Friday, July 31, 2009

Discovering Egypt

We are in Egypt- I can’t believe I am in Africa. I have wanted to visit Africa since I became involved in Invisible Children back in high school. I took a really great SAS tour of Alexandria yesterday. Our tour guide was a young woman and she was the sweetest tour guide. She gave us so much information about the city and things to do. The tour took all day but was probably the best SAS tour I have taken. Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE. The city is 22km along the Mediterranean Sea and has a population of about 8 million. During our tour we drove past the statue of Mohammed Ali, the founder of modern Egypt. We also drove past the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Pompey’s Pillar, Qait Bey Fort, Abu El Abbas mosque, and the Montaza Gardens where the summer palace of ex- king Farouk is situated. We visited the Catacombs of Shawqafa which were really cool. It is a three- level underground funery. They had a pulley system for lowering the bodies into the catacomb and there was an area where dinners and receptions were held for the dead. Then we visited the National Museum of Alexandria where there are underwater pictures of the excavation of Cleopatra’s sunken palace. They are thinking about building an underwater museum as opposed to trying to actually excavate the palace and bring it to the surface.

We visited the Citadel located on the Mediterranean and had lunch at a local restaurant where we tried a mix of Greek, Middle Eastern, and Egyptian cuisine for lunch.

 Next we visited the Bibliotheca Alexandria which is built on the same site that the Library of Alexandria was once located. The previous library burned down centuries ago, in 48BCE. The only remaining manuscripts and books from the library are located in Austria. The current library can hold 8 million books, however there are only one half million there currently. The library consists of three buildings- the reading room, conference building and a planetarium. The main building which holds the reading room has 11 floors. The main source of light in the reading room is natural sunlight so the roof has windows that are meant to be an eye- the outside has a lip that is the eye lash and the inside has a dip that is the eye lid. The configuration whisks rain water away from the windows and provides as much sunlight as possible. From the outside, the roof is meant to be a sun rising out of the water. On the outer walls there are letters and symbols from multiple different languages to signify the convergence of languages and the learning that goes on inside the building.

Throughout the day we saw a lot of women who were completely covered in Muslim attire, and then we also saw many women who only had their heads covered or nothing at all. Our tour guide explained that women were allowed to wear whatever they wanted; no one was forcing them to dress traditionally and be completely covered. She explained that since Egypt did not have a Muslim government then there are no restrictions for anyone no matter gender or religion. Most of the shops do close on Friday in order for Muslims to observe their holy day and sometimes shops close on Saturday to make it a 2- day weekend.

After we got back to the ship Dan, Lucas, Amanda and I took a taxi to Carrefour, a local shopping mall. We found a taxi driver whom we named Jimmy, for no reason, and he took us both ways to and from Carrefour. He waited for us while we hung out in the mall. We wanted to see a movie but they were only showing movies in Arabic so we just walked around and hung out. We found a Fuddruckers and the boys had never been to one so we decided that we may as well go. It was just like at home, which was fun and funny at the same time. Evidently there are 22 Fuddruckers in the Middle East. After that we walked around and got ice cream from Baskin Robbins- we had a true Middle Eastern experience of course. Actually, most of the stores in the mall were either American or European.

So far Egypt has been a great experience. The country itself is very impoverished and that was what I was expecting. It is refreshing, yet eye opening, to finally visit a country that does not look like an older version of the United States. I am hoping to be able to visit an orphanage on Monday and get that service visit experience as well. I wanted the eye opening and cultural experiences during this trip and I think I have finally found it. Tomorrow I am traveling to Cairo on an SAS trip of a camel ride and jeep safari. We will see the pyramids and sphinx while in Cairo. It is about a 3-4 bus ride into Cairo and it will be a long, hot day.

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