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Egypt - Away She Goes

Egypt

The birth of this blog, and an utterly life-changing experience, my six weeks in Egypt were a part of NU’s Dialogue of Civilizations program.  If you’re thinking of going, I highly recommend it.  Feel free to shoot me an email (harrington.delia@gmail.com) or a comment with any questions about Egypt, NU or the Dialogue program in general.

Northeastern’s site for the trip.

Here I am in Cairo, sounding like an idiot.

This is Professor Sullivan’s blog from the previous summer’s trip:
http://denisjsullivan.blogspot.com/

Cynthia Sweet, one of the trip leaders, has started a blog for the group:
http://www.egyptdialogue.blogspot.com/

El Koshary Daily, which is sort of like The Onion for Egypt, but better.

Lodging:

Cairo
Flamenco Hotel, which is on the island of Zamalek in the River Nile in Cairo http://www.flamencohotels.com/Tulip/Tulip.htm
Oh the Flamenco.  This was home, and everyone who went still thinks of it fondly.  The employees are super nice, and if you befriend them they’ll go to the moon and back for you.  They’re also very willing to help you with Arabic.

Luxor
Iberotel Hotel in Luxor  http://www.iberotelegypt.com/luxor/
This resort was our first taste of luxory (whoops) and a break from the hustle and grime of Cairo.  You don’t need to leave it for anything, which is amazing but also quite sad.  Also, the pool floats on top of the Nile, which is pretty bomb.

Marsa Matruh
Beau Site Hotel  http://www.beausitehotel.com/
This place was spartan but it did the trick.  You shouldn’t be spending your time in the hotel room anyway, you should be out enjoying the gorgeous view and the amazing beach.

Siwa
Siwa Paradise Hotel  http://www.siwaparadise.com/
Siwa is amazing, and most people never go.  The hotel is a series of bungalow-type buildings with a cement pond.  The power often goes out and everything is a little grimy, but it’s high on charm and we all ended up loving it.

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Since moving from a study abroad participant to a leader of trips abroad, I have had some recalibrating to do.  There is a difference between the risks I’m willing to take myself and those I’m willing to allow my students to take. This came rushing to the fore last summer when I was walking at night in Havana with the majority of our students, and at least one of the Cubans with us was stopped by the police for walking with white women while black.  It is important to note that this is a significantly worse offense than walking while black, although that’s an issue in Cuba as well.  The reason is not only due to racism and history, but also tourism, industry, and hegemony.  While I find the term “tourism apartheid” a bit strident, there is more than a nugget of truth to it, and the way it plays out in Cuba is that it’s somewhat acceptable if the white woman is visibly into it, but otherwise all young black men are assumed to be harassing your tourist dollars away.  Of course, not once has the policia ever showed up to stop genuine harassment (to my knowledge).  And the component of hegemony: when it comes down to it, some lives are deemed more worthy than others, and white skin and our little blue books protect us.  Somewhere in the 20th century, it became unacceptable for an American to lose their life abroad.  It’s cool at home, especially if they lost their life to a legally purchased gun, or if they are not white and middle class.  But that’s... read more

Return Traveling

I never meant to be a return traveler. The allure of more and more exotic passport stamps is pretty strong. Almost as strong as the allure of new and different countries. But at this point, I sit firmly in the category of a return traveler. I went to France in 2006 and returned in 2010. I went to Egpyt for six weeks in 2009 and returned for a long weekend in 2011. I went to Cuba in 2010 for three months and returned in 2012 for a month. I went to the Dominican Republic in 2011 and went back six weeks later. I have been to Canada and most of my domestic travel spots countless times. It makes sense that I’ve become a return traveler. In many other ways, I am not like the typical traveler, or travel blogger. I prefer my stays to last a month at a minimum. I almost always speak the language. I research the history, culture, and politics heavily and before and during my stay. This is just another way of settling myself deeper into the places I go. One value is that I get to see the changes. Pre- and post-Revolution Egypt look incredibly different, and I loved seeing how the place and people had changed. The progress in Cuba has been amazing, and I’ll be writing about it more later on. With the Republica Domincana, the two trips were close together but that meant everyone remember me. I had the great experience of keeping my promises and seeing Mata during the rainy season we had heard so much about. France is just a second skin,... read more

