Hallas

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Hallas, I had a great time Wallah, I swear. Inshallah, I will return. Massalama.

I am currently sitting in my room awaiting my 6am drive to the airport. I will write one more blog post when I return to the states, but I wanted to sum up my last weekend here before it all seems half a world away.. ehehehe.

 

On Thursday Adrienne, Xenia and I went out with a few girls from our classes. We had never hung out before and I can honestly say that I am sad that it took us so long before we did. Not only are these girls amazing, but they are different from the other people that we have befriended. We hung out with Asma, Nama and their friend Friyal who goes to school in England. The best part of this is how our relationship with Asma evolved. She is in our Islamic philosophy and Modern Arab History class. She is the most opinionated and argumentative person I know and while I was annoyed by her the first class, I just continued to warm up to her throughout the semester. She could argue any argument- one of her favorites being the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Asma is local and very down to earth compared to other local girls. But throughout the semester Adrienne and I would have discussions with her and we started to love her which culminated in us hanging out with her on Thursday. Nama took a little while longer to get to know. She is one of the nicest people but also is different than most local girls. She grew up in Switzerland and Malaysia and returned to her roots in the UAE just a couple of years ago. She said she feels kind of lost in her own culture because it is not what she is used to. Friyal was on winter break from her school in London and I really liked her. I really liked a lot of her opinions and the discussions that we had… plus we totally bonded over my dj-ing skills which were all 6th grade throw backs.

We first went to an Emirati restaurant (and for those of you who will argue there is no such thing as Emirati cuisine, it was an Emirati restaurant through and through). It was delicious and we all just sat around talking. We then walked through the wall and Asma, being the sweetheart that she is (but it is a secret as the stages of Asma are very similar to the stages of Bubba), bought us presents- for me a bracelet, camel pen and a camel stuffed animal as I am IN LOVE with camels (will be shown later) and for Adrienne a camel mug, camel pen and bracelet. We then went to Friyal’s house and hung out for a bit before going to the beach and eating this weird but mostly delicious food and drinking karak. The food, I can’t remember the name, was basically thin dough with different things on top of it- chips, egg and fish juice. As we returned to campus Adrienne and I were very sad that we hadn’t hung out with them earlier because it was really a different experience than we had had beforehand and we enjoyed every part of it.

On Friday Adrienne, Michael and I went to the souks so that I could finish up my shopping. Bur Dubai is by far one of my favorite places in Dubai as it has the most culture. We ate our way through the souks (samosas and something else) and then road the arbras (boats) across the creek and then back again to sit by the water and eat more and DRINK AVOCADO JUICE (which is fantastic by the way). We then met up with Israa and short Asma (she is a different Asma so I will say short Asma to differentiate). We ate Pakistani and walked around the streets as a sort of last hurrah.

On Saturday Adrienne, Rikabi, Hayley and I all went to the beach. The best part of this experience was driving through Dubai and looking out the window and seeing camels roaming the desert. My voice automatically went like 5 octaves lower and I just kept yelling “camelllssss, camelllsss, camellssss. LOOK ONES EATING FROM A TREEEEE!!” Everyone was a little freaked out by how excited I got, but CAMELS ARE SO COOL. They definitely contest giraffes as my favorite animals… who knows maybe my Arabic name can be camel just like in 7th grade when my french name was Girafe… ahh I was so cool.

It is amazing how much the temperature of the water changed from the beginning of the semester where the water was not even refreshing at all and the beach itself was torturous and now where the water was pretttyyy chilllyyy but worth it if you had a floaty as you could bask in the sun while staying cool. We had a really great time and then went to eat lunch where we ate manaeash (one of my FAVORITE meals here. It is basically dough with stuff on it and then folded over. I always get meat and cheese and it is delicioussss) and koshari (the Egyptian version of one pot slop). It was deliciousssss.

I finished all of my exams last week and only had a paper for dreaded Islamic Philosophy. I love the professor, but the class itself is torturous. Philosophy just does not make sense as a subject to me… but the book we read for Islamic Philosophy just makes it even worse. I was convinced that I would finish my paper on Saturday so that I could spend my last day saying good bye to people and having fun… but I obviously did not, so that was a big task for the day.

I woke up at 8 to go get manaeash with Feras, Michael and Yousef. I then had 2 cups of Karak and came back to campus and sat in Anna Ray’s office (our advisor for IXO who I AM IN LOVE WITH AS SHE IS THE BEST PERSON IN THE WORLD). We then listened to ‘Somebody that I used to know’ by gotye on repeat. I also just ran around the school saying bye to people and not really being productive paperwise. I then had manaeash and karak with Arsha who is another one of my favorite people. Arsha was in my arabic class and a) helped me out many times b) sat next to me so anytime our professor pointed to me for an answer and i didn’t know I would turn to Arsha and say “Arsha its your turn” and c) provided insight to the language as she lives in the UAE (orginally from Pakistan) and has picked up a lot of the language.

For dinner Adrienne, Michael, Anna Ray, Arsha, short Asma and I went to Ravi’s, the delicious Pakistani restaurant that I am in love with. Basically we ended up getting lost for like an hour but it allowed Anna and I to confess our love for each other and talk about our future lives and how they will entwine. We then had THE MOST DELICIOUS MEAL EVERRRR and I am still currently very very very full. Then Asma, Michael, Adrienne and I got lost on our way back to campus, explored Sharjah and had karak (I will not be able to drink it for a very very very long time). I then went to the lib and finished my paper which was exciting… not.

