Sunday, February 27, 2011

Revolution part 2?

2/27 Sunday 4:32
There is currently a sit-in taking place at the Majlis Shura (legislative advisory council.) The demand is for the removal of six ministers. This is taking place courtesy of the intelligentsia, who are advocating non-violence while pushing for a new constitution and structural change to the political apparatus.
Up North and in other cities the youth are conducting a different protest. They are pushing for higher education, employment, authority to be given to the Majlis, accountability from the ministers, and higher living wages. Oman: 28% unemployment, an unchecked monarchy, and more than half of the population has only known one ruler. Sound familiar? We shall see.
Right now there are reports which state either 2 or 5 dead courtesy of police, a few cops in the hospital, and the youth are mad as hell. Worries have come out that the youth aren’t going to exercise restraint, which is what troubles me most. Confirmed reports of tear gas have surfaced as well as allegations-and apparently a few bodies- of live ammo used. (This very well could be rubber bullets though.)
A hope gap exists within the youth. Hopefully this gap does not lead to a canyon filled with blood.
All of the dangerous stuff is in Sohar, which is a few hours from me up the coast. I haven’t got any pictures yet, nor seen anything but will keep you posted.

Family

There are times when I definitely feel like a boarder in the home-stay family. Don’t get me wrong, I have a wonderful family, and am eternally grateful, but like many things in life; this is not what I had planned for. Oman was an option for me always, thanks to Drake’s incredible Study Abroad (http://www.drake.edu/international/study-abroad/) choices. However I had grand dreams of gallivanting off after school every day down Alexandria’s back alleys to find the soul of the city, to meet everyone, and fall in love with the language, the people, the city, and the Mediterranean Sea. All that changed…
Yesterday those changes were put into perspective. The parents were working late, which meant the kids were rambunctious and when the father came home they ran towards him and jumped into his arms. (I used to do that as a kid, when my dad had this long tan trench coat that I can still smell when I close my eyes, and an odd top hat/fedora sort of thing. I am now poked fun of in my family my choices in odd hats, though I am pretty sure that’s where my fascination started. Like father, like son.) As I sat watching this over my book and cup of tea, I realized this is an aspect of Egyptian life I would not get to know from my apartment. This is the soul of Oman: family life.
One of the girls had to make a clock for her homework and was struggling. So like good proud men, the father and I worked together to create a cardboard timepiece to rival Rolex. We even made working hands and used a tack to secure them. Then I pulled out my multi-tool to make use of the pliers to safely secure the back end of the tack. It was a fine clock. Then the English workbook required her to draw in the hands. She can’t read well, so I ended up teaching her to tell time with the help of my analog watch, while the father helped her brother with counting in Arabic. I may be assisting at a first grade English level, but I finally feel useful in this family.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sailing

Every once and awhile I head to Expat land: a place where the call to prayer is a little softer, shorts are acceptable and English is the dominant language. This little journey took me to The Wave-Muscat (http://www.thewavemuscat.com/), a Dubai Palms/The World wanna-be, and the only place where Expats (expatriates) are allowed to own property in Oman. (Psyche! The Omanis are building a new airport with the international runway just on the other side of the road of the far too expensive-$221,000- 1 bedroom apartments. This is either atrocious city planning or someone has a wonderfully expensive sense of humor and a distaste for sleeping Westerners.) The Wave happens to be right on the beach, and since much of it is built out onto the water, a natural marina and bay is formed. The winds coming down through the Gulf towards the Indian Ocean tend to pickup right here. This creates the perfect spot for a stadium of sorts to be erected to watch Extreme Sailing.
As I cabbed it towards The Wave along the beach highway I could make out the mainsails crisscrossing each other on the bay. It was glorious. These were 40 foot Catamarans built for racing. There were 11 teams, with the home crowd cheering for Oman Air and The Wave’s own racer. (This was all free and the last part of the Muscat Festival, which meant there were some Omani’s. The poster boy-literally his face was everywhere- Khamis, had taken up the sport three years ago after never having been on a boat. He won it all last year.)

