Monday, December 24, 2007

One Last Jumble of Posts

This is the post where I make up for all the apology posts I've written earlier. I'll begin by posting pictures of the last two major events of my trip, going to the pyramids one last time on camels in daylight and making a trip to the holy lands.

Pyramids on Camel this Time

Jeruslam, Palestine, and the Holy Lands

The old city of Jerusalem
The wall encompassing Bethlehem
The western wailing wall
Masjid al-Aqsa, the third holiest place for Muslims
Floating in the Dead Sea

Petra, Jordan

Indiana Jones movie
By the columbed row
The monastary, after an 800 step hike, 30 minute run
Random tombs/palaces

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sorry, I'm back soon though

I apologize for not having posted in a month. This past month has been hectic due to midterms right before finals and then finals. However, I managed to squeeze in a trip to the Black and White Desert (whose pictures will be posted up shortly) and I returned last night from Jerusalem, Palestine, and Petra in Jordan. My experiences there will be written shortly as I now have seen reality for myself there. I'm leaving Egypt tomorrow night and should be back in NYC on December 19th at 1PM. After resting, celebrating Eid the next day, unpacking, and recovering from jet lag, I will make sure to hit up everybody. Can't wait to be back home soon. Just one more paper to go and khalas. Hear from me soon. Hope everyone's semester went well and that your winter breaks are phenomenal!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Billah's Villa 2 in Sharm el-Sheikh

Basic ballin occured this weekend. just check out the shots of our villa below and i the rest of the details will come.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween? Feign?

It's Halloween today and not a trace of it is on the Egyptian landscape, not even at AUC. I was surprised that despite the great extent to which AUC and its students are westernized, there were no costumes on campus. This is where some of the cultural differences may lie. The fact that they aren't celebrating this pagan holiday doesn't make me that sad but I know I will be if we continue into Thanksgiving and I have no turkey. Thanksgiving is something the world, I feel, should and could umbrella under. Oh, we'll see. My friends, though, are throwing a halloween party, so I'll probably catch a glimpse of it tonight.

The "feign" part in the title has a double entandra. Feign transliterated in Arabic means where and feign in English is faking it. We are forced to fake halloween here cause we don't know where it is. It took me a while to get down feign and distinguish it from the Egyptian colloquial, min-ain, but I'm slowly getting this Arabic language down. It's particularly exciting when I read the Quran and can sometimes nearly translate entire verses. cool. ishta. kuwaiya-sawee.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Luxor, Aswan, and Abu Simbel for my Eid-al-Fitr Break

So, right after I came back from my 6 day trip to Luxor, Aswan, and Abu Simbel for my Eid-al-Fitr break, I checked my camera and i had taken 500 photos on the dot. That's a lot and for those of you that know me, I'm just a lil too lazy to post them all up, especially, if I had to pick and choose them to post here. The internet here in Egypt is just too slow for me to do that. Hence, if you guys want to see it all, I will have to refer you all to the two small facebook albums i have created. Here are the links:

You need facebook for them, so please feel free to join. It was a phenomenal weekend and once I get the energy to write about, I most definitely will. In the meantime, I wish everyone back home a great belated Eid Mubarak. I had a phenomenal one in the city of Aswan. Plus the trip was a great way to conclude Ramadhan and the transition from not eating for a month to getting great all-you-can eat buffets on the cruise was quite an awkward, but easy one. I look forward to hearing from you all soon and once again, I wish you all the best. I'll be home in two months and I can't wait to see you all then. I can't believe I'm half way done with my studying abroad experience. it's kind of...

PS- Yeah, i felt bad not everyone had access to facebook, so here as some pics from the trip:

Abu Simbel
Sphinx Road from Karnack Temple to Luxor Temple
A model of the Valley of Kings. You can't really take pictures inside the tombs there.
Philae Island Complex Temples
Edfu Temple

PPS - When I get back, ask me about the two stories I have from this trip. One regarding pee-pee and the other regarding a town wedding. Thanks.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Interior of my Ministry: Part II

Yes, I live in a shitty apartment where my showers are dictated by when the hot water boiler in the bathroom decides to work. It’s sad sometimes that one of my favorite games while sitting on the shitter is how many ants can I stomp within my reach. However, who am I to complain? I have a great roof atop me, tons of piasters at my disposal and not a concern about where my next meal will come from.

