While in the United States, I’m sure I would know this type of thing instantaneously, here I didn’t find out until this morning, via a friend’s Facebook status.
Picture snagged from Al-Jazeera’s “In Pictures” report.
While partly because people don’t care in the same way as in the United States, it’s also simply because I don’t have internet at home (yet!) and haven’t been looking at the news as much as I’d like.
While Michael Jackson’s death makes me sad and is justifiably front page news, take a minute to think about what the affair looks like for people here.
People are constantly telling me a lot of their knowledge about the United States comes from movies. You really watch our chic flicks like “How to Lose a Guy in 10 days” and “Knocked Up” I incredulously asked a young women I met last week. She was a friend’s friend and had just told me I was the first foreigner she met.
How can people apply what they see in movies to real life. Aren’t they getting more reliable information from the media?
Not talking to friends, hearing conversations in public places, work and school anything read in the news is interpreted differently-it lacks context and the “right” grains of salt.
From Al-Jazeera’s report of people bursting into tears and the New York Time’s coverage about how close people personally felt to the dead star, the articles paint a picture of a nation in mourning. While MJ’s death is a tragedy, which should not be trivialized in any way, I’m guessing the majority of people in the U.S. are relatively unaffected.
Yesterday one of the refugees I’m working with who is resettling in San Francisco approached me with a question. “Do you know Donald Trump?” From the way he asked I was pretty sure something was up.
This refugee, like the majority I work with, is intelligent and well-educated. They probably wouldn’t have made it out of Iraq and to us if they were not. He reads the news, has watched the movies and knows the U.S. map.
That doesn’t mean he has any clue what the U.S. is like.
“Yes… I know who he is,” I answered. “…You mean personally….no, not personally.”
“I’d like to meet him,” the soon to be San Fran resident told me.
Syonara has a kitchen and I’ll have (big!) one in my apartment.
I cooked something in Egypt for the first time today.
Summer, a 22-year-old woman who helps Syonara with the house and kids showed me how to turn on the stove, where the spatulas are and a big tub of something resembling butter.
I cooked sunny-side eggs with red peppers and pita.
The significance in this wasn’t cooking (I love to cook) or eating a home cook meal (I get tastier than eggs thanks to Syonara and Hayam).
Rather, cooking felt like a statement.
I’m not simply a guest or visiting–Cairo is my home now.
Prior to the cooking, I went grocery shopping.
This involved a cab ride to Dokki–another small island beside Zamalek, because there is nothing more than convenience stores, produce and plentiful street food downtown.
This is something I’ve done before, but it was the first time I bought more than snacks–vegetables and eggs made the list.
The products available really impress me so far. There is a wide range of organic fruits and vegetables, and the first cereal I grabbed is made with organic wheat.
While Syonara tells me they spray the fruits and veggies sold on the street, most are ripe, fresh, delicious and more accessible than the grocery store.
Meat is another culinary adventure I’ve barely begun.
Thanks to my mother, I’ve always been conscious about the meat I eat. Last year Barbara Kinglover’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle drilled these sentiments further. Though I’m not anal about it–i.e. I’ll eat out and being a typical college student compromise for price, I buy local and avoid factory farmed meat.
Since I can’t always read labels (if they even exist) or communicate with vendors, knowing what I’m eating sometimes alludes me.
Despite the mystery of what I’m eating–”meat” can mean lamb, beef, camel–I hope nothing else… I instinctively feel better about the quality than in the U.S.
Feel free to correct me on this, but from what I’ve heard/asked factory farming doesn’t exist here, at least not in the same fashion as the United States. How much of the meat is imported, I couldn’t say, but a walk down any street suggests at least a good portion is local.
I’ve come across the occasional chicken pen in alleys and behind the Khan el Khalili and tons of butchers hang recently cut cow parts from their store windows. The other day Sean and I even saw the cow head resting on a counter–that must have been a very local job….
Syonara has promised she’ll give me a crash course in meat buying and other essentials before I move to my apartment.
Change is my favorite. Today I returned to Cairo from Alexandria and tomorrow a new adventure begins.
The remaining Northeastern students will return to the United States (I’ll miss you guys =/ ) and I’ll begin my internship at the Resettlement Legal Aid Project in downtown Cairo.
I’m able to spend 6 months working in Cairo because of NU’s co-ops program.
The idea is students get real world experience and build their resumes while remaining full-times students.
While last year I took advantage of NU’s vast job database and enjoyed working at the New England Council in Washington, DC–this time around I decided to do my own thing.
Thanks to the advice, flexibility and patience of my co-op advisors, Lisa Worsh, Cynthia Sweet and Ketty Rosenfeld, among other professors and contacts, I’ve settled.
The aim of RLAP is to help refugees prepare testimony for the United Nations Refugee Agency and the International Migration Organization, in charge of resettlement.
I’ll be working with refugees already approved for resettlement to prepare them for life in new lands–usually the U.S.
