Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

It's Christmas Day worldwide, and I am here celebrating with the family in Seattle!  Merry Christmas, everyone and I hope you are enjoying your holidays!

I celebrated my 20th last week with my boyfriend, who took me out to an amazing Italian dinner in Maadi including an adorable custom-made cake, red roses, and very Egyptian jewelery.  It was perfect in a couple-y, quiet, romantic way, but I kinda missed partying with my girls as a single lady last year because we had such a blast.  Ah, nostalgia.  I feel like I'm becoming too adult in my ways for my own good.  Later a bunch of us went out for a felucca ride and shisha downtown as a sort of last-hurrah before several of our number headed back to the states.  I made up for the adult-ness by making us Jello shots like a college student champ.  Aren't we adorable?

Coming back to the US for Christmas has been a bit strange, not only because of catching a cold just before leaving for the airport in Cairo or the jetlag.   Christmas is celebrated and has a presence in Cairo, but not like here, where I stepped off the plane in New York to be immediately assaulted with Christmas carol music, lights, and various gift stuff.   It was a bit of a culture shock, as was being surrounded by Caucasians speaking English.  I felt odd looking around me as I slid back into US culture in the spot of being a middle-class white person, with all the privilege that goes with it.  In Egypt the advantages are more tangible, because foreigners become the minority so we stand out, but having that framework and arriving back in the US to see Americans walking around unaware of it was a bit jarring.  The foreigners in Egypt, whether they flout their privilege and wealth or try to get away from it, are very aware of how they appear and are perceived.  You have to be sensitive to it, because the Egyptians sure are--you look like a walking dollar sign.

It's hard to let our reality shift, adapt to that shift, and learn from it.  It's scary when those tectonic plates of our psyche start making major shifts. I'm really struggling with mixed emotions about being here in Seattle and going back to Egypt.  It would be easy to just be here, be completely present and disregard the aspects of myself that changed from living abroad.  I could just ignore that it all happened and move on.  It's been so easy to pull on short skirts with tights, throw on my high heels and white wool coat that I left in the States and pretend nothing happened.  But things have changed, I don't mind wearing flats now as opposed to my constant heel-wearing self of last June, and I can't help comparing everything to Cairo in my head.  Seattle looks small, and squat with it's 5-story-or-less buildings in my neighborhood, the individual houses surrounded by small looks like a suburb of a suburb of Cairo.  I love it of course, but it feels like the small town I left behind for the big city.

I'm a little nervous about returning for round two in the big, bad urban jungle that is Cairo, and at the same time I can't wait.  We call cities in the states "urban jungles," but the fact is that you don't know a real jungle until you head to Africa.  Christmas carols sing that no matter how far away you roam, you can only have real happiness at home, but I'm finding myself very confused and a bit flustered even with the comfort and ease of being home with my parents.  There are gifts I have received that I can't take to Cairo with me because they're too fragile for the foreign environment and I find myself trying to talk about my relationship outside the context of the environment it started in which makes no sense.  How can I talk about my boyfriend without the context of his culture and environment?  People who haven't lived in Egypt just can't quite understand when I try to explain our relationship in an American context.

Well, here I am stuck between two worlds, and it would be easy to lay Cairo aside and go back to my regular US life if I wasn't going back in a week and a half, but I am. Who knows?  I may go back later for years and years, but either way I know I will be back.  I'm just going to enjoy Seattle while I can and get the most out of it, but I never want to forget Egypt for one second because it feels like if I blink I'll forget everything that happened the last 6 months.  My memories of Egypt are far too precious to be lost like that.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Cairo Top 5

Well, my room mate posted her Cairo Top 3 list, so here's mine. Not that anyone asked but here is my Top 5 Cairo (not Egypt as a whole) list thus far, keeping in mind I haven't seen many of the major sites because I'm waiting for my parents to come, and keeping in mind that there are many more things, of varying sizes that I love and appreciate about Cairo:

1. Sitting in an 'ahwa downtown or by the Nile or next to centuries-old buildings, smoking shisha, sipping oversweetened Lipton Yellow-Label Tea, with my boyfriend. This is the time when I feel like there is no where else in the world I want to be.

2. It's cliche, yes, but the people. Cairo people are multifaceted and individual of course, but tend towards the happy, helpful, and mischievous with an earthy sense of humor. They are incredibly hospitable and sociable and determined to refute the bad image the West has of Middle Easterners. They will also feed you until you burst.

