Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Oh, I have a blog

It seems that somewhere between gazing at the horizon in Cairo and chugging coffee at my job back here in Norway, I forgot that I had a blog. Oops. I'm thinking about picking up blogging again however - I always liked having a place to look back at when I wondered where my days disappeared, a collection of musings, rants and pictures of the time that passes. And man has time passed.

My life has changed a lot since I moved from Norway to Egypt and back. Some good, some challenging, some surprising. I don't mind though. You create your own life, and mine's working out pretty damn well. Now let's just see if I can find that blogging spark again, so that I can let the life be described by letters and pixels.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The language barrier

Over the past years I've read an indecent amount of texts about identity, about communication and about language. Your language is the most important tool you use when you're making sense of the world around you - how would thoughts be without the actual words and names? And yet, I had to move away from my own home country and into a whole new world to realize how much my language means to me.

I do not at all consider myself as incompetent when it comes to the English language - I read and write the language at a university level, and hell, I even have a blog where I try to communicate in English every now and then. And yet, it's like I'm only able to express a selected part of my personality when I'm using English. It's as if I have another 10 % of me that's not getting across. On top of that, I live in a country where Arabic by far is the preferred language. I'm picking up more words and expressions as the days go by, but at this moment I'm quite sure most of my messages in Arabic get across due to my excessive hand-waving, rather than my vocabulary.

The funny thing though, is that when I go back to Norway and my mother tongue, it'll probably only take me hours before I begin grasping for the words I want, and substituting them with English ones. Or Arabic. My languages are a mess. I like it. But it's messy.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Hoping for weather

Morning came with a silent rustle of leaves and little raindrops painting dark dots on the concrete. The clouds were gray and heavy, and for a little while my inner child even hoped for thunder. Or some sort of weather in general. Cairo doesn't really do weather. Temperatures fall and rise, the sun is occasionally paused by the flickering of clouds. But that's it. And today didn't do much to chance that. A few hours after the little drops of water the city was clinging to my skin again. Cairo does that - it covers everything, everywhere. Dust and sweat mix and stick to your skin like a film of dirt. The few raindrops that fall feel soothing for a few seconds, until you start thinking of all the smog that they surely absorbed on their way down. Ah, Cairo weather. It got its own charm.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

I'll miss this, I will

It's late. It's ridiculously late, if you think about the fact that I have to get up in a few hours. Read, read, write, write. The good girl-syndrome has claimed another victim, and I've got theories, papers and conjugations up to my ears. And yet, it's allright. It's actually better than that. It's great. Because as I'm lying here, cuddled up in the corner of my bed, I cannot stop thinking about how fascinating this city is. The smells, the sounds, the atmosphere.

By night, when I'm just silently observing the streets, Cairo is a wonderful city. Wait a few hours, let the sun rise, and you'll be stared at like you've got two heads, you'll be harassed like you'd be walking around naked with a sign saying "tell me something sexist!". But right now, at moments like these, I love this city. I love listening to the sounds, just being part of it all.

I've realized I'll miss Cairo.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Hello beautiful world!
Sorry for not blogging, I'm sort of busy travelling around in the Middle-East. At the moment I'm in Jordan - things are wonderful, and life's in general an awfully good thing to be living. The tea is sweet, the sun is bright and people are great. See you!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Cairo diary 17/17

Today, I brought my friends to see one of my favorite places in Cairo: the part of the city referred to as "Islamic Cairo". And it was just great. Walking in the dusty and narrow streets, between crammed markets and the more relaxed ahwas (like informal cafes) where old men smoke shisha and drink tea, Cairo showed itself from its best side.

There's something timeless about Islamic Cairo; walking between the old stone walls seems to take you out of the year of 2012 and release you into a whole different atmosphere in a vastly different time. 

Students from the nearby Al-Azhar walk past you with the Qu'ran under their arm or some books tossed into a bag, and while you're munching on your falafel, some old women point at you and grin, laughing at the out-of-place girls wandering around the hidden streets of the old Cairo.The call for prayer vibrates in the air and the sun makes the colors vibrant and golden. And it's just so.. great. 

 Hey Cairo, I like you, you know that?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Cairo diary: 16/17

I love Fridays in Cairo. There are no alarm clocks yelling at you to get up, and there is no need to rush to the university in the morning. The city's in a mode of its own on Fridays, with people rolling out mats in some of the streets, preparing for the prayer later in the day. As you wake up, you take a shower, make some tea and open the balcony doors to welcome the sun. Then, as you hang up your laundry outside, you catch the eye of the woman on the other side of the street, and for a little while you are the same, just doing your Friday thing. The street is like a little parade of colorful shirts, skirt and linens swaying in the wind, and for that little while before the Cairo dust settles into your things, it all smells so clean, so nice. 

