Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Only An (Asia) Minor Offense

Alright, so it sucked to not be at home for Thanksgiving, but definitely not as much as I thought it would. Istanbul is, for lack of a better word, awesome. It's so beautiful, it's got a fascinating history and mix of East and West elements, and in the cold of November it feels and looks as bleak as a Dostoevsky novel. Which is exactly what I expected from Eastern Europe. In short, I loved it.

Tuesday night, Ellen and I left for the airport around midnight. We got to the airport with relative ease, considering it's Cairo, (i.e. our cab only broke down once on the way there) and we were off to Turkey. We got in around 5 AM, and were instantly amazed at how clean the airport was, as well as how many signs they had. It was so easy to find the metro! We got a little lost downtown trying to find our hostel, since the area we were in had literally a billion hostels and hotels. But we found the cleverly named Istanbul Hostel, dropped our stuff in our dorm room, and went out to explore. We were dead tired, but screw sleeping. We mostly stayed around the downtown area, near the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, which had a great little park separating them. In the park, I found a black stray dog, and of course I had to pet him. (Just so you know, all the strays in Istanbul have tags on their ears, which means the city has taken them in for various shots and de-worming. Just another reason why Cairo sucks in comparison to the rest of the world.) Naturally, since I was the first person to give him some lovin' in quite some time, he followed us around all morning. And throughout the next four days, every time I ran into him, he'd follow me for a good hour. It killed me that I couldn't bring him back to the States.

We waited outside the Blue Mosque for it to open for visitors, and while we were waiting the dog rounded up another dog friend, as well as a cat. So we just sat there outside this incredible mosque, surrounded by strays. Finally the place opened and we went in, sans animals, and admired it for a few minutes. It's huge and beautiful and old, and what more to say? Other than the fact that the combination of the gloomy skies and the bleak beauty of the mosque combined to create the Greatest Picture Ever. But I'll save that for the end of the post, where it can be fully enjoyed. Patience, my friend.

Once Emily and her boyfriend Nathaniel woke up (she had left the day earlier, and he had arrived that same day from the good old USA), they met us at the hostel, and the four of us set out to see the city. We went to the fabled "Grand Bazaar", which was neither grand nor bizarre. I mean, it was huge, but each shop sold the exact same things, at ten times the price you could get them for anywhere else in the city. So most of our time there was spent trying to find the way out.

The next day was Thanksgiving, and by this point Emily's roommate Laura had arrived in our hostel room (while we were sleeping off the previous 48 hours of being awake), and a good number of other AUC students had also arrived in the city. So Emily, Nathaniel and I organized a Thanksgiving dinner (way early, at 4 PM, just like at home, of course) for the 12 American students in Istanbul at a really good restaurant. At 4 we all piled into the restaurant, much to the dismay of the staff, and since their largest tables could only seat eight, we proceeded to push tables together. The waiters stopped us, which resulted in a bit of a fight. We tried to reason with them, saying, "Either you get our business and let us push the tables together, or we go elsewhere," while Emily yelled hilarious things like, "In America, today is a holiday!" They stood their ground, however, and we ended up wimping out and just cramming 12 people onto the 8-person table. Which actually made it more fun and more like Thanksgiving at home. We had a huge, relatively cheap meal, and it was definitely a Thanksgiving dinner to remember. Unfortunately, there wasn't any turkey or gravy or mashed potatoes, but we did have chicken kebabs, hummus, and fried eggplant. Plus instead of apple pie we went down the street and all had some amazing cake. So all in all, it was a fair trade.

Not wanting to end our little makeshift America we had created in Istanbul, Emily, Nathaniel, Laura and myself decided to spend the night escaping to the United States, just for once. So we grabbed some take-out McDonald's and brought it into the theater to watch 30 Days of Night, starring Josh Hartnett. It was a lot of fun, and the movie was actually pretty good.

Could they have maybe made Baby Jesus a little less creepy? Or at least given him a better haircut?

The next day, Laura and I woke up with nothing really planned, so we decided to go to Asia. Why not, right? We went down to the harbor, and just jumped on the ferry we thought crossed the river. Luckily, it did. Fifteen minutes and a trip across the Bosphorous later, we disembarked on Asian soil. It was pretty remarkable that for a dollar we could go from Europe to Asia. To my disappointment, no one was speaking Chinese on the Asian side.

