Saturday, September 29, 2012

Copied from Facebook :P


I'm an exchange student. How do you know what a dream is, if you never accomplished one? How do you know what an adventure is, if you never took part in one? How do you know what anguish is, if you never said goodbye to your family and friends? How do you know what diversity is, if you never lived under the same roof with people from all over the world? How do you know what tolerance is, if you never had to get used to something different even though you didn't like it? How do you know what autonomy is, if you never had to decide anything by yourself? How do you know what it means to grow up, if you never stopped being a child to start a new course? How do you know what it means to be helpless, if you never wanted to hug someone and had a computer screen preventing you from doing it? How do you know what distance is, if you never said "I am so far away??'' How do you know what a language is, if you never had to learn one in order to make friends? How do you know what an opportunity is, if you never caught one? How do you know what pride is, if you never experienced it while realizing how much you have accomplished? How do you know what it means to seize the day, if you never saw the time running so fast? How do you know what a friend is, if the circumstances never showed you the true ones? How do you know what a family is, if you never had one that supported you unconditionally? How do you know what borders are, if you never crossed yours to see what there is on the other side? How do you know the world, if you have never been an exchange student?

Friday, September 28, 2012

أسف،أنا مش بيتكلم عربي كويس ! I don't speak good Arabic

I feel like this is a phrase that I have to say very frequently. -.-

Even though I've gotten much better at Arabic since I arrived in Egypt, my Arabic is still terrible.
But I'm trying to do my best at learning it, and I have a few particular strategies that I'm using to try to accomplish this goal:

1) Often times, when people around me are speaking, I try to simply "turn off'' my English brain and simply listen to the Arabic words I can understand, to see if I can at least pick up what the topic is. Sometimes it works, and I'm actually able to learn new words.

2) Calligraphy lessons:
Earlier this week, Regina, Melanie, and I started calligraphy lessons with a very skilled calligrapher that lives in a neighborhood very close to us. He showed us how to write our names in an absolutely GORGEOUS STYLE called diwaani, which is extremely artistic and ornate.
Other styles include naskhi, which is usually used in most print, ruq'a, which is used in handwriting in most Arab countries, kufic, a very old type of script that originated in modern-day Iraq, thuluth, another artistic form often used to write Urdu and Ottoman Turkish, and then Farsi, which is used (pretty obviously) to write Persian.
Our teacher claims that by the end of our stays, not only will we be able to write ruq'a like the natives do, but we will be able to write diwaani as well.
I wonder if this will work out. xD
Inshallah!

3) MUSIC -
I'm trying to listen to lots of Arabic music. Some of the artists I've come to like are older, like Umm Kulthoom herself. Then there's the more modern, pop-style artists, like Amr Diab, Mohammed Mounir, and, also Ramy Sabry.
One of the pop styles is called shaabi. It's kind of a pop style with crude lyrics, and a lot of autotune and synthesizers. It's fun to dance to, but overall I must admit that I don't like it very much, so I'm going to skip over it in the songs I post later. xD
I also really love Fayruz, but her songs are in Lebanese dialect, and since really want to learn Egyptian Arabic, I'm trying to enjoy her songs in small doses only. :)
I will post some videos of my favorite Arabic songs! I'll skip over "Inta 'omri,'' the Umm Kulthoom song, because I posted it already.

4) My brothers have been giving me "lessons" in Arabic and being extremely helpful whenever I want to know how to say something. Also, my host parents are always telling me new words as well. It's a great and convenient way to bond. :) It's funny, because very often we have to speak a very funny mix of bad Arabic and English, that I have dubbed " 'Arabish, combining the words " 'Araby" and "English." xD

5) Just listening and trying to hear new words. I find that I'm able to understand much better than I can speak.
For example, someone might say a verb conjugation that I understand very easily in a sentence, but, if I had needed to use it in a sentence myself, I would have had no idea how to say it.
Additionally, something that I find is happening quite often is that I can understand it quite well when someone is speaking directly to me, but then they turn around and start talking to another Egyptian and I understand WALA HAGA (NOTHING) anymore. -.-

6) My Lonely Planet Egyptian Arabic phrasebook. It has been ridiculously helpful, and is pretty much a pocket-sized textbook.
I've also used, to a lesser extent, the phrasebook from that series entitled "Middle East," which includes a chapter for: the MSA, Egyptian, Lebanese, Gulf, and Tunisian Arabic dialects, Farsi, Hebrew, and Turkish. I figured it might come in handy if I happened to go to or meet someone from a different Arabic country, because although, like I've said, Egyptian Arabic is very well understood throughout the Arab World, these people who understand it don't always know how to reply.
Also, on a slightly unrelated note, I used the book from the "Culture Smart!" series to educate myself about Egyptian culture.
As well as a Lonely Planet guidebook to look at useful information about possible destinations.

If you're going to travel to a foreign country for any significant amount of time, or even just for a short trip, I would definitely recommend bringing those three things (a Lonely Planet guidebook about the country, an LP phrasebook about its language, and a Culture Smart! book about its culture) with you to guide you along.

OK, back to Arabic learning strategies:
7) I often try to watch scenes from movies that I've seen before from my childhood, dubbed into Arabic. I figure that if I watch something where I know the story well and know more or less what is being said, there's a good chance I'll pick up a new word or two.
One thing I can't get enough of is Arabic Finding Nemo. Dory speaking whale is HILARIOUS in the dub. xD

That's all.
My own life, other than starting the lessons, has been pretty non-eventful.
But today HADY CAME TO ALEX!! :)
We wandered around Alexandria for a few hours with him and several of the volunteers until it was time for another AFS meeting.
It was a good day!!
Khalas. Bye!
-Nico
This little book has been my savior in the past several weeks. 

