I spoke Arabic well, so that was exciting.
Our program took a trip to the University of Cairo, the largest university in the city and home to around 250,000 students. This seems like a ridiculous number, and although the school seems fairly nice, I could never see myself attending classes there. The university is home to a fancy museum and a pretty impressive library, and we got to go visit the main lecture hall where President Obama made his speech when he visited Cairo.
This is the view from the stage where Obama spoke, showcasing the pretty impressive dome that is one of the landmarks of the college. This hall holds about 1000 people, but is apparently not used for events other than pretty important ones.
Our short excursion for the week was a trip to Islamic Cairo, where we toured the historic Muez Street. I know you are probably thinking, “wait, isn’t all of Cairo Islamic?” but the term refers to the older parts of the city that were built by the Fatimid dynasty that established Cairo as a capital city. This is basically the old quarter of the city and here you can see a lot of old architecture and famous landmarks mixed in with the modern city, as well as buy almost anything at the massive Khana Khalili market. We started by entering one of the remaining gates in the wall that originally separated the royal district from the rest of the city and headed into the Al Hakim mosque, which had beautiful marble floors in the courtyard and a very fancy prayer niche.
I thought this was one of the nicest prayer niches that we have seen so far, but apparently it was remodeled with marble instead of the traditional stone, so some people feel like it isn’t quite part of Egypt’s cultural history anymore.
The next stop was a place called Dar Al-Suhaymi, which was a wealthy person’s house in the past turned into sort of museum. We were able to wander around and marvel at the beautiful courtyard and garden and contemplate how awesome of a party house it would have been.
Just chilling on some cushions in the main party room. All of the windows of the house are made with the same wooden lattice work that you can see behind me; it’s a little bit like a screen in that it will allow light and air to enter but the interior of the house is not visible. This was useful because it meant that women would be able to sit at the windows and look out without being seen themselves. (Also, I got a haircut, that’s what the title of today’s post is referring to. Because my program is so small, everyone pretty much knows everything about each other, so people had been discussing the change were expecting something sexy when they saw me. I think I obliged)
I got a little carried away taking detail shots of the cool decorations in a lot of the sights that we visited, but I couldn’t help it, stuff looked so cool. This is a close up to the door of a room that contained nothing but a few whale vertebra, because apparently if you keep some whale bones in your house you will be more fertile. Sounds like a plan to me…
The next stop on the tour was the Mausoleum of as-Saleh Nagm Ad-din Ayyub, which boasted some very impressive decoration and a nice sarcophagus in the middle of the main chamber.
I’m really a fan of all of the stained glass, used both here in the mausoleum and in a bunch of other sights we checked out.
Islamic Cairo is set up like you would typically think of an old city: narrow stone roads with lots of space for walking and mosques with awesome towers just popping up beside newer building crowned with satellite dishes.
Our last stop on the tour was Bab Zuwayla, another of the gates to the royal city that is complete with twin minarets, one on either side of the gate. We got to, you guessed it, climb up these minarets and get a cool view of the city, including some sights that we had seen previously, in addition to a bunch of shabby rooftops that were more or less covered in garbage. Thats what you get in a city so populated.
View from the bottom of the towers; these are special because they are two of the few twin minarets in the city, so our group split up and we half of us climbed each minaret, so we were able to have our pictures taken from the same height, which was pretty cool.
During the midterm madness this week we also had the chance to go to a traditional music night called Zar, which provided a pretty cool way to relieve some stress. The show was sorta similar to what I picture a voodoo ritual being like, with drum beats that suddenly started pounding in a frenzy and people singing words I didn’t understand. I had a really good time at the show, and they even had a complimentary tea break in the middle of it.
The best I could do in the dark room. Zar is a kind of ritual that is aimed at removing the negative spirits that are plaguing someone, kind of like an exorcism. It is especially interesting because it is focused on and led by women, which is not very common in Egyptian culture.
After the craziness that overtook this past week, Spring Break is finally upon me, which means that in a day and a half I am headed to Barcelona to reunite with one of my favorite people!!! I’m excited to throw myself in an entirely new culture yet again and to get a break from school, the conservative culture, and maybe even some of the people in my program. Time to see if I can switch my brain back into Spanish; I should have some fun stories when I get back next week!