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.

Choosing a New Place

When I first heard about the Benin trip, and how it had a one-week France component, I was a little bummed.  I had already been to france, I already had that stamp.  But I think a lot changed when I was in Cuba. As the trip got closer, I thought of paris as a comfort, as a home in so many ways.  As a breath of fresh air, the way a weekend at my parents’ house can be.  Now, when I think of bangladesh, I don’t think oh! Now I can say I’ve been to asia.  I don’t think about all the great proximate countries and how to cram them in as cheap as possible.  I think about how hard it will be to experience my first truly blind foreign language experience.  I think about how ill probably be alone, and what will I do for housing.  I think about how they treat women, and wonder whether harassment is prevalent.  When I think about the Dominican Republic, I think of the comforts of Spanish and familiar food.  I think of the proximity to Cuba and Haiti.  I think about how going there three times in a six month period will be such an asset.  Of course, I also hope there will be enough food, and that I wont get sick of spending so much time there. I think a lot, too, about the choices I don’t make.  Latin america isn’t supposed to be my focus area.  Shouldn’t I be in Africa or the Middle East?  Shouldn’t, as a friend suggested, I be running back to Cairo? This is where... read more
I Love the Egyptian Revolution

I Love the Egyptian Revolution

The Egyptian Revolution has captivated the world, and it seems every few minutes someone is calling, texting, or emailing to ask me what I think. Between my political science and Middle East Studies background, my travel to Egypt, and the friends I have living there, the Egyptian Revolution has been consuming every spare moment I have. How can you not love a revolution wherein a human chain forms to protect its museums and priceless antiquities?  A mob that thinks to maintain its history and culture, even in their anger and confusion? How do you not love revolutionaries who form a citizen police force, because they don’t want looters or violence and their government has abandoned them and their safety? How is it possible for your heart not to ache for the Christians who are human shields to protect their Muslim countrymen while in prayer, repaying a favor from Christmas Eve of this past year? I think the Egyptian Revolution is beautiful.  People keep asking me, who are the good guys?  Isn’t Mubarak better than the Muslim Brotherhood?  Is it safe over there?  These people are the good guys; the people who protect their countrymen, their history, and their homes.  These people who want real democracy because their “president” has not left office in 30 years. Mubarak isn’t better than the Ikhwan, or Muslim Brotherhood.  But that’s irrelevant (for now), because MB didn’t organize this.  The Egyptian Revolution was organized in what was once a small facebook group, by students on twitter, by men smoking hookah in cafes, and by women bringing their children to school. Contrary to what you... read more

My Perfect Souvenir

I try to make the most of what I buy.  I’m generally pretty frugal, with occasional bouts of Target, Old Navy and H&M madness.  I’m also secretly a hoarder.  As in, at almost 22 years of age I still own clothing from middle school.  Now that I finally can’t fit into it all anymore, I’m actually starting to get rid of it. So how does an aspiring minimalist (I can hear the eye rolling from here!) buy good tokens from abroad, especially if she makes it a habit to travel?  Well, here are my guidelines for giving travel gifts to yourself. Give yourself an experience and a memory, instead of a thing. Riding on horseback through the Sahara, Hidalgo-style, at an ungodly hour of the night was one of the bets things ever.  We sang, we laughed, we fought, and we huddled around a great bonfire in galabiyas.  Some scoffed at how much we were spending (I don’t remember how much–apparently it wasn’t too tragic) but it definitely cost me less than all those extravagant dinners some of the scoffers were eating every other night.  I wouldn’t trade that night for the world. Stay away from tchotchkes. They are cheap, expensive and prone to break.  They also mean basically nothing, other than being proof that you went there.  Or to China, where they were made. Buy decorations. I’ve always wanted to be one of those cool adults who have a house full of foreign awesome, like Dan Hanson’s house.  His parents have all this great artwork and sculptures from far away lands, filled with stories and mystery.  How much... read more

