Saturday, February 18, 2012

"Hayeti, you gotta roll the hips and control the dips!"

I've had a very happy two days. :)

Yesterday I finally decided to move myself to the middle of nowhere, to an absolutely charming little studio--free from honking traffic, adorable (yet ferocious) barking canines, and shouts of Arabic nonsense. My new flat is quite close to AUC campus and I'll be moving in on the 22nd. I had lots of good vibes when I visited today and couldn't stop smiling. Places that are constantly louder than I am are apparently not my forte. I've decided I get antsy after about 3 months of sameness. Sameness + Craziness/Trapped Feeling = Recipe for Whitney Disaster.

Thankfully I spent 3 hours yesterday at this cute cafe in Maadi with my precious friend, Dina, sharing delectable coffee and caramel ice cream, while painting coffee mugs! They will be ready after 5 days, I can't wait to see our finished works of art. My masterpiece is adorned with an under the sea-mermaid type of thing, in honor of my favorite Almost-Brit known as the lovely Kate Smith.

With the sweetest friends at the Naked Earth event in Maadi!
Also, yesterday was the one month mark of when a certain German boy will be visiting me in Cairo! So much exploring and fun times to look forward to. Beaches in Hurghada, seafood and friends in Alexandria, winding streets of Cairo...*sigh*

P.S. I went to this hilariously amazing belly dancing cabaret a week or so ago. Here are some photos that almost justify this majestic experience.

Possibly the worst belly dancer I have ever seen. However, we all couldn't stop laughing. Such fun! :)

We were the only ones there for the longest time. More drinks for us!

A despicable shisha but the belly dancing made up for it!

Valentine's Day was just around the corner. The little lips were quite cute.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Shakira and Jawahe visit the Valley of Kings

To continue my story of Luxor, I must now tell how amazing and unforgettable it was, regardless of what happened on the train. After spending only a few moments with the big chief in the police station I was seriously thinking about, well awful things to say to him. Jayanni kept looking at me, slightly exasperated I believe, and would say, "'s okay. Now, Whitney..."

The "big chief" was a big idiot. I swear any of my younger cousins would have been more productive than this man. He wouldn't listen to anything I was saying and continued to chastise me for not speaking better Arabic. I thought that he would have been sorry if my Arabic was better. In that moment this strange, red haired younger gentleman glided through the door wearing a traditional galabiya. I was taken aback but knew instantly that this was our Couchsurfing host, Ernesto from Nicaragua. The big chief greeted him like an old friend and began to ask him all sorts of questions about the train ride, what was stolen from me, where I lived, and other general questions. Ernesto explained that he wasn't on the train with me and was just meeting us for the first time. The big chief, confused as ever, continued asking Ernesto questions even though he obviously couldn't answer them. After an hour or so I finally had an official police report, written on a piece of wide-ruled paper and stamped. He told us to come back in a day or so to get tickets to return to Cairo.
With our dear host, Ernesto, as we wait semi-patiently for our henna to dry.
Ernesto grabbed my monstrous bag and took off through the station as Jay and I followed him. I stepped outside into the sun and felt a little better, then realized I was absolutely starving. We stopped at this little cafe type place for some hummus, bread, and soup. Ernesto had pizza, apparently one of the best places for pizza. We decided it would be best to go to his home and relax before doing anything else. Ernesto said that we had to take a ferry then a small minibus to his house, which was fine by us. As Jay and I walked to the ferry the view was breathtaking. The city swallowed us whole but I felt safe and at ease. Ernesto told us that we were looking at the ancient city of Thebes. Well, hello Thebes...nice to meet you!

The rest of the trip was magical, all a part from being heckled for extra piasters here and there. Tourism has really dropped within this area of Egypt and it's more often than not the only way the people made their living was by selling their crafts at the ancient sites or in front of shops. It was different than in Cairo and no one was hostile towards us.
Jay and I sightseeing in Luxor. I had to wear my glasses all day due to our furry, feline friend named Mimosa!
The Valley of Kings proved to be as unreal as you can imagine. Jay and I spent a few hours at the site. Many of the rooms looked like they had been painted just yesterday. I snapped photos to store in my favorite memories of the beautiful black and blue ceilings, painted with stars and hieroglyphics. Jayanni was so intrigued by the ankhs and we both loved the little owls that we saw painted everywhere. Some of the images were sketched so deeply into the wall, it was incredible to try and interpret what was created so long ago.
The color in the temple was still so vivid! Could you possibly imagine what it looked like when it was first built?
I don't know why I'm always drawn to birds. These falcons were beyond spectacular!
However, my absolute favorite part of the Luxor experience came in a package of three. The family that lived next door to Ernesto was an internally displaced Egyptian family that had been moved while Mubarak was still in power. This family, along with many others around Ernesto, had lived on top of the tombs for hundreds of years. The Egyptian government claimed that they were grave robbers and turned off all of their electricity and water, which forced them to move. Their homes were then destroyed, right in front of their very eyes.

