Saturday, September 6, 2008

Alex and Back

Unexpectedly, I was without Internet during my brief Alexandrian getaway. This is, of course, akin to being without my left arm (I'm left-handed). I survived, though! Survival is what Egypt's all about. As was discernible in my last entry, I'm being rocked here and there by little waves of culture shock. This was entirely expected, but no less unpleasant.
I've been going through a few days of semi-satisfying (but fruitless) Egypt-denigrating in which I make sweeping generalizations about the country based on negative experiences and assumptions. Don't try this at home! While the transition to life in Egypt is more intense, a lot what I learned from living in France for a year is coming in handy: it's fine to indulge in some moments of "in America we're so much better at [fill in the blank]; thank God I'm American!" but overall, it's best to try and adapt, realizing that Egypt's far more likely to change me than I am it.
Despite the terribly poor organization of the International Students Association trip to Alex, I rather enjoyed it. It was a nice escape from the pollution of Cairo to the breezy, seaside city with a lot of history (but little to show for it). Palaces, lighthouses, and libraries have all fallen by the wayside here. Most have been lost and, every so often, are uncovered again during construction projects. The Catacombs of Kom al-Shuqafa and the Roman amphitheater we visited are two examples of this. We also toured the fort of Qait Bey a later structure (but one older than America).
Our last visit was to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, an attempt at recreating, at least in spirit, the original library of Alexandria. Unfortunately, it seems more money was put into the construction than in building the library's collections.
More interesting than the places we visited were the people we met along the way. Three of the "leaders" helping to herd our group of 140+ students from place to place were Francophones. One was half-French, half-Egyptian and grew up in France and another was from Mauritius. I got some time to chat with each of them in French. Ross and I hung out with a girl in between us in age who had just gotten out of the army after five years. She speaks fluent Pashto and has Modern Standard Arabic skills as well. Having gone into the army at 18, she plans to do her undergraduate Egypt.
At one point, a bunch of us ended up walking to the Four Seasons. It was everything a Four Seasons usually is--the opulence is hard to reconcile with a nation that has so many in poverty. We were reminded of this while walking around Alex, with little kids being sent to sell useless things to tourists or empty-handed to beg for money.
Coming back to Cairo was a strange feeling, a realization that I now have a little niche here downtown. It was "coming home" in some small way. Even if I complain about this temporary home, it's nice to have a place to come back to where there's some consistency and stability amidst the chaos.
Tomorrow I start graduate school. My first class, International Refugee Law, seems as intimidating as it does interesting. I'm not really sure what to expect, but I hope I'm up to the challenge. Until then, I'm enjoying the spoils of my trip to the Metro Market in Zamalek. The cab rides both there and back were pleasant, surprisingly so. The cab drivers were mercifully kind and reasonable. Al-hamdulileh!

News in Egypt:
A landslide killed some thirty people and many more are missing in a Cairo shantytown
The saga of an Egyptian businessman alleged to be involved in the death of a Lebanese performer continues


Anonymous said...

I dropped by you blog, read several posts..(actually enjoyed reading them)
We don't know each other,
but you know.. It's the world wide web!
Just wanted to leave a comment to say Hi, Good luck with your first class.

Hypocoristic said...

Thanks! It's nice to know people are reading it.