About Jade

Jade Lansing is a graduate student in Middle East Studies at the American University in Cairo. She currently lives in Beirut, Lebanon, where she conducts research on civics education and works for the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. Jade is a recent graduate of Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, where she majored in International Affairs and studied Arabic at Portland State University. She has made multiple trips to North Africa—conducting research, volunteering, and studying Arabic. She is especially interested in Middle East politics, intercultural communication, civil society development, and foreign language education. Contact the author at: jade@aucegypt.edu.

Studying Arabic in Cairo — دراسة اللغة العربية في القاهرة

Cairo is a completely magical (albeit chaotic and occasionally maddening) city, and it’s a great place to study Arabic. A friend recently asked me to recommend a good program to study Arabic in Cairo this summer, and I thought the resulting list might be a useful resource for some of you as well. What follows is a list (in no way comprehensive, in no particular order) of a number of summer and year-round Arabic programs in Cairo that friends and I recommend:

1. International Language Institute (ILI)

ILI has a reputation for being very professional and hosting great teachers. Many of my friends attended ILI and were impressed with the programs offered and the quality of instruction. They have classes in both Fusha and 3meya or a combined program with several hours of each 5 days a week. The school is $550 for a four week course with 15 classroom hours per week, but worth the cost according to those who attended their programs (I did not personally). It’s just off the far end of Ahmed Orabi street in Mohandiseen, so walkable from Zamalek and there are buses/microbuses from Zamalek and Kubri al-Dokki that will take you most of the way there.

For more information: http://www.arabicegypt.com

2. Al Diwaan Arabic Center

Al Diwaan is in Garden City, next to the Canadian Embassy, just across the bridge from Zamalek. They offer group study (if you can form a group with equal language levels) or solo classes, and you can arrange a course schedule that caters to your needs. The teachers are all certified and have degrees in education or Arabic. Classes are generally conducted in Arabic but the teachers speak functional English. You can focus on what you want to learn, and classes can be created to focus on particular topics of interest like literature or media. The management can be ditzy, but but after registration you can deal just with your teacher. Prices are high to mid-range; it’s around $900 for a one month summer intensive program with 90 classroom hours and 10 hours of activities. The facilities are nice.

For more information: http://www.aldiwancenter.com/

3. Arabic Language Institute, American University in Cairo

ALI is located about an hour from downtown Cairo in a suburb called Tegamo El Khameis on the beautiful AUC New Campus. There is a bus service provided by AUC (with air conditioning and wi-fi!) that goes out to the campus and back from all areas of Cairo. It is perhaps the most expensive and farthest away program, but also the most well-reputed internationally. The quality of teaching is impressive, and joining the ALI program gives you access to the other resources available at the university (printing, library, professional contacts, bus transportation, gym, swimming pool, etc.) AUC offers both intensive and regular classes, usually between 2 and 5 days per week for 2 to 4 hours.

For more information: http://www.aucegypt.edu/academics/ALI/Pages/default.aspx

4. Arabeya Arabic School

Arabeya is located in Mohandeseen just across the Nile from Zamalek on a side street off of Ahmed Orabi. They specialize in one-on-one classes, but they also have summer programs and small group classes. They are super flexible with scheduling; you can take classes as intensively as you’d like (up to 4 hours a day 6 days a week) anytime between 8am and 4pm. They have about 8 teachers there and if you happen to not jive with 1 teacher, you can switch to another one. One-to-one classes are about $240 for an intensive 20 classroom hour week, and prices get cheaper if you stay longer or join a small group.

For more information: http://www.arabeya.org/

5. Private Lessons

Many people who study Arabic in Cairo choose to take private lessons, since prices are so reasonable, and they give considerably more flexibility in terms of content, pacing, location, and level.

My private instructor for the last two years, Nermine Sayed, is phenomenal, and I recommend her without reservation. She has been teaching Arabic for many years and structures helpful lessons based on what you want to learn. She can teach Fusha or 3meya, and is flexible about where and when you meet. She speaks great English, but classes are conducted in Arabic unless explaining a complicated grammatical concept. Classes are casual and friendly, but she does assign homework and take your language development seriously. Generally, she charges 75 LE (roughly $10) per hour, although rates may vary depending on how often you want to meet. You can contact her at: nermine.arabic@yahoo.com or +20 (0) 1009300887.