If I Wrote for Thought Catalogue, this is what it would look like

Paris is like that first love that will always hold your heart. You two can fall easily back into each other’s arms, where everything comes quickly, lasts long, and feels right. Canada is like that guy from your hometown that you paw around every once in a while just to feel alive, or to remember how it felt when you were sixteen and everything you did with him was new and dangerous. You may go back every once in a while, but honestly sometimes you get more out of not even bothering. Egypt is like your first time: different for everyone. But no matter how you found it, it will always have a grip on you. It will always make your pulse quicken and give your stomach a jolt like an electric shock. You may wander back when you’re not sure what else to do, and while it may welcome you back, it could just as easily chew you up and spit you out. You will always wonder what if, and Egypt will always be there to remind you and tempt you. Benin is like a bad fling: been there, done that, no regrets and no returning. Unless it was for a really good reason… Greece was like finally getting with the most popular guy in school and not really getting it. What’s all the fuss about? I was too tired and busy from the pursuit to even enjoy it. And anyway, shouldn’t he come to me?  Maybe someday it will be time for a reunion… Cuba is that guy your mother wanted you about. Some call it abuse;... read more
The Cat that Ate the Canary

The Cat that Ate the Canary

Over our fall break, my friend Kathy selflessly took on my duty shifts so I could go away for a few days.  I spent a glorious time sneaking off to Cairo and getting reacquainted with one of my favorite cities in the world.  Of course, when I say I “snuck off” I mean all my coworkers and students knew where I was and friends at home and in Cairo knew of my whereabouts. What I was really sneaking away from was the stress of NUin and the worries of everyone related to me, all of whom were in the dark until I was safely in a cafe in Cairo. As soon as I was in the cab I felt a relaxed sense of calm, even though the ride was long and jerky.  I knew he was scamming me and complementing my feeble Arabic for a tip, but it still felt nice to flex those muscles.  I had spoken in Arabic on the plane but the Greek flights attendants looked at me like I was crazy until I addressed them in their own language or mine.  The entire trip was marked by an unloosening of the spine, and unclenching of the fingers and toes, a relaxation of my mind.  I didn’t look over my shoulder for students or staff, I didn’t have to think before every word I spoke and every feeling I experienced.  I didn’t pause before hugging or dancing or kissing.  I slept when I wanted to, drank when I wanted to, and dressed how I wanted to. I loved seeing the overwhelming pride in all things Egypt.  Trees that... read more
Protest

Protest

I knew that if there were any demonstrations while I was in Egypt, I was going.  Absolutely, 100%.  So when my friend Sarah, a journalist, got the call to cover a march to the Maspero Building, I was excited. A week and a half prior, 27 people were killed and about 300 were injured.  We started at Tahrir Square, a place where I spent a lot of time in 2009, and a place that became the epicenter of the Egyptian Revolution.  I photographed some demonstrators and signs, and Sarah conducted a few brief interviews. She annotated the entire thing for me, translating a speech here, or pointing out the photo of a martyred blogger there. We came upon a Salafist demonstration.  I was surprised by how many families I saw, and the carnivalesque atmosphere.  People were selling food and painting faces.  I was embarrassed to admit it, and maybe it was just all the years of training from Western media, but when I saw so many people jumping up and down chanting “Allah u Akhbar” it made me nervous.  And the more Sarah told me about the Salafists, the more comfortable I became with that reaction. Vendors are everywhere in Tahrir, hawking food and protest regalia. For a few pounds, this guy will paint your face with the Egyptian flag.  At Sarah’s direction, we (Sarah, myself and her brand new intern Hayden) walked toward the Maspero building.  What was happening at Tahrir was interesting for me to see, but was not newsworthy.  Sheff says there are protests and demonstrations every Friday, and that they’re overusing Tahrir.  It took a lot of... read more

Cover Up

Say it’s for respect, say it’s because of religion, say it’s just a rule and don’t ask questions, say it’s arbitrary and sexist.  Just don’t say we need to wear high necklines and low hems so that we are not sexually harassed.  Don’t do it.  Don’t victim blame, don’t lie.  In harassment-heavy countries like Cuba and Egypt, I have seen anecdotally that the amount of clothing is irrelevant.  Cuban guys say piropos to all women, regardless of clothing and almost regardless of age.  White women get slightly more commentary, but no amount of clothing will make me less of a gringa. In Egypt, it has been found that women believe they get harassed less when they cover up more (more being even more than we do in the West, since it includes the abaya, the hijab and the niqab.)  However, these same women actually self-report higher levels of harassment when they are more covered.  It’s just an instance of intense cognitive dissonance, egged on by years of messaging from men, women, harassers and victims alike claiming, as if in some desperate plea for relief, that if only we could wear the right amount and combination of clothing, they would just leave us the hell alone.  But they don’t.  Women in full abaya and hijab get raped in public.  Women in jeans and modest shirts are assaulted all the time. To say that I can stop (or even stem) harassment by changing my clothes is an indictment of women and men alike.  It says men cannot control themselves and thus need to be prevented from seeing that which entices them... read more

