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.

Explanation of the Term "Mosque"

Dear Readers,
I must retract my earlier claim that "mosque" is a derogatory term for masjid. I read it in the "Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam". Now don't get fooled by the title of this book. Despite this one mistake, the rest of the book is amazing. Here is my research after googling it. Basically, that book mistakenly claims it as derogatory term. Copied below are the actual origins of the word. Readers, thanks for pushing me to look further into it.

Question: There is a book entitled The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Islam. It discusses within it many things, including the etymology of the word “mosque”. It says that this word is derived from the Spanish word for “mosquito”. It claims that the word was first used during the Christian invasion of Muslim Spain in the 15th century when the forces of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella boasted they would swat out Muslim prayer houses like so many mosquitoes. Is this true?

Answered by the Scientific Research Committee -

This etymology is incorrect.

The Spanish word for "mosquito" is mosquito and literally means “little fly”. This is a case where the English language borrowed the word directly from the Spanish.

The word for “fly” in Spanish is mosca, which is derived from the Latin musca. The diminutive suffix “-ito” is attached to it to form the word mosquito or “little fly”.

The Spanish term for “mosque” is mezquita, derived from the old Spanish mesquita. This word was most certainly derived from the Arabic word masjid, which many Arabs then and now pronounce as masgid.

In Spain during the era of Muslim rule – and this was before the time of King Ferdinand – Spanish speakers were using the word mosquito for the insect and the word mesquita for the Muslim place of worship. The two words are not related to one another in any way.

The word “mosque” was introduced into the English language in the late 14th or early 15th century from the French. It comes from the French word mosquée from the old French word mousquaie. The French, in turn, derived the word from the Italian word moschea from moscheta. The Italians got it either directly from the Arabic word masjid or from the old Spanish mesquita.



The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition; © 2000 Houghton Mifflin Company.
Online Etymology Dictionary, ETYMOLOGY Moo-Muc

Second view:

By Khaled Ahmed

In these days of paranoia, one hears Muslims say that the English word "mosque" should be laid aside because it has been derived from "mosquito". Nothing could be farther from the truth.

A reader asked from the wonderful Lahore journal "Renaissance" if the English word mosque was derived insultingly from mosquito. He had read it in a book titled "The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Islam".

The book said that during the Crusades, King Ferdinand of Spain had said that he would swat the Muslims like mosquitoes, and that was the origin of the word mosque, the place where the "mosquitoes" prayed.

As the title suggests the book was a spoof. The definition given there is also a spoof and anyone taking it seriously runs the risk of being an idiot. Adnan Zulfiqar of "Renaissance" gave a very appropriate reply: the word had come from Spanish mezquita meaning mosque and became current long after King Ferdinand had had his day.

The Spanish-Portuguese civilisation that confronted the Arab conquest twisted the Arab words around quite a lot. Spain saw some of the most beautiful mosques being built on its soil. The place was called masjid by the conquerors and was taken as mesquita by the locals, which is mezquita in modern Spanish.

There is something to be said about the way Arabs themselves pronounce the sound "j". We are told that Arabic doesn’t have the "g" sound. We have two versions of the word Gilani. The Arabs will say Jilani. Golan Heights are Jolan Heights in Arabic.

But there are Arabs that naturally convert "j" into "g". For instance, Jemal Nasser is Gemal Nasser in Egypt. How would the Egyptians say masjid? While the spelling remains the same, the word will come out masgid. That’s not difficult to convert into mesquita.

English etymology makes it clear that mosque came into English in the 17th century from Italian moschea and French mosquee. The resemblance with mosquito is accidental. Mosquito came from Spanish as a derivative of mosca (fly).

Friday, September 7, 2007

My Potential Planned Trips

9/13-10/13 Explore Cairo on our own during Ramadhan

9/21-9/23 Mt. Sinai and Dahab

9/27-9/29 Alexandria with AUC

10/10-10/16 Luxor, Aswan, and Abu Simbel with AUC

11/8-11/11 Sharm-El Sheikh on our own

11/22-11/24 Black and White desert on our own

Study for finals and then peace-ing out on 12/19. If all of them fall on the tenth and I have some money left over, maybe I can do Petra and Jerusalem, we'll see.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Initial Cairo in Short Chapters

So I’ve been in Cairo, Egypt for a little over two weeks and know that I haven’t posted anything of substance despite promising I would soon enough. Here’s something initial, set up in mini chapters so you can chose stories to read at your leisure instead of feeling bogged down by one large post. Enjoy and remember, anytime I write AUC, it stands for the American University in Cairo.

Sudanese Prostitutes Night

Who knew that a guy giggling with three girls on a street corner is not really the norm here in Cairo, but more common in the red light district? I spend my first night out in this bustling city in the Middle East with three girls I will now refer to as Bubbles, Buttercup, and Blossom. They are supposed to meet me at Ni’ma, a great shawarma restaurant we found in our “Key to Cairo” book that was handed to us during orientation. I get there and there is no one to be found. Apparently I didn’t see the upstairs location where they were eating. When they had bought their food, the cashier kept pushing a Sudanese identity on the girls and the rest of the patrons and staff at the place chimed in. Ni’ma is located in an open corner in a really busy part of Aguza. So now everyone thinks the Powerpuff girls are Sudanese and they felt uncomfortable with everyone staring at them and so we moved down the block by a shaded alley.