We walked around that part of Istanbul for a couple hours, which didn't have many sights, per se, but therefore was much less touristy, which was a welcome break. Eventually, I decided enough was enough, and it was time to get a haircut. So we scoped out the barber shops, and picked the best-looking one. It was run by what looked like two brothers (they looked alike and wore the same sweater, only one was blue and one was orange) and their dad, who just sat in a chair, reading a newspaper the whole time. The younger brother seated me, and we spent the next fifteen minutes looking through hairstyling magazines, trying to explain what I wanted. We found something sort of close to a normal haircut (it was really, really slim pickings) and the guy set to work. This was my first-ever haircut from a man, as far as I can remember, and it didn't help that this particular man had a European mullet. I wished I knew how to say, "Don't make me look like you," in Turkish. While he did the cutting, the older brother kept looking through the magazines and asking me if I wanted some of the cuts, all of which were horrible. After I turned to Laura for advice about a hundred times, he figured out who was calling the shots, and eventually only showed her the pictures. My life was in her hands.

The haircut took nearly an hour, because the guy was a major perfectionist, which I was completely okay with. Once he was finished, he asked if I wanted a shampoo. I've already gotten a haircut from a man, so why shouldn't I have him wash my head? Next thing I know, he's shoving me face-first into the sink and pouring scalding water over the back of my head, which ran down my face. I screamed and writhed, but he put his hand in the middle of my back and held me down, like the sadist he was. Once he decided I had burned off enough layers of skin, he pulled me up and dried me off. Then he stepped out, and the older brother stepped in.

This guy was a pro. Apparently he is the stylist brother, because he got all his ingredients out and went to town on my head. I've never seen even a brain surgeon so careful about his work. God knows what went into my hair, but I definitely saw him use two kinds of gel and wax. He fashioned a wonderful little faux-hawk for me, and then made these two really strange curving horns out of my hair that curled across my forehead. It's hard to explain, but I'll eventually have a picture to show you what I mean. Finally he was done, and I payed them, thanked them, and left. Laura and I instantly went around the corner, took a few pictures to document the cut, and then fixed it. Unfortunately, she still has all the pictures on her camera, but once she gives them to me, I'll make a photopost or something to show the whole ordeal. We crossed back into Europe and met some friends for a really crazy night that I'd rather not write about here. So stop being so nosy.

The rest of the time wasn't spent doing anything really outrageous - we just saw most of the sights in Istanbul and enjoyed our break from the chaos of Cairo. We've really come to appreciate something as simple as fresh air, so the freezing, clean air of Turkey was an excellent treat.

Eventually we had to return to Cairo, even though none of us really wanted to. It's not that we hate Cairo, it's just that we... kind of hate it. Don't get me wrong, it's an exciting, interesting place, but it's getting a bit wearing to live there for this long. Plus we had a little taste of the Christmas season, and as much as Cairo tries to keep up with the rest of the world in that department, putting a few Christmas trees in a couple stores just ain't doing it for me. However, we have less than three weeks left here, which is rather shocking. I can't believe I'll be going home so soon. I'm extremely excited to get back, but I know once Christmas and New Years wind down and I get back into the swing of things, I'm not going to be able to think about anything other than my next big trip. Speaking of which, we were planning on going to Luxor and Aswan this weekend, but everyone's feeling a bit lukewarm about it now that they've missed so much school and have a lot of make-up work to do. Whereas I missed 14 days, and I have absolutely zero work to do. My classes here are a bit of a joke, and I think I might be in serious trouble when I get back to classes at Madison. Maybe I'll just transfer to AUC for good.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Turkey for Thanksgiving

I know I just got back from England, but I think I've been in Cairo for far too long, so it's time to take off again. I leave in a few hours for Istanbul, where we will be spending our Thanksgiving. I'd actually rather be at home for the holiday, just because it's definitely one of the best holidays, and my entire family will be getting together to celebrate it without me. But I suppose I can't complain too much, what with being in freaking Istanbul and all.

I'm going to have to do my best not to think about all the fun stuff going on at home, but I know come Thursday I'll be going through some massive homesickness. I love everything about this holiday, from the delicious and insane amounts of food, to seeing all the family together, to all the stupid traditions like making fun of me for that time I accidentally swallowed one of the "I'm thankful for..." pieces of paper my mom baked into the rolls.

