So it’s time I guess. I’ve been gone for almost a month and as my friend tactfully pointed out, “most people who keep a blog generally write something in it.” Fair point. To be honest I think that I have been suffering from a bit of Fear Of Missing Out (or FOMA as its otherwise known) since arriving in Egypt. The city is huge. But unlike the giant bustling streets of Paris which
funnel you directly towards what you should be looking at, or the quaint byways of Amsterdam cluttered with a predictable pattern (bicycle, boat, bicycle, boat) Cairo is characterized by a different kind of busy. Between the incessantly honking traffic, the ubiquitous cats flocking to every last scrap of refuse, and the shop keepers who are all “my friend!” and are quick to assure that “Obama good! America good!” to me it feels a bit like what I imagine Octo-Mom experiences every day. It is as if everything and everyone is all clamoring for your attention at once – and to be honest I have fallen completely enchanted by it. It’s required a bit of a wonky stomach to finally force me to stay put for an afternoon and write home about it all (don’t worry Mom and Dad – I’m not sick, I think I just ate too much free Baba ghanoush at the pyramids today – you gotta stock up when it’s free you know).
Up until last Saturday (June 2) I was vagabonding through England, France, Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands with an impressively choreographed mélange of seven friends in what my friend Hailey McClure has termed “Stephen’s super cliché Eurotrip.” I’ll post a few retro-active blogs in the next few weeks here with some photos and stories from that trip, but as Egypt is in the title of this blog, I wanted to open in Egypt. So I arrived last Saturday, June 2nd after an overnight layover in the Doha Airport and managed to haggle the lowest taxi cab fare of anyone that I have talked to yet (thank you Zambia training). Incidentally Sean and Evan along with the rest of a Zambia (part II) group were a mere 236 miles away on their layover in Dubai at about the same time. So all three McDowski brothers are on temporary leave from the North American continent for the next couple weeks, and I haven’t asked Sean or Evan about it yet, but my communication stateside has definitely dwindled since June 2nd. I think I heard rumor about a Caribbean Island trip? Whatever.
Today was the first outing to the pyramids. The trip was organized through the American University in Cairo’s International Students department. We took a big air-conditioned bus out to Giza and a tour guide gave us a little of the history along the way, as well as methods of dealing with hagglers. Tourism is of course way down because of impending elections, and the
vendors, scammers, and camel/horse handlers are desperate for a little business. Mostafa – one of the kufeeya scarf vendors I talked to told me that while it is hard now, he is happy for the chance to vote, and he is hopeful that tourism will pick up later this summer after elections. Overwhelmingly, it is mostly this feeling of hope is what I have heard from people about the upcoming election. True, no one is satisfied with the two remaining candidates. They are forced to choose between Shafiq – a remnant of the Mubarak regime, and Morsi – an Islamist member of the Muslim brotherhood. Like much of American politics, for most Egyptians the question is boiling down to the lesser of two evils. But despite this, there is an overarching sense of hope. For the first time in Egypt’s history the outcome of an election cannot be predicted, and regardless of who is elected, Egyptians are determined to assure that same uncertainty in the election that follows. As former Egyptian Ambassador the United States Nabil Fahmy told a group of us during a discussion organized at the AUC campus on Wednesday, “the Revolution is not over with elections – whoever wins will be opposed.” Creating an open, democratic state is neither painless nor easy – there is no better example than the paralyzing polarity of American politics today (I swear that alliteration was not intentional). But the brilliance of democracy is that it thrives (in theory) on disagreement and debate, and for the first time Egyptians across the nation are entering into the debate – with gusto in my experiences so far. Truly this is an exciting time to be studying in Egypt…
Anyway, I’m on the ground, settled in my dorms in Zamalek, and chomping at the bit to start classes next Sunday (here the weekend is Friday and Saturday as Friday is the holy day in Islam). More to come soon on Europe and the start of classes, in the meantime I’m gonna go check out what’s crackin down on Tahrir square tonight. (Just kidding M&D!!)