Just to clarify

•3 February 2011 • 5 Comments

The story I am in the process of posting here on my blog is my personal account of how I got the hell out of Egypt. I am posting it because I have a lot of family and friends who want to know, and because if I have to explain it many more times I will explode.

The fact that I am now out of the country does not mean that things are over. The fact that I was in Egypt when these things happened is not important, except to the people who care about me. The fact that Hosni Mubarak and his partners in his dictatorial 30-year regime are clinging on to power in the face of a grassroots uprising to overthrow him is what is important. The lives of 80+ million Egyptians are important. I realize it must be difficult to feel compassion for an entire country when it is composed of tens of millions of people you have never met on the other side of the world, and who mainstream media sources depict as the Other. If you find it hard to grapple with that concept, then for my sake, please pray for the success and safety of the Egyptian people, without whose selflessness and courage in the face of chaos I would not be here to right this today.

That is not to say that I’m, you know, not at all traumatized by the things I experienced. I am. But it is not comforting to me to hear you reply, “at least it’s over.” I care about the fate of Egypt deeply, and it is not at all over.


Friday of Rage

•2 February 2011 • 1 Comment

Note: I am safe, I am out of Egypt. The latter seems for the most part redundant. I am posting this, which I wrote last Friday. As such, the tone of this may seem sort of strange. More to follow when I can tear my eyes off AJE.

I honestly have no idea where to begin.

The past few days have been… crazy. Not because I’ve been in the middle of the action witnessing a revolution. As countless people have entreated me to do, I’ve kept safely away from the center of the action. In a way, though, the distances makes it less surreal and more insanely real.

On the first day of the protests, I was glued to Twitter. I was continually shocked by the numbers reported on the protests–though 90,000 had responded that they would show on Facebook, anyone who has ever managed a Facebook event knows that you’d be extremely lucky if half of the people who say they’ll show actually do. When I saw the picture of Tahrir Square filled with masses of people, I almost cried. The next two days were fairly normal (from my perspective), though I kept to the dorm more than usual, especially at night–I read a ridiculous amount of blog coverage of the events, but wasn’t quite as inseparable from the news. I walked through Mahtat Raml (major activity hub in Alex) and saw significantly fewer propaganda posters than had been there previously–in addition to dozens of security vehicles packed with officers who looked ready to pounce on the first sign of a protest they saw. While walking back along the Corniche, I saw at least a hundred riot police making some kind of formation near the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (i.e. the most popular tourist destination in Alex and right next to the University) while foreigners were being ushered back to the safety of their tour buses.

Friday was the most surreal. All cell phone service and Internet was blocked, along with some land lines. I spent Friday morning eating pancakes with the whole group, then spent the rest of the day alternately watching Al Jazeera and BBC Arabic and running to the window when I heard sounds. Though our dorm is close to the Corniche, it’s hard to see it directly, but we heard sounds of protesters on and off all day, and at points got a glimpse from a balcony. One of the American girls found that her Blackberry would still allow her to send texts, but only to America–we all used her phone to text our parents that we were okay. Throughout the day her mom texted her news, most of which sounded pretty grim–journalists arrested in Cairo, embassy warnings, &c.

The sky was filled with smoke all day–partly from smoke bombs set off by the police to confuse the protesters, and partly (I heard later) because there were cars burning in the streets. One of the Egyptian girls on our hall told us about getting caught in tear gas on her way back to the dorm from the University, where she had had an exam. While I was watching protestors rip the door off a police vehicle in Cairo, a girl came and told us that she had seen tanks rolling along the Corniche. There was wild speculation among the girls in the dorm–would the army be with Mubarak (who, at the time, still had not shown his face) or with the people? And among the American girls–what the hell would we do if the embassy ordered us to leave the country? Before falling into a fitful sleep, I watched a building burn and heard explosions in the distance and what sounded like fireworks to me, which one of the Egyptian girls told me she was certain it was live fire. I realized that I’ve never heard live fire before and would have no way of distinguishing it from anything else.

