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Shemah's Egypt Pictures:
an Exchange Student's PhotoJournal

Page Still (always) Under Construction!

Recently I got a new scanner, and have been rescanning all these old scans (with MUCH better color and resolution) plus scanning in many more of my Egypt photos... so be sure to check back, because I'll be replacing these old pics with better ones, and adding lots more besides!  I'm hoping to get this done sometime in June of 2001.

Since 10/1/97 you are visitor number:

I'm just tossing a bunch pictures in here until I have time to arrange things, and am adding text as time allows -- enjoy!! 

Update, 06/06/99: Finally, I'm getting around to doing it!  Putting in more information, and writing about my experiences.  The mid-page quotations are from the very extensive letters that I wrote home while I was there was a student at the American University in Cairo in 1983 and 1984, and some of the   information on various monuments and mosques and other antiquities comes mainly from my class notes and fieldtrips from my Art and Architecture of Cairo class.

Update, 09/09/98: Due to the size as this page accumulated information, I have split my Egypt site into several pages by location; when you're finished with this page, don't forget to go to the pages for
  Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, to Aswan and Philae, and  Cairo, the Old City!

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My Trip to Egypt

From my journal, on Arrival:   "Anyone planning to fly into Cairo should do so at night. It is the most beautiful sight in the world. The last half hour of the flight was a sea of darkness, with no lights visible. Seated behind the wing, first one pair of lights were to be seen as the plane moved over the ground at a lower altitude. Then a second pair of lights, then a few more scattered lights, and then all of a sudden an entire panorama of lights began to unfold; sparkling, twinkling, blinking lights appeared, strongly reminiscent of Central Plaza at Disneyland at night. They unfolded patterns of geometric complexity; straight lines emerging like spokes on a wheel from glittering circles (the midan's), arrowing outward and then converging with other streets again into another midan, and another, then another, all arranged in beautiful symmetry."

I arrived in Egypt in August, 1983 as an exchange student through the University of California Education Abroad Program (EAP).  To go to the Middle East has been a dream of mine since before I can even remember, and when I found out that I could go to live and study in Egypt through the University, I was so thrilled.... I'd never been a great student (boooooooooring!), but it turned out all I needed was a little incentive!  I was very reluctantly going to junior college, having been persuaded against my will, and it was in a career development class when I found out about the EAP.  Too bad I had to be a U.C. student, and have a B average to get into the program.... my grade average was a D+.  hmmmm.  But to go live in EGYPT.... and here was my chance!  That first semester I got one B and all the rest were A's, and I made the Honor Roll.  The same thing next semester.  And next semester.  Then I was accepted at the University of California Santa Barbara.   More A's, and I applied to the  EAP to go to Cairo; one more quarter of A's, and I was chosen as one of ten students to go to live in Egypt and attend the American University in Cairo!

Okay, per request here's a pic of me covered in Egypt.  Please, understand, neither of these are proper Muslim covering by hijjab; these are just hamming it up for the camera in my mother-in-law's house amongst family :)




Traditional and contemporary co-exist at the feet of ancient monuments.





A view of the Sphynx, with the pyramid of Cheops behind him. The face of the Sphynx is said to be a representation of Chefren himself.


A view of all three of the Great Pyramids from a nearby bluff. The nearest is Mycerinus, then Chephren and lastly Cheops. The Sphynx would be off to the right and down the hill, below Chephren.


On Fruit Juice:  "Right around the corner from AUC but before getting to Bab el-Louk, there is a little juice shop. There are lots of these around Cairo; they have the fruit hanging in big baskets, oranges, guava, etc. You tell the man what kind of juice you want and he squeezes it into a glass and you drink it right there and hand the glass back. While I was there a man carrying a double tray of burning incense walked into the shop and waved the incense about a little. The man in the shop gave him a little change and the guy went on to the next shop. As I left I saw him down the street, going from shop to shop. What a way to make a living! "

My little sister-in-law, Hala, in the ducks enclosure at Papa Roger's farm in the Delta. She was four years old here, 1984, and Christina at four years old looked amazingly like this picture of Hala!



On Arabic Verbs:  "The Arabic class began slowly, but now we're on the sixth lesson and it's requiring a lot of studying. One thing that helps is that Arabic words are mostly derived from a three-consonant root word: Mohammad, for example, is from the root HMD, giving the names Hamdi, Hamidi, Ahmed, Mahmoud, Hamid, etc. Take the root DRS for example: daras = to study, daras = he studied, darasat = she studied, darras = to teach, darrasa = he taught, darrasat = she taught, mudarris = m. teacher, mudarrisa = f. teather, madrasa = school, dars = lesson."