I've got a lot to be thankful for this year - it's been definitely the most amazing one of my life. I've always wanted to go to both Japan and Egypt most in the world, and to visit both of them within six months is incredible. I'm thankful that all my travels thus far have been completely safe and gone off without a hitch - or, if there has been a hitch, it's been nothing serious, and easy to laugh off. I'm obviously thankful for my parents, who never make me feel like crap when I have to ask for money (which has been far too often lately - sorry about that), and who support all my decisions, even seemingly-crazy ones like jetting off to Beirut during election month. Thanks for giving me all these awesome opportunities. I'm also thankful for my sisters, who are always hilarious to talk to back home, and who I can't wait to see. They're both graduating this year, so congratulations to both of them, even though that means they'll both totally be stealing my thunder when I get home.

Lets get even sappier, shall we? I'm thankful for my extended family, who I haven't seen in nearly a year since I'm always gone, but who I'm very excited to see once I get home. I'm also thankful for friends - my old ones, for not hating me for being able to do all these amazing things, and for at least faking interest in the stories of my adventures; and my new ones, for making the four months in Egypt among the best months of my whole life.

I'm also thankful for Jesus, because Thanksgiving never would have existed if he hadn't risen from the dead and defeated the Maccabees. At least, I think that's what we eat turkey to celebrate.

Have a good Thanksgiving, ya'll.

Monday, November 19, 2007

When Will You Kids Learn That There's Semen On Everything?

Was that ever a good weekend, or what? Yes, I have returned from my extended weekend in England with the family, and it was everything I had hoped. Fun family times, clean air, good food and drink, and most importantly - Christmas!

On Wednesday, I got up, packed, and brought my duffel bag to class, where I had to take a midterm before I left. I thought security would have a problem with my big duffel bag coming through the metal detectors, but all they did was ask, "What in that?" and when I said, "Clothes," they just let me right in. Perfect, now I can plant all the bombs I brought to school! Anyway, I obviously aced the midterm (just like last time, all the Egyptians had to re-do their tests because none of them could grasp the incredibly difficult concept of using pencil rather than pen on Scantron tests).

I then said goodbye to Allyson, and hopped in a cab for the airport, enjoying my last thirty minutes during the drive of breathing 90% fumes and 10% oxygen. I had a bit of an Amazing Race moment - there are two totally separate airports that serve Cairo - Airport 1 is mostly domestic but with some international, and Airport 2 is mostly international but with some domestic. Confusing, right? Now, the obvious choice would be to go to Airport 2, since it's mostly international and chances are the flight to London would be leaving from there. But when the cab driver asked, "Which airport?" I went with my gut feeling and risked it all with Airport 1. I'll spare you the suspense and tell you that I was correct, which made me feel great all weekend. Especially since when I got to the airport and asked the guy at the information desk where the BMI counters were, he responded with, "Airport 2," but my gut still told me it was at Airport 1, so I walked past him and found the BMI desks on my own. But the fun of Cairo didn't stop there - you have to go through security just to get to the check-in desks, so when I tried to go through, I was forcibly shoved back through the metal detector, and one of the guards took my passport and left me standing there. I watched him talking to about three different BMI agents for nearly five minutes, with me holding up the entire line behind me. Finally, he came back, gave me my passport, and let me through. From this point on, I had a personal escort until I actually got to my gate.

Anyway, I eventually arrived in Heathrow, and set off on my series of three trains to get to the town of Eltham. But since I can't travel without having the most ridiculous things happen (usually through my own fault), I had to go to the bathroom. Terribly. The food on the plane did a number on my digestive system. So for all three trains, I'd arrive at the station telling myself, "This is where we'll find a bathroom," but every time the train was just pulling in, so I'd jump on the train and say, "Okay, at the next station." This continued for nearly two hours. On the final train, I literally thought I was going to shit my pants. I came within seconds of biting off my coke nail. That's how bad it was. I even
thought about taking the little emergency escape hammer, shattering the window, sticking my ass out, and just going out the side of the train. But I reached Eltham station, and ran down to find a bathroom. Of course, the first bathrooms I encountered had massive padlocks on them, and the second ones were locked as well. My dad had also told me there would be cabs out front of the station, but there was nothing. I was seriously panicking at this moment. I asked some dude sitting behind a window if there were any bathrooms, and I think he said no, but I wasn't really listening. So I just asked for a cab, and he typed something into his computer, and a cab magically appeared from god knows where. It was awesome. I got in the cab, rode for ten excruciating minutes to the hotel, where luckily my parents were standing outside of, about to get into the car and drive to find me. I was extremely rude and gave them half-assed hugs, told them to pay for my cab, and ran into the hotel, right past Nikki and Sara, and into the bathroom. Once my business was finished, I managed to greet the family properly, but the damage had already been done. We will never be a family ever again.