When I heard that there were at least half a million protesters in Alex, I almost fell over. There was barely any news on Alex all day, so I had assumed that things were relatively quiet here. Not so. At least one person died in Alex. We don’t have class today (Saturday), and we have no idea whether or not there will be more protests today–and we still don’t have Internet or phone service, so the only way for the program to communicate with us is to have one of the leaders physically come to the dorm and give us news. Basically, at time of writing, I have no idea what’s going to happen, except that Mubarak says that he will install a new government (still led by him, of course), and I am skeptical that anyone who was on the streets yesterday will be satisfied with that.

To clear up a few misconceptions I reckon are going around:

  1. This is not normal. I know some people think that the Middle East as a whole is a place where violence and shit happens all the time, and thus that I should have expected this or something. That is not. True. Mubarak’s regime has been around for thirty years and he usually rules with an iron fist, not allowing ANY dissent. This is unprecedented. I was talking with a history professor and he said that nothing even vaguely like this has happened for the last hundred years. NO ONE expected this. Every respectable journalist/scholar was saying that there was no way Egypt would follow Tunisia, which leads me to…
  2. This is not Tunisia. Egypt and Tunisia are vastly, vastly different countries, even though they are both Arabic-speaking and located in North Africa. Tunisia has about an eighth of the population of Egypt and a large, educated middle class. Egypt has 80 million people and virtually no middle class: one way I heard it described was “either you’re filthy rich or filthy and poor.” There is also FAR less Internet usage in Egypt than in Tunisia. The strategies for subduing the people have differed widely between the two countries. The only effect Tunisia had on Egypt was morale; they are otherwise very, very different.
  3. This is not about Wikileaks or social networking. Yes, the protests on Tuesday were originally organized online, but this uprising is not about transparency or even about censorship; it’s about a brutal dictatorship. Also, it has grown significantly even after the Internet was shut down entirely. I think it’s sort of funny how America is all, “it’s totally not cool to turn off the interwebs! People deserve freedom of speech!” as if THAT is all that the Mubarak regime can be accused of curtailing… Also, I don’t understand why a few people on the Internet thought that this was inspired by Wikileaks, but… trust me, that’s not it.

Things I have heard from reliable sources, but not seen for myself:

All of the police stations in Alex (and across the country) are burning.

“There is no police, there is no army, there is no government.”

Massive looting in the streets.

Protesters stole guns from the police stations–that was the live fire we heard last night.

(EDIT: this was what I was told at time of writing. The reality seems more like it was pro-Mubarak people, not protestors.)

Summary: If there is one word in Arabic I will never, ever forget, it is مظاهرات (demonstrations).

Dispatches from Behind the Linguistic Front Lines

•20 January 2011 • Leave a Comment

Hey, Internet. It’s been a while. Did you miss me? I missed you.


So, it’s officially been more than a week since the language pledge. I wish I could say I’ve been way too busy having fabulous adventures in Arabic to update since then, but in reality it’s just that life is kind of slow. Which is good! But I don’t really know what to write.


Here’s what’s been going on in my life of note:


Language pledge. Not as bad as I thought it would be. Occasionally pretty awkward and makes having serious conversations rather more difficult, but hey. My dreams have started incorporated broken Arabic, which is kind of exciting. My listening skills still suck, though. I really enjoy watching Arabs be confused when they speak to me in English and I’m like:

آسفة، ما بتكلمش انجليزي.

Or occasionally in a thick accent, “Eenglish? I do not have. Mumkin 3arabiyyi?” If pressed, I tell them I am from Sweden. (Because obviously Swedish world travelers don’t speak any English…)

Classes. Also not as bad as I thought they would be. I have MSA 3 days a week (1 of those days being a speaking/listening focused day), ECA twice a week, and Arab-Israeli Conflict twice a week. The MSA here is by far the best MSA class I’ve ever been in, and it’s exactly the right level for me; I feel very challenged without it being overwhelming. ECA is not quite as good. I mean, I feel that my dialect has improved a lot more than my Fus7a, but that’s basically a function of being here. The dialect class is just way slower than I would like it to be, i.e. it is not anticipating every linguistic need I may have in my life and teaching it to me just before I need it, GOSH HOW DARE THEY I WANT MY MONEY BACK jk.


