Tuesday, January 29, 2008

In which I ride on horseback through the Western Desert

There is a reason the pyramids were deemed one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The pyramids at Giza are huge, imposing, and a little bit spooky; seeing them at night only heightens the effect. AUC took students at night because we all had three hours of Arabic class which didn't end until 7:30. The bus ride is only about 45 minutes from downtown Cairo, and you can see the pyramids winking in and out between the skyline as you get closer. When we got to the edge of Giza there were dozens of saddled horses waiting for us. I hadn't ridden a horse in several years, but I managed to get in the saddle and ride through the last outskirts of the city without falling off. The city stops abruptly. You turn a corner and immediately are faced with wide, sloping sand dunes stretching out into the night.

The silence of the desert only seems denser after a quick departure from the chaos of the city. I was ready to go galloping across the dunes, but my trusty steed did not seem so inclined. She trotted slowly...very slowly, and probably could have given Rocinante a run for her money (for further details, see Don Quixote). Despite the snail's pace, it was still amazing to watch the city recede behind us to our left, and see the pyramids loom in and out of sight on our right. The nights in Egypt are cold, and we were all really glad to get to a campfire after an hour or so before we turned around to head back home.

On the way back, the group leader assigned me to a different horse, who was happy to take me through the desert faster. I had so much fun riding through dunes back to the edge of the city, and was one of the first people back. At the end of the trip I was tired and freezing, but fulfilled, and happy to be alive.

Pictures: these are both of people around the camp fire. I have ones of the pyramids, but they're super dark. Sorry these are blurry, but they wouldn't turn out at all with the flash.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

And so it begins...

Every Muslim call to prayer begins with,"Allah u Akbar, Ash-hadu alla ilaha illallah." These words are fresh in my mind, because they were the ones that woke me up at exactly 5:21 this morning. Apparently the call to prayer is one of the many things you get used to after awhile here. Cairo is completely different from what I was expecting, and different from every other place I've been to. For some reason, I was anticipating huge adobe buildings shambled together, one on top of the other. Cairo does not have adobe buildings. It is not a Pueblo Indian settlement, and this is not 1862. Cairo looks like a dirtier, denser, more rambling version of a large European city. It is loud, and crowded, and full of a million things to uncover.

My current housing is pretty far away from the university. Getting there last night was a bit of an adventure, because driving in actual lanes seems to be optional. For every three lanes, there seem to be five that people drive on. My room is small and clean, but I think I might be switching to an apartment closer to campus, or get a non-campus apartment. There are a thousand things to take care of right now, and I'm mostly just trying to get my feet on the ground. There are tons of international students here, so I've been meetings lots of people and making new friends. I'm tired and a bit disoriented right now, but happy to be here and start figuring out how everything works. I miss everyone a lot, but am excited for this crazy, chaotic adventure. Wish me luck!