This has also helped to a lesser extent. I sometimes have to hide it from myself, because I get distracted and read the Farsi, Hebrew, and Turkish chapters. xD
This, which I got as a Christmas present last year, has been a very valuable resource (thanks Mom and Dad! <3)

This helped a ton. I was, unfortunately, unable to buy one and bring it with me, but our cultural adviser on Egypt at the PDO, Karolina, let me borrow it and absorb as much as I could (thanks for everything if you're reading Karolina!:)) I tried to find one in JFK before our flight, but I couldn't -.- oh well. It probably would have been very overpriced in the airport anyway! xD

my name in diwaani!

Here are videos of some random Arabic songs, plus Dory speaking whale - bil 'Araby, ta'ban! (In Arabic, of course)
Be warned: Even if you do not speak Arabic, you're in for a lot of laughing. xD


                                   

Monday, September 24, 2012

"Postcards from France," by Megan McNeill Libby

Hey guys, I'm back!
So today, I wanted to write about another good book that I related to a lot: "Postcards from France", by Megan McNeill Libby.
So basically, this is a book written by a woman named Megan McNeill Libby from Ridgefield, Connecticut (and went to the same high school as my cousins who grew up there!) who went on an AFS year program to France in the 1994-1995 school year.
The account of her year is neatly organized into twelve chapters that are called "postcards" in the book, each examining a different topic, from her battle with the French language to her attempt at making a Thanksgiving dinner for her French family, to the good behavior of French dogs, and everything in between.
I read this book two years ago (which is why I didn't think about it for a while until now), when my mom suggested it to me, as she was borrowing it from the chapter leader back in my hometown in Michigan.
And, let's just say that I absolutely devoured this book, being that I have been an aspiring exchange student since age twelve. Because of that, and knowing many exchange students, I understood a lot of what the author was describing really well. And now, thinking back on it, I can relate very much, even though I know that this is only the beginning.
I read the book hoping to gain insights into the experience, and I can safely say that I got many of them. I won't go into too much detail, just in case anyone reading this is actually interested in checking out the story.
So, that's all, really.
It was a very enjoyable read, even aside from all the exchange student-insight-stuff I mentioned. It was very well written, funny, insightful, and interesting. I would highly recommend it to anyone who has been, is, or wishes to be an exchange student at any point in the past, present, or future, and also to any Francophiles out there.
And, of course, I would ESPECIALLY recommend this to anyone who is, has been, or wants to be an exchange student in France itself.
:)

That's it.
Au revoir and ma' as-salama,
Nico

The cover that the copy I read had. 
The different version of the cover. 
France!
AFS France :)



Sunday, September 23, 2012

"The Alchemist," by Paulo Coelho

Hey everybody!
So, today I'm going to write, as denoted by the post title, about a book called "The Alchemist" by the superb Brazilian author Paulo Coelho.
As my sister and I used to say to each other often, thank you, Captain Obvious. ^_-

Anyways, I found this book very much by chance: back in July, when I was on vacation in North Carolina with my dad's family, we were in a bookstore, and I happened across this book. I skimmed over the summary on the back, and caught the words "Egypt," "pyramids," and "personal journey."
Needless to say, I knew what I was going to buy that day. :) 
And, I'm not going to write too much about the plot, because I HATE giving away good books to people, and hate it when people do it to me. 
But, I'll talk about some of the very basic things:
The book takes place in the Middle Ages. It's not said outright, but it's definitely implied in the story. The main character is a young Spanish shepherd named Santiago who, on a whim, after meeting a man who claims to be a king that tells him about the importance of following his "personal journey," sets out to find a treasure located near the Pyramids of Giza.
I really loved the book - the story, the way it was written, the characters, just everything overall.
And I felt like I could really connect with Santiago, because of his personal journey to Egypt, plus the fact that he visits real places there and even befriends a girl named Fatma! :)
The book talked a lot about the importance of realizing one's personal journey, and listening to one's heart, as well as paying attention to the omens around us. Also the idea of beginner's luck - that when someone wants to fulfill their personal journey, the whole universe conspires in their favor.
In some ways, I feel like my personal journey, or at the very least part of it, is probably my experience here in Egypt. I'm happy that I've listened to my heart, and not only chosen to set off on the grand exchange student experience, but also chosen the country that I love. :)
Another thing I really like is that talks about a "language of the world" that everyone can understand. I like this, because I can relate to it a lot, since I've shared a lot of laughs and a lot of memories with people that couldn't speak my language, and I couldn't speak theirs (well). 
Long story short, I thought that it was amazing. I loved it very much and would highly recommend it. Try it, you'll like it!
Since Portuguese is one of the MANY languages I'd like to some day learn, perhaps someday I will be able to read the original version of the book - inshallah.
For now, I'm focusing on 'Araby Masry (Egyptian Arabic).

That's all.
Ma' as-salama!

the English version - the one I read, obviously 
Paulo Coelho!

