No surprise to anyone, McDonald’s is a ubiquitous presence around the world. And as a personal mantra, I will try any new food, but I know what you’re thinking… “Why go to Egypt only to eat McDonald’s?”. Valid question.
Trying this McArabia was within the first week of arriving in Egypt which also happened to be during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. In this month, there is fasting from sunrise till sundown, so it became rather difficult to find food during the day at local establishments. However, global chain restaurants remained open - thus me eating the above meal. Being there during Ramadan was a bit of a culture shock, not only because food was harder to find, but also because when we (fellow study abroad students and I) did eat or drink we chose to do so out of view of practicing Muslims, simply out of respect.
So what exactly is a McArabia? It is grilled chicken or kofta (spiced beef) between toasted Arabic style pita bread with lettuce, tomatoes, and garlic mayonnaise (delicious). And of course, obligatory french fries that seem to be standard across the world. I like the idea of eating at Mickey D’s in other countries, see how it differs from the ones stateside. As for this McArabia? I’m lovin’ it!
Baksheesh! Baksheesh! Baksheesh!!!.
This was the dreaded word I learned to loathe while in Egypt. “Baksheesh” in Arabic translates to “tip” in English. But I quickly realized, it is customary to tip anyone for virtually anything. Anything. Now before I get hounded for sounding like a stuck-up, hoity-toity American, I will say I have no qualms about tipping. Waitstaff, valets, hairdressers, manicurists etc. Tipping kinda became excruciatingly unnecessary at some points, particularly outside of Cairo and in most of Syria. For example, sometimes I had no choice but to tip restroom attendants. I know I can take care of myself - until some bathroom attendants washed my hands for me…and one individual generously attempted to wipe my ass (lucky me).
No tip : no toilet paper.
How different is the concept of tipping in China. In fact, it is not just different, it is completely non-existent. No tipping for food, for taxis, for the bellboys. I sometimes feel awkward for not tipping but I will admit, paying the exact price stated on the menu is a frugal person’s dream. No tips and no tax. To prove tipping does not exist in China, I once left a tip during my first week, and I was quickly chased after by a waitress giving me the extra money she thought I had left by accident.
^Picture of Chinese RMB. Dolla dolla bill ya’ll.
OH JEEZY! The streets of Cairo. There is no way you can walk around without being haggled in the slightest form. Watch the video and you will understand what I mean. To be honest, that sort of situation can befall any newcomer, but after the first few weeks, one will take a hint. It is ok to say, “NO” - not only to telemarketers and door-to-door religion fanatics, but also to the persistent Cairenes that one will meet out and about. These guys are true salesmen, no matter how shiny his product, how big a discount he gives, or sad his story is…just say NO.
P.S. In other news, I am packing for my China excursion. Let’s just say the jorts (jean+shorts) are coming! Don’t worry, they are not trashy jorts, but skinny tight-fitting ones ; )
So as a follow up to my blog post about our Sharm El-Sheikh vaycay in October, I found some pretty freaking sweet pictures of our night at Pacha Sharm, getting our grind on with David Guetta - the guest DJ. These pictures are not mine, but from Pacha Sharm’s website:
^ outside, you can see Pacha’s famous cherries
^ so many sparkles - can’t stop looking.
^ some sort of awesome nitrous oxide cooling system. While cool, it gave me an eye infection…
^ packed and a ‘sausage fest’
^ you can see me in this pic! Find me?
^ friends dancing on the bar
^ ohhh haiii David! freaking awesome!
^Raul, me, John, Nikki, Sany, and Emmy on-campus
This institution is possibly the most frustrating place to study - for multiple reasons…but yet, I learned so much while I was there.
If you have not already guessed, AUC is a sister school of the American University (in D.C.) as well as the other American University of __________, schools,. ex: Beirut, Caribbean, Paris etc.
