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!
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 :)
and contemporary co-exist at the feet of ancient monuments.
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.
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,
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! "
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."
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!
off, bellydancing in my new galabiyya that I got down in Kerdessa (see pic of Kerdessa
further down). 1984
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."
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!"
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. "
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!
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!
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*
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
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
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."
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:
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*
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
Be sure to visit my other Egypt sites:
An Afternoon Visit to Islamic Cairo
Luxor & Valley of the Kings
Aswan and Philae
font on this page
is Iqraa True Type Font, downloaded free from the Islamic
Center of Blacksburg ...many thanks to them!