Helloooo from Alexandria! Internet will be limited here as we don’t get it in our hotel, so we will only be online on random early mornings when we can reach the American Center (the US Embassy employee bldg. from what I have gathered…).
Today has been pretty amazing. We had all been suffering a bit in Cairo, the air was making us all sick- no good for fluting or for singing- the environment was not exactly pretty or inspirational, we were having to pay for every meal we ate, etc. We were fine, having fun, enjoying ourselves, but Alexandria is just, wow. Very different. Somewhere I could live perhaps.
We got here and to our hotel at maybe 1pm today, and as this is a coastal city, on the Mediterranean (!), we suddenly had this amazing beauty right in front of us, and fresh air! No smog to be seen or smelt or breathed. And our hotel is right on the corniche (the street along the Sea). We are on the 11th floor, and right now I am sitting in bed staring at the Mediterranean Sea right outside my window. I saw the Mediterranean in Italy, and I think it is the most beautiful body of water I’ve ever seen. Same here in Egypt!
After settling in our hotel, we drove into the city, which is another piece of heaven for me. Back in the day Italians lived here and you can see this everywhere!! It’s like, a ghettofied Italy. There are Italian colors and some architecture, but no renovations have been made for decades. Lots of small windy streets, and lots of people, but not as crazy as Cairo. We drove straight for food, and had a great Egyptian meal of pita, humos, filafel, foul (beans, but better this time), beets, eggplant musaka, pickles, this egg tomato dish thing, and a custardy delicious dessert. Lots of food, that was brought out to us in about 3 minutes. Pretty sweet.
Then we were left on our own for a few hours, during which we explored. Walked down by the sea on these concrete rocks, then explored more of the inner city near us, did a little shopping (things are cheap here!! cheaper than Cairo), took lots of pictures, just took it all in.
At 7 we were picked up and taken to Gwen’s house (she is the cultural affairs lady who is in charge of us) to meet Egyptian musicians who are going to work with us this week.
Gwen is great, very very on top of things, trying to do everything she possibly can for us and I feel like with her here our daily life will be exciting. She’s an interesting person, has traveled all over as a kind of scheduler for the likes of Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell, has lived in Afghanistan and various other place, and now lives here in Alexandria.
She set us up with one main musician, a singer named Ahmed Gamal. Originally we were going to work with him and his group, but the rest of his group bowed out as working with Americans is not exactly something to be proud of here right now. Sooo, the musicians at Gwen’s tonight were Ahmed, and then lots of randoms: 5 violinists, a soprano, and a cellist.. We played our Egyptian tune for them and they approved, and we were all quickly talking about different ways we can collaborate. We shall see what comes of it in 5 days…!
After this, Robin, Tiffany, and I decided to go smoke some shisha… another interesting venture. We walked down the corniche trying to find somewhere acceptable to be- and were a little freaked as not one single female was in any cafÃ© we peered into. We were standing on a corner trying to decide what to do when a guy came out of a cafÃ© and asked in broken English if he could help us, and said, come in come in we have strawberry juice mango juice coffee, and I said shisha? And he said yesyes come in come in, so we did, and it was just fine. We were the only females there the entire time. But we were treated with absolute respect and courtesy and we didn’t receive a single unwanted stare. I did feel that making eye contact for longer than a second with a man in there would not be a good idea, but, we didn’t and all was grand. As we left, they said, you come back tomorrow, yes? We said, ok. Although, we probably won’t.
Sooo, this was my day. I want to remember all, but probably should try to keep these more concise. So hard!!!
Oh today. What a long day. And what a great country this is. Nothing really happens as one would expect it to. For example, breakfast is complimentary at our hotel. It involves going to the 12th floor, sitting at a table, and the hotel staff bringing your breakfast to you. Today, they brought William and Robin foul, filafel, veggies, a hardboiled egg, a croissant, cheese, etc. Tiffany and Steve received all of the above but no foul. I received all of the above but no foul and no filafel. They weren’t out of foul or filafel, but, this is just how things went. I didn’t even want to question it because it is just so Egyptian!
Then tonight, we get back to the hotel at 9:30pm after having left at 9:30am, and we are just kinda doing our own things in our rooms, when suddenly we hear William calmly saying, um, can someone please help me, I’ve got a fire. We were all kind of slow to respond mentally as he didn’t sound especially panicked…. But sure enough he had a FIRE, flames coming out of the space heater our hotel had provided for us. These things are not by any means safe, just a piece of plastic that heats up. Bound to catch on fire and melt. Sooo, we’re all frantically trying to put it out with cups of water, Robin goes to get the fire extinguisher, but of course it doesn’t work, I run into our room to call the front desk and I’m like, the HEATER has caught FIRE, and they’re like “you want a heater?” and I’m like no, fire!!! And they’re like “you want clothing?” and I’m like, We need help, room 1107 and they’re like, “5 minutes” and I’m like, no now! And finally they get it. But, by the time that conversation was done, the fire was good and out with lots of water and the space heater was hot and melted. After a couple minutes two hotel guys came up, Robin handed them the fire extinguisher, just like, you should get another of these. They were very nice and apologetic and the whole fiasco ended with me running to get my camera and one of the hotel guys posing with the burnt heater. FABULOUS! A bit scary for a second, but ha!
And all this around our full day of fun. Morning was day 2 of the workshop. My group is in fact doing a composition about Gaza, but I’m hoping to somehow end the piece on a hopeful note. I want to start sad about the situation and children dying, and end with visions for how things can be better. Not sure exactly how we are going to accomplish this yet, but, we will! In sh’allah!! The day with the kids was more chaos, but, I’m totally enjoying myself. The language barrier is definitely a large part of the chaos (picture a 12 year old in your face talking jibberish, you don’t understand, so 3 of them get in your face talking louder in more jibberish to get you to understand, which doesn’t help and etc), and the fact that I think the kids told their friends to come cuz we had about 10 more girls and 1 boy today. So, like 35 girls, and 1 brave little boy. One girl gave me her ring at the end of the day, which I am currently wearing. It’s a cheap plastic yellow/blue thing and I will treasure it!
After that had some amazing filafel (the spice was baked into the filafel! mmm mm), then went to the “Bibliotheca”, which stands on the site of the first library in all the world. It now hosts a new, huge library, an architectural feat created by a 25 year old. It houses the biggest reading room in the world, the internet “reserves” which is basically every single website that has ever existed, also has some mummies and masks and other antiquities found under where the thing was built, and lots of old old books including tiny miniature things you can only read with a magnifying glass, and the New Testament, and the book that Napoleon’s explorers wrote/drew in for him (Napoleon like, looked through this book!), and a hand written Torah, and lots of Qu’ran, etc. Pretty amazing. We had a private VIP tour thanks to Ahmed Gamal, a musician working with us, who also works there.
After that, went to the opera house to chill and then rehearse with the Egyptian musicians. Very lax and not especially organized, but we got some good stuff in. The best part was right before it started. Steve was jamming with this very talented little boy on drums, and I started playing one of the tunes in front of me after realizing it would go perfectly, then William and Robin joined in and it was jolly good times.
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