Year 1: Spring Term Week 17/ Start of Summer Break

Hello from Cairo, Egypt!

The first part of this week was one exam after another. Physics on Sunday, Chemistry on Monday, Biology and Multivariable Calculus on Tuesday. This means that I've finished (survived?) Foundations of Science 1-4, which is all of my science requirements for my engineering major. If you missed my earlier post, I'll be staying in Abu Dhabi for the month of June to take a summer semester class, but we have a week-long break in between.

This week meant a lot of goodbyes, as most people who are not staying for summer are going to their home countries. This was made even more difficult by the fact that I'm headed to Shanghai for fall semester, which means that I won't see most of my friends until January.

I also had to say goodbye to my lovely roommate Karen, who is now home in Taiwan. I could not have asked for a better roommate this year. She is so sweet, kind, intelligent, and hardworking, and she gives the best hugs! When she says hi to you, her whole face lights up with excitement, and it makes you feel like someone special. She's also an amazing dancer, good at cooking healthy recipes (as she says, she's "obsessed with vegetables"), and deals with all my ridiculous questions about how to say common phrases in Chinese. I'm going to miss her so much.

After finishing exams, I spent a lot of time packing, organizing my things, and cleaning the room, since Karen and my two suitemates were moving out. I also had time to go to the beach and walk around Abu Dhabi for a bit. I think people thought I was a little crazy for walking around in the midday heat (taxis kept honking at me to see if I needed a ride), but at least I'm familiarizing myself with the city on foot. And the beach was perfect for cooling off at the end of it.

I also went out for pizza with some of my Foundations of Science friends to celebrate, which was great. There were only 14 of us in the class, so we spent a lot of time together this semester.

Love these people

The phrase "urban jungle" comes to mind

I'm spending the rest of the break between semesters in Egypt, thanks to the wonderful hospitality of my classmate Alia and her family. I'm so thankful that they've sacrificed their time and resources to have me here. I arrived yesterday morning in Cairo, where I'm staying with them. I could honestly spend hours talking or writing about everything I've experienced so far. How do I even begin to capture these kind of experiences? Once again, I feel like the luckiest person in the entire world.

It's also my first time on the African continent!

Alia's younger brother had a school trip for students and their families to a rural town called Fayoum, about 3 hours by bus outside of Cairo. We all came along. While this means that I haven't gotten to do a lot of the typical touristy things yet, it was a really nice change of pace from the city of Abu Dhabi, and I felt like I got to experience a side of Egypt that most tourists don't get the chance to see. The Arabic immersion has been good for me, too. Even though the families I was with in Fayoum all spoke English fluently, they only spoke English when speaking directly to me, so I've had almost constant exposure to Arabic conversation for the past two days. It's good because I've been picking up more vocabulary than I normally would in Abu Dhabi.

There were a bunch of activities in Fayoum planned for the families. We went to the desert and did the usual desert activities: sandboarding and dune bashing (riding around the dunes in an SUV). However, the place we went had an oasis right next to the sand dunes, so they rigged up a zipline across the water so that we could jump into the oasis from the zipline. I wasn't told that going to the desert would involve swimming... so this is the story of how I ended up ziplining into water in all my clothes in the middle of the Sahara desert with a bunch of 6th-grade boys :) SO worth it.

We also went around the oasis in a little rowboat. We ate dinner in the desert and watched the sunset from the dunes.

We spent the night in Fayoum in something called an eco-lodge, which was a hotel made to look like an ancient village in the middle of nature and everything. Like I said before, it was a nice change of pace.

The next day, we went horseback riding along the shore of Qarun lake, which was right by where we were staying. I guess it makes sense that the horses respond to Arabic, but I felt so weird saying "yalla! yalla!" (let's go!) to a horse.

With all of this driving around, I've actually gotten to see a lot of the city. I saw the pyramids of Giza from a distance, but we'll be visiting them soon. There are so many different aspects to Cairo. There's the new side, which is a lot like the U.A.E. in terms of shopping malls and infrastructure, and then the older side where I'm staying, which is full of unique shops, crumbling squarish buildings packed together, and so much character and history. The closest basis for comparison I have for downtown Cairo is downtown Amman, Jordan. The crowded streets, little juice shops, chorus of car horns, and crisscrossed alleyways give the city an indescribable energy. So much life, so much movement. I love it.

The city was full of street booksellers

I also got to see Tahrir Square. For something so famous in news headlines when I was younger, I kind of expected that the would be something extraordinary about the place itself. However, it really looked like an ordinary city intersection. But as we walked, I listened to Alia's experiences of watching the 2011 revolution unfold quite literally in her neighborhood. It was so interesting to think that we were standing right where these events occurred. I think sometimes we as people tend to distance ourselves from conflicts to the point that things become sort of objectified-- places become nothing more than names, and they kind of get this surreal, legendary quality that makes it all seem so faraway. We convince ourselves that these things could never happen to us, especially within the protective bubble of American suburbs. We forget that things happen in ordinary places to ordinary people with ordinary lives. Being here definitely allows me to engage with international politics firsthand a lot more, which I think is valuable life experience.

My phone camera isn't great at night, but here's Tahrir Square

While a lot of the food so far has been things I've tried before elsewhere, one food that I got to try for the first time was feteer. It's an Egyptian layered pastry that we have for breakfast. It's flaky, oily, flat, and round, and we dip it in labneh (yogurt dip), molasses, or honey. 
Anyway, I've got a week left in Cairo and I couldn't be happier. Rest assured that I'm doing everything I can to stay safe, and I'll reflect more on the experience next week once I get back to Abu Dhabi. 

Hoping you have a great week. 



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