Sunday, January 31, 2010

If only Egypt was a part of Africa

Mabrouk le Masr! Egypt just won the African Cup of Nations for the third time in a row, defeating Ghana 1 - 0. To be honest, it was a pretty boring game, especially after the intensity of the Algeria match. However, the people of Egypt took to the streets afterward to honk, drum, wave flags, and (my favorite) spray aerosol cans into the air and light matches. For pictures, just refer to my previous soccer post. It's pretty much the same thing except there was no flag burning, and that's not just because no one could find Ghanaian flags. Egypt just hates Algeria.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Wadi Degla Protectorate

Running in Cairo is unheard of. The streets are too crowded, the sidewalks are too broken (or non-existent), and the people would all stop to stare at and probably heckle you. Fortunately, I'm not much of a runner. However, I did get a good tip about an area on the outskirts of the city that was great for running so I checked it out today in case I got inspired to exercise in the near future.

Lillie and I went to Wadi Degla, a desert valley that stretches for 30 km. We did not fully think through how much 30 km is (to be fair, there was no scale on the map) and got tired after an hour, so we only scratched the surface of the area. It was peaceful and beautiful. We strayed from the path and walked along the valley ridge which turned out to be not the smartest thing to do since. After 40 minutes of walking, we realized there would be no easy way to get down. Eventually we found a kinder incline and slowly descended. Our walk had become an intense hike.

It was a foggy day but fog doesn't stop adventure.

Little people in the bottom left corner for scale--it was hard to realize how high up we were since the desert has a way of making everything blend together.

On our way back, we ran into some people picnicking in the area. I asked if there was a cafeteria nearby. They looked at me like I was crazy and then gave us a bottle of water. (Again, to be fair, the brochure said there was a visitor's center that had a cafeteria--it just turned out to be another 15 miles away from us). There's still much to explore in this area but I think we'll try going with a car next time. Walking aimlessly in the desert is nice but... I'm no monk.

Friday, January 29, 2010

4 - 0

A merciless match--Egypt destroyed Algeria. The country partied all night. I think people are going to be groggy for Friday prayers.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I Love Nationalism

The African Cup of Nations has been underway in Angola, and last night, Egypt played Cameroon in the quarterfinals. Lillie and I went to Mohandiseen, a district in Cairo, to watch the game at a cafe. Watching soccer surrounded by Egyptians is weirdly religious. Not only was the commentator invoking God's grace every time the Egyptians had the ball, everyone around us was muttering/screaming, "Ya rab!" ("O Lord!") four times a minute throughout the entire game.

The cafe we were at was the place to be. There were several camera crews filming the chaos and the reactions of the crowd. We got interviewed. Despite Lillie's refusal to speak into the microphone ("I don't speak Arabic!"), they shoved the microphone in our faces. She predicted the score of the game and I said, "Masr ha-tiksab, in shah Allah, han shouf." (Egypt will win, God-willing, we'll see.) How reassuring.

They tried interviewing a Saudi man behind us but he refused and spoke badly of Egypt, while the host pleaded with him saying, "C'mon! We're all Arabs after all." He had none of it.

When Egypt won, I saw him holding an Egyptian flag. Oh, how quickly he came around to Pan-Arabism.

Egypt ended up defeating Cameroon 3-1, scoring two goals in overtime. The cafe erupted and once the match was over, people went crazy in the streets. As soon as we got out, we saw three trucks full of riot police ready for the madness. Honking, screaming, flag-waving ensued for the next few hours.

It was a lot of fun being surrounded by chaos and happiness. People were genuinely thrilled for and proud of Egypt--a feat that only takes place from soccer victories and moving away to another country and romanticizing the good old days. It really is a great feeling to be proud of your country. People rarely get excited about America in the same way. No one riots in the streets unless something bad happens. Bo-ring.

The drumming and chants made for a festive atmosphere. Old men drop 50 years when Egypt scores. Their dance moves, however, remain from the 40s.

How to: Can of aerosol and a lighter.

Egypt plays Algeria in the semi-finals on Thursday. Egyptians are ready for war. Here's a good summary of what happened before. Algeria defeated Egypt two months ago to make into the World Cup and it is time for revenge. In shah Allah, han shouf.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Son of Tulun

Yesterday, a group of us decided to visit the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, located in Islamic Cairo. It's the oldest mosque in Cairo that is still used regularly for religious services. It's also important because there's a drawing of it on the Egyptian five pound note:

Not my hand.