Now I am just awaiting my flight and expect to sleep the whole flight to London and then hopefully watch some tv on the way to LA so that I can sleep that night. This next day (36 hours long) will be the longest day of the year for me. I have finally come to terms with the fact that I am leaving and am awaiting my return to the states. However, I honestly had a FANTASTIC time at AUS. The thing I will miss the most are all the fantastic people that I met while I was here. They made the experience. Luckily, one of my favorites, Adrienne, goes to AU so I will be able to spend another semester with her before she graduates. The rest, I will see later in life. I urge everyone to study abroad as it really is an incredible experience and has taught me so much about the world, different cultures and how to adapt. This is one experience that I will never forget (plus I have my blog so I can relive it) and am excited to have another similar experience.

 

Again, thanks for all of those that made it. This was a fast written post just so that I can remember each of these events and also kill time before my flight. There will be one more reflective post from the whole semester. Love you all and see most of you soon!

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Pics from India

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INDIA: where I was the most popular tourist attraction

Helllooo family, friends and followers. It has been a long time since my last blog post, but the time has come for another as I recently returned from my WONDERFULLY FANTASTIC trip to India. This blog post is my break from school work as the past 2 weeks and the next week have been terribly work filled. Since I am leaving early, all of my papers, assignments and finals clash with classes and I have more final assignments and stuff at AUS than I ever did at AU which is surprising. I am currently taking a break from writing a research paper on the ineffectiveness of the UN’s sanctions on Iraq politically and their devastating effects on the civilians (I chose the subject). My goal for the night was to research and write the paper and I have finished my research so I figured I would use the break to enlighten all of you with the goings on of my life.

 

This adventure started last Thursday the 22nd of December when little Adrienne and I made our way to India. We arrived in New Dehli at around 5 in the morning on the 23rd to be greeted by Beneeta (Adrienne’s high school friend who comes to India every christmas break to visit family) and an armful of flowers. We then drove from the airport for about an hour to the family’s house in Noida, a suburb of New Dehli. I can honestly say that our experience started with a bang as driving in New Dehli is one of the scariest things EVER. First of all, cars are backwards- so the driver sits on the right AND I would say that there are not any real traffic laws as the lines on the road mean nothing as cars drive in the middle of two lanes or cars drive into oncoming traffic. There are a lot of bikers and cyclists who should check their leg and arm hair… because our car mighttt have rubbed it off.

After our many close encounters in the car, we returned to Beneeta’s family home. We slept and when we woke up in the afternoon (we were really really tired) we met her family and headed off to the market to explore, buy sari’s for Adrienne and eat. After watching Adrienne try on countless sari’s, she finally picked out two, one for her sister and one for her and we went on our way. This is when we played a very dangerous high risk game called ‘eating Indian street food’. Her whole family was devastated but Adrienne and I hoped that our times spent in ‘less sterile’ countries (Mexico, Iran, Jordan, Egypt and Oman) had left our stomachs stronger than those who had not. We then waited for many days to find that in fact, our time spent outside of the U.S. had been helpful as we remain healthy (well Adrienne does have a cold).

 

The weather was cold. Adrienne and I had two perspectives on the weather 1) was that we were excited to go back to Dubai where it was not cold (weather in India has made us much more thankful for the chilly temperature of 70) and 2) that this is our preparation time before coming back to DC and dying because, as stated above, we think 70 degrees is chilly. Luckily, I did not get sick, Adrienne caught a cold and I have steered clear of her ever since  as I have THE WORST IMMUNE SYSTEM anyone could ever hope not to have.

 

The next day we took the hop on hop off bus around New Dehli. Our first stop was the Lotus Temple which welcomes people of every faith to pray and enjoy. Even though it was a Saturday, it was school field trip day as there were HUNDREDS of school trips there. The Lotus temple was beautiful but it was also provided the start to an odd trend, people wanting to take pictures with me. The first incident was when a male teacher came up and asked if I could take a picture, thinking that he wanted me to take a picture of him and his female students I said yes but before I could reach for his camera I was surrounded by probably 10 high school girls. I was utterly confused as he ushered me into the center and said CHEESSEEE and then thanked me and they walked on. Adrienne and Beneeta thought this was hilarious but also found it so odd as it was not what any of us were expecting.

We then took the hoho (what the bus is called) to this minaret place (unfortunately i forget the name) to look around. The minaret is the tallest old minaret in the world and is surrounded by beautiful architecture and ruins. While we were there I took pictures with around 50 people, different groups coming up and asking if they could take pictures with me. There were even more who had friends ‘pose’ near me but while blatantly pointing their cameras at me and taking a picture. I figured there were only so many times that I could be mistaken for my famous cousin Rebecca, but the requests kept on coming. I thought about singing a little bit of Friday, but decided I didn’t need to draw any more attention to myself. I have heard of people taking pictures with tourists and while I am clearly not Indian, as one fan pointed out by saying to Beneeta, “you’re indian… but she’s not”, but I am not blond or a ginger (which you should take pictures with them as they will be extinct in 1o0 years) so it was just an odd experience.

We then explored Dilli Haat which is a touristy market and instead of buying things, we ate food and lots of it. Indian food is delicious. It is spicy and flavorful and bland food no longer cuts it for me. We then went to a different market which was not as touristy to shop and what not. I bought some beautiful things and was looking around when a guy started pestering me and I thought he asked to take a picture but instead to go eat some snaps (?) with him and ultimately I was like listen my Indian friend’s dad is coming so you better get lost (Uncle Fred I am including this story just for you so you know that I will not be captured away and married off or what ever happens in Not without my children which I have yet to watch even though you have told me to watch it like five times).

