Tuesday, 12 December 2006

3 days to go…

I fell asleep sprawled on my desk around 8pm and I woke up at 3am with a crick in my neck to my phone’s incessant beeping (I must figure how to stop it doing that), telling me I have 17 missed calls and 12 messages.

Cairo is so peaceful at night. Fajr prayer is still in half an hour or so, so utter silence permeates the air, although in a while the city of “a thousand and one minarets” will sound with multiple calls to prayer.

The weather has been slightly schizophrenic lately, and I wake up not knowing if I should wear a jacket or a shirt. At night though, it’s freezing; I only sat in my balcony for 10 minutes and my teeth are chattering.

I have three more days of classes to go. In those three days I somehow have to squeeze in a final, a presentation, a 15 page paper, a take-home final, a project and somehow attend a wedding. With so much to do, it’s no wonder I fell asleep—today I was supposed to give a presentation in Future University on how to set up a publication and how to sustain and develop it, but unfortunately I had to send my senior Arabic editor in my stead, since I literally couldn’t spare the couple of hours needed to go and present.

Last Monday’s honours assembly’s pictures were out today, and I look so silly wedged between my mom and dad. A picture of my friends and I was in Kelmetna, an Arabic magazine, so we’re famous lol. This Friday is our Fall ’06 graduating class group photo and I will make time to attend, although I have to take my history final on Saturday and not the following Thursday since I’m travelling to Dubai on Sunday.

Cap & Gown photos have been postponed to late January, which is good since I definitely don’t want to miss those! I’m thinking of writing and submitting an entry for the graduation speech; it would be a great honour to be chosen and insha’ Allah I will be.

So…my job plans? First of all, I’ve decided to postpone getting my masters degree for a while; I think working will help me get some much needed experience first, especially since I’ve never really interned anywhere.

I’ve had several job offers so far, but nothing has really appealed to me as of yet. I’ve decided to ‘sleep’ a while (both literally and figuratively) as soon as I’m done with finals, travel all of January, and be back at the end of it for two of my best friends’ weddings, a career conference hosted by the CAPS office, and of course, graduation. And then…who knows?

Until next time,
Salam Alaykum,

Sunday, 3 December 2006

10 days to go...

Technically there are 23 days to go, but I’m not counting weekends or the week of exams because I only have one final in the final week.

10 days. That’s only 26 more classes, 2 projects, 2 presentations, 1 paper, and 3 finals to go. And the ca c’est tout.

I submitted my yearbook application on Thursday, and it still hasn’t sunk in that these are my final university days. Today I had an all day session with my management course group, and it hit me that this is probably the last weekend I’ll spend hurriedly patching up a business plan and figuring out if the doctor would like an advert or just sample ads.

A couple of Danish friends I met in the Litaarafuu conference I went to last April and met up with in Denmark were in Egypt last week for a conference, and I got the chance to attend some of their sessions (I was even lucky enough to meet George Isaac, leader of the Kefaya movement, and attend a Q & A session with him).

One of the participants asked me what I ‘do’ and I realized with a start that in 10 days I can’t say “I’m still a student.” I’ll be out in the big bad world and then what? What will I ‘do?’ Another friend of mine I met in another conference (MOIC) is leaving Egypt and traveling to England to continue her studies there…but what do I plan to do?

I’m a good student, I made honors, and I’ve participated in many activities in my four years at university. But will it be enough to get the job I want?

Questions that refuse to leave my head, and are keeping me from enjoying the time I have left. The future is uncertain, but I will try my best to simply focus on being a student these last few weeks and on the things I won’t miss. Writing papers, handing my car keys to Hamdy my valet with a heavy heart wondering what shape I’ll find my car in when I get back, having to walk up five flights of stairs because the elevator isn’t working and so much more.

There is so much I am going to miss…but I have to be up in 5 hours to get back to university, so it’s salam for now…

Until next time,

Saturday, 2 December 2006

Give Life…

I donated blood yesterday at university, and I don’t think I can remember the last time I was so scared.

The Help Club booth to donate blood has been on campus for three days, and every time I left the Dimensions office I passed by it. And each and every time I felt guilty…it’s not like I don’t have blood to spare, and my excuse of not having time to go visit the hospital to donate blood didn’t wash.

So I gritted my teeth and went to fill in an application, but by the time I filled it in it was time for class so I told them I’d be back later. Obviously assuming I’d chickened out, the nurse simply told me “I’ll wait for you.”

All through a 70 minute screening of Ayatollah Khonemi’s reign in history class, I debated with myself…should I go? But what if it hurt? Were the needles clean What if I got infected?? Eventually I made up my mind.

I could donate money to the hospital, but anyone can do that, and there are some things money can’t buy. What if my blood could help save someone who could not get access to blood or enough money to buy it? The nurse in the booth told me that less than 50 AUCians had donated blood although they’d been there for three days.

So I went, lied down and started reading “I loved you for your voice,” trying not to look at the needle as it went into my arm.

Five minutes later and I was done.

As I got up I gathered the courage to look down. Seeing a bag full of my blood made me feel queasy, but also made me feel triumphant. Here was something I did that will make a difference in someone’s life, but people don’t do because they are scared, worried or simply ignorant.
I’m here to tell you that the girl who used to cry buckets as a child when she scraped her knee has lived through the experience to tell you all…donate if you can; your blood is one of the most precious gifts you have to give.

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

23 days to go…

Salam Alaykum all,

Only 23 school days left for graduation…the “tick-tock” sound is growing more and more audible each day. And as the days speed by, they become more and more crammed with things to do. This was my schedule today, and is typical of any day on campus:

8:30-9:30: Doing readings for class
9:30-10:45: Comparative Religion Class
11-11:30: Meeting with Dimensions advisor
11:30-12: Attend sit in-on Campus for Beit Hanoun
12-1: Group meeting for Management Project
1-1:30: Read 100 pages of book for my Arabic literature class
1:30-2:50: Marketing Class
3-4:15: Arabic Literature Class
4:30-7:30: Student Union High Board meeting
7:30-9: Give Quark training to the Help Club

By the time I get home I am utterly wiped (especially after spending 45 harrowing minutes driving home), and can only rest for a little while before having to sit down and do more work before crashing at midnight and getting up in a few hours to do it all again. I’m bone tired and weary most of the time but in a good way. I’ve always loved a challenge, and trying to fit everything into my schedule and still find time to sleep is one of the most taxing things I’ve had to do.

Dimensions is also taking over a major part of my life…but my hard work has paid off because finally, after years of work…we have managed to become a credible, well-established weekly newspaper which comes out every Tuesday like clockwork. And the cherry on top came today when someone came from the Office of Marketing and Communications all the way to our office to tell us personally that she was amazed at the standard of Dimensions and how far we’ve come in only 2 years. It gave me a high that I’ve been riding on all day

Our last issue covered an extremely important story…the protest at the Press Syndicate last Thursday against the sexual harassment attacks that happened in Eid. Unfortunately I couldn’t go because I had an exam at the same time, but I heard good things about it. I’m glad that Egyptian women finally took a stand against the ridiculous harassment we are subject to every time we walk down the street, regardless of looks, size, clothes, race or religion. Here’s a picture of the protest:

Well, I should go start my book review for history class, or to be more specific, actually start reading the book: In search of Islamic Feminism.
Until next time,

Saturday, 28 October 2006

Contemplating being a graduate…

Ramadan is finally over, and with it I simultaneously give a sigh of both relief and disappointment. Relief because finally all the iftars and sohoors and extra prayers and tiredness and frantic pace of life can finally come to a halt, and disappointment because they’ve stopped. It’s a dichotomy of sorts—when Ramadan comes you’re so busy and tired all the time you start to fondly think of Eid, but once it’s over you look back on it and start anticipating it coming again the following year.

For the first time in years, I spent my Eid in Cairo, and was able to enjoy having semi-crowd-less streets as the majority of the population has hightailed it out of Cairo for a few days or are hanging around in parks and on the 6th of October bridge (yes, you read that right). It never fails to amaze me how “the bridge” has become an outing in and of itself, with families packing sandwiches and bringing chairs with them to sit overlooking the Nile. I was on a Nile cruise not too long ago and no less than 30 people waved at us from their chairs as we passed underneath the bridge.

