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.

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