3. Hearing the music I love, every day, every where. I love Egyptian music, 'nuff said. It moves me, it speaks to me, and no one in the US gets that really, but everyone gets it here.

4. Ok, this is a bittersweet one, but the belly dance performances. These are the huge names of the dance world and it is riveting to see them perform, and unique, and sad. I'll have to write more about it later clearly and disentangle the conflicting emotions.

5. Hanging out in multi-national groups of people getting to know each other. Cairo is a major hub of education for the Middle East, so we get people coming through from all over the world. We salsa-danced the night away with Egyptians, Canadians, Americans, Germans, and Brits over Thanksgiving and it was a blast!

Probably I'll have to make a Top 10 List before I go home.

Ho Ho Ho, Habibi

Hello, hello. I am still alive, yes! Winter in Cairo is fabulous, it’s slightly cold and has rained a couple times—yeah it DOES do that—but you pretty much just need a light jacket, scarf, and closed-toed shoes and you’re good to go! The only problem is that no where really has central heating, so buildings, while not reaching a hypothermia-inducing level of coldness tend to be chilly. I mean, 65 degrees feels cold to me now after a summer of twice that. I am now jealous of every hijabii girl out there. So sue me.

Not much news, just the semester wrapping up at AUC slowly and agonizingly and preparing to go home for a couple weeks which means lots of Christmas shopping at the various touristy suuq-shops and strategic packing-planning. Roomies are taking off on the 17th, and I’m out as of the 21st, so it’s coming down to it, but I will return to Cairo January 7th, never fear! Also I turn 20 TOMORROW! I can’t believe it, I dreamed about celebrating my 20th in Cairo for a long time, but it looks like on the day I won’t be doing much. Still, I’ll probably post something on it so stay tuned.

My article on Weddings in Cairo has now dropped on Gilded Serpent, pop over and have a read! Makes an excellent finals distraction when accompanied by hot chocolate!

Tips for Finals
Which I am not following really, but would probably be useful to the non-masochistic out there. To be honest, these goals are pretty much unattainable for most of us during finals, but everyone tells them to us, so think of them as something to aspire to. These tips are probably self-evident, and I know you’ve heard them before, but it helps to remind ourselves:

-Get enough rest: Your brain functions like crap when you deprive it of sleep over and over again during finals, instead try to get a decent amount of sleep, because it will function more efficiently, and memorize things more easily, rewarding you by saving you time.
How I am not following this one: Well I’m doing better lately, having slept 12 hrs last night, but that was to make up for the average 4 hrs per night week I just had of writing papers. Papers are evil, because you CAN stay up late writing them with the only side effect of being really stupid in class the next day. We all know that in the time-management calculus that goes into finals, being stupid during one class period is not equal to getting a bad grade on your final paper worth 30%. You know which one you’re going to go with and that you’ll be up till 4am.

-Eat well: Again, your brain does not function well if it’s not getting the necessary nutrients it needs. You should take snack breaks while studying to keep your energy level up, and eat healthy to utilize those calories in a smart way. Load up on proteins, stay away from bad carbs and junk food. This is all particularly important in light of the fact that many of us do not have time to exercise during finals.
How I am not following this one: Probably my biggest failure this round of finals, actually. I don’t eat all day because I’m holed up in my room, under my warm covers, using my large bed as a large desk, and totally focused on studying. Then suddenly I realize I’m starving and go straight for foods that are easy to prepare quickly or that someone else makes. In other words, I end up with pasta or junk food, neither of which are particularly healthy or fulfill the high-protein/low-carb criteria my body needs for some intense studying. Time for a break and a trip to the store!

-Get exercise: Studies have actually shown that people in better physical shape are able to better sit through long tests and have the mental endurance for them. Weird, eh? Your body and brain are integrated though, so it makes sense. Take study breaks to go for walks/jogs or do some push ups and sit ups to keep maintain your exercise level during finals.
How I am not following this one: I sort of am…about once I day I’ve been going for a long walk, but for someone who’s body is used to professional-dancer level of exercise this is an epic failure. I worry about swiftly becoming flabby in my food and non-exercise binge. Time to hit the gym when finals are over!

