Been a minute

Ok, so I submitted my thesis two weeks. Spent four days in a haze trying to refocus. Binge watched season 4 of Orange is the New Black and can’t bring myself to watch any more shows as I am restless.

So I here are three projects I am currently working on:

-Need to finish posts about Egypt, especially since the last three days were the craziest

-This past week I have focused all of my energy on what I like to call Leipzig’s Cafe Crawl. Everyday I have spent a few hours at a new coffee shop in Leipzig, trying their coffee and rating it. Who am I to rate coffee? well we live in a world where Donald Trump is running for Prez so I can pretend to be a coffee connoisseur for at least a few more days. Keep an eye out for this blog post.

-Also, since I am finally free of academic obligations. I am reading…. a lot….. and it’s so blissful to not feel guilty to read stuff not research related.

La Dolce Vita Book Club

I devoured A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini and I am currently reading And the Mountains Echoed, also by him. I highly recommend both books and they are like his first book The Kite Runner, heart-wrenching, tragic but also hopeful set in various periods of Afghanistan’s turbulent history.

I also downloaded Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Usually, I am hesitant to read personal narratives about dramatic life journeys but my friend recommended it to me.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway because why not?

My Brilliant Friend: Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. The New York Times did an expose on this mysterious and anonymous writer from Naples. Read a few chapters and wow… her storytelling abilities are impeccable set in post WWII Naples and recounts the lives of two young girls from Naples living during changing times in Italy.

And last but not least…

I am saving this for when I return to California.

HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD!!!

I was so tempted to purchase the hardcover edition today but alas I have no space to take it back with me, it’s either the book or leaving behind another pair of shoes. So I shed a silent tear, and walked out of the bookstore. But I’ve heard mixed reviews… is it worth the wait?

(OBVIOUSLY I AM occupying myself with things to do during my last days in Europe. So (A) I need to get a life (B) Better yet, a job.)

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Luxor

We arrived to Luxor early in the morning after taking a 12 hour train journey from Cairo. Being the budget friendly travelers that we are, we opted for a second-class ticket for around 15 dollars. 12 hours over night on a train is not as bad as it sounds especially if you are exhausted after a long day of exploring. We were awoken by a thoughtful lady who tapped me on my shoulder, “luxor, is here.” Of course, we woke up startled to giggles from fellow passengers seeing us in our morning disarray. We rapidly gathered our things while rubbing and adjusting our eyes to the morning sunlight. One thing was for sure, it’s 8 am and it is already hotter than midday in Cairo.

We were greeted by Ashraf at the train station who guided us to our driver and tour guide. It is not usual for us travel with guides especially to be driven around, we opt to explore a new city by foot and use public transportation. Luxor, is the one place I highly recommend you organize a tour guide and driver beforehand. Way smaller than Cairo, Luxor encompasses all of the amenities of a tourist city. Although, remember how I discussed the decline in tourism, Luxor is one of the places most affected. You can tell by the boarded up shops that probably used to be frequented by visitors a few years ago. Luxor resembles a ghost town and at times it felt like Michelle and I were the only tourists in sight. This unfortunate decline in tourism also means people are a bit more aggressive in selling you tours, papyrus etc… hence why I recommend having an organized tour beforehand, it saves you all of the trouble of being sought after once you reach the station.

Our guide was an enthusiastic local who spoke perfect spanish. I think the tour agency genuinely thought we were from Mexico not US and booked us a guide who spoke Spanish. Worked out perfectly because it was nice to see someone tell us all of the historical facts in spanish instead of English. Our first stop was The Valley of the Kings. If you remember some ancient Egyptian history from elementary school, you’ll recognize the name as the place where they discovered King Tut’s tomb full of treasures. It was surreal to be in a place so desolate yet magnificent and rich in history. Part of the reason why so many pharaohs were buried here is primarily because of the isolated location it meant that thieves couldn’t easily access all of the riches buried with the pharaohs. The valley contains over 60 tombs and chambers and the complex reminds me of a giant ant hill with many paths transversing one another. When you first glance inside one of these chambers, you are rendered speechless. There are no words to describe the astonishment and beauty of the colorful and well preserved hieroglyphics lining the walls of the chambers. It is also very steep and extensive reaching further than I could’ve imagined.