That night was most excellent. They were all exhausted and went almost immediately to sleep, and even though I thought I wasn't too tired, I passed out pretty quickly after hitting my (outrageously comfortable) bed. I spent about five minutes trying to stifle my hysterical laughs over how absolutely silent it was out there. No one was shouting, no cars were honking, and there literally was not a sound to be heard, as hard as my ears were trying to find something. After three months of non-stop noise, this was an incredible shock to my system, and I actually got a headache from the lack of noise. It was wonderful.

This is what the rental company tried to saddle five of us and our luggage with. Seriously.

The next morning, we took off in our little rental van for the town of Bath, to see a university for Sara. By this point, she had already pretty much given up on the idea of going to school in England, instead focusing on Seattle, but my dad needed to trick himself into thinking all the money he spent on this trip had a point, so we went to all the previously planned schools, no matter how much everyone begged to skip them. The drive was pretty fun, since the English countryside is remarkably beautiful when it's all frosted over in the morning, and since my dad was still trying to figure out how to drive on the wrong side of the road. Since I hadn't eaten anything since that awful BMI meal (now I know where they got the first two letters of the airline's name), we stopped for breakfast at a... Costa. Wonderful. We eat lunch at Costa about three times a week back in Cairo. But they had different kinds of sandwiches than stupid Egypt, and I ended up eating half of my mom's turkey, gravy, and cranberry sauce monstrosity, which was kind of disgusting, but that's all the Thanksgiving I'll be getting this year, so I made myself enjoy it.

We got to Bath with only a little difficulty - I told my dad to make one stupid wrong turn, and all of the sudden I was labeled as the family idiot who can't be trusted with the maps anymore - and I think all of us fell in love with the town. It was not too small, not too old, not too modern, and for me at least it was the first time I really felt like it was the beginning of the Christmas season, which everyone knows is the best time of year. The college was very nice, too. I don't really remember any of it, but who cares, right? The point is, it's Sara's number one choice in England, which is excellent.

We then did some touristy things, like seeing the church were the first king of all of England was crowned, and the nearby Roman baths. My family was amazed at all of it, but I'm going to have to be a snob and say that it can't compare to the stuff I saw in Lebanon. It all felt really touristy and fake. The baths were filled with hot water, which made it look more like it would have back when they were in use, but also made it all look even faker. Plus they had an actor in a toga shuffling in a neverending circle around the main bath, occasionally stopping to ask Minerva for blessings on "Kevin and Erin from Australia," and other such tourists. He didn't ask for any blessings for us, but I think that's because we were snickering at him the whole time.

After that, we just embraced our O'Neill side and went from pub to pub. I was ecstatic when we got nachos at one pub, and even though they were simply Doritos covered in cheese, thrown in the microwave for 15 seconds, and covered in really crappy salsa, guacamole, and sour cream, I could not stop talking about how amazing the nachos were. Apparently Cairo isn't known for its Mexican. Neither is England, but at least they make an effort. When we returned to the hotel that night, we had a conversation about the blankets in the hotel, which ended with my mom's now-famous titular line to this post.

The next morning we got out of Bath much more easily than we got in, and headed to Winchester to see the university there. On the way, we stopped at Stonehenge, which was pretty cool. It's literally on the side of a highway, and just comes up out of nowhere. You can no longer actually go up and touch it, and they kept us at a pretty far distance the whole time, but it was still really cool to see that place. Unfortunately, Egypt has ruined me forever, because once I heard it was a mere 6000 years old, I just scoffed and lost interest in it. Okay, that was a joke. It was actually amazing to see one of the only monuments in the world that comes anywhere close to the age of the pyramids. Perhaps my favorite part of the whole thing was all the made-up information they provided us with, since no one really knows a thing about who built it, why they did it, or what purpose it served. But that didn't stop them from providing us with a painted reenactment of the construction of Stonehenge, complete with honest-to-god cavemen in loin cloths. I was shocked they didn't include the dinosaurs they harnessed to haul the stones, a la the Flinstones.