We start calling one of our “Friends of International Students (FIS)”, AUC’s version of the Colonial Cabinet, to come pick us up. Now none of us really knew what kind of car this boy drove and I actually really didn’t even know how he looked. He tells us he’ll be there in half an hour and so we wait patiently joking and giggling amongst ourselves. Cars pull in and out of the street and the girls reassure me it’s not our FIS since he’s a young guy. Then, a car full of young boys pulls right up to us in the shady ally, stops, and puts on their hazard lights. I automatically assume it’s them and go up and start shimmying my hands and I get a holler from behind that it’s not them and embarrassingly walk away. The young guys in the car still don’t leave and the girls feel a lot more awkward. We try walking away and luckily finally bump into our FIS. We relay the story to him in his friend’s sleek BMW 5 series. Apparently, we had just witnessed how men in Cairo pick up prostitutes. They pull up by the pimp and girls, stop, flash their hazard lights, wait for the pimp to negotiate a price for the girls, drive away and return. This is what happens when one is not familiar with the culture of a country. I sure have a lot to learn about this great city of Cairo.

The Nile Bridge and Felucca Rides

Here are some pictures from the Nile Bridge, beautiful scenes of it at night. The night AUC took us on the Felucca rides, which are small one-sailed boats that originated in Egypt, I had forgotten my camera. My friends took pictures on my behalf, so I’m just waiting for them to email them. Getting on the Nile is one way to escape the traffic, pollution, and heat of the city. It is so relaxing and so cheap. It’s only 40lbs. an hour and you can fit 10 to 15 people on a boat. I’m definitely doing that again for another relaxing ride.

Rejected at Latex

Speaking about embarrassing norms that need to be learned about in this country, my friends and I, the Powerpuff girls plus Ali try exploring the modern night life of Cairo. This was a few days after we had visited Old Cairo, which will be another post. Our first mistake was trying to get into a club called Latex. If that doesn’t sound grimey enough, I don’t know what we were thinking. The girls really wanted to go out dancing and in this country, going out without male escorts just isn’t cool. And so, as we accompany them to the front of Latex at around 10:45PM where we receive blank stares from the bouncer since we don’t speak very good colloquial Arabic. We had only just begun our Survival Arabic classes. And so we tell him that we’d like to go in. At this point, he thinks we are under 21 and cards us. We stand frozen and play the dumb American card. At this point, Bubbles gets frustrated with the situation and asks us to walk away, grabbing a taxi to another club called Absolute. It was quite embarrassing telling the taxi driver that I came to this country to study the Quran only just afterwards to satiate my curiosity and peer at what the nightlife is really like in this country. We get into Absolute without a problem, but the place is nearly isolated. We order some desserts and decide to wait it out since the doorman told us it would pick up soon. Luckily for us it did. As patrons entered, I asked one of the attendees about our story at Latex. She was shocked and said carding was unheard of in this country. She said it was the bouncer’s way of asking for some baksheesh (tips in Arabic) which is how they do it in this country. If we had slipped him a twenty, which is only $3.50 in this country, we would’ve been solid. More to learn, more to learn.

Old Cairo

Here’s the Old Cairo section I promised. AUC took us out to see Old Cairo, which was beautiful. I don’t know if I would have ever done that on my own, especially with a guide. I basically got to see the first Church in Cairo wherein the Jesus and his family had hid for at least a month. I bumped my head on the way into one of those tiny little rooms.

We also saw the Hanging Church, another magnificent structure which is basically built on a few Roman columns. One doesn’t realize that at first, but it is so scary. See if you can look through this glass panel on the floor to sense the altitude of this church.

Then we headed over the first synagogue in Cairo. People don’t worship there anymore and it was the only religious structure we weren’t allowed to take pictures of once inside. However, I did get a couple of outside shots. However, what marveled me the most was the well that was created behind the synagogue that marks the point in the Nile wherein Moses (AS) was found as a baby by the Pharaoh’s wife (the second photo below). It’s sort of dry now that the High Dam in the Nile was built, but that sort of history is so difficult to come by, but only in a country that can claim 7000 years of history.

The final part of the trip was a visit to the first mosque in Egypt. It sports 365 pillars for the days of the year. As I entered that mosque, I only reaffirmed the peace that I find within Islam. Coming to Cairo, I have had the privilege of hearing the Azhan five times a day from my apartment or anywhere I am located in Cairo. Some days, I even get the opportunity to pray five times a day within a mosque. I would have never experienced this feeling of community back in the states. It makes me excited for Ramadhan, which starts in about a week and a half. I’m scared for the food situation, as I just became sick today. We’ll see, I’ll pray for the best. Allahu A’lam, a phrase I learned here meaning, “God knows”.