A friend of mine has also recommended his private Arabic instructor, Wael Wafa. Wael graduated from Al-Azhar University with a degree in Arabic Language Teaching, and he has worked for the past 10 years teaching Arabic, both Fusha and 3meya. He charges 50 LE (roughly $7) per hour. You can contact him at: waelwafa2000@gmail.com or +20 (0) 1001516022.

A Beautiful Year — عام جميل

It has been exactly one year today since I boarded a plane in Portland, OR, crying as I bid my best friend goodbye at the airport. At the time, it felt like I was leaving behind the life I had build in Oregon for the last 22 years to move to a country where I knew no one. Which, in that moment was scary and sad and strange, but also one of the best decisions I have ever made. 365 days and 14 COUNTRIES later (count ’em: Turkey, Qatar, The Bahamas, Egypt, The US of A, Ethiopia, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Italy, France, and Switzerland), I can’t imagine anywhere I’d rather be than right here, in my living room, watching the fireworks over Tahrir. It has been a crazy year of adventures, no doubt, but mostly I just feel overwhelmed with gratitude for all of the amazing humans who have opened their homes and hearts to me, and all of the beautiful places the universe has put on my horizon over the last year. In other words: if you are debating whether to leave home and jump into the abyss, do it– the world will catch you with a gigantic trampoline of humility and surprises and friendship.

And, yes, sometimes you will get horrendously sick on your birthday in rural Ethiopia, and sometimes you will get stuck at the Dalles airport indefinitely and United will loose all of your baggage, and sometimes you will have to write 100 pages of research papers in two weeks and your brain will feel like it is going to explode, and sometimes boys will incessantly harass you until you are sure that you will teeter over the edge and strangle them all, and sometimes you will be homesick and daydream about frolicking in the Oregon wilderness and coming home to a mom who thinks you are the coolest/most interesting human in the world– but even on the hardest days, there will be a moment when you realize that the universe has been on your side all along, and you will find a way to scrape yourself off the floor and bask in the adventure of it all.

One of my favorite moments this year: mamabear and me watching the sunrise over Mt. Sinai.

One of my favorite moments this year: mamabear and me watching the sunrise over Mt. Sinai.

Another favorite: post-aforementioned-birthday-sickness at the source of the Nile River in Ethiopia with my Cairo bestie.

Another favorite: post-aforementioned-birthday-sickness at the source of the Nile River in Ethiopia with Mare.

Since we last spoke, dear internet, I finished my program in Tunisia, and then flew to Morocco, where I spent an amazing week with some of the most magical and inspiring people I know. I also had the wonderful experience of getting to share Morocco with a good friend from Tunisia and an old friend from high school, both of whom had never been before. It was fun to see Morocco through fresh eyes, and re-explore some of my favorite cities in the world– Fes, Chefchaouen, Rabat, and Asilah. People were friendly; the food was delicious; and the views were beautiful.

Blue mountain town magic: Chefchaouen, Morocco.

Blue mountain town magic: Chefchaouen, Morocco.

Calligraphy in the old medina of Asilah.

Calligraphy in the old medina of Asilah.

I am safely back home in Egypt now, and (as is often the case around here) watching history be made in Tahrir and in Rabe’a and across the country. Stay tuned.

Under the Tunisian Sun – تحت الشمس التونسي

It has been an awfully long time since I cataloged my adventures here, but I’m back and armed with stories galore. Time flew by last semester; one minute I was starting classes in January and the next I was scrambling to pull together final papers in May. Here are some of the highlights:

  • My mom came to visit in February/March, and we climbed Mount Sinai and ran the Jerusalem Marathon and floated in the Dead Sea and climbed around on the pyramids– it was really fun to get to share the life I built in Egypt with the lady who gave birth to me, and it was definitely happy times.

    Mama and me watching the sunrise from the top of Mount Sinai.

    Mama and me watching the sunrise from the top of Mount Sinai.