The University of Winchester was lame. The town was incredibly small and boring, and the same went for the school. Plus all the buildings were made in this awful modernist style that just looked horrible next to all these old houses. Smell ya later, Winchester.

We returned to London and, of course, pub crawled. Eventually Nikki and I talked the family into going to a Japanese restaurant so I could get my sushi fix, and even though they griped about having to go there, they all admitted how amazing the food was. Next summer: Gottleib Family Japanese Road Trip!

That night, Katie and Laura planned on taking Nikki and I out with some of their friends, so Katie arranged that we would meet at 9:15 in front of the theater for the Queen musical. Insert gay joke here. But Nikki only started getting ready at 9, so out of fear that we'd be late, I sent Katie a text message apologizing in advance for being late. But then we only got there two minutes late, and Katie was nowhere to be found. So we waited. For half an hour. At that point, we kind of suspected they had already gone somewhere since I said I'd be late, but I didn't want to text her and nag her if she was just running even later than we were. So I didn't. We stood there freezing for another fifteen minutes, and I finally gave in and texted Katie, who, it turns out, was literally around the corner in a bar with everyone. She apologized a million times for a mistake that was totally my fault, but then made sure to make fun of me all night for it. Which I wasn't too upset about, because the more time she spent retelling the story of me standing and freezing while waiting for her, the less time she would spend retelling the story of when I screamed out for my mom while I was sleeping in Kyoto.

The entire night was way too much fun. It was definitely one of my favorite moments of study abroad, getting to see Katie. She kept saying, "I can't believe you're here!" throughout the night, and we both kept remarking on how crazy it is that she's from England, I'm from the United States, we met in Japan, and I'm visiting her in London while I'm going to school in Cairo. It just didn't seem real. The night was both a testament to how well we get along together and to how much traveling makes you form incredibly close friendships in such a short amount of time. I mean, we had only ever seen each other for five days out of our entire lives, but we felt like old friends. I can't even imagine what it's going to be like separating from my friends in Cairo for a while and then getting back together with them later in life. I think we all may need to live together forever like those stupid Friends.

Anyway, we went to various bars in the thankfully less touristy areas, and had a blast. All of Katie's friends were so much fun, so hopefully they'll be able to come to the States eventually. We had to meet up with Laura who was out with her "new fancy man," and since Laura is the worst at getting around EVER, it took forever to find where she was. At one point, she texted to Katie, "Just ask someone where The Big Chill is. Preferably a girl." But it's for things like that that we love Laura, so it was all okay. Of course, she did focus a little too much on her fancy man, when she had claimed she was coming to London to see Katie and I, but he was a very nice guy, so I can't fault her.

When Nikki and I returned around 3 AM, I used my cell phone to try to see my way through the dark to my bed, and since my mom is like a mental patient when she's sleeping, she saw the light and, still half-asleep, started muttering, "Why do you have a thing like that? It's hot in here. Oh, I thought you had a miner's hat. Take your miner's hat and see how how it is in here." The three of us then lay in the dark laughing for several minutes, much to Sara's annoyance.

For our last day in England, Nikki and I just wandered the city for a bit while the family went to see one final university. We then met up and got some incredible food in a pub that opened under Elizabeth I's (for those of you confused by numbers, that would be Cate Blanchett, not Helen Mirren) reign. It was all made by this feisty old woman - presumably the pub has been in her family since it opened, but we were all too intimidated to ask her - who managed to cook all the food in the two microwaves behind the bar while simultaneously yelling at all the slow helpers who worked there. It was very entertaining.

