Category Archives: Suburbia

Goodbye, 2011!

I saw out 2010 going to the top of the Empire State building, watching Black Swan a block from Lincoln Center, seeing all of the major department store displays around New York City.  Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, Lord & Taylor’s…

Dinner was Korean food at a fantastic little place in Koreatown, Woorijip, where I had kimchi, daikon wraps, sweet meatballs, spicy mackerel, cellophane noodles, sauteed bok choi and shiitakes, and a glutinous rice goop reminiscent of angel food cake combined with an eraser.

I began 2011 at 57th and 7th in New York City, just having watched the ball drop in Times Square.  I was exhilarated, having seen in the New Year in one of my favorite cities on earth with almost one million people.   Over the next year I would:

  • pass through Chicago, Rochester, Pittsburgh, Columbus (OH), Harrisburg (PA), New York City, Washington D.C., Baltimore (MD), Lancaster (PA), Boston, Cairo, Paris, Frankfurt, Zurich, Alexandria, Milan, Nice
  • taste camel, bison, squab, escargot, a hot pastrami sandwich, cuttlefish, prickly pear cactus juice, real New England clam chowder in New England, Ethiopian food, deep-dish pizza, an egg cream, authentic fool and falafel, bulgogi, whoopie pies, hibiscus juice, carob juice, guava juice, arugula juice, a Rochester Garbage Plate, sugar cane, fried cheese, jalapeño ice cream, herring stomach, chocolate-covered honeycombs, foie gras, kunafa, toasted sesame ice cream…
  • dye my hair red, ash blonde, add highlights and then chop off 13 inches
  • ride on a motorcycle, a camel, a TGV train, and a feluka
  • swim in 3 different oceans
  • visit one of the oldest markets in the world (the Khan el Khalili), the Hanging Church in Cairo, El Azhar mosque, the Saladin Citadel, the Central Park Zoo, both branches of Air and Space, Natural History, Newseum, the Freer Gallery, the American History Museum, Museum of the American Indian, the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (life changing!), the Library of Alexandria, LOVE park, the Chicago Bean, Strawberry Fields, the Louvre, the Cairo Tower, the Jersey Shore, the Great Pyramids at Giza
  • see Dorothy’s slippers, Michael Jackson’s hat and gloves, Julia Child’s kitchen, and the original Muppets
  • feed a  fawn, a lama, and a dromedary out of my hand
  • witness an earthquake, even though I was in a notary’s office and didn’t really feel anything
  • figure out how to solve all the world’s problems with a 44-year old West Virginian lady who had never been West of the Mississippi and 75-year old African American lady who had seen Malcolm X speak on a Megabus ride to Pittsburgh
  • hear the story of a Romanian grandmother who had been a voice actress dubbing banned foreign movies in Ceausescu’s regime, but was now an aide to mentally challenged children in Quebec public schools–again, on a Megabus ride to Rochester
  • take belly dance classes
  • learn how to tie a hijab properly
  • witness just how low people can sink into desperation, namely the time I sat across from a woman on the New York City subway at 2 AM who was crying over the muppet puppet in her lap
  • stop biting my nails
  • totter around in 8 inch heels (3 inch platform, 5 inch heel) at the Topshop store in New York City
  • make some very bad jokes
  • learn about identifying human remains and all the icky stuff that surrounds it (yeah Forensic Anthropology!)
  • attend one of the last performances of the Merce Cunningham dance company
  • see Fleet Foxes, Ben Folds, Emmylou Harris, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Booker T, Ke$ha, a Sudanese music ensemble, and Jukebox the Ghost  live in concert
  • watch three separate whirling dervish shows, including one that lit up
  • spend 3 months living and studying in Egypt
  • lose 20 pounds
  • start this blog
  • witnessed a country remaking itself, from revolution to reaction to election.
  • meet a great many people, many of them movers and shakers or future movers and shakers in the world
  • open my brain a little further

2011 has truly been a fantastic year and (I hope) the start of a lifelong adventure.  I have done a lot, seen a lot, heard a lot, ate a lot, and met a lot of inspiring people who have helped me to open my mind and my perceptions of the world at large.  Thank you for being along for the ride these 3 and a half months and may your New Year be as incredible as the last.

!في صحتك Prost! Cheers! Skål! Proost! Kanpai! Santé! Cin Cin! Sláinte!

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” -Thornton Wilder


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Filed under America, Egypt, France, In Transit, Suburbia


Happy Thanksgiving!