Veil Vocabulary

I know it can be overwhelming as an outsider to understand all that is going on with Muslim women’s clothing, so here’s a little glossary to get you started.  If anybody has additional terms or corrections, let me know! Hijab: (1)this is the most basic piece, and is a scarf worn around the head.  Accompanying this can be skull caps, pre-style pieces etc., sometimes in ornate styles or coordinatng colors.  The face is fully visible, but the hair and neck are not (if it’s styled correctly). (2) Hijab is also the concept of overall modesty.  Often you will heasr women refer to their overall modest mode of vestments as “my hijab.”  For men, hijab is the belly button to the knee.  For women, it’s open for debate but is generally considered to the ankles and wrists, with covered hair. Niqab: This is the “hood” that covers the whole face and leaves eye-slits.  It often comes down to the middle of the upper arm, and is worn with an abaya.  Another version just covers the front of the face, and can be tied on before a hijab Chador (sometimes called chador namaz): This is a one-piece that covers the hair down to the ankles, but leaves the face exposed. Mantau chalvar: With mantau coming from the French manteau, this is basically a knee-length coat worn over loose pants and accompanied by a hijab Abaya: This is the basic dress-like garment that is warn over clothing.  Depending on the crowd you’re with, many women will take off their various outer garments when alone with each other. Burqa: The oft-discussed garment is... read more

Cuban Novio, Cuban Boyfriend

By far, the majority of my traffic centers around these search terms.  That worried me.  It says that there’s a need.  There are these women out there with Cuban boyfriends, or wanting them, and not knowing how to handle it.  What to buy them, how to get one, how to know if they’re cheating, what to feed them, when to believe them.  I didn’t just put those thoughts into people’s heads, they’re all very real search terms I see all the time. Here’s the thing: I’ve never had a novio cubano, for a variety of reasons. If you want to know what it’s like, read Whitney’s series Adventures with a Cuban Boy over at her blog On Love and Other Things.  She has great prose, genuine thoughts and enchanting pictures.  And more importantly, she has the experience. I won’t talk about other people’s experience, but I cant talk about mine.  Here are a few posts I’ve written on the male/female dynamic in Cuba, from the perspective of a young, white American foreigner. I had a hard time with the novio thing in Cuba.  I’m a girl who’s used to having close guy friends, and a few good circles of guys to spend time with.  I’m also used to people finding out I have a boyfriend and respecting that, rather than trying to make me forget or “live in the moment.”  I’ve taken a bit of crap from fellow travelers for disliking some of the attention I get when abroad, but I don’t think anyone should have to put up with harassment, and I think everyone has the capacity to... read more

In Defense of Television When Travelling

I often find myself on the wrong side of a lot of debates.  I dislike hand sanitizer, sunscreen and bugspray, in favor of a boosted immune system and not experiencing the negative ramifications of abstaining.  I think we shampoo our hair too often, shelter our kids too much, and give google too hard of a time about censoring itself in China. But by far the dirtiest looks roll in when I watch television while on the road. Everyone is out to separate themselves from the be-fannypacked masses, and flipping on a television is like, as my roommate at the Songhai Centre put it, “Cheating on Africa.” So am I cheating?  And if so, why? For one thing, I defend tv in general, in my home life as well.  I get annoyed by the, “weeeell, I don’t even own a television” crowd.  (PS–lots of people don’t, but they’re not such jerks about it!)  I also don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with television–The West Wing, Mad Men and Newsradio are all brilliant and entertaining shows.  They’re smart, witty and they make me happy.  So what if they come out of the “Idiot Box”?  If you choose to watch awful reality tv, or things that make your brain turn to goo and slide out of your ears (I’m looking at you, The Hills), then that’s your own darn fault, not television’s.  (Of course when it comes to True B lood, I also have an argument In Defense of Camp, but that’s for another day.)  Those shows only run because they get ratings, and we all have the power to effect those ratings.... read more
Is this African Enough?

Is this African Enough?

When I was in Egypt, we often joked that we were in Fake Africa.  When asked if I had ever been to Africa before Benin, I would say yes and explain Egypt, which elicited much doubt.  I was told, in one way or another, that Egypt didn’t count, or wasn’t really Africa because it was: too rich too Arab not black enough too developed too wealthy filled with too many people who were fully clothed not hungry enough not in civil strife not “native” enough too educated If that’s not offensive to all parties, I’m not sure what would be.  Often our stereotypes, both positive and negative, get in the way of our ability to just appreciate a place for what it is.  When in the markets of Benin, many of the girls looked for “something really African,” such as wooden, hand-carved jewelry.  Wooden, hand-carved statues.  Or wooden, hand-carved anything.  Many were frustrated that we only saw cheap plastic and metal jewelry from China in plastic wrap.  But that’s what the women around us wore.  Not hand-carved elephants or oblong faces on a string of wooden beads. Instead of trapping Africa in the CNN version of it (hungry, desolate, war-torn and filled with safari animals and naked people) why don’t we just let Africa reveal itself to us?  Sometimes Africa is t-shirts, while other times it’s vivid-patterned cloth from China, and still others it’s an abaya.  We are the observers–not the creators–of Africa, and like any destination, we should try not to let our own imagination hold us back from the amazing world unfolding right in front of us. Like... read more

