Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Picture Time!

Here is a link to my photo albums-

You'll have to copy and paste the link, because I still can't get hotlinks to work.

There's a lot of them! I'll still be arranging them in a video montage but until then you can sift through the mounds on that website. Tomorrow I will be answering all your questions so be sure to check back then.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Clean Cut

So the decision I made to go to a barber in a Cairo back alley was only marginally better than my decision to cut my own hair before I left. I tried explaining in Arabic how I wanted him to cut my hair but he must have not understood. It's a little shorter than I would have liked but much better than the debacle that was my self-administered haircut.

Actually the whole experience turned out to be pretty cool. I got a haircut, nose-hair trim, forehead shave (seriously), shave, aftershave, shampoo (with a slight head massage) and a powder for $8. I was pretty happy.

That's pretty much it for this update. I'm heading out tonight back to Amman for the evening and then tomorrow morning to Frankfurt (Germany, not Kentucky) and then onto Chicago were Jess will pick me up at the airport. So I suppose this will be my last post from abroad. Let me get settled back in at home and I'll answer all your questions and post links to my pictures from the trip. I'm even going to make a couple slideshows set to some music and I'll post the links to those, too. I'm actually even contemplating keeping this blog as an update to my life, but I my life isn't nearly as exciting as these past 45 days have been for me. I guess we'll sort all that out soon. Until next time...

Friday, August 15, 2008

I Bit It

Well I've been through the desert on a horse that actually had a name. Abu Khalid I believe.

Today I spent my morning touring the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Literally the last major sight/site on my trip. Of course there's a reason that these are lauded as one of the most magnificent places in the world. Pictures don't really do these things justice. Nor do they give you the full scope of the area. These are literally on the edge of Cairo (well, Giza, but you get the picture). In pictures it looks like there is nothing but miles of desert around, but if you do a 180, you're just a few steps away from banks, hospitals and restaurants. The city has literally grown right to the edge but it stopped by the barbwire fences that surround the grounds of the Pyramids.

I hired a horse and guide for 2 hours for about $45. I thought it was kind of steep, but it turned out to be alright. I got a horse riding lesson, also. You would think being from Kentucky I would have a general idea of how to ride a horse but I really don't. I mean, I have a vague concept- pull left when you want to go left, right when you want to go right. The difficult part, I discovered, is when the horse picks up the pace over a walk. I had a hard time synchronizing my body to the trot of the horse so I was bouncing up and down a lot. I'm just glad there was no roof. My guide swore that when the horse picked up the pace to a gallop it was smooth sailing. We took off. I was all over the place and having a hard time holding on. I started tilting a little bit to the right. A little bit more. More. More. I faintly hear the guide say "khara!" which is the Arabic equivalent of "shit" as I plunge face first into the sand. My shoulder landed first, then my head smacked the hot sand. The guide rushed over to see if I was ok. I slowly got up and brushed myself off. For the first time in my life I understood the phrase "When you fall off the horse...". It's not easy, you know? Your confidence is shaken. My guide's confidence in me was also shaken and he didn't let go of my reigns the rest of the time. When he took me to the base of one of the Pyramids he made me reassure him that I wasn't going to fall off when I climbed a few levels up. Of course I'm not going to fall. Well, not unless the pyramid picks up and starts galloping across the desert. My shoulder still is sore.

He also made me pose for all sorts of silly poses. You know one of those pictures where it looks like you're holding the pyramid by the tip? Yeah. He also made me jump and took a couple pictures that way. I also stood on the horse. Actually in the end I was pretty pleased with the pictures. He's obviously done this type of thing before.

So the sightseeing portion of my trip is over. I will head back home Sunday morning. I'll see if I can't blog again before I get back to the States.

Until then...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Museum? Snoozeum!

To be completely honest, Egypt doesn't really tickle my fancy (and please forget the fact I just used the phrase "tickle my fancy"). First, they speak a different Arabic here that causes taxi drivers to cock their heads in confusion over what I say and really lessens the albeit small amount I understood in Syria and Jordan. Cairo also doesn't seem to have much of a character to it. It's just a big city. I liked Damascus much more.