Loay's Arabic copy :D


O original :)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Egyptian Juice

So here, as promised, is the post where I rant about how incredibly amazing and delicious Egyptian juice is.
But first, an update about my own life. xD

So, the AFS meeting and concert with my host brother were both really cool!
The concert was of a very elegant orchestra with original compositions, so that was really neat.
Then the next day I went out with a group of AFS returnees, among them Takey, plus Regina and Melanie. We ate in an Italian restaurant, and then attended the "International Day of Peace" conference, of which Fatma was a member of the staff - in the BIBLIOTHECA ALEXANDRINA! :D
I had been looking very forward to seeing that, and I was rewarded handsomely, because it's a very nice building, with beautiful architecture. 
The conference itself - as it was all in Arabic - was a little boring, because all I really could do with my terrible agnabi (foreigner) Arabic was sit there and listen to the incomprehensible stream of Arabic, trying not to fall asleep. 
But then, afterwards, an Arabic band called Massar Egberi played! That was really amazing, because the music was helwa (really nice) and everyone was dancing and singing along and clapping. :)
Then today I went out with the same group of people, and we ate out in the Muhammed Ahmed Restaurant, a very famous restaurant, and then visited the beautiful Qaitbey Citadel!
Qaitbey is a fort built by the Mamluk Turks on the spot where the legendary Pharos Lighthouse once stood. It was incredibly beautiful, and I enjoyed every minute of this wonderful day! <3

OK, back to Egyptian juice!
So, I know that it may seem weird that I'm dedicating a whole post to something so random. But, if you tried Egyptian juice, trust me, you'd understand why.
Picture the freshest, juiciest, ripest, most delicious and appetizing piece of any fruit you like in liquid form, served cold. That's the best way I can describe it.
And there's a lot of variety, too! There's the usual kind of thing - apple, orange, etc. But you'll also find pomegranate, kiwi, blueberry, banana, guava, mango, and even sugarcane!
So far, I've had:
1) Apple juice, which was the very first kind I ever tried, given to me by the volunteers in a juice box when they picked us up from the aiport
2)Sugarcane juice, which I drank on my very first morning in Egypt, back in Zamalek.
3)Kiwi juice, in a restaurant
4)Strawberry juice, in a sporting club with my neighbors
5)My host dad's mango juice, which is FREAKING AMAZING. SKYSLDJYRTYFFFERHWSIO.
6)My host dad's guava juice, which is *almost* equally amazing.
So basically, Egyptian juice is freaking amazing and if you EVER GO TO EGYPT YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO TRY IT.
OK, khalas (finished).
This post will have pictures. Yay! ^_^
Bye bye!!

There it is. 

The view from the nady where the AFS meeting was 

the very elegant orchestra

Loay and me :)

from the Peace Day conference. left to right: Youssef, my friend from Taymour who's a returnee that went to Minnesota last year, me, Regina, Melanie, and Adham, who is a returnee that went to Iowa last year
Massar Egberi!
Qaitbey! :D
Self-photography.
My German friend Regina took this. :D Danke and shokran!

From left to right: Ahmed Noh, a volunteer, me, Adham, a returnee, in front of him is Reem, Regina's host sister, Hanan, a returnee, and then Melanie and Regina! :D

This is Alexandria. 

MASR! <3

from one of the arrow-hole-thingies (I'm sure there's a proper term, but obviously I don't know it :p ) 





Wednesday, September 19, 2012

حياتي في مصر

In other words, my life in Egypt.
So, here is the post about my own life that I promised!
My life has been very good.
I'm adjusting as best as I can, and trying my best to pick up as much new Arabic as possible. I can understand it a bit better than I can speak it at this point. But I can definitely feel that I'm better also at speaking, compared to when I arrived. :D
I'm getting along wonderfully with my host family, I REALLY like them. :)
Communicating with my host parents is a bit of a challenge, because they don't speak very good English, and my Arabic is still terrible as well. But at least it makes for laughs!
And we're still able to communicate, and ask each other questions, even tell each other stories and talk...:) It's just that we do it in a mix of bad Arabic, bad English, and hand gesturing. xD
Needless to say, my host brothers have been a huge help to aiding our conversations thanks to their good English.
I don't really have a routine except for school. Every morning I get up at six (HA - more like 6:20) and make myself a glass of tea with milk to drink while I make myself a sandwich or two to bring to school, then I hop on the elevator and exit the building to board the school bus, and in about ten minutes I'm at school.
But after I get home it really just depends. Some days I don't do much of anything. I just do my waagib (homework) and then talk to my host mom. :) Other days, I go out with my host brothers and meet their friends and stuff like that. Then other days I just do random things.
There's not really a fixed schedule at my school, it's different every day. The only fixed thing is that there's a fifteen or so minute break at about 11 every day. School ends at about 3, except on Thursdays where it lets out at one.
There are some English and some Arabic classes, and the principal has decided to exempt me from the Arabic ones. In private language schools like Taymour, if a student or at least one of their parents has a foreign citizenship, they have the choice to be exempted from the subjects in Arabic. If they only have a foreign citizenship (like me), then they are automatically exempted.
But I am taking chemistry, math, physics, biology, French, and English.
Most of my teachers are very nice and helpful, I like them a lot. :)

But, about my school, I think I should be a little more honest about the first day:
To say that it was nos-nos was a big understatement. Terrible would be much more accurate.
One of the worst days of my life so far would be even more so. I don't know, the whole day just had a really negative feeling to it. I felt so awkward and lost, and isolated because I didn't know anyone. Then what happened was that no one told me that I had the Arabic class free, so I sat there as the teacher blathered on for a good forty-five minutes. I should have suspected, SOMEWHERE along the way, that this would happen. But somehow the words "some classes may be in Arabic" never put the picture of how I felt in that class in my mind. I could barely understand anything that the teacher was saying, and this made me feel very frustrated and upset. By the time I was told that I had a free period in religion class, and went to the library, I was feeling a huge surge of negative emotions. I was angry and lonely and very overwhelmed. I didn't know what to do. So I just sat in the library. And I will admit that I cried.
But I think that was a good thing for me, so that I could let out all of those negative emotions that I was feeling.