But I digress. So back to the main point of this entry—thinking about graduation. A couple of weeks ago I had to go fill in an alumni form and settle outstanding fees, and it hit me while I was standing in line that this is it: I’m finally a Graduating Senior.For the first time in a long time, I’ve had some free time—actually almost a whole week— to think and meditate over my life and where I’m going. I calculated how many days I have left for the end of the semester, and it turns out they’re only 47, and only 35 if you exclude the weekends. So that’s it, only 35 more days of attending classes and I’m done.

What am I going to do afterwards? It’s a scary thought, after all there’s nothing else I “have” to do, any more studies I decide to pursue will be purely supplementary, and not at all a necessity. Will I take some time off or will I start pursuing a Masters degree? If I get started right away then I’ll be finished with it at 21. Or shall I start working instead? If so, where am I going to apply first? And what field in particular should I pursue?

Questions, questions, questions, with no easy answers. There’s once thing I do know though—and that will be that I will be sad to bid AUC goodbye. I may have had my ups and downs, I may have hated it and loved it, but for better or worse, I’ve learned a lot in my four years here, and I can’t even imagine what my life will be like without AUC. For the past four years I’ve spent the better part of my life here; what will I do without my morning sandwich from Cilantro and my daily fights with Hamdy? (the valet who parks my car)

So where will my path lead next? Only time will tell.

Until next time,
Salam Alaykum,
Ethar El-Katatney

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Drum roll please…I’m back!

Salam Alaykum (Peace be upon you)

Well, I haven’t exactly been the most faithful blogger, since it’s been over three months since I last wrote (wow, has it really been that long?), but I promise to make it up!

My summer this year was pretty hectic. I traveled to Dubai (for shopping lol), Mecca & Medina (in Saudi Arabia for ‘umra’—the lesser pilgrimage), Alexandria (for the sea!), Copenhagen & Arhus (in Denmark for a conference), and finally to Birmingham & London (in England for a summer training program).

I traveled to England for approximately a month for a summer training program with Amr Khaled, the well known Muslim TV preacher. We camped in Gilwill Park, and Lake District, and I got a chance to do things I’d never done before (e.g. sleep in tents, wash dishes etc). We dormed in Solihull College in Birmingham for 2 weeks, where we had trainings every other day like how to manage your time, how to be a leader etc. The funny thing about the camp is that Amr Khaled then made a TV program about it that airs on El-Mehwar (a satellite channel), every day in Ramadan right after iftar (so around 6:30pm), and he chose 5 of the 100 camp participants to come on every day to talk about that day’s episode. 4 guys, 1 girl. Guess who the girl was? Yours truly. So every day I’m on TV, and I’ve realized that 1000’s of people watch the show (random people stop me on campus to ask “are you the girl on the show?;” I speak way too fast; and that I really should have slept the night we filmed because I look soooooo tired on film.

But moving on, what else have I done since I started university? Oh, I joined the YALDA conference at the very beginning of the semester (Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development), and it was a very interesting experience. I got to go see the pyramids, which I’ve only been once to when I was in second grade

I’m also now editor-in-chief of Dimensions, which is definitely no easy job. I swear I’ve been spending more time working on it than I have on my courses, which isn’t really good because I’m graduating this semester and can’t really afford to have my GPA drop. Nevertheless, it’s an extremely rewarding job, we’ve managed to develop the paper so much and have doubled our crew. Today is a landmark event in the history of Dimensions—it’s the first time we’ve EVER produced two issues in two consecutive weeks, and we’re hoping to finally become a weekly newspaper rather than a biweekly one. And inshallah (God willing) we will be! Here’s a picture of (some) of my lovely crew having iftar in Bon Appetit (the only good restaurant close to AUC. I have eaten so many chicken barbecue sandwiches I’m going to sprout wings soon lol).

Now I have to go assign the stories for the next issue!
Until next time,
Salam Alaykum,

Wednesday, 19 July 2006

My Summer (Part 2: Denmark)

I’m leaving for the airport to go to England in two hours, and life has just been so hectic lately I literally haven’t had a free hour, so my apologies for not keeping you updated on my life (And of course you’ve all been waiting eagerly for the next installment of my summer vacation .
I came back from Medina almost a week before my family did since I had one of my best friend’s wedding to attend. A couple of days after that I traveled to Denmark for the Youth Leader’s event, which as trips go was pretty fantastic.

Denmark is a beautiful country, and is miles away from the chaotic, busy atmosphere of Cairo. There you feel life is moving at a much slower pace, where the buildings are all quaint two story cottages like you see in movies. And as much as I enjoyed crossing the street without fearing for my life as I usually do, seeing trees, greenery and more trees instead of sand, desert, and more sand; I’m afraid the lack of noise and people and cars did shock me for quite some time. As did the crazy amount of bikes! I still can’t believe how common spread riding a bike is; even parliament had bikes parked outside!! And let’s not mention how incredibly hot it was, even though the majority of my luggage was sweaters and jackets!

The trip was hosted by the DUF, (the Danish Youth Council), and their hospitality was heartening and inspiring. During the week we were there we were escorted around by a multitude of members of the DUF, as well as a large number of Danish youth from many other organizations. A special shout out to Solvej and Claus, who worked tirelessly around the clock to make sure that everything was running smoothly. And of course to Marie, to whom I promised that I would somehow subtly include mention of her political party: The Social Liberal Youth. Smooth, very smooth :)

There’s so much we did in this trip and so much we learned, there is just no way I can include everything. So I’ll just give a quick summary of each day (as best as I can remember) and anything that occurs to me as I go along.

The flight to Denmark was the longest flight I’ve ever been on so far, not even including the transit time spent in Paris. But that was nothing compared to the shock of finding out that Air France were very sorry, but my luggage had been delayed in France. I got a toothbrush and toothpaste for my troubles, and was escorted by Solvej to the hotel. There I learned that we were only a total of 10 participants, 6 guys and 2 girls. And funnily enough, all 4 girls were originally Egyptian, although one had lived her life in England and one in California. And one of the guys was Egyptian too. What can I say? Egyptians all the way :)

Our first day was spent riding a boat on the canal, and eating at a Moroccan restaurant. Some of the people accompanying us were those I’d met in Abu Dhabi, and can I just mention how wonderful life is sometimes? Those were people I’d never expected to see again, or at least didn’t expect to so soon, and getting the chance to do so was truly great and something I’m very thankful for.

Bright and early the next day we took a bus to the DUF, where we were introduced to the council by Yeppe, the president and whom we met in Abu Dhabi. It was interesting to note how casual everyone was; I don’t think I saw one suit or tie the whole time I was in Denmark, it definitely seems like a fun working environment. And I was even more impressed when I saw the main entrance of the DUF, where a veiled woman was one of the pictures they had on the wall:

We then visited the DSF, which is the National Union of Students, before going to a church in Norrebo which is the most multicultural part of Denmark, to talk with the pastor. The unique thing about this pastor is that she was so interested in keeping things calm in her community she was doing her best to try and include the Muslim community into the community at large. For example, she gave the local imam (Muslim male who leads the prayers) a room at the church. So some very interesting dynamics for sure. We then had dinner in private homes (And Marie, you make the best banana type desert hands down), and went to Tivoli, this beautiful amusement park. I even got to see fireworks, which we usually never see in Egypt.

The next day we went to parliament in the morning, where we heard about politics in Denmark from some of the youth politicians, and it was inspiring to know that youth here were extremely well informed about what goes on in their country, and were an intrinsic part of the whole process. A quotation I heard from Stefan (member of the Liberal Youth party) stayed with me and made me reflect: “Because we do not believe in absolute truth we fear absolute power.” Interesting perspective.

Afterwards we visited a media center, a cultural house, and then had some free time. And since I still hasn’t gotten my luggage I decided to go shopping in what is pronounced as “stkhol” street (I think) where I encountered my first walking street and my first mime :)

In the afternoon we headed to a Danish folk high school located in this gorgeous area (which looks too beautiful to be a school), to meet students who were taking a course called “Next stop: Middle East” which involved them actually traveling to the Middle East. They had never actually met anyone from the Middle East before though, and so were extremely excited to see us. The attention from so many people was kind of strange, especially since I never think of myself as particularly intriguing or anything, but that day I felt special lol. We had sessions on conflict resolution, and one of our activities involved writing down all we could think of when we heard the heard “conflict” and then circle in red the negative words and green the positive words.

