After two plus months of travel, I have learned some key things about packing for trips abroad. Now, I was bit constrained because I was packing both for a two month stay in Lebanon as well as a month and a half backpacking trip through Europe. That said, here are a few key things I will remember next time I pack for abroad:

  • Know the weather and know the itinerary. If your trip has a hike up the tallest mountain in the Middle East planned, you’ll need a jacket and tennis shoes.
  • Know what you’ll need and what’s not available in the country. If you like NyQuil when you’re sick bring it with you.
  • Eliminate, eliminate, eliminate. You’ll add to your luggage so leave some room and eliminate what you don’t need from your bags.
  • Pack everything in advance so you know how it all fits and if it will work. Don’t leave anything to the last minute. 
Here are the things I was unsure about packing, but am so glad I did:
  • A neck pillow and an eye mask, which are still very handy past the transatlantic flight.
  • A towel
  • An extra pair of sunglasses
  • Extra socks
  • Vitamins and emergency medicine
  • A journal
  • Extra pair of headphones
Things I wish I hadn’t packed:
  • Text books, I should have researched it and known I could buy them cheaper abroad. Also, biggest mistake of the trip was renting a text book, which now has to trek through Europe with me so I can return it when I return to Portland.
  • Too many blouses
  • Too many electronics and valuables (these add stress and concern)


Goodbyes to Lebanon

My last days in Beirut were lovely. I spent the weekend in a tiny Druze village in the Lebanese mountains with a group of friends. We spent all night discussing Lebanese politics, language and video games. My farewell to the Lebanese mountains was the most difficult. As we drove down the mountain with Beirut and the Mediterranean in the distance, I couldn’t help but cry. I really didn’t want to leave. My final night was spent walking the corniche with close friends and drinking nescafe. I then took my final crazy taxi ride to the airport and proceeded to take take the worst red eye known to man.

I’m now sitting in a Parisian McDonald’s, utilizing free wifi anywhere I can find it. No longer am I surrounded by Arabic, now I hear twenty different languages a day in a bustling city full of more foreigners than French (apparently that’s what it’s like every August). Every time someone speaks to me in French, my brain immediately takes me to Arabic and I attempt to speak to them in Lebanese. No one seems to appreciate my Bonjourain response to daily hellos.

While France is great, I find myself missing Lebanon an incredible amount. I miss the comfort of Hamra, the crazy taxi rides, rooftop hookah, and cheap shawarma. It’s amazing how at home I felt after two short months. The biggest comfort is that I know I’ll be back. My trip to Lebanon solidified my academic interest in the country and my passion for the culture and language. Hopefully during graduate school I can spent a larger chunk of time in my new favorite country.

My next two months will be spent exploring parts of Europe. I keep studying and reviewing Arabic to ensure that I don’t forgot anything and I maintain all the skills I picked up after living abroad.  My goal today is to find the Arabic Cultural Institute in Paris and make some new friends I can speak Arabic with.

McDonald’s is getting pretty crazy as the lunch rush begins. When I have wifi again, I figured I would share some of my best packing pointers since I learned a great deal in the last few months.

Merci Katiir

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.

Northern Lebanon

I just had one of the best weeks of my life. It may sound silly but it’s completely true. Let start from the top, shall we?

I had a typical friday morning Arabic class that included a weekly exam and cutting out early. Prior to the exam my professor talked Lebanese (in this case, Druze) politics and the mood was happy. After class I took my typical mid-day Lebanese nap to dodge the heat. Once the sun was down, I had a full meal of delicious Lebanese cuisine and proceeded to a classmates apartment for the evening. After an hour of girl talk our friends picked us up and we ventured to the Gemmayze bar scene. Our guy friends took us to a bar that made us slightly homesick, but in a good way. It was a rooftop dive with a DJ from Seattle blasting Pheonix and Arcade Fire on their speakers. While we felt like we were home, it only made us more weary of the fact that we only have two more weeks in Lebanon. After we got over what felt like an alternative reality, we enjoyed cheep drinks and quality time. The night ended and we returned to our friend’s rooftop apartment. I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing beats an evening on a Lebanese rooftop. I’ve also come to the conclusion that I will sleep when I get home. Why waste my time in bed when I can stay up too late chatting with friends in the perfect temperature?