This whole trip was basically meant to block out the fact that Adrienne and I were away from our family’s and not getting to celebrate Christmas. This worked out pretty well with only a few reminders of Christmas. On Christmas day, Adrienne, Beneeta and I were accompanied to Agra (where the Taj Mahal is located) with Beneeta’s Uncle, Aunt and three cousins. The Taj Mahal was beautiful. Unlike the pyramids, it was not underwhelming. What I found unfortunate is that if you are not Indian you get a high value pass which costs about 500xs more than the Indian pass, you get a bottle of water and shoe covers and get to pass all of the lines. While this seems great, it is a HUUGEEE guilt trip as you pass all of the Indians in a line of hundreds of people to go into the Taj Mahal. While the outside of the Taj is beautiful, I cannot honestly tell you what the inside is like as you are packed in with hundreds of other people and hearded like cattle from one room to the next. It is very difficult to not be trampled and at one point Beneeta and I were being smooshed against a wall as people pushed past us to the doorway. I am sure the inside was beautiful, it would just be nice if I could appreciate anything other than the marble wall I was getting to know.

The last day in India was spent in Noida going to a local market and preparing for our return. The worst part about returning, other than leaving India obviously, was that Adrienne and I had a midterm the day we got back. We had meant to study and prepare before hand, but obviously we did not so some of our trip was spent doing homework, but the majority was left for the plane ride home…. which is another story. I enjoy flying, but I HATED our flight home. I was sitting in the middle, which honestly I do not mind but this experience was one of my worst (only beaten by the one time the fam was flying back from LA and there was a 6 year old who screamed the wholleee flighhtt hommeee). As I said I was in the middle. The guy on my right felt the need to put his foot up the whole ride which pushed his body on top of mine and well exceeding his personal space. The woman on my right was doing the same. I am not that small of a person, I have broad shoulders that have a tough time staying in my own seat, let alone when 1/3 of my seat is taken. Then they both continued to push further and further into my space while I was trying to study. The only thing that made me feel better was writing a note to Adrienne that said “I am seriously so angry right now. The people next to me do not understand the meaning of personal space. I cannot move my arms and am completely squished. I want to slap them both. But really, what would make me feel better is sticking my pen up the woman next to me’s nose while she sleeps”.

 

We finally got back to campus around 5 am where I slept, skipped my two classes in the morning to study for my exam and took my midterm…and I am sure everyone in the class is very interested to see how that went.

 

I am now preparing for my last week of school as my last day of classes is Thursday. Adrienne’s brother and sister are here and we are taking them to the beach tomorrow morning (I am going to come back tan, safely tan for those of you who are going to warn me about skin cancer and what not) and hopefully to eat at Ravi’s as I only have limited Ravi experiences left. But my main goal is surviving this week mentally and academically. You will probably not hear from me until my departure looms. Love you all and Happy Happy new year.

 

 

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Three and one month marks.

Today is a weird day. It marks the third month that I have been here, but also marks the even greater recognition of only having one month left in the UAE. This recognition makes me excited, but at this point also makes me long for more time. I am glad that I did not study abroad for a year, not because I couldn’t handle it or miss DC and everything terribly, but I think that one semester is a good amount of time. I know that if I was staying for another semester I would be ready to leave 2 months in.

This experience has been absolutely amazing so far. I have learned so much, made so many great friends and explored a new part of the world. I do not want to think about only having a month left, but that seems to be on my mind everyday. I want to make sure that I am making the most of my experience and I feel like I must do all I can in this last month. Instead of going on and talking about what I have been doing, I am going to make a list of things that will be hardest to leave and what I am looking forward to returning to in DC.

The top five things I will miss:

1) The experience- when I return to the UAE, because I plan on it, it will not be the same. This is because everything I know here is temporary, the buildings, the people and how I see the country. This country is constantly changing. It tears down its history to build ‘history’ and ‘culture’. The friends that I have made here are from all over the world and many are just here for school. Many of them will graduate either after this semester or after the next, potentially leaving the country for good. So even if I came back next year, my time spent here would be so different.

2) The people- I have met some of the nicest and most interesting people here. They have taught me so much about each of their individual cultures. They have broken stereotypes, rules and norms for their cultures and societies. They have really opened my eyes and I just hope that I have done something similar for them.

3) The food- The food here is delicious. It brings in so many different cultures, flavors and mixes that it is seriously delicious. I have become so used to it, that I am depressed thinking about leaving it behind. I have fallen in love…. with Pakistani food. Ravi’s (the restaurant I have raved about many times before) is seriously my favorite restaurant. The chicken jalfrasi is just fantastic. I have also become accustomed to the food. As I wrote in one of my first posts: I had to ‘eat around the chilis’ in my meal. Now, I seek out the chilis and hope that there are enough for me.

4) The weather- who knew I would have fallen in love with the weather. I almost died on my arrival, but now I walk outside at night and want a sweater… in 70 degrees. I dread going back to DC where death is a real possibility. People keep saying ‘you’re from Vermont, you should be used to it’. I wasn’t used to it then, I will DEFINITELY not be used to it after having 8 months of summer… THAT IS AS LONG AS WINTER SEASON IN VERMONT! I even went to the beach today (it was populated with millions of jelly fish- kind of like in San Felipe that one year but smaller).

5) The Dubai skyline- while all of the exchange students have complained about Dubai…. everyday, there is nothing like driving on the highway and seeing the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building) looming ahead of you. People talk about the Chicago skyline… well I now understand. One of the most beautiful moments I have witnessed in this country was when on our drive to Mirdif City Center we pulled a U-turn and saw the BIGGEST sun I have ever seen going down above, beside and then disappearing behind, the Burj.

 

The top three things I will not miss:

1) Isolation- AUS campus is ISOLATED. I will never complain about Tenley Town (the part of DC that AU is in) ever again… or at least for 2 months. There is only one shuttle daily off campus and that is at 6pm which returns at 11. You cannot walk anywhere and if you did want to, there really isn’t anything to walk to.

