Ruth Kennedy (Ireland, AC 06-08)
On the 30th of June five young, strapping lads and lasses assembled in London Heathrow. We were all packed and ready to embark upon a journey to the land which many claim is the cultural and historical centre of the world; the land of Egypt. Our expectations were high, but they were perhaps met in a different way than we originally forsaw.
We were welcomed at the airport by a group of Palestinians students in the early hours of the morning. Our tiredness did not dampen the spirits of our welcoming hosts, who were quite insistent upon feeding us copious amounts of the delicious Maklawa (a dish made of rice, chicken, aubergine and potato), though not a complaint was heard as we guzzled down the regional delicacy. This marked the start of an interesting relationship between members of the group and the Egyptian cuisine. We were perhaps too prudent in foresaking our stomachs’ comfort zone in favour of the local commodities of canned homous and strained foul; within four days the notorious ‘Pharoah’s revenge’ was rampant throughout the group.
Living in 6 October City, cooking Arabic food with the help of our Palestinians (Mai and Shatha arrived a few days after us) and using public transport all gave us a glimpse of life as a normal Egyptian. However, it was impossible to come to a place with so much heritage and not venture into some of the more tourist infested areas. While horse riding to the Pyramids at 4AM posed problematic for some of us others relished the oppurtunity to explore the gigantic Cairo museum and the areas of Cairo dominated by the Coptic church. Perhaps the most challenging of all excursions was that to the City of the Dead where we witnessed the full extent of Egypt’s poverty; the homeless living and dying in the tombs of their ancestors.
While living in Cairo we took on some projects with the local community which included the painting of a cathedral, teaching Sudanese refugees music theory and working with girls schools in the city’s poorer outskirts. The language barrier was a difficult problem to conquer, especially when our Arabic speakers left, but it was a challenge all members of the team rose to enthusiastically though at times it could cause frustrationn. We felt that through hearty renditions of ‘Making melodies’ and ‘Mumbalya’ ties were formed that reached past the limits of language; their enjoyment and appreciation were written all over the childrens’ faces.
We also ventured out of Cairo on two occasions, firstly to the sea-side city of Alexandria and secondly to the oasis land of el Minye. In Alexandria some members of the group got well and truly roasted on the beach and we all took time to explore the world renowned library, whose wealth of information is greater than any other in the world. In el Minye we had the bizarre experience of being followed by a police guard, due to the ‘threat to tourist’ which was seemingly imminent (though instances of recorded ‘tourist-napping’ had not been reported since the mid-nineties). We were able to explore tombs more secluded from the usual hoard of semi – clad tourists and relax in the beautiful countryside, away from the hussle, bussle and smog of Cairo.
Putting a month of fantastic experiences into one article has been a difficult task and I have doubtlessly left some poignant points amiss. The project was not easy at times and many of us encountered new levels of personal space invasion and physical levels of exhaustion previously unknown to us. However, the knowledge, the experiences and relationships which resulted from our trip will not be forgotten. We have all taken more than cheap silver jewellery from the bazaars of Cairo and we’ll never forget the haggling it took to just get one maksoos (kind of pickup truck) ride. Go and see for yourself, its well worth it.
– United World College Student Magazine –