Structure

This Dialogue has been reminding me more and more of the Egypt trip every day.  And it must be so, because people who aren’t here have been commenting that it seems like I feel the same way about this Dialogue as that one.  After Esther asked me about the trip that has had the most impact on me personally, I began thinking about it more directly.  I’ve loved all the travel in between, but this trip seems to align the ever-fickle planets of academics, leadership, location and group members. I love the books we read.  Why the Cocks Fight is maybe a little boorish and poorly written, but is nevertheless entirely necessary as it’s the only real history of the island of Hispaniola as a whole.  I can’t understand why there aren’t more books about this topic, and why the author (Michelle Wucker) didn’t arrange the book chronologically instead of thematically.  But alas, we are able to bypass so many basic overviews of DR/Haiti history when we are on site visits or in the field, and instead move on to deeper issues.  With Drown and The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (DR) and The Farming of the Bones and Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat (Haiti), we have been able to see the contemporary lives of Haitians and Dominicans at home and abroad, and just how important history, race, nationality and poverty have been to their lives.  I highly recommend all four of those books, and those two authors in general.  Nothing could make the 1937 massacre come to life as much as Farming of the... read more

Luxury and Insult

Sometimes we forget that the totally normal things we do at home can be seen as totally not okay elsewhere.  Before going to Egypt, we were asked not to go running through Cairo.  For one thing, between the smog, the traffic and the craterous sidewalks, it’s quite dangerous.  And for another, it’s insulting.  Some people ignored this advice and ran anyway.  In their mind, no one has the right to tell them not to exercise.  But in the mind of an Egyptian, running is an ostentatious show of wealth.  For hard-working poor people, the idea that you have so much energy and time that you can exert yourself for fun is downright insulting and bizarre. In Benin, students came to me upset about the behavior of an otherwise excellent student.  He was such a nice guy, such a good friend, that they couldn’t believe his parents had raised him, “that way.”  Confused, I figured out they were referring to his smoking.  Like in the Dominican Republic, very few people can afford cigarettes in Benin.  For someone to smoke them often in public would be akin to flashing expensive watches and purses in an American slum. Whenever traveling, there are special considerations that vegetarians need to take to ensure their health and suitable meal options.  It’s important, though, to remember that vegetarianism (while some people firmly believe it has the moral high ground) is a way of being picky.  This means that additional limitations beyond the lack of meat can often be incredibly difficult to honor, and are generally seen as demanding.  The concept of vegetarianism is upsetting for many... read more

My Allyson Experience

Allyson Goldhagen is a dear friend to whom I refer as Goldilocks.  People have stopped cars to talk to her, filmed her eating, invited her to weddings, proposed marriage etc.  Usually as soon as they meet her. Allyson is a magical wonder of intelligence and idealism, and a heavy dose of both at that.  Her fair hair and skin and blue eyes get her attention in the Arab world, and she never ceases to have amazing stories of local interaction.  Every day in Egypt, every few hours it seemed, she was having the sort of experiences that people write travel memoirs and blog posts about.  Not me! I was getting lost in cabs by myself and accidentally witnessing indecent exposure.  Needless to say, Alyson’s perspective is very different from mine, since she has some sort of magic travel dust in her flaxen hair. One day, eager to explore and nearing the end of our time in Cairo, Sarah, Khalid, Katie myself and a few others set out to see the Museum of Modern Art.  Or was it the Modern Art Museum?  I’m not sure, but I know we all fought about the name! Well our Arabic wasn’t pitch perfect, or maybe our source was off, but we got out of the cab and wandered around some impressive gates to see that we misunderstood.  Rather than open until one, it was open after one.  At about eleven am and not wanting to admit to defeat, we had little choice but to kill time. We explored the museum’s compound for a bit, generally meandering toward Tahrir square.  Quickly becoming thirsty in... read more

Concerns About Egypt Going Forward

The new constitution needs to come hastily but be respectful of human rights State of Emergency needs to be lifted.  Now. The police force (or a police force, for those not thrilled with the last one) needs to be instated, for everyone’s sake Economically, it is critical that Egypt be seen as stable and inviting asap, in order to bring the tourism industry back up to speed.  Without it, Egypt cannot function The military council–of which I am not particularly afraid despite the fact that it is military–must usher in a quick transition to a civilian government To that end, we need real elections with real parties and discourse on policy.  My understanding is that is already happening, with candidates already taking out papers to be on the ballot The US needs to maintain th 1.3 billion in foreign aid from the Mubarak era, but perhaps it could be better spent once it gets there The heightened sense of unity and tolerance needs to continue; it is the only way forward for Egypt.  It was shown so beautifully for Christmas services a few months ago, when Muslim Egyptians became human shields so their Christian countrymen could go to services without threat of another suicide bomber, and kicked into high gear when non-Muslim Egyptians started taking the blows of water cannons so that their Muslim friends and neighbors could pray in peace.  The great mix of men and women, young and old, Muslim and Christian and all things in between needs to continue and become a force within civil society, not just within the protests.  anyone who tells you this was... read more

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