Thursday, December 11, 2008

100th Post

This is my 100th post which means I've been in Egypt a handful of days more than that. Crazy! So much has gone on and now that I'm going to be home for a little while in less than a week, I'm becoming more prone again to reflecting on the first half of my year spent as a Rotary scholar here. My conclusions about my decision to select Egypt as a study country are wholly positive. The challenges and difficult times are worth it for the lessons I've learned, the flexibility I've gained, and for helping me to appreciate the outstanding moments.
Yesterday, there were a great many of these. Brian, Ross, and I had breakfast and headed over to meet Marise, Jenn, and Phil at the juice place (the centerpiece of Brian's visit in Egypt). Because there were six people and only five places in the car, Phil ended up in the trunk during the first leg of our trip. This is probably wildly illegal in the States, but more or less permissible in Egypt (as is hanging out the car window, as we later found out as well). I think Phil, Brian, and Ross, who took turns in the trunk throughout the day probably had as much fun doing that as seeing the sites. Normally, I'd be horrified that we were doing such a thing but hey, when in Egypt.
The five of us Americans purchased our student tickets to get into the area while Marise, our resident Egyptian-Canadian-American , got a much cheaper ticket. I cannot begin to understand the rationale behind the dramatic price differences--we don't charge foreigners outrageously higher ticket prices in Washington D.C. to visit museums and monuments as far as I know. This upcharge applies to hotels here and a great many other things. Ma3lesh. The Great Pyramid didn't open until one, so we visit some smaller pyramids and the Sphinx in the meantime. Brian and Jenn rode camels and Marise followed them on a horse while Phil, Ross, and I took goofy tourist pictures with the Sphinx and the pyramids. We met up later to get tickets for the last standing wonder of the Ancient World and ended up arguing with a power-tripping (bribe-soliciting?) Egyptian man who conveniently put up a sign saying "no cameras" after we'd arrived at the entrance. He later got chewed out by his superior, but either way, Ross managed to smuggle in his camera. Of course, nearly everyone else (especially Egyptian visitors) made it in with cameras too, past the oh-so watchful eye of the "guard", but there's not a whole lot to see on the inside anyway because the artifacts are all in museums around the world. Our next stop was meant to be Saqqara, some kilometers to the south. There one finds the step pyramid of Djoser, the oldest standing step pyramid in the world. A bit peckish, we stopped at a koshary place along the way and were the only Westerners in sight, much to the amusement of the locals. We had a throng of children "befriend" us and follow the car as we left. We passed so many donkey carts, oxen, and even a camel or two as we got further from Cairo. Palm trees and agricultural fields lay between us and the sun beginning to set over the pyramids at Saqqara. It was gorgeous. Unfortunately, this also meant that we'd reached the time of day when the complex closed for the evening and we didn't managed to get in to tour the step pyramid. Our humorous conversations, Phil's story-telling, and the beauty all around us was more than enough to make up for it, though. With Brian in the trunk, we headed back to Cairo to Ramses Square where Marise and Jenn bought tickets flanked by Ross and Phil while Brian and I napped in the car. On top of the normal wear and tear of climbing the pyramids and getting up early, I began to realize I was falling ill, which is a bummer. By the end of the evening, I had a terrible headache that kept me up last night. This morning I popped some Excedrin and am hoping for the best. We headed to Café Arabica in Zamalek next and got fiteer, which was delicious. Ross, Marise, and Jenn were having us all draw pictures to be analyzed as we waited for the food to arrive. The conclusions were as funny as the drawings. The Khan al-Khalili was next. We haggled our hearts out for Christmas gifts and souvenirs. It was quite a lot of fun and a lot lower pressure than when I'd gone there a few years ago with Alia.
This morning, Ross and Brian went to visit the Citadel. Since I'd already seen it, need to get papers done (and fast!) and am not feeling too well, I'm hanging here until lunch. We're going to grab koshary and then take Brian to a cab so he can go to the airport whence he'll continue onto Jordan, his next leg in a brief Middle Eastern journey. It's a bummer that final papers and departures are bringing our few days of fun to an end, but we'll all inevitably have fond memories of the experiences.

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