So it’s been a little while since I’ve written anything, and a lot has been happening in this corner of the world. For example I clipped my fingernails for the first time in Egypt. I was a little worried I hadn’t brought my clippers but a day of diligent searching yielded not only my fingernail clippers buy toenail clippers and tweezers too. Phew. I also doubled the amount of pictures I have taken here over the course of an hour after we discovered kittens living in the central courtyard of the student hostel. There has been a battle for naming rights, but I am pretty sure that I got “Hobbes” to stick for one of the three. Everyone has started taking more study breaks and Gus even managed to hunt down a box of Friskeys (kitten formula of course.)
Oh and also Egypt has their first freely elected president! After a brutally long speech listing every count of fraud that had been investigated throughout the country, the elections committee announced on June 24th that Mohamed Morsi beat out Ahmed Shafiq 51.7% to 48%. This came after multiple delays of the announcement and huge subsequent protests in Tahrir demanding that election results be released. This is, in my opinion the best result possible. Towards the last few days before the results were announced, people were getting anxious, wondering if the military was going to rig the results and try a power grab. Many people who voted for Shafiq changed their allegiances in these last few days saying that if Shafiq was elected then the Revolution failed. The city was completely still during the hour and a half that the results were being announced. I stepped outside at one point to go buy a snack and was surprised to see the normally bustling street outside the hostel completely vacant. It was actually kinda eerie. Even the security guards had left their posts and were clustered around an old television someone had hooked up. But as soon as Morsi was declared the winner it was as if the spell had broken. Almost immediately car horns started blaring and flags suddenly appeared in every taxi window and apartment balcony with plenty more being paraded down the road. Tahrir – which had been posed ready to begin a new wave of protests if Shafiq was announced the winner – erupted into celebration. After some consultation we decided it was safe for a group of us to go down to Tahrir to watch the festivities – which is when, apparently, my brother spotted me and my group on international television. Oops. Caught. I guess I can post my pictures now. The Egyptians we met were incredibly friendly and all wanted their picture to be taken with us. They were quick to assure us that Egypt loves America and Morsi is good for America too. Of course there is much that remains to be seen, but in the first week after his inauguration last Saturday, Morsi seems to be pushing for an inclusive and transparent transition to the new government and has promised to appoint a woman and a Christian as two of his vice presidents. So to dispel any rumors, the Christians are not fleeing Egypt, and no I was not kidnapped by angry protesters in Tahrir Square. Things are pretty much just chaotic as usual here with a little extra national pride on the airwaves.
Moving away from politics, we paid a visit to the Salah Al-Din citadel the two weekends ago, which contains the giant Ottoman Mosque of Mohamed Ali. The structure is perched on a hill overlooking all of Cairo with a view of the pyramids in the hazy distance across the Nile. After being kicked out of the mosque for Friday prayers, I finally pulled my camera away from my face long enough to notice the cacophonous symphony rising from the city below as every mosque in Cairo broadcast the Friday call to prayer. It was unbelievably beautiful – the only think I could compare it to would be listening to Gregorian chant in a giant old gothic Cathedral.
Last weekend the ALI program took us on a trip to Alexandria. Driving along the corniche I was instantly struck with the image of the crumbling dream city in Inception. The buildings all have the same tall, generic architecture, and many have fallen into some disrepair, only strengthening the similarity. We stayed in the most fancy hotel I have ever set foot in. I would have never chosen to stay in such a ritzy place but ALI arranged all our meals and lodging for us, and with the ludicrously good exchange rate the whole weekend of royal treatment only cost about $50. Even after having traveled to Zambia and Mexico I am continually taken aback by the realization of our overwhelming privilege as Americans. Professor of Egyptian Art
History Dr. Chahanga accompanied us on the trip and toured us around some of the more historically significant sights of Alexandria, including the fortress (built on the site of the old Alexandria lighthouse), the Roman catacombs, and the new Library of Alexandria. Dr. Chahanga is my favorite part of the ALI trips because of her vast knowledge of Egyptian history and architecture and her perfect Morgan Freeman/Martin Sheen-esqe narration voice. I normally fall asleep during history lectures, but with Dr. Chahanga I am disappointed whenever the time comes to leave the bus to go and actually look at whatever it is she has been talking about. The new Library of Alexandria was built in 1988 using the designs of Norwegian architects who won a global competition put on by UNESCO. You could spend a full day exploring everything, but one of the coolest parts is an exhibit of ancient primary documents from Egypt’s history that have been restored by the library’s team. Some of the documents have been digitalized and you can see them on the website – which I highly recommend checking out. There is a link right underneath the one to the Mile 21 page.
We just got back from a trip to Ain Sokhna on the Red Sea this weekend, but I am going to save that for later because I need to figure out a way to tackle both the stack of unfinished (honestly, un-begun) homework and the stomach bug I managed to pick up this weekend. I’d like to blame the jellyfish sting – but really I think karma just decided it was time to get me back for a few too many snarky comments made to sick classmates regarding my superior immune system. Got me again Egypt. Got me again.