Sunday, July 15, 2007

A month in Cairo, May-June 2007

(Lauren) Jill

Introduction: I am a librarian at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and as a Part Time Studies student took Arabic I in Fall 2006 under the wonderful instruction of Dr. Nasser Isleem. I hope to repeat Arabic I in Fall 2007, if there is room for me in class.

Thanks for Matt for letting me join for an ad hoc posting, since I’m not presently a Tar Heel Traveler. I imagine I’ll just do this one posting, ask Matt to take me off the group, and then just make comments to others’ postings. Ah—perhaps I’ll be able to return to Egypt in a year and the blog will still be going. (Matt, sorry this is longer than you requested, but it will be my only posting.) And the 1st time I’ve posted to a blog!

I was in Cairo 26 May-22 June, 2007 at ILI (International Language Institute) for a 4 week course in ameeya (Colloquial Egyptian Arabic). This was my 3rd trip to Egypt, which I have become enamored with (and in particular with its people, on the whole). This follows on a “fascination” I’ve had with the Middle East since I was a child.

Matt is currently studying at ILI, which is an excellent school. My teacher (Amir) was excellent, as well as the staff, administration, and cafeteria folk, too. (Matt, I’ll eventually make a comment to your second 6 July posting re environs and something peripheral to chess.) ILI is in Mohandiseen, on the west side of the Nile, in the ‘burbs, and certainly part of the vast city of Cairo, “Mother of the World.” (I understand there’s another ILI in Heliopolis, another area of Cairo.) The setting certainly has one constantly with Egyptians and with the need for much taxi transport.

Altho I am such a slow learner, especially with vocabulary (those of you who know me know how true this is—but I can do it! I can learn this fascinating language), I was constantly in conversations with Egyptians, in far-flung parts of the city. Without wanting to generalize, I found the people to be so warm, so helpful, so welcoming, so interesting. I also had the good fortune to be a guest in some homes.

I also saw incredible poverty and homelessness, and some cruelty to some dogs which I can’t even take in.

I went on 2 outings organized by ILI. One to the Giza Plateau and Sakkara, where I could confirm with the guide that “Yes, over there is something that was discovered just 2-3 months ago,” since I’m up on all that current stuff. Such places weren’t mentioned on the tour, but it was so great for me to see the sites of these new discoveries. I went into Khufu’s pyramid (the 1st and largest), so now I’ve been in all 3.

The other ILI outing I went on was a day trip to Alexandria (which I had not been to). Among the highlights were the stupendous, beautiful Alexandria Library built in 2002; being deep in the Roman catacombs and the electricity repeatedly going out; the Mediterranean.

Otherwise I went off by myself. Again to the rather new Al-Azhar Park, in Islamic Cairo (of course), which I highly recommend to anyone. To Old Cairo, which was very moving to me: the old churches, the oldest mosque on the continent; I didn’t make it to Ben Ezra Synagogue before it closed. Because of getting into one of many conversations, “hanging out” with people in front of a bookstore—also interacting with Egyptian women and with Americans.

Twice to the headquarters of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE), of which I’m a member. Met the head of the library and others at ARCE, and was able to go to the last lecture of the season, which was about excavations near Wadi El Natrum—the whole excavation crew coming in with the presenter; in the crew a new grad student at Duke.

To a service at the Episcopal/Anglo Cathedral, whose complex now is primarily a refugee home for Sudanese and other refugees. There are many refugees in Egypt. I had hung around after the English language service, so a service in Arabic began and I went to that (at least to the first 1 1/2+ hour)—a lot of music. Among other services held there is one in the language of the majority of Sudanese living there.

Once I was getting a meal across the street from AUC and I thought, “Maybe I’ll run into Mariam.” That would have been nice.

Oh, and so much wonderful music. I can’t begin to describe what all I heard (and saw). One was a free weekly Sufi ... event. Not only were the dervishes/dancers amazing, the musicians were superb.

from Matt: "a forum to share our reflections and insights [without being overly critical of the government]” Mine: I continue to love Egypt and Egyptians, who [collectively] have such warmth, humor, and hospitality, often in context of situations of considerable difficulty. With 1 exception, the people with whom I spoke make a differentiation between “Americans” and “the American government,” so I heard nothing ill spoken about the American people (except a few comments about a few Westerners who were inappropriately dressed).

It was so great for me to be in 1 place for a month. One can hardly imagine 2 places more different: Cairo and Chapel Hill, and I love them both. I’m not a fan of large cities, but I love Cairo. I hope I will have continued opportunities for this “always a Westerner” better to understand the culture.


Gale said...


What a great blog and your first to boot! Thank you for sharing your travels and interactions with people that you so enjoy.

Marium said...

it wud've been nice to bump into you too jill..thanks for ure comments an email! I will reply as soon as i can! Take care!

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