The package of three turned out to be three little girls, very outgoing and mischievous. They made my heart smolder and I forgot every bad thing that had happened in Egypt. They called me Shakira and made me dance with them until I couldn't move my hips any more. Jay and I found ourselves in their home listening to Arabic music while the little girls performed in front of us. One was an especially good dancer and I prayed that she wouldn't be given to some man at an older age because of her beauty and amazing skill. *We learned later than her parents wanted both of the girls to become educated and make their own decisions, thanks to the influence of Ernesto.* The family was very smart and spoke almost perfect English. They made delicious meals for us and refused to take money from Jay when she tried to pay. We bought a lot of scarves and other handmade things to make up for this later.
With my three little dancers. :)
We danced and laughed under the moonlight, sat beside of a small fire and shared stories, and the girls rubbed henna on our hands so we would be "even more beautiful." Mohamed, their father, tried to sell us off to his friends and they offered us many camels and a lot of good food but we had to turn down their offers. :) My spirit felt at ease and I was in awe of the love and goodwill around me. Jay and I talked about how we met in Uganda, we compared the Egyptian sky with that of Gulutown, and how we were so fortunate to be in that place together.
Shakira and Jawahe. ;)

Inshallah, we will be so lucky again.

A Train Ride to Luxor

I wrote this shortly after my trip to Luxor in December and didn't want to post it originally. A few of my friends and family have asked about the experience in further detail, but it's quite impersonal to just copy and paste from one email to the next. So here it is--my train ride to Luxor.

Jayanni and I were beside ourselves with excitement and delirium when we woke up that morning to go to the train station.  All I could think of was the Valley of Kings, Karnak, and the like. When we reached the train station we realized that we would have to wait almost the entire day to take the train later at night, and the sleeper trains were over priced. We bought two tickets for the night train, thinking we would just be able to sleep our way through the evening. After meandering through the station we camped out at a cafe called Beano's, while looking like a couple of homeless troll girls carrying huge over night sacks and plastic bags of filled with oranges, nuts, Gouda cheese sandwiches, and mango juice. It was quite hysterical and I couldn't help but laugh. Also, the men at the cafe became quite fond of us over the hours.  I "worked" on my final papers most of the day until it was time to head back to the station, which is absolutely stunning on the inside.

With the help of a nice, Egyptian man named Usama we finally found our way to our seats after running down several platforms after understanding our first-class portion of the train was farther down than expected. Usama told us that if we had any problems during the train ride to let him know. Apparently he lived in Luxor and was a guide there so he was used to the journey. Jay and I thanked him, threw our big bags on the overhead, and then settled into our seats just as exhaustion was sneaking up behind us. I sat my laptop and huge purse down between our feet and sat back to compose myself. I could feel my narcoleptic tendencies grabbing hold of me and could barely keep my eyes open as the train started to move. Thankfully, my amazing mother had sent a shipment of earplugs to me and I shoved those in as the train bustled through the city. 

"What the hell?" I heard Jay say. I woke up, not caring that eyeliner was smudged against my face and my hair looked like that of a mangy lion, and noticed that several men were walking in and out of the doors of our coach as they puffed on cigarettes and stared at us like we were kofta meat. I stared back. They continued to smoke their cigarettes right outside of the bathroom door, the smell is what probably woke Jay up. The man behind us, who we later learned was an Egyptian "police officer", continued to yack on his phone to his hayeti about meeting the next day. I turned around and glared at him with as much meanness as I could muster, it was 3:00 a.m. in case he didn't notice.

Then I realized, it was freezing. Jay and I were unconsciously shaking due to the cold air that was blowing in from open windows and the air conditioning that was blasting from over head. I pulled my computer out and tried to write a few paragraphs but my fingers were too numb to type. Oh darn. I looked over and saw poor Jay with her scarf over her face, trying to block out the light from her eyes. My computer screen was shaking too much to get anything accomplished so I set it back between our feet with my massive purse on top of it, making sure everything was zipped up and secured. 

I quickly got up to the bathroom, which was possibly the most disgusting experience I've had in Egypt, even the most remote villages in Uganda had cleaner bathrooms than that! The whole process took less than two minutes and I rushed back to my seat, which was about three or four rows away from the bathroom door. Every face on the coach seemed to be staring at me, I didn't see any other foreigner amongst the other passengers. 

After plopping down in my seat, Jay looked at me with tired, little eyes and swung her legs up over the console between us and covered her legs with her jacket. It looked comfortable enough, so I checked my purse for some chapstick then wedged it and my computer between the blocked floor area between us, and did the same. We must have shivered ourselves into a coma because when I woke up there was a rising sun outside. I looked out the window and was extremely pleased with what I saw. There was some sort of beautiful country side with enchanting trees gracing the horizon and small buildings popping up here and there. It looked like a peaceful sort of place and I couldn't help but grin when I saw children playing or bathing in small pools of water. Usama walked up to my seat, said good morning in Arabic, and gave me an orange for Jay and I to share. I thought to myself, "This won't be so bad after all." The quiet consumed me.