Nightlife on Beirut's rooftops

Saturday, my classmates and I boarded a bus in the early morning. Our first stop was the Port of Tripoli. Due to the tense political environment, we were unable to spend any time in the city, but we boarded a boat and headed out to sea. The occasion marked my first time on a boat in the ocean/sea. The experience was not a disappointment. There were a number of tiny rock islands full of locals swimming. Once the anchor was dropped myself and a few classmates jumped into the Mediterranean. The water was the perfect temperature, refreshing yet warm. We swam to a small island, walked around for a bit and then swam back to the boat. While I’m not the strongest swimmer in the world, the Mediterranean is so salty that floating seems easier than walking.

Tripoli off in the distance

Tiny islands off of Tripoli

The next part of our trip included a hike through the Cedar Forest of Lebanon which is often called the Cedars of God. While the amount of cedar trees has dwindled due to consistent deforestation, the forest has a rich history. Lebanese cedars were used by the Phoenicians to make ships and legend has it that Gilgamesh used the cedars to build his city. Hence the deforestation started early and continued through the 20th century when the British used the forest to build railroads during WWII. While I am used to forests full of trees in Oregon, our hike was beautiful none the less. We saw the oldest tree in Lebanon and the cedar that the Lebanese flag is modeled after.

Cedars of Lebanon

After a short hike through the forest we ventured to our hotel for a long night of bonding and wine drinking. The view from our hotel was incredible. Northern Lebanon is probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The slow drive up the mountain was breathtaking. I found myself tearing up a bit at the sheer beauty of it all. At the hotel, were surrounded by mountains and Qadisha valley was resting towards to the west. The peeks that were around us are some of the highest in all of the Middle East and the Qadisha valley is full of small and ancient villages carved into the cliffside. Early in the morning we began a three hour hike up the mountain and along with ridge-line of the range. Again, the view was astounding. While my ears were cold and the wind fierce, the hike was incredible. At the end of the hike we enjoyed a family style lunch in a quant mountain town near a small lake. The food was delicious and nearly everything we ate was produced in the farms surrounding us.

Sunset and a round of Backgammon

View from the mountain-top towards Qadisha Valley in the West

Friends enjoying the view towards Bakaa Valley and Syria

We arrived back on campus late in the evening on Sunday. While I was exhausted and in desperate need of a hot shower, it was easily my favorite weekend of the trip so far. From the rooftops of Beirut to the mountaintops of Northern Lebanon, no moment was dull.


مغارة جعيتا وجبيل وحريصا

Yesterday my class and I had a lovely adventure in Lebanon. We visited a couple of sites just North of Beirut, such as Jeita Grotto (مغارة جعيتا) and Harissa (حريصا). Afterwords we visited Byblos (جبيل), a 45 minute trip from LAU and debatably the oldest inhabited city in the world (some argue that Damascus holds this title).

We arrived at Jeita around 10:00am to beat the heat and the crowds. The site is one of Lebanon’s most popular tourist attractions and lines fill quickly. It was about a thirty minute drive from central Beirut and is considered one of the new seven wonders of the world. Jeita was amazing, possibly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. There are two parts of the trip: a walk through the caves and a boat ride through the grotto. Jeita is dated back to the middle-lower jurassic period, which means you’re looking at rock formations that are around 200 million years old. I took me about 45 minutes to walk through the cave and I was taking my sweet time. If you look at certain rock formations long enough you begin to see things in them. One of the park workers pointed out snoopy, santa clause and Jesus Christ. Formation take millions of years to form and continue to grow ever so slowly today. I had never been inside a cave before so I feel very lucky that my first trip inside one was so special. The boat ride was also amazing, the water was a spectacular blue and cold to the touch. The ride itself lasted about 15 minutes and was awe inspiring.

Walk through Jeita Caves

Boat ride through the grotto

After Jeita, we trekked to Harissa, a beautiful Maronite monument on the hills overlooking Beirut. We were greeted with spectacular views and a monument to Mother Mary, which was a gift from the French. It reminded me of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro except on a smaller scale. After a short visit (our tour guide pressured us along quickly), we took the telepherique down the hill side back into the city.

Mother Mary atop Harissa

View of Beirut and its surroundings from the top of Harissa

Telepherique ride down the hill

After the steep ride down the hill, we hopped back on our bus and ventured to Byblos. The city is beautiful and carries such amazing history. We were able to visit a Phoenician castle on the coast line and walk through the old city souk. The only aspect that was disappointing was that I saw our tour guide paying off all of the shop keepers, which slightly cheapened the experience, making it feel less authentic. The history of the Phoenicians in Byblos is impressive. Not only did the castle we visited witness years of history and invasion, but it was also home to the invention of the Arabic alphabet.