I was cheering for a team called Artemis which was captained by the only American in the regatta. For the most part it was Aussies, Kiwis and Brits.
Races would last about ten minutes and required the boats to go through different gates spread throughout the bay. They would have to choose between going wide or sticking close to shore, and were given penalties (360 degree turn) for hitting each other. It was great to watch the helmsman work against their competitors and many times they would jump up along side one on the last dash to to the end, drop back, take all the wind out of the other’s sails, and then bolt forward. The notion that someone might crash a 40 foot boat, was also interesting and the close calls received much attention from the crowd. The final sprint was right along the bleachers which made for a thrilling end: It was downwind so the spinnakers (massive white sails out the front of the boat) unfurled which rocketed the boat forward while the skippers tried to get as much speed as they could. Occasionally they would fly a hull (raise one out of the water) which also increased their speed and most importantly brought them to the literal edge of disaster. It was magical to watch these vessels, powered solely by the wind, cutting across the bay.
The Extreme Sailing Series (http://www.extremesailingseries.com/) travels all over the world to do this for the rest of the year. In America they come to Boston. It was all hosted by Oman Sail, which is mostly run by Westerners but is Oman’s attempt to get Omani youth back into their very storied sailing roots.

Artemis won. AMERICA!

Living on the edge

Thursday Feb 24 11:00am

There is a mark of manliness which has passed for my generation: the straight razor shave. I imagine days of old where men would sit around the barber shop conversing over baseball scores, fishing holes, and new fangled rock n roll. They would be there to get a haircut and straight razor shave.
I was looking rather unkempt having gone more than a month without a good haircut and making sure my last haircut did not draw unwanted (who does he work for?) attention in Egypt. There was no way my current state of appearance would pass any inspection, by either Admiral or amicable female. It is the Arab World’s version of Saturday morning, a time for cleaning and chores. After cleaning my room, I ventured out to one of the four million barbershops that seem to litter the streets of Muscat, generally all right next to each other. I walked into one from which the proprietor had greeted me on previous wanderings around my block. I ended up getting exactly what I wanted in terms of a haircut and then they asked if I wanted a shave.
I have always wanted a straight razor shave. My father said it is much better and closer than what my Gillette razor can do. He once told a story of trying to get one for his wedding day. I was a little nervous about blades on my throat, and thought to the Johnny Depp musical movie about the demon barber. Images also flashed of the beheadings in the country next door, and terrorist television with men doing the same in black jumpsuits. Oh wait, those people aren’t barbers, and this is Oman. In odd conversation I learned the proper way to tell if I am going to be murdered in the Arabic, so figured I would have a few seconds to do something. Then I realized how ethnocentric this line of thought was and felt bad for even coming across it.
The shave was incredible and easily one of the most glorious things I have ever had. It was as if (cue the Midwest reference) a zamboni had laid down a sheet of silk smooth ice of my face. I may have to invest in a straight razor when I get home. If you have never had one of these shaves, get one for your next big event/date/etc. My Gillette is going to get quite jealous.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Toes in the Water