We met a group called “Muslims in Dialogue” the next day, and it was inspiring to hear the activities of this group where its members are all volunteers and whose funding doesn’t rely at all on the state. I especially liked the poster they hung up saying “Samtale fremmer forstaelsen,” which translates as “Conversation promotes understanding.” Also very true. We prayed the Friday prayer at a mosque, and although officially in Denmark there are no mosques (i.e. a building built solely for Muslims to pray in), there are many mosque ‘buildings.’

In the evening (or late afternoon as it may be since the sun sets around 10pm), we had a reception at the DUF, and we returned to the Danes something that belonged to them. One of the participants, Mahmoud from Syria, had been present when the embassy was burning, filming the events. And what should land next to him than the Danish emblem. He took it and gave it back to illustrate how it was a symbol that should have been respected even if it didn’t mean anything to those who burned the embassy, simply because the Danes respected it. And I think it was an action that was very much appreciated.

We’d left Copenhagen the night before to go to Arhus, and it’s a beautiful city, albeit quieter, if that’s even possible. We visited a Christian scout organization camp, and I’m so so glad I wasn’t those scouts; why on earth would you voluntarily put yourself through such ickiness? No showering for God knows how long, sleeping in grass in the midst of bugs in the cold. Well, at least I know it’s not for me—the walking alone up all those hills would kill me And I think the walking pretty much tired us all out, since we took the rest of the day off to do whatever we wanted.

We visited Gellerup Parken, a “ghetto,” the next day, and not to sound at all ridiculing; the truth is that the “ghetto” cracked me up. The area was beautiful enough to rival Dokki, and the view from one of the apartments rivaled the view from the Corniche.

But I guess things are relative. For example, we visited “Bazar Vest,” which is a Middle Eastern style bazaar later on in the day, which the Danes think is a representation of the multitude of cultures that exist within their community; but although the food was pretty good, everything else was just an imitation of the real thing, and so of course it fell short. But at least it was an effort and a step. Last but not least, we met with a YMCA group who were working with religious dialogue in Gellerup before we left Arhus back to Copenhagen to catch our flights the following morning.

So this trip wasn’t very “academic-y” nor was it a conference, but nevertheless I am deeply grateful I got a chance to go. Not everyone gets a chance to look through the eyes of the “other” so well, nor a chance to fully experience what it’s like to actually be a citizen of another country. Misconceptions are easiest to shatter when you can actually have physical proof in front of you, and there was nothing more tangible (for me at least) than seeing DUF publications with veiled women on them, praying in a mosque, visiting an Islamic school, meeting Danish Muslims, seeing how people reacted to us and the like to truly make what I’d previously only known by what I’d heard reality in my mind. It showed me that our media misrepresents the “other” just as much as the Western media misrepresents Islam and the Middle East

I had fun on this trip, I made contacts, and I built bridges, but most importantly I made friends. It doesn’t matter that we were of different faiths, nationalities, ages, genders, political views and so on, only that we respected those things in each other and made a real effort to understand one other. I’m not an optimistic person by nature, so when I say that there’s a lot of hope in this world, then I see it as completely possible. Simple things like the waitress genuinely smiling to us at breakfast, although she’d probably never seen 4 veiled girls sitting at one table, are the things that stick in your mind and help you relate your experiences to others; telling them that bridges can be built and that there is no road that is impassible. Visiting Denmark has enriched me greatly, widened my perspectives and helped me truly believe that our similarities overcome our differences, and that it’s only up to you to choose what to focus on.

I think it’s time to wrap this up now so I don’t miss my flight. Hopefully I’ll update my blog in 10 days or so when I find time, and I’ll have a lot of experiences to relate.

Until next time,
Salam Alaykum (Peace be upon you).

Saturday, 24 June 2006

My Summer (Part 1: Dubai, Saudi Arabia)

I’m actually supposed to be packing my bag right now, but as usual I’m procrastinating. It’s been a long time since I last wrote, so I thought I should write a quick update on what I’m doing and take advantage of my ‘break’ from packing.

I’m in Dubai as I write this, where I’ve been for the past week, and I’m packing to go to Saudi Arabia. Suffice to say, my plans have all been changed for the duration of my holiday, but at least now I’m pretty sure what I’m going to be doing until August. Basically this is it:

June 16-22: Dubai
June 23-28: Saudi Arabia
June 28-29: Cairo
June 30-July 2: Ain Sokhna
July 3-11: Denmark
July 12-August 5: England

Dubai was basically just a week long shopping marathon , and my family and I are now going to Saudi Arabia for Umra (the lesser pilgrimage) in Mecca, and then to Medina to visit the Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH) mosque. We’re then going back to Cairo since I have to be there for Noha’s wedding, who’s one of my closest friends. Typically this is annoying my siblings, who are incensed that I’m cutting their vacation short, especially since we couldn’t leave until after the 15th, since that was the wedding of Dina, another of my friends. But ma’lesh (never mind), they’ll get over it After Noha’s wedding I may be travelling to Ain Sokhna, which is a couple of hours drive out of Cairo, for a 3 day leadership conference, but I’m still not sure about that since I have a lot of stuff to do in the 2 days before I travel again.

I’m travelling to Denmark on July 3rd for a conference hosted by the DUF (the Danish Youth Council), only I hope my visa will come through ok, because since I’m not in Cairo the embassy has had to make do with a copy of my passport, but I have to admit that they are being very accommodating al hamdulela (Thank God). Omneya, a friend of mine who also went to the conference in Abu Dubai, has been invited to attend this conference too, so I’m glad I’m going with someone I know at least. The flight back home from Denmark stops in London, and since I have to be back in England on the 15th I’m going to stop there instead of heading back home and stay with my grandfather who works there until July 15th when I head to Birmingham.

I’m going there because I’ve decided to join they youth holiday/ summer training program organized by Ebonite Travel and Amr Khaled, and I’m really excited about it; I received the itinerary and it looks like a lot of fun. After that I’ll be back in Cairo for the month of August, probably working (if I can get work), or travelling to Alexandria for more ‘holiday’ time. I know, I know, what happened to all my plans for working right? Oops, my mum has just realized that I’m not packing, so I better go back to work, and will continue this later insha’ Allah (God Willing)…

Ok, so it’s two days later, but totally justified. Being squished on a plane sitting next to my two little brothers (Hussein and Abd-Allah aged 10 and 11) for hours, and then in a car from Jeddah to Mecca (there’s no airport in Mecca) is enough to give anyone a headache. And then once we got to Mecca my dad didn’t like the view from the suite we were in, and so we had to move again, and it’s a really long story I’m sure you’re not interested in. In any case, we performed the Umra, and it wasn’t too crowded al hamdulela (Thank God), but the sheer number of people gathered to pray tribute to Allah has never ceased to amaze me. Mecca is seriously one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to.

So where was I? Oh yes, work. Well, alas I never heard back from P&G, and that was seriously the only job I really wanted. I got another interview in General Motors, but by then I’d already decided to take advantage of the opportunities to go to Denmark and England, since I felt they were really good ones that I shouldn‘t pass up. I got an interview as a teacher in a school for 5 year olds, which really isn’t the field I want to pursue, but I love kids and it was only for the duration of June so I thought it would be a good chance to work and still be able to go to Denmark and England. Unfortunately though, it seems the school put my CV in the wrong pile, and it was only at the end of the interview when the headmistress told me that even though she would usually place me a co-ed teacher since I have no teaching skills and then make me a full teacher after a while, she was so impressed with my interview that she was going to make me a full time teacher, and that term started on the 5th of September! It turned out that I was being interviewed for a full time job instead of the summer one, which in hindsight I should have realized since my interview was around mid June, which meant that the summer session was almost over anyway. But it was still an ego booster to realize that I was capable of getting a full time job so easily

My family then started nagging me to travel with them, and in the end I decided to go, since there I didn’t really have any other pressing obligations. I’d already had my interview with Seif (the new SU president) for the position of editor-in-chief of Dimensions, which I’m glad to say I got , so I wasn’t really busy. And speaking of Dimensions, I’m supposed to be recruiting people who are taking summer courses at AUC, only when will I do that? Hmm, I guess I could hold interviews on July 1st and 2nd if I don’t end up going on the leadership conference…

I knew if I travelled I’d be missing out on stuff back in Cairo like the union awards and the first outing for the new SU high board, but I thought it would be a good chance to spend time with my family, since I was so busy during the semester and will be abroad for all of July. So here I am, sitting on the sofa overlooking the Ka’aba (what Muslims believe is Allah’s house on Earth), writing this while I listen to Animal Planet, which my little brothers are fascinated with. Did you know that hyenas are the only animals that have shark teeth? Lol.