Known as the ‘Harvard of the Middle East’, AUC’s original campus is located in the heart of downtown Cairo, just off of Tahrir (or Liberation) Square. The new campus is contemporary, large, and beautiful. Did I mention it was built in the middle of nowhere? Well, its in the middle of “bumblefuck”. AUC is located in New Cairo, many kilometers away from the center of Cairo and where my dormitory was located. New Cairo is still under construction to be the new hot spot for wealthy Cairenes. For tax purposes, builders start a project and construct a skeleton of the building, but they stop and don’t finish it. It’s really strange and eerie. But the area looks like this for miles and miles (not cute):
So since its quite the distance from my dorm, most students take school coach buses (with life-saving wifi internet) to AUC’s campus. And with the notorious traffic in Cairo, it takes roughly an hour to reach school in the morning, and roughly an hour to two hours to get back to downtown Cairo. Can you say ROUGH? (I can)
Now to the campus. It’s big and beautiful.
- There is an excess of random water fountains all over the campus.
- All students go through a security check with metal detectors and bag check conveyor belt machines (just like airports).
- There is a lack of food variety to buy lunch (McDonalds, Subway, Tabasco Cafe, and an Italian pizza station).
- And what is so frustrating is the floor-plans of the academic buildings. They make no ‘effing sense. The buildings are so convoluted and nonsensical. When finding a particular classroom, the room numbers jump and skip. Getting lost was the norm. The AUC architect clearly hated his life.
- Rows of palm trees are hidden behind the buildings.
- The library is pretty large and impressive, but with one major flaw: barely any of the electrical outlets work.
- Some study abroad students chose to live on-campus. And although the commute to and from AUC can be draining, I would never live on-campus because there is nothing to do at night or around the immediate area.
- Most students are Egyptian or from another Arabic country. Student population is around five thousand undergraduates and I believe there was a couple hundred study abroad students with me for the Fall semester.
Here are some pictures:
^one of the school entrances and fountain
^palm tree colonnade
^Main plaza and more fountains
^campus life (not my picture)
^view of students from my Arabic classroom
So it may sound like I am ranting and hating on AUC, but these were just inevitable frustrations that my friends and I encountered. What I learned in the classroom was different (in the best way). So stay tuned for ‘American University of Cairo - Part 2’ because I will be elaborating about my classes!
Overly nostalgic I know…but take me back to the Nile. Yallah Misree (Let’s go Egypt!)
A little Egyptology lesson for you from what I remember in class:
Built by the pharaoh Snefru in the Third Dynasty. The Pyramid of Meidum was originally a step pyramid but the steps were filled in. Then, around the New Kingdom, the filling layers crumbled and exposed the original core. Thus, it is definitely a ‘fail pyramid’. Just how my friend Jacob eloquently labeled it. Check the picture….
In the above picture - me at the Pyramid of Meidum. I was standing outside the entrance to the burial chamber.
Now I can share the pictures from my Fisheye camera that I bought from Urban Outfitters the day before I left for Egypt. I will post the link from my Facebook album and some sample pictures in this post.
Let me tell you, it was not easy taking pictures with this thing. I had to learn how to load and unload FILM! (antiquated!) In addition, the flash on this camera is not very strong, so many pictures had to be excluded because it was dark dark dark. Anywhore, hope you enjoy. More pictures to come!
Rhianna and I on a felucca boat
Panoramic view of Cairo from Al-Azhar Park
My friend Sanya at the Great Pyramids of Giza
Cairo - life is simple
Taxi cab - Sinai Peninsula
You can view all of the pictures (so far) with this link .
My Egyptology professor of Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt at the American University in Cairo. She is a badass. One of the best professors I have ever had. Some funny stories of her class to follow…
How else would you celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan? My AUC friends and I went to Sharm El-Sheikh. Also just known as “Sharm”, this city is a diving and snorkeling get-away for many wealthy Egyptians and European vacationers. I was still surprised that this beach-bum city on the Red Sea is world-renowned for its beaches and coral reefs. I had to take a dip into the ubber salty waters to see (and taste) for myself.
