A typical day here at MESP looks like this: Breakfast at 8 am, followed by devotions led by one of our group. Then we have Arabic class from 9:30 to 11 am and then a class session for either "Cultures and Conflicts of the Middle East" or "Islamic Thought and Practice." The first class is actually one huge class that is split into two classes worth of credit. We cover history, politics, religion, cultures, conflicts, and especially the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Some days this is taught by our interim director Dr. Heather Keaney, and sometimes we'll have guest speakers, ranging from the U.S. Ambassador to development workers, to members of the Arab League. The Islamic Thought and Practice class is taught by an Egyptian Muslim, but we haven't started that class yet. After our first class session we have lunch, followed by another class session. Today that was followed by "Cultural Activities;" we could choose between cooking with the MESP cook Kareema, belly dancing (girls only), dabka (Palestinian dancing), or tabla (drumming). I chose belly dancing, and we had our first class today. It was really fun to try to imitate the movements of the Egyptian women who were teaching us. It was interesting to see them come in with long shirts on and heads covered, and then take them off to end up in tank tops and shorts just like us, only to veil again before leaving the flat. We were all struggling with the hip movements, and very sweaty by the end. Looks like I'm getting my exercise this semester, in one way or another. A typical day at MESP is Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Tuesdays are service projects and Friday and Saturday is the weekend. Many weekends we will be traveling around Egypt to places like Dahab, Siwa, and Luxor. On Wednesday we leave for Mt. Sinai, to climb it before sunrise, and then we head to Dahab on the Red Sea for snorkeling and chilling. Don't worry, it's not all hard work over here on the Nile.
As this was our first free weekend (and possibly one of the only ones we get) a group of us went to the pyramids yesterday. Now, don't be fooled by movies set in Egypt. They depict the pyramids as being out in the desert away from civilization. False. The three Giza pyramids sit just south of the city, separated by a wall, and just a 15 minute taxi ride from where we live in the neighborhood of Agouza. It costs 30 pounds for a student to get in to wander around, which amounts to less than 6 dollars. We walked around for a couple hours, taking pictures of the sphinx and pyramids, and getting accosted by salesmen from age 8 to 70, selling scarves, postcards, sphinx and pyramid figurines, horse and camel rides, and anything else you can imagine. A few of us met an American who not only turned out to know about MESP, but to be hosting the SPU missions group that is in Cairo right now. He just happened to be at the pyramids that day. Small world. (Even better story - in the Frankfurt airport I ran into a guy from my graduating class at Newberg who I'd had classes with and who I think was on ASB. It just so happened that he was heading to Russia to study for the semester with a Lewis and Clark program. Small, small world.) The pyramids were really fun, although really hot. It was incredible to think that they were built on only slave labor, with no modern technology, and they've lasted for thousands of years.
My sister has requested that I describe the food we've been eating, so here goes. Every day we have class, Kareema makes breakfast and lunch at the MESP villa. Usually for breakfast we have eggs accompianed by some sort of carboydrate, whether that be french toast, oatmeal, or this delicious pastry thing that is like a thin, crunchy pancake, reminiscent of baklava. Lunch usually consists of rice with some kind of meat (Funny thing - when ordering at a restaurant, you have to specify between "meat" and "chicken." Apparently there's a big difference.) There is always fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as juice, Tang, Nescafe coffee, tea, and whole milk. I have not tried the most classic Egyptian dish yet - it's called foul, and consists of beans in a pita. The bread here is delicious; it's called aish and you can buy bags of it off the street for about a pound, which is somewhere around 20 cents. My roommate and I want to eat it with everything.
We're all trying to get as much reading done as we can because we have two papers due before we travel in October, then the rest due after that. Procrastination is sure to set in later, but for now we're trying to beat it off. It's hard with so many things to see and do and try, but time management will be the name of the game this semester. I'm loving the classes so far; it's really what I'm most interested in, so I'm eating it up. I miss all of you back at home, and I hope everything is going well! Ma a salaama!