The prequel

In my first post I toyed with what is to come, before I go further, here is a glimpse of my experiences last year in Egypt. 

“Why Egypt?” Is something quite a few have asked me. It’s a Muslim-Arab country, a place the United States needs to seriously revamp policy. I want to learn Arabic. I wanted to understand how people somewhere else live and think and investigate the so called “clash of civilizations.” 

So off I went, on 6 week Dialogue of Civilizations  in Egypt, followed by a dialogue with 30 Arab youth in Abu Dhabi, sponsored by the Arab Women’s Organization.

There are many who shaped last years experiences, fostered my love for Egypt and curiosity to learn more. Whether physically present this year, I know they will come up as I move forward. 

Mary

First there was Mary. A fellow Northeastern student and native of Alexandria, Egypt, she was the first to make me repeat the challenging letter غ”ghayn” and infect me with her obvious love of the region. Once in Egypt, with her scheming smile and home-land know-how, she was always up for an adventure. With her I first explored bustling Talaat Harb square and the famous khan el-khalili souk (market). Without fail she found delicious places to eat and was adamant no cabby charge us like clueless foreigners. In my current state of limbo she continues to tell me, I’ve got this. 

Tara,”Tito” and Katharine, “K-funny” were my givens last year. With Tito’s thoughtful questions and Arabic skills and K-funny’s sarcastic humor and chill demeanor there were no two with whom I’d rather brave new terrain. 

Mostafa, “Mufas” and Karim, “K-$” are similarly aged Egyptians we met through a dialogue discussion–I think Mufas first talked to me because of the video camera in my hand. From horses and feluccas, long night discussions, favorite cafes and tons of questions, these guys showed us their Cairo, turning it from simply a place of intrigue to a home with friends and memories. 

Through English conversation practice at St. Andrews, a service for refugees I met, Soulymaine. A towering Senegalese, his warm smile, Bob Marly backpack and utterly different take on Cairo kept us talking far past the conversation session.  

K-Funny, Tara and me in the Western desert A traditional meal cooked by his mother, besides being delicious was the epitome of generosity Cairo evokes in my mind.  During my last days I met Rami, who made question the narrow patch of Egypt I thought I grasped.

In Abu Dhabi I met many from across the Middle East. Maher, from West Bank, Palestine, critiqued the Arabic music on my ipod–it’s all the old stuff!–inspired me to take a real look at the continuing Palestinian-Israeli conflict and think about my own choices like drinking alcohol and relations with my family. 

The crew at Cairo Jazz Club

There are more too, among the rest of my American peers, the ever- stylish Oscar, Julia, who had a knack for meeting characters, Brett who always had a good book and Asha- always smiling and making friends, and Mufas and K$s’ endless stream of buddies–Amr, Basem, Karim, Jessy…

Others will be introduced as we reunite. 

As I prepare for flight, I’m eager to see these friends and apprehensive of a  Cairo barren of others. If last year taught me anything, it’s be ready for anything, friendly and flexible, ask question, be prepared for complicated answers and never assume you have the whole story. 

“As is the case with any international journalist, you will be responsible for finding stories on your own,” Carlene, my journalism professor and co-leader of the dialogue, wrote in an email earlier this morning. Last year I longed to explore more, to break away from confines of government guards following us and spend more time with local people. Here’s my chance.

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