However, one thing that must be said is that I have no idea where the Taymour that was talked about on the website is. I'm not seeing any of the horseback riding, swimming pool, or other outlandish things that they described there. I felt really bad for thinking this, because it really is one of the best schools in the area. But to my Western eyes, it looked very dusty and run-down.

The good news is that, following the first day, every day at school was a bit better than the one before. Right from the second day, I decided that I was going to create a good, positive experience for myself in that school. So I started talking to people and socializing a bit, and by the end of the first week, I felt very happy. :)
The problem is that I still don't know most of my actual class very well at all, but I'm hoping that will change.
Also, speaking of my friends, I had a surprise a few days ago:
Remember how I said that I was the only foreigner in all of Taymour? Well, I've discovered that that's not actually true.
There are several kids that were born to Egyptian parents in North America and Italy! I've gotten to know a girl named Nehal, who was born in Canada, two boys named Youssef and Hashem, who are from the US - Texas and North Carolina, respectively - , a girl named Sarah who was born and raised in Milan, Italy, and even a boy named Okan who is half Russian and half Turkish, but has lived in Egypt for several years!
I feel very glad to know them, because apart from just being really awesome people overall, they have a lot of insights for me, and I can learn a lot from them, because they are essentially Westerners like I am, but at the same time they know the Egyptian culture very well from the inside.
Nehal in particular has a bit of a shared experience with me - she was in my class for a couple of years, and arrived here without knowing Arabic. And now she's good friends with most of the people from my class, and speaks fluent Arabic!
So things have thankfully improved a lot regarding school, which is good.
This week also felt very different from last week - last week seemed to stretch on forever, yet this week felt like it was over in the blink of an eye.

Anyway, what else has happened....? OH! I met my counselor! For other AFSers who may be confused, we call liasons "counselors" in AFS Egypt.
And for anyone who's not familiar with AFS and is probably VERY confused, these are people whose job it is to check up on a particular exchange student and their host family (separately) at least once a month.
Mine is named Gina, and I like her a lot!
She's very kind and helpful, and has a lot of insights for me as well.
The other day, I met her in a very good way:
We went to the Montaza palace that I mentioned, and met some of her good friends. And I got to swim in the sea, which was amazing. :) It was very clear and warm and beautiful, and we were also treated to great food and a very lovely sunset.

Also, along with Regina and Melanie, I've become a participant of Project Lighthouse, which is a project to educate people about Alexandrian history by eventually going on a scavenger hunt through monuments in the city! :D
My friend Fatma from AFS and my host brother Khaled are also both on the staff.
I'm very exited to participate and learn even more about the incredible rich history that I've talked about in here before!

OK, that's enough for now. I'm going to post some pictures, and then take off to spend some quality time together with my host family before I go to bed. Tomorrow is Thursday (which is pretty much the Egyptian equivalent of Friday in the US; school runs from Sunday to Thursday and then the weekend is Friday and Saturday) and I'm going both to an AFS meeting and a concert with my host brother Loay after school, so I want to be rested. :)
BYE!

the logo

A picture of Khaled and me at the Opening Ceremony of PL

This is the view from my bedroom window
The emptiest beach I've ever seen - this was from the night before the meeting with Gina, when I went to the beach with Loay and a group of his friends, and had a lot of fun :)

The Mediterranean Sea and I :3


The beautiful sunset :)

Gina and I!

^I feel like this song applies to my current situation :D ENJOY IT!
(There actually is an Arabic version, from the Arabic dub of the movie "Brother Bear". But I'm not going to post it, because, admittedly, the English version is way better. :3)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Things I have noticed

Well, about eight months ago, I was rushing and scrambling to complete my AFS application, suffering from lack of sleep from trying to fill out two additional (and very much separate) applications to the YES and NSLI-Y scholarships and cramming for mid-terms, telling myself that every last bit of the sleep deprivation and stress would be worth it once I arrived here.
And so far, I can say with great confidence that this is the truth. (:

So, as denoted by the post title, I am going to talk about things I have noticed or that have stuck out to me significantly since I got here.
I will make another post about my life here another day this week, inshallah.
And since it's SO FREAKING AMAZING, I think I am going to dedicate another post altogether after that to Egyptian juice.

So, anyway, here's my list:
1)There's really an audible difference between formal and Egyptian Arabic.
Some of the volunteers showed us this. Egyptian Arabic is very fast, smooth, and flowing, and in contrast, when they speak in MSA, it sounds really slowed down and controlled, as if they actually need to think about what they're saying.

2) People very often just walk on the street instead of the sidewalk.
We kept doing that as we walked around Zamalek.

3) My nickname, if the pronunciation of the "o" is changed slightly to an "oo" sound from the English "o" as in "OH!", is actually a curse word. 
It basically means "eff him." Therefore I'm introducing myself as Nicholas most of the time.

4) It seems that there are literally ALWAYS people active. 
Like, seriously! If I were to wake up at 4 am unable to sleep, I guarantee that there would be craploads of car horns honking and people moving around, even during the week.

5) The population, while composed mostly of Egyptians, is very diverse in terms of opinions, and lifestyles.
This is one of the first things I noticed, after landing in Cairo. Some people are dressed in completely Western clothes, sporting brand names like Nike and Levi's, and then there are people wearing gallabeyyas and full-body veils. There are also a lot of people in between.
These people are also very different in terms of their opinions. But I don't want to involve a lot of politics, so I'm just going to leave it at that.

6) NO ONE fastens their seatbelts while they're in a car. Additionally, driving is like an amusement park. Except not so amusing at times. xD
The seatbelt thing was very correctly labeled as my first culture shock by Ahmed Qamar, an AFS Egypt volunteer, when we boarded the taxi from the Cairo Airport to the Hotel President in Zamalek.
As for the driving...I've gotten pretty used to it. I'm not worried about any crashes, because, although they're all crazy, they know how to deal with each other.

