Tag Archives: United States

Thea Walks the World

The idea: in each new country or notable city I visit, take a 10 to 20 second video that starts with me walking and then pans around to take in my surroundings.

The intention: bring together a six-month span of travel in a fun way

The timing: Paris, France in December 2011 to Blue Bell, Pennsylvania in May 2012

The locations: Paris, Cologne, Aarhus… just watch it.

The result:

A big fat THANK YOU to all those who were involved, especially Aunt Margaret, Uncle Eric, Nina & Sarah, Malin, Laurie, Caitlin, Claire, Ciera, Lauren, Nina, Gracie, PhoebeMaia, Katie, my Mom, Moutaz (for the music), Sander, and Jorge.





Filed under In Transit

3 weeks left!

As of today, I have three weeks left before I fly back to the US.  My tentative plan is to travel after finals end and spend at least a few days exploring the south of France, as I still don’t feel like I know the place very well, aside from Menton.  During that time I hope to catch up on all of the posts I intended to write or wrote but never published, including all of my travels, some pictures, general commentary about life in Menton, and a tidbits from here and there that caught my fancy.  If you have suggestions or questions, please let me know and I will do my best to respond to them.

I also have been working on a few informal  blogging projects this semester, the final results of which I will post when I get back to the States.

Right now I’m not sure if I’m going to keep this blog going after May 29th, since I’ll be back in the States and I started blogging because.. well, take a look at my goals page.  I do have a propensity toward seeking out interesting things in ordinary places and who knows if I’ll be inspired to explore my own country and blog about that.  What’s your take?

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When life hands you political unrest, make green bean casserole

Yesterday we went to celebrate Eid al Shukr (Thanksgiving) with a group of American students who study at our university.  It was great getting a little taste of home in the middle of this crazy week.  7 floors up in the Ibrahimiya neighborhood we munched on a potluck hodgepodge of Turkey Day Americana: stuffing, turkey, and apple pie, now and then heading out to the balcony to watch protesters walk by below.  I chatted with students and their Egyptian friends, feeling very much at ease.  The only moment when the current political turmoil really snapped back into focus was when one of the American students panicked over partygoers taking pictures of the protesters.  He told us later that one of his friends had been arrested (and released) for taking pictures of the Egyptian Interior Ministry building.  Despite this minor freak-out, the event was a lot of fun.

The second million-man march took place in Tahrir yesterday (CNN).  The military appointed a Mubarak-era prime minister, Kamal el-Ganzouri, to lead the new government (Al Ahram).  The police have offered weak apologies for the deaths of 40-plus protesters since last week.  Frightening images abound, from the assault of a female protester yesterday (please ignore the stupid music) in the Smouha neighborhood of Alexandria to a small anti-Israel rally in which protesters chanted “one day we shall kill all the Jews.”

Even with everything that is going on, our daily routines are not all that different.  We are still expected to go to class, which means writing essays and doing homework as usual.  Our guide urged us not to leave the apartment unless absolutely necessary and even that is not all that different because instead of staying home and doing work like any regular Saturday afternoon, we’re just doing that with the added benefit of staying out of harm’s way.

The main difference is that now I reflexively turn on the news or check The New York Times, Al Masry Al Youm, and Drudge Report for coverage of the protests (instead of reflexively checking them anyway).  This year more than previous years, I am nauseated when I see the idiocy that surrounds Black Friday in the US–SERIOUSLY, PEOPLE?! even if you really really want an x-box, pepper spray is a little much –receiving more media attention than all of what is going on here.  Usually I’d scoff and shake my head, but this year I feel I have a stake in getting airtime and headlines for ACTUAL NEWS *hrm* major and momentous world events and thus this year it’s more to the order of upchucking rather than simple cantankerousness.

However, a disclaimer: things are not as frenzied everywhere as the media might suggest.  Protests are widespread but in Alexandria for example they center around only a few places in the city and between certain times at that.  For some Egyptians, too, things are calm and life goes on.

Just mending pants. What protests?

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Filed under America, Egypt


One of my favorite things to do is to wander around crowded places “collecting” languages.  I listen in for intonations, for sounds specific to certain languages, and for rhythms of speech.  From years of quiet observation I have become quite adept at guessing which language people are speaking or where they might be from.  Here, I don’t often get to play that game, but rather the game might be played with me.  I often wonder, somewhat uncomfortably, what I sound like to other people who don’t speak English, especially when I am surrounded by the reverse situation. Thankfully, the genius Italian comedian Adriano Celentano answered that question in this song, written entirely in gibberish but designed to sound like American English circa 1972.

What I love about this aside from the mindbending mumbling is the attitude reflected in the performance.   Jiving your hips like that and looking the part of the cool Yankee cat are just as much a part of the language as the sounds themselves. There’s a great quote I heard once, I think on a TV show somewhere, “You speak French very well, just not the language.”  What that means is that the subtleties of acting French and embracing francophone culture are just as important.  In classroom learning it’s always easy to forget the cultural context of the language, while the millions of linguistically-uninitiated who travel the world might not be absorbing everything either.