Arab-Israeli Conflict is a good class. There are five people in it. The professor seems like a nice guy. The reading thus far is painfully boring, because it is about the different ancient Semitic peoples, and I can only understand about 3/4 of it. Maybe the other 1/4 is really interesting. I’ll let you know. This is only the first reading and I’ve only had one lecture, so I’m not going to pass any judgment on the class yet, except for that the professor said a few things in the first lecture of whose truth value I am skeptical. Not, like, ridiculously partisan things–he’s pretty good about “this class is about critical thinking, it’s taught primarily from an Arab perspective, but here’s what the Israelis have to say too”–but things like, “religious persecution was only in Europe, there was no persecution of Jews in Egypt or in America.” I’m oversimplifying, and he was probably oversimplifying so that we would understand, but um. No.


Modern Arab Literature starts next week. I am excited for that. I met with the professor and he seems like a cool dude.


Things other than classes, i.e. fabulous adventures. Took my first ride in a مشروع, which was interesting. They’re micobuses that run all up and down the Corniche.


Went to a really nice fish restaurant. It was pretty expensive by Egyptian standards, but not too bad by American standards. And the shrimp was wonderful. They had a display of fish to choose from, though, and one of them was still clinging onto the mortal coil, flipping its fins just a tiny, tiny bit, and it made me very sad.


Ate some kunafa. It was subpar, but still all right. After the first bite I winced and decided that I am going to spend spring break in Israel/Palestine (mostly the latter, because language pledge). Not just for the kunafa. But it obviously played a role in my decision-making process.


Went to the zoo. It was pretty cool but mostly heartbreaking. There were stray cats EVERYWHERE and some of the animals looked pretty miserable (i.e. some of them were in chains)and it was just sad. I know that Egypt has way bigger problems than animal abuse (i.e. a lot of people living in crushing poverty), but the zoo just made me really, really sad.


Things other than classes and fabulous adventures.

I’m generally a fan of intercultural understanding, but there are some things that are objectively not okay, and fresh animal blood splattered all over the sidewalk is one of them.


Tangerine soda is really tasty.


The Internet in the Medina is completely down and one of the girls broke my adaptor by plugging their hair dryer into it. MLISH.


Next weekend we have a long weekend. Well, all of our weekends are long weekends, but this one is especially so. There’s a national holiday on Tuesday, which is usually the last day of our week, so… some kind of adventure is going to go down. Maybe Sinai? STAY TUNED FOR MORE INFO.


Things you may find interesting about my life in Egypt (but maybe not) (but I think they’re interesting)

•12 January 2011 • 1 Comment

بعض الأشياء التي ممكن ستهتمون بها عن حياتي في مصر (وممكن لا) (ولكن بالنسبة لي هي مثيرة جدا)

لأنني  وقّت تعهد لغوي منذ بضع دقائق فقط ولأنني أريد أن أستخدم الفصحى لكي لن أنسيها، أعتقد أنه من الأحسن أن أكتب بالعربي بالإضافة الى إنجليزي الآن وممكن طوال إقامتي في مصر.

مع أنني وقعت التعهد منذ وقت قصير فقط فأنا أشعر أن هذا الوقت طويل جدا! بشكل عام أشعر هكذا عن مصر: أشعر أنني اكون هنا لوقت طويل بالرغم أنني وصلت في البلاد منذ أقل من أسبوع… ولكن هذا ليس مشكلة الآن لأنني ما زلت أكون متحمسة!

كان عندنا امتحان اليوم يقرر لنا أي صفوف يمكننا أن نأخذ. كان طويل جدا ولكن ليس صعب جدا بالنسبة لي. والآن أعرف أي صفوف سأخذ هذا فصل الدراسة:

  1. اللغة العربية الفصحى المستوى الثالثة

في هذا برنامج عندنا ٤ مستويات في الفصحى. الموستوى الثالثة تبدأ مع الجزء الثالث من “الكتاب في تعلم العربية”، الذي من اللازم أن أشتريها! ان شاء الله سأذهب الى القاهرة هذه نهاية الأسبوع وأستطيع أن أشتري هذا كتاب هناك في مكتبة الجامعة الأمريكية  بالقاهرة.

