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!