The past 48 hours have easily been some of my most memorable. In the ebb and flow of study abroad everyone gets down at some point, and we were all feeling it. Thankfully we had this excursion as a group.
We headed to the desert. I am a huge fan of deserts, especially suns setting into them and the stars rising above. When we arrived at the camp it was about an hour before the sun started to set so we packed into 4x4s and “Dune Bashed”-drive up and down really steep dunes throwing sand up and ride fast enough to rival many roller coasters. Then they left us on a really high dune over looking the camp to watch the sunset. The sun hung right on the horizon as if trying to make up it’s mind, then plunged straight down. The lighting during this time is spectacular so I really enjoyed taking pictures. As the sun shone for it’s last few moments everyone was quiet listening to the still of the desert and watching the end of the day.
After hiking down the dune, and a delicious dinner some folks sang and others, including myself migrated to the bonfire pits. I sat around with a few friends and made new ones. I had one of the most chilling conversations with a man named Ahmed. He and his Hungarian wife joined us by the fire as I worked on putting damage into the tabacco bowl of a hookah. (Jupiter was setting in the west; I blew smoke rings around it.) I started in Arabic with the normal introduction dance with Ahmed. He was an Iraqi who worked as an engineer in Oman. He had been here for 17 years. I can do math, so hesitantly asked him what he did before he moved here. He was an artillery officer in Sadam’s army, fighting the Coalition during the Gulf War, in Southern Iraq. We talked for an hour in English (his was great) about being an officer against the American forces and what sort of strain that put on him and his troops. We also talked about how his leadership forced him and his platoon to stay out, in the open (can’t beat the Americans in open desert warfare) and what it was like for him as an officer. It was one of the most interesting conversations I have ever had.
Eventually the conversation dwindled and he and his wife headed to their cabin, while I stayed with the fire and my smoke rings before heading to my rack as well. For a very brief time. I woke up at 2:30, thankfully joined by my favorite Egyptian evacuee Amina (fellow Bulldog.) We hiked up multiple sand dunes, which took over a half hour to get to a good location, where I could look east. Then we waited. I took great joy in being able to show her some of the constellations, and she saw her first shooting stars. We were waiting for the almost full moon to go down, and Sagittarius to come up. This made the dark sky explode with the brightest part of the Milky Way, our galaxy. I have chased this part of the galaxy with my father and John Rummel on many occasions (http://www.friendsoftheapostleislands.org/) When it came up, I went to work getting different shots, and avoiding planes heading to Australia. Briefly captured, and while I was testing different settings, and the camera was open while I was in awe of the heavens, I witnessed one of the top 5 most glorious scenes of my life. A fireball of a shooting star fell seductively straight across the Milky Way. It was sheer enjoyment for me and I had a smile on my face for the entire day.
After breakfast we drove to our next camp, close to a turtle reserve on the Indian Ocean. We arrived a few hours early, so grabbed a soccer ball and headed to the beach (far away from the turtle nesting grounds.) Before the game began we all went swimming/walking on the beach. I took a stroll to dry off and for a few minutes couldn’t see another soul on the beach. Talk about an experience; the vast ocean in front of me, not a person around and I am on the other side of the world. It was awe-inspiring. Our younger Arabic teacher came along and played soccer with us. We were covered in sand by the end of the game, but as a good pickup game will do, everyone’s smile matched mine from the morning.
We made it back to camp to watch the sunset again, followed by dinner, and more hookah. A Turk brought a bottle of vodka and offered it around. I was proud none of our team members took it, out of respect to the society, our purpose in it (members of, not just tourists) and our lovable Muslim host, Ali. We then got into a sing-a-long of sorts with Ali. We sang an American song in unison, he belted about Arabic love songs. Bonfire crackles and waterpipe bubbles provided the perfect background music.
We all woke up at 4 am to go to the turtle beach and got to see mother turtles laying eggs, burying them in their nests, and then heading out to sea. That was really interesting in the “circle of life” sort of way as only a few will make it to adulthood. We watched the sunrise, went to breakfast (chicken eggs, Ali swears) and headed to Sur to a Dhow (traditional Arab sailing ship) factory. We had free rnage of the shipyard, which resulted in some interesting photowork. After casting off from the shipyard, we went to a Wadi, much like the one from my previous trip. More hiking, swimming, playing in the pools and just relaxing in the fresh clear water lead to close out a perfect weekend before a quiet and content ride back to Muscat.
We arrived by the expat (read: rich, white) area. More importantly we left that area which full stomachs thanks to Baskin Robins 31 flavors. I haven’t had Ice cream in a long time and my Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Peanut Butter combo made up for it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dream a little dream

Fri Feb 11
I had my first “Wow, I’m in Oman moment” yesterday. It occurred on the side of the road, 2 hours out of Muscat in a direction I am not entirely sure, as we ended up seeing the beach again. I was on the side of the road while the cast of the Arab version of the Hangover-my host father and his three buddies, stopped at a wayside mosque to pray. I was invited to either sit in the car, or hang out outside (I am assured I will get to go into a mosque one of these weeks, but it will be in Muscat where things aren’t as conservative.) It was a gorgeous day, and while I was listening to them pray I checked my surroundings. Huge rock walls jutted up from the highway giving the impression of the Grand Canyon. A wind started to blow (which kept up until it roared me out of sleep that night as a tent came crashing down next to me, and I went and slept in the car. This is the Shamal-north wind, signaling it’s about to change seasons, which means hot hot hot) and I just had one of those “I am 2 time zones shy of the other side of the world from everyone I know” moments. I am travelling with 4 guys I don’t know who I think are hilarious but I also do not understand any of the jokes. I was told “hey we are going camping, bring a swimsuit.” I have camped in this region before, and it is easily one of my favorite pastimes here, and also why I schlepped a tripod over 4 continents in 3 weeks. The stars amazing here, 2nded only to the Apostles and what I vaguely remember of Maui.
A few kilometers out of the wadi (apparently we are staying in Wadi, which I interpreted to be like Jordan’s Wadi Rum-vast desert, why the hell do I need a swimsuit?) they pull off, throw the landcruiser, which until today has sat idle infront of the house and now I find out what it is used for, into 4 wheel and literally leave the road towards a dead tree. Then a line is thrown around it/the hitch and dead tree is yanked from dead ground to become firewood. It is stowed on back after it is broken up more by jumping and beating. We then jump back on the highway only to get off again by a river. We follow the river up until it becomes pools and then river bed. We cross the stream a few times and eventually end up on a rocky sandbar, where we make camp. Around us is a gorgeous wadi, having been cut from probably a few million years of rock, occasionally helped out but what looked like some violent mother nature temper-tantrums in the form of volcanoes, water and earthquakes. It’s also dark, which means food. The meals were incredible Omani Mishkeck, a seasoned kebab. Then they talked and let me go to work. I grabbed at least one of the top 3 pictures I have ever taken and am thankfully in it.