7) Among hordes of cars and trucks in traffic, you'll randomly find people riding horses and donkeys.
Another culture shock.

8) There's a car horn morse code thing. No joke.
There are different ways that people honk to communicate with each other. For example, a very long honk is very insulting. If you add two short ones after it, then it's REALLY insulting. And, if some one lets you go in front of them, you give one short honk of thanks, and they reply with two short ones to say "you're welcome."

9) Everything tastes different here.
How to explain....? Everything seems to have a more genuine, fresh taste.

10) Weddings are a BIG deal here.
Yesterday my host mom called me out to the balcony to show me a couple that were exiting our building to go off and get married, and the group had a mini-party in the parking lot for about 15 minutes, complete with energetic dancing, lots of fireworks, and loud ululating and drums.

11) One of THE most widespread stereotypes about Americans here is that they're ignorant and don't know anything about the world outside the USA.
While I realize that this is at times very true (sorry other countries), I get annoyed by this sometimes, because (DISCLAIMER: I MEAN NO OFFENSE IN ANY WAY AND THIS IS NOT A CRITICISM), for all they can say about American ignorance, many people don't know that much about the world around them here either.
For example, when people ask me where I am from in the United States, the answer "Michigan" usually draws the response of "oh...do you mean California?" or simply blank stares.
To many people here that don't have a reason to know more, such as a passion for geography/traveling, or personal connections, like a relative living there (which many people do have), the USA is simply New York City and Hollywood with a whole lot of emptiness in the middle.

12) There are some weird cultural rules about the way that people of the opposite genders socialize and interact with each other that I, as a foreigner, find it very difficult to understand.
In my school it's hardly noticeable. I see boys and girls socializing with each other quite freely.
And I guess that the rules I've mentioned aren't hugely noticeable overall, especially in an environment of liberal people, such as Taymour. I mean, boys and girls are free to talk to each other and socialize and be friends and stuff like that. Most of them even date. But dating is weird here compared to the west, because it's often frowned upon by some more conservative Muslims. People still do it, because dating itself is not explicitly forbidden in the Koran. But it's perhaps most different in the fact that, basically, to stay culturally appropriate, the most you can do in public is hold hands, put your arms around each other, and give each other short little hugs.
If a hug gets longer, than it becomes a bit of a cultural problem.
And let's just say that even married couples hardly ever kiss in public.
As a Westerner, this is in many ways confusing and strange to me. I don't understand it, but I am happy to follow it, because I want to follow the culture of this mysterious but beautiful country I have chosen.
At the same time, however, I often am very frustrated by this in particular. I have a few friends here that happen to be girls, and at times I really wish I could give them the sorts of platonic hugs that would be completely normal back in the USA.
But here we have to settle for reserved, awkward handshakes to greet each other and also to say goodbye.
And, to be blatantly honest, I find this EXTREMELY annoying.

13) Arabic is an extremely poetic, emotional language.
I can't tell you how many times my host family has said to me "that would make no sense if it were translated. And honestly, I believe them, because some examples of the emotion include:
Have a good trip (terga' bissalama, which literally means "come back with peace."
The omnipresent greeting of as-salamu 'aleikum.* (peace be with you)
One of the many ways to say "how are you?," akhbarak/ik eh? (which kind of means "what's your news?" or "what's new?"
Other words I love are "maashi," which is like saying "OK," but it literally means "it is walking," "ma'lesh," which is pretty much an all-purpose-excuse-me-sorry-my bad kind of word, and then of course the famous word "inshallah," which means "God willing," basically used after any sentence where you describe something you'll do at any point in the future, weather it's as close as meeting up with someone in an hour or talking about what you'd like to be when you grow up. It may seem strange, but it comes quite naturally now and I actually have come to like this word quite a lot. Think of it as an all-purpose disclaimer. :)
By the way, if you wondered about the slashes, it's because there's a masculine and feminine you in Arabic.
*And NO Americans, it is NOT "Salam salikum." IT'S AS-SALAMU 'ALEIKUM. If you're going to say it, please say it right. *Cough cough my family cough cough. Haha I'm just messing with you guys :D

The funny thing is that, as awful as my Arabic is, people are still shocked by the fact that a Westerner knows any Arabic at all. Usually, anything I say, even if it's very simple, like "ezzayyak/ik?" (how are you?), "ma feesh mushkila" (no problem), or even just "inshallah," draws a smile and a hearty "mashallah!" (It sort of means "congratulations.." It's really hard to translate. It's kind of a word that you use when you're telling someone that they have something really nice. EX. you'd say mashallah if you see that someone has a nice report card or something of this nature.)
Also, Arabic love words are absolutely BEAUTIFUL. They're so poetic! Examples include:
1. Bamoot fiki, which literally means "I die inside you(a little creepy, I know. I thought that at first, but I don't anymore:P)." It's a way to kind of tell someone you're crazy about them.
2. Ba'shaik, which means something like "I adore you" or "you're my everything" (I've heard different translations from different people
3. Inta/inti omri, which means "you're my age" or "you're all my years of life"
4. Inta/inti hayati, "you're my life"
and then of course there's also bahebak/ik, simply "I love you." :)

14) Some people have told me that I do not look very obviously Western.
I've actually had people that I meet at school ask me if I'm Turkish, Lebanese, or Syrian!
Interesting.