We then set off to see some strange collections. First was this museum that contained all sorts of horrible things collected by some mad scientist or something. The place was two floors, and absolutely packed with jars of freaks of nature, thousands of dissected body parts, examples of surgeries gone wrong or just disgusting surgeries gone right, and some horrible deformities. There was the enlarged skull of some poor bastard, which looked about as heavy as my entire body, and the skeleton of some "Irish Giant", who was over seven feet tall. It was so cool at first, but after seeing hundreds of twisted spines and faces ravaged by syphilis, we all left feeling pretty queasy. After that, we went to the British Library to see their collection of some rare crap, which was amazing. Unfortunately, we got there only twenty minutes before it closed, so we couldn't spend too much time admiring everything they had, which included: Shakespeare's first folio, the original handwritten drafts of Alice in Wonderland and Jane Eyre, three of the only surviving copies of the Magna Carta, original works by Mozart, Wagner and Bach, ancient Buddhist texts, Sir Thomas More's final letter to Henry VIII in which he pleads for his life, and an awesome section that had the original handwritten verses to many Beatles songs like Hard Day's Night and Michelle. On one of them, John had drawn a hilarious caricature of himself, and on the bottom of another, he had pretended to grade it like a teacher and wrote, "3/10. See me." Very cool stuff, but I don't remember any of it since we were rushed out of there so quickly.

Our last night as a family until late December, Nikki decided to blow us off and go see the Lord of the Rings musical. Which I'm sure was awesome. We just ate some awesome Italian food (the dessert was one of the best desserts of all time) and didn't do anything too exciting.

The next morning, I got up before everyone, packed, said goodbye, and left at 6 to catch the Tube to Heathrow. Of course it was a Sunday, and the Tube wouldn't open until seven. So i went back up to the room, and we tried to get me a cab to Paddington so I could take a train there, but by the time it all was being finalized, it was almost seven, so I just went back up to the room and waited. I then said goodbye for the third time in one hour, and went down to catch the first train to Heathrow. As I waited, I was speaking Spanish to this guy from Bolivia, and as I was saying goodbye to him, who do I see but my dad, running down the escalators! He brought me the printout of my flight confirmation, and I had to say goodbye for a fourth time. These people just do NOT want me to go.

There were some delays along the way and some added stops to make up for other train lines that weren't running, so we got to Heathrow about fifteen minutes late, leaving me only an hour to get to my plane before it took off. There wasn't a line at the self-check-in desks, but there was a nearly hour-long line for the desks where we check our baggage. Somehow I got incredibly lucky, because they opened a second row of desks, and an employee grabbed me and started the second line with me in front. So I checked in within about five minutes. It was amazing. Security was a breeze, too, so I made it to the gate with nearly half an hour to spare, which enabled me to watch the BBC's morning-after recap of last night's major soccer events. (For those of you not keeping up, Israel barely beat Russia, keeping England in the running. It was very exciting.)

The plane ride was semi-uneventful, except the way-too-attractive British couple next to me made me stand up about every half hour so one of them could get out to go to the bathroom. Plus we were in the second-to-last row, and there was a line for the bathrooms literally the entire five hours. So I constantly had someone standing directly next to me, and when someone would come out of the bathroom and have to squeeze by, the person would shove either their ass or genitals in my face to try to let the other person past. It was really miserable. About an hour into the flight, as well, we must have hit an air pocket, which caused an enormous jolt that actually made some people fly up to the ceiling. Just watch the crash footage from the first episode of Lost, and it was exactly like that, minus the plane splitting in half. It actually stunned the plane into a panicked silence for a couple minutes. But, apparently, we survived.

So now I'm back in Cairo for another 24 hours or so, before I take off again for Istanbul. If I had it my way, I'd be leaving now. Cairo just seems like hell compared to England, and I would really like to get back to real civilization, which I hear Istanbul has. But it's worse for poor Beckett, who came back on Friday and more or less wants to go back to Wisconsin. He said it was awful getting readjusted to Egypt. That's alright, we're only here for four weeks from today, and you bet I'm going to enjoy every minute. Because once I get home and Christmas is over, I'm going to be dying to get back to the excitement of Egypt. But that's too much to think about right now. I suppose I should go to class now, huh? (Due to sleeping through my first class and other classes being canceled, I only have one class to go to today. Which means by the time I get back from Istanbul, I will have only been to one class in two weeks. I don't know why I say I don't like AUC - it's the best school ever!)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Definitely not doing work.

Greetings from the Egyptian Museum! I'm supposed to be working, but screw that. The page I'm supposed to be entering into this database is literally the most boring thing on the planet.

I don't really have anything to report. Had the most boring weekend thus far in Cairo, since Beckett's gone and I was all alone in my big, overly-fancy apartment. It didn't help that the power went out almost every night.