The sun's shining, the people's talking and it's just another wonderful Friday.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cairo diary: 15/17

 Tomorrow I have my other round of visitors coming from back home. And having visitors means you have to be a host, at least to a certain degree. And that, that means you'll have to know you city, you have to know what you'll be showing people. And so far, I'm not really sure I do.

I've been in Cairo for more than two months now, but after examining my own knowledge of this vast city, I feel myself not living up to the expectations. Now, these expectations are simply my own, and I tend to be a harsh judge, but still. So, here I am, browsing through my photos, replaying various Cairo-sites in my mind. A lot comes up, and a lot seems vague. And now it remains to see what I'll come up with to show my friends, in this enormous city that is Cairo.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cairo diary: 14/17

Spring break is getting closer by the second. And so is the desperate need for a break. The books seems to get duller by the day, the articles more complicated. The library seems noisier and the classes longer. And, as a result of this, the approaches to learning tend to become stranger and stranger. Today we hit a new high, or low - depending if the one who's judging is myself or my professor. 

This is what we look like in a Oreo and chocolate-provoked learning frenzy. We're charming. And we are without a doubt building up a really good image among the Egyptian students. "Use your head", they told me when I was younger. Well, now I've got scientific proof: that stuff doesn't work a bit better than reading.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cairo diary: 13/17

One of the classes I'm taking at AUC is a development class.  It deals with economies. It talks about the big overarching theories of change and growth, decline and war. And it is as far away as possible from the sociology I usually study, to put it mildly. And yet, it's one of my favorite classes. I'm confused, my English tends to wither up and die during class and I'm always frowning and frantically trying to scribble down what my professor is attempting to teach me. Great, huh?

Well, today it got even better. Why? Well, we went on a field trip so visit a feminist NGO working with micro-financing and women's empowerment, in addition to visiting the offices of USAID. Due to security restrictions, were not allowed to visit the slums we had intended to, which was one of the things I'd been looking forward to, seeing as I also visited some micro-finance clients in Kenya and Sri Lanka when I was there. I was really eager to see how people in Egypt had approached that kind of assistance, but that'll just have to wait for now.

Visiting both the organizations in one day allowed us to see a lot of the contrasts that can be found within such institutions dealing with development. One invited us for tea and a chat with its micro-loan clients, while the other talked about American tax payers desire to see their money show visible results. One was located within a semi-worn concrete building in the middle of a noisy Cairo neighborhood, while the other rested like a fortress  outside of the core of the city itself. And while one dealt with development from the perspective of one woman here and one family there, the other talked about millions in financing of grand projects and visions.

Evaluating everything we talked about and learned during the day would be enough for an essay or two, so I think I'll let that rest for now, unless there's someone dying to know more. But I had a really educative day, I'll tell you that. I've seen the grass root level and I've seen the offices where the money's at. And the fact that they in theory both deal with the same thing - development - is strange, and awfully, awfully interesting.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Cairo diary: 12/17

Our apartment has three balconies. Three little platforms where we can enjoy a daily dose of sun, without being stared at like we’ve got three heads or some other abnormity. When the sun is at its highest, we grab a pillow from the couch, make some sweet tea and migrate out into the light for a little while. You see, Egypt’s not as inhumanly hot as people tend to believe. From time to time, it’s actually downright chilly. In the nights, you lie there, like a little shivering ball under a pile of blankets, and that desert heat you've heard about seems like a story from another planet.

But then, then comes those little moments when you find your balcony bathed in sun, and you just sit there, squinting into the air, slowly sipping at your tea. After a while, a feeling of peace might find you, as you lean back onto the dusty wall and sigh. Peace. Until you stand up, and catch the eye of one of the men down at the street, that appear to just hang out down there, staring at your balcony. But hey, this Egypt. That's life.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cairo diary: 11/17

Today I jumped out of bed at 5.45, as I had a dream where someone strictly told me that "real feminists get up early in the morning!". Why that had to be 15 minutes before my alarm usually goes off, I don't know. I do a lot of odd things when my dreams wake me. Once, my boyfriend entered the kitchen one early morning, only to find me angrily doing the dishes at 7 in the morning. To this date, I cannot explain why I was so angry at those plates. Must have been a real nightmare.