15) EVERYONE litters, and therefore there is a lot of garbage in the street.
This is very annoying for me, as I am a bit of a tree hugger. :3

16) Most small children are extremely loud and rowdy and won't shut their mouths ever.
One of the more annoying things I've encountered.
And I think that if I see ONE MORE CHILD throw a piece of trash out of the school-bus window, I am going to scream. -_-

That's all for now.
I'm going to make this a boring post without a picture. Sorry. :P
I will post again soon as promised!
Ma as-salama!
^I thought to post this when I was writing about the love phrase "inta/inti 'omri"-this is a famous song by the legendary Egyptian singer Um Kulthum, who used this phrase in one of her most famous songs.
Check it out if you like!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I'm in Egypt now! أنا في مصر دلوقتي !

I HAVE ARRIVED. IN EGYPT. FINALLY.

Sorry that I'm late in saying this, but it's just that since I arrived, I've been really busy.
In fact, so many things have happened that I feel like it's been more like a month that I've been here, rather than just a few days.
So, let's start from the beginning:
Carson and I left the orientation at nine in the morning on the 6th. We therefore missed pretty much the whole second day of the orientation. I was a little sad to say goodbye to the nice people that I'd met there, but at the same time I was itching to get going, and I guess we were lucky that we got to eat breakfast and leave straightaway rather than having to wait until the evening to leave like most of the others.
We were bused to JFK, and then waited about two hours before, full of excitement, a little bit of fear, and lots of anticipation, we boarded our Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul.
I didn't know Turkish Airlines at all, so I had no idea what to expect from it. But it was really nice! The plane was very new, clean, tidy, quite spacious, and had really large, individual entertainment screens. The food wasn't even that bad!
Advice: If you ever fly TA, try their sour cherry juice. It's really very good.
Anyway, we passed most of the time by talking, watching movies, writing in our journals, discussing our fears and excitement for our experiences, and playing cards. It was fun! :)
One thing that I also did was to continuously check the orientation schedule, which I took with me, to see which of my new friends were getting on their own flights. There were a lot to go through, as we were the second-earliest group to leave after South Africa. What was really funny was that, by the time we landed in Istanbul, the girls going to Ghana, who were the very last group to leave, had only just left New York!
All this made the 9.5 hour flight seem to pass by in no time, and before we knew it, we were landing in Istanbul!

The odd thing though was that, since the flight left so early (1 pm) from JFK, it was only midnight according to our body clocks when we landed in Istanbul at 5:30 local time, so we didn't feel tired at all!
Kida kida (anyway), when we left the plane and started walking around the airport, we ran into a huge group of Thai AFSers, who presumably were also in transit to their new countries. That was a pretty awesome moment, I have to say. :)
But, let's just say that the Istanbul Airport is structured in a pretty unusual way. Basically, it has two floors. And although we deplaned on the first floor, there was an almost creepily small amount of people moving around on it. We went to the gate that was marked as our connecting gate to Cairo on our boarding passes. But there was no one there, and a sign that said "employees only" or something like that. And after a while, we realized that our flight was going to leave from the second floor of the airport, and that we needed to go walk back and go through a security line, up a flight or two of stairs, and THEN search for our gate all over again! And so we did. But since our layover was only an hour, things very quickly turned into a mad dash. As we began to run at breakneck speed, swerving and dodging around people, utterly panicked that we would miss our connection, they even CALLED OUR NAMES OUT ON THE ANNOUNCEMENTS. At which point we turned and looked at each other, while still running, and simultaneously declared, "OH <insert bad word here>." xD
But thankfully, we finally saw our connecting gate, with the plane still there, quickly and breathlessly presented our boarding passes and passports to the gate agents, and then rushed down the jetway into the  plane itself, collapsed into our seats, and both breathed a huge, deep sigh of utter relief.

Then, we took off into the beautiful Istanbul sunrise, and continued on to Cairo. The flight was only an hour long, and it felt both very short and at the same time long in a way that was almost surreal.
As our plane flew over the Turkish landscape, and eventually the Mediterranean Sea, the Egyptian coast, and then on and on over vast expanses of desert, and finally over the enormous, bustling metropolis of Cairo, I finally realized what was happening: The moment I have been dreaming of since I was twelve, the beginning of my adventure in Egypt, the moment of my arrival, was FINALLY coming true.
The only way that I can describe it is that it really truly felt like a dream. It was an otherworldly, surreal, dreamlike, and utterly beautiful experience. I felt completely numb and yet full of emotion at the same time. It was an incredible feeling, one I've never felt before, and I doubt I'll ever feel it again, given how unique that moment was.
As the plane finally came to a stop, and Carson and I stepped off, onto the jetway, and into the airport, hearing Arabic being spoken at a mile a minute, we looked at each other and thought out loud,
"WE'RE HERE."

I had this odd feeling of amazement, awe, and "OHMYGODI'MINCAIROANDI'MONTHEOTHERSIDEOFTHEWORLDANDHOLYCRAPWOW" for the rest of that day.
Two AFS Egypt volunteers, named Mohammed and Ahmed, came to pick us up at the airport and then took us to the Hotel President in Zamalek, a very upscale, very westernized neighborhood on an island in the Nile. We rested for a little bit, then Hady, my Egyptian friend who stayed in my hometown with AFS, came with a German girl named Regina who had arrived the night before us.
Then Fatma arrived!!!!! And she brought with her another volunteer from Alex, named Takey. And we walked around Zamalek together. Since it was Friday, we saw people praying. We also got to try sugarcane juice!
Eventually, we had some shwarma for lunch, returned to the Hotel President, and then rested for a while. The Germans- one boy named Tim, and four girls named Annika, Melanie, Imke, and Saba, arrived at about 4:00 PM, which I found out about by way of my roommate Tim entering the room and waking me up from my nap. xD
I didn't mind though, I wanted to meet him and needed to wake up anyway! :P