So yesterday I side aside a chunk of my day to tour around the Egyptian Antiquities Museum. Everything I read leading up to this trip said it was a must-see stop in Cairo. The museum has over 250,000 pieces of history on display from the very small to the very very large. The sheer number of artifacts was impressive. It was very cool to be walking through thousands of years of history. But I unfortunately didn't enjoy my time spent there. Let me tell you why.

1. Admission is $10. Can't you get into the Louvre for less than that? I mean, you kind of have to pay it because you have to see the museum, but isn't that a little excessive?

2. There's nothing to explain the process of obtaining a guide. I was approached by a couple of men asking if I needed a guide. Of course, if you're approached by a "guide" in any other country you run as fast as you can. These guys aren't legit and are just scamming. Were these guys at the museum legit? I don't know. No one told me. I did ask one guide how much he charged and it was the equivalent of $20 an hour. Considering most spend 2 hours browsing, no thanks. Not for me.

3. If you don't elect to hire a guide, you're on your own. No brochures, no maps, no direction. There is one map in the entrance but you sort of have to walk away from it to see anything in the museum, so it's not much help.

4. Only about 15% of items in the museum are labeled in any way. If they are labeled, it's in Arabic and English and the English is pretty suspect.

5. It's hot in the museum. No A/C. Everyone is walking around fanning themselves with beads of sweat all over. Not only hot, but dusty and dirty.

6. Not that I minded that much, but all the artifacts are just laying around and anyone can touch them. Of course, there are big signs posted everywhere that say "Don't Touch" but what do you think that makes people want to do? Touch, of course. And when it's so accessible, why not? I could have sat in a sarcophagus if I wanted. The huge museum only has a handful of guards and hundreds of people. There's not much they can do.

7. A popular attraction in the museum is the Mummy Room. Where they keep, well, the mummies. I had read in a book beforehand that there is an extra admission fee to the Mummy Room of 20 Egyptian pounds or about $4. Imagine my shock when I get there and see that the actual admission fee is not 20, but 100 pounds or $20. What?! I know some of you (including my mother) would say "Aw, you should have just paid it. Mummies!" But when you read the Arabic and realize they only charge Egyptians $2 to get in, you have to take a stand on principle and refuse. I mean, what sense does it make to charge twice the price of admission to the general museum for one room in the museum? I guess people pay it, though. Just not this guy.

Can you imagine how expensive a trip to the museum could be for a family of four? That would be $40 for entrance fees. About $40 for a guide for two hours, and $80 for entrances to the Mummy Room. $160? Does that not seem like too much to you? Now, I realize these are artifacts that you can't see just anywhere. And, in their defense they are truly beautiful pieces of work and must be viewed. I just think it's a sham with the prices they charge.

Ok, I'm done ranting. I actually had a great evening last night thanks to some cool CSers in Cairo. We all met up for dinner at a place called Sequoia. It was a really spectacular restaurant situated outdoors right on the Nile. We all ordered a sheesha and sat around and talked until 2 in the morning. For those of you who are curious, my new favorite sheesha flavor is lemon mint. I feel like I could get out of bed in the morning and smoke that and not need to brush my teeth. Quite refreshing. And as always, quite the eclectic group of people at the dinner. Me, two grandmothers from Georgia, a New Yorker, an Egyptian-American, an Italian and two Egyptians. We're meeting again tonight for some karaoke. I'll see if I can't get video of me singing some Amr Diab or Nancy Ajram.

Tomorrow I've hired a driver to take me to the Pyramids and Sphinx. That's what I've come for. I'm excited.

I've gotten some great questions so far from you all. I'll answer each and every one of them in a coming blog, but until them, keep sending questions!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


So my trip is winding down and I (as cheesy as this is) want to have an "all-reader edition" of my blog. So I'll take your questions and answer them. Want to know the 5 best parts of the trip? Ask! Anything you want to know just email me, facebook me, post it in the comment section or by any other means you know. I'll then compile the questions and answers and make it my final blog along with my parting thoughts. This is your homework assignment. Get on it!