What I intended to say with this post however, was not that I do strange things them I am tired, a state I find myself in 70% of my semi-awake life. In fact, I just wanted to say that Cairo was beautiful today. I had a great day. My classes turned out to be really fun, and the week ahead looks like one of the particularly good ones. And it all started with a dream about feminists around 5.45 in the morning.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Cairo diary: 10/17

It strange how fast you can get used to living in a completely new environment. A new country, a new city; new smells and new sounds. Suddenly the alien is comfortingly familiar, and one day, you feel at home. The picture above shows my room here in Cairo - a room that's become my safe zone when the streets are too noisy and the books to academic. The walls are painted in a various selection of mint-inspired colors, and my bed looks like someone cut out the bedroom-section from a magazine in the 90s. A cheap 90s-magazine. Out on the streets I always hear the kids on the block laugh or sing, and every two hours there's someone shouting for a guy named Amr. Apparently, Amr is always lost. And always very, very popular.

This is where I live. And right now, this is home. It feels like home. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Cairo diary: 9/17

Once, there was a time where I'd spend my weekends sleeping until the sun reached its highest point on the sky. And then I'd sleep some more. But alas, that was then! This morning we jumped into a taxi around eight in the morning, and headed south to the Souq El-Gomma - the Friday Market - located between old Islamic Cairo and the City of the Dead. At the crossroad of life and death in one way, but definitely alive in another. The Souq El-Gomma is hectic, to put it mildly.

If you've got a soft heart when it comes to animals, the souq might not be the place for you. There were puppies held up in the air, crates of turtles and cages with ducks and quails. They had fish, they had kittens. They had pigeons and they had snakes. And they had a lot of them. It's still an interesting walk though, just looking at the color and pulse of the crowd as you see everything from boxer shorts to computer parts. The only thing that might've killed the mood a bit, is the way we stood out in the streets, having young boys tail us around while trying to call us names in various languages. It was still great though. Great, and awfully hot.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cairo diary: 8/17

Sunshine's been hugging Cairo like it's been reunited for the first in a long time. And that's sort of how it is. Lately the city's been changing between sunlight bursting out of the sky, to days that made Norway appear tempting again. (Don't take me too seriously on that point, I've been running away from the Norwegian winter for several years now.) But today, today the sky was blue, the trees seemed greener and life in general seemed.. great.

After jumping around in my classroom, repeating "professor, professor, I love the sun, please!", I managed to persuade my wonderful, wonderful Arabic teacher to move the class out of the building and into the sun. And let me tell you this - I think I'm a better learner when I'm outside of the constricting walls of the university. Might be the vitamin Ds, might be the temperature. Or it just might be the fact that I came directly from a mid-term where I just breezed through the pillars of Islam and the collection of the Qur'an. You know what's even better? Tomorrow's Friday - time for the Egyptian weekend!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Cairo diary: 7/17

You take the bus across the city - traffic jam, like every day in Cairo. Your head is pounding, stomach rumbling and at one point you could swear there was something odd with your heartbeat. As you walk towards your apartment, some guys mutter obscenities your way, eyeing you from your shoes and up a few times. Your backpack hits the floor like a bag of rubble when you get home - two seconds after you realize that your computer was in that bag. Grunting, you go to make some tea. And then, then a voice calls from the living room. "There's something for you in the fridge!"

And you know what? It was cake! On the most cake-deprived, sugar-needy day in Egypt. This is why people never should live alone. They don't get carrot cake.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cairo diary: 6/17

Mid-terms tomorrow. Not one, that would've been too easy. But two. And a little Arabic dictation sprinkled on top. At least I have the technology on my side - digital flashcards! I'm brilliant! (If the animation makes you dizzy, keep in mind that I've been glaring at these words all day. All. Day.)

I'll go back to my verbs now. And conjugate them like a boss.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Cairo diary: 5/17

Most parts of Cairo are grey. Brown, dusty and pale. And then you have the murals at Muhammed Mahmoud St., close to Tahrir Square. Portraits honoring those who've lost their lives, utterances of hope and slogans of defiance - it's all there.  The street has seen the conflicts go down with noise and violence the previous year, and now it's like beacon of color in Downtown Cairo. Tahrir is almost empty, but the street is refusing to let it go.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Cairo diary: 4/17

Cairo's like a teenager when it comes to going to bed and waking up. It's noisy when everyone else tries to sleep, but awfully silent in the early mornings. Which is a rather comfortable trait for those of us who have to walk a bit in the early mornings. The birds are chirping, the cats are tearing up the trash, and the few men who are awake are usually just sitting on a chair, squinting and the sun while nipping at their sweet tea. Silent, calm and allright.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Cairo diary: 3/17

Sitting in a cafe in Cairo, the melody of an oud is on the speakers in the background and the walls covered in black and white photos of the earlier days of Egypt. A couple of women behind me are ordering food in Arabic, asking for two cups of coffee, some water and il-cupcake, please. The guy next to me is one the phone, talking in Arabic as well. The conversation ends with I love you. Later alligator, insha'allah. Hey there globalization, I think to myself and return to my readings.

