Monday, September 28, 2009

One Lasting Cairo Moment...

One of my last nights in Cairo, I had a redeeming experience that has endeared a small corner of Cairo into my heart forever.

My friend, Ali invited me to his cousin's engagement party, which turned out to be more block party than anything else. A cul-de-sac was emptied of cars and replaced with chairs and giant loudspeakers. By the time we arrived, the DJ was already blaring Arabic music into the night and into the neighbor's bedrooms.

Ali's family was very nice, but I spent the first 20 minutes sitting and hiding in a corner behind the speakers, trying to avoid the subtle stares and curious faces. I watched a few people dance and sing along to the songs before one of Ali's sisters managed to get me to dance with her.

I think I kind of shocked everyone with my belly dancing skills. I was really intimidated by the hip shaking skills that Ali’s family was displaying but I’m happy to say that I (somewhat) held my own and before I knew it, everyone was dancing with me! Grandmothers in burqas held tight to my hands, Ali’s stepmother was shoulder shimmying with me and even the kids were showing me their moves. It was really fun and I couldn’t stop laughing. When we tried to say goodbye, everyone kept making me dance with them so that I wouldn’t leave. I received breath-constricting hugs, dozens of kisses and it ended up taking an hour before I literally snuck out of the party.

I'm really glad that I threw my inhibitions aside and just had a good time dancing with everyone. It was so liberating and fun to NOT think about what people where thinking because everyone had a good time watching the strange little Chinese girl belly dance, including myself.
© Connie Hum 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Jipped in Egypt

Ahh...I left Dahab (reluctantly, I might add) and made it to Cairo and Luxor. I tried my best, really I did, to like both Cairo and Luxor, but Egypt certainly doesn't make it easy.

There is always a constant barrage of people trying to get your money. I understand that many people rely on tourists for their livelihood, but really, it was just too much. In Luxor, as soon as I stepped out of the train station, no less than a dozen taxi drivers were trying to steer me towards their car, even as I was speaking on the phone and shaking my head. Finally, I just had to shout, "My friend is coming to get me!"

Cairo was no better. The streets are really, REALLY filthy, full of garbage and other gross things. The people have harrasment down to an art. Luckily, I had a good friend in Cairo to help me out. Once, we were shopping in the bazaar for a dress. After finally finding one that I liked, the guy tried to sell it to me for 280 Egyptian pounds (about $50). My friend told me in Turkish that it was too expensive and we got up to leave. The guy came after us and I ended up buying the dress for 30 EGP ($5.50).

It made making new friends in Egypt quite a difficult task because you never could tell if someone was talking to you on the street because they were genuinely nice or if they were trying to sell you something, or make babies with you. No joke, lots of taxi drivers are happy to offer their assistance if you tell them you have no children when they ask. And they always ask.

I hate to travel with such reservations about the people, but it was really hard not to when everywhere you turn, there's someone trying to take advantage of you. Thank goodness my Egyptian friends were there to help remind me that not everyone is trying to exploit me.

Egypt, you have much to learn from my friends. Travelers, go to Egypt after you make friends with Egyptians!

© Connie Hum 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My Little Slice of Heaven

When I decided to come to Egypt, I knew one of the main things I wanted to do was dive in the Red Sea. I was given the suggestion of going to Dahab for this.

Dahab is a small little dive town. It's nothing but dive shops and restaurants, sprinkled with gift shops all along the boardwalk. You pretty much meet everyone in town just by walking the 20 minutes it takes to get from one end of the boardwalk to the other.

There are just as many foreigners in Dahab as there are Egyptians. When asked how long the foreigners have been in Dahab, the shortest duration I encountered was 6 weeks. With plans to return within the next year. People just seem to show up in Dahab and not leave.

Dahab is a very special place indeed and I can certainly attest to the strong desire that pulls you into staying. My original plan was to come to Dahab for only four days. Now I'm working on getting my Advanced Open Water diving certification and have extended my stay another three days, and I'm seriously considering just staying for the remainder of my time in Egypt.

Diving in the Red Sea is a dream come true! The water is amazingly clear, the amount of sea life is incredible and I've already seen an array of awesome and interesting marine animals. I saw two octopi (or is it octopuses?) change color right before my eyes! That was intense! I saw a spotted ray literally floating through the water before landing close to me. I almost forgot to breath, I was just so astounded!