Having lots of fun, 1984... my (now ex-) husband in the lead, myself in the middle, and my mother and the taxidriver's daughter bringing up the rear... they were both afraid to go alone on a camel, so they decided to share the ride! Actually it's much more uncomfortable that way, as you have to sit straight forward; if you are going for any kind of distance on a camel, you want to be the only rider so you can move around and change positions; personally I preferred sitting sideways. You also can't sit just erect like when horseback riding, the best way is to loosen your spine a bit and sway with the camel's movements, and NOT lean forward to hang onto the pommel (unnecessary anyway) or you are going to have one heck of a back/shoulder/neck ache the next day... a chiropractor's delight!

Goofing off, bellydancing in my new galabiyya that I got down in Kerdessa (see pic of Kerdessa further down). 1984




Faiyoum is an oasis outside of Cairo dating from ancient times, featuring a very large lake and lovely surrounding area. I went there in 1983 with Hisham and Mama Samira and Hala, and various cousins and uncles of Hisham's, and my best friend, Nora, another student from UC who was in Egypt on the Education Abroad Program. It was cold as bejeebers there, sometime in November I think, and somewhere or other I have a picture of me at Faiyoum wearing the blanket off my bed--I made a slit in the center and whip-stitched the edges of yarn to make a poncho--the Egyptians looked at me a little strangely, but I was WARM!!!





First Impressions:  "Close up, Cairo is everything you've ever heard about it - dirty, crowded, noisy, squalid, dusty - but the noise is more a symphony of languages, car horns, clattering hooves, the roar of buses, clicking heels, vendors' cries; the crowds are a fascinating combination of men in European dress, in dirty, sometimes tattered galabiyyas or elegant, flowing bedouin robes and headdresses, while the women wear anything from the latest Parisienne fashions to long black dresses and headscarves - the latter are by far the more numerous. The streets are crowded with cars, animals and people, and the sidewalks are in incredibly bad condition, and litter is everywhere. No one, but no one, walks on the sidewalks."

We are up on a hillock overlooking all three pyramids, great spot for pictures! You can't see our faces very well, but geez, what do you want, egg in your beer? sheesh!



On Customs:  "The baggage was right outside the exit from the passport and currency area and had already arrived. I got a cart, loaded everything and pushed it in the direction of a sign saying "Nothing to Declare." A man walked up to me and asked me where I was from (this had already happened five or six times since I entered the building) and welcomed me to Egypt (that too). I thanked him and would have gone on except that he was so plainly expecting me to say something. I guess I looked at him kind of blankly, because he suddenly got the message and explained that he was "the customs." I said "O-h-h!" and we both laughed. He then asked if I had a video camera, which kind of confused me--I replied cautiously that I had a camera, holding it up for him to see, but no, he meant a video camera, which I didn't have. He then said he needed to look in the smaller suitcase. I asked if he would also help to close it again, and he said "Oh yes, yes." I opened it and he poked about rather gingerly. We both had to practically sit on it to close it, but we got it done. Then he directed me to the exit and that was it."

Now this is a great place!! The camel souq (bazaar) out Mohandessin. The camels come up by boat and by rail from the Sudan, and not only the camels but every piece of equipment or decoration you would ever need, not just for camels but also for horses, donkeys and water buffalo (used extensively in the delta for farm work) and which are also sold at the camel souq, can be found. This is a vendor of harness bells and yarn tassels for the various horse and donkey carts and riding camels. Our taxi driver is on the left, in the brown shirt, he whose daughter rode the camel with my mom :)




On the Spice Market:  "Never go to the spice market if you suffer from asthma or respiratory problems. It's a wonderful place - a warren of small, covered alleys with hudreds of little small, narrow stalls filled with goods. Men in galabiyyas smoking the hookah or drinking coffee sit out in front of their shops, surrounded by canvas bags carefully folded down to reveal powders, seeds, twigs, bark, nuts, etc. Cumin, hot red pepper, ginger (root or powdered), cinnamon (sold in bark form or powdered), and heaven knows what else. Since the perfume mixers and incense dealers are in the same bazaar, little shops of wall-to-wall bottles tucked in between the spice shops - the smell is overwhelming. Smoky, too, between the incense, hookahs and cigarettes. Incense, by the way, is not in little sticks but in fair-sized chunks that are placed on burning coals in a brass dish - and boy is the smell powerful!"

The little village of Kerdessa... hardly more than a long street, really, where cotton is woven into cloth, and dresses (galabiyyas) and other clothing is made, but really galabiyyas are the specialty... if you stand at the beginning of the street and look down it, all you see are these shop fronts with the colorful galabiyyas swaying in the breeze. There are wonderful bargains, and also you can go down towards the end of the stores, right before the bridge where you see the donkey cart, and go inside and actually see the workers weaving the cloth on rickety wood frames. A wonderful place, and one of my first stops always when I go to Egypt!




