Erica in Cairo

Erica is a junior majoring in art history in Meadows School of the Arts and international studies in Dedman College, with a minor in Italian. She also is a Hatton W. Sumners Scholar. In fall 2010, Erica will be taking classes in Egyptology and Middle Eastern studies at the American University in Cairo with SMU-in-Cairo. She hopes to learn as much Arabic as possible while traveling throughout the region.

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Slight change of plans

So it’s official. This spring I am trading the pyramids for the Dome of the Rock, the Nile for the Mediterranean. Thank you, Mom, for all that you do to give me so many opportunities! Egypt has been the fulfillment of a life’s pursuit, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But though I love it, and have learned more than I could put into words, I do think a semester is adequate – I really can’t handle getting food poisoning one more time.

Many of my study abroad experiences have been motivated by my love for history; I love the larger than life characters, the convoluted plot lines, the stunning art, and the wisdom waiting to be uncovered. I love it all. For those of you who have been to Italy, you know that the atmosphere there almost forces you to split your reality between the ancient past and the present – the perfectly maintained Renaissance villas and breathtaking statues leave little choice if you have any imagination whatsoever.

Cairo has its own wonders, but the ability to throw a person back in time is not one of them. In Cairo you are not living in the ancient past but in Islam, and though there are obviously benefits to experiencing another culture and religion, I would much rather read a book about Nefertiti than Muhammad. The difference between the two times is staggering – Cleopatra’s scanty outfits would be so haram these days. I can’t imagine the verbal abuse and physical harassment she would receive downtown, queen or no. Especially if she were somehow born blond!

47951_1174972823888_1515090959_30732173_6130863_n.jpg Other factors that influenced my decision include the bus ride, which has become something I dread daily. With the dwindling hours of daylight we now return at dusk, which makes the journey at least 1.5 hours, on what are now very musky buses, twice a day. Furthermore, because you are dependent on the bus to commute and they don’t leave every minute, you often have to “kill” at least 45 minutes or so waiting for the next bus to depart after finishing your last class. The result is the wasting of hours and hours every single day, either on buses or waiting for buses.

For an American who gets a high from finding the most efficient way to complete tasks, that whole situation is just brutal. I find that opening my eyes very wide, while raising my eyebrows and taking a deep breath, helps on the rare occasions I get too bothered. It usually turns into a smile (or a grimace). Also, the food and air are both toxic. Delicious and part of the city, though, respectively.

Cairo is an incredible city. There’s not another like it in the world, and there’s no excitement like the Middle East. I feel like I’m somehow cheating the system by going to a clean little Utopia but also managing to stay in the region, but couldn’t be more excited any way you slice it. Adios hijab, hello yarmulke!

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