A real update!!!
Posted by Jordan Reiter on November 15 2007 at 2:48 p.m.
Okay, so here's what's been going on in my life, really.
Going way back in the time machine: unfortunately, a classmate of mine who I was becoming good friends with had to leave Egypt in a hurry, basically because he couldn't stand being in Egypt because his landlady (who he also lived with) was driving him insane. It was a real shame -- she was a great cook (I broke the Ramadan fast at his house a couple of times, and she cooked all the meals for him) but totally مجنونه (magnoona, crazy). She had a very negative viewpoint of things, and this flavored his perception of Egypt. Added to that, he was a devout Muslim and although Egypt is a de facto Muslim country, it's also very secular. As a result, you get a lot of people who are Muslims but aren't very serious about Islam. It's expected really -- a study suggests that http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/03/22/wrelig22.xml&sSheet=/news/2005/03/22/ixworld.html">spirituality is a genetic, rather than cultural, trait. According hile identical twins tended to have the same spiritual practices as they got older, non-identical twins would diverge in their spiritual practices.
So, in a country of href="http://www.google.com/search?q=population%20of%20egypt">80 million people, of whom around 90% are Muslims, it would make sense that a lot of Muslims just aren't as into Islam as more observant types. My friend got pretty disheartened at the things her perceived as happening -- dishonesty, greed, theft (his mobile phone was stolen in a mosque of all places).
I still hold that the Egyptian people on a whole are very honest, generous, and rarely if ever will steal from you (yes, my wallet was eventually swiped [although I may also have simply lost it], but after 8 months in a very poor developing country that's pretty good I think -- and there's been many times that I've left money lying around and it's been untouched. Oh, and good luck ever accidentally leaving a slip of paper or a banknote on the ground -- someone will always pick it up and hand it to you, a true blessing to an absentminded person like myself).
After 6 weeks he finally left the apartment but basically at that point Egypt was ruined for him. He was worried about his visa, which scary crazy landlady had procured for him, and also worried that somehow the landlady would do something to him, despite our constant assurances that as an اجنبي (agnabi, foreigner) he was effectively untouchable. He went back to Scotland, where hopefully he is doing well.
Moving forward: okay, so since then there has been around a month or so of Arabic. At this point, I can actually do things like read somewhat complicated sentences. My main problems in Arabic right now are vocabulary, listening comprehension, writing Arabic (especially my lousy handwriting) and reading out loud. So, practically everything. I've definitely improved here in Egypt but I wonder if I was actually enrolled in a University program -- as some of my fellow classmates are -- whether I would be pushing myself a bit harder. Although, I suppose if I was in university I wouldn't also be spending upwards of 15 hours a week doing computer programming work!
The most fun thing about Arabic is that it's a wonderfully logical language (it has a few inconsistencies, but nowhere near as many as in French or Italian). Once you know the جذر (jizr, root) of a word, you can get the meaning from the form it has. For instance, سكر (sukar) means sugar. It's a noun. Well, you can verbify some nouns by putting them in what's called Type II form, which is basically first letter - vowel - second letter, doubled - vowel - third letter. So, to sweeten is سكّر (sakkara). Every verb is conjugated in a specific type, numbered (by "Orientalists") 1-10. If you know one verb, you can learn another based on what changes happen between two types. For example, when you go from type 1 to type 3, you perform that verb with someone else. So رقص (raqasa), to dance, becomes راقص (raaqasa), to dance with. Cool, huh?
Anyway, enough of that.
I promised I'd blog about the desert trip. I'm afraid it was a couple of weeks ago, so I'll try to remember it as best as I can (we'll see how it compares with my return visit this Sunday with my folks). I went with a large groups of fellow students from my school to Baharia. Our guide was Ahmed Ali Ishamy of href="http://www.craweentours.com/">Craween Tours. It's a pretty fair price, around $100/person for two nights/3 days in the desert, food, transportation in the desert, plus transportation from and to Cairo. Both nights we slept outside on the desert sands. It was very cool, but also very cold. The first night I could barely sleep; the next night I wisely donned socks and all the warm clothing I had on hand. Extra blankets are also probably a good idea. I'm a foodie at heart, so probably my favorite moments from the trip were when I ate ripe plump dates plucked directly from a palm tree in the middle of an oasis that also f
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