More First Impressions:  "Walking around Cairo is an incredible experience. You only walk on the sidewalks if you are actually shopping or are imitating a tourist for some strange reason. Otherwise you walk in the street with everyone else. The sidewalks are in terrible condition. They are made up of square tiles set on the dirt. Many are missing, or tilted up or down, so if you are walking on the sidewalk you have to always be looking at where you are placing your feet or you run the risk of breaking your neck. Also, you'll notice that lots of cars park on the sidewalks. The streets aren't much better; unexpected sunken areas and holes can not only trip you up, but often contain water (if you want to call it that). There is always water in various placed on the street and sidewalks, since the invariable practice of all shopkeepers is to hose the adjoining street and sidewalk with water to keep the dust down, which creates a muddy mess everywhere. "


Back to the camel souq... this is my mother being shown a baby camel by its proud owner (or offspring thereof). Only four days old, it was the sweetest, softest little thing, with big eyes and eyelashes to die for... we were utterly charmed!


By amazing coincidence (it really was!), we were in Luxor at the Temple of Isis on Philae (near Aswan Dam in Upper Egypt) in April 1984 when my mom was visiting, and Hisham suddenly said, "Look, there's Nora!" And it was... with HER parents visiting and they had decided to go to Luxor! So here's a picture of all of us!


Hisham and I on the lower blocks making up the Great Pyramid... what is really impressive is their size, almost as tall as me (5'5"). The stones are graduated in size from the bottom to top. To see them even from a distance is quite awe-inspiring--I burst into tears when I first saw them, which highly disconcerted the young man sitting next to me on the bus; it was an AUC tour for the new foreign students a few weeks after we had arrived. The pyramids are quite incredible, and their very size overwhelms you and inspires a feeling of unreality, although they are quite present and quite real! So, by the way, are the crowds of camel drivers and other vendors, as many will be quick to tell you... but not unpleasantly so *smile*


Here's Mom again, having more fun! She bought one of the cute headgears from one of the young vendors, and the camel driver loaned her his robe for this picture... isn't she just too cute for words???



On Driving:  "To elaborate on the driving, here's a hint to newcomers to Cairo: just lean back and relax. Being tense and nervous is a waste of energy and can give you ulcers, and what will happen will happen anyway. Just trust in God and your driver: he's really not going to hit that car, or person, or whatever, as the case may be. Honking the horn is not a sign of or a cause of irritation as it is in the U.S.; it's (apparently) a way of letting the other person know that you're there, or that you're coming through, or whatever. The lanes in the road might as well not even exist; you know how sometimes you wish you could see around that car in front of you? Well, here they just move over until they can. If one lane of traffic (if you can call it that) seems to be moving a little faster - but not quite - then the lane you're in, your driver will just drive sort of in the middle, swinging back and forth until he decides which lane he really wants to be in. No one really drives fast, there's too much traffic for that and it's impossible, so everyone is really pretty much going the same speed (providing they're going at all, the traffic spends a lot of time at a dead stop); it's just the lane-changing, the turns, the incoming traffic, the midans and the forks in the road that make driving a hair-raising event. It can be harrowing, believe me. However, it's all in God's hands, so just relax and enjoy the ride; try thinking of it as a rollercoaster ride at Knott's Berry Farm or something--lots of thrills and screams but no real danger."


Manial2.jpg (30613 bytes)Hisham and I at the Manial Palace (a Club Mediterranean resort) on Roda Island.





On Second Impressions:  "The really interesting things I wrote about when I first arrived I hardly even notice anymore. As a matter of fact, I was surprised when I went back to read my journal one day and read about how dingy and scummy I first thought Cairo, and Zamalek, and the hostel were. I suppose they still are, from a newcomer's point of view. It's not only that I don't notice it, but the fact is, dingy and scummy are relative, as is poverty."

After being in Egypt about six weeks, they airlifted a group of us students to Sharm el-Sheikh, on the southernmost tip of the Sinai and where the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba (seen Lawrence of Arabia lately, anyone?) meet. It was perfectly wonderful, and I was taking pictures of the lagoon (still to be scanned in) when this absolute gorgeous Egyptian hunk shows up! So, bold American that I am, I took his picture! :)




In Cairo, the old ways of doing things are alive and well, and are as much a fact of life (sometimes more so!) as the new:





At the end of the day, the produce vendor has sold all his goods, and the man on the bicycle may have been carrying chickens in the wooden crate behind him. Across the street are the grounds of the Cairo Zoo (I think... so hey, what am I, perfect or something?) *grin*





This is my very beautiful sister-in-law, Nashwa, at a party at Mama's house. She was my best friend when I was married and living with my in-laws, and in fact I often called her "hamaati" ("my mother-in-law"), she was very wonderful to me. We are still very good friends, and she remains my favorite of all my in-laws, second only to Mama Samira, my mother-in-law, who died a couple of years ago of a stroke, and whom I miss very, very much.


Well, that's all for now... be sure to check back, I'll have more after my next day off when I do more scanning... I have *LOTS* more where these came from!!!! (grin)

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Be sure to visit my other Egypt sites:

An Afternoon Visit to Islamic Cairo

Luxor & Valley of the Kings

Aswan and Philae

The Arabic font on this page is Iqraa True Type Font, downloaded free from the Islamic Center of Blacksburg ...many thanks to them!

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