I leave for England in 24 hours. Finally! The rest of the family is already there, but I think we all know they won't have any fun until I show up. My dad gave me extremely detailed directions as to how to get from Heathrow to their hotel, because apparently it's really hard to get around English-speaking countries. Please, Jay. I've been to Beirut. (I'm going to be one of those people when I get home, who start every other sentence with, "When I was in Egypt...")

I also just bought my tickets for Istanbul. The schedule for these whirlwind two weeks is this: clean the apartment tonight with Emily and Allyson for Beckett's glorious return, take a midterm tomorrow morning, hop in a cab right after class and go right to the airport, fly to England, have the best time ever, return to Cairo on Sunday, go to some classes on Monday (I have to at least pretend I go to school once in a while), eat dinner with Allyson's family and possibly Beckett's family on Monday night, and then jump back on a plane on Tuesday for Istanbul. So I won't really get to rest until Sunday the 25th, and that will only be for three days at most, since we'll be leaving later that week for Luxor and Aswan. And then probably Jordan the weekend after. And then Wisconsin. All our plans are finally coming to fruition, and it's wonderful. The final five weeks are really going to fly by incredibly fast, I think, which is very bittersweet. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Anyway, I'm for sure meeting up with Laura and Katie (see my posts from Kyoto, Japan) in London probably Friday night for a smashing good time. They're already coaching me on getting rid of embarrassing Americanisms. I don't have a "cell phone", I have a "mobile"! And I certainly don't ride trains, but you bet your ass I "take" them. What a goofy country.

Very, very excited for tomorrow. Maybe I'll even study for my midterm! Probably not, though. (An indication of how easy AUC is: the last midterm for this class, I literally didn't touch my notebook until the five minutes before the test started. I got an A-. Plus I've got the professor in my pocket. We're allowed three excused absences before our grades drop, and I was planning on using my third and final absence for the day I was missing when I took off for Istanbul. But I ended up sleeping through the class last week after I stayed up all night with Beckett. So I approached the professor after class to ask her to possibly waive that absence due to circumstances beyond my control. I was nervous as hell, because she's a massive bitch during class, yelling at all the Egyptian students who come in late or talk on their phones while she's teaching or do other assorted things during class I thought only actually ever occurred within the Clueless universe. But she cut me off before I could even explain the situation, and surprised me by knowing my name. "Daniel, don't worry about it. The three-absence rule isn't concrete for you." So... I love this woman. Am I still writing in parentheses? How embarrassing.)

Maybe I'll go back to work. Or maybe I'll just go home. Whatever, I do what I want. Ya'll can't stop me!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

When I left for the Middle East, everyone back home was worried that something would happen to me. As Americans who haven't traveled to the area, when someone heard the words "Middle East", images of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars flashed in their heads, and they naturally assumed everywhere was like that. Of course, the majority of the area is perfectly safe, and I've never once felt in danger. The thing none of us thought about was the idea that when one of us returned home from study abroad, a loved one wouldn't be there waiting for us.

Unfortunately, Beckett's step-sister passed away two days ago. He flew home that night to be with his family, and he'll stay in Madison until next Wednesday. It killed me as his roommate and closest friend out here to see this happen to him, especially since he got the news within an hour after we finished talking about how incredibly close his family is, even though they're not all blood-related.

We're all a little shell-shocked as well here. I don't think it really entered any of our minds that someone could just be gone when we get home. In fact, we've all made little jokes about how we wish "life would just stop" at home when we go away, based on the jealousy we feel from seeing Facebook pictures show up with all our friends together, having fun without us. But we never really thought that life for anyone would really just stop.

Fortunately Beckett's family is very close, and I know they'll all get through this with each other. He had some difficulty getting out of here so last-minute, but I'm glad he did and that he could rush back home almost immediately. There's not much more you can do when something this unexpected happens - you just pick up the pieces as best you can, and go on. I told both my sisters how much they mean to me, and I'm looking forward to enjoying every minute I spend with my family in London next week, because, well, you never know what's going to happen.

Go tell your friends and family you love them. Salaam.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


Wow. I haven't posted in three weeks. Will you accept my apology? Can we ever be friends again? Hopefully someone's still checking this thing (I know you'll never give up on me, Sarah Pagel). I wish I could say I've been really busy, but I haven't done that much. I suppose we've all just been enjoying each other's company here. We still have six weeks left, but we've all gotten into the mindset that we're going home soon (hence the massive pile of unwashed, moldy dishes in our sink), so we're all getting a little depressed that soon we won't be seeing each other every day. It'll be very weird.