(Bless timers! I take great pride when my friends make their profile picture one I have taken, and lament the fact that I don’t get to travel with brilliant photographers other than when I go with Dad and John once a year, therefore am limited in the amount of shots I am in.) The moon was at half, meaning just enough light to saturate the wadi but not blow out the stars I had my mattress outside and so as the camera worked I would throw on the Ipod to my favorite songs and just watch the universe literally swirl by. (I try to start all the posts with either a lyric or the name of the song, which some avid readers have picked up on. Dream a little dream of me starts out: “stars shining bright above you…” and also happened to come on my ipod as I was gazing.) It was a whose-who of delights last night with Orion, Pegasus, the big dipper/Ursa Major, Canis Major, Pices, Cassiopeia, Leo, and the Pleiades all in great form. It was wonderful, and I finally felt the independence I was worried I was leaving behind in an apartment in Alexandria. I also tried time lapse and star trail stuff but will need to wait to get home to put it all together. I got a few hours of shut eye (automatic cameras: run ‘em till the dual batteries die.) When I woke up, breakfast was being made. In daylight it occurred to me that this swimming pool is rather big, and deep. The rest of the day was spent singing, playing drums, harassing the French who pulled up right next to us (dude you have the whole wadi and it’s 100k long!) and swimming. Imagine Huck Fin swimmin’ hole in Oman. This led to a lounging day eating shark (store-bought, not from the swimming hole, but the crystal clear freshwater made for easy spotting of fish) and getting “Ian’s first day doing something with his shirt off outside sunburn.” Feb 11th would be a new record by a long shot for that one. Maybe it was that I was just being. I wasn’t talking much, aside just to ask certain words in Arabic. Their English wasn’t great and I realized how far I have to go in Arabic to be conversationally competent. This meant I spent most of my time observing: them, their interactions, the beautiful place we were in, and thinking about what it all means to be over here.
I am happy, and content. The stars shined brightly last night, seeming to say “you can do this, enjoy your time.” (8:23pm FRIDAY I just received a text from Amina, my fellow Bulldog in Egypt and now in Oman: “Mubarak resigned. Military is now in charge of Egypt.” Pharo’s rule is over! I am completely elated. It was all worth it. “Let freedom ring!”) Wow that was ironic to get that text as the next line I was about to write; The stars shine the same for us regardless of what country we are in, and hopefully they will shine bright on those we left behind in Egypt, as they continue to do for me in Oman.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Girls and Boys

I have unfiltered access to any aspect of Omani society that I inquire about via my host mother, who is South African. She married an Omani man, and they are a really cute couple.
I asked about dating habits among Omani youth and got some scary answers. When trying to date or get to know someone, both genders will cruise a certain street (Shara Hb-Street of Love.) They will Bluetooth their numbers to strangers coming by. This is based solely on physical attraction. This will lead to secret rendezvous where he will take her to some dark and secluded place for them to talk and possibly other things. I imagine this is not the safest way to engage in dating. To ratchet up the danger level: sometime he will tailgate her if she is driving, run her off the road, dash out and hand his number, then return to traffic. Two rules apply: can’t be seen in public, and she must be a virgin when she gets married, but there is still high amounts of intercourse going on. (The response to the look on my face at the moment of this telling, was “yes they do that instead.”) Generally someone won’t marry a girl he has “dated.” This is all because of the infatuation with the west. The “cool” kids are the one who act American. Graffiti on the wall outside my neighborhood says “Tupac, 50 Cent and Eminem.” However they think the Americans cruise girls all day and engage in random acts of “intimacy” every weekend. The repression on folks here is nasty, and becomes really dangerous that they are doing all these things without anyone having a clue where they are as they snuck out. I asked what happens when this generation comes of the age of influence and power. The response “Allah help us.”
Doug was a former American student here. Doug has blond haired, blued, quintessential American. Doug was also really shy. He spent a few hours at Starbucks one weekend using their free internet. He came home and said “I didn’t look or say anything…” and proceeded to dump out 22 slips of paper with phone numbers of girls who had dropped them on his table as they breezed by. The story gets better when he takes a ride from a friendly bus driver, who happened to have the girls high school route that day. Same sort of situation, but secretly passed so the driver couldn’t see.