It’s hard not to give to a crying old woman. My heart hurts if I pass her by. In a country of 80 million with nearly 30% below the poverty line, it’s difficult to help them all. However, there are ways, and I am very happy that AUC students are doing their part.

Through programs that help the needy, such as AYB in Ein Seerah and the Help Club delivering iftaars, AUC students are doing their part. It makes me happy that although the top 2 richest percent of kids go here, it does not stop them from developing their surroundings. An obvious schism exists between the lavishness of their dwellings and the streets they walk through to get to campus. For us and them, with only 7.5 EGP, which isn’t even equivalent to $1.35, one can provide a full meal to a fasting soul. A little money and effort can go a long way here.

That is why my shitty apartment does not bother me much. Plus, I have so many advantages living here. Knowing that I live in a standard Egyptian apartment, I know that I am living through one of the fullest study abroad experiences here. I deal with the super on a weakly basis regarding bad plumbing, gas, elevator problems, garbage disposal, you name it. I think this is helping my Arabic, or at least I hope so.

It’s hard to get to neighbors in my building though. I’m living with two other full-time AUC Egyptian students and everyone knows that our apartment is filled with three young bachelors and hence, everyone is almost always scrutinizing us. Yet people are still friendly. I’ve introduced myself to the young lady living alone next door. I’ve borrowed a lighter from the grandma living above us. The old retired accountant keeps inviting me up to his place on the eighth floor. His apartment use to serve as his office. Surprisingly, a lot of apartments in my building are offices. There are at least five doctor’s offices in my building. It probably makes it more difficult for my doorman to keep track of everyone. It definitely makes it more difficult for me to socialize in our elevator since I only see these visitors once on their way to the doctor’s.

Speaking of our elevator, it is one of the scariest rides the world has seen. There are two in our building each serving different floors. The one that serves mine has been broken since the day I got here and hence I have to use the other one. This means I have to take it to the sixth floor everyday and walk down one flight. I don’t mind doing this, especially at night. However, during the daytime, every time I get off the elevator, I see the huge drop between the end of the elevator and the sixth floor, terrifying each time I cross. I skip a breath every time.

As you can see, there are little things I am forced to deal with on a daily basis but it makes my experience here quite unique. I love the fact that I can hear the azan, the call to prayer from my bedroom window. That is also because there is a mosque catty corner to my apartment, to the side of the wizara-al-daakhaliyya, the Ministry of the Interior. And whenever I am hungry, I walk down the block to this place I call “The Red Place” since I can’t come up with a better name for it since I never bother reading the Arabic on their signs. They just have huge red billboards and tacky flashing lights. The place is legit though and I love the food and price there so I guess I should invest in its name, but for now, it’s “The Red Place”.

I love my neighborhood. I’ve explored three corners of it: north, east, and west. I have yet to walk down south and I don’t know what keeps preventing me from it. One day, insh’Allah, one day.

A lot of my non-Muslim study abroad friends have now come to understand what insh’Allah really means. It roughly translates to “If God wills” and is used to mean “hopefully”. However, when it is used, the new connotation everyone has derived from it is that “If all conditions are perfect, and the weather is exactly 15.26 degrees Celsius, and two cats walk side by side with me for two meters, and my big toe stops feeling itchy, I might come and fix the phone line, insh’Allah”. I’ve always understood this hidden meaning of the word because Bangladeshi people use it all the time, but it’s nice knowing that my other friends are picking up on these subtle thoughts.

In conclusion, insh’Allah, I will continue writing my internal thoughts. It helps, but not when you have three papers due next week. It’s finally hitting me that I’m not here in Egypt on vacation and that I’m actually here to study and work. The sinuses due to the changing of seasons haven’t helped but, but Allahu a’lam, God knows best. Everything is in His hands and He has helped me tremendously thus far, and I trust in Him enough that He will continue to do so. Jazakh’Allah Khairun. Amen.