There is no photography allowed on the premises but my friend Michelle managed to snap a quick photo at a cost lol She thought it was completely empty and no one was in sight when she quickly took this picture. A man swiftly appeared out of nowhere and said “I saw that, give me your phone.” Seriously though, where did he come from??? haha He told us that he is going to give the phone to the museum authorities and we would have to pay a 100 euro fine unless…… we gave him some Egyptian pounds and then he would stay hush hush, he motions his index finger to his lips and says “shhhhh” One thing to note here is he does not work there rather he is one of the many men available to show you around for a small price of course. We gave him 20 Egyptian pounds and he gave Michelle back her phone. So word of advice be careful around there, don’t snap photos and if you don’t want to be helped out by any of the men just kindly but sternly say “No, thank you.”


The next stop was the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, a temple dedicated to the sun god Amon-Ra. Another breathtaking sight.
 

Cairo, Day two cont…

Not too long ago (about 7 years ago lol) I completed a program called Ocean For Life where I had the great pleasure of meeting many students from all over the United States and from various countries in the Middle East. Our goal was to promote intercultural communication by driving ocean conservation efforts. For two weeks, we created bonds that will last a lifetime. One of my favorite memories of this trip was being able to catch up with one of my dear friends Ahmad, from Port Said. Ahmad and two of his friends made the 2 hour journey from Port Said to Cairo to meet up with Michelle and I for a few hours before we boarded our 11pm overnight train to Luxor.

Ahmad and his friends Khaled and Ayman welcomed us to their country with open arms in true Middle Eastern hospitality. We were both greeted by big smiles and a “Welcome to Egypt” gifts that Ahmad thoughtfully organized. After not seeing one another for over seven years, we talked as if we had just seen each other yesterday. For me, it was surreal that I was able to meet up with someone in a different continent and make new friends in the process. To be honest, this is a feeling that it will always catch me by surprise. The moment of meeting up with someone in a completely new place and not being aware that you are actually thousands of miles away from the place you call home. There must be a real word for this…. haha Anyway, it wasn’t quite 7pm which is the time they could break their fast, so we all walked around downtown Cairo. It was a breezy day, the hot sun finally forgiving, giving us a small glimpse as its last rays of sunshine disappeared into the hazy Cairo skyline. At 7pm, the sound of prayer erupts all over the city and suddenly Cairo’s streets become dead quite as people prepare themselves for their first meal of the day. You can cross the roads at this time without a care in the world, you can even cartwheel your way across without the fear of being hit by multiple cars at once. The silence is beautiful. No chaos in sight, at least for one hour and then back to normal. We end up eating at Mohammed’s, the papyrus shop keeper. On the menu tonight, is a wonderful spread of salad, fava bean stew with delicious rice. And water, lots of water. After dinner, as people begin their evening routine of shisha, tea and dominoes, we continue to explore the city by night. At this point, the traffic is back to it’s usual clamorous state. We criss cross through throngs of people and make our way to the Nile River, stopping along the way for ice cream, sugar cane juice, cotton candy etc. Ahmad treating us to everything he sees in sight haha. There is a spectacular walkway where you can walk alongside the river. Its immensity is overwhelming and quite amazing. The lifeline of many civilizations. We take a seat right near the edge of the River, admiring the darkness of it and the way the moon reflects on the water. Like I said, Ahmad is treating us to whatever he sees. He comes back with four cups. Inside the cup is a hot broth with chickpeas. You squeeze some lime and chili sauce and then you eat it. So delicious and perfect for a mild evening. I can say I will always remember this moment spent with old and new friends, admiring the strength of the mighty Nile River all while enjoying delicious food. Food, friends and nature, sometimes moments so simple make the most impactful and lasting memories.

 

Cairo, Day Two

On our second day, we decided to explore the Egyptian museum, a beacon of hope and air conditioning during a relatively hot day. There are so many artifacts. Everything is so old, so old that you can’t really grasp the years and years of existence. AD and BC start to become blurry occurrences on a time frame which is difficult to fathom. Probably one of the most amazing exhibitions we encountered was King Tut’s room full of impressive jewelry and artifacts found in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. There were of course, mummies, lots of them even mummified animals. I think I found myself in amazement that the mummies were so well preserved. You can definitely still see the formation of small details of the body that would have otherwise been decayed if they had not been mummified. It was a busy day at the museum as there was the unveiling of new exhibition pieces from Israel. There was a lot of commotion with press and dignitaries parading around the museum. We ended up leaving shortly afterwards and took a stroll among the streets of downtown Cairo.