"Khalas, khalas habibi," screamed the police officer behind me. I woke up jaded and crazed, then loudly asked, "Lau samat, lau samat?" The officer took a moment to look at me and I placed my finger over my lips then pointed to the sleeping passengers around me. He lowered his voice, for about seven minutes. "Ray Charles would be nice," I thought. I softly moved Jayanni's legs over and reached for my purse. After digging around inside for a few moments I realized my iPod was not in it's normal position. Jay asked what I was looking for and she suggested looking in my big bag above us. After tearing through days worth of clothes and other items it was no where to be found. Jayanni was digging through my purse and said, "Whitney, where's your camera?" I looked in the larger bag and didn't see any electronics of any sort. My computer was still stashed between us. "Oh my God. Whitney, where's your wallet and passport!?" My stomach dropped and my heart flew up into my throat. I grabbed my purse from Jay and tore out its insides. Nothing. I couldn't think. Jay raised her voice, "Go get Usama. Go tell him!"

I rushed to the back of our coach, all eyes on me. I kneeled down beside of him and told him I couldn't find my passport and wallet. I asked him to help me. He jumped up as quick as lightning and we hurried back to my seat. Jayanni was going through all of our bags, searching the aisle, and the front of the coach. No one else was moving. Usama asked me to look in my bag again. I told him nothing was there. He asked again for me to look. With shaking hands I emptied my bag and also realized that my favorite rose gold Betsey Johnson watch was missing. That did it, I felt myself getting hot and tears started to slide out of the side of my eyes--I tried to control myself. "Usama, it's not here. Nothing is here, someone stole my things. Where is my passport!?" I became hysterical. Jayanni stood beside of me, she grabbed my arm and I couldn't help but tense up.

"Please help me. All I want is my passport. Please." I begged. No one stood up. "PLEASE!!!" I yelled, my tears coming out a little faster. The officer behind us stood up, "I'm a police officer." I asked, "Well then help me, please. My passport and wallet is gone. Did you see anything?" He had been awake almost the entire train ride, if any one would have seen something happen it would have been him.

"My God, someone do something. Don't just sit there! Yalla, yalla! Please get up! Show me your pockets, look around. Usama, PLEASE..." I continued to beg until the sheriff of the train showed up. He asked where I was from. "America," I said. People began to move in and out of the coach. I completely lost it, "Someone block the doors! Why are you standing there, check their bags!" I jerked up the man beside of us and began to pat him down, then the sheriff realized he should probably do the same. Jay and I demanded that people empty their pockets. I started pulling bags down from the overhang and asked their owners to open them. Not one woman moved from her seat. Not a single woman looked me in the eyes. I thought about Germany, I had to get out of Egypt, I wanted to escape. My disparity grew into a form of madness and I started to scream in Arabic, "You are not Muslims! How can you steal from me!? Shame on you! SHAME!" This, however, brought people to their feet. 

People crowded around me with "concern" and told me not to worry about my passport, that they would find my money. I explained to them I didn't care about the money, I just wanted my passport. Jayanni stood before the coach and said, "Please give us her passport. I will give a reward. Please! Just bring the passport!" Strangers continued to prod me, men were grabbing my arms, obviously with no intention of helping. I saw Jay pushing her way to the back of the coach, she disappeared through the door. I started to sob and just covered my face with my hands. I hated Egypt. All I wanted was my passport. I envisioned my Mom's face, Sebastian, my home...

I began to consider murder when I peeped through my fingers and saw Jayanni bust through the coach door. Her arms were crossed and I stopped breathing. She shoved through the crowd around me and pressed my soaking wet passport and empty wallet, she bought it for my birthday just the year before, into my aching hands. I just melted into her and cried in relief, anger still boiling in my very core. Some people on the train began to applaud. Ludicrous. 

Usama blocked our seats so no one could touch us. I sat there just holding my most valued belonging, void of any emotion. This was not the Egypt that I fell in love with. The train sheriff made me write down exactly what had been stolen as Jay told me that she found my passport and wallet in the trashcan, in the bathroom on the next coach. I looked at her, then looked at the paper where I had scribbled, "$225, 500+EP, rose gold watch, pink iPod, pink Canon camera." 

I was done. 
Jay kept saying, "We don't have to go to Luxor. We can turn around and go right back to Cairo. It's okay, Whitney. We can do whatever you want to do." I loved her so much in that moment and could only think about getting off of the train.

Thankfully we arrived at the Luxor station an hour or so later, and started to gather our things. Our Couchsurfing host, Ernesto, was going to meet us at the "big cheif's" office inside of the train station to make a police report. Usama suggested that we not stay there more than 45 minutes. I dreaded talking to any more Egyptian police men but knew it was probably for the best that I had some sort of documentation to prove that my lack of gusto for schoolwork and anything else Egypt-related was due to the exhausting hour and a half on the journey from Cairo to Luxor. 

I took a deep breath, and stepped as defiantly as possible, off of the train and into the crowd.