sham-wow!

It’s been a crazy last few days- I’ll just say a little bit about the various events that made up this past week:

On Monday, I went to my very first practice for the ‘Folklore’ group that performed traditional Egyptian dancing and bellydancing a few weeks ago. I was way too excited to get started, so I showed up exactly on time, forgetting that I’m in Egypt where “practice starts at 3 pm” actually means “just wander in whenever you feel like it, maybe around 4:30”. Showing up early (and by early, I mean on time) ended up being good for me, though. I met the two coaches, neither of which speak any English, and got to watch some of the girls review their old routines. One of the coaches taught me a basic warm-up routine, and I prided myself in being able to count along to the music with him in Arabic. For the first hour or so, it was literally just me, the coaches, and one or two other girls. When the rest of the group finally arrived, I ended up awkwardly standing off to the side for most of the time- everybody was speaking Arabic, and had previous folklore dance experience. I finally met one girl who was Egyptian, but had grown up in the US, and was just beginning folklore. We bonded over our lack of Arabic skills (although she still knew much more than I did), which I was very thankful for. Finally, one of the Egyptian girls came up to me and demanded, “Are you a foreigner??” I replied with the fact that I’m American and speak very little Arabic. She gave me some great advice: just yell at everyone when they’re only speaking Arabic- if they’re at AUC, they should be able to speak English. I might not follow her up on the “yell at everyone” part, but it’s nice to know that she has my back. The dancing itself was great. I’ve missed learning choreography, and it’s refreshing to try something new. The coaches seemed excited to have new students there, and apparently they love people with ballet backgrounds, so I’m off to an okay start! It’s strange- while my suitemates and professors have been nothing but nice to me, some of the Egyptian girls around campus aren’t very friendly to the international students. Most of the girls in the Folklore room didn’t acknowledge me, and some didn’t even respond when I tried to introduce myself. Hopefully they’ll warm up to me!

Sunday, the Residential Halls hosted a “Shammy Night”. When I received an e-mail about this event last week, I had no idea what they were talking about. Were they going to give out free Sham-Wows? Are these off-brand Snuggies? Turns out, I’m just ignorant. “Shammy” refers to the four countries northeast of Egypt- Lebanan, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine. They decorated the common room with the flags of each country, as well as pictures of major landmarks and rulers. There were also students of each nationality who gave a presentation about their home country, and some even performed traditional dances. It was a simple concept, but really strange to wrap my mind around. In the states, my high school had a ‘Diversity Assembly’, but it usually just had students performing Mexican, Russian, and Polynesian dances. Here, being from the ‘shammy’ area is the norm. The event did a great job of showing where a lot of AUC students come from, their pride in their countries, and the rich culture that comes with it. Whenever a new group of students went up to present, the crowd would cheer in support, usually because so many students were connected with that particular place. After the dancing and presentations, we got free Lebanese food from a place called Lob’nan (Lebanon in Arabic), and I can honestly say that it was the best food that I’ve had since arriving in Egypt. We were given heaping plates of tahina, rice, cucumber, tomato, and basil salad, and bread. Luckily for us, Lob’nan is in al-Rehab, only 15 minutes away!

Last week, a few friends and I decided to try out a random restaurant from my Egypt tourist guide book named Sequoia. It turned out to be one of the nicest places I’ve been to so far- it’s a great escape for when the loud, crowded nature of Cairo gets to be too much. Sequoia serves great food (they have sushi!), and is clean, quiet, and cool. The restaurant is also located right on the shore of the Nile, but it’s on the northern tip of Zamalek, away from the flashy hotels and boats. It’s a little on the pricey side, but the atmosphere makes it a worth the indulgence every once in a while. We sat there for hours just enjoying the scenery and food. Oh- and the shisha attendant, Helid, was great. He looked like a kid in a candy store whenever we attempted to speak with him, and couldn’t believe it when I wrote down his name in Arabic correctly.

On Thursday, a few friends and I got invited to take a day trip to Soukhna, which is a town on the Red Sea. A friend of a friend has a house there, so we drove for about an hour or two to enjoy the beach. Gwen and I had class until 6:15 pm, so by the time we headed out, it was already dark. At one point, we asked what was to either side of the road we were driving on, to which we were told, “Desert to your left…and more desert to the right!” I didn’t realize how literally they meant this. The next day on the drive back, it looked like we were driving on the moon. There was absolutely nothing but rolling hills of sand as far as we could see in all directions. The whole trip was a ton of fun. I got to meet a lot of new Egyptian AUC students, and spend some time outside of the city. I just kept thinking that if this was in the US, the beach would probably be crowded with expensive seaside condos. Here, we basically had the entire town to ourselves! The water of the Red Sea was perfectly clear, and the sand was soft with complete shells scattered amongst the coast. If you stood in the water long enough, small tan fish would reveal themselves from the camouflage of the sand and swim around your feet. Early on in the day, there were men playing backgammon right on the beach, spending hours just talking and smoking shisha.

Aside from that, I’ve been spending a good amount of time studying this week. I had a quiz last week, midterm today, and then I’ll have one more midterm and a research paper due next week. I hate having to turn down opportunities to go out and explore because I have to study, but at least the class material is interesting. I’ve been reading about the “old toothless men” of Bedouin tribes in Jordan recently- not too bad!

I also have a lot to look forward to. This Saturday, there’s a marathon that you can run or walk at the Giza Pyramids for breast cancer awareness, kind of like Relay For Life in the States. A few friends and I are planning on signing up- you get a free t-shirt and everything! (check it out here: http://ww5.komen.org/KomenNewsArticle.aspx?id=6442451412) We also signed up for an overnight trip to the Black and White Desert next weekend through the Residential Life program. After that, it’s Halloween! I was surprised by how many people are celebrating it here- the US Embassy is throwing an event, and there’s even a small costume store on 26th of July street. Some friends and I have been talking about dressing up as “Spinny’s” employees- Spinny’s is like the Costco of Egypt, and the workers there wear ridiculous green jumpsuits. I’m doing my best to get ahold of one!

And now for the most exciting news: I officially bought my ticket to Istanbul, Turkey! It’s not often that when someone asks me what I did today, I can respond with something like that. Four friends and I will be going for our November break for Eid al-Adha, which is similar to the Eid after Ramadan that we had in September. This Eid is known as the “Festival of Sacrifice,” and it’s kind of like a Muslim Thanksgiving- you celebrate with friends and family, and traditionally are supposed to sacrifice an animal (such as a sheep or cow). We have an entire week off of school in the middle of November, so Istanbul is our destination of choice for six days. If anyone has suggestions for great sights, food, etc., please let me know! I’m offering lots of photos/blog posts/love in return.

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