2) Curfew- I thought my days of worrying about what time I was getting back home were over….. little did I know. It is now too cold to sleep on the beach and it is illegal to sleep in cars…. so we either are back by curfew and get pleasant welcomes, or we are back past curfew and…. well nothing has ever happened but you still feel guilty.

3)Limited wardrobe- I have become fairly creative with my clothing, but there is only so much variety that I can create. Luckily the weather change will require a completely different wardrobe because I am so sick of this clothing. There are so many days that I wake up tired and all I want to pull on is…. and then I don’t have it (this is often sweatpants).

 

The top three things that I am looking forward to in DC:

1) My Banger girls and boys- I am excited to spend your last semester, and my last one with friends, with you all in DC. Your pics make me jealous, but I know that my reunion is eminent and am enjoying every moment here in the UAE (Adam this counts as another shout out).

2) Food- while I will miss the food in the UAE, I cannot wait to have soup (preferably not lental), COFFEE that does not cost me $8, bagels and cream cheese, Chinese food, pizza and what ever else I have been deprived of. There is little variety in my diet since the campus does not have a cafeteria, just a few restaurants which do not serve many appetizing options so I cook most of my meals. However, with my budget and desire to cook elaborate meals, the variety provided is also very limited so there are certain things I cannot wait to not eat again.

3)  I am not sure what the third thing is. There are many little things that I am looking forward to and here are just a few: playing sports (IM BBALL CHAMPS 2012 anyone?), independent travel, having an income, wearing sweat pants, fast internet and familiarity.

 

The scariest part about knowing I only have one month left is the VAST amount of work that I have to finish. I have papers, quizzes and who knows what else. I also have to take my finals while classes are going on since I am leaving early…. while I want to make the most of this last month… I will definitely be spending most of it awake… and I apologize for those who encounter me.

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Cairo

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“Do you love Egypt?” “If I say yes, will you stop throwing corn cobs at me?”

So for those of you who knew I was in Cairo last weekend, I returned safely. For those of you who didn’t know, it was for the best. It was truly a great experience and I need to really thank Nadia who was a fantastic tour guide and it was fantastic to see her again.

SO this adventure started on Thanksgiving. We had a delicious thanksgiving dinner at one of the professor’s house (the food didn’t compare to Aunt Fay’s though, but honestly no one’s could). Adrienne, Michael and I then hopped on a plane at 11:20 to Cairo…. except our plane didn’t leave at 11:20… or 12:20 butttt more like around 1:20. I am always curious why they find problems with the plane only after you have boarded. You would think they would check it out BEFOREHAND… but alas that was not our fate. Michael and I were seated next to each other and Adrienne was in front and while I would have LOVED to sleep.. Michael is like a 6 year old child and needs to be constantly entertained which ended up with us taking 94208390483209 funny pictures of ourselves and annoying the guy in front of us. So when we finally got into the air and landed in Cairo it was 4 am. For those of you who know me (not even well) I get very grumpy when tired. Beginning in 6th grade whenever anyone would get grumpy at a sleepover they would call it ‘pulling a Rachel’ and my father was unfortunate to have the job of waking me up before school where I probably told him to get out as my alarm was going off in 5 minutes almost everyday (in my defense, who likes getting woken up before their alarm? and there were plenty of times that he came in on a Saturday and told me to get up for school also I like my sleep, they are called sleepovers for a reason). So I was fairly kind at 4 am because we were in EGYPT the land of the Pharoahs, Moses, the plague, Mehmet Ali Pasha (I had to add that in for Modern Arab History) and the REVOLUTION. And I probably would have been fine if Michael’s checked luggage didn’t take an hour and twenty minutes to arrive… at which point I was so angry that I couldn’t help but take it out on the ‘Ministry of Tourism’ official who accompanied us to ‘plan our trip’. A) There is not a legal government in Cairo… so there goes the ministry of tourism. B) They refused to listen no matter how many times that I nicely told them that we were meeting someone and she would act as our tour guide and C) it was 5:30 IN THE MORNING! but finally we got away which is when Adrienne said “It’s funny that you get cranky when you’re tired” which of course made me even happier. (but it is also okay because Adrienne is really grumpy in the morning and every time we would wake her up for breakfast we would get a lovely reply and Michael gets grumpy when he is hungry, so it all worked out)

 

We finally arrived at our Hotel in Zamalek which is an island in the Nile which is the up scale part of town where most of the ex-pats live (Nadia included) and is far away from Tahrir square.  We went to bed, woke up at 9:30 for the free breakfast and went back to bed (which became a routine every morning) until Nadia arrived. Nadia and her roommates were throwing a big Thanksgiving dinner that night with over 20 people coming, so she needed to head home to help cook but she sent us to the Pyramids. We arrived at the pyramids and all of a sudden 10 young adults started rushing our taxi, which was probably the most nervous I was all trip. They all wanted to be our tour guide through the pyramids which we kept refusing until finally our driver got them off of his car and drove us in. In my mind, the pyramids are these grandiose structures with cats roaming around and carvings and what not- they have done a good job marketing them. The pyramids are awesome, obviously. They were built centuries ago and are still standing, but they are very underwhelming. I am VERY happy that I saw them, but the whole time I kept saying is this it? We then saw the sphynx, which also was cool, but much smaller than I thought it would be. Our tour guide did get us a lot of really cool pictures and he kept asking Michael if Adrienne and I were his two wives, which Michael kept refuting and finally the guide asked for my hand in marriage for one million camels (Adam you told me not to accept less than 500…) so I figured this was a pretty good deal, however marriage is not in my near future, so I had to decline. Also, I didn’t think 1 million camels would fit in my backyard in Vermont/would survive the winter. (I also didn’t tell him that one camel would have been enough BECAUSE THEY ARE SO COOL) Alas, I came back unbetrothed.

