Happy new year! At camp, every night before bed we shared our rose, thorn and bud for the day– that is, the most positive experience, the most negative experience, and what we looked forward to most. Here’s my RTB recap of the last month:
-My family (Mom, Greta, Noah, uncle Steve and aunt Karen and my cousins Luke, Isaac and Levi! We were a veritable herd of gringoes) came to visit for Christmas! It was wonderful to have them here, for many reasons. I realized how much I’ve learned about Egypt and navigating Cairo, and that I am at least proficient at ordering tea in Arabic. It gave me a chance to take a break from my project and gain some perspective on what I’m doing here and where I’m going next. We got the chance to witness the absolute splendor of the ancient Egyptian monuments, which are indescribable. Wandering the statue-crowded halls of the Egyptian Museum among rows and rows of golden sarcophagi, gazing up at carved columns and obelisks, descending into tombs entirely covered with elaborate paintings– it was amazing to see things I’ve seen in pictures and textbooks for so many years. My favorite quote, an Arabic proverb: “Man fears time, but time fears the Pyramids.” Maybe the ancient Egyptians were wrong in thinking they could take their gold and their mummified organs with them into the afterlife, but I wonder if anyone will look back at our civilization and be impressed by the beautiful things we leave behind. After we got a little ancient-world-weary, we spent a few days on the Sinai Peninsula, enjoying the Red Sea and climbing Sinai. I had an incredible time snorkeling and scuba diving, enjoying the amazingly blue water and the kaleidoscope of brilliant coral and fish. I was reminded again of just how much I love being in the water! I’m now prematurely excited for snorkeling and other ocean-related activities in Indonesia.
-Playing ultimate in Cairo: during the month when I was based in Cairo, I played pickup twice a week, in an unkempt, dusty park in the shadow of the Cairo Tower. Of course it was amazing to once again be playing a sport I love, but pickup was also wonderful for the variety of players: many Egyptians, but also people from Bangladesh, the U.S., Pakistan, Poland, Germany and elsewhere. Often, people go out for Yemeni food after it gets too dark to play, and on and off the field there’s a real sense of camaraderie.
Breadmaking at my friend Karim’s farm:
I still don’t know exactly how to express the sense of slight dissatisfaction that’s been nagging me. Part of the problem is that I haven’t found many words to describe my experiences here in Egypt– I obviously haven’t been updating my blog, and my journaling is dwindling too. Cairo is notorious for its traffic, and I’m beginning to think that the chaos and congestion is rubbing off on me– physically, mentally, and emotionally, I often feel like I’m in the middle of a traffic jam. It takes a lot of time to get around the city, and I’ve had to relax my ideas of how much I can get done. At the same time, I’m frustrating myself with my indecision both about what I should dedicate myself to in Egypt, and which country I should go to after this. I’m disappointed in the limited progress I’ve made toward my project goals in the time that I’ve been here. I also realized today that while I’ve made friends in Egypt, I can’t say that I’ve really found a community– and that’s difficult.
-During the time with my family, I also somehow lost my beloved, valuable, and excellent camera, which makes me really sad– it’s been a great companion for me this year. After taking good care of all my possessions in Guatemala, I’ve lost so many things in Egypt!! (Maybe this is the baksheesh I pay for being here?)
Recycled rag rugs at APE (the Association for the Protection of the Environment):
“Have you noticed any changes in Siwa, since you were last here?” Abdullah Eid, coordinator of a local cultural heritage preservation project, asked me this morning during our meeting. I arrived in Siwa yesterday, and hadn’t noticed anything especially different except the cooler weather. He told me that changes in Siwa are accelerating so rapidly– with a new airport slated for construction this year, and ever-rising numbers of motorcycles and 4x4s in a town where donkey carts once ruled the streets– that I might have noticed something, even though I was here a month ago. With the rise in tourism and traffic come even greater challenges for Abdullah and others in Siwa who are working to build consciousness about celebrating Siwan identity and advocating for sustainable forms of development and modernization that respect the culture of this place. Abdullah’s words got me started thinking once again (I think about this often) about the contradictions and conflicts between cultural and community integrity and progress narratives of modernization-oriented development– and also about what it would mean for Siwa to develop sustainably, balancing its past and its future. What will increasing numbers of foreign tourists wearing tank tops and shorts mean for the women of Siwa, in their veils and long flowing robes? What will tourism do to the date palm groves, to people whose livelihood depends on carefully irrigated gardens of olive trees and alfalfa?
Why is this a bud? I think just because I like to be thinking, and because I feel lucky to be in Siwa now, at this time of transition and changes, and because for the next month, I will be in places far from Cairo’s traffic where I can interact more closely with craftswomen and people supporting craftswomen than I have so far in Egypt.
Thanks for reading! Leave me a comment, it’ll make me smile.