When you walk around Cairo, one of the first things you notice besides the smog and traffic, is that this city still hasn’t really recovered from the 2011 Revolution which brought an end to Hosni Mubaraks 30 year reign over Egypt. During that time, Egyptians, especially young men found themselves exasperated over an unfair political situation and a future with no job prospects. That exasperation can still be felt throughout the city. The situation, more or less has not improved and the corporate media has completed its mission of painting Egypt as an unsafe country with political and economic strife. This image of Egypt has had dire consequences to one of the most important industries in Egypt. Tourism has dramatically decreased making some shop owners dreaming of “better days” under Mubarak when at least “there was life on the streets.”

Most of my posts about Egypt will focus on the economic and political realities I witnessed. Of course, I was only there for 6 days so I can’t grasp nearly enough of the experiences but in this case it is important to include these perspectives as they shape the quotidian activities of the residents.

Like I’ve previously stated, in a short amount of time Egypt became one of my favorite places. In fact, I am sitting in my room reminiscing about the wonderful time I had there and my wish is that people begin to flock Egypt as they once did because it is truly a remarkable place.

Cairo, Day One

“When crossing the street, close your eyes and pray to Allah,” an Egyptian man told us as we took a deep breath and criss crossed through the chaotic and traffic heavy Cairo streets. We safely made it to the other side, Michelle and I looked at each other surprised that maybe we were finally getting a hang of this.  There are honks everywhere, all the time. Honks to signify hello, to express anger, to express love and just because. This place is beyond chaotic, reaching all of your senses all at once. My friend and I came here on a whim. She called me up three weeks ago and simply stated “Let’s go to Egypt.”


So here we are. Newly arrived in a new city not knowing what to expect. My first impression… it’s not nearly as hot as I expected it to be (boy would that change by the end of the week.) My second impression… this city is really really really old and monochromatic with different shades of light brown reflecting the desert environment. And the last thing. It’s Ramadan. Remember to not eat or drink in front of Muslims, out of courtesy and respect. Turns out Ramadan is a really special time to visit Egypt. People are more considerate and every evening there are large gatherings to break their daily fast of no food or water. Michelle and I were very lucky the first few days to make friends that invited us to their iftar evenings with food. Iftar or “breakfast” as they called it, is the evening meal when Muslims break their daily fast during Ramadan. It’s not difficult to make friends here. Egyptian people are generally friendly and approachable. Randomly stopping you on the street to ask where you are from or just to say “Welcome to Egypt.” of course, there are some that are interested in selling you some papyrus or to take you to a travel agency but besides that we found some lovely people that helped us out during our stay in Egypt. One of them was Ismail. He saw us struggling to cross the street as cars rapidly sped by and we waited in a small corner waiting for the pandemonium to die down. He casually approached us and said “follow me.” Generally, we wouldn’t follow a stranger but he crossed the street so effortlessly that we stood in amazement at his street grace. Ismail is very charismatic, turns out he is Egyptian but has been working and living in Australia, he even pulled out his passport to show us he was being honest with his intentions. Ismail is how we met Mohammed, a papyrus store owner and cook extraordinaire that cooked delicious iftar meals for over 15 people in the evenings. Mohammed is a skinny middle-aged man that loves to talk. He speaks over 4 languages with Italian being his favorite. He honestly spoke like a true Italiano. What we enjoyed about their company is despite having no food or water for over 12 hours, they were very energetic and eager to get to know us. They also did not hassle us to purchase anything, they seemed generally interested in our visit to Egypt. We talked for hours over mint tea and over countless games of Dominoes where Mohammed proved to be the champion. Ismail took us to try fresh mango juice as he discussed his strong connection to his faith.This is the Egypt I grew to love during my six day journey to Cairo, Luxor and Alexandria. There were ups and downs of course, and I am hesitant to write about the bad experiences so I will begin and end with the good, the general picture of Egypt. Because despite it’s shortcomings, this country is thriving and resilient in the midst of political upheavals and just some really bad public perceptions. So as the Egyptians say “close your eyes and pray to Allah,” give Egypt the chance it deserves and you will be surprised by your own initial generalizations.


