Tag Archives: middle east

The Highlights of Istanbul, Now With Clever Wordplay

So pretty it’s disgusting. At Gulhane Park. 

You can do fun things to the word Istanbul, like turn it into Istanbrew, Gristanbul, Istangourd, Grumpstanbul, etc. This is the part of the story where I modify the word Istanbul and describe different aspects of my trip.

Istanbloom: I think I finally realized it was spring when I saw all those dang flowers peeping everywhere. I attempted to deal with the tulip madness by taking pictures. In fact, I took many boring flower pictures, all of which my family will be forced to view.

Sweetstanbul: Oh sweet tooth, how we tickled and fed and indulged you in this fair city. We sunk our fangs into the chewy but oh so delicious Turkish delight with wild flavors such as kiwi and pomegranate, accented with the most pistachio-y pistachios I had ever tasted. Do I even need to describe the baklava, whose layers were drenched in sin and delicious in every incarnation? Even the angels would have wanted and been denied a bite of my baklava.

Nutstanbul: The Turks like their nuts. Daily I thanked Jesus and the lucky stars that I am nut allergy free and was able to stuff my gob with every nutty creation imaginable.  If they could, I think the Turks would pave the streets with hazelnuts and pistachios and build their homes with walnuts.

Istanhill: Because it was hilly. Duh.

Istanbus: I was very impressed