The Interior of my Ministry: Part I

I live across the street from wizara-al-daakhaliyya, the Ministry of the Interior, Egypt’s equivalent of the US’s CIA. My two Egyptian roommates dub it, “the scary place”. Thus, you can only imagine how safe my neighborhood is. No one causes trouble in these quarters of Cairo. However, Egypt on a whole is surprisingly safe. It is unheard of for anyone to carry guns in this country, a fact that helps keep violent crimes to a remarkably low level.

On my walk back from campus, I always use the street that leads directly to the main gate of the ministry’s complex. It’s blocked off to nearly all cars, but pedestrians are allowed through. The street, Shaari’a Abdel Megeed El Remaly, has become my sanctuary in the bustling chaotic harmony that is the neighborhood of downtown Cairo.

When I first got here, back in August, the front end of the street was used righteously as a small soccer field for kids that did not have much open area to play the sport. This was street ball if I ever seen it.

The kids in this country start playing the sport as soon as they can walk, corroborated by the fact that if I ever walk down my stairs to the lobby at 2PM, passing by the second floor, I am sure to catch the same four year old child kicking a ball back and forth in the hallway nearly everyday. This country is in love with the sport.

About three weeks ago, I went to a soccer match in Cairo stadium between Ahlee and Zamalek. The rivalry that exists between these two teams can only be compared to that of the Yankees and the Red Sox. Zamalek is a very bourgeois part of town, an elusive island in the middle of the Nile wherein Americans, foreigners, diplomats, and many tourists end up living. To give you an idea of the level of its bourgeois-ness, the Egyptian Harley Davidson Shop is located there.

Now this bourgeois team is the underdog in the match up. They have a lot less cup titles than Ahlee, which translates to “the People”. In baseball history, there is no better team that represents “the People” than the Yankees, straight out of the ghettos of the Bronx. With 26 World Series titles, they are definitely Ahlee. And with a fiery passion, there is extreme, if not more beef between Ahlee and Zamalek, concomitantly to the Bronx Bombers and the Red Sox.

Entering the stadium that day at 8PM after breaking fast merely two hours before, it was an experience within itself. In my group of six friends, I was the only Ahlee supporter, since I live downtown amongst “the People” and feel that I am one amongst them. The rest of my friends live in aristocratic Zamalek and are Zamalkawee and so I ended up sitting in their section. I will not lie that I was afraid for my life, being the only one wearing a red shirt for Ahlee in the hordes of white that represent Zamalek. In a group, we marched past streams of riot police until we got to a gate. Although we had bought second class tickets, we could not find the entrance and settled down in third class, which is where the mob resides.

As you walk closer to the stadium, you see lines of people completing their fifth and final prayer of the day, each praying to the same God, but for a different victory. It sadly reminded me of the situation in Iraq wherein Sunnis and Shiites are killing each other. Although they stop warfare at the same time to pray to the same God that they both believe in and call Allah (SWT), they are asking for victory against the other in the name of the same God. It baffles me how prayer does not translate into clarity of mind for them or of the preposterousness of their actions. Serious prayer is always a calming, cathartic process for me. Even watching others pray has this effect.

As I calmed down and walked past the believers, we reached the entrance of the pit. As you walk through the tunnel to get there, you hear nothing but incessant chanting and a ritual-like beating of garbage cans made drums. The energy just echoed throughout the tunnel and pit. Once again, I was pumped for the match.

One of the most astonishing facts of the night was that these people were so riled up without a trace of alcohol in their blood. They were there purely for the sport. No where have I ever seen that level of energy packed into a confined stadium without any external influences. On top of the soberness of the situation, these fans spent the whole day fasting, without food or drink, so no nutritional energy either. I’ve been to Yankees games, Red Sox games, and this energy can never be replicated, not even with enough kegs to line up an entire football field. Egypt is what it means to love soccer.