*more to come

Respect the hustle

I’ll be honest and say I was completely unprepared for my encounter at the grand bazaar. One of the oldest and biggest bazaars in existence, a maze of small shops crisscrossing filled with people. Easy to get lost in and overwhelming. The rules of the game, no set prices, everything is overpriced and its your mission to barter down to a fair price. Easier said than done. As you have to convert to lira and euro all while having the upper hand. Growing up, we would go to swap meets and my father managed to bring prices so low, he would walk away and then be called back to re negotiate the price. I attempted to do this by purchasing one of those fake Michael Kors furry Balls you clip to your hamdbag. Starting price: 120 lira, roughly 40 dollars. First I was perplexed by the apparent absurdity of setting such a high price but then I recognized the need to set such a price, some people will actually pay that price and this game calls for maximum profit not to be greedy or sneaky but to make a living and support your family. 
So the vendor saw the look of horror on my face and said “I give you good price, I bring down to 100 lira” I chuckled and said “no thank you, I’m a broke student” after much bargaining and walking away much like a synchronized dance or an r&b music video where the protagonists leave one another only to be reunited a few seconds later, we finally reached a firm price of 30 lira. I was too exhausted to process the sly smile the vendor had on his face, stealthily hiding the fact that he was still ripping me off. It took me moments after I received my change to realize I paid almost 9 euro (about 10 dollars) for a red furry ball. I walked away conquered but impressed by the tactics utilized. I respect their hustle. All over Istanbul, you see restaurants, shops selling all kinds of items and behind them is a face representing years maybe even days of experience in selling. They are nice, mostly men, charismatic and loud. But they are creative and entrepreneurial. From time to time, they may even yell obscene things to you especially if you are a woman but these instances don’t represent all of the sellers. 
After walking around I reached one of the exits of the bazaar. In a small corner there was a older Turkish man selling beautiful jewelry. I approached his shop and he asked me where I was from. I told him the US and he then asked me what I did. I told him I was a student in Germany and he proceeded to speak German. I obviously didn’t understand since my German is atrocious but then he spoke Spanish and them Italian and then three other languages I couldn’t comprehend. I stood there in amazement. In true Turkish fashion, he offered me some tea and we spent the next few minutes chatting about Istanbul and similarities with Mexican culture. At the end of our conversation, he gave me a blue eye pendent meant to ward off bad energies. I asked for the price and he said “no price just continue to approach the world the way you do.” 

Turkish Delight

Istanbul is a delight! It’s massive, happening everything all at once. Engaging all of your senses. 
Smell: the first thing I smell, is the smell of roasted corn sold by the street vendors scattered throughout Sultanahmet square. The smell of sweet corn encourages me to buy a piece of corn for 2 lira, less than 1 euro. I sit down facing the Blue Mosque, and watch as people from all walks of life engage in something so simple yet so satisfying, munching on corn and taking in all of the sights. 
Sight: The Blue Mosque is as beautiful as I imagined it to be. I’m instantly transported to my sixth grade class where we are discussing the rise and fall of the Byzantine empire and the rise of the Ottoman Empire. Wow! It’s been more than 11 years since I was sitting in that small classroom, telling myself that I would one day travel and see the Hagia Sophia. Now I’m staring directly at the enormous Hagia Sophia with the Blue Mosque right behind me. 


Taste: Turkish Delight, baklava, Kebap, simit, Turkish coffee, apple tea, döner, fish sandwich, ice cream, lahmacun, efez, must I go on. Died and went to food heaven 
Hearing: The call to prayer. Early in the morning, around noon, early afternoon and later on. It comes out of nowhere and instantly reminds you of your surroundings. Beautiful sounds emitted as a mans voice recites prayers. It echoes everywhere. And I’ve never felt so peaceful but never have I been aware of my foreignness, I wish I understood what the lovely voice is saying. 


Touch: After a long day of exploring, my forehead is sticky, a mixture of sweat and the cool breeze as I walk along the Galata bridge. The bhosphorus straddling each side, the breeze mixed with sea water. I sit down, my calves are aching from the small hike up the hill to see the Galata tower. 
Meant to post earlier but was too busy…I don’t what else to say I can’t enough of this city, wish I lived here!