Kristina Aronson, Class of 2009
Landed an internship at State last spring in the Office of Conflict Prevention which is in the bureau titled the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, then managed to turn the internship into a job, which will last until I graduate (from Georgetown) and the paperwork is being processed to turn it into a permanent position, so things are going great here!
Never in my numerous overseas experiences has my attention been captured in the same way that it has this summer – studying Arabic and living in Egypt. Egypt lifted the veil to the nuances and paradoxes of modern Arab Islamic culture and the thread of politics that is tightly woven into the complex fabric of daily life. Even as I have traveled to and in a variety of cultures across the globe during the past several years, it is the first time that I have been truly embedded in the broader culture and society of a region that plays such an integral role in current global issues.
On a day to day basis, life in Egypt is interesting. I love it, but it’s not for the faint hearted or the easily offended. Crossing the street is an adventure in itself and often consists of crossing six lanes of traffic one at a time with cars zipping by inches away both in front of and behind you. I am happy to say that I have yet to be hit (although I did accidentally run into a car – my fault). I have also learned to look both ways on one way streets, as drivers have a habit of reversing down them if it happens to be the most convenient route.
With respect to being a female, it doesn’t matter if you are wearing jeans and a t-shirt, a hijab, a niqab, or a burka – you will be verbally harassed. It is definitely a bit annoying, but the fact that it happens to everyone – regardless of nationality – makes me feel a little better, and I just accept it as something that is a reality, and since I cannot change it, I accept it as it is and deal with it. With respect to clothing, Egyptian women wear very much the current styles and trends, including tight skinny jeans, but they don fitted long sleeve crew neck shirts in a rainbow of colors beneath their spaghetti strap maxi dresses or t-shirts. Often this quite stylish outfit is topped by a hijab which covers their hair and neck, and again is in beautiful range of colors, fabrics and patterns – and always matches the rest of their clothing perfectly. Pretty much, all of us Americans feel perpetually out-dressed. Also, whether you are male or female, if you look even remotely foreign you will be told, “Welcome to Egypt”, a good 10-20 times each day. No, the fact that we have been here for two months has not helped things which makes it all the more amusing or annoying depending on the day.
And yet, people here are very friendly and the culture is exceptionally welcoming and hospitable. The little old man in the corner store where I buy my water will not let me pay until we exchange the proper greetings – in Arabic. As such, our conversations which began at about one word are now several sentences. The waiters at the local restaurants love having the opportunity to talk with Americans, practice their English, and help us with our Arabic. As for being an American in Egypt, the sentiment is overwhelmingly positive towards Americans themselves. I’ve been told again and again by Egyptians that they love Americans and they love America, they just do not like the American government/U.S. foreign policy.
There is a group of us that go running on most nights and yesterday we concluded that as much as we all have a love/hate relationship with running in Alex, we will miss it. I'm certainly not going to miss breathing in exhaust, running the exact same out and back route every day, dodging people and cats, or waiting until the sun goes down at 8 or so to escape the worst of the heat. However, part of me will miss the little kids that join in for pieces of every run (the best being a 9 year old dressed as superman that ran 2-3 miles with us in his flip flops one day - and put our boys to shame), the people that we inevitable chat with at some point, the "good jobs", "yellas", and clapping - even being mocked is pretty entertaining. A week or two ago one of the guys annihilated a fruit cart as he was attempting to run and play soccer with some little kids at the same time. Once he'd promised to pay for the broken cart, he was fed dinner while a couple of us ran back to get his money. Egyptian hospitality at its finest, and very entertaining to watch.
The cabs are ancient, the streets are dirty, the building facades are crumbling, and the sunsets over the Mediterranean are the most beautiful that I’ve ever seen. Hawaii included. The Sea is spectacular shades of blue and green with waves gently folding over each other, and despite the pollution from all of the old, Russian made cars, the sky is a brilliant blue with occasional puffs of clouds highlighting the horizon like the water pipes smoked by the many men lining the walks outside the street cafes. On one side of the coin it is picturesque and beautiful, on the other, it is raw and reckless. This has definitely been a summer that I will not forget.