Usually I would have taken the bus back home, then travel to wherever the family would be gathering. I’d  rib my brother and cousins, dance around with the dog, weave lattices for my dad’s pies, peel, chop, mash, mix, sautee, clean, regale my relatives with stories from the past semester, and take in the succulent scents filling the house with warmth.  I’d tuck in to my uncle’s fantastic turkey, several kinds of stuffing, cranberry sauce, green beans, my grandma’s famous scalloped potatoes, my dad’s focaccia, the pecan chocolate pie a la mode I crave all other times of year…  In a tryptophan-induced haze, I’d  probably go watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,” try and understand the football game on TV, maybe go welcome Santa to town, and lumber off to bed, happy and full.

I’ll still get to do some of that, but this year things are clearly quite different.  In Egypt, I am watching bitter struggles of a nation building itself back up after decades of unjust regimes and corruption.  It’s funny not knowing where I would rather be: here counting my blessings in such upheaval or back in the States with family and friends.

My family traces some of its roots back to the Mayflower, in particular the first governor of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford.  We have a tradition (I think from my historian grandfather) of reading aloud part of Bradford’s writings on the pilgrims’ arrival in New England.  The message rings true even for Egypt’s current political situation as the same desperation comes through. But in both 1621 America and 2011 Egypt there are small triumphs in the face of great adversity and therefore we give thanks.

“Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation (as may be remembered by that which wente before), they had now no friends to wellcome them, nor inns to entertaine or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies, no houses or much less townes to repaire too, to seeke for succor… And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent, and subjecte to cruell and feirce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search an unknown coast. Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men? and what multitudes there might be of them they knew not… For summer being done, all things stand upon them with a wetherbeaten face; and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew. If they looked behind them, there was the mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar and gulf to seperate them from all the civill parts of the world… Let it also be considered what weake hopes of supply and succor they left behinde them, that might bear up their minds in this sad condition and trialls they were under… May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: Our fathers were English men which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this willdernes, but they cried unto the Lord, and he heard their voice, and looked on their adversity… Let them therefore praise the Lord, because he is good, and his mercies endure for ever…Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, show how he hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor.

This country of 80 million is awake and ready for change.  Egyptians are unhappy to settle for an oppressive regime and a corrupt and failing system, even if it will take many hard-fought battles to make that possible.  I am thankful to be surrounded by such bravery and happy to be sharing in this fight for a better future, just as my ancestors toiled and suffered to live free from persecution almost four centuries ago.  Everyone knows that life is not going to go from difficult to rosy anytime soon, but just the fact that Egyptians are not giving up easy is reason to give thanks.

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Filed under America, Egypt, Suburbia

Input, please!

Now that the blog has been up and running for over a month, I’d like to hear your input! What do you like/dislike? Any favorite posts?  Is there a topic I haven’t covered that you’d like to hear about? A subject as-of-yet unexplored?  Maybe you’ve been holding on to a secret question about life in Egypt and you’ve never had the chance to ask?

This blog is a way for me to work on my writing skills while sharing what life is like in Egypt with you.  I  happily welcome any suggestions, criticism, questions, and comments.

post below!

and THANK YOU for being along for the ride.  You guys and gals are awesome!


Filed under America, Egypt, In Transit, Suburbia

Packing cont’d

Yes, it’s early to have everything basically packed away already, what with another 5 days to sit around hemming and hawing about it. But that’s just my thinking: if I forget to pack something, or I’m in any doubt whether I should or shouldn’t pack something, I’ll have 5 days to figure it out.  Who knows? I’d rather feel like an ninny for bringing something unnecessary than experience that awful cold sweat on my way to the airport, having left something behind.

More pressingly, I refuse to indulge the “wear your heaviest items” idea for this leg of the trip.  I will not look like I could keep a round of strip poker going for 6 weeks… so I am packing smart.

The different restrictions on carry-on and checked baggage are the first hurdle, as my itinerary involves multiple separate airlines and each has something similar, but different enough to make you pay attention.  I figure I’ll just satisfy the tightest restrictions and hope it all works out.  So, here I go with my 8 kg/17.6 lb (Lufthansa) 55 x 40 x 20 cm /21.7 x 15.7 x 7.9 inch (Air Swiss) carry-on and my 20 kg/44 lb (Lufthansa) 157 linear cm / 62 linear inch (United) check bag.