I am fine, and into a routine. Arabic classes are great, the hour long break I use to go to the beach is better. People are nice here, and I am less on edge. It’s still a walking society and I even seen too many things to photograph, but have been perusing book stores to see what other folks have shot of Oman. Turns out I need a car to go anywhere cool. This weekend however I am heading camping so we shall see. I will finally be able to put my wide angle lens to good use.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Window on the world

“Welcome to Oman! Nothing like you saw in Egypt will ever happen here.”
There are also some other differences. This is the gulf, not the Levant or Egypt that I am used to. It is significantly warmer. The men all dress the same wearing dishdasha (white robe) and white cover. The women all wear black robes with hijab and a significantly larger amount wear nikab (eyes only.) This all means that when me and most host father (Ahmed) go into the supermarket with me wearing a red polo I stick out. A lot. I am almost a foot taller than the average Omani.
People drive, everywhere. Egypt was rather foot accessible (hiking all of Zamelek,) whereas Muscat is quite spread out. This means the “Faces of Egypt/Oman” photo project I was working on may have to stop at the Nile. I have taken one picture while be here, of the Sultan’s boat.
When we heard (we really knew nothing, at all, of this country) it was a sultanate, one thing immediately comes to mind: Disney’s Aladdin. In true orientation form, we watched the movie as a group for our first class to discuss culture. The moment we landed and saw the architecture though I serenaded my fellow bulldog with a rousing rendition of “Prince Ali.” She was definitely impressed, I think after this I may do a Middle East tour.
On the way down, when I was trying to figure out what I had gotten myself into another particular song came to mind:
“A cup of coffee and a shaky hand/waking up in a foreign land/trying to act like I got something planned/that’s my window on the world/”-JB
Right now my classroom window opens up to the Indian Ocean, which seems like a good place to build my sand castle for the next few months.

Woken up 7am Monday Feb 7th by host siblings: “Are you a packers fan or a steelers fan?” groggy response: Packers. “You won!” OMGGGGGGGGGGGGG ALHUMDILALLAH!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Silver Wings

The Arab airlines are notorious for having really attractive flight attendants. Waiting for our flight from Prague today, watching the darn snow that I am utterly thankful to be leaving, I noticed this gorgeous woman. (That is saying a lot as Czech people were drop dead gorgeous in general, and I am mad at whichever one of my grandparents left that particular gene pool.) Turns out the gods of seat assignments put me and her next to teach other. We started talking and turns out she was an off duty Emirates flight attendant, from Slovakia. I had a great flight.

I occasionally glanced up at the in-flight map. It shortly occurred to me that our route would put us over Iraq. First came Mosul, then Kirkuk, Baghdad etc as we pushed south towards Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and on to Dubai. I felt very odd knowing many lives were changed and lost on the sands 35,000 feet below. While waiting in the airport in Prague I was reading One Bullet Away By Capt. Fick, a Marine who was one of the first people to head opposite my direction in 2003. Knowing what happened below us to two generations of Americans and countless years of struggle for the Iraqis made it all a little uneasy and I was happy to get out of Iraqi airspace. I thought of if and when I will ever land in Baghdad in a professional capacity. The recent political strife in Egypt and other countries guarantees positions for Arabic speakers.

The newspapers here are still covered with Egypt news. We skyped one of our friends in Alex last night and he mentioned things had calmed down. We watched tv reports from Cairo at the same time and saw something very different.