I Can't Think of a Clever Title

Damascus was top notch. I really really liked the city. It's such a wild mix of people that it makes for intriguing people watching at all times of the day. I was surprised to find out that a little over 10% of the Syrian population is Christian. I would have though the number was much lower, but I would have been wrong. There is a strong Christian community in Damascus stemming from Biblical times. I actually went to the house of Annanias (whom you might remember from your Sunday School class) where Paul stayed for a few days. I forgot how much rich Biblical history resides in Syria.

During the evenings I met with a Syrian named Soubhi. He is fresh out of medical school but didn't ask that I call him Doctor. He was a real down to earth guy who spent some time in the states in Houston working in a hospital. He also holds a slight grudge against UofL because they denied him a position working at their school. I immediately liked him.

We spent the majority of our time just walking the streets of Damascus and talking about life. He is a really well informed guy and made a great tour guide. He told me lots of stuff that I didn't know like how to tell the difference between a Sunni woman and a Shia'a woman by the way they tie their hijab (Shia'a covers the chin). We also talked about Hizballah, Bush and Syrian-US relations. I did notice, however, that when we started talking about these topics, his voice got a little lower and he looked around a lot to make sure no one was listening. I then touted the greatness of America because people literally stand on street corners and speak out against the government because it's their right. I told him the story of the Dixie Chicks and how they fell out of favor with the country music community a few years back.

Last night we met again and went on top (or as close as we could get to the top) of Jebal Kassir, which is a large mountain that overlooks the city. Everyone I spoke to said that this was a must-see in Damascus and they were right. It was a cool, breezy evening on top of that mountain and the view couldn't have been better. Aside from the few fellows who were offering us prostitutes, it was a pretty serene setting. Around 8:45 the final call to prayer for the evening began ringing out from each of the many many mosques that dot the city. Soubhi told me that a couple years back there was a movement to organize one call to prayer so it would be in unison. It was overwhelmingly defeated and it remains that everyone starts on their own clock, which are never ever the same. So from the top of this mountain the call to prayer starts and I tell Soubhi it sounds like a haunted choir. One voice sounds nice, a mix of voices at all different points of the prayer sounds like a battlefield of wounded men moaning. I'm not sure my "haunted choir" label was really understood by Soubhi. He gave me a sympathy laugh. Or maybe I'm just not that funny. That's a possibility also.

So this morning I checked out of my cell at the monestary and through several means of transportation have arrived safely in Cairo. This, of course, was not without its obstacles. More ATMs that didn't work, annoying children sitting in front of me on the airplane that decided to smack me in the head while mamma lit up a cig (I swear to you- this happened. What was the last year you were allowed to smoke on an airplane?? 1985? How can you not know that's not kosher? You should have seen everyone's faces when they first got the whiff of that cigarette. It was a priceless moment.), taxi drivers arguing over cartons of cigarettes (do cigarettes make the world go around?) and a scene straight off of Animal Planet (except involving humans) as I approach my hostel in Cairo. It's been quite the day and now I'm plum tuckered.

I think my plan of attack tomorrow will be to go to the National Museum and relax a bit. I'm not ready to tackle another full day in the heat by going to the Pyramids. I'll save that for Thursday or Friday. They also do an evening light show with the Sphinx and the Pyramids, so I might check that out. There is also a CS meeting tomorrow night that I will attend. I've met a CSer in every country and every city so far, so I can't break the streak now.

That's about all I can think of for right now. It's almost 1am here and I'm not completely sure how to get back to my hostel, so I should probably start looking. I know it's around here somewhere...

A Quick Note

Sorry my blogging has been suspect here. The internet is suspect, also. It won't let me post without certain programs blah blah blah. Hopefully when I land in Egypt tonight these problems will be solved. I'll post more about how much I really liked Damascus and Syria later tonight (or afternoon for my States readers). So all I have to do now is exit Syria, cross back into Jordan, get a taxi to the airport, exit Jordan, wait for my flight, get a Egyptian visa and find my hostel. Sounds easy right? I'll let you know how it goes (along with the story behind the haunted choir of Damascus). Take care!