  1. اللعامية المصرية المستوى الأولى

كل الطلاب الذين وصلنا في مصر هذا فصل الدراسة سنأخذ هذا صف. من المفروض أن الأستاذ فيه ممتاز وأنا متحمسة، ولكن أعتقد أن معظم التعليم بالعامية المصرية سيحصل خارج الصف.

  1. الأدب العربي الحديث

أنا متحمسة جدا جدا لهذا الصف! هو “مناقشة فريدة” وأنا والأستاذ سوف نتكلم عن الأدب العربية الحديث الذي أهتم به گثير جدا لفترة ثلاث ساعات كل أسبوع! لأنني الطالبة الوحيدة في هذا صف من الممكن أن أركز على ما أريد أن أركز، ولذلك أظن أنني سأقرأ الكثير من الشعر هذا فصل الدراسة و ممكن رواية أيضا!

  1. العلوم السياسية

في الحقيقة ما زلت أكون غير متأكدة اذا أخذت هذا صف. هو يركز في الصراع العربي الاسرائيلي–الذي أهتم به طبعا ولكن أعتبر الصراع الفلسطيني الاسرائيلي نفسه أكثر مثير بالكثير من دور الدول العرب الأخرى في القضاية، وأيضا هناك صف عن السياسة الإسلامية الذي أريد أن أخذه… ان شاء الله سأعرف أي صف سأخذ الأسبوع التالي ولن أقلق حتى ذلك وقت.

لأن اسم عائلتي يبدأ بحرف في بداية الأبجدية أنا كنت الطالبة الثانية في توقيع التعهد وخرجت المركز بعد ذلك لأن الطلاب الأخرى ما زالوا التحديث بالانجليزي، وبالتالي أنا ما كنت مع كل المجموعة عندما كلنا نحتاجون الكلام بالعربي فقط، ولكن سأكل العشاء مع كل المجموعة اليوم وهذه تجربة ستكون مثيرة…

والآن الكتابة بالعربي تتعبني ولذلك  سأترجم هذا نص الى انجليزي للأشخاص الذين حبّهم لي لا يكفي لتعليم العربية…

So, because I just signed the language pledge and because I want to continue using Modern Standard Arabic so that I don’t forget it entirely, I’m going to write in Arabic as well as English today (and maybe all the time).

Even though I only signed the pledge a little while ago it feels like it’s been a long time. Of course, this is how I feel about Egypt in general: it feels like I’ve been here forever even though it’s been less than a week. But, that’s not a problem because I’m still excited about being in Egypt and not tired of it yet.

We had a placement test today, so I finally know what classes I’ll be taking this semester:

  1. Modern Standard Arabic 3

We have four levels of MSA. The third level starts with Al-Kitaab Part 3, which I need to buy because we don’t use it at Yale. Hopefully this weekend I’ll go to Cairo, because I can get it in the AUC bookstore there in sha’Allah.

  1. Egyptian Colloquial Arabic 1

All of the new students are taking this one. I’ve heard the teacher is good and I’m excited, but I have a feeling most of the 3amiyya I’ll be learning will be outside of class…

  1. Modern Arabic Literature

I’m REALLY excited for this one! It’s a one-on-one, which means the professor and I will be talking about Arabic literature (WHICH I LOVE, DID YOU HEAR) one-on-one. Because I’m the only student we can focus on whatever I want to focus on, which means that I will be reading a lot of poetry and maybe some novels this semester in sha’Allah!

  1. Political Science

I’m still not sure if I’m going to take this class… it’s focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and although I’m obviously interested in the Arab-Israeli conflict, I’m more interested in the Israeli-Palestinian issue specifically and compared to the role of the Arab states in the conflict. And there’s also a class on Islamic politics that I really want to take also. Whatever, I might change it next week. I’m pretty excited about both of these classes (especially because it means I don’t have to take Media Arabic!) so I’m not going to worry about it.

Because my last name starts with a letter in the beginning of the alphabet, I was the second student to sign the pledge and I left the TAFL Center immediately afterwards because all of the other students were still speaking English… so I haven’t been with the whole group while we all have to speak Arabic yet. But we’re all having dinner together tonight… that should be an interesting experience. I’ll keep you all updated.

Welcome to Alexandria!