Kida kida, after that we went out to dinner in a nearby restaurant, and I tried molokheyya, a kind of Egyptian traditional soup. And then: WE WENT ON A BOAT RIDE IN THE NILE RIVER.
That was what Hady meant when he said that there would be a surprise when we arrived. SKDHSOSFSKOHMDGSKOHS.
We played Egyptian music, and danced, sat up at the front of the boat, and it was so much fun! :) There was a really awesome moment when we passed by a boat full of other people, and they waved to us and sang and ululated. :) That was one of the best nights of my life, and I'll never forget it. :)
The next day we actually started the arrival orientation, and we talked about Egypt and its culture pretty much all day except lunch. Then the Cairo kids got picked up by their host families, and at about 7:15 the Alexandria kids went to the train station to go come here! But we very nearly missed that too, because we left the hotel too late to begin with, and then we had to split up because we all wouldn't fit in one taxi. Takey, who was in a taxi with me and Melanie, also had all the tickets, so Fatma and Regina had to wait for us! And then on top of everything Takey, Melanie, and I got STUCK IN TRAFFIC. And I don't just mean any traffic - I mean Cairo traffic.
Infamous, painstaking, insanity-inducing, infuriatingly snail's-pace-slow Cairo traffic.
But we made it, just barely, by getting off in a spot on the street near to the train station, and then RUNNING LIKE THERE WAS NO TOMORROW. Takey chivalrously seized our bags and then started to run so fast that one of our inside jokes of the night would later be "Takey for Superman," and Melanie and I ran at a similar pace just to keep up with him. We finally breathed a sigh of relief as we ran onto the platform that our train to Alexandria was leaving from, and saw that it was still there. Almost completely ready to leave, and seconds away from leaving. But still there.
We then said a quick goodbye to Hady, and the train slowly, gradually pulled out from the station, beginning the final part of our long voyage to Alexandria - the city that will now be our home for the next ten or so months. And we even managed to have a lot fun on the train! We talked and laughed endlessly, and it made the train ride go by really fast. When we arrived, after 2.5 hours, we were welcomed by our host families, and mine is SO NICE. I was REALLY nervous to meet them while we were on the train, but all of that went away very quickly when I got off the train, recognized them from their pictures that I had seen, and saw the way that they smiled at me and greeted me like a long-lost relative. All of my fear and nervousness almost instantly melted away, and I felt that as far as my host family goes, I was in for a real treat. :)
Ahmed, my host father, Amal, my host mother, and Khaled, one of my two host brothers that will be at home this year since Gaser is in the U.S., were there to welcome me, and then they took me to their apartment. Loay arrived shortly afterward from work. Their home is really beautiful, too. It's pretty small and compact compared to the average American home, but I guess that that's partly because it's an apartment. Either way, I don't mind it; to me the smaller size just makes it feel really cozy. :)
Anyway, their amazingly nice neighbors then came over! And their three children Abdullah, who's 13. Ahmed, who's 9, and Mohammed, who's six have been incredibly nice to me since I got here. They've been talking to me endlessly, helping me out a lot, going out of their way to make sure I'm having fun, and are over all just really nice. :)
We stayed up really late talking and eating and having fun, and I called my parents back home to let them know that I had safely arrived and was with my host family.
I ended up going to bed at about 4:00 AM. XD

It must be said that for people who have never hosted a foreigner before, with AFS or otherwise, my family sure knows how to handle a foreign teenager with limited Arabic. :)

Then the next day, my host mother and I went to my school to buy the uniform and such. That, technically, was the first day; but my host family mercifully decided to let me take it off since I had only just arrived. I was terrified when I learned that I would have to start school so soon. :( And surprised for that matter, because the AFS Egypt volunteers had all insisted in the arrival orientation that there was no way school would start before September 18 or so. So much for that. >.<

Later that afternoon, my host mother and I went to the Montaza, the summer palace of King Farouk, who ruled Egypt in the mid-twentieth century (but was overthrown by President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1952 revolution), and met up with our neighbors and their cousins there. I swam in the pool, which was a really refreshing experience, and then we played soccer and explored the Montaza together a little bit.
On the way back, since my host mother and I had taken a taxi there, our neighbors and their cousins insisted that we HAD to let them give us a ride back home - so all TEN of us somehow managed to cram ourselves into a car meant for five at the maximum. xDDDDD They were joking for some time about poor English skills in Egypt and translating Arabic directly into English (which, I can confirm, makes for some laughs xD), and even though I certainly did not understand all of the things that were said, I found what I understood hilarious and felt very happy. :) That evening will probably stand out as one of the most special memories of my entire exchange.

Then yesterday I started school.
And I won't lie, it was a pretty nos nos (so-so) experience. I felt very awkward and lost not knowing anyone, and then I sat through a forty minute Arabic class, and hardly understood anything. Luckily, the teacher just talked the whole class and didn't ask any questions. xD
I felt pretty sad by the middle of the day, but Youssef, an Egyptian who went to Minnesota with YES last year, who's in the class above me, made me feel better by talking to me and telling me that he went through a similar first day in the US.
Actually, I asked several other people who answered me similarly.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. I found out that I get a free period during religion class, because I'm neither Muslim nor Coptic.
Today was much better, though. I feel really a lot happier; I talked to people, and there was just overall a positive feeling to it. :)
That's all.

BYE! And tisbahu 'ala khayr! (Goodnight everyone!)

the sunrise in Istanbul, just before we took off
On the boat on the Nile!

They don't call Cairo the City of a Thousand Minarets for nothing :)
my arrival in Alex!! :)

Mohammed and I made this together :D

I found this on my closet door :')
here's some more pictures:
Goodbye, USA!