  • A few weeks later, my friend Mary and I returned to Israel/Palestine to run in the first ever Palestinian Marathon (http://righttomovement.com/) in Bethlehem. The marathon was a physical and symbolic protest against the Israeli government’s restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement. Though it rained the whole time, and Bethlehem is ludicrously hilly, it was a really powerful event to be a part of.

    Post-race walk through the Jerusalem medina.

    Post-race walk through the Jerusalem medina.

  • Two days after we got back from Palestine, we joined a group of 8 traveling around Ethiopia for Spring Break. We flew into Addis Ababa, a colorful city that we all found a bit unapproachable. After a few days of shopping in the mercado (supposedly the largest open air market in Africa, though I’m not sure who’s going around measuring), consuming stacks of injera(a spongy bread that is the center of Ethiopian cuisine), and wiggling our way around various monasteries and museums, we all hopped on a plane to Gondar, the gateway to the Simien Mountains. From Gondar, we met our trekking guide and embarked on a breath-taking three-day backpacking trip, which culminated in me getting disgustingly sick (on my birthday, no less!) But all’s well that ends well, and alhamdulilah I recovered in time to stuff my face with Ethiopian birthday cake and visit the origin of the Nile River with my friends.
Trekking in the Simien Mountains.

Trekking in the Simien Mountains.

Girls & cliffs in the Ethiopian wilderness.

Girls & cliffs in the Ethiopian wilderness.

  • Upon returning to Cairo, I moved downtown to an amazzzzing apartment two blocks from Tahrir Square with three of the most welcoming, easy-going humans in Cairo. (Shout out to Mary, Casey, and Ahmed: thanks for making it fun to come home everyday; you guys are the best.) A frenzy of final papers later, I have officially survived my first year of graduate school! — with straight A’s and copious memories to boot.

As soon as finals were over (I actually wrote my last paper on the plane), I left for Portland, Maine. First, I visited a good friend from college who is working on a farm in the middle of nowhere central Maine, which is the polar opposite of Cairo in every possible way. Then I spent a week with my mom, aunt, uncle, 2 cousins, and grandparents at their cottage on the coast. It’s a really magical place that has been in my family for almost 100 years, and it felt really good to be in the quiet of Maine and spend time with my family. It was a much needed literal and mental breath of fresh air.

Granny and me at Grey Gables.

Granny and me at Grey Gables.

From Maine I flew down to Houston to visit my best friend, who I’ve been best friends with since we were 2. She just moved there, and it was fun to get to see the new life she has built in Texas and meet her peeps and check out her digs. We’ve been best friends for so long that being with her always feels like home, so it was an amazing (albeit wayyy too short) 2 day visit.

Theoretically, after Maine, I was supposed to go to France straightaway, but instead my flights got all mixed up and I got stuck in Washington DC at the airport for 2 days. My flight was late, so I missed my connecting flight and they lost my baggage and refused to transfer my ticket to the next flight because the flight that was late and the flight that I missed were on different airlines… and I cried a little and felt like I must have done something really awful to the travel gods, but eventually some nice airline personnel worked it out and I made it to France. (Lessons learned: 1. United is an airline company composed entirely of endless lines that they send you back and forth between ad infinitum. 2. The Washington DC Dalles Airport is the armpit of US airports. 3. Everything > airport purgatory.)

Sadly, because I got to France 2 days late, I had to miss Paris. But I was greeted at the airport by the lovely Rebecca, who lovingly escorted my airport-weary body back to Strasbourg. And Strasbourg was bea-u-ti-ful and filled with copious amounts of sunshine, friendly pedestrians, good wine, and delicious cheeses. We biked to Germany, had elaborate cheese picnics, baked pies, watched silly TV shows, and just generally frolicked about. C’est la belle vie.

Picnicking in the park.

Picnicking in the park in France.

After 5 days or so in Strasbourg I had to head south to make it to Marseille in time for my ferry. Ferries are an interesting (and verrrrrry slow) way to travel. I spent most of the 24 hours on the boat from Marseille to Tunis slurping coffee, sleeping, and hiding from men trying to propose me, which was exhausting and silly at the same time.