 

We then returned to Zamalek and prepared for Thanksgiving dinner where we met a lot of ex-pats and locals. Many of Nadia’s friends, including some of her roommates are journalists who have been covering Tahrir square. For those of you who don’t know, Tahrir square is the downtown part of Cairo where the protests have been going on calling for Democracy in Cairo. It has been pretty violent and many of the people I talked to had been tear gassed, harassed or shot. However, the media has created this HUGE hype about it, some of it is true. It was crazy to hear some of their stories especially from the people who went down to bring medical supplies to help the injured. I would like to add here that a lot of the stuff that has been coming up on the news- like the 3 Americans who were arrested- has been their own fault. The 3 American students went to Tahrir with Molotov Cocktails and intended to ‘take part’ in the revolution which has been kept fairly quiet. They were then arrested and have claimed innocence and it has become a huge international affair. They were stupid.

Thanksgiving dinner was delicious and as all fun parties have to, it culminated with a good game of Mafia. It is fun to play Mafia with people you don’t know because you have nothing to base your claims off of. At one point, I fell asleep in my chair and Adrienne leaned over and asked “What is that guy’s name again?” and I woke up looked at who she was talking about and yelled “IT’S THAT GUY!” and then proceeded to convince everyone that he was the Mafia… and I was correct. I can honestly say I do not think we’re friends anymore as his defense was “She was sleeping, how would she know. I haven’t been anything yet”.

The next day we went to Islamic Cairo which was fun. We saw a bunch of mosques and part of the military museum. We then had Koshari which is a well known meal there. It was created in the 70s during global food shortages and is basically an Egyptian version of the Black family’s  ‘One pot slop’ or ‘Mulligan stew’. It is rice, noodles, fried onions, chicken and something else. And then you put on this spicy sauce, a tomato sauce and a lemon and vinegar sauce. It was really delicious and very cheap as it is a poor man’s dish. We then went to the souks where we bought our Egyptian souvenirs. It is always funny to see what the vendors will say to get you to enter their shop. Michael is Chinese, and for him they kept saying “Hello Mr. China, come to my shop” or speaking in Chinese to him, which we all thought was funny. For Adrienne, who is Iranian, they would say “You look Egyptian! Egyptian price for you!” and I honestly don’t remember what they would say to me since I would usually just ignore them. In one shop while Michael and Adrienne were making their purchases, Nadia and I were taking pictures together and then the shop owner wanted to take one with me. This inspired Nadia to tell him that I was famous in the states, which he obviously believed and said “Oh yes! I have seen you on tv!” During this whole charade I pretended to act modest and blah blah until he asked for my signature, which I gave him, but unfortunately he didn’t even offer me a discount or anything.

The next day we moved over to Nadia’s because we were going to spend our last night at her apartment. She had to work, but her roommates took us to this delicious restaurant. We then walked around for a bit and headed back to Zamalek where we got our hair did. Adrienne had mentioned a while ago that she wanted to cut off half of her half, and this isn’t a normal cut off half of your hair, but literally cut the hair off half of her head. She said she would do it in Iran, but her family refused to take her and since Michael wanted to get his hair cut too, they decided to do it. I must say, Adrienne handled it very well, even as one guy yanked his comb through her hair. It looks amazing and I was pressured into doing something with mine. Since it is finallyyyy long, I decided to just get a body wave since it would only cost me $30 while in the states about 100. So, we went to Cairo and got our hair did.

The next day was election day in Cairo, so Nadia had the day off. It was really interesting to talk to people about the election. Half of the people were excited to vote for the first time and while not fully convinced it would mean much, were going to wait in line to vote. The other half were not even going to vote because they knew the election would be rigged. Most newly ‘democratic’ countries allow other countries to come in and supervise their voting, Egypt did not. None the less, Monday was a big day for Egypt. We drove to the Nile and ate breakfast and then walked around and took pictures ending up downtown. Cairo is well known for their harassment. People constantly told me “if you think Jordan was bad, wait until you go to Cairo”. However, I did not find this to be the case. It probably had a lot to do with Michael, but the only time we were harassed was when we were downtown and by these four 10 year old boys. They kept following us and yelling to us and it culminated in them throwing corn cobs at us. But every time an adult male saw this he would stop us and yell at the boys and make us wait until they had walked off (they would really just wait around the corner, but it was the thought that counts). Apparently, Egyptians are really trying to turn this negative stereotype around… it just has to leak down to the younger children. At one point, this guy had intervened after he saw them throwing corn cobs and threatened to throw rocks at them, which we all yelled NO NO NO NO it’s okay! When he brought them up to us to apologize they asked if we loved Egypt (Nadia translated) and she was like just nod vigorously, and I responded “If I say yes, will they stop throwing corn cobs at me?”… which is where the title comes from.

 

Overall, Cairo was a great trip completely made by Nadia’s generosity and fantastic tourguiding skills. And even though we went because we were supposed to have Monday off of school for Islamic New Year, the holiday was moved to Thursday, so upon our return, we only had 2 days of school and honestly what a great week.

This weekend is the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the UAE’s existence. I am heading into Dubai in about an hour to celebrate and go to the souks. It is really great to see the people (many of whom are not Emirati) rallying around this holiday. It is curious to me that some people are celebrating a country that is younger than them.

 

Again, thank you for those who stuck through. It was long.