One of my best plane shots.


From the descent into Istanbul. 


Another felucca picture.


The view of Zamalek from the Hotel President

Felucca

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I'm at the gateway orientation!

And it's actually been really awesome!!! :)

Trust me, if you're a future exchanger, you are GOING to have fun at your gateway orientation. It's impossible not to, because you're put together with about a hundred other teenagers that are full of enthusiasm and energy, and looking forward to a shared experience. And they are some of the nicest, coolest people you'll ever meet. :)

Anyways, I arrived at about 3:30 this afternoon, said goodbye to my dad, and then checked in, after which I was considered officially on program!
So I guess this is my first post as a legit exchange student...? xD
Oh well.
Anyway, it was really awesome because I met so many people going to, in particular, France, Spain, and Italy. But there are also people going to a bunch of other countries - Ghana, South Africa, Turkey, Bosnia, Portugal, the list keeps on going! And of course Egypt!
The Frenchies in particular were pretty awesome! I'll miss all the cool people I was talking to today :( Hopefully I'll get to do some more of that in the morning before I leave!
One thing I found very funny was that the Spain group was LOUD. XD I don't hold it against them, as they were a really big group and we were all really exited. I know I was very exited to meet the girl going to Egypt. But I will admit to turning around, getting up out of my seat, and calling out "¡España, cállate!" several times. :3
Anyway, we watched a video on the history of AFS, played human bingo, split off into groups for icebreakers and such, and then got debriefed on our own respective countries by experts.
Ours for Egypt was a very nice volunteer named Karolina who spent a semester at the American University in Cairo during college.
It appears that, apart from myself, there is only one other exchange student going to Egypt: a girl from Portland, Oregon, named Carson.
She's really awesome and I'm happy we'll be traveling together! :D
Speaking of which, right after our country-specific meeting, Carson and I were informed that our itinerary has been changed, because apparently a large group of Lufthansa employees are going on strike in the Frankfurt Airport, so instead, we will be flying Turkish Airlines and connecting through Istanbul!

All in all, so far this orientation has been really fun! I'm glad we had to do this! :D

Well, for now I guess there's one more thing to mention:
How I'm feeling.
I'm feeling very much...in the middle of things. I feel like I'm halfway there, looking on towards all the incredible adventures that lie before me. I'm about to embark on the greatest adventure of my life so far, and I couldn't be more exited. :')
Well, I guess this really is the goodbye post!
I will miss all my American family and friends, and all the incredible people I met today that are headed off to countries all over Africa and the Mediterranean.
EGYPT, HERE WE COME!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :D
Ma as-salama ya Amreeka,
~Nico
a picture before our final goodbye!

a Korean Air plane that I photographed on the drive to the JFK airport hotel, when we were very close to the airport 

I took this a few hours ago :) it's the view out a window on the...4th floor, I think
Globally yours.
(Turkish Airlines plane in flight, with the slogan include d underneath :P)

Also, I think that this song is perfect for the journey we're all about to embark on:
ENJOY!
And here is the Arabic version, which I think is beautiful:




Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tomorrow, my exchange year officially begins!

Tomorrow, my dad will drop me off in Queens at a JFK airport hotel for my gateway orientation.
And I will, as my post title suggests, have officially begun my year as an exchange student.
I feel so EXITED!!!!
Even though I've heard that the orientations are a bit repetitive, I'm so exited to meet all the kids that are in my shoes! I have a very odd feeling of butterflies and tingling in my stomach. :3

My trip to New Jersey has been pretty good. I've just been having fun with my relatives, saying goodbye to as many of them as I can. I was touched at the amount of them that came long ways from their homes all over the East Coast to visit me. :')
I also spent today in New York with my dad! I visited the United Nations headquarters and the Tenement Museum, both of which I'd highly recommend.
I actually had a very funny moment in the UN headquarters: my dad and I were about to take a guided tour, and we noticed that there was an Italian one leaving about twenty minutes earlier than the next English one, and since we'd both be able to understand, we went on the Italian one. xDD

There's not really much else to write about; I've gotten most of my saddest goodbyes out of the way before I left Ann Arbor....One thing about my goodbyes, that surprised me, was that I didn't cry once. o.O And I totally expected to...But I just didn't. I felt calm and collected. It was a little strange...
Although I did have a really incredible, almost zen-like feeling on the flight from Detroit to Newark:
As the plane pulled away from the jetway, and then eventually took off, and the state that I have lived in for 15.5 of my sixteen years unfolded before me - rolling fields, lakes, forests, all blended together into the beautiful Michigan landscape - and being able to see for miles around me without having to even strain my neck, I felt so small. I felt that I was a tiny little being in this huge world in which we live. It was a peaceful feeling of wonder.
Yeah, that's pretty much it. x3
OH!:
One other thing I'm exited about is being able to meet all the Italy-bound AFSers. Since I know the country so well, I can help them practice the language and answer any questions they might have about the culture or the people or just life there in general. :)

I may try to post during the overnight orientation itself at some point, but since I don't know for sure if that will be possible, this may be the last chance I have to post before I arrive IN EGYPT!
So, just in case:
GOODBYE AMERICA AND ALL MY FRIENDS AND FAMILY HERE!!!!
I love and will miss you guys and promise to keep in touch!
Bye for now,
~Nico
On the day I left Michigan with my dad, September 1. Setting off on the greatest adventure of my life so far. 

!the clock in Grand Central Station


My dad and I in the General Assembly of the UN.
we stumbled across the Egyptian office in the UN. 

forgive me, but I totally forgot where I took this. :3

 A really cool shot of a car and a taxi going in opposite directions!