Sunday, 28 February 2010

Adventures With Cab Drivers

In Cyprus, the main form of transportation is by car. I have yet to see anyone riding a bike and according to our program coordinator, Cypriots only walk when they need to get somewhere that is a short distance away. As the bus system is rough, I have been left to taking a cab most places. Despite the 9 euros to get to Old Town, the experience has had it's benefits.
As pathetic as this may sound, I have had some of my most helpful conversations with cab drivers. They teach me Greek (which I never remember) while telling me the hot spots of Cyprus. With one cab driver, Levkos, my roommate, Kristi and I have been welcomed into his personal life.
Last Sunday, Levkos brought Kristi and I to a Cypriot church. Arriving at church, we were greeted and asked if we needed anything. The people were sincere in making us feel comfortable. I received more kisses on the cheek than I have throughout my trip. It was not a surprise when we found out the service was in Greek. Thankfully they had a translator but it was through headphones. I felt like I belonged at an arcade with these receptive beasts sitting on my head. They were bigger than many of the Cypriots hair, which is hard to accomplish! Most of the service was worship. It seemed like this church came out of a movie of a baptist church. It was over the top, even in comparison to a young church that I go to in Colorado. Occasionally, a song would be in English and the Cypriots would rarely be following the words but they were always singing! When they got to the message, I do not think the speaker could keep up because he was always talking and their was a continuous "amen" that was nonsensical from the translator. Nonetheless, I think we got the gist of it!
Cab rides are no longer just ways of transportation but introductions to Greek culture. It makes me feel better to think of that 9 euros as an advancement towards my education! Does this mean I can stop going to classes?

Monday, 15 February 2010

Egypt part three

On Saturday night, our group spent the night in the desert. I figured, I had gone camping in Alaska in the rain, freezing multiple times so I should be fine. The Sahara desert provided a different experience.
The desert did not turn out to be the fine, tan sand that has been materialized by media. Instead, the Sahara has more landscapes than hair on a camels back. In driving to our camping spot, we made stops to take pictures and hike. The surroundings varied in the color and structure of the land. Driving directly back to town the next morning, I must have seen at least four dramatically different types of desert in a one hour time span. This ranged from black sand to "mushroom" desert. The mushroom desert is where we camped. White chalk covered the ground, making it appear snow-like and the rocks made me feel like a character from "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" in a garden scene. Their white character hovered over us, growing from the ground like mushrooms. With their abnormal shapes, I pictured them as clouds and found characters from their curves. It seemed that their unique qualities belonged on another planet.
Never before, have I seen the stars more vividly. A few of us, left the camp fire and stared at the stars. The Milky Way was a glittering wave across the sky. I have a new appreciation for the candy bar. It seemed that new stars were being burned. Stars filled spaces between others that I had never noticed. Spending the night in the desert, exposed me to nature I was not aware of before.
Sunday was our final day in Egypt. After much confusion, we made it back to the airport... but to the wrong terminal! Forty-five minutes before our plane was leaving, we realized we were in the wrong terminal and ran to find a shuttle. After finding a shuttle, we got off at the wrong terminal again! This was the most running I have done in a while! Now we were outside running. My duffel bag in hand, I swear it gained ten pounds. I had fun in Egypt but I did not feel like experiencing a night in their airport. Without a boarding pass, seeing the "boarding" sign flashing forced our jog to a sprint. Finally, we made it through security and forgot one of the most important things. Egypt works on middle-eastern time. And that can be slower than island time! I never thought I would be so thankful for untimeliness!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Egypt part two