•9 January 2011 • 4 Comments

So! I am in Alex. Honestly, I don’t know what else to say. There is so much here to absorb that I think trying to form a cohesive narrative would be a failed endeavor from the beginning. So, I will just leave you with a few impressions:

– I am very glad that I am in Alexandria for the semester as opposed to Cairo. While it is still obviously a big city, it is not pure CHAOS in the way that Cairo is.

– The living situation: All the girls staying in dorms on our program live on one floor. We each have an Egyptian roommate and a language partner who also lives on our floor. These girls were selected by the university to live with us (they had to interview and apply and PROMISE to keep the language pledge, in return for slightly nicer housing and, of course, the pleasure of hanging out with us). My room is a decent size. I have a bed, a desk, a closet, and a sort of drawer/shelf. There’s also a common area at the end of the hall, which is always nice to have, because I find socializing in other people’s bedrooms sort of inherently awkward.

– I am very glad that I’m living in the dorms. Though a homestay would probably be enjoyable, I like all of the girls here and it’s nice to be around people mostly my own age. (Also, the Egyptian girls are studying for their final exams now, so I figure they will only become MORE interesting when that is not the case!)

– The weather! I LOVE IT. A light sweater is all I need, if that. This is basically my ideal temperature.

– KOSHARY. IS. AMAZING. It is rice, lentils, chickpeas, macaroni, and tomato sauce mixed together. AND IT COMES WITH HOT SAUCE AND GARLIC.

– The Biblioteca Alexandrina is gorgeous. (For the ill-informed: it is a major research library that has the world’s largest open reading room [which can seat 2000+] and a helluva lot of other cool library-things.) We went on a tour of it today (it’s really near to campus), and the way they built it made it sound so sustainable! Except when you consider that a few of the millions of dollars they used to build it could have gone towards cleaning up Alex or instituting a recycling program or something. Sigh.

– Went to the mall. They had a huge Carrefour there where I bought a cell phone. The store was a) HUGE, b) PACKED, and c) DID I MENTION IT WAS HUGE AND ALSO PACKED. Apparently they were having a big sale today. I was afraid.

– On the taxi ride back to the dorms from the mall, we got lost and drove past our street. When we told the taxi driver this, he drove backwards for about half a mile down the busy street. Note to self: do not miss turn again.

– My Egyptian Arabic has already improved. This should give you an idea of how bad it was before.

– The language pledge starts on Wednesday. I am in equal parts terrified and eager for it to start. For a while I will have to decide whether to sound like an idiot and talk or be silent and maintain my linguistic dignity (such as it is).

That’s about all I have to say.

a funny thing happened on the way to the pyramids; and, how the terrorists stole christmas

•7 January 2011 • 1 Comment

I wasn’t planning on going to the pyramids today. Then, some guy told me the Egyptian museum was closed (which later turned out to probably not be true), and showed me how to get there on the Metro/in a taxi. (Also, he bought me some yansoon, which is a yellow hot drink that tastes sort of like licorice, because that’s supposed to be good to stop a cough. Also, that is hilarious because in my Egyptian Arabic class last semester we had to go over what the hell it was at least four times. “What is yansoon?” “Anise.” “What is anise?” “It’s this… yellow stuff.”)

The Metro in Cairo is actually really nice. It is cleaner and less sketchy than New York. (Also WAY cheaper, obviously–a ticket anywhere is only 1EGP, which is about 17 cents.) It was pretty hard to find the pyramids from the Giza stop, though–I would have gotten completely lost on my own. BUT. They were awesome. I splurged (relative term–I’m sure the people on bus tours paid way more than I did, but I don’t plan on spending that much money in one place again) for the two-and-a-half hour camel ride in the desert behind the pyramids. My guide, Solomon was awesome. I got to practice my 3amiyya with him, so he decided that he liked me very quickly. I overtipped him, but it was still worth it. Cool pictures.

Also, there are apparently actually nine pyramids at Giza! Who knew? (Not me.) The six smaller ones are for the pharaohs’ wives/children, so obviously no one cares about THEM. Sigh. The big ones were really impressive, though. And the sphinx! I mean, it’s the SPHINX, of course it was awesome. On the whole, though, I’m not sure the pyramids at Giza in general are worth the hype they get. (By which I mean: Petra was cooler.) I did buy some souvenirs, though! Which some of you reading this will receive as Christmas gifts next year. PLANNING AHEAD FTW.