Last weekend, Beckett, Allyson, and I hopped on a train for Alexandria, since one of our classes would be taking a field trip there the next day, and the professor said we could meet up with them in the city and go to the museum and library with the class, so we wouldn't have to pay admission ourselves. For a first-class train ticket to Alexandria (a nearly three-hour trip), it was about $6. Unbelievable, this country. We got in a really crazy fight with this guy who was furious that he and I had the same seat assignment, and even though I sat down in the seat first, he kept screaming in Arabic at Beckett to make me move. Eventually a really nice woman who spoke English switched seats to appease the dude, because he had some sort of ridiculous standard for how his train seats should be, and all the other open seats just weren't doing it for him. Even though he couldn't understand English, I spent much of the ride loudly proclaiming that my seat was the most comfortable one on the train.

In Alexandria, we didn't really do much. We got off at the wrong train station, since everyone else was getting off, and then decided to walk to the hotel, trusting in Lonely Planet's map. If you've read even one of my Japan entries, you'd know what a horrible mistake this was. What looked like a short, ten minute walk, turned into an over five-mile hike along the Mediterranean coast. Luckily, it wasn't that hot, so it was actually not to bad of a walk. Our hotel was pretty nice for being $7 a night, and it even included breakfast. Plus the place was completely empty, so Beckett and I were able to play five games of pool in the really creepy lounge without being interrupted once! I won every game, naturally. We spent the night literally going from seafood restaurant to seafood restaurant, eating a crazy amount of marine life. For what I've heard about Alexandria's seafood, I was rather disappointed. With the exception of the calamari (probably best I've ever had), the crab and fish I had were sorely lacking in flavor. Maybe it's a bad time of year.

Halloween was sort of a disappointment, as well. I decided I had only one costume option - a mummy. Really, the only place easier to choose a cliche Halloween costume is Transylvania. The one problem is that Egyptian toilet paper is absolutely the worst. Granted, I maybe should have sprung for some better-quality paper, but I don't think it would matter here. Kimberly-Clark needs to tap into this market, Dad. The paper kept ripping, and it didn't help that Beckett is in Amsterdam for the weekend, so I had to wrap myself. I eventually grabbed seven rolls of toilet paper, and hopped in the elevator to go down to my friend Alfred's apartment to ask for some help. Of course, there was some guy in the elevator, which made the entire ride really awkward, what with my body being half-covered by toilet paper and all. Alfred, his roommate James (who looks a lot like Jim from The Office, so naturally he went as Three-Hole-Punch Jim), and four girls were all getting in their costumes, and for some reason James was the one that started wrapping me, rather than any of the four girls. And he decided to wrap my thighs. Needless to say, James and I are very close now. Eventually Neve and Meg took over for the pelvic region, saving James and I from a very awkward night.

The toilet paper barely stayed on during the cab ride, and by the time we got to the AUC Halloween party, I was almost completely uncovered. Luckily, the party was even worse than my costume. We stayed for about 20 minutes (we all only went for the promised free candy, which was literally 10 pieces - thanks, AUC!), and then took off back to Alfred and James'. By that point, the only toilet paper left had all fallen down my legs to my ankles, so I looked like I was sporting some awesome leg-warmers rather than any sort of costume.

Next weekend, Beckett, Alfred, myself, and anyone else who decides to come along, will be jumping on a bus to Israel. It's about a five-hour drive to the border, at which point we have to get out and walk across the border, since the bus drivers will not cross into Israel. The hardest part will be getting through the border - we've heard stories of kids seeing both sunrise and sunset sitting at the border - but I think this is the one time during this trip it'll actually benefit me to say, "I'm Jewish!" If we're stuck crossing the border for most of our weekend and we don't see much, at least we'll have had an adventure.

And the weekend after that, I'll be in England for a Gottleib Family Road Trip! I'm dying to just fast-forward to November 14th, to see my family and breathe clean air again. Jury's still out on which one I'm more excited for.

I promise I'll stop slacking on updating this thing. Although it's actually starting to get a little difficult to type with my coke nail. Today's the three week anniversary, and it's already getting pretty long. Only 49 weeks left to go!