Since childhood, I have read about the pyramids. School has built up stories of exotic structures that stand solitude from any civilization. In reality, the pyramids are built in the outskirts of Cairo. Some have the privilege to waking up to the Egypt's most famous history only within a few miles of their homes. With this, I pictured myself living in one of these Egyptian homes and every morning opening my blinds to history. Instead I have the Rocky mountains but have no complaints.
At the pyramids, I rode a camel. They are much bigger than I thought they would be! A tour guide rode next to us on a horse and we were hovering over her. My camels name was Moses. Ironically, we were in front. Moses is always leading people through the desert!
In Egypt, people are more fascinated with Americans than in Cyprus. I was asked to get my picture taken with multiple people. This included marriage proposals. One man offered to give me 10,000 Egyptian pounds to marry him. In USD, this is $1,800. To his dismay, I refused.
After the pyramids our group went on a dinner cruise on the Nile. Before the cruise, we were told there would be belly dancing but what we did not expect was a wedding reception. They were enthused to include us in the dancing. The mother was especially attracted to my roommate's, blond hair. She took pictures of our group. The dinner on the Nile was a cultural experience. I was able to interact with the methods of a Muslim wedding.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Egypt part one

I had few expectations for my trip to Egypt. My mind was in limbo over the extremes of Middle Eastern culture but the modernization through politics and even tourism. With this, I went to Egypt with an open mind.
Surprisingly, my biggest concern was flying with a big group of people. "What?" you ask... "How could that be your biggest concern?" Well, I am used to flying alone. I have developed routines and timing. Flying has become my control freak characteristic. Stressing about everyone else, it took me by surprise when I became the problem child. On our flight back to Egypt, I went to the bathroom. This may sound innocent, but apparently no one heard when I said I was going. After being with a large group of the same people for 4 days, I did not put in as much effort as I probably should have. With this, the group asked "where's Gillian?" for the rest of the night to tease me. I was glad to have my own row on the flight back.
The flight there was much more pleasant though. It was each of our first times in Egypt. In arriving, we had to buy a visa at the airport. It now remains the most flourished decor in my passport. We had no problems getting through and met transportation people that worked for the hostel outside of security. As part of our stay, they brought us to and from the airport. It was nice to be welcomed when arriving in a busy and unfamiliar, foreign country.
Driving in Cairo is out of control! There is no such thing as lanes. Two lane roads turn into three lane roads and there is no such thing as a speed limit. Our driver was going onto an on-ramp to a highway and apparently realized he was making a wrong turn. Among the traffic, he backed down the ramp. Other cars swerved around us. Nicosia has a very low crime rate but is high in traffic accidents. While I thought they were crazy, Cairo acts like a bulldozer over Nicosia's sand box. The only good thing is, Cairo drives on the same side of the roads as in the states.
Somehow we made it to the hostel. We were greeted my the owner, Abraham. He told us a plan for the weekend he made up for us and offered us tea. According to Abraham, we needed to talk before we drank the Egyptian tea because afterward we might not be able to understand him. Did this make me hesitant to drink the tea? Most definitely. Did I drink it anyway? Yes, I did. After waiting anxiously through every sip and surveying my body's tendencies, I finished the cup without any affects. The Egyptians are big-talkers.
In comparison to hostel standards, I think ours was up to par. The only controversial figure was the bathroom. The room was a giant shower, containing a toilet and sink. This would not have been a problem but the hostel had a horrible draining system. Throughout the trip, we walked in bath water from our stay. I did not walk in the room without shoes.
That night we walked around town. The heavy population was overwhelming. Children walked the street without parents. We were stared and pointed at. As we were unfamiliar with the area, our group only walked for a few blocks. In one night, I received more culture shock than my stay in Cyprus so far. Egypt is a country that involves a slow transition. Compared to America, there are few similarities.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Hello Reality!

Today was my first day of classes. While it has been fun running around, exploring, it will be nice to have a routine. My class tonight was photography and I think it will be an easy A. The professor's name is Nicholas Constantinou. Greeks do not make their names simple! My plan is to look at him and talk. Or maybe I can call him Dr. C. Is that okay past middle school?
He showed us how to focus SLR cameras today. Since not everyone brought one, people took turns using his. Thankfully, I have my own! So I got a chance to be creepy during class and take pictures of everyone. What they don't know won't kill them!
This weekend I will have an amazing opportunity to take pictures! I am going to Egypt with a group of students in the GLS program. We found the nicest eight dollar hostel we could find! I never expected to be able to just spend the weekend in Egypt!