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Pictures from Jordan and Oman

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Off roading in Oman

I left you all as I left for Oman on a camping trip with Feras, Michael and Alex. Alex is an AUS alum who graduated last January. It was the first time I had met her and the experience and close contact for days on end bonded us all. We left for Oman knowing that we were camping, but unsure for how long and exactly where. Feras, as the key organizer, knew where he wanted to head, but would ‘wait to see how far we got’. The magic compass in this story is the Off Roading in Oman book which would lead us to victory time and time again. I was excited to head to Oman, as unlike the rest of them, it would be my first time crossing the border and getting the coveted Omani stamp in my passport. While having a little trouble at the border because since Alex has a Philippines passport (she is supposed to apply for a Visa before entry) we went on our way.

As always, I slept through most of the car ride and woke up to my head banging against the window repeatedly, hinting that we were off the road. Unlike in the U.S., you can pretty much camp anywhere, the side of the road, the side of the mountain, the desert and we pretty much combined all three. Camping in the desert brought interesting aspects to camping that I had never experienced, as I have only camped in lush New England and usually in camp sites. The three main differences that I found were that you must bring your own water, collecting wood for your fire is a new adventure and that you are going to eat and be covered in a lot of sand. This first night started the habit of the three jobs that continually became mine for the rest of the trip 1) gathering/ searching for fire wood, 2) holding anything that anyone needed held, I am unsure why this became my job but I was constantly told to hold this or that while they did something else and 3) washing dishes. While searching for firewood became harder and harder in the dwindling day light, I managed to find enough to start our fire- no Dad, I did not build it as I am never trusted with this job.

The evening was going nicely, camp was set up, dinner was made and eaten and we were just hanging out, smoking shisha when the decision to ruin the night was made- going for a walk up the nearby hill…. * I would just like to mention that before I go on, I am a very jumpy person. I blame it on the fact that my family seemed to compete to see who could scare me the worst. This culminated in them hiding in the back of the car one night after my basketball game and jumping out as I was preparing to drive. Let’s just say I lost my voice and my tear ducts were dry for weeks. I mentioned to Adrienne before we split ways that I was nervous someone would take advantage of my jumpiness on the trip… they did not have to* As we walk up this fairly small but rocky hill we are having a nice discussion and pause to look out at the world from the top. All of a sudden Feras looks down at his leg and says “woahhh something just brushed my foot” and in response I moved about 5 feet away from him. We continue talking until all of a sudden he spins around and asks Michael to shine the flash light on him AND THERE IS A GINOURMOUS SPIDER/SCORPION CRAWLING OVER HIS SHOULDER TOWARDS HIS FACE! (I would just like to mention that bugs do not normally bother me except flies and mosquitoes which I hope die painful deaths) Feras calming grabs it as we are all screaming in horror and he throws it to the ground and then searches around to find it because he ‘wants to see what it looked like’. I am very glad that it crawled on him as the three of us did not handle the situation well and it wasn’t even on us. We then all quickly walked back to camp, during which I kept shuddering thinking about the spider and saying “OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD.” I can honestly say I did not get over that any time soon.

Unfortunately, after the spider incident we (and by we, I mean mostly me and then Michael and Alex a little bit) were all pretty freaked out. Beforehand Feras had been planning on sleeping outside of the tent, but that plan was quickly abandoned and we all piled inside…. Which did not prove to be the most comfortable. Michael and I resolved to sleeping outside because it was too hot and crowded because there was NO WAY I was going to sleep outside by myself. But, when I woke up 15 minutes later, Michael has gone back to the tent and I was outside FREAKING OUT. I begged Michael to come back outside with me but he refused and responded with “You’re much more girly about outdoorsy things than I would have expected”. I’m sorry. I think a spider bigger than my pointer finger designates me to be FREAKED OUT. When I finally resolved that sleeping inside a crowded and hot tent would be better than being eaten alive by spiders, I moved back inside. I later woke up to Alex leaning her head in the window saying “Guys, don’t freak out, but I think there are people coming towards us. I don’t think they’re unfriendly though”. At which point Michael woke up, saw a head poking into the tent and screamed. At this point, I decided I was too tired to worry about this as the 5am call to prayer sounded and let them decide whether they were coming for us or not, how I am not sure…

In the morning we all woke up and laughed about our freak out session, but continued to be wary of giant spiders. Alex and Michael later told me that the ‘friendly’ people were actually trees and lights from the road… Feras meanwhile was puzzled as to our goings on the night before as obviously he had slept through the whole thing, not freaked out.

Later that day we headed to a Wadi, which is basically a water source in the desert, to go swimming and hiking. This was interesting because I do not think that Alex was prepared for that bit of adventuring. I really appreciated this because I felt like it made me less ‘girly about the outdoors’…but come on rocks vs spiders. I will take rocks any day. The low of the trip occurred about 10 minutes in when we had to walk through a particularly muddy part of the Wadi. Where I, after watching Feras step through what looked like a lot of mud, decided to go around him, and instead sunk up to my knees in mud and then while trying to pull myself out fell backwards into it. (this is very similar to Jesse’s and my experience in the pond/swamp behind McDonalds with Gilbs during our Independent Study/gossip session) Also while laying in a pile of mud, the mud smelled very similar to another pile of brown stuff that I would prefer not to be laying in. And while nobody felt sympathy for my plight, I was left behind to fend for myself until Alex finally returned to offer emotional support as there really wasn’t anything she could do without falling the exact way… this incident did not stop me from laughing when Michael slipped 10 minutes later over and over again into the water. After hiking for about an hour we jumped from the canyon walls into the water and swam and ate lunch.

That night of camping was fairly uneventful. We had air mattresses that night and for some reason I am always the one who ends up sleeping in the crack while everyone else sleeps comfortably on the mattresses. I woke up the next morning with serious back pain. Deciding that we were too far away from another city, we decided to drive back that day instead of spending another night out in the wild.