But are you really experiencing Italy?

This skipping of either language or culture is prime breeding ground for things to get a little weird…

I love you, Peter Griffin.  I do.  And trust me, that is what I feel like I sound like a lot, if not most of the time.  If Arabic had a “babbadiboopi!?” equivalent it would sound like very beautiful gargling.  But I am interested in the tough stuff, not just the language, but the culture and the history and politics and everything else that surrounds Arabic.  Language learning, I think, should have a practical application and in the case of any living language, it is an intersection of a great many important things besides words and what they mean.  At least I have some practice keeping my eyes and ears wide open.

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Filed under America, Egypt

Things I Find Confusing

  • guys driving donkey carts while talking on cellphones
  • they sell underwear and bras on the street here and nobody bats an eyelash
  • stickers and decorations on Egyptian taxi cabs
  • Loofahs
  • sexual harassment.  Seriously, guys, what’s really going on here?  “Oh wow, that strange man just yelled derogatory come-ons and made kissing noises at me!  It must be love! I am so excited by his advances, I think I will exit this moving tram and begin a sordid and salacious love affair RIGHT NOW!”
  • Columbus day
  • how to cross the street like an Egyptian.  it’s like a sixth sense when Alexandrian pedestrians slink on through moving traffic and I just get jumpy and wait for a traffic cop to take pity on me.
  • why English has so many aggravating minimal pairs: crops, craps, crabs, cribs, crypts, crêpes, krebs, creeps… and Arabic has so many words that mean similar things but sound totally different.
  • what are American stereotypes of Egyptians?  ’cause all I can think of are mummies and pyramids, but people keep talking to me like the list is far longer.
  • how 54 percent of Egyptians think Global Warming is a serious issue (10 points ahead of the United States), but there is still a huge trash problem and too many cars for street space.
  • what girls hide under hijabs that are voluminous all around, including right under the chin 
  • people leave their cellphones on and let them ring and ring and ring without picking them up.  A guy on the train from Cairo to Alexandria, kept playing his over and over and over deliberately, while wearing headphones.  In the States, I’d be perfectly within my rights to give him the what-for (“hey dude, not cool.”) when I am trying to sleep but I don’t know if I should be culturally sensitive– if this even qualifies– or if I’m allowed to embrace my inner porcupine.
  • slacktivism
  • why most of the women on Egyptian TV are not veiled, unless it’s specifically a religious program when so many on the street are.
  • how cosmetics companies get away with trying to sell us products by touting ingredients like “cucumber extract,” “fruit micro-waxes” and “nutrium moisture.”  kudos, guys, kudos–but… erm… what are we talking about here?  The worst: mascara commercials.  Am I right, ladies?
  • why it’s 2011 and we still don’t have a scientific explanation for why you can’t tickle yourself.
  • how the falafel is so fluffy and moist.  how? how? how?

” one shish tawook, one koshari, one fluffy falafel fairy and how bout a coke?” 

this  ↓

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Happy Halloween!

It’s 75 degrees and balmy out today and there isn’t a cobweb, jack-lantern, or unapologetically childhood-ruining skankified getup in sight!

you are NOT a bumblebee

*Sigh* One of my favorite American holidays will have to be  a miss this year.  I suppose I will make do with watching everyone’s creative costumes, sugar-high revelry, and mischief-making materialize on Facebook!

BUT am I one to leave you empty-handed on this ghoulish occasion, my pretties *hrm hrm* dear readers?  Mwa ha Ha HA! Of course not:

The closest thing that Egypt seems to come to Halloween is the creativity with which women apply their makeup. Many go for a clean, natural look or cleverly match outfit to eye shadow, but the Khaleeji look popular in the Gulf states and borrowed here for special occasions takes makeup to a whole different level.

The emphasis is on the eyes at all times, though the face is often lightened and highlighted dramatically with opaque foundation and powder.  The eyebrows are heavily drawn and the lashlines are emphasized with very dark liner, almost to a cat-eye look.  Next, all kinds of colors are intricately layered and blended on the eyelid, all the way up to the brow and out to the sides of the face.  Sometimes, false eyelashes are applied and the lips are lined and colored.

This is not an everyday look for most people, but it does seem to be popular for special events like weddings.  Honestly, I don’t know how women who might wear this regularly would have time for anything else in the day.  It seems like you’d get lost in the layers of spackle-thick face goo. There was one clerk at at a hotel near Montaza beach who had such heavy makeup on that her neck looked like it belonged to a separate person from her face.  *OOOOhhh scary!*

Here is a  Khaleeji makeup tutorial in Arabic.  The makeup artist is also wearing the style of hijab popular in the Gulf area–black abayas sometimes with a metallic trim and the all-important hair poof underneath (actually it’s usually anything but hair).