Until next time,
Salam Alaykum (Peace be upon you),

Wednesday, 7 June 2006


Ok, so it’s 1 am and technically 7/6, but that date is not coming around for another 1000 years; I have to “preserve” it somehow, especially with the scary connotation to it. I just came back from watching “The Omen” with my brother in City Stars, which is the only mall worth going to in Egypt if you can stand the hoards of tweens running around. Really creepy movie, but the original soundtrack still beats the new one hands down; that “TA ra ra RA” music shall haunt me to the end of my days. But kudos to Egypt for releasing it on the same date as it is worldwide; gone are the days when we had to wait months for the release of a new movie…

So I’m FINALLY done with the semester, and my grades were pretty good elhamdulela (Thank God). I went to the Student Awards Ceremony (SAC) and I got voted as the best member in Dimensions, which was pretty unexpected, but very welcome nonetheless.

Speaking of Dimensions, I’m running for editor-in-chief, and my plan is actually due on the 8th, but as usual I’m not even half way through. I will finish it though, no worries There are two other candidates running for the position, and one of them is the senior Arabic editor. He’s a really great guy and really qualified; even if he gets the position instead of me I’m sure he’ll be great. Don’t really know much about the other candidate, but good luck to him too. And me of course

I’ve basically been lazing around for the past week, staying up late and sleeping till noon to compensate for all the sleepless nights I went through. I’ve had an OC marathon weekend, and I’ve FINALLY gotten around to reading those books I ordered from Amazon and cairobookmark (Cairo’s version of Amazon) weeks ago. I had a big party when semester ended to celebrate, and the only sad thing was saying goodbye to so many of my friends. That’s the worst thing about having study-abroad friends; they’re only here for a semester and then they leave to all four corners of the world. I’m gonna miss you guys soooo much

The one thing I have accomplished this week is that I’m finally driving alone!! It doesn’t sound like much, but trust me it’s huge. I’ve had my license since November, but have always had my driver sitting next to me when I drive. You see, in Egypt people:

1) Never signal
2) Cross 4 lanes in under 30 seconds
3) Don’t even know what those red/ yellow/ green things are for
4) Never pay attention to stop signs
5) Think a slow driver is one who isn’t going 20km over the speed limit

and so on and so forth. Plus it’s always SO crowded, and I think the most telling sign of this is that people always refer to distance in minutes and not in km. And no one EVER sticks to lanes—it’s like they don’t exist. And if you signal that you’re switching lanes, the people next to you speed up to overtake you before you do. Seriously, driving here is one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, especially since I’m so bad with parking and with directions (which as Egyptians people have to give you, regardless of whether or not they actually know where you’re going). I got lost in Tahrir my first day on my own, which was kind of scary since it’s so crowded and it was so late and I found myself in these really run down alleys. But I found a nice taxi driver to show me the way, so all’s well; hopefully, I’ll get better with time Now I’m only waiting for a new car as my (very late) birthday present hehe.

My “lazy time” is now officially over. My little brother is turning 10 tomorrow, and I’m in charge of organizing his birthday party at Mirage City, which is where (according to him) “everyone” has their parties. Two of my friends are getting married this month so I need to start choosing material and making dresses which I’m really bad at FYI. There’s also the Dimensions issue coming out at the graduation ceremony which we need to get started on, only most of my reporters are on holiday so I’m not really sure how we’re going to go about it, but hopefully it’ll be ok. I also really need to clean out my desk, if I leave it any longer I’m sure I’ll discover some hitherto undiscovered species living there lol

I still haven’t decided how I’m going to spend the rest of my summer, it’s just that there are so many options it’s difficult to choose the one that will be the best for me. I got offered the chance to go to another conference related to the Litaarafuu one I was on, but this time in Denmark. It would be a great experience, but since everything (jobs, trips etc) all start in or around July 3rd, I need to pick only on thing. But until I do, I will of course keep you updated on my life, as messy and unorganized as it may be

Until next time…
Salam Alaykum (Peace be upon you)

Friday, 26 May 2006

1 final, 2 projects, 3 papers to go!!

I slept for 16 hours last night…which I guess is excusable considering I’ve been living on less than 4 hours sleep for the past week or so, going to uni at 8 am and only leaving when they kick me out of the lab/ library. And now I’m almost done!! I’m actually supposed to be working on a paper now, but I need a break so I’m going to justify not working for a bit by writing (even though I need to return some books to the library asap since I’m being charged 4 LE for every hour they’re late hehe)

Yesterday was the last day of classes, and it’s a huge burden off my shoulders to now have a couple of days to focus solely on my projects and papers. As a business senior, we usually don’t have finals, but instead have big huge projects that we’re supposed to work on all semester and (typically) don’t start until the last week or so of classes. For example, on Wednesday was our presentation for one of our marketing courses, and Dr. Hegazy assigns 20% of our grade to it, and is well-known for the fact that he focuses more on the presentation than on the paper. So we focused on it and haven’t yet finished the paper. Ours was on Mega ice-cream, so we actually created an ad for it (which was pretty great considering it was my first time using Windows Movie Maker hehe); made a huge Mega ice-cream bar out of Styrofoam; bought stands and posters to hang up; and actually handed out free ice-creams. Needless to say, we got the best grade in the class Here’s a picture of us standing next to our huge ice-cream (No idea what I’m going to do with it now though):

Now all we have to do left is to actually finish writing up the project…only there’s just so much to do I don’t know where to begin. You know when you have so much to do that you think you’re never going to finish it so you keep delaying starting? Yeah, I do that a lot; I escape to the roof upstairs at night and stare up at the sky, searching fruitlessly for stars, which we rarely see because of the pollution. But the lack of studying isn’t always my fault though! For example, I was trying to study at home last week for once, and just by luck there was a huge wedding underneath my window!! I live on the 9th floor, but still! My room overlooks this deserted street, and so sometimes a bunch of people come, set up some chairs and fairy lights, bring a DJ and have a wedding. Crazy I know, and I got so mad because who can study the difference between a floating ad and a shoshkele in all that noise?? Anyway, moving on…

We had a sit in on campus yesterday in support of the independence of the judiciary, and even though a lot of people just showed up to laugh at us (idiots who probably had no idea what it was for anyway), I got the impression that a lot of people supported our cause. A lot of us actually put tape over our mouths to symbolize our silence and disapproval, which I thought was a great idea.

There’s a lot of stuff that’s happening in Egypt now, and stuff a lot of people aren’t happy about. I’m just glad that people are actually starting to do something to express their displeasure, even though what we can do is limited. Even though we didn’t number over a 100 people, and had a silent protest on campus, there were still three police vans outside. There’s a campaign going on now to free Ahmed El Droubi, who’s an AUCian who was arrested in a sit in protest also in support of the independence of the judiciary and has been in jail for over a month now. He’s been arrested on charges of “assembly, assaulting public functionaries, disseminating allegations that disturb public order, and obstructing a street without permission,” and for three women who are also being detained with the same charges (Baheyya.blogspot.com).

But on to cheerier topics…I got another interview for an internship, this time at American Chambers, and I got accepted into both summer courses…Only question is, what should I choose? I think I’ll copy Scarlett O’Hara in this matter, and “I’ll think about it tomorrow”
I went to Fayoum last weekend with my Veiling class to present our research papers, and it was beautiful. We stayed at our professor’s villa, and seriously, the greenery and the beautiful view took my breath way. I guess it pays to be an AUC professor hehe. We also visited a pottery school, and I bought a cute teapot for my grandma…

Ok, so enough procrastination, back to studying for me I just can’t wait for Sunday, I’ll be done with everything by then and can finally take a break, go back to facebook stalking (lol), emailing my friend Rocío in NY who I haven’t emailed in aggggggggges, reading, watching movies and having nothing to do!!!!!