The funny thing is, the town of Dahab really isn't THAT special. There's really nothing to do here besides dive. It's still a pretty awesome thing to do, this being the Red Sea and all, but still... And the flies. They are relentless! In any case, I'm perfectly happy taking my AOW course, doing amazing dives each day and seeing the various fish undersea, lounging my nights away near the surf and keeping company with the cool ocean breeze.

I could certainly see myself doing this for at least another six weeks. If not more... If you don't hear from me, at least you'll know where to find me. I invite you to come look for me. I could probably use a roommate by that time.

© Connie Hum 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bedouin Days

The Bedouin Village, located just outside of Petra is a dirty, smelly town full of donkeys, camels and bare-footed children kicking up storm clouds of dirt and dust as they run through the streets. Amidst all the grime and chaos, live the legendary Bedouin.

I had the unique privilege of spending three days with the Bedouin, receiving first-hand experience of their long-standing culture and way of life. The highlight, besides sleeping in a cave in the middle of Petra's mountain range, was undoubtedly the night I spent inside the home of a Bedouin family to share a home-cooked dinner with them. The family was incredibly generous and kind. Although the family seemed to be of little means, they fed me a feast of lentil soup and a dish of "upside-down chicken" served in a massive platter over a heaping mound of aromatic rice.

Bedouin chicken dinner

The family and I ate out of the massive platter together, topping each spoonful of rice and chicken with a saucy tahini vegetable salad. The meal was absolutely delicious.

I felt a little guilty for eating this family's food but they kept insisting that I eat as much as I could and I soon felt guilty for not graciously accepting their hospitality by eating more!

The children were a lovely bunch. We couldn't communicate well as my knowledge of Arabic is severely limited to salaam and shookran (hello and thank you), just as their English was limited in kind, but we took many pictures, walked around hand in hand and played with their neighbor's camels. The children took a wild fancy to my stick-straight hair and couldn't keep their hands out of it all night.

Everything seemed to fascinate them about me

The kids even took me to meet their neighbor next door. And his camel!

I was nervous the camel would spit on me

My days here were an eye-opener to the Bedouin lifestyle and I am forever grateful to all those who shared their lives with me and helped to make my Bedouin days so memorable.

The sparse interior of a Bedouin cave located in the middle of Petra's mountains
© Connie Hum 2009

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Dead Sea Experience

Upon arriving into Amman, one of the first things I did was go to the Dead Sea with some friends. The five of us jumped into the car on an unbelievably hot day and drove less than an hour to the Dead Sea.

I knew that the Dead Sea had a high salt concentration but I didn't know just how salty it was going to be! You literally just float! I tried to stand a few times but my legs just kept bobbing up to the surface. It was a strange feeling but very cool. I also didn't know that the Dead Sea was the lowest point on Earth and that you could literally see Israel across the Sea.

My friends and I also benefited from the Dead Sea mud which is purported to have special minerals to improve your skin. We lathered ourselves up and baked in the glaring sun. You could practically see the sulfuric smell wafting off our bodies like the way smells are portrayed in old cartoons.

The caked mud was a bit difficult to get off and I had the misfortune of accidentally splashing some Dead Sea water into my eyes (painful beyond belief). After some scrubbing and rubbing, the mud finally came off to reveal smooth, radiant skin!

It was a great day and a special treat to have been to the Dead Sea. I hope that one day I will return again and be extra careful not to get any of the sea water in my eyes.

© Connie Hum 2009

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What I'll Miss About Istanbul

I'm sure there a many great things that I will miss about living in Istanbul but here's a list of the top things I will miss most.
  1. Calling everyone I know "canım" (literal translation: my life)
  2. Crossing the First Bridge at night and seeing the gorgeous Istanbul skyline reflecting off the Bosphorus
  3. Hearing the morning call to prayer and realizing that it's time to go home and go to sleep
  4. Türkçe arkadaşlarım
  5. Drinking Turkish çay in the afternoons
  6. Eating street mussels on the way home after a night out in Tünel
  7. Taking people to my "secret" cafe and enjoying the view
  8. Playing and laughing with Mina and Melda
  9. Seeing people's faces when I speak Turkish to them for the first time
  10. "Ciao bella, ciao ciao ciao!"
  11. Eating heaping bowlfuls of mantı (Turkish stuffed pasta with yogurt sauce)
  12. Riding the ferries across the Bosphorus
  13. People watching along Istiklal Caddesi and its side streets
  14. Eating home-cooked Turkish food every day
  15. Everything about Istanbul, plain and simple
© Connie Hum 2009

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