Flags

I am completely and truly blessed by friends and family with the support I received via email, facebook and phone calls. There was a time when I had a horrible weekend in Jordan, and returned to the hotel only to find a letter saying I was missed and thought of. The same feelings of great warmth swept over me every time I turn on my computer these last few days. I will be eternally grateful for the support extended by so many.

One of my favorite mental pictures from the trip is of our group on the bus all holding Egyptian flags. The day before we evacuated a guy was selling the flags on the side of the road (capitalism at it’s finest: making money off a revolution.) I of course asked to stop to add one to my collection. We all ended up getting the flags and waved them across Egypt to many a smile and thumbs-up from the drivers we passed.

In a few short hours these flags will be spread all over the world, just as quickly as the people who wave them came together. I and another Drake student will be heading to Muscat, Oman in the Gulf (goin’ Gulfin’!) Others will head to Australia, Dubai, France, Morocco, and many returning to their home universities to either take classes or a job for the semester. 12 students randomly brought together with a thirst to learn Arabic and enjoy Egyptian culture. Now we will be spread out after having relied on each other in some of the most trying times any of us have ever faced in our two decades of life. It has been an honor to know these people and I was greatly impressed with all of them. Hats also off to our team leader Chris Harrison who truly kept us together, sane and most importantly, safe. I will miss them greatly.

There is no snow where I am going (although Prague has been gorgeous, it is way too cold for what I packed.) When I land it will be 80 degrees.
Back into the Sandbox!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Reflections


It has been two nights since I left. No gunfire to put me to sleep. Instead I wake up in the comforts of a snow encrusted Prague, and some resemblance of a routine. I am watching the country I enjoyed so much fall apart from the safety of a Czech beer and a leather chair. I am no longer in the regime imposed stone-age I was in. There are times when I lament how connected I am, and then when I do not have any connection, as was the case when internet and phones were shut down by the regime for days, one comes out with a new appreciation.
I learned I can survive under even harsher circumstances than what I thought. Gunfire, stone age living, and the unknown sure help one grow up. I learned of a truly neighborly and compassionate lifestyle, that men would arm themselves to protect their families, property and friends. This is thankfully not a distinctly American value, but shared by those who seem so distant from us. That distance gap greatly shrunk when I saw the struggle these people went through. When we go abroad we notice how different things are, but we seem to see how much alike we really are. For once it wasn’t about making an extra buck, or ferrying tourists to old piles of rock. It was about freedom and choice.
I was very pleased with my packing job, which leads to my next one. The plan is to hopefully head to the Gulf for more Arabic, but certain people need to give clearance first for that. If not I will head back to Drake. Now I wait and as I look out on the snow next to the tarmac, I reflect.
I marveled at the pyramids. I listened to Jimmy Buffett by the Mediterranean Sea. The hookah smoke rings were formed, and prices expertly slashed with a look and a few Arabic phrases. Entire conversations were had with me in the Arabic corner, and an Egyptian representing the English language, which later turned to all Arabic, and a smile to my linguistic competence. We can judge places from an air-conditioned tourist bus, send a few postcards and then return to our western hotels and call it “travelling.” Every once in a while comes the opportunity to get off the beaten path and to see something different and real. I am not sure what words if any can best describe what we saw differently than our counterparts holed up in a 5-star but to sum it up I would use “heart.” I got to truly see the heart of a city, which expanded to the heart of a nation.
I spent 12 days in the sandbox. I pulled out 4 months shorter than I had planned, with a little less clothing, but so much more in memories.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Jan 30
8:16am Local:
“Ian, this is Dr. Mohamed. Please tell the team to be ready shortly. We need to take you all to the airport.”
11:16am: All non-essential military (me) ordered out of country.
12:30pm: Americans told to evacuate by embassy.