Did you know Lufthansa and Swiss International Airlines have a special clause for ski bags? Yep! Passengers are allowed one carry-on, one checked bag, plus one ski bag.  Leave it to the Swiss to keep things classy like that.

Even though it is supposed to be nice and warm in Alexandria pretty much year-round, I have to consider winter in France (I arrive in mid-December) and especially wherever else I might end up in the gap between programs.  Pittsburgh has certainly prepared me for braving all that is wild and woolly and ready to claim any and all appendages –remember Snowpocalypse?— but I have a feeling the transition period from relatively balmy 15°C/58°F averages for December in Alexandria to whatever else will be confusing.  So, along with the chinos and breezy shirts I’ve got mittens and a thick wool coat.

 to  ?


Anyway, the bundle method wins again! I basically just rolled everything into logs, separating out sleepwear from day wear. I swear by it every time.  3 pairs of shoes (1 pair sandals, 1 pair walking shoes/sneakers, 1 pair heels) and my coat are the biggest space-hogs, but otherwise it’s no problem.

The nice thing is that wardrobe has been one of the biggest items in my brain-space for months now.  Anything that needed thinking about has therefore been thunk to exhaustion.  Hence, not much left to ponder on the fashion front!

There have been some mixed messages about fashion in Egypt, especially about what is appropriate and what might get a girl in trouble.  I’ve consulted everything from travel guides to photos from the January 25th revolution.    Some sources (various forums, the woman at the arabic market near UPenn) say that everything should be covered in loose material from collarbone to ankles, along with a headscarf when going out on the street.  Others (my Arabic adviser, the study abroad literature) basically say to keep it modest: no cleavage, nothing too tight, top of the arms covered, knee length or longer, but not to the point of neurosis and especially not to the point of covering up head to toe for every mixed-gender setting.  Others still (2 Egyptian women I met at a Couchsurfing meetup in Chicago) say not to let the No Bare Skinners get me down and just to wear what a savvy, classy girl would wear in the US; one can be modest without wearing bed sheets over one’s head.

  [I am not going for the ghost look here.]

My goal is to look like a traveler and not like a tourist.  This basically means I aim to blend in, even at the cost of what I’m accustomed to wearing.   Yes, I am super pale, very blue-eyed and quite blonde, but I’m trying here.  The next step is the field test. Who knows? Maybe the things I’ve been hearing are all off.

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Filed under In Transit, Suburbia


As part of any journey here comes the first question: what to bring? There are several things to consider here:

  • what do I absolutely, unequivocally need that I can’t (or would rather not) get overseas?
  • what one-time-wear type stuff will I need to pack for special events?
  • what might be a comfort to have on hand?
  • how much can I maneuver by myself AND get on an airplane without a headache?
I’m decent at downsizing and going light, making sure I have exactly what I need for exactly what I’ll be doing, but seeing as this is several months of not being home, it’s hard to anticipate everything that might come up.  Then when I do add something really specialized to the pile, I get that sour feeling that packer’s remorse will probably come around to smack me in the face.
[did I really think I needed this many socks?] 
At least it’s a chance to brush up on my ninjapacker skills:
I’m really into travel blogs, especially and there’s a lot going round about the “100 items or less” or “50 items or less” challenge.  Funny enough, the only people I’ve seen pull this off convincingly are guys.  Two of my favorite bloggers, Colin Wright and Tim Ferriss both pull it off regularly. But here I am counting my things: does makeup count as one, since it’s in one little bag?  By no means am I stuffing every last zippered pouch in my pack with war paint, but it still strikes me as unfair.  I mean, it’s not my fault society demands I wear a bra (thereby adding at least 3 items to my required set). So, should I call it the “54 items or less” system?
I’ll figure out the final count sometime soon.

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Filed under Suburbia

T Minus 7 Days

Well, hello! Welcome to my travel blog for what will hopefully be a grand adventure to Egypt, France and wherever else I find myself over the next year.

A week from today I depart for Egypt! I’m nervous, but very very excited.  It’s one of those situations where the subject’s been talked out to the point of numbness, despite my excitement: “Yep, I’m going to Egypt. Yes, it’ll be a whole year! Uh huh, I might wear a headscarf sometimes. Yer darn tootin’ I’ll try the food! I haven’t the foggiest how much hookahs cost to ship internationally…” Fun, but it gets tiring after a while and that made it hard (up until about 2 weeks ago) to realize this is actually going to happen.

But now?

Holy chickpeas, I’m going to Egypt!

hope you’re ready, too.

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Filed under Suburbia