The Khan and Gifts for Readers of this Blog

I spent an afternoon with Buttercup and Blossom scouting out Khan El Khalili. This place is basically the massive market place that looks exactly like the market scenes in Aladdin. At first, I was scarred to go there, but once I got there and saw the unbelievable amount of foreigners there, I felt reassured. That place is great, especially as I try and hone my bargaining skills; perfect them to my father’s level. This is where I plan on buying most of my souvenirs and gifts for people back home since this is where most of that shopping gets done in this country. I’ve already began making a list, but if anyone wants anything specific, please post up now or send me an email. I plan on doing most of my shopping towards the end of this journey once my Arabic picks up. So you have time, but let me know now. Thanks.

PS – I forgot to bring my camera that day, but when I go back to shop there, I’ll definitely post up the pictures then.

The Red Sea

The day after Khan El Khalili, AUC took us out to the Red Sea at this Italian resort in Ein El Sokhna for our off-campus orientation. I enjoyed two days of utter beauty. I really never wanted to return from there. I got a remarkable tan, got to be a mini superstar for a while, cured some back acne in the ridiculously salty water, and experienced some double standards.

The first night consisted of playing soccer, chilling on the beach, in the water, and in the great lagoon pool. At night, AUC set us up with a belly dancing show in which my friends volunteered me to get up on stage. Thus, if there are embarrassing photos flying around, please do not be shocked. You know who to blame, the Powerpuff girls, Ali, and Ed. Afterwards, they had a mini club set up. It was fun, but also quasi whack in the sense that they kept playing house, techno, and trance since the DJ was the same southern Italian MC from the belly dancing show. Those Europeans love that funky stuff, not something I grew up with in Jamaica, Queens. Since I can pass for Egyptian but since I dance like an American, after leaving the club early, the bouncer chased after me and asked if I was Egyptian? I said no, but if I had said yes, a long lecture would have dearly awaited me. It’s interesting how if you are Egyptian, you can’t dance provocatively, but if you are almost anything else, it is totally fine. Makes you think…

I went to bed for a little while, but then woke up at 5:30AM to pray Fajr and then check out the sunrise, which is allegedly amazing. No lie. It was. Here are the photos to judge for yourself.

The next day was some more beach sports, clear beach water that was salty enough that it was so easy to back-float and waterfall pool time before it was time to go back. We got back to Cairo at 9:30PM. Oh, how I could just lay there on the beach. That was the first time I actually relaxed on the beach because usually, as a boy that is already tan, I swim or play sports on the beach, never just relax on a towel or chair. That is another experience slash sensation in it of itself, something that will now be frequently replicating.

The Pyramids

The day after the Red Sea, AUC took us out to see the Giza and the Saqqara Pyramids. We had to rush around everything so quick, but I was glad I went with them first since they taught us so many things about the pyramids so that when I return, I don’t fall for all the ridiculous tourist traps. I’ll teach all of you before you visit. The terrible thing was that my camera ran out of battery from the Red Sea trip and so I had no camera for the pyramids. However, luckily, I had all my friends take a ridiculous amount of pictures for me. Here are some of them.

The Egyptian Museum

Then, the day after the pyramids, after experiencing so much history, we decided to hit up the museum now that we finally got our student ID’s and could get a student discount. Plus, my tour guide for the pyramids was so amazing (Eman), that I asked if she wouldn’t mind showing my friends and I the museum, and she said cool. Once again, Eman was a phenomenal tour guide. I truly pray and wish her the best in her endeavors.

Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to take pictures inside the museum, however, outside is fine, which we did. All the relics outside are not replicas, so it still felt genuine. Check them out.

The two coolest things about the museum, for myself was, the baller young Pharoah Tutankhamen, whose exhibit and gold collection makes P Diddy look like a pauper. The second amazing thing that hit me at home was the 20 something or so mummies they have displayed. One of them was Ramses II, the Pharaoh that caused Moses (AS) so many problems. My religion and history just meld so well together. Out of all the mummies, his skin was extremely white because of the remains of the salty Red Sea that had killed him when Moses (AS) parted the Red Sea back onto him. The reason this hit me so hard was because of the following verse in The Holy Quran in reference to the Pharoah:

"This day shall We save thee in the body, that thou mayest be a sign to those who come after thee! but verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our Signs!" ~ The HQ, 10:92

It is amazing how God promised that he would save and preserve Pharaoh Rameses II’s body forever as a sign for all of mankind, the rest of us. And to this day, it is still with us in the Egyptian museum. I took a picture of it with my cell phone for my parents since I know they would appreciate it. If I could only get it off my phone, that would be amazing.

First Day of Classes

September 5th was the first day of classes. Hmmm…After being on a quasi vacation for two weeks, I don’t know how I feel about all this work stuff. We’ll see. Pray for me. Shukran ya habibees wa habibatees.