To make up for it, we declared that we would go Dune Bashing (for those of you unfamiliar you drive a 4-wheel drive car or an ATV up sand dunes and whip around). This is an activity that Jimmy would really enjoy and that I wouldn’t necessarily want to do with Uncle Jimmy as I promise that I would probably be screaming in terror and then we would get stuck and eventually left to our own resources to figure out. And of course, we did get stuck. Three different cars agreed to help us, the first abandoned us when the tow rope broke, the second was much more determined and stayed until the end and the third really made a difference. This might have been because of the sheer number of people that piled out of their car or because they actually knew what they were talking about. But once we restarted, I was very happy to have my towel because I used it as a security blanket and just hugged it the whole time. We eventually made it to fossil rock, a mountain in the middle of the sand dunes, and Michael, Feras and I climbed to the top. It is always interesting to see when someone is afraid of heights or climbing because it never really shows itself until the way down- which we saw with Michael who repeatedly swore at us and slid down sections on his butt. There were fairly vertical sections which you rock climbed up, but overall it was a fairly easy climb. We all took turns showing our weaknesses as Feras’ showed his mere minutes after returning to the car. He offered to let us all drive, which I adamantly refused as I was having enough trouble being a passenger and did not want to be the cause of us getting stuck again, but Michael took him up on the offer. In my mind Michael drove the same way as Feras, but Feras just screamed the whole time yelling things like “But you don’t know what is over that dune!” and “Ahhh I can’t see anything” which was fairly entertaining to the rest of us as he had been the picture of calm while driving.

We finally returned to Feras’ family’s villa in Dubai where we showered, swam and ate dinner. This was the first family home that I have been too on my trip. It was a perfect ending to the trip as no one had groceries and we all needed a good shower. And while disappointed at first that we were not staying another day, when I climbed into my bed on campus that night I was very happy that we had returned.

I am now back on campus for a rough two weeks during which I have three midterms, two projects and two research papers due… so these stories may have to keep us all entertained for a while… I keep laughing every time I think about Alex saying that she thinks the people coming towards us are friendly.

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My trip to Jordan with my 12 year old… daughter.

As my plane landed and I was preparing to depart the airplane at Dubai International Airport, it seemed amazing that it was almost exactly 2 months ago that I was doing the same thing but, instead of looking forward to being home, I was anxious about arriving in a strange and foreign country. It is amazing how different these two arrivals were. Instead of ambling around nervously, looking at every sign, I confidently strode through the airport heading towards the residence visa entry, not nervous at all. When I walked through security, I breathed a sigh of relief, happy to be home. While two months ago, I breathed a sigh of relief for making it into the country which was quickly replaced by a more nervous realization of what I had just done.  It is amazing to me how much two months can change someone.  In the grand scheme of things, two months does not seem like very much time, but the impact that two months has on you is profound. Already, I can say I am a completely different person than I was two months ago- more knowledgeable about the world around me, more accepting and a better person for my experiences.  It is exciting and unbelievable that I only have two more months to spend here and I hope that the next two months affect me as much as the last two.

For those of you who don’t know, I just spend the last 5 days in Jordan for EID break and it was fantastic. I went with my friend Adrienne (she is the short one with very curly hair in the pictures).  It is always telling that your trip will be interesting when the guy at passport control leaving Dubai laughs when I say I do not speak Arabic and am going to Jordan. I never speak Arabic in the UAE but was excited to use my Arabic in Jordan. I would like to believe that I entered the country gracefully but unfortunately I tripped coming out of the plane and then was verbally clumsy with the Visa guy. While my high school nurses were not worried when I failed my hearing test every year, I have continued reason to believe that they had no idea what they were talking about. This hearing problem has shown itself especially when trying to hear when people with accents are speaking. The first problem arrived with the visa guy. Most of the stuff he was saying to me I just nodded, laughed and say yes to… and then he asked something that sounded like  “tadruse in Jordan?” (you study in jordan? And believe me I was so proud that I understood what he was saying) I repeatedly said no, I go to school in Sharjah, where he asked me again “tadruse in Jordan?” and this charade continued until I FINALLY realized that he was speaking English and asking for my “ADDRESS in Jordan”. He then continued to tell me that I must try Mansef, the local meal which is basically meat and rice with white sauce. Then he said something about a house and then saying me and then pointing to himself so I just nodded and laughed and then he repeated himself, so again I nodded, laughed and said yes which did not seem to fulfill the response needed to his comment, so I just thanked him took my passport and walked away.  I have no idea if there is a restaurant called house or he was saying that I should come to his house to eat mansef…. Well I did eat mansef but neither at his house nor at a restaurant called house. This lack of communication continued in the cab because my driver didn’t speak English very well and I do not speak Arabic well. He also started a reoccurring theme throughout the trip where he thought I was older than I was. He asked whether I was married and when I said no, he gasped in horror and replied a boyfriend? And again I said no and he gasped even louder. He then said “but you’re so old!” and I was like uhhhh I am only 20 and with this I received the loudest gasp. Our conversation halted there for a while. I say this is a reoccurring theme because throughout the whole trip people kept thinking that I was Adrienne’s mother. The average guess on Adrienne’s age was 13 and when she told them she was 21 most of them were incredulous. While they were guessing that she was 8 years younger than she was, apparently I looked 13 years older than I am. But every time they asked if I was her mother I’d ask how old they thought she was (usually between 12 and 14) and then hold old they thought I was and then they seemed to realize that there was some problem with this assumed relationship.