Salam Alaykum (Peace be upon you)

Monday, 15 May 2006

10 days to go and counting…

Life is funny sometimes. You get up, go to university, do your work, go to sleep and repeat. Every day I keep telling myself that I just need to get this week done, and then I can finally “start” living. And then suddenly it hits you that this is your life, and that every day that passes is one you’re never going to get back; so what are you doing with it?

I’m in a philosophical mood today, so forgive me if I meander off into unrelated tangents. I’ve just been listening to Amr Khaled (one of the most celebrated Muslim Preachers–I’m sure he needs no introduction) and his words always have a profound effect on me. They make me sit up and think—what am I doing with my life? Am I really doing all that I could and am I really using all my God-given skills and capabilities to the best of my ability? Thoughts to ponder while I’m stuck in traffic for over an hour because the president has (as usual) blocked all the streets because he’s going somewhere…

Last week was the showing of our play, and it would be an underestimation to say that it was a resounding success. The theatre was so crowded people were sitting on the floor and in the aisles; I was doing my monologue (in a purple beret!) with people sitting not half a meter away from me. It was so crowded that people even requested an extra showing at the end of the semester. It was a wonderful experience, I made great friends, and I’m proud of what I did—even though we received a lot of criticism for talking about sensitive issues. But my defense was, and still is—that these things happen to real women in Egypt. 97% of them are circumcised, the majority get harassed and sexually assaulted, and we can’t assume that by covering our eyes to them they’ll magically disappear. So yeah, I think it was a meaningful experience, and it will make people think about what really happens even in our “high class” society, and tell them about things they thought didn’t exist amongst them. Or as the narrator put it: “Ignorance is not entirely dependent on education…isolation is independent of location, and…neither is dependent on social classification.”

I went for an interview in the American Embassy for a Marketing and Website assistant internship, and they called me up today to say I got the job. The only thing is, I went for an exam at Procter and Gamble (P&G) a while ago along with 67 other students (I only know the exact figure because I had a reporter write a story about it for Dimensions hehe); and I was one of the 22 who passed. Those who pass are going to be interviewed for summer internships, and I have to admit that that would be my dream internship. Only thing is I have to respond to the American Embassy offer by Thursday, because that job starts 1/6 and ends 31/8, while the P&G one starts 1/7 and ends 31/8. So I can pass up the American Embassy offer and then not get the P&G one, which means I’ll have wasted the opportunity for a job this summer, since that’s the only interview I’ve gotten so far; or I can accept the American Embassy job and then kick myself if I get the P&G job. Decisions decisions…

I’m going to think it over, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to pass up on the American Embassy job. Because even if I don’t get the P & G job, I still have two other great options for the summer; they’re both opportunities to study Islam abroad in more depth during the summer—one is in England with Amr Khaled, and one is in Yemen with Habib Ali El Jifri. So I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if I get accepted in either one. Hopefully (in sha2 Allah), I’ll get accepted in at least one of them!

So that’s the update on the job/ summer plans scenario. And as for holiday plans, I’m planning on holding a huge dish party as soon as the exams are over for all my girlfriends to celebrate the end (yes!!) of the academic year. I’m also traveling to Saudi Arabia to perform Umra (the lesser pilgrimage) and to Dubai for some shopping hehe. Ooh that reminds me, I need to buy some dresses when I’m there because two of my friends are getting married (!!) this June. I’m so happy for them—only not so much when we’re trying to work on a project which is due this Saturday (*swallows audibly*) and one of them is sitting writing her invitation list. I mean, advertising and promotion management is more important than a wedding right?

So what about university? Well, the semester is winding down (only 10 days to go Ahhhhhh!), which means sleepless nights spent working on projects we’ve been assigned all semester but only just started working on a while ago, are right around the corner. I have a project that requires interviews with a company that’s two HOURS away from my house, one that requires us to create a big ice-cream out of foam (as it’s worth 20% of our grade and we need to do something that grabs the professor’s attention), and one which hasn’t even been assigned to us yet! Plus the two final papers from my Arabic studies course. The (not so) funny thing is that I still haven’t chosen a topic for my Veiling class and on Saturday I have to do my presentation on it. In Fayoum no less, which is a city about an hour outside of Cairo—our professor decided she wanted to give us a “trip” during the busiest week of the semester. Go figure.

Hmmm, what else? Oh, we had an employment fair on Friday, which was the biggest one ever held on campus—over 107 companies were present. I’ve never seen the Main Campus so crowded; there was literally hundreds and hundred of people. Each company had gone all out—each booth was really decked out and very well organized. Kudos to the CAPS office.
I had to go to cover the event for Dimensions even though I wasn’t a graduating senior, and I came out of it with quite a few freebies hehe. But seriously, it’s a great opportunity to find jobs, make contacts, see what kind of jobs are out there, and find out what fields you’d like to go into and are best suited for.

And speaking of Dimensions, can I just mention (again) how much I love ♥ my ex editor in chief Mona? We seriously underappreciated how much work she had to go through. And now as a columnist, reporter, English editor, production editor, and acting editor-in-chief, I sympathize with her a whole lot more. I’ve had to learn how to use Quark and Adobe Photoshop in literally two days, and quickly get to know everyone who’s anyone who has the slightest thing to do with Dimensions. I’m still glad I got this experience though; at least now I know how much work I have ahead of me next semester (that’s if I get the job of course!). I should be getting starting on my plan, especially since of course I have so much free time :)

Any other important news? Oh, how could I forget to mention that Seif Abou Zeid won the elections and will now be the new Student Union president? He won with an unprecedented margin of 448 votes, which I have to say, is amazing—last year’s candidate (whom I’m still waiting for his column in Dimensions by the way!!) only won by less than 40 votes. And I have to admit that campaigning was a lot more civilized this semester, with campaigners doing a better job of explaining the candidate’s plans than in saying “Vote for #2/#3, he’s my friend/ friend of my friend!”

Ok, I can’t believe I’ve just spent almost two hours writing this, and I still have soooooo much to do. It’s gotten to the point where I barely have enough time to brush my hair—and can you believe I still haven’t gotten around to buying black ink for my printer?! I’ve been printing everything in color; even the CV I took to my interview was printed in dark blue—I’m glad they didn’t notice I haven’t gone to the movies in weeks (and I’d really wanted to see Memoirs of a Geisha before it was removed from the cinemas), and I miss eating Shanghai Wings at Chilis with my friends

But I hope it all pays off. I guess I can say that my life is pretty full, and I hope I continue to do my best in everything I do. I’ve even applied for the Student Awards Ceremony (SAC) next week. It’s a competition for those who have a GPA of over 3.0 and are in a lot of activities. The winning seniors get cash prizes which are deducted from their tuition. So who knows?
Anyway, it’s almost 10pm now, and I have to be at uni at 8am, so I better go start working while I still have some time. Make du’a (supplication) for me that I get through these last 10 days unscathed, and wish me lots of luck!

All the best, and Salam Alaykum (Peace be Upon You)

PS: This may be seen as really random, but the emergency law was just renewed in Egypt for another two years. My feelings about it? No comment

Thursday, 4 May 2006

Je suis trés fatigué…

In other words: I’m very tired. This week has been a blur of rehearsals, meetings, and the all-time consuming production of Dimensions. Our editor-in-chief resigned and guess who ended up taking on her work? Yours truly. It’s funny because I’m planning on running for the position next semester since as a gradating senior I don’t really have a lot of difficult courses to take, but the sheer amount of work it takes is truly staggering. Calling up editors to get the articles, dealing with the print shop, production and layout of the newspaper, organizing distribution, and dealing with members who don’t show up doesn’t even begin to cover how much work we have to do. It’s hard, but in a good way. At least I’m still thinking of running next semester .

Only 21 days to go until semester is over, but seriously they are the most hectic three weeks in the entire semester. I’ll just give you a brief snapshot of how much we have going on just next week. For one, starting next Sunday is the much-anticipated election week for next year’s Student Union President, and campus is soon to be littered with flyers and campaigners following you around asking you “Did you vote? Did you vote? Did you vote?” It can be a nuisance sometimes (ok, a lot of the time) but it’s still amazing how people get so fired up about campaigning and how hard they work at it.