I’ll find out more tomorrow, but this involves everything from assisting with housing, jobs, education and language to discussing cultural norms and expectations. After a bit, I might work on the legal side of things too—interviewing and preparing for testimony.
The project was originally specifically for Iraqi refugees and they continue to make up the bulk of the clients. For obvious reasons, the U.S. is accepting more Iraqi refugees than any others.
What kind of things are happening with projects of this sort now? Here’s one perspective.
I’m excited to begin this new phase.
I’m always searching for new ways to describe Cairo to family and friends who have never been here.
Before I left, I had a fun night out with two of my closest friends Sarah Gordon and Chrissy Speich. Walking down the streets of Boston they were singing Taylor Swift songs.
I was out of the loop and didn’t know the words, so before I left, I downloaded a couple.
“The Way I Loved You,” goes like this:
“He is sensible and so incredible and all my single friends are jealous
He says everything I need to hear and it’s like I couldn’t ask for anything better
He opens up my door and I get into his car and he says you look beautiful tonight
And I feel perfectly fine
I miss screaming and fighting and kissing in the rain
And it’s 2 am and I’m cursing your name.
So in love that you act insane
And that’s the way I loved you
Breaking down and coming undone
It’s a roller coaster counter-rush
Never knew I could feel so much
And that’s the way I loved you.
OK. Thanks for reading through that. You either secretly (or openly) love it or you’re really wondering where I’m going….
Cairo is infuriating, crowded, hot and filthy.
Males constantly harass me in the streets and sometimes I get sick from the food.
People try to overcharge me because I’m female and foreign.
Sometimes I end up in the wrong place because I can’t communicate with cab drivers, read building names, or maps in Arabic.
Sometimes I really want delicious grilled chicken with onions and peppers and the cook, smiling, gives me fried chicken fingers and fries. “American, yes?”
Other than the teas, things aren’t sugar-coated here. Bathrooms usually don’t have toilet paper and the tastiest restaurants might be in the dingiest allies.
The perfect flat might be in a dilapidated building with an elevator which only goes up, not down.
Going to the beautiful cave church requires a trip through a village of horrid smelling garbage.
Taylor sings on about respecting space and talking politely but concludes–
“And my hearts not breaking because I’m not feeling anything at all.”
The range of emotions and types of experiences in Cairo is boundless. Feeling nothing at all, being bored, is virtually impossible.
People who barely knew me have welcomed me into their lives and homes.
I’ve met so many eager to talk and share ideas. They want to talk about politics,
religion, culture, gender and freedom. They read the news and feel invested in unfolding events.
I’ve found a library downtown with free internet and seen new parts of the city searching for flats.
Exploring the last few days I’ll be in an upper-class area with trees and guards and turn the bend to behold crowded streets decked with juice stands, koshari, and all sorts of people interacting.
I’ve met Americans, French, Palestinians and Britons who navigate life here as comfortably as Egyptians.
I have relied on myself and put more trust in others–sometimes strangers–than I thought I was capable of granting.
I have been scared, alone and overwhelmed. I’ve been ecstatic when I’ve gotten things right.
Loving and appreciating Cairo–just living here is not always easy. Every-day-things–making a copy of my resume, finding a new street– can feel like an epic odyssey.
Yet at the end of the day, if I’m dirty from walking outside, physically and mentally exhausted; if I’ve learned a new word or made a new friend–it’s a day well spent.
To finish on a note—
“….You were wild and crazy, intoxicating
And that’s the way I loved you…..”
Despite sidewalks by most roads, I, along with most other people here, usually stroll the street.
I’ll often start with the intention of keeping to the sidewalk. Moments later I’ll find myself walking in the road. The transition generally happens so naturally I don’t remember making the switch.
Besides some nice stretches along the corniche, sidewalks in Cairo are all kinds of impossible to walk on.
Though usually a good foot above the road, cars still obstruct them, vendors crowd them, cracks and jagged rocks complicate them.
Furthermore, driveways constantly interrupt the flow. A large step down and hop up is required every few paces.
Cars also make use of these driveways– driving in and out and parking in the way of pedestrians.
Streets stopping, starting and intersecting each other at odd angles add to the ups and downs.
When I first noticed I was walking in the streets all the time, I made a conscious effort to return to the sidewalks.
I always found myself back in the street moments later.
My case rests– I choose the streets.
Pictures of sidewalks coming…
That was not my “goodbye post.”
I’m in a weird state of limbo now.
Just got back to Cairo. Staying with a family/ Arabic teacher Denis knows (Syonara if you have been keeping up with our articles on the main page).
Figuring out my internship and Arabic schools.
I still have more to say about Syria. Egypt.Qatar. Comparisons. I have pages of notes I haven’t touched on.
If anything, I’ll switch over to my other blog in a couple days.
Stay tuned =)
The majority of my group just hopped on a bus to the Qatar airport.
Tomorrow eight of us, along with Denis, head back to Cairo.
Sitting at dinner tonight we rehashed this trip’s adventures.