The Cairo Jazz Club

A few minutes away from out apartment, just across the Nile to be specific, lies The Cairo Jazz Club. Curious to see what it had to offer, we left Zamalek last night, and headed out to explore. After memorizing the proper section of google maps, navigating a Cairo taxi around the streets and then being shepherded over the street by a man that apparently didn't think we could do it on our own, we finally arrived at the club.

The music was a Japanese instrumental trio, the room was filled with smoke and sound and things were in general.. allright. So we talked a bit, danced a bit and laughed some more, before we decided that people got a bit too intense for our taste. Satisfied with the night, we then laughed a bit more, argued on the ridiculous price the cab driver demanded, and went home.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Cairo diary 2/17

Drinking Egyptian red wine from our old tea cups, talking about school, the world and life in general. Chinese take-out on the table and laughter out in the street. And it's all good.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cairo diary 1/17

I've decided to give myself a little challenge, in order to not forget blogging as I'm running around in Cairo. I don't want to overdo it though. Therefore, I've decided to try to post one picture each of the remaining days this month, using whatever camera I find. Like a little photo dairy that'll be nice to look back on when I'm back in the lush woods of Scandinavia. So, what am I up to today, in this dynamic country of revolution and change, this land of ancient history and pharaohs? Homework. Good thing I know how to say "I live in the library" in Arabic.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A motivating Arabic plague

I start every day with Arabic class; each and every morning is saluted at 8.30 with Arabic stuttering and a cup of coffee black as a Norwegian winter. I'm not good at it, it's not going fast, but it's okay. In addition to the morning class, which focuses on Egyptian spoken dialect (which I'm awful at), I also take a class in modern standard Arabic. The formal stuff. Which I love! I have the most amazing, supporting and motivating professor, and her enthusiasm is contagious like a plague. A happy, motivated, Arabic plague of conjugations and pronouns, plurals and shaky handwriting.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Birthday time!

I'm old! Or, well. I'm older. Yesterday was my birthday, a day filled with pyramids, red wine, the former prime minister of Norway and a speeding taxi on the highway in Cairo. Quite the combination, huh? Other than that, I'm preparing for a busy time ahead. Mid-terms are coming up, and I'm lost in a sea of development theories and Arabic, feminism and studies of Islam. 

The whole concept of mid-terms is not something I've encountered on my home university back in Norway, so I'm somewhat confused about what I'm expected to know, to do and to understand by now. But as I realized the other day, my goal this semester has sort of changed from "I'm going to do this, and I'll do it well!" to "I'm just going to do this!". Do I mind? Nah. I'm in Egypt for God's sake. Living in Cairo. That's enough for me.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The best of weekends - a little preview

At the moment I'm sitting in the library of my university in Cairo, buried under a pile of Arabic words I don't understand, and messy notes on my underdeveloped vocabulary. This exhausting mess of books and papers is not even closely related to how I spent my weekend though. Not. At. All. I'll elaborate some more in a while, but for now, I'll just share one picture as a little preview:

Not too shabby, right?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The week that disappeared

Spices for sale, close to The al-Azhar Mosque. I didn't buy anything, but stood there for a while, mesmerized by the colors and the smells.

The streets in the older parts of Cairo are absolutely beautiful, with old buildings and mosques at your left and right. Feels like you've traveled back in time.

One of the few fruits I know how to talk about in Arabic - bananas and oranges! ("Maoz" and "borto'an".)

These young girls approached me, and wondered if I could take a picture of them. I agreed, and as I told them they looked beautiful in Arabic, they giggled as they walked away.

The previous week has gone by without me even noticing. Arabic homework, a fantastic birthday party, a trip to Alexandria (greeted by all the wind and waves the Mediterranean Sea could conjure in honor of our visit.) And poof - the week was over. "Busy" doesn't quite sum up my day, but it's a good start. As a result of this, I'll just treat you with a bunch of pictures from the last week. Fantastic!
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