This blog was originally designed to keep me sane as I began learning Arabic. It morphed into a blog of musings about Arabic, the Middle East, and the Islamic World, as well as book reviews about those topics. Then, the blog became a place to keep my family and friends updated on my adventures while I was living abroad. During May and June of 2012, I had a 6-week long internship in Cairo, Egypt through a international student organization called AIESEC. I taught English at the Awladi Orphanage in Cairo, home to several hundred children. I lived in an apartment in Nasr City before moving to Maadi (each is a distinct area of Cairo). I experienced President Mursi's election, camped in the western desert, rode camels by the pyramids, and had countless other experiences. I have since moved past this blog, on towards new endeavors, but if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment! Enjoy!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday

Today has been very quiet. We went to work, came home to go grocery shopping, and I’m now at an internet café to post this message. It is entirely possible that I won’t have the ability to post another one of these before I get home (which will be on Friday). Today, I’m posting two messages, this one and the one about our Alexandria trip. Be sure to read about Alexandria! It was such a great trip. 
Saturday, we slept most of the day and then went to Paul’s good-bye party at Al-Azhar Park. We had a picnic on the lawn and watched as the sun went down over Cairo. We were situated on a high point in the city, so you could see the city all around. The park is a lush, green, and full of walking paths. I had been there before (on the day we visited the Citadel), but not at night. They had lights sprinkled among the trees, and it looked as though the tree trunks were glowing.
After dinner, we talked for several hours, enjoying the company and the view. It was such a great way to relax and enjoy ourselves. We left when the park closed at 11 and went back to Paul’s apartment for final good-byes. He only had a two-hour flight the next morning home to Athens (I am so jealous of those who have quick trips home!).
Yesterday was very busy! Sherin and I woke early to go to the Giza pyramids. We took a taxi to the metro, took the metro to Sadat station, switched lines, took the metro to Giza station, got off, spent about twenty minutes haggling with various microbus drivers (we knew that it was only one pound each, but they wanted us to pay way more!), riding the microbus, and walking from the micobus stop to the entrance to Giza. In all, this took us about one and a half, maybe two, hours.
The pyramids were grand, but honestly not that much more impressive than the ones at Saqqara and Dahshura. The ones at Giza are merely larger.
The best part of the pyramids was trying to locate the place where Sherin took a photo the last time she was there (when she was a kid). We scrambled over many rocks on the backside of the pyramids, trying to set up the exact location. Finally, we realized that she was sitting beside the third pyramid, with the other two in the distance. We found the exact rocks that she was sitting on, and held up the photo over the scene so that the pyramids and city view looked complete. We then took a photo of the photo and the view. It was so cool! Then, I had her recreate the shot, sitting in the same position. It turned out really well. Next time she comes, she can do it again!
I was impressed with how few vendors there were at the entrance, but I was less than happy with how many people were trying to get us to ride a horse/camel. It was very irritating to deal with, and so Sherin and I stopped walking on the main road.
By the time we had walked around all of the pyramids, we were far away from the entrance and we could not find the sphinx (we found out later that this was because we’d come in the back entrance, bypassing the sphinx completely). We were approached by another camel tour guide, and we told him we’d only ride for ten pounds each (which was, by the way, completely unreasonable of us. Usually, they offer rides for 150 pounds/hour. Our friends went for 50 pounds/hour, and this was after some extreme bargaining). Insanely enough, he told us he’d let us ride for however much we wanted. This is what we get for having “blonde” hair (here, even my hair is called blonde, because they don’t know the difference). We thought that we’d be riding the camel together, but he went and got his friend with another camel.
Sherin and I each got on our camels and were ready to go. Then, we realized that the tour guides were riding with us. Thus, we each ended up sitting behind the guides and riding camels to a lookout point for photos and then to the sphinx. The guide told me that he had been working at the pyramids for forty years, and how he loved getting to meet all of the tourists. He had worked at a hotel for a short time when he was young, but his father and grandfather had been guides at the pyramids, and he decided that it was more enjoyable to do that. He had seven children, one with a kid and another on the way, one getting married, one in the army, and the rest still in school. I told him I was 21, married, and that I had no children yet (I always say that I am married, because it removes any chance of inappropriate comments. However, the children question caught me off guard for some reason, so I answered honestly. It is always better to say you have children though, because most women here begin having children once they marry). He said I should come back to the pyramids sometime with my husband and children, and I said I would someday. The rest of the time, he told me a lot about the pyramids and the area around them. I got some historical information, but also I learned about how life was around there more recently. He said that when he was a boy, they used to come camping in the desert next to the pyramids, but this was before they erected the wall around everything.
I enjoyed the camel ride much more than the horse rides. For some reason, the camels seemed more reliable. I was glad that we didn’t have to walk back down through the sand, and we got a good deal on the price!