I’ve been in Tunis now for about a week, and I like it a lot so far. The city is a lot more laid-back than Cairo, but there’s still plenty of adventures to be had and cool people to meet. I only have Arabic classes in the mornings from 9am-1pm, so I have been trying to get into a good routine of working out, exploring a bit, and hanging out with new friends in the evenings. But it’s been really hot here, so sometimes all I want to do is find a refrigerator to nap in all day.

The rooftops of Tunis.

The rooftops of Tunis.

Meanwhile, back in Cairo, revolutionary murmurs are bubbling up again… June 30th is rumored to be the date of Revolution 2.0. Inshallah the voices of the people are heard, no one gets hurt, and my apartment downtown stays in one undestroyed piece until I get home.

Home Is Where The Heart Is — منزل الفتى مستقر الفؤاد

I owe you all a blog update about running marathons in Palestine and my usual misadventures in Cairo, but at the moment (as with most moments) I have papers to write. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a cute photo and someone else’s words, which feel especially relevant today:

http://thoughtcatalog.com/2012/what-happens-when-you-live-abroad/#sloSDRDyIVQTjDSR.01

Mama and me in Palestine.

“So you look at your life, and the two countries that hold it, and realize that you are now two distinct people…When you live abroad, you realize that, no matter where you are, you will always be an ex-pat. There will always be a part of you that is far away from its home and is lying dormant until it can breathe and live in full color back in the country where it belongs.”

Updates coming soon, walahe (I promise).

Tests and Travels in the Wake of the Apocalypse – الامتحانات والسفر بعد نهاية العالم

It has been awhile since my last update– since then I have successfully survived: the Mayan apocalypse, my first semester of graduate school, 100 pages worth of research papers, 3 international flights, and innumerable hours of intensive Arabic studies.

I will spare you (most of) the prerequisite self-indulgent complaining about finals, but suffice it to say they were brutal. In the span of two weeks, I wrote 100 pages of research papers (and, subsequently, grew a few grey hairs). It was tough times, but also very productive times, and I came out with straight A’s from my first semester of graduate school. I learned so much over the course of the semester– about Egypt, about refugees in the Middle East, about Islamic law, about Middle Eastern politics, about conducting research, about the process of building a democracy in a country with no genuine democratic history, about being a graduate student, about adulthood, and – perhaps most importantly, about myself. It was a challenging semester for me, both academically and personally, but the intense satisfaction I felt struggling through these challenges confirmed time and time again that I am exactly where I need to be. I may not always be three steps ahead, but I am learning so much everyday.

After two days of catch-up sleep after finishing my final papers, I left for Morocco to meet my habiba Renda for Christmas. Renda and I were besties in college, and we studied together in Morocco two years ago, so when we found out that we would both be in North Africa this semester, we promised to visit one another. (She’ll be visiting me in Cairo in March!) It was wonderful to reconnect with someone so familiar after four months of new people and new places, and it felt great to be back in Morocco, speaking Moroccan Arabic, soaking up the shems (sunshine), and of course consuming copious amounts of Moroccan mint tea. On Christmas Eve, we hosted an amazzzzing Christmas party. It was about 20 people– a good mix of Moroccans and American expats– and it involved a lots of tasty home-cooked food, good wine, presents, Christmas carols, and friendly people. Everyone was exceptionally warm and happy to be there, which was a perfect, since it was many people’s first Christmases away from home.

Merry Christmas from Morocco!

Merry Christmas from Morocco!

Christmas caroling and joyous holiday spirits.

Christmas caroling and joyous holiday spirits.

On Christmas Day, Renda and I – accompanied by 3 other beautiful humans from various corners of the world – rented a car, and road-tripped down the Southern Moroccan coast to Tiznit. Tiznit is famous for its naqara souq (silver market), so there we stocked up on beautiful silver gifts, and enjoyed the slow pace of a quiet southern town. From Tiznit, we wiggled our way over to Sidi Ifni, a tiny surfing village known for its beautiful art deco architecture. Sidi Ifni was BREATHTAKING, so much so that I am still speechless and will have to let the pictures speak for themselves.

Flowers and waves.

Flowers and sunshine and waves in beautiful Maroc.

