Khush Amdeed (Welcome)

Welcome to Chowraha - crossroads!

Chowraha is the crossroads of thoughts, events, opinions and feelings...all that have been shaped by individuals living in an increasingly complex world inter-connected through various means of communications.

This blog is about the crossroads in society - whether it is those of a diaspora community, global media complicating the structure of nations and cultures, or individuals finding parallels in spaces unknown to them.

Note:
The above picture is courtesy a much-admired photographer (Ali Khurshid) whose work is a source of inspiration and reaffirms the belief in the complex beauty of this world.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

First Impressions in Cairo


I've never written in a blog before so here goes nothing!
I am currently an undergraduate student and I'm studying at the American University in Washington, DC.
This year, however, I'm actually studying abroad in Cairo, Egypt at the American University in Cairo. (The 2 universities aren't affiliated)
Maybe it makes no sense to come to Cairo for a full year considering my major is in Film/Visual Media and I'm minoring in International Studies, but I've always wanted to study abroad during college. I chose Cairo because 1. I wanted to learn Arabic and 2. as a Pakistani-American Muslim, I have always wanted to know what life would be like in another Muslim country besides Pakistan. I have never visited the Middle East and I got tired of listening to what CNN, BBC, NBC, etc. had to say about the "Middle East" and how most news stations (in the US at least) treat it as if it is one country with only one kind of people, Muslims.
Of course, after being here in Cairo for a little over 2 months I realize nothing is ever what you expect it to be.

Things I Did Expect:
1. All the meat is halal, which is a huge plus as a Muslim! That one is obvious, but as a Muslim-American or any Muslim living as a minority anywhere, you learn to appreciate these small things. It's nice not having to worry about making sure there's no pepperoni on the pizza and that you order TURKEY sandwiches not HAM/BACON sandwiches.

2. The entire Muslim culture. For example, saying "Salaam" to nearly everyone you see and responding with an "Inshallah" "Alhamdulillah" and "Mashaallah" in every conversation, hearing the call to prayer echoing down the streets, etc. Islam is not just a religion or form worship for many Muslims, it's also a way of living that intertwines with the culture in almost every aspect. When a religion is blended in with the culture, it is easy to see and feel how people have such a strong faith in God. I expected this, because it's what I feel in Pakistan, but maybe in a different sense.

3. Chaos. This expectation was specific to Cairo. Especially, the traffic here is notorious throughout most of the world. What can I say, really? Egyptians like to live life on the edge and the got places to go and people to meet.

Things I Didn't Expect:
1. No one in Cairo ever seems to have any change. Or at least that's what I thought when I first arrived here. However, I have now come to the conclusion that everyone is very greedy when it comes to change.
For example, if I go to a cafe to buy some hot chocolate and I only have a 50 pound note, the cashier always asks if I have any change. I say no and he proceeds to frown and give an annoyed look. Then he sighs and pulls out a drawer filled with change in 1, 5 and 10 pound notes. To this day, I am perplexed.

2. Elderly women/aunties on the street will hiss at you if they find you to be inappropriate or indecent or even if they just don't like you. This is actually not from first hand experience. Some of my American friends who clearly look foreign have told me how on their way to the supermarket, old women have hissed at them, even though many of them take the care to cover properly and dress modestly. It's a bit odd, but it may have more to do with the age gap rather than a cultural intolerance.

There are many more differences that I have noted, but they each require an entire post. I just wanted to give a taste of life in Cairo for now.