With a day or two of vacation for the Eid Al-Fitr Islamic holiday, we went straight to the Sinai Peninsula. It was our first time to get away from the hectic hustle and bustle of Cairo, so it brought some much needed rest and relaxation. We arrived via a seven or eight hour bus ride to reach our resort Umbi - Shark’s Bay. What a freaking gorgeous place. Our rooms were built into a cliff overlooking the Red Sea. There was a Bedouin style lounge and restaurant to smoke shisha and eat fresh-from-the-water seafood. And then there was the reefs…
The snorkeling was one of the trip’s highlights. I had never snorkeled amongst aquatic gems of corals, urchins, and all sorts of fish. We continued to snorkel in the Ras Muhammed National Park. Here exists extensive coastlines of impressive coral reef environments, shark feeding grounds, and even the world’s northernmost mangrove forest. We would finish of the days with lazy spells of sleep under the oppressive Egyptian sun.
Nights were a different story. I’m sure you could guess it involved drinks and raunchy games of never-have-I-ever, but there was one event we made sure we attended. A David Guetta concert at the night club, Pasha Sharm. What? We saw David Guetta? In Egypt?
Yes. I can promise you I would not pay money to see him here in the states. But when you are in a foreign country with new friends, this is an opportunity that we could not pass up.
The. Concert. Was. RIDIC.
In this blog, I was going to attempt to describe the details as to why it was so great. But I have just decided not to. Just know we had the time of our lives [winky face].
What a great first vacay in Egypt. Other noteworthy details: My friend Raul almost drowned. We befriended the local stray cats. I broke my glasses and contracted an eye infection on the same night.
As my friend Geoff said and repeated, “I never want to leave”. Agreed my friend. Agreed.
Me in Egypt again obvi. I miss these fools so much. But anyway, this was shot at Ras Mohammed National Park (for the Red Sea coral reefs) Who knew Egypt has world class diving? Anyway, this is a preview of my next blog about our quick vacation from Cairo to Sharm El Sheik for the weekend : )
Look out for the actual blog!
It’s definitely smog? Right?
It kinda looks like fog though. Naw, can’t be.
It does not take long for any visitor to realize the state of cleanliness found in Cairo. More like lack of cleanliness. No question, the pollution levels far exceed the recommended guidelines of the World Health Organization. In Cairo, streets are littered with trash, individuals do not clean up after themselves, even the Nile River glows with a murky hue of grey-green. It is also not uncommon to find a sidewalk blocked with a larger-than-life wall of trash bags filled to capacity with waste. Cairo is even home to an impressive but more so gut-wrenching and guilt-inducing Garbage City - the Christian population of Cairo left to sort, sift, and recycle the daily rubbish of the country (an entire blog post will be dedicated to Garbage City).
Without a doubt, the most significant difference in Cairo and the rest of the world is the city’s air pollution.
Air quality was one of the many factors that made acclimating to Egypt challenging. And the capitol of Egypt tops many not so coveted, lists. One example, Cairo ranks as the number one city in the world with the most particulate matter in the air. Meaning: the amount of solid material that is suspended in the breathing air. Say what?!? Isn’t the adage, “You are what you eat”? How about “You are what you breath”? I guess that must make me a toxic body of pollutant and greenhouse emissions.
Every year, as the harvested rice plantations are burned, the smoke and gasses released from the fires coupled with the factory emissions, vehicular exhausts, and even cigarette smoke all contribute to the infamous “Black Cloud” that veils the city in a toxic cocktail of pollution. In the months of October and November, there were days when I could not see the sun. At times, visibility was less than twenty feet. One particular time, I was in the library doing homework and from my desk window, I watched a massive and ominous cloud of pollution arise from the horizon and with little time, the cloud blanketed my campus making visibility close to nothing.
They say living in Cairo for one day is like the equivalent of smoking one pack of cigarettes. I would hate to take a glance at what my lungs may look like. “Black Cloud” or “Black Lung”? With that said, it was definitely smog.