After asking people for directions several times, we eventually made it to the mosque. At least, we thought we did. We were actually at the mosque right next to Ibn Tulun. None of us had a clue and we all admired its architecture and sat in the space for an hour just... being there.

It was nice. At the time, it was nicer. Because we thought it was Ibn Tulun.

Me holding the five pound note after exclaiming how similar the drawing looks to the mosque we were sitting in.

A bunch of cats ran into the mosque and began playing so we watched them for a while.

Two of the cats were playing a little too much...

I can only assume this cat was about to wash itself so it could pray.

As I was taking a picture of the mosque from outside, this boy asked if he could be in it.

After we left the mosque, feeling accomplished, we walked by a long, large wall that looked old, historic, and important. Further down, we saw a security checkpoint and a Tourism Police booth. At that point, I think we all realized that we had just spent an hour in the wrong mosque. Five minutes later, we were in the real Ibn Tulun which was closing in an hour. This one actually looked like the five pound note.

We climbed the minaret to get some nice views.

The first mosque we entered. Totally not Ibn Tulun.

After a juice stop outside of the mosque, we were on our way back home--this time feeling very accomplished. I love juice.

Rapping without a p

It's been two weeks since I've returned to Cairo and I feel great. No Pharoah's Revenge (yet), the jet lag is on its way out, and work is in full swing. While I've spent most of my off time taking it easy since arriving, Thursday night I went out to Zamalek for Egyptian rap. Someone named Princess Emmanuelle was performing at a place called Sway. Here is her description from the Facebook event:

* Princess Emmanuelle will Perform Live a set of Hip-Hop * (Egypt's Female Egyptian Raper)

How could this not be entertaining? The Princess ended up rapping for less than ten minutes over recordings of her own songs. Half of her ten minute set consisted of a diatribe about the Egyptian acting business. In the tenth minute, she apologized saying that there would be a one minute intermission. When she came back, she said that management was displeased since people were getting too chaotic. This was very strange considering the place was brought to a standstill once she started rapping since no seemed to enjoy it very much. She then said the next song would be her last of the night. The DJ played Egyptian Happy Birthday while she blew out candles for herself. And that was the end. A bizarre and awful performance but I'm sure she's a nice person...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Coptic Christmas

Santa remembering that he has to go back out for Christmas on January 7th

Merry Christmas! In Coptic calendar terms, today is the 29th of Kiahk, but you can just say January 7th. We'll understand.

Several of the Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas after December 25th. The discrepancy in the date of Christmas is not (theo)logical. Most of the world was on the Julian calendar system til the 16th century. The average length of a year was 365.25 days. During that time, all the churches in the world celebrated Christmas on December 25th.

It was then discovered that the Julian calendar year was off by a bit because people had messed up the leap year system. The average length of the year should have been about 365.2422 days. You can read more about the technical details here. Over hundreds of years, this minuscule error meant that the world was days behind the actual date. Countries began using the new Gregorian calendar system by skipping ahead to the actual date.

I can only imagine how weird that skip must've been. In the 1700s, you'd skip ahead by 11 days. In the 1800s, it'd be by 12. For example, if it was October 10, 1701 and the jump happened, the next day would be October 22, 1701. If your birthday fell during that time, you were out of luck.

Despite knowledge of inaccuracy of the Julian calendar, many of the Orthodox churches refused to revise their calendars. Technically, they still celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December--in Julian world. In Gregorian and normal world, the date is now January 7th. When the year reaches 2100, the date of Christmas will be pushed back til the 8th.

Why don't Orthodox churches switch? I'm not really sure. Maybe it's to give further truth to the old Orthodox saying: We're so Orthodox, we don't change even if we're totally wrong because we like holding on to petty differences that distinguish us from other Apostolic churches so that Orthodox people don't get confused about what denomination they are a part of because they might realize that we're not so different from other churches and then switch to Catholicism because their masses are much shorter. Or maybe it's because high ranking Orthodox bishops are worried they're going to miss their birthdays. Or maybe there's a better reason that no one has been able to explain to me. In any case, Merry Christmas!

On a much sadder note, last night, 6 Copts were shot and killed as they were leaving a church after the Christmas Eve liturgy in Upper Egypt. Please keep their families in your thoughts and prayers. Hopefully tensions won't continue to rise and cause more death and destruction.