It is now 7am Jan 31st. I am sitting in an airport in the desert outside of Alex and have been here for about 16 hours. We will move later today with other student groups on a flight chartered by our insurance companies to Athens and from there I am not sure what will happen. I suspect we will go home, which puts put in international and more importantly academic limbo. I really hadn’t planned on going back to Drake for the semester. Some chatter has come about regarding going to Jordan. I don’t know if I can get clearance to be there.
Once again the students from the Midwest shine. Our student counterparts from another prestigious language program are all east coasters. They kept us up most of the night demanding to know what the embassy/State Dept/their universities/Mommy and Daddy were going to do about the “over 40 american citizens stranded in Alexandria. I heard one of the conversations with an FSO and a student:” Where are you?”
“We are stranded in Alexandria, there was armed men with sticks last night?” (The armed men with sticks, guns etc were protecting us at our place, I don’t know about their relationship with the neighbors, but Arabs are some of the nicest most protective folks possible. As we made the long walk down the road to our meeting point we all thanked the men guarding the barricade. They seemed to understand we were pulling out and honestly looked sad. I rendered salute at the end of our road and 3 snapped to and returned it with a solemn stare.)
“Where in Alex are you?”
“The airport”
You can imagine how the embassy staff reacted to that. We are in a safe location (lots of Army guards on the perimeter and plain clothes men with pistols here, who stayed up all night guarding the restaurant we are all sleeping in) and have plans to evacuate.
This really sucks we have to pull out, but the gunfire and looting was not a safe environment for us to be. Over the next few days I am sure I will go through a whole host emotions. There was so much that depended on this semester, and I have done a wonderful job of tying up my time at Drake until June. A Marine friend of mine once told me Semper Gumby-always flexible. That fits well with the “could be worse, it could be raining” mantra of optimism we take when coming here. I am flexible with all of the daily ritual of being here, I hadn’t really planned on my location for the next few months being flexible.
Well this generally tops all study abroad stories I have heard.
“So, I was once evacuated from Egypt during a revolution…
Saturday-Jan 29th 6:36 PM Local
I woke up to not a cloud in the sky nor a cop on the street. I turned on the TV to see Mubarak had not stepped down but had sacked his ministers. That won’t be effective at all-the people want him out. Then I took a nap for a while as we waited for orders. I had a dream I could send one text to my folks to tell them I am safe.
We loaded the bus to head to the grocery store. People were directing traffic, taking the job the police were supposed to do. That was really inspiring. The notion of “we took down the police, so now we will fill in the spots” was really cool to see. We drove by one of the burned-out police stations and saw men who were looting being forced back by the citizens. One man had to return a rug by force of the people. (Currently I am watching the pictures of some of the looting that occurred in the museum in Cairo. I was so proud of this revolution and the calm shown by the protestors. There is a certain place in hell for someone who does this to a museum while his brothers are in the street fighting for their rights.) The street people all say “revolution,” while the news stations all say “protestors” or “demonstrators.” While walking around today, before the 4pm army instituted curfew we saw 20 military vehicles including a few tanks lined up on the main road in Alex.

A few hours ago I heard gunshots outside our apartment. The neighbors between a few apartments have barricaded the street and have armed themselves with pistols shotguns, 2x4s, golf clubs, and metal rods. Black smoke started to fill the sky again as the sun set over Alex. We are definitely in a state of emergency. We are safe though in our apartment. If something were to happen to one of our students though, we had no way to get them around the barricades to medical treatment. I doubt the looters will come our way, we are tucked away very far up on a ridge. I don't think we will be pulled out though.

Mubarak has appointed a VP-hasn’t been one for 30 years. A few of the other positions of the regime has been filled as well. I worry that once Mubarak does resign, celebratory gunfire will erupt.

8:10pm Gunfire rings out from the square 100 yards away. It is meant to keep the looters at bay, or so we hope. I checked the barricade that our neighbors built in our stairwell. I am not terribly excited about our only fireescape being blocked, however it adds to how real the perceived threat is. The scariest part is the Molotov cocktails which are primed and ready to be dropped on any attackers.

The selling point for my coming to Drake was when I found out we were getting an Arab professor. He was from Egypt and I was quite excited to be able to get there at some point. (Brits just announced to stay put if you are in the country and they are NOT yet pulling out.) I went with that professor in the past summer, and had a wonderful time. While there I learned quite heavily about the rigime, which augmented what I learned through Drake. Now I was really excited to at least put a professional grasp on Arabic from spending the semester here. I have been in Alex for almost 2 days now, and it has all gone to hell. This is the risk we take when we come to these places, so that we can learn a language and culture which will undoubtedly save American lives. Could I have gone and parties in Australia or London? Of course, but that would be a semester vacation. This semester will matter, and will undoubtedly be a story to tell my kids.
Some other photos of a revolution:






“And I said how ‘bout a revolution?”-OAR






It’s 9:05pm on Friday in Alexandria, Egypt. I am safe, up in our apartment. We just stayed as a team for 3 hours in the girl’s apartment. Tomorrow we intend to meet early and see what the country looks like…

