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Back to School, Back to School…

September 6, 2006

The oft-talked about “hostilty phase” has come to pass. Not that it didn’t have some help from Cairo.

Today felt more like the first day of school. It was Arab Media at 9:30, Comparative Politics at 1:30 p.m., and Arab History at 3 p.m. The professor in Arab Media kept repeating that he was not going to stress memorization (this also happened in Arab History, but with a lot more animation), and the short lecture in Comparative Politics of the Middle East would make anybody want to go home and hide under their bed. Our first test will be on the countries, capitals, ethnic groups, and provinces of the entire Middle East.

But classes aside, today was also the first day I had a lot of time in between classes and need to stay at the campus. Instead of the empty campus of last week, all the Egyptian students had returned. I walked along, watching them. AUC’s campus, especially the “Greek”, feels and looks like high school. (other study abroad students reported this same feeling independently) Cars drop students off at school, in between classes, everyone sits around campus, talking, meeting, sitting in little groups and then breaking up to start the next round of socialization.

Imagine you’re back in your high school/middle school/choose your awkwardstage here cafeteria. It’s your first day and you’ve got your lunch, but you know NO ONE. Descending the stairs of the university library into the main area of the Greek campus is much like this, except everyone is speaking Arabic and you are spotted as an American student without even opening your mouth.

So, of course I feel relieved when I see another group of Study Abroad students. But then I feel guilty for staying in my comfort zone. I resolve to sit down next to an Egyptian student in my next class and introduce myself. When I do this in Comparative Politics, I am pleasently suprised about how well the student reacts, and how good her English is. Until:

Me: I’m a study abroad student, obviously

Her: Oh! Me too. I go to Skidmore, you?

Cue much embarrassment on my part. I should know by now that the most Egyptian looking girl in class (even veiled) isn’t neccessarly a degree-seeking, honest-to-Allah AUC student (turns out the girl was born in Egypt, but has lived in NYC for most of her life), but my attempt to socialize outside my American group of friends didn’t quite work the way I wanted.

Another frustration: the shuttle. Ye old Cairo Khan (the hotel where I live) is a good 30 minute walk from campus. A normal journey will include: (1) metric ton of sweat, (4) near death encounters by crossing the street, (3) awkward personal encounters which will include almost running directly into women and small children. The shuttle was supposed to alleviate that, if not running on the most conveient schedule. Last week, I even struck up a repoir with our driver, Arafa. Classes start and Arafa and his shiny shiny air conditioned van are nowhere to be seen. Instead we have Random Grumpy Guy and his Stalling Van of Grumpiness.

The return trip today was quite interesting. Me and a few friends got on at 4:20. He’s supposed to leave at 4:30. At 4:23 he leaves the curb, and our door is open. We quickly close the door by ourselves and figure that the people we left are going to be pissed. Grumpy Guy does not drive us back to Cairo Khan, but instead, drives around the block in stop and go traffic. After circling the block one time, he’s about ready to leave again when we see some Cairo Khan girls waiting, very confused on the corner of the Greek Campus. We wave to them out the window, open up the door (as the car is still moving, half of us yelling anything we know in Arabic to make Grumpy Guy stop) and they pile in. Grumpy Guy takes us to our hotel, but not before the van completely turns off 3 times in major traffic.

We pile out of the van with rushed “shukran”s (thank you) to Grumpy Guy. I come back to an empty room, grumpy myself, and now even more frustrated with the internet’s recent grudge against me seeing my favorite American TV shows (I will NOT give up yet, internet, you hear me?). My computer’s wonky, a car with a deep, hotel-vibrating base boost won’t drive on, and I am very very tired.

I think about taking a nap. Naps make everything better, right? But I know a nap won’t make my frustration go away. I need to go out, face Cairo and say “What? Is that all you’ve got?”

Okay, so I wasn’t that confrontational, but I did have an idea. After rounding up some of my upstairs neighbors, I walked the block to El-Abd, a “sweetery” if you will, which sells every pastry you can think of and gelato. For 2 pounds, I get two wonderful scoops of gelato, the experience of smelling the fresh-baked goods of El-Abd, and a somewhat relaxing walk back in the relative cool of the afternoon.

No, it’s not naps that makes everything better, it’s ice cream.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Shell & Kenny permalink
    September 7, 2006 4:09 pm

    Hi Tay! It sounds like the adventure is just beginning! We’re enjoying reading your blog and love seeing the pictures, but especially love the ones with you in them! My favorite post so far, I must admit, was on August 11. We’re thinking of you – keep the entires coming(after studying, of course) and we’re proud of you for making this leap. Just remember the immortal words of Kermit the Frog “It’s not Easy Being Green”. Love, Auntie Shell & Uncle Kenny
    P.S. We’re sitting here pondering “Is the Red Sea really red?” Thought you’d like that one!

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