The moment we walked out of the hotel we knew we were in for a rough day, A) it was cold (about 70 degrees farenheit- I really have become a pansy when it comes to weather) and B) the amount of attention that we attracted. Adrienne had experienced the harassment to some degree the night before as she explored waiting for me to arrive. However, while we thought the staring was bad at AUS, that was nothing to the attention that we attracted on the streets of Amman. You would think that there was no possible way that 99 percent of the people on a crowded street would stop what they were doing and stare at you- well you were wrong. It was not just staring but whistling and calling to you and I can honestly say we were welcomed to Jordan about 10,000 times in our short stay. I felt like Moses, I could literally part crowds because the people on either side would just stop and watch us walk by. It got to the point where it was just annoying because we had to dodge everyone. It was fine for us because I can fend for myself and little Adrienne. But, I would definitely suggest bringing a male to Jordan with you if you cannot handle your own. You quickly learned to have a very shallow view when walking, you see the shapes of people and the buildings and what not that you are passing but you are focused on your destination and not seeing any specifics.

That day we explored the souks (our hostel was in the midst of them) and had the BEST shwarma that I have had while being abroad and only for one dinar (about $1.40). We then explored the Roman theatre and the Citadel. Unfortunately, my camera was dead on the first day and I was unable to take pictures. I will add pictures later once Adrienne returns from her journeys. We then returned to the hostel to nap and then went out to try mansef… which really wasn’t that impressive.  But maybe the mansef at the Visa guy’s house or at the restaurant called house is especially delicious. Then, without anything to do and tired from our journey we returned to the hotel to play 2 player Tarneeb where I started my nightly ritual of beating Adrienne (You now have someone to sympathize with Mother).

The next day we headed on our long journey to Petra with three brits- Arif, Louisa and Louisa’s daughter Lois.  The previous day I had told Adrienne that I had never been happier that I wasn’t blonde as we walked through the streets…. Louisa and Lois are both brilliantly blonde but it helped that they had Arif to accompany them. We drove down the King Highway to Petra and stopped to see Wadi Al-Mujibe, Karak Castle, Shobak Castle and finally arrive in Petra to stay at the Cleopetra (pun intended) Hostel which was really really nice. We then went to Petra by night where we walked 2 km along a candle lit pathway to the treasury, sat drank tea and listened to ‘bedouins’ play music. We happened to walk out of Petra by night right before Arif, Louisa and Lois walked out of the restaurant that they were in and they saved us from a lot of harassment.

The next day we did what many told us was unthinkable- exploring Petra in one day. I can honestly say overall it was not the highlight of our trip, but there were many ups and downs. Petra is basically this old city carved into the mountains which had many different civilizations living within it. You can google it if you want more information as honeslty I can’t remember much of the specifics. Just think of Lord of the Rings in the second book when Aragorn goes into Menas Terith to get the haunted warriors to come fight for his side and only he can do it because he is the rightful king- well Petra looks exactly like that city carved into the walls except for 3950273304 times bigger. It was really beautiful and the day started out great where we explored everything we saw and took a lot of pictures- but that excitement soon wore off. For anyone who has ever gone to a museum with me, you know how I get after so many hours of walking around and looking at old things, the only good thing was that Adrienne complained too. Ultimately, we were heading to the Church at the top of this mountain. The mountain is about 4 miles into Petra and then you have a steep 1.5 mile hike straight up the mountain. We were offered about 50 donkey rides but we did not want to pay and thought that they were exaggerating when they said it was worth it… trust me it would have been worth it. After about 20 minutes of climbing we decided that we had to be half way there… until the woman selling souvenirs on the side of the trail told us we would be half way in another 20 minutes. This is when an impending sense of doom started to fill us. We continued to climb and climb and climb (which we were not dressed for- we were both wearing jeans and I was wearing Birkenstocks and she was wearing flats- regreettt regrettt). We then hit a point where I honestly was not sure if I would rather have just walked back down but luckily at that moment of indecision a guy on a horse told us that we only had 15 more minutes of walking. When we finally saw the church below we were so happy and climbed right on down to see it. The church migghhttt not have been worth it, but we also saw the view of the end of the world which was pretty cool.

We were in slightly better moods on our descent back down the mountain however, we hit a high point when I convinced Adrienne to RIDE CAMELS back to the Treasury. Adrienne is Iranian, she has ridden camels before and stated “I am from the Middle East, Camels are not that cool”. She was wrong and definitely had a fantastic time atop of Bob Marley. My camel’s name was Zuzu and we fell in love. It was so much fun. The whole time my mouth was open in a silent scream and my eyes were wide open. It was very similar to the look I have while riding David’s moped. The scariest part by far was when the camel had to sit down so I could get off. I honestly thought I had a heart attack and amused many fellow tourists as I yelled “No, it’s okay I’ll just stay up here. No really, I’ll stay up here”. But hey, what tourist doesn’t love a picture of another tourist freaking out while on a camel. As we were leaving Petra a guy yelled to me saying “HEY HEY I remember you. Are you still grumpy?” And I was like “grumpy?” and he responded “Yeah I tried to talk to you last night when you were with your daughter”  and I responded “YUP STILL GRUMPY”. I just don’t understand… I mean I understand that if I wasn’t Adrienne’s mother I would probably be her nanny accompanying her on a trip… but HER MOTHER?!? When is that ever a compliment? Especially when someone asked Louisa if she was Lois’s sister… when she was clearly her mother.

That night we returned to Amman and spent the next day just exploring, buying souvenirs and hanging out. We saw everyone preparing for EID which is the holiday celebrating when God wanted to test Abraham’s faith by asking him to sacrifice his son for him and then at the last minute God told Abraham he didn’t have to and provided a sheep for him to sacrifice instead…. So basically we saw a lot of dead sheep. It was especially interesting on our ride to the airport this morning when we saw all the vendors selling sheep skin… bloody sheep skin.

But it was a great trip. Tomorrow I am heading on a camping/road trip in Oman for 4 days. I apologize for the length of this post and am proud and horrified of those who stuck around to read it all.

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