The sphinx was much smaller than I expected. In photos, it always looks so grand. We didn’t stick around for long, because I wanted to know the election results, and the tourists were being obnoxious. At the sphinx, we saw, by far, the trashiest tourists we’ve seen since we got here. It was a tour group of Russian and Polish people (Sherin was eavesdropping one of the Polish families, and they were being just so obnoxious that it was funny). Some of the women were wearing such skimpy outfits; they would have looked scandalous in a nightclub. I couldn’t believe it. I have only seen women dressed like that a couple of times since we got here, and each time, I have to wonder if they know anything about the country they are visiting. It’s no wonder that the Egyptian men have such low opinions of foreign women! I get that it’s hot, but there’s no need to take off all your clothes when it’s hot. I’ve learned that a long, loose skirt (or cargo pants) and a light long-sleeve t-shirt is by far the best thing to wear here. The heat is dry enough that you do not feel yourself sweat; it evaporates instantly. The full coverage also helps keep me from burning in the sun and from being uncomfortable walking around on the street.
Anyways, we left through the front entrance to go find the microbuses. I called Victor to find out about the presidential announcement, and he said that although it was supposed to have been made at 3 p.m., things had been delayed. At that time, it was nearing 5 p.m.
As we walked down the street, we saw a group of men standing outside one man’s shop and watching a small television. Sherin and I bought Fantas and sat down to watch the presidential announcement with them. It took awhile for the announcer to read off all of the votes. He went through each of the 17 regions of Egypt, giving numbers for the elections. The men were very intent on watching and full of emotion. First, the shop owner thought that Mursi would win. He was a Shafiq supporter, but he thought the numbers were in Mursi’s favor. Then, things seemed to change. He was so happy! He said, “a minute ago, I thought I’d have to tear these posters down,” pointing to the Shafiq posters on his shop, “but now, I have hope!” It was so fantastic for me to see how passionate they were. When we first walked up, he asked, “whom do you support?” When we didn’t give him an answer, he said, “This is a democracy, everyone may have his own opinion!”
His reasoning for supporting Shafiq was interesting. Being connected with the tourism industry, he was afraid that as a strong Muslim, Mursi would pass measures making it less appealing for tourists to visit (banning alcohol in hotels, etc). He thinks that Shafiq would be better for tourism. Also, he said that with Shafiq, “if you want to pray, pray. If you want to play, play. If you want to go, go,” basically meaning that Shafiq would be okay with people going about their business in the way they want. In defense of the fact that Shafiq was “from the old regime,” he said, “half of Egypt worked for Mubarak. He was in power for fifty years of Egypt, so everyone worked with him at some time.”
In the end, Mursi won. The men were clearly disappointed. We thanked them for sharing the moment with us and for their hospitality (they’d offered us tea and their chairs while we were there), and then Sherin and I headed down the block.
As we went down the street, people were going crazy. During the time that the announcement was happening, there wasn’t a sound in the city. People were at home or in cafes, watching for the news. From the time that Mursi’s name was said, Cairo was loud and proud in celebration.
Children were waving flags from the roofs of their houses, grown men were standing on trucks and yelling “MURSI, MURSI, MURSI,” all of the trucks/microbuses/cars/anything with a horn were blaring their horns as loudly as possible. 
It’s so rare to see that many people so ecstatic. I can only compare it to what I’ve seen on T.V. of what goes on when a country wins the World Cup. It was absolutely fabulous.
Traffic was insane by the time we got back to the metro, and the streets were full of people. I got a text message from Victor, asking if we wanted to go watch Mursi’s acceptance speech at 6. It was 5:15 then, so we agreed to meet him and Shubhum at 5:45 in Sadat Station (the central station in Cairo, directly under Tahrir).
The metro rides we had for the rest of the night went the same way: people were cramming onto the metro cars and everyone was chanting. As each new train arrived in Sadat Station, hundreds of people pouring out, running up the steps, carrying flags and Mursi posters, and shouting.
As we made our way from the station out into Tahrir, I pulled my camera out. At this point, I realized that in Tahrir, a nice camera means photojournalist. Everyone thought I was with some news agency or another, so people wanted me to take photos of them, undoubtedly hoping they’d end up on the front page of something or another.
Last night, Tahrir Square was like a mixture of a carnival and rock concert. Mursi was the candidate of the revolutionaries, and his supporters know how to do it big. Had Shafiq won, I sort of have to wonder if his supporters would have made such a racket. However, regardless of the winner, I think that most people were just happy to have had successful elections.
Words cannot do Tahrir justice, so I’ll just have to show you my photos. Black, white, and red, the colors of the Egyptian flag, covered everything. There were people selling buttons, people face painting Egyptian flags, people singing, people still camped out in tents, old people, babies, Muslim Brotherhood members, and lots of young student-aged men.