View towards the sea from Byblos Castle

On a final note, I finally touched the Mediterranean.  It was terribly painful looking at the sea everyday in Beirut but not be able to touch it, but yesterday my dream was realized. A small group of student and I visited a public beach in Byblos. The water was the perfect temperature for a hot day but the waves were much more violent than I expected. I was told this was uncommon for the area and it made it difficult to get past the breaks and really swim. Luckily I adapt quickly and I found the amount that I fell on my face and got salt in my eyes due to clumsiness amusing more than anything else.

Gazing out at the Mediterranean

Hope everyone is having a great weekend. Enjoy your Sundays wherever you are in the world.

Lebanese American University’s Cats

I forgot to mention, there are cats EVERYWHERE on campus. The university takes great care of them. They are all fairly clean, well fed and affectionate. There is one cat that lives right outside our dorm and loves to snuggle. I checked with security to make sure they are safe to pet and they quickly reassured me that there is no danger.


Sorry for the late notice. I just got my internet up and running here in beautiful Beirut, Lebanon!!

After 32 hours of intense traveling, and the scariest flight I ever experienced, I have arrived. I’ve been in the city for three full days now and have been spending my time exploring the city with my new found friends. The first hours after my arrival were slightly daunting, I knew no one and had no access to the internet, which meant no access to my world in Portland. I never realized how attached I was to the internet and technology until I was without it. What a wake up call! I have to break this ridiculous addiction to technology!

Anyways, I eventually made friends with a lovely Syrian-American named Lena and we decided to hit the down. The city is incredibly open and welcoming. Most dress like Westerners and the neighborhoods surrounding the university are incredibly safe day and night. While some Lebanese were surprised when a pale redhead attempted to speak Arabic with them, everyone seemed willing to help me out with my language skills.

On to the excitement! Below I’ll break down some of the sites we (my friend Lena and I), saw in bullet form. I figure the simpler the better, because I could write for hours about my first few days here.

  • We visited the Blue Mosque (مسجد الامين), but we have yet to go inside. In the picture below, you can see some old Roman ruins as well. I’m not sure what the site is called or what the ruins are, but it’s pretty cool to see the ancient history.

    Blue Mosque

  • We walked the boardwalk and visited the chic Zaitunay Bay.
  • I had the best burger EVER, in a restaurant called Classic Burger Joint
  • We ate at a Lebanese staple: Barbar (بربر). I had the shawarma, of course.
  • We witnessed a massive wedding full of diplomats and politicians.
  • We visited the head quarters of Elie Saab, my favorite designer! Dream come true.

    Elie Saab

  • We explored Hamra (شارع حامرة), which is full of shops, nightlife and restaurants
  • Finally, we visited Rafic Hariri’s mausoleum.

    Rafic Hariri's Grave

As mentioned above, I have had some delicious food in the city. I’m staying away from fresh fruits and veggies for a few days so my digestive system can adjust, as per the recommendation of my program. I look forward to devouring the mangos and giant watermelons I have been seeing. I want to try everything I can. I also figured it was fine if I get sick of eating authentic shawarma, because I’ll never find it’s equal in Portland.

I’m glad I arrived a few days early so I could soak in the city before classes start. After spending three days exploring the city, reality is starting to hit, however. While my Lebanese is improving everyday and I am becoming more comfortable testing the waters of speaking with locals, I have a long way to go. We had our first Arabic class today, which began with a massive (25 page) placement exam. I find out in a few hours what level I placed in, which is making me rather anxious. Tomorrow we have our first formal Arabic lecture and begin our studies. All of the instructors seem lovely and have made us feel comfortable, a characteristic key in any language instructor. We will have class every morning of the week for about five hours. It will be a combination of MSA and Lebanese. Each weekend, there will be an optional excursion to places around Lebanon. While many have been canceled due to safety concerns (Damascus, Tripoli  Sidon), there are still a number of places we are able to visit. I’m especially excited to visit Byblos next weekend.

I’ll keep you posted on my future adventures and my class schedule as everything begins to unfold this week. Today is my birthday, so my friends and I will most likely explore a new neighborhood and find some delicious Lebanese treats to celebrate. I’ll make sure to post some pictures of my findings!



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 ( 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:

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: 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:, 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.