Crazy cab rides, all-night cultural odysseys, camels, pyramids, out-of-place Irish bars, late night swims and hotel pillow fights.
I boarded the plane in Boston in a weird state of mind.
Cairo already had my heart and imagination from last year. The metropolis without those I discovered it with, was hard to picture.
Now as I chill with those left, enjoying our last evening on the gulf, I once again think about memories and what is to come. Cairo, without my fellow journalists tackling the streets, seems a bit bleak.
This year in Cairo I asked all the questions there wasn’t a chance for, searched for houses on my own, led peers (often to wrong destinations) and reunited with old friends.
With housing (insha’allah) in place and an internship that’s looking hopeful, I begin the next part of my journey.
Safe flight home friends.
I’ll give Cairo a hug for you.
We’re in Doha, Qatar but from the cabbies, we could be in India, Pakistan, Thailand or Iran.
I’ve heard it said, and believe it, that cab drivers are vessels of information. They can tell you where to eat, public opinions, history and where to get the most hard to find items. Ride in enough cabs and it’s like taking the temperature of a city.
From the overly friendly cabbies in Cairo, the reserved in Damascus and the foreign in Doha, this hasn’t let me down.
In Egypt most cab rides were a conversation. I would practice my Arabic, asking their names, about their families, thoughts about Cairo and the United States. They would usually mention Obama and ask what I was doing in Cairo.
Cab rides usually begin with me requesting a destination or showing the cab driver a slip of paper. They always nod and tell me to hop in. Only after do they drive around, windows down, asking every person on the street where my location is. Frustrating or commendable effort?
I didn’t write notes on everything so I don’t remember all their names or how many kids they had.
Here are some of my favorites.
Abdu came to Honor and my rescue in a frantic story chase. We are writing a story about pet ownership and had 40 minutes to reach the vet’s office and catch our departing vans.
We gave Abdu the address. Where is that he asked? We didn’t know more than “the other side of Zamalek and the street name.
Most cabbies speak up if you ask questions but Abdu needed no introduction. I’m Christian! He said as means of introduction.
I’m not very religious I confessed to him.
When the street we gave Abdu turned out not to exist he drove around asking everyone in reach–we would stop and he would call until tourist police and others surrounded our halted ride, offering instructions. After quite a while (remember what I posted about Egyptians and directions?) a vet’s sign greeted us. He pointed and smiled just as excitedly as us.
Omar drove me to an interview on Manial–a small island south of Zamalek.
I explained I was going to talk about a job and he asked me about my Arabic studying and what I thought about Cairo. He said he had two sons and one daughter and like driving his cab.
When we arrived and I handed him the money he didn’t want to take it.
Mafish faluse, (no money) he said, pushing it back. Mafish mushkila (no problem).
After a little convincing he took it and drove away.
In Syria the cab drivers were quiet, reserved. When they talked they rarely gave away more than their names and asked, surprised upon learning our nationality, what we were doing in Syria.
If we mentioned Egypt they usually insisted Syria was better.
On our first night.
Another difference from Egypt, often French, not English, was people’s second language.
Arabic was more needed than ever.
In Doha the foreign cabbies add to the disconnect.
Our van driver was from Sri Lanka and listened to French music.
Does this place really have anything in common with what we know and love about Egypt or Syria?
This is why phrases such as “Arab world” and “Muslim world,” strike me as misinformed.
“What we try to do is give a voice to the south [Arab, developing, marginalized], said Al-Jazeera program editor, Richard Lewis, “[We] give a representation to the group of people who have so long been without a representative, without a voice.”
Aimed at After driving around in a maze of security and buildings for 20 minutes, we finally arrive
Though born in 1996 from money form Qatar’s government Al-Jazeera is completely independent.
Here is Al-Jazeera’s code of ethics. It’s written into the stone directly when entering the building.
Though intended to be self-sustaining within five years, Al-Jazeera continues to be 90 percent funded by Qatar’s Emir. The other 10 percent comes from advertising, mostly generated through the eight sports channels the network boasts.
Lewis and the others we met were quick to point out this set-up renders Al-Jazeera free from financial pressures of other networks. “We don’t have that commercial thing dragging us down,” his colleague said.
Nothing, it would seem is slowing Al-Jazeera. After thirteen years the single station has expanded to a network watched by 150 million households in 105 countries worldwide. In 2006 Al-Jazeera launched the English language channel.
Until recently, political reasons, have thwarted Al-Jazeera’s growth in the United States.
Initially lauded as much needed free Arab media, after September 11th we were bottled up with the rest of the region, Lewis explained.
While United States channels were forbidden to even show coffins, Al-Jazeera showed missiles effect on the ground as well as their sail threw the air.
Lewis said since 2005 relations have improved. “The administration understood their point of view wasn’t being represented in the Arab world.”
Beginning July 1st, Al-Jazeera will be broadcast 24/7 in Washington DC and two other cities.
Until then, you can watch a live-stream any time.
Included in our tour was the chair of a a reporter detained at Guantanamo Bay.