Monday, September 04, 2006

Last day of freedom!

My vacation unofficially ended today, as tomorrow I have orientation, and on Wednesday intensive Arabic commences. There are about a billions thoughts coursing through my brain right now, and I'll try to make sense of a few of them. This morning I went to campus, turned in my student visa application, got my student ID card, and lolled around the grounds. The AUC is such a strange university. First, there are three campuses, all of them very small and within a few blocks of each other. And their communication skills between departments is somewhat lacking. Yesterday, when I walked on the roof to get to the student services office, the lady there asked if I had an extra copy of the visa application form. I happened to, so she went and copied a bunch for her office to hand out, as students had been asking for them (actually, she is the logical post for handing these out, as she is first in the rather complicated process of student visas). I wondered why no one else thought to give her some? Anyway, after a brief hiatus for lunch (ice cream from the carton, a slice of cheese, crackers, and a bit of mango juice)and repose, my roommates and I went to the Citadel, constructed by Saladin during the Crusades, I think. To be honest, I don't know much of its history, but it was an incredibly impressive fortress, built on a plateau with impenetrable walls and iron gates. We visited two mosques inside, one pleasant (top right) and the other gorgeous! The second, the Mohammed Ali mosque (top left, bottom right), was situated prominently on the high point of the castle, with arching domes, gilded and mosaiced ceilings, and cool marble throughout. I covered my head both times; the first, I was so pitifully struggling to tie the higab properly that one of the nice attendants helped me. The second time, I adopted the more utilitarian look of tying the scarf under my chin. I wore a floor length skirt and long-sleeved shirt, and had no problems getting in, but some tourists were forces to don those hideous green robes because of their scandalous clothing. I had one of those 'typical' study abroad moments, sitting on the carpet beneath the highest dome of the mosque, quiescently observing the commanding view of Cairo outside the door. Two weeks ago, I was sitting on a plane about to arrive in a foreign land with no friends. I've already come so far, socially, if not linguistically (there is still an appalling paucity of Arabic in my brain), that I cannot imagine who I'll be when I am forced to return to the States. Egypt has its frustrations, no doubt, as I discovered on the cab right back to the city, when the cab driver charged us double the normal rate, but it also an incredibly rich country that I'm just beginning to delve into. Anyway, speaking of frustrations, I found myself watching the news at home (I try to avoid television, but the cute BBC World guy with his adorable accent just seems to be beckoning ;-), and I saw several things of note-Steve Irwin died! The Crocidile Hunter, killed by a stingray. I remember watching his show on Animal Planet years ago, sitting up late and gorging myself on popcorn and wishing I could be as cool as him. And then I saw the attack in Amman, Jordan. Some man randomly opened fire on tourists in the old Roman ampitheatre, killing one of them. It suddenly became more than an incident in a far away land, but a hostile act much closer to home. I realize people dislike the West (alright, that's a bit of an understatement), but most Egpytians I've talked to are able to separate the man from the people. Bush bad, Americans good. I've even met a few genuine Bush supporters, Coptics who dislike radical Islam and its presence in politics.
Before leaving the Citadel, my roommate and I went back to the cloth market to look for a bedspread for her. Of course, she found one (how could you not?), and I also found a little something, as well, an Islamic horse. The bartering process is always so tricky, and I know I'm usually getting ripped off. Akshaya paid 750 LE for her item, and then I went into a different store that I liked. Of course, they claimed they would have sold her the exact same product for 500 LE, but then proposed a price of 600 LE for my much smaller horse cloth. I protested, bargained it down to 400, pointed out a few superficial spots, and honestly prepared to leave. After I walked out, they of course called me back and gave my it for 350. Now my room is completely Middle Eastern! I also bought 5 dollars' worth of cotton to stuff my poofs. The cloth market is so tucked away behind a maze of other markets, I'm amazed it's able to survive. Most deliveries are done by tiny flatbed Suzuki trucks, mopeds, bicycles, or hand carts, but I always see a few horse and donkey wagons trudging through the twisted alleyways. Anyway, after getting ripped off by the cab driver, I visited the electronics mall near campus. I felt more out of place there than most places in Egypt. First, I was lugging a 2 kilo bag of cotton with me, and second, I seemed to be the only female in Egpyt interested in computers. Eventually, I found someone who claimed he can repair my power cable. I'm deperate, so I gave it to him and I'll pick it up tomorrow, insha'allah. Then, I returned home, grabbed my very Egyptian meal of Chicken Ceasar salad (without the Caesar) and large fries, and settled in. Hopefully, we'll be getting internet into our apartment within the next week; it'll cost 150 LE for 512 speed, plus another 30 LE for the router. I can't wait until then!

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