I try very hard to be culturally-relative with every new experience here, but this is one thing I can’t seem to wrap my head around, especially as someone belonging to the more-is-less school of thought in all matters cosmetological.  I don’t really understand women who try and hide nature, as I find Egyptian women quite beautiful even without makeup. But who knows?  Maybe one day I’ll try the Khaleeji look for myself.

until then, Happy Haunting!

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What Egypt Wears: women

Both the East and the West are guilty of prejudice against each other and against their own citizens for not sticking to cultural norms.  Yes, women in the States might have more freedoms in their choice of clothing, but there are still ideas that the way you dress reflects on your character.  The girl walking down the street in a tube top and miniskirt will be perceived differently than the girl in slacks and a button-down shirt, for example.  The veil itself if a source of polarization, if not antipathy in many places in the States.  In a more nuanced way, Egyptian women can be judged on whether and how they wear the veil.

There are (on my count) 6 categories for women’s dress here, all along a continuum :

    1. unveiled, no concern for modesty, sometimes so defiantly western that they end up looking like ethnocentric caricatures of Western women: some of the tourists we saw in Cairo and in Ain el-Sokhna.
    2. veiled, but with immodest clothing, makeup and accessories: muhajaBabes
    3. unveiled, conservative dress: me; the older tourists; some liberal, westernized, highly-educated, or wealthy Muslims; and most Coptic Christians
    4. veiled and average clothing with many colors and patterns but still modest: the majority of women
    5. long veils between abdomen- and ankle-length, face visible: mostly older women 
    6. covered up head-to-toe, nothing showing whatsoever: a very socially visible (though individually invisible) few

Egypt is about 90 percent Muslim, which means that most women in Alexandria who are out on the street are Muslim and most are muhajabaat, those who are veiled.  In the past decade there has been an upswing of veiling even though in Egypt it is not required.  I am often one of only a handful of women on the tram each day who does not cover up.  It is easy to see how this garment, as a social habit, might alienate female Egyptians and Muslims who interpret the Quran differently, but also act as an equalizer for the women who do wear the veil.  At least here there do not seem to be crackdowns on those who do not cover up completely, as there has been in other Arab countries, but there are obvious endorsements of the hijab as a sign of virtue and piety, such as graffiti at tram stops: “Thanks be to God that He led me to wear my veil” and even blunter points, like this advertisement:

“You can’t stop them, but you can protect yourself. He who created you knows what’s best for you.”

 Even so, there are very wide interpretations on what it means to be muhajaba.

Some older women wear long veils that extend past their hips and minimal, if any makeup.  Some women wear niqabs covering their noses and mouths that are usually black, but can be blue, purple, brown, green, or white, but are almost always relatively plain.  Some women wear two pieces of alternating colors, one covering the head and body and another covering the face, while others stick with the single-piece garment.  Some go as far as to wear black gloves and a skirt to cover their feet, but this is not the norm.

Most women opt for a colorful version of conservative dress, cleverly matching clothing that covers the proper areas to bright and patterned headscarves.  The most extreme end of this style is almost contradictory to the concept of hijab itself—the MuhajaBabes.  These girls (since usually they are relatively young) wear tight clothing, jewelry, heavy makeup, and designer labels in an effort to combine style and sex-appeal with an idea of religious observance.

and the backlash

Aside from veiling or not veiling, women here dress similarly to those in the US, just covering everything except their hands and feet usually.  Sometimes this is just with leggings, a skintight undershirt, and whatever main piece they chose on top, like a long dress or a cute top.  Women happily embrace color, though, in a way that is markedly different than women I see on the street in the Northeastern United States.  The muhajabaat especially commit to color in a way that I find somewhat inspiring, even going as far as to match their makeup with whatever they are wearing that day (sounds crazy—but it can look really interesting).  I don’t know if it’s the restriction or the added layers that drive women to get creative with their matching and their color-coordination, but the effect can often be spectacular.

I am still very much confused as to how this practice came about, as there does not appear to be anything in the Quran itself that presses women to cover  up everything.  According to my research and class discussion, the Quran says unfamiliar men must address the women of the Prophet’s family through a privacy curtain and that the women must dress modestly in the company of unfamiliar men.  This means covering their necklines and wearing a special cloak in public so as to be identified and protected from harassment.  The guidelines apply to both men and women in their clothing and interaction, but do not require women to be subservient in any way.  Nowhere in the Quran itself is there mention of the word “hijab” (literally, “covering”) in reference to the garment, but in later interpretations, the rule of modesty for the Prophet’s wives has been taken as a rule for all women, and extended to include covering the entire body except the hands, feet, and face.  The basic idea is that women should not show off their beauty except what appears within the guidelines and guard their modesty through averting their gaze.   The explanation seems to be that this is for their protection, ensuring they will be recognized as believers and be left alone.  In this way, it is argued that the hijab is part of women’s liberation, not their oppression, something I still find difficult to understand.

I’ll cover the controversies about hijab more in depth later, but for now I’ve got midterms coming up.  Got to get studying!

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