It is the last ten days of Ramadhan and I have finally begun my reflecting. Some say this is late, but better late then never. Because Ramadhan has commenced, I stopped seeing the young boys playing soccer on my street. Without food, I wouldn’t play either. Plus, there is the taraweeh obligation that many children undertake. Taraweeh is a special prayer in Ramadhan that is performed after the final prayer of the day. It is long and proceeds deep into the night, but is highly recommended, for spiritual and health reasons. I haven’t been that punctual with the prayer. However, with Lailat-ul-Qadr coming up, the night the Holy Quran was revealed, the opportunity cost of dismissing the prayer only becomes larger. Only once a year do Muslims have this great an occasion to both rack up blessings and develop a new level of God consciousness. I will always have my street asylum for my daily need for peace in my four month stay here, but I will only get Ramadhan in Egypt once.

The street reminds me of my block back in Queens. After coming back from work in midtown New York City this summer or from my high school in downtown Manhattan, there was little else I craved more than the street lights of my relatively peace inducing street of Highland Avenue. That is what Shaari’a Abdel Megeed El Remaly is for me.

Yes, I can grow homesick to these things and try to find replacements, but why should I when I’ve found treasures, friends here that’ll last me lifetimes, places I will always cherish. I will never forget my nap atop Mt. Sinai. It was the first time I was able to see the stars in full, the Milky Way Galaxy spread out in its false infinity, and nearly 4000 years of history to my right. For the believers, the stars are a sign of God’s existence. Why do we deny it? Why? Sometimes I ask myself what is my place in questioning His Greatness? In moments like atop Mt. Sinai, there is no questioning His Exalted Existence. He is the One and Only. The Absolute. He begot none nor is He begotten. There is none like unto Him.

I need to be grateful for all I have. If Ramadhan is not the month for it, please so help me God. I always ask for your Mercy (the first 10 days of Ramadhan), your Forgiveness (the next 10 days of Ramadhan), and now and forever, your Blessings (the final 10 days of Ramadhan). Amen.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Alexander the Great

This weekend I went to Alexandria with AUC. I've gotten really lazy with writing on this blog and just do real quick posts since I don't have fast internet all the time. I have dial up at home and only when I bring my laptop in do I get to do all this posting. I'll try to be better, explaining my Ramadhan and social and religious observations I've noticed here.

This is a complete side note to the city named after Alexander the Great, Alexandria. The following is the list of things we saw from our itinerary.
1. A quasi ghetto safari that had the exotic dalmation dog in a cage
2. The Catacombs wherein the Greeks buried the dead and the Christains hid
3. Pompei's Pillar, which was misnamed
4. The Roman Ampitheater with a really cool echo spot
5. King Farooq's private beach in Monteza, specifically the Venice Beach
6. The Green Center Mall Plaza
7. The Fortress in place of Alexander the Great's Lighthouse
8. The new library
9. The Fish Market Restaurant
10. A ride in a boat into the Mediterranean Sea

My camera ran out of battery during the Fortress and thus nothing from 8 and on can be viewed. I apologize. I'll borrow the ones I asked my friends to take on my behalf. They laugh at me for it, but I have a blog to maintain. Shukran,

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

God Really Exists

Mt. Sinai

You just have to go up to the top of Mt. Sinai at 1AM to figure out God exists. Surah Rahman is so true. Just check out the stars.

"The stars and the trees prostrate (to Him)." ~The Holy Quran, Surah Rahman, Verse 6

They do. You can actually see the stars prostrate and move as the earth rotates. And only more reason to ask yourself:

"Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?" ~The Holy Quran, Surah Rahman, Verse 16

It's true. Here are some pictures from there, sunset and all. I went with Ed, Reed, Faria, and Sophia.

Climbing up late at night
The small bedouin mosque on top of the mountain
Sunrise from the top
Who's on top?
Where Moses receieved the 10 commandments
The location of the burning bush in St. Catherine's


After Mt. Sinai, we spontaneously chose to go to Dahab, the world's second best snorkeling spot after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Seeing those reef and the fish, God does exist. Two days and nothing but constant steady belief in God. I prayed with Bedouins on the top of Mt. Sinai and then drove 1.5 hours to pray on the beach by the Blue Hole in deep blue waters.

The beach our restaurant was on
Reed and me in scuba gear
Our ghetto taxi

Saturday, September 15, 2007

More Mini Chapters on Cairo

So here's my second installment of chapters on Cairo. Now it's pretty hard to post tons of pictures on this blog, but if you want to see all of them, just check out my facebook albums. They have nearly all my pictures. Enjoy.

