Random notes on a lazy Sunday

So wonderful to see a former student of mine traveling, writing, and thriving even after not graduating on time (or in a conventional sense) from high school. She’s getting an education the old-fashioned way – living it – and recently came home after witnessing first-hand the protests in Egypt:

I chose to explain my experience in Egypt during the protests this way because, since I have gotten back to Boston, many people have been talking about what is going on as if it is a joke. So what better way for me to explain it than to put you in my shoes? Hopefully you can learn the lessons I have.

One: Things are never as passive as you perceive them to be at first glance!

Two: We take too many things for granted!

Three: It is one thing to stand up for yourself, but it is another thing to stand up for a stranger you later will call your brother!

Then there was this in yesterday’s NY Times, which was an interesting connection and taught me a little more about some Bulgarian history – always good to know.

Also inspirational: Finding decent Mexican food in Sofia! We finally tried Taqueria last night before heading to BSD and found it completely satisfactory (smoke-free is a nice touch). Overall a very pleasant night out, which has led to a slow start today, but that’s what Sundays are for, no?

Go Egypt, go go go!

Whatever Mr. Mubarak is planning, it does feel as if something has changed, as if the Egyptian people have awoken. When I needed to leave Tahrir Square today, several Egyptians guided me out for almost an hour through a special route so that I would not be arrested or assaulted — despite considerable risk to themselves. One of my guides was a young woman, Leila, who told me: “We are all afraid, inside of us. But now we have broken that fear.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/04/opinion/04kristof.html?src=me&ref=general

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/03/world/middleeast/02032011-EGYPT-zoomer.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha2

Travel perspectives

I haven’t been able to follow the ongoing Egypt protests as much as I would like, but I was thinking lately about how my perspective on the issue is different after traveling there and meeting and speaking with Egyptians.

If I had never been to Egypt, I think I would be interested in the developments but nowhere near as invested. It might sound a little cheap, but I am actually worried about Ahmed and Dr. Sherif and Saleh and the other Egyptians we met. I’m wondering about their involvement in the conflicts. And I find myself thinking, “Go, Egypt, go go go!” It’s simply fascinating to me that I was there a few weeks ago and getting a very frustrated but very stagnant and hopeless vibe from the Egyptians we spoke to; they weren’t happy with the political situation, but they didn’t seem to feel that anything could be done about it – after all, “Egyptians don’t travel” was the motto in more ways than one.

Now, in a matter of days, feelings of empowerment and change are sweeping the country. Sure, it must be scary – some of the riot footage on TV looks terrifying – but compared to the stillness and apathy and learned helplessness that I witnessed, it’s remarkable. And being in Berlin now and tracking the legacy of freedom and oppression and seeing the historical photos of the Wall protests, it feels like something’s coming full circle.

This is the wonderful broadening of perspective that traveling gives you – it humanizes situations and presents new connections and just overall makes the world a little smaller and your experience a little more extensive.

Token (and other) photos

Earlier I posted about some of the memorable characters from our trip (there are a couple of updates, namely the photo of Dr. Sherif and the correct spelling of Saleh), and I’ve had a chance to poke around at some other photos in between trying to get caught up on work (I fell short by 8 essays today – already behind!), so here is a smattering of token touristy photos from Egypt.

Here is a pyramid:

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Epic post for an epic trip to an epic land

I returned to Sofia yesterday after the longest traveling trip I have had in a long time. Last summer I was in the UK for just over two weeks, and a few summers ago I was in Prague for over a month, but both of those involved workshops, so I was not fully a tourist in either trip, I didn’t move around as much as I did here, and I certainly wasn’t shepherded around on a group tour. This was also my first time being on a guided tour, but overall it was a good experience and certainly worthwhile on a first jaunt through Egypt; something that struck everyone in our party was how restricted and restrictive Egypt was, partly for tourists’ safety and partly (we think) to keep Egyptian culture sheltered from foreigners and to keep tourism revenues contained.

It’s hard to boil down and process 17 days’ worth of travel through some of the oldest lands in human civilization. While my cat was happy to see me and it was a relief to drink tap water, walk through the market and down the street to the grocery store without being harassed either about my appearance or to buy something, and not have to baksheesh anybody for things that are in their job description to begin with, I’m stuck sitting here, procrastinating from starting my school work because I feel I should write something about this amazing trip (also because if I don’t do it now, I’ll never have time in the hellish 3 weeks at work that are about to descend on me), and yet I don’t know where to start. We were frequently shuttled around so much and were so exhausted at day’s end that I wasn’t able to make many notes during the actual trip. I have 755 photos on my camera, but it’s hard to share them or think about them in a way that doesn’t reduce them to, “…and here is yet another temple with some sculptures and hieroglyphics.”

There are, of course, the token photos, but I don’t want to share those yet (partly because sifting through those 755 photos is going to be a pain in the ass). Instead, because this trip was so unusual (for me anyway) in the quantity of face-to-face interaction with other people, I want to write about the Top 5 People we met on this trip. Between the five of them, I think you get a pretty good sense of the flavor of our trip and of this intriguing land and people. Unfortunately, I only have pictures of a couple of them, but will add the others once I get them from one of my traveling partners who took most of them.

#1 – Kiril Petrov is Bulgarian, not Egyptian, but without him, we would never have gotten to Egypt – or at least, we would have gotten there with an altered itinerary and a lot more frustration. The Sofia airport was closed and flights were canceled the last couple of days before Christmas due to heavy fog, confounding a lot of people’s travel plans, including ours. We were scheduled to depart on a short flight from Sofia to Istanbul on the morning of 23 December; we would then spend most of the day in Istanbul before boarding our 7 pm flight to Cairo. However, our flight was as ill-fated as many others; it was “delayed” for nearly 13 hours, from a scheduled 8 am departure time to an 8:40 pm departure, which would of course mean that we would miss our Cairo flight. The two flights were also separate bookings and reservations, so it was questionable what we’d be able to do if we missed the Cairo flight.
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