After that whole adventure, I headed over to Coptic Cairo, which was weirdly quiet considering that it’s Christmas day. The Coptic community is obviously REALLY shaken by the Alexandria attack–as they should be. It was unnerving. (See: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/01/20111704759563917.html) As one of the girls in my hostel dorm put it: “It’s like they cancelled Christmas.” They held Mass and everything, obviously, but other than that it was very quiet, and the security there was more brusque than I’ve encountered elsewhere in Cairo.

Still, the churches were gorgeous, and the icons in the Coptic Museum were fabulous. There was one of Saint Barbara, who we learned about in Church History senior year! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Barbara) It showed her three-windowed tower in the background, and I felt smart for knowing what that meant! Awesome.

I got horribly horribly lost trying to find my way back to the hostel (STORY OF MY LIFE), but it worked out all right because these nice people helped me (story of my life: the sequel).

Also, I am starting a list of all the horrible pick-up lines I hear while I’m in Egypt. I’m not going to give them away yet, but I’ve definitely got my first entry on the list. GET EXCITED.

Tea count for the day: three (four if you count the yansoon)

Tomorrow: hoping to hit up the Egyptian Museum and possibly some of Islamic Cairo before heading to Alexandria!

some notes from the road (skies?)

•6 January 2011 • Leave a Comment

  1. Being in JFK after writing a whole novel about its fiery destruction was a strange experience. Useful for novel-editing purposes, but strange. I kept being afraid that the security guards would KNOW, even though that is ridiculous.
  2. Based on my long experience in Germany (i.e. walking from my arrival gate to my departure gate in the Munich airport), I have decided that I like the Germans. I saw a smoking lounge that had “SMOKING CAN KILL” written on the door in big letters. Everyone inside looked really self-hating.
  3. LET’S TALK FOR A MINUTE ABOUT LEANERS. Now, I am not going to go as far as to say that people who recline their seats all the way on airlines should die. Nor will I go so far as to say that, when these people meet their natural demise, they should go to hell. I am merely suggesting that a suitable punishment for the arrogant damned would be being stuck in an airplane behind someone leaning their seat back all the way FOR ALL ETERNITY. (If anyone I know ever does this to me, I will probably punch them. CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED.)
  4. I seem to always be on the opposite side of the plane from where the pretty stuff is happening. What the hell? (Also, I swear I am always on the right by the wing. WHY IS THIS THE CASE, THAT IS SO WEIRD. (Actually my flight from Munich I am on the left. Hmm.)
  5. I didn’t sleep on the entire ride to Munich (see above, re:leaners). I am typing this while I am waiting for my flight to Cairo. I may be sort of delirious, which is why I keep EMPHASIZING THINGS in CAPITAL LETTERS.
  6. I have been seriously dehydrated for this entire traveling experience so far. I know because I just saw a mirage of a water fountain in the airport.
  7. UPDATE: ACTUALLY I HATE GERMANY. We sat on the tarmac in Munich for FOUR AND A HALF HOURS because of a stupid ice storm. Isn’t that illegal in America now? It is. Oh, America!
  8. I don’t find babies that annoying when they cry on flights. Probably because I still get excruciating ear pain most of the time I fly. The most annoying thing to me is obnoxious American tourist groups. There was this group of old ladies sitting in the row behind me that were wildly speculating about whether or not images of our place would be on CNN reporting about our situation. And I’m like… it’s RAIN, people. I think CNN has better things to do than report on a rain storm in Germany. Also, they were REALLY LOUD.
  9. Got to Cairo pretty much without a problem once we finally took off. Once again I was seated near the wing on the side of the plane where nothing interesting happened. I was in a sort of half-awake daze for most of it: not getting any meaningful sleep, but also not able to concentrate on anything. I watched part of Inception, and it was weird.

And now I’m in in my hostel in Cairo. It is only 8PM but I think I am going to sleep now, even though the people in my dorm room will JUDGE ME. WHATEVER, I am above your peer pressure to socialize. I am sleepy and want to get the most out of my day in Cairo tomorrow. kthnxbi.