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.