After a wonderful week in Agadir, I headed north to spend New Years in Rome with some friends from Portland. It was a short trip – only a couple of days – but well worth it. Rome never called to me in the way it has called to generations of romantics, so I didn’t have many expectations. So of course I was pleasantly surprised to discovered that Rome is at least as romantic and enchanting and historical as it looks in the movies. (Exhibit A: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIm8g4IA_1Y) Instead of taking an official tour, we just decided to explore the city, which ended up being even better. Around every corner, there was another gorgeous basilica or ancient Roman ruin, and it was fun to just be left to discover it for ourselves. Naturally, we also went on an extensive (and also self-directed) food and wine tour, which was delicious in the close-your-eyes-and-savour-every-bite sort of way. My taste buds may never recover.

The Colosseum- built circa 70 AD.

The Colosseum- built circa 70 AD.

Friends in Roma.

Friends in Roma, Italy.

Lasagna is delicious.

Lasagna is delicious.

Still stupefied from all of the pasta and vino and romantic cobblestone streets, I returned to Morocco to begin intensive Arabic studies at a language center called Qalam wa Lawh in Rabat, the Moroccan capital. I had gotten a scholarship to study Arabic here free for the winter term (which you can do too! Check it out here: http://www.qalamcenter.com/Enrollment/IbnBattutaScholarships/tabid/260/Default.aspx), so I decided to spend my vacation in the classroom. It has been a bit exhausting to study Arabic 4-8 hours a day, but I have been learning so much, and I feel newly inspired to invest time in my Arabic studies. [Side note: Learning Arabic can take over a decade. In fact, most native Arabic-speakers do not speak fluent Standard Arabic. So I occasionally hit a plateau where it feels like I am not making any progress and/or I will never be fluent.] Arabic struggles aside, I am really happy to be back in Morocco. I like it here. I like the people, the hospitality, the language, the sunshine, the crowded medina streets, the colorful styles and intricate Arabesque designs… It’s hard to pin-point exactly what it is, but I feel content here in a way that I don’t other places.

Fes-- my favorite city in Morocco.

Overlooking Fes-- my favorite city in Morocco.

The Chellah in Rabat.

The Chellah in Rabat.

Calligraphy class at Qalam wa Lawh.

Calligraphy classes at Qalam wa Lawh.

After four months in Cairo, I still feel like a new-comer, in the best possible way. The more I learn about where I am living, the more I realize the depth of Egyptian history and the many places I have left to explore. In August, when I boarded my plane in Portland on my way to Egypt, I felt like 2 years was a lifetime. Now, 2 years feels like a whirlwind. Though I am really happy to be back in Morocco this month, I am looking forward to returning to Egypt in a couple weeks, getting back into the routine of graduate classes, adventuring in Cairo, and – of course – sleeping in my own bed.

Jordanian Sunsets – عيد في الأردن

Eid mubarak, kol 3am w entum b7er! (Happy holidays!) Every year, on the 10th day of Dhu al-Hijjah (the last month of the lunar Islamic calendar), Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Adha is a feast commemorating the willingness of Ibrahim/Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael as the ultimate submission to God’s command, before God intervened and provided Ibrahim with a ram to sacrifice in Ishmael’s place. Muslims today often celebrate the Eid by visiting family, slaughtering a goat/sheep/camel (which is then traditionally shared with the poor), and feasting extensively.

A Cairo butcher shop preparing for Eid al-Adha festivities.

A Cairo butcher shop preparing for Eid al-Adha festivities.

For me, the 4-day Eid break provided a perfect opportunity to travel. Originally, a few friends and I had planned a trip to Beirut, Lebanon. But due to the violent protests that erupted there last week in response to the [Syrian-planted?] car bomb that killed 8 people (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-20006389), we had to postpone our trip to Beirut. And that is how I came to be in Amman, Jordan last weekend.

At the citadel overlooking Amman.

At the citadel overlooking Amman.