Next week is also the opening of the play I’m in. It’s a play “based on true stories from women in our community,” and is kind of a mini-version of the Vagina Monologues (albeit a bit tamer). It’s hosted by the Bussy club, which literally means “Look,” (I know, the name stumps me too) and aims at improving the condition of women in Egypt. It also wants to raise awareness about issues which are serious, real and ignored in our society. What I like about this play is the fact that it’s adressing issues that happen in Egypt and people like to pretend don’t exisit. It’s the old “see no evil” thing. So hopefully people will show up and it’ll help create awareness on campus. Now if only I can get my lines learnt!

Registration is also starting next week, and FINALLY I get to register first, since at AUC we register according to our class—so graduating seniors go first, then seniors and so on. Our registration system is one of the big big problems all students face. It’s great that it’s online system now, but it’s horrible how every semester I wake up at 6 am to register and I still encounter the same problems:

1) So many people are trying to log on so the page won’t load.
2) The system keeps telling you “The session for your log in has expired” when you try to click on hyperlinks.
3) You finally get to the course you want and it’s either:
b. Scheduled at the same time as another course you MUST take
c. Cancelled. With a professor that everyone says is horrible

So we have to wait until drop and add period in the next semester, sitting next to our computers all day long with the requisite cup of coffee refreshing the screen every 10 seconds or so, just on the off chance that someone may decide to drop a course you need. So yeah, one of the not so pleasant aspects at AUC.

Next week we also have Employment fair—which is a big event hosted by the CAPS office and is attended by a lot of companies from all over Egypt. It’s a good opportunity to find out what jobs are out there and which fields have the most demand. There’s also a book fair (yay!) which I’m really looking forward to because I love books. Diwan (really amazing bookstore/café in Mohandessin) is actually one of my favorite places to go—I’ve had so many loyalty cards I’ve lost count. And the AUC bookstore cashiers know me by name So I’ll admit I’ve always been a bookworm (trés uncool I know) and I usually spend a lot of my money on books. But they’re actually pretty expensive compared to prices abroad, so I buy a lot of books from Amazon, only I still end up paying shipping costs so it’s still expensive, but not as much as here. In fact, I just received a shipment yesterday and spent a couple of hours reading “Jihad vs. McWorld” rather than studying. *sheepish smile*

That reminds me; I’m thinking of applying for a course called “American and Arab Identities in tension” which takes place in Cyprus during the summer. But I need to find out more about it asap because it could conflict with my internship timings. It’s actually a political science course which I don’t need for my major, but it’s a great opportunity and I know people who went last year and really enjoyed it. In any case, it’ll get counted as an elective so no worries…

And all that of course is just on top of project meetings, papers, presentations, a visit to a service factory for a course, an exam I’m taking in order to apply for an internship at Procter and Gamble during the summer and all the usual classes and lectures. Plus all the routine errands like buying ink for my printer and going to take pictures of the gym we’re doing a project on in a marketing course. They may sound mundane, but they actually need a lot of time because Egypt is so crowded it takes ages to get anywhere.

Today is the Closing Ceremony for the Help Club—and it’s one of the biggest events on campus all year. It’s one of the main ways we collect donations for our activities; last year we collected almost quarter of a million Egyptian pounds. So it’s pretty exciting and always a lot of fun. So I better go see what needs to be done and if anyone needs any help.

Until next time!
All the best, and Salam Alaykym (Peace by Upon you),

Friday, 28 April 2006

Back to University...

Salam Alaykum everyone (Peace be upon you),

I hope everyone enjoyed the last few days of spring break (for those of you who had spring break of course). Why is it that a 10 day holiday goes by in the blink of an eye while a week of classes drags on forever?? Just a thought I spent a few idyllic days in Alexandria, breathing “clean” air and basically just lazing around, and somehow they put me in “holiday” mood a lot more than when I was in Abu Dhabi. And I can’t believe how crowded it was! Porto Marina (this mall/ marina) was packed with people, and we had to wait 30 minutes for tables at Alain Le Notre (a café). I guess we’re not the only people who wanted to get out of Cairo and the overwhelming heat; I met more than one AUCian there.

I can’t believe I’m back at university, back to exams, projects and papers. Somehow, finals seem a lot closer now that April is almost over, and now its crunch time, with doctors seemingly getting some absurd thrill in torturing us with never-ending projects and assignments. It’s back to the fourth floor library study rooms, back to group meetings and hours of staring bleary-eyed at computer screens.

I guess I should be grateful I’m only doing three major courses this semester, and so only have three projects to work on. My other two courses are for my minor (Arab and Islamic Civilization) and only require term papers. I’ve already come up with a topic for my Sufism class (a sect of Islam), but it’s my “Veiling and the Construction of an Islamic Identity” class that I have to think about. It’s actually one of the most interesting classes I’ve taken in university; only it’s a graduate level course and so has a LOT of readings and is kind of challenging (but in a good way). Funnily enough, the class is 100% female (I wonder why?), and none of us are from the same country, which I find amazing because it gives us all a chance to hear many points of view, rather than all of us agreeing all the time.

I was thinking of doing an overload and graduating in the summer, but instead I’ve decided to go for an internship and work during the holiday, postponing graduation until next fall. It’ll give me an opportunity to actually see what working life is like, and what field I want to pursue once I graduate, or if I should stay and continue with my Masters degree. Now who wants to help me in writing up a decent resumé? Only because I’m really bad at trying to sum myself up in one page; guess I should pay a visit to the CAPS office (Career Advising & Planning Services).
I guess that’s it for this week, I’ll grant you a reprieve for now I should go and get started on my readings for Sunday, since tomorrow I have a long day at university (yes, I even have to go in my weekends!) with a Help Club meeting for our closing reception next week, and a rehearsal for the as of yet unnamed play I’m in. Plus I still have to edit articles for next week’s issue of Dimensions… I guess my work is just never done

Until next time,
All the best, and Salam Alaykum.
Ethar El-Katatney

Friday, 21 April 2006

Litaarafuu: The Search for Mutual Understanding

How’s everyone? I hope you’re all doing great, and thank you for coming back to visit my blog. I’m warning you though; this entry is verrrrry long, but verrrrrrrrrry interesting, so bear with me.

Last week I was in Abu Dhabi, participating in the Muslim Danish Youth Dialogue forum hosted by the Tabah and Ta’aheel foundation. Its title, Litaarafuu, comes from Verse 13 in Chapter 49 in the Qur’an, which partialy reads “…We have created you of a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other…” Litaarafuu means “that you may know each other,” and this was one of the main goals of the forum.

This conference was so amazingly spectacular that I have no idea where to start or what I should focus on. But I guess the best place to start would be the beginning. Bism Allah Al Rahman Al Raheem (Literally “In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful,” and Muslims say this whenever they begin anything).

I was the youngest delegate and (often felt like) the most unaccomplished person there, with almost everyone having finished their Bachelor’s degree (if not their Masters) and all giving me the impression of being very important people. For example:

“Hello I’m President of the Danish Youth Council.”
“Hello, I’m Editor-in-chief of Islamica magazine.”
“Hello, I’m President of the Danish Liberal Youth.”
“Hello, I’m a host of a television show”

And so and so forth. It made me feel that I had gotten accepted as a delegate by mistake, and if so then Alhamdulelah (Thanks to Allah/God)! So it came as a complete surprise when I was chosen as one of the eight delegates to lead the four workshops (2 delegates for each workshop, one from each delegation). Subhan Allah (Praise be to Allah–used usually to show surprise).

Our first day was simply an orientation day, where we got to know each other. I was amazed to realize that the Muslim delegation had come from all over the world—from Egypt, USA, Singapore, UK, Abu Dhabi, Malaysia and many more countries. I’ll admit I was a bit apprehensive that day, since I didn’t really know what to expect of the Danish delegation. On one hand, I was scared of us not being able to get along; and on the other I was scared that we would all want to get along and so would “act” to keep things running smoothly. But I definitely had an image of the “other” in my mind, even though I was trying my best not to be in any way prejudiced before I met the Danish group.

My initial reaction to meeting the other delegation was shock that there were a number of Danish Muslims participating in the dialogue. For me, that was a surprise because it made me realize that I had unintentionally created two “sides” in my mind, painting them in binary opposition, and that the Danish Muslims had no place in my two sided view. It forced me to face up to the fact that painting two sides was a silly idea, and that it’s not simply a case of being one or the other; it was much more complicated than that. So that was the first step in breaking down the barriers that at least I had put up.