-Make a study plan and study with other people: You only have so much time to study during finals, so make plans to use your time efficiently and see if you really can squeeze in that get-together for a last pre-Christmas-break hurrah. Budget out your time realistically so you can do well on all your finals and not just a few of them that you would prefer to spend all your time working on. Study groups are helpful so that you can fill in each other’s gaps in knowledge or missing lecture notes from absences. Not only that but it gives you a chance to feel like you’re being social and see your friends while still getting stuff done!
How I am not following this one: I am, actually. I have a paper taped to my mirror with my schedule for this week, but things have gotten moved around a bit in the game plan a bit. I am studying with friends a bit, but we have ended up gabbing more than studying to be honest.

-Don’t freak out: Breathe, meditate, take walks, drink tea, keep your stress level down. High stress causes your brain to shut down and not absorb the info you need to remember, so try to stay calm and not waste your precious study time by freaking out. “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell talks about what happens when your heartbeat goes above certain levels of BPM. Basically the more you freak out; the more your body cuts off unnecessary functions and goes into an automatic response mode that does not involve critical thinking. You can’t absorb and process information when you get into high-adrenaline-freak-out-mode.
How I am not following this one: My tendency to go hysterical when overstressed drives my BPM right up and drives me right out of study mode and into crying-on-my-bed mode. Not good for studying.

Optional Read: Finals Ranting
I never seem to handle finals all that well, but professors back home have never given me ones that seem like they’re going to be impossible. A lot of work, sure, difficult is to be expected of course, but a couple of my AUC professors are flirting with the impossible.

First there is the guy that moved our second-to-last lecture to a room that I found the building for, I found on the map of the building, but never did find a way to get to even after walking around the building for 20 minutes. Chalk another one up to the “what was this architect ON?” phenomenon. I probably shouldn’t blame the professor for that one, but then again he shouldn’t blame me either.

However, then this guy went and gave us an assignment due smack-dab in the middle of my finals. The damn thing is based on lectures he never gave us in person, he sent us taped lectures because of our extended vacation time, so we haven’t exactly been taught the material either. Also, perhaps he has forgotten that we are all studying frantically right now? Perhaps he doesn’t understand that quite a few professors like to be nice and let us escape earlier by using their last class period for the final? PS—the Arabic teachers are actually supposed to do that, so don’t tell me my finals week “hasn’t started” so I totally have time to do your stupid assignment.

Let me tell you why I don’t: I have a final on Thursday that I must literally review ALL the material of the class for as we will be given essay questions covering the entirely of the reading material. Oh, but she is being generous enough to let us use the 5-page-per-reading-10-pages-per-week summaries that we wrote before…but wait, we aren’t getting them back until the day of the exam. What?? So I basically am re-skimming an entire semester’s worth of readings, awesome.

These are the unreasonable ones though; I fully expected to be doing things like giving a 10-minute presentation in Arabic, or reviewing all my notes over and over on Comparative Politics of the Middle East. That I expect, and is reasonable. These are normal finals: review your notes to make sure you got everything, show off your language skills and prove you learned stuff, ok got it. Move your class somewhere where I can’t for the life of me find it even though I am really trying to attend the lecture so I can stand some chance of passing your final? Very not cool. Give my brain a hernia trying to figure out your stupid assignment based on already hernia-inducing taped lectures where I can’t ask questions or get clarification? Not good. Due in the middle of finals? Just sadistic!

Christmasy Cairo?
Yeah, sure. The flower shops near us a few roads down now have a bunch of cute (if small) Christmas trees out front draped with tinsel and lights to entice people to take them home. Lights wink from balconies in our foreigner neighborhood, and you can see glints of decorated trees in people’s living rooms just like in the US. I feel a bit left out honestly since the other settled-in foreigners have their adorable trees and I opted not to get one as I will be in the states for the holidays.

I would usually at least try to make a wreath or something, but contented myself with using my elementary school skills to make a paper chain decoration stretching 10 feet across the living room from chandelier to chandelier. It's got those awesome paper-cut-out snowflakes we all used to make when we were kids! Don't let anyone tell you elementary school doesn't teach valuable life skills, yo.

Also, Lady Gaga has released a Christmas single with Space Cowboy that I find hilarious if mediocre musically. If you missed getting it for free on Amazon, you can still pick it up for 99 cents, and if you do be sure to listen to the lyrics!