Lesson Learned from Friends on the Road

You should always bring some of the clothes you love and rely on (Nellie) but should also buy/bring some basic stuff you don’t mind giving away (Rhiannon) Of course, don’t be “that guy” who just gives away all their broken/dirty junk: give away the things you love, and it’ll come back to you (Deirdre) Just do it, magn/There’s nothing you can do about it now, so have fun/shoes are lame (unless someone steals yours)/spend your nights under the stars (Kristina) There is no right way to experience a country, so just do what makes you happy in the moment, and if you enjoyed the time while you spent it you can’t look back with regret (Abby) Bring a book or two, and trade them away for others when you’re done.  After all, on the road, a new story is worth more than one you already know, and can easily find again (Emma) If you really are the “whatever” person (like Avi The Army Guy or Julie The Yoga Girl) trust that everyone knows that already, and let them come to you if they want to know more (Julie and Avi. Duh.) Bring all-purpose items, and travel speakers (Laurel, aka Leslie) Don’t lend people your Coach/Ignore all negativity (Aliesha) Be unapologetically ridiculous and enthusiastic, and you’re bound to make friends.  Even if you don’t, you’re probably already having a ton of fun (Brit and Kristina) Sometimes the cost of something “lent” is worth the friendship or the conversation you get in exchange (Britito) Really listen, and remember people (Nellie, Laurel, Julie) Sometimes being the butt of the joke is the best way... read more

I Like Me So Much Better When I Travel!

Travel Delia is way cooler than home Delia–sorry for those of you who only see home delia!  When I’m away, I think critically, but I’m also more laid back about obstacles and delays.  I’m thrilled to sit in a crowded train station on a hot Egyptian night, people watching, reading and soaking it all in.  At home?  I look like one of those Bostonians your mom told you about, the Massholes you shouldn’t bother.  But every day you can litterally wake up and be someone new.  Every person you meet is the opportunity to make the changes you’ve been thinking about, or maybe even implementing, the ones your old friends don’t notice because their image of you is trapped in resin like a mosquito.  Who Says I can’t be Travel Delia every day? When I’m away I… read or look out the window on pretty much every form of transportation, instead of always listening to my ipod write way more don’t worry about hygeine am far more likely to talk to a stranger am barefoot! am open to hearing new opinions am more of a listener (but, let’s face it, still a pretty big talker…) randomly help strangers and travelling companions alike am more mindful of how often I speak, when I interupt, and how loud I am wander practice yoga most days wake up early fly solo arrive on time almost everywhere, unless it really is beyond my control (see: Benin) go to all kinds of cultural festivals and museums take notes.  All the time.  And I love it.  am thankful every time I have AC, halfway-decent food and... read more
Slavery

Slavery

During some of our history lectures in Benin on the slave trade, I learned a lot that had never been presented to me in public school, and realized just how US-centric our education is about this matter.  I thought I would share a few odds and ends that stuck out to me. While we in the US are taught about slavery from an American perspective, many other countries were far more active in the slave trade, Brazil topping that list.  Other Latin American and Caribbean countries (like Haiti) While Europeans were heavily involved in the slave trade, relatively few slaves went to Europe Most slaves came through the Slave Coast, like Benin’s Point of No Return in the coastal city of Ouidah Slavery was an active part of many African societies long before the Europeans got involved, but it was a bit different. While Africans did capture and sell other Africans to European slave trade (whose immune systems were too weak and numbers too small to go into the interior themselves) Africans did not sell their own.  That is, one kingdom would sell their prisoners of war and such, but not their own people.  This in turn allowed them to get firepower and increase their authority within the region. Slavery within Africa was also distinct in that it never denied that a person was a human being, and they were not excluded from society.  One could earn their freedom (and it was actually realistic to do so, unlike in antebellum America), be a respected member of society, marry and have children.  They could return to their community after they... read more

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