last days of summer

I’m a little behind on posts, so I’ll catch up with this one and update on my first week of school next time.

I ended up going on a campus tour a couple of days ago, which was interesting to me as a UCSB tour guide, but not so helpful in terms of introducing new students to the layout of the campus. Our guide pointed out that the current student population is around 6,000 students, and this campus was constructed in hopes of educating 20,000 students annually someday. Right now, it’s a little too big to manage. We’re also located in the middle of “New Cairo”, which is basically a ghost town. Campus is surrounded by miles upon miles of desert and halfway-constructed houses, with Al-Rehab and Meeting Point standing alone. The ride from here to Old Cairo and Zamalek is pretty strange- Zamalek and Cairo are hugely overpopulated, but once you get out of the main city, the desert is littered with hundreds of empty grey houses lined up waiting for roofs and families to move in. I would love to return here in about twenty years, once New Cairo is a functioning city and these buildings are complete.

On Saturday, a few friends and I decided to walk around campus and find our classrooms before the chaos of the first day of school. This was definitely a good idea. The campus is beautiful, but extremely confusing- even the tour guides mentioned that the architect must have been drunk. Room numbers vary dramatically, campus maps don’t have “You Are Here” labels, and hallways wind in various directions, like a maze. I’ve heard students describe it as “Hogwarts”, with staircases seeming to change places on their own, and even as an Escher painting. It took the four of us almost three hours to find our classrooms today, and I didn’t even finish- I still don’t know where one building is, and my Arabic class was listed as being in two separate locations online and on my printed schedule. Ugh! It doesn’t help that most of the buildings on campus were sponsored by wealthy Saudi businessmen, so their names are absolutely ridiculous. My personal favorite is the “Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud” Hall, which was referred to as “HUSS” hall on my class schedule- it makes no sense!

Since class started Sunday, I’ve been lazily enjoying the last few days of break. The RA’s have been organizing huge group trips to Old Cairo and the Pyramids, but after the first few trips, it was easy to see that sightseeing is more enjoyable with a smaller crowd. The majority of international students are only here for a semester, so it’s nice to have the luxury of a year to check everything off my to-do list. I feel like I’ve been doing my sightseeing backwards, visiting the less-popular destinations and working my way up to the big ones, but that’s fine with me- the pyramids will still be there next week! For the time being, it’s been nice being able to chat with locals and get a feel of real Cairo, as opposed to the hectic tourist spots around town.

At this point, it’s not a real blog post until I’ve mentioned Ramadan, so here we go: For some reason, the university has completely changed class times for this week. Some classes start half an hour early, others end early or are split into sections, and some afternoon classes have been moved to 8 PM. I understand moving a 6 PM class so that Muslims can have Iftar, but why change a 9 AM class? Or, why not just start classes next week? I don’t get it. As a result, I have class at 8 PM Monday and Wednesday this week, which has allowed me to really appreciate the fact that I live on-campus. I’ve been hearing from friends living in Zamalek (which is about an hour bus ride away) that the bus schedule only offers trips at 4:15 and 9:30 PM, so many are stuck on campus for hours at a time.

As far as sightseeing goes, I organized a day trip to Zamalek on Friday with some friends so that we could check out the Cairo Tower. We squeezed the five of us into one taxi and explored for awhile, walking around the tower and taking pictures. The tower itself was beautiful- it’s supposed to resemble a lotus flower, and provides an amazing 360 degree view of Zamalek and the surrounding Nile River and Cairo. We could even see the silhouette of the pyramids in the distance! We got there at around 4 pm, and sat in the rooftop restaurant drinking juice and taking pictures. Around sunset, we ventured up to the top and braved the strong winds until dusk. I had an amazing time. It wasn’t too touristy of a location (we had the entire restaurant to ourselves for most of the afternoon), and it was actually really helpful to see the layout of the city in relation to everywhere that we had been so far. Once the sun set, buildings all over the city lit up, and mosques began playing the Call to Prayer. We could hear the call coming from multiple mosques all over the city, with distinct voices resonating through the air simultaneously. Only in Cairo!

After the Tower, we got dinner at the Euro Deli near the Zamalek AUC dorms (it was great- inexpensive, clean, and delicious), and went for tea and shisha afterwards. We ended up at a place with waiters who only spoke Arabic, yet we were able to order for ourselves semi-successfully. I was pretty proud of us- we didn’t get lost or have to rely on a native Arabic-speaker, which was a first.

The night before that, we bused into Zamalek to hang out with a couple of Egyptian friends, Ahmad and Hassan. They took us to a rooftop bar/restaurant that overlooked the Nile. I can’t imagine how many secret restaurants there are on the roofs of Cairo. The city is littered with abandoned buildings and hotels, but after a short ride in a rickety elevator, you end up surrounded by decorative lanterns, great food and drinks, and a spectacular view. We sat and talked for hours, surrounded by tables of international 20-somethings. It was by far my favorite place so far, but I doubt I’ll end up there again- it didn’t seem to have a name, and I won’t be able to recognize the nondescript street entrance. This is becoming a common trend here- even though I’m beginning to know my way around, there’s a certain inherent sense of direction that only local Egyptians seem to have when it comes to these things.

That’s all for now- I have class at 8 PM tonight so I’m off to grab dinner beforehand. We have Tuesdays off of school here, so I should have time to write about my first few days of school tomorrow. Until then!

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