The young men ended up being the reason that Sherin and I concluded our visit to Tahrir. As the sky darkened, we found that we had made our way too far into the crowd to easily get out. Victor and Shubhum hadn’t met us on time, so we were supposed to meet up with them back at the station.
We started making our way in one direction, thinking that there was an entry to the Metro (opposite the one we had exited from). We ran into a wall of people, all crowded around a large stage. This was clearly not our way out. We turned back in the other direction, realizing how far it was back the way we came. As we stood there, discussing which way we should take, a guy came up (one of many who did, but this one was well mannered and not trying to take photos of us, for once). He said, “You really should get out of here. Which way do you need to be?” He said that it was getting late and that there were many “sexually unstable” men around. I didn’t trust him, purely out of instinct, so I asked why we should trust him more than any of the other men. This made him laugh, and he said he had a sister our age (something that men here seem to say a lot. They tell us they either have a sister or a daughter our age). Also, pointing at our cameras, he said that his friend was also a photojournalist. Once his friend came up, wielding an impressive camera, Sherin and I trusted him enough to let him guide us back to the metro. I knew which way we needed to go, but we could move so much faster with their guidance. The camera guy walked in front, me holding onto his backpack handle, Sherin behind me, holding onto my shoulder, and then one guy on either side of the three of us. We moved through the crowd like a little boat.
As we walked, I realized that we had made it all the way into the center of the square after we left the metro. I would have liked to have like to have stopped back on the edge of the square and met up with Victor and Shubhum, but the Egyptian guys we were with we adamant that it would be much safer for us to get to the next metro station and head home.
The square wasn’t dangerous, but I relented, figuring we’d seen our share of celebrations for the day. They walked us all of the way across the bridge to Opera metro station. I talked to the camera guy; he told me that he was a freelance photojournalist in his free time and that he worked as a wedding photographer because it pays really well, but that his degree was actually in architecture.
Once we reached the station, I was slightly amazed, but very happy, that the guys did not ask for our numbers or even our names. They had walked us purely out of concern for our wellbeing, and we really appreciated that. 
Sherin asked the one guy if he was happy with the elections, and he said yes. She asked if he liked Mursi, and he said no. This may seem contradictory, but, as an explanation, he said, “If in four years, we don’t like him, we get someone else.” I felt like that was a great way to explain all of the happiness around us. Not everyone loves Mursi, but everyone is happy to be given to option to vote and to know that someday, they can choose someone else if they want.
Looking back towards Tahrir, there was a solid stream of people pouring over the bridge into the square. The streets were absolutely filled.
I am so glad, so very glad, that I went yesterday and experienced that. I’ve never seen so many people in one place, so much pride, so much euphoria. Even if I don’t necessarily love Mursi, I couldn’t help but smile the entire time I was there.
Just imagine: the first free elections. Nearly fifty percent of the Egyptian population is under the age of 30. Can you imagine, for the first time in their lives, they are being asked who they want running their government, how they want things done. Mursi’s election has shown them that the revolution was worth something. They don’t know what they’ll get out of him, exactly, (who really knows with politicians?) but they know it’ll be a change from the old.
I hope that democracy treats Egypt well. There’s really no way of knowing this until the next round of elections in four or five years, whenever it will be. Democracy relies on the people, which is why it can take so long to get it right. Think about this: how long was it from the time the constitution of the United States was signed until every slave was freed? How long until every woman could vote? Our democracy is still a work in progress, so theirs surely will be for a long time to come. I just hope that they do not become disillusioned with the messy process.
On our way home to Maadi, Sherin and I saw the other side of the elections. We both had face paint on, Sherin’s actually was on her face and arms, but mine was only on my arms. While we were in the city center, we got many approving smiles and nods for our paint, but I knew that as we neared Maadi, we should keep a low profile. It isn’t a place where we would be hassled, but people would definitely judge us for having been to Tahrir. Maadi is upper class; many people didn’t support the revolution, much less the election of a former Muslim Brotherhood member. Most of the metro cars were pretty empty and quiet, because people had gone home much earlier. I rolled down my sleeves and gave Sherin my scarf to cover hers.
In Maadi, we ordered food, waiting for Victor, Shubhum, Aarane, and Faria to come back from the square (they left once evening prayer started). The man at the counter looked at Sherin’s face paint and had a pained expression. She said later that he probably spit in our food. I laughed and told her that it’s like if someone walked into my shop with “Palin 2012” painted on his or her face, and Palin had just won the election. I would probably spit in their food too. Though we were joking, it was obvious that Mursi was not popular among people in this part of town. However, we did see several cars with men hanging out the windows, wearing all kinds of red, black, and white gear and shouting “MURSI, MURSI, MURSI!” Like it or not, Mursi won the election.

1 comment:

  1. How exciting to experience the free election...stay safe and we look forward to seeing you when you get home.