This morning I woke up early. Ironically my last facebook post was that “I know how to get around the facebook block.” The government this morning shut down all internet and it still continues to be shutdown. (I will post this as soon as we get internet.) Then the cell service went, and we were only given (ironically) Emergency service. We had intended to go to the fort, the museum, and then shopping for stuff in our apartments. Originally we were told upon loading the bus “the museum has been closed for security reasons.” As we left the fort, the police ordered us to head back to our residences. One of our leaders was at a hotel, and mentioned they had blacked-out the first floor of her hotel which was right next to the rally point for the protest. The IFSA Cairo team, scheduled to land in two days, was also postponed. That is what really got me excited.
Police originally had no limits and exercised zero tolerance. (WORDS NOT APPROPRIATE FOR INTERNET?: CNN IS PROFILING THE TWITTER FEEDS. WE DON’T HAVE INTERNET OR CELL! THE WORLD TWEETING DOESN’T EFFECT THE PEOPLE ON THE STREETS, FOCUS ON THE RIOTS AND GUNFIRE)
Today is Friday and therefore Friday Prayer (which is like the Sunday service in the States.) Police in Alex opened up with tear gas as protestors left the main mosque. Rubber bullets were also used. Much of this we watched from a cafĂ© as “Love me Tender” by Elvis came over.
That afternoon I was overcome by my sense of adventure. I headed down to the smaller protest area to take some pictures (Insert) from a safe distance. I was looking for an elevated/safe position. It was very interesting to see how many folks were concerned about my presence. “American? Not safe, go home.” (We are sitting in our apartment right now singing revolution songs, the police just left the streets and are nowhere to be seen. Still watching CNN.) Anyways back to my trek: I eventually caught up with the protest while crisscrossing through side streets and train stations in order to not be picked up by the internal security because I had a backpack with a big camera. I jumped ahead of the protest, right infront of a police station. Using Arabic, I asked if I could come up to a family’s balcony and take pictures. They said yes and I stayed to take some wide angle shots of the mass of the protest on their way to join the larger group. I thanked them and then jumped back ahead. I ended up a half hour down the road following black smoke. I came upon large car fires. Smoke started to fill the air from other fires. Young men told me “No more Msr” (Egypt.) Then I came upon another fire, and another. 3 fires in less than 20 minutes? Time to head back. “6pm curfew from the Egyptian Army.” It’s 530 and I am still on the other side of town with fires between me and home. Shit. Time to hike it out. (CNN is saying Islamic threat for a new government. Not true. The military will, and the majority of Egyptians will not support a Muslim brotherhood government. This movement is so special because it is not an Islamic, it is everyone from all walks of life. If America continues to support regimes, in sheer terror of the brotherhood it will backfire like it has with Mubarak.) I was going down an alley and a guy saw me. He gave me a lift back to my area, with me keeping my hand on the car door to bail if need be-couldn’t do that in America. He was legitimately worried about my safety as I was a visitor to his country.) Smoke continued to fill the skyline. (On my balcony, I was overcome by tear gas which has mixed with smoke and filled the city.) We were stopped and had to backtrack because of the protests. When 6pm came around, we were still 2 miles out. I said I was faster on foot, thanked him profusely and skirted around the protest to my apartment. 2 miles in jeans and loafers. 15 minutes with full camera pack, my running partners would be proud. My blister is turning into a pain though. I got (Switched to Aljazeera English-“Protestors form human shield to keep Cairo museum from being looted.” God Bless this country!) Back to my apartment. No one was home, went to the other male apartment. No one home. Went to girl’s place. Building door locked. I am alone in a country with a revolution, and no way to tell folks I am okay. Interesting feeling, but hey this really beats a semester in Australia! Got back to my place and grabbed my laptop, packed another small bag to bail on the country if need be. Then went back to check one last time, and found my team. Thankfully too as my plan would have included, sit tight in apartment till light, make it to the port, jump on a ship and head to Italy. We all ended up at the girl’s apartment where I started writing this.
We have seen the Army rolling into the cities, and the police aren’t anywhere to be seen. Tanks and gunfire are reported. The ruling party building has been burned in Cairo, and one in Alex along with many government vehicles. I have heard a fair amount of gunfire going from traveling between the apartments, which is discomforting. I am really worried about being pulled out of the country.
OAR is still playing in the background singing the line “so I said how ‘bout a revolution?”
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