Saturday, August 29, 2009

This picture is the view from our balcony of our apartment on the 6th floor. Notice all the satellite dishes?
Here's me in my "hijab," which literally means "curtain" in Arabic. All Muslim women cover their heads and most skin, but we only had to do this to go to the mosque.

Yesterday we visited a mosque for the Friday noon prayers. It was a very interesting experience. The girls in the group all had to wear scarves covering our heads, and so the walk from the villa to the mosque was filled with stares and strange looks from the locals. Once there, the women and men were separated, with the women in a smaller, air-conditioned room upstairs and the men overflowing on mats outside the mosque. We watched from the back as women came in, with all manners of coverings on, and then went about their prayers. Islamic prayers are an intense expression of community, with everyone having to stand in a straight line and do the same obligatory prayers all together. In the morning we had done devotions out of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, so the liturgical expression felt similar. We had a very interesting discussion afterward that began with simple observations and ended with deep theological comments on the state of the Christian church in America and the validity of Islam. Wow. Deep topics for only 3 days of knowing each other.
Today we explored the neighborhood a little more, and practiced buying things, taking a taxi, asking for directions, and exchanging money. I feel more comfortable already. Egyptians are extremely hospitable, and generally very friendly to us. They love President Obama, so if they think we are from America we hear cheers of "Obama!" as we walk through the streets. Tonight we were a little more "touristy" and took a boat out on the Nile and then went to a big bazaar (or market) frequented by foreigners. Tomorrow we have to go downtown to get our visa extensions, and we'll also practice using the subway system.
I'm eager to get into a regular schedule, but I am enjoying getting to know all these new people and all the viewpoints and backgrounds they represent. Thanks for all your support from home! Love you all and miss you!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

First Impressions from Cairo

We made it to Cairo about 2pm yesterday local time (which is 9 hours ahead of the west coast) with only one person missing a bag. I think I calculated that I was traveling for a total of 40 hours, so I was completely exhausted last night. But we were met at the airport by the MESP staff, and all 30 of us students were safe and tired and excited to be there. We headed back to the villa and our apartments. There are 8 girls to a flat, and we are on floors 5 and 6 of a building about a block away from the MESP villa. I had to haul my 50 lb bag up 6 flights of stairs because the elevator broke. As if the heat wasn't enough. After touring our flats quickly, we went back to the villa for dinner and an opening session. Once finished, we went back to our flats and collapsed into bed. I think I slept for about 12 hours.
Today we had breakfast and devotions, then a "survival Arabic" session with Dr. Diaa. Lunch and a bus tour of Cairo followed. We saw sights like the citadel (built during the Crusades), the al-Azhar mosque, Tahrir square, Garbage City, and of course, the pyramids (from a distance). We will go back to all these places in time. During the tour we also stopped at a market so the girls could get scarves for our mosque visit tomorrow. Some girls in the scarf shop started talking to us, and asked if any of us had gotten pregnant out of wedlock because "that's what happens in America." Talk about stereotyping.
We're all wishing we could speak Arabic already so that we can converse with all the Egyptians around us. The hardest thing so far is not being able to make eye contact or speak on the street to those of the opposite gender. Speaking to Egyptian men I do not know would mark me as "loose," so for my own safety and respect, I must avert my eyes. It seems a little degrading at times, and I never realized how often I look and smile at people I pass on the street. This will take some getting used to.
Hopefully I can post pictures soon. We're getting the hang of walking around our neighborhood, so soon maybe we can find a coffee shop with wireless internet. Love you all, and excited to be here!

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Week Before . . .

Hey all!
Welcome to the first ever blog by Kelsey Hampton. Hopefully this will be a good way for me to let you know what I'm up to as I travel and study in the Middle East for three months. Bear with me, this concept is slightly in contradiction to my personality.
Your prayers and support would be greatly appreciated as I journey beyond our continent for the first time.