Horseback Riding at the Pyramids at Midnight

Yup, that's exactly correct. After AUC's Welcome Back Mohammed Noor (Egypt's version of Justin Timberlake) concert, a bunch of us went horseback riding by the pyramids. I'm not going to lie, but that was one of my most scariest experiences alive. Our guide gave all the good horses to the girls and basically gave Dan, Sergio, and I some craptastic horses. My horse just didn't know how to turn left so I kept veering off into the Sahara, scared for my life. Aside from it being nearly pitch black, I slept that night at 4AM with the most sore ass one can imagine. It still slightly stings now. Anyway, enjoy the pleasant pictures. You can kind of make out the Giza Pyramids in the back. They are the three triangular structures in the background.

The Citadel, Azhar Park, The Military Museum, and the Police Museum

The morning after the excruciatingly intense horseback riding night, I was ready and awake for AUC's trip to the Citadel and Azhar park. The Citadel was planned by the great Salahuddin and then completed by his son. It's this immense stronghold complete with aqueducts and all. Then Muhammad Ali, one of the governors of the region built a Turkish style mosque within the compounds. Since the compound exemplifies extreme prowess and power, the Egyptian government also diecided to make it's Military Museum and it's Police Museum within the compounds. Here are the pictures from that morning.

Then, in the afternoon, we went over to Azhar Park for the closest thing I could find to Bangladeshi food. The park was made by the Agha Khan's son. It's beautiful and while there, I was reminded of Omar since he's Ismaili. Anway, here are some pictures from there.

Ramadhan and Some Great Mosques

So the holy month of Ramadhan, in which Muslims fast for a month, started three days ago. So far, I've had a much better anticipated time dealing with the transition to Ramadhan than I expected. There's this place that I usually eat at that treated me so hospitably for Sohour (which is when Muslims wake up before sunrise (~3:30AM) to eat a little before fasting the whole day. Then, when I went over to my friend Shaun's house, the taxi driver didn't want to take money from me. Instead, him and his son befriended me. I also got to experience a very Bangla iftaar (iftaar is the term for the breaking of fast) since I ate with Shaun and his two cousins. They are amazing cooks and I am forever indebted to them for helping me transition so smoothly to this country.

Then, on the second day of Ramadhan, which was a Friday, I went to Jummah prayer at the great Azhar Mosque with Ali and Faria. We were the few international kids that were actually fasting with the rest of this country and not going out to the beach and other resort towns like most of the other international kids this weekend. Anway, after praying in a mosque that was well over 1000 years old (where else can you get that kind of history???), we walked over past Khan El Khalili to the Imam Hussein Mosque. After learning so much about this mosque from our Al-Kitaab textbook, I couldn't believe that I finally got to visit it. I took some pictures of it and it's exactly like the DVD described it, kind of creepy actually. The people inside were really intense about praying for the man and asking favors. It was really bustling compared to the Azhar mosque. People even accosted Faria and stole 20 lbs. from her. So we jetted quickly and waited for my friend Gendy to pick us up. While we waited, we chatted with this really cool 55 year old Egyptian lady with Turkish roots. She prophesied a whole bunch of stuff for us.

Gendy took us the Moattim, which is the only hill in Cairo. From it, you can get a great view of the city. The Moattim basically looks like Hollywood and the California hills with villas and all. We saw the White House, which is the house of Nasr's private pilot, an amazing house. He then drove us to New Cairo, the location of the new AUC, another world of itself. I'm glad I got to go to AUC while it was still in downtown rather than that random remote location. We also drove by GUC (German University in Cairo) and we scoffed at it. Then we came back to the Moattim to get iftaar at this amazing place called Andrea, not Andrea in Mohandaseen but Andrea on the Moattim. For $8.30 USD, I feasted on a five course meal. It was ridiculous. I wished that place was closer to where I lived. After packing up more than half our food to go, I returned home to pass out. Now I haven't uploaded my pictures onto the computer for this day, but as soon as I do, they will be up.


Just pictures now, stories later.