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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

October 10, 2006

I imagine those of you reading this blog might have a few questions that, again, living day-to-day here, simply doesn’t stand out for me. Aside from the fact that these are not frequently posed to me, its what I imagine you are all asking in front of your computers.

I know you’re in the Middle East, in Cairo, but where exactly is that? In relation to other places? And *nervous laughter* how far is Iraq?

Don’t worry about it! I often mix up Jordan and Syria and sometimes invent nameless border countries that don’t actually exist! Here’s a map:



As you can see, Egypt is colorfully filled in as pink, and Cairo is the main city (aside from Alexandria) in the North. And is surrounded by a couple countries whose names provoke a rise in blood pressure in your average North American. That being said, it’s probably a 6 hour bus ride just to get to the eastern Egyptian border. Egypt is one of the few countries in the world that’s on two continents, as the Sinai –the triangle shaped peninsula before Israel – is geographically a part of Asia. In my quest for number of continents racked up, this is not cheating. Time to plan a trip.

In the streets, until I open up my mouth, I am automatically assumed to be a tourist of the European variety, because of the simple fact that Europe is a relative hop, skip, and jump from Cairo. “Min Amerika” gets a lot of excited response.

Oh, and its 800 miles to Baghdad, which is approximately the distance between New York City and Springfield, Illinois. Definitely not on the travel plans.

Does it feel weird being the one of the few non-hijabii (scarf covering) women?

Nothing tags you more for being a foreigner than being a woman not wearing a hijab. I should clarify however, the particulars. There are several levels of hijibii-ness (? –what an awful word). First is long sleeves, long pants/dress, sometimes shoes, sometimes sandals with a matching hijab. A little more is the all black dress, head covered, but face not, sometimes gloves, definitely not sandals. And then we have the stereotype: black abaya (not called a burka at all), black head covering, black face covering – except the eyes, heavy shoes and most definitely gloves. On AUC’s campus the last variation is not allowed, and I’ve heard of lawsuits against the school because of it. As I walked into one of the campuses the other day, I saw a girl putting on a face covering as she was leaving the campus.

So, when I’m walking down the street, wearing jeans, a short sleeved shirt, sandals, and sunglasses (oddly enough, my eyes are often covered) I feel like I’m making a statement. Something on the order of “yes, my Western values has allowed me, nay preferred me to walk and dress with the same measure of freedom of men, although don’t get me started on how there’s still double-standards” I imagine I leave a wave of confusion and gossip in my wake. Or it could be the 21st century and the people of Cairo are used to the strange tourists and my presence is nothing more than a slight amusement in an otherwise busy day.

Here’s a statistic, however unscientifically proven. On my way home from school, in which I took two crowded streets, I saw 12 women uncovered, 2 of them under the age of 40.

How’s the weather?


Seriously? What’s this “autumn” thing you guys are talking about? I don’t understand. Also, rain? I’ve heard stories about this “rain” that isn’t from air conditioning vents.

Where are all the pictures of Cairo?

To begin with, I’m pretty skittish about taking pictures of people without their permission (well, there goes the dream of being a photojournalist. National Geographic, you can send my 3rd grade inquiry letter back) and Egypt is notorious for not being photo-friendly. The police (which are everywhere) don’t like you taking pictures of buildings. When you take pictures of people, they expect you to pay them for the honor (especially near and around the pyramids) and your big tourist sign waves even higher. One of my friends is in a photography class, and she found a picture opportunity she couldn’t pass up: rows and rows of naked mannequins, stacked up in an alleyway store behind our hotel, lit by a sickly florescent light. As soon as she snapped the picture, the store owner invited her in and basically made her take pictures of her in the shop, with his family, etc. etc. It’s a production to take a picture, and me and my point-and-shoot digital often can’t be bothered.

What have you been doing at AUC other than studying?

Teaching! I signed up to teach English to women refugees (from countries like Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia) on a weekly basis. So far we’ve only placed them in classes depending on their level of English, but I volunteered to teach the lower-level, as my Arabic could use a little (who am I kidding – a LOT) of work. It will either be a learning experience for both teacher and student, or a disastrous example of the ills of Western culture. Tune in next time to see which!

Plus, I get a vacation from school. Athens, Greece. In 10 days. I’ll probably have more pictures from there.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Julie permalink
    October 11, 2006 9:17 am

    Tay, you rock. I love the updates and it sounds like you’re making so much out of this experience. That being said, I MISS YOU! Especially right now because, let’s face it, your bug-killing skillz are impressive and there is a large spider in my bathroom. Talk to you soon 🙂

  2. November 25, 2006 3:50 pm

    just so u know, the burqa is actually what they call it in afghanistan and some other places, and encompasses facial coverage. the ebaya does not.
    about the whole veil business…no one expects foreigners to be veiled, u know. it’s not weird at all and it’s more your foreigness that brings attention, not your unveiled-ness.

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