There are some people who do not think that Amman is the coolest city around. Those people are wrong. Amman is a delightful balance of historical flavor and modern convenience – the clean and traffic-free streets are a world away from the chaos and smog of Cairo. (Admittedly, however, the chaos and smog are part of Cairo’s charm.) Amman is spread out across 19 jabals (hills) that display the city’s architecture and many historical landmarks beautifully. But the city’s aesthetic appeal is nothing without mentioning the warmth and hospitality (and diversity!) of the people we encountered throughout our time in Amman. After only two nights in the city, my friend Mary and I had met multiple people who will inshallah (God willing) be lifelong friends. One of the most interesting things about the people we met – beside their being just generally wonderful human beings – was their diversity. 4 out of every 5 people we met were not native Jordanians, but rather Palestinian, Iraqi, and Syrian “refugees” (though they would not identify themselves this way – most introduced themselves to us as “Palestinians/Iraqis/Syrians living in Jordan”).

After two nights in Amman, we headed south to see the infamous city of Petra, considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world. Petra is an ancient city in the middle of the desert, believed to be founded circa 312 BC as the capital city of the Nabataean empire. Petra’s buildings were literally carved out of the massive red rocks that cover the landscape. Walking out of the Siq (the natural rock corridor leading into Petra) to be confronted by Al-Khazneh (pictured below) – an image I had seen so many times before in travel magazines and history books – was a surreal experience.

The infamous Al-Khazneh (treasury) in Petra.

The infamous Al-Khazneh (treasury) in Petra.

From Petra, we made the short trip to Wadi Dana (Dana Valley) Nature Preserve– a remote slice of heaven in the southwest corner of Jordan. As an Oregonian, I crave desolate landscapes and wilderness, and Wadi Dana provided just the communion with nature that I needed to recover from the bustle of Cairo. We spent the evening drinking copious amounts of tea and watching the sunset while a friendly Australian couple regaled us with stories of expat life in Saudi Arabia. We slept on the roof under the stars, and woke up to a breathtaking view of rocky canyons and untouched wildlife. In the morning, we ventured on a hike into the valley, where we encountered an unclaimed herd of goats and a group of Bedouins on donkeys who invited us for tea.

Sunset in Wadi Dana Nature Preserve.

Sunset in Wadi Dana Nature Preserve.

These four days in Jordan were truly some of the best days of my life – a tall order since I think I have a pretty good life in general. The genuine hospitality we encountered from the moment we stepped out of the plane has stuck with me, and I hope I will have the opportunity to “pay it forward” in Cairo.

Protests & Progress – مظاهرات والتقدم

Sometime last week, I received the following message in my inbox:

“After exhausting all alternatives with the students insisting on closing the gates, the American University in Cairo is suspending operations, including all classes, because of the danger posed by the continuing closure of the campus.”

For over a week, the entire university –rumored to be the best English-language university in the Middle East– was shut down by a group of 50-300 student protesters. These students blockaded all entrances to the main campus with cars and padlocks, demanding, among other things, a reversal of this year’s 7% tuition increase. While I too wouldn’t mind paying 7% less tuition, the tactics of the protests were ill-conceived and inconsiderate of the thousands of students, faculty members, and staff whose lives were put on hold during the strike. Alhamdulillah (praise god), classes have resumed as of today, after a harrowing week of budgeting debates and dialogue between the protesters and administration. Unfortunately, however, this week off has put classes behind for the semester, and caused deep rifts within the campus community members, many of whom feel understandably put-off and unrepresented by the protesters.

Since classes were cancelled and there wasn’t much we could do about it, some friends and I took the weekend off to explore Alexandria– a beautiful and ancient city 3 hours from Cairo in the Nile Delta, along the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Iskanderiya (Alexandria) was a much-needed breath of fresh air from the smog of downtown Cairo. I slept outside under the stars, and every morning I woke up to a breath-taking view of the ocean.

The view from our private terrace overlooking the Mediterranean shoreline.

Having a week off of my graduate school course-load also freed up some time for me to explore Cairo a bit. Unfortunately, when school is not being cancelled due to protests, I spend almost all of my time either at school or doing schoolwork– the life of a graduate student is not exactly glamorous. But, I digress. Cairo is massive (8 million people, by most counts), so there is always plenty to explore. And since everything is still fairly new to me, everywhere I go feels like an adventure. The process of getting a cab, convincing him not to rip you off (while simultaneously convincing him not to fall in love with you because you have blonde hair and speak sweya Arabic), finding where you are trying to go, keeping your game face on just in case you have to haggle along the way.. Needless to say, there is never a dull moment. Here are a few pictures from last weeks Cairo adventures:

Moorish architecture in Khan El-Khalili, one of Cairo's oldest marketplaces.