We went to an art exhibition later on that day (after lunch at an AMAZING Moroccan restaurant) featuring Islamic art and jewelry at the Muslim Women’s Union, before visiting a cultural center that showed us what the Emirates used to be like in terms of its dress, food, culture etc. I really liked this quote that was up on a wall: “Whoever doesn’t know and preserve their past, can have no present and no future.” Or something like that anyway We were then invited to dinner in the house of a very important person (sorry, didn’t quite catch who he was *oops*) and the generosity of our hosts was simply unbelievable— not to mention the glorious food. Do you think it’s even remotely possible for me to learn to cook like that? *grin*

The next day was when the real work began. After (the usual) sumptuous breakfast, we attended a series of lectures by a very distinguished set of panelists from both sides, discussing whether we were facing a clash of civilizations or a clash of semantics. Instantaneous translation into English/ Arabic was available, and the amount of effort put by the organizers in getting such distinguished panelists is amazing, as were the actual speeches—they gave us a lot to digest before we started the workshops. And can I just say how strange I felt moderating the session with Kasrsten? (My Danish counterpart). Our discussion question was “Is there an intrinsic contradiction between freedom of expression and respect for religious and sacred symbols and sensitivities?” Imagine trying to fit that discussion into 90 minutes. Overall, I think we did an ok job, and it was really the workshop that allowed people to open up and start discussing things truthfully, without trying to sugarcoat their beliefs and convictions.

After the workshop we all took a bus to a Bedouin camp/ tribe two hours out of Abu Dhabi, and this was definitely one of the best and most memorable experiences of my life. The sheer hospitality that was showered upon us was humbling and truly astounding. The girls were all given golden charms (that’s right: gold!) to hang from our watches, and we were greeted with men wearing traditional Arab dress who sang us a greeting song they’d made up just for this occasion.

We took cars to the top of sand dunes and watched the sun set. We prayed the Maghrib (sunset) prayer in the open under the skies. We got henna done on our hands; which is a paste made from leaves and is used to decorate the body—kind of like a temporary tattoo.
The girls were all given gifts of jalabeyas (traditional long flowing dress) matching with a hijab (headscarf). The men also got the male version of the Emirate dress, and we got to take pictures.

Just imagining how much trouble it must have been to find all the different sizes, match the colors, and wrap the gifts truly touches me. A caterer came all the way into the desert to provide us with a feast; I can’t believe how much trouble the organizers must have gone through, and for that I’m truly grateful. They even woke up the camels for us at night so we could pose with them and even drink their milk!! (Ok, it sounds disgusting, but really isn’t—it tastes like whipping cream). They were beautifully white too, unlike the brown camels I see here in Egypt. We were told that it was believed that the camels were directly descended from the Prophet Mohammad’s (Peace be upon him) camel, and so were priceless. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop me from being scared of them

The topic of media and the role it plays in shaping our ways of thinking was discussed the following day, and let me just say how impressed I am with the fact that the Danish participants were all present even though it was Easter. Just imagining giving up my Eid (Islamic holiday) for a conference, no matter how fun it is, is difficult, and so I truly commend them. I hope you all liked the Cadbury crème eggs

The workshop aim was to come up with points we all believe in so as to be able to come up with a declaration, and I’m glad to say that we were able to do so. In the process, I was able to gain a better understanding of how each side thought, and the long bus ride the day before had also given us a very good chance at getting to know how each side regarded the issue and from what angle/ perspective. It’s difficult to express how normal interactions can affect the way you regard what someone is saying; but it’s true that the fact that each and every person I was talking to had ceased to become simply a name affected the way I interpreted their statements. Laughing with Maria over how much we liked dessert, and talking with Mads about the work he’s involved in with an agency in Egypt, made everyone more “real” (if I can say that), and that made their beliefs and ideologies so much easier to respect than when they were simply a homogenous mass presented to us through the media and our own limited knowledge. So definitely, I feel that we accomplished something, and I believe that even if we hadn’t been able to come up with a declaration to satisfy both sides; the simple fact that we went through the process was a very good step that bodes well for the promotion of a society that truly works towards mutual tolerance.

So leaving the (poor) organizers to codify and work on the declaration, we once again got on the bus, but this time headed to Dubai, which was also a couple of hours away. I spent my time being interviewed (eek!) by one of the Danish delegates who was a journalist, and we had a very interesting and enlightening conversation. On the bus, we were each given a gift of a frame with seven layers of sand in it to symbolize the seven emirates, and once again we were amazed at the generosity of our hosts, which seemingly has no bounds.

The bus dropped us off at Jumeirah (bear with me, I know I write too much!), which is a hotel that has a souk (kind of bazaar) which although isn’t authentic, tries its best to appear so. But I must say the Cinnabon (cinnamon pastry) booth kind of destroys the effect And speaking of Cinnabon; did you know that it doesn’t exist in Denmark and so most of the Danish delegates hadn’t tried it? Of course I had to remedy that ASAP, and allow them to feel the happiness that comes from 500 calories a roll

At around 10 or so the bus took us to a Lebanese restaurant (at least I think it was Lebanese), which had this gorgeous sea/water view, where we stayed until 2 am. It was my, Tea-Jeni, and Bar’a’s birthdays (what were the chances??) and so we all got a birthday cake. We got our birthday song sung in Danish (which I have to admit sounds a lot more enthusiastic than the English one), German, English and Arabic. And I felt so veryyyyyy special. And honestly I was touched. I know I’m starting to sound a bit redundant now, but each and every aspect of my experience truly did touch me in some way or another, which is partly why I’m finding it so difficult to stop writing so much, since I have no idea what I should eliminate. I guess you were right in your speech Mads, it is difficult for the media to pick which aspects of a topic to cover

The last and final day of the conference (almost done!) was a happy and yet sad day for all of us. Happy that we’d benefited so much in such a short time and yet sad that our idyllic days were fast coming to an end. How was I going to go back to a life with no cameras following me around? But on a more serious note, it’s true that everyone was starting to get a bit emotional, and although I didn’t and don’t usually show it, I was feeling kind of bereft that all the amazing friends I’d made were going to scatter to literally all four corners of the globe. So here I was sitting there contemplating that sad fact, when suddenly I’m told that I was chosen as one of the two Muslim delegates to get up on the podium and state my reflections on the conference, on what I’ve learnt, and what I’d benefited. And nonchalantly told that it was going to be in 20 minutes, and that the other speaker would be Moez Masoud, who’s a public speaker on Iqraa’, a religious satellite channel.

My reaction? Total blankness. Of course I didn’t want to seem at all unprofessional, so I just nodded that that would be no problem. But inside I was like: “Ummm, what am I going to say?????????” Writing down some points would be helpful right? Only I can’t read my own handwriting most of the time so I rushed to the business centre, quickly typed up a few (I hoped) pertinent points, and then spent 10 minutes running around like a headless chicken trying to figure out why the printer wasn’t working. The manager obviously felt sorry for me, and printed my points from her own computer, and I dashed back to the conference room with literally seconds to spare. But of course, we were in an Arab country, so the 20 minutes turned to 40, and my heart rate slowed down. So now that I’ve totally embarrassed myself and proved that I wasn’t the calm, collected person (I hope!) I looked like; all I can say is that I hope my speech, if not great, at least in some way touched a chord in those who heard it.

And so the concluding ceremony included speeches by Moez and I (I never like saying the “and I” bit, it always sounds so formal), two Danish Delegates, and by some of the panelists like Dr. Karen Karma, Dr. Al-Bouti, and Sheikh Habib Ali Al Jifri. And of course the reading of the Joint declaration. Basmalla, the 7 year old daughter of an Egyptian actor got up and read us a poem, and I saw more than one person with tears in their eyes (of course I wasn’t one of them!!).
After her reading we were once again given gifts (surprise!), but this time by both the Muslim and Danish delegation. From the Muslim side we got books and DVD’s, and from the Danish side we each got a beautiful glass plate from Villeroy and Boch. We posed for group photographs (but of course I had a disposable 2nd rate camera and so no one is looking at me in any of them!) before heading off to Zayed University for lunch. Once again we were welcomed with effusive greetings and a spectacular meal. (I have decided not to weigh myself for a week or so as a result of these amazing meals, and can I just state for the record how glad I am that I can’t cook!!) And then one of the Danish delegates (I’m so sorry I can’t remember your name!) got up and gave us a spontaneous speech about his feelings towards the conference, and how much it had affected him. While listening to his speech, all I could think of was how such a short period of time could be the cause of such fervent and sincere expressions of feelings, and how grateful I was to get a chance to be part of that experience. Because no matter how much I write, this is one of those things that you simply had to be there to feel what I feel.