Post-revolutionary graffiti in Tahrir Square.

Painting ceramics at an artists' café with my friend Parsa.

In some ways, the last month has flown by, and it feels as if it was just yesterday that I stumbled off of the plane into this new life, and in other ways it feels as if I have been here for years. I have three classes, a job, a workout routine, a group of friends, and–perhaps most importantly–a gorgeous balcony to bask in the sunshine and take cat naps on. Moving to Egypt has really shown me how significant one’s conceptualization of a place is to defining their overall experience with it– when I arrived in Morocco for the first time two years ago, I had my return ticket in hand before I ever left. I always knew I would be leaving six months later to return to the City of Roses and my wonderful friends back in the States. I wanted to see everything, be everywhere, meet everyone, but I did not invest in relationships because I always felt my time in Morocco was temporary. By contrast, a month into this, and I already feel like Cairo is home. Accordingly, I do not feel the familiar study abroad impulse to whirlwind tour the country and see-everything-all-at-once. I have time here. Metaphorically, my heart is playing backgammon on the street, smoking sheesha with a greying Egyptian man. Contemplating every move. Taking my time. Moving with the alternately chaotic and slow rhythm of life in Egypt.

Settling In -أسبوعي الأول في مصر

Well, I have officially been in Egypt for nine days now, and it has been a whirlwind of new faces, school orientations, unpacking, and exploring. I feel like I finally have my feet on the ground, but I am constantly reminded of how much I have left to learn. Here are a few tidbits I have picked up so far:

  • Egyptians don’t sleep much. Most stores are open until at least midnight, and it is completely normal to visit friends’ houses at 2:00 a.m. (Yet the business day still begins bright and early at 8:00 a.m.)
  • Anything can be delivered in Cairo anytime you want it. Groceries? 24 delivery. Cleaning supplies? 24 delivery. Dessert? 24 delivery. Furniture? 24 delivery. Technically, you never need to leave your house.
  • Egyptian Arabic sounds absolutely nothing like Moroccan Arabic. In fact, I am fairly sure that no other dialect sounds anything like Moroccan Arabic. I bought an 3mmiya (Egyptian colloquial) dictionary today, and will be referencing it frequently. 
  • There is always traffic in Cairo. ALWAYS. It is perhaps the only constant in this chaotic city.

The view from my terrace in downtown Cairo

After only three days in Cairo, two Egyptian friends invited me to join them on a trip to Sharm El-Sheikh, a gorgeous resort town on the tip of the Sinai Peninsula. I hadn’t had much time to settle in, but how could I turn down such an adventure? Thank god I didn’t, because Sharm turned out to be one of the most incredible places I have ever been. We went scuba diving, rode quads through the desert at sunset, laid out on the beach, smoked sheesha, and ate delicious food. It was fun to get to travel a bit before I have to hunker down and begin graduate classes later this week.

Sunset in Sharm El-Sheikh

Now that I am back in Cairo–and armed with an impressive tan!– I am ready to start classes on Tuesday at the gorgeous American University of Cairo campus. I am really looking forward to meeting my professors, sinking my teeth into new books, and writing about the Middle East. I only have three classes a semester, which is a full load for graduate students. This semester, I am taking:

1. Critical Approaches to Middle East Studies

2. Migrant and Refugee Patterns in the Middle East and North Africa, and

3. Public Policy Law and the Separation of Mosque and State

…All of which sound pretty fascinating to me.

The American University in Cairo

Inshallah, I will update more once classes start, and I have more to report. Until then, I’m going to get some sleep– moving to a foreign country is exhausting!

 

En Route –في الطريق إلى مصر

Merhaba from Türkiye!