And if I tell you how saying goodbye a couple of hours later was one of the most difficult things in my life, it’ll be hard to believe because who gets so attached to people in four days? But these are people who have not just come into my life and left; on the contrary they are those who have left footprints in my life (as corny as that sounds) and whom I will never forget. Things like singing “Anamanam/ Tererereree” or “Hakuna Matata” on the bus, or waking up and finding that my roommate had despaired of me learning how to properly fold my clothes and had done them for me may seem trivial, but to me they are indicative of so much more. They show me that there truly is hope; that we are not as different as we think we are, and that at our core we are all human beings and that everything else can be resolved if we put our heart, mind, body and soul into it. Truly, and now more than ever, I believe that, and I will do my best to spread this belief to as many people as I know.

To all the wonderful people I’ve met: Minnie, Maria, Azeema, Karsten, Yasmine, Mads, Jan, Charlotte, Nimrah, Sarah, Hisham, Isacc, Hasanah, Tea-Jeni, Farida, and to everyone else. I just wanted you to know that I was greatly honored to meet you, and that you have truly made a mark on my life. Jazakum Allah kol khair (May Allah/God grant you Good things).

And for all of you who’ve read this far…wow, I’m impressed Thank you for deeming my words worthy enough of your time, and I hope you’ll be back to read my next entry which will be a LOT shorter since I will be in Alexandria, hopefully sitting by the pool and enjoying myself, with no time to write *grin.* And now I think I deserve that chocolate bar which I’ve been craving all day, owing to all the writing I’ve done

Until next time,
Salam Alaykum (Peace be upon you)Ethar

Tuesday, 11 April 2006

Hi everyone!

This has been one of those weeks that you feel goes on and on and on, which you think will never end. Other than papers, midterms, and meetings, I’ve also been participating in the Model Organization Islamic Conference (MOIC).

Going to the conference means I missed classes (and rehearsals for the play I’m in), which is doubly bad for me because I’ll be missing two more days of classes because I’m leaving in a couple of hours or so to go to the airport (I’m traveling to Abu Dhabi for another conference).

The MOIC conference was from 9am-6pm for four days straight, and I was also participating in a workshop this weekend from 6-10 for three days, so I’ve had practically no time to work on my papers/ projects except late at night. I even missed the closing ceremony so I could finish a paper, and I wasn’t there when I was announced as the Best Delegate! So yeah, I’ve been walking into a few walls and drinking a lot of coffee lol. I think I may be Cilantro’s best customer (that’s our Starbucks here). We have L’aroma on campus (another Starbucks alternative), but I still say Cilantro is better. Am I going to be reprimanded for saying that? Hehe. I’d better backtrack and state for the record that L’aroma still has the best hot chocolate, but not the best brownies.

Tomorrow on campus we have International day, which I’m so sad I’m going to miss because it’s one of the best events we have all year. Each country gets a booth, and they sell traditional food, wear the national dress, play music from their country, and sell some really cool stuff. It’s like Global Village in Dubai but on a miniature scale. Last year I got these candles from the Thailand booth and I still have them (of course I have no idea where they are because my desk hasn’t been cleaned in ages, but I know they’re on it or near it somewhere). There’s always a henna lady there (it’s like a kind of tattoo made from plants (I think) that lasts a couple of weeks) but I’m not sure in which country/booth. Maybe India?? In any case, if any AUCians are reading this, then you should definitely go, and stop by the Pakistani booth in particular coz that’s the one my friend Nida is participating in hehe. And the Saudi Arabia booth always has great dates and coffee. Well, you get the picture And don’t forget to pick up Dimensions (the Student Union newspaper) and read my column!

I’m guessing I’ve gone on long enough for a first entry, and I hope you’ll be back to read my second! I’ll find a computer at Abu Dhabi and post my next entry for next Monday. I’ll update this every Monday; this week was an exception because yesterday was “Muled El Nabi” (The Prophet Mohammad’s birthday (PBUH)) and I went to Al Hussein (his great grandson’s mausoleum) to watch the festivities. And seriously that’s an event that every Egyptian and foreigner should attend; there you’ll really get a good dose of everything oriental you ever dreamed of. Shisha (Hookah), whirling dervishes, Sufi ceremonies, music, bokhoor (incense), and not to mention the multitude of shops in Khan El Khalili (biggest oriental shopping bazaar in Egypt) open all night long. If you can stand the crowds, and having to wait a loooong time to find a table in the popular El-Fishaway café, then it’s definitely worth it. And I’m starting to sound like a travel guide so I’ll stop here

Until next time!
Salam Alaykum

Wednesday, 5 April 2006

And so it begins...

Ok this is kind of strange; I’m sitting here and thinking what to write that would interest people who have no idea who I am. I guess I should start by introducing myself a bit. My name is Ethar (comes from the Qur’an and the closest translation is altruism) and I’m a Business Administration senior at AUC. I’m Saudi born, Egyptian raised, and Western educated (I know, an identity crisis just waiting to happen). I have four (very noisy) siblings, and I’m the eldest. I’m minoring in Arab and Islamic Civilization, and I’m in approximately 10 activities this semester (I know, it was a crazy thing to do).

So what have I been up to this weel? Well, first I attended a lecture this week titled “Islamophobia in the West” given by Khaled Abu El Fadl, whom I gather is a very prominent scholar. It was interesting, but I have to confess I was pretty tired and it was a two-hour lecture, so I didn’t really catch everything; though I was supposed to be covering it for Dimensions, the Student Union newspaper I’m a reporter on. Thank God the story was dropped though, and I covered the debate on Wednesday about the Denmark Issue instead, because that wouldn’t have been my best work.

Wednesday was also the henna of one of my friends. A ‘henna’ is a party traditionally held 2 days before a wedding, where the bride and all her female friends basically get dressed up and dance all night. We also have henna done, which are designs done on your body with a paste made from leaves (I think). I had it done on my hands and I think it’s pretty J Her wedding was last Friday, and the singer that came is somehow so much uglier in real life lol. But the Hyatt hotel was amazing, and the Nile looked sooooo amazing (and clean!) from up there.

I’ve been learning how to park lately, and somehow I’m still failing dismally. I was at Cairo University on Friday before the Wedding for my Model Organization of the Islamic Conference (MOIC) session, and I had to park outside, only I suck at it, so my car looked really out of place amongst all the perfectly parked cars. Oh well, at least I didn’t get a ticket ;)

Yesterday some friends of mine from New York came to Egypt for the first time, and since I only know them from the videoconference course I took last semester about cross-cultural perceptions; I was really excited to finally meet them in person. We all went to the Cairo Tower (which I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never been to although I’m a native Egyptian!) and it was hilarious how we were the only group there among all the couples. We then traipsed downstairs to the revolving restaurant. Well actually, I hobbled along since my shins are all black and blue from my morning kickboxing class at Gold’s Gym (I have a mean trainer jk). We had lunch there, although the floor creaked constantly, but all in all it was definitely an experience. Next time, maybe I’ll try the pyramids :D (only kidding, I’ve been there of course).

Hmmm, what else? Oh, I remember. On Thursday my “Intro to Sufism” teacher took us to visit a Sufi Order, where basically the Sufis (they’re an Islamic sect) performed dhikr, which is the remembrance of God and the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). It was really interesting to watch them recite and dance and how they were so welcoming of us. They gave us cake, croissants with date paste inside (which tasted really good btw), chocolates, and strangely enough, tangerines J

Ok, I think I’ve gone on long enough for a first entry; don’t want you to get too bored from the first time :) In any case, I have to go get started on calling all the homes for the elderly here in Cairo, because the Hand in Hand (HIH) is having a mother’s day event on campus for them. And of course I’m a chronic procrastinator, so I’ve left it really late (as usual).

Until next time,
Salam Alaykum!).(literally “Peace be upon you”. The arabic version of hello/goodbye; it works both ways like aloha lol)