As of sometime last week, I am officially on the road to Egypt. I have been planning this trip for months, but somehow my final week in the country still caught me off-guard. Really moving abroad for two years is a lot different than talking about moving abroad for two years. Given that I generally have the travel bug so badly that I can hardly sit still, I was surprised by my own reluctance to leave home. It’s not that I ever doubted whether I was making the right decision, or whether I would actually get on the plane; it’s just that I finally acknowledged the magnitude of this next step. Two years is a long time to be away from one’s family, one’s friends, one’s home state, etc.– especially when the life that is waiting for you on the other side of the world is so unknown. All of this to say that I am a lucky girl to have had such an amazing life in Oregon surrounded by such exceptional human beings, which was –admittedly– hard to leave.

Now, almost two weeks into my travels, I remember all of the reasons why I love traveling and why moving to Cairo is perhaps the craziness (and best) decision I have ever made. I think it really set in for me when I first heard the call to prayer after arriving in Turkey. Something about hearing this sound–which I had grown very accustomed to the rhythm of while living in Morocco–made me feel at home. And I realized that I am going to hear that same sound, five times a day, everyday for the next two years. There’s something really powerful about such consistency. So here I am, learning how to find the rhythm of home in these [very much foreign] daily patterns.

After a lovely weekend laying on the beach in The Bahamas, I arrived in Istanbul last week ready for my next adventure. I don’t speak any Turkish and most Turks don’t seem to speak much English and/or Arabic, so it has been a week of emphatic hand gestures and elaborate sign language story-telling. The first four days I spent CouchSurfing (www.couchsurfing.org) with an eclectic group of ex-pats and travelers from around the world. We spent a lot of time exploring the city and drinking çay (tea) and watching the boats sail by on the Sea of Marmara. Istanbul is a lively, interesting city. With a population of over 13 million and a rich history dating back thousands of years, I felt like I could have explored in Istanbul for years and still never completely gotten my head around it. As someone who studies the Middle East, I found the confluence of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and European cultures especially interesting. There were young Turkish women in mini-skirts walking side-by-side with hijabi women; and, while we heard the call to prayer five times a day, we also had no trouble getting a beer in the midday heat of Ramadan.

After four days in Istanbul, I left my new friends for the Turkish countryside, where I had arranged to work on an organic farm for a week through an organization called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (www.wwoof.org). So far, my time here has been wonderful. It’s much cooler here than in the city, and everything seems to move at a much slower pace. Not slower in a “this is so frustrating, why can’t we get anything accomplished?!” way, but rather in a very natural “things will take as long as they take, no need to rush” sort of way. Generally, I am always rushing around doing a million things at once, so it has been nice to be forced to take things slowly. It has given me time to catch up with things and go for long runs through the village and do yoga and journal (and blog!), which are things I can never find time for in my normal routine.

Jade Farm, Sakarya, Turkey

Only one more week til I will be moving into my apartment in Cairo!

Preparing for Egypt–التحضير لمصر

I decided to go to graduate school abroad because I knew that I couldn’t stifle my wanderlust through another two years of schooling in the United States. I wanted to explore a new culture, improve my Arabic, and travel, so graduate school in the Middle East seemed like an ideal option. After getting accepted to the American Universities in Cairo, Beirut, and Dubai, I was faced with a difficult decision (that took me months to make) about where I wanted to spend the next two years of my life. All three cities have a personality of their own, and it was difficult to choose one when I knew that that would mean not choosing the other two. In the end, I chose Cairo– a fascinating city with a rich history and an exciting political climate. I’m looking forward to exploring the ancient pyramids of Luxor, riding feluccas down the Nile River, and watching the protests in Tahrir Square as Egypt builds a democracy in the heart of the Middle East.

Time is starting to fly by. I leave Portland in less than a month to begin making my way toward Cairo. My first stop is the Bahamas, where I will be spending a week on the beach with one of my best childhood friends. From there, I will be flying to Istanbul to work on an organic farm in Turkey for two weeks, and then I’ll be celebrating my best Moroccan friend’s birthday with him in Qatar. Then to Cairo for orientation and apartment hunting. It will be nice to stretch my legs and satisfy the travel bug a bit before I settle down to build a life in Egypt for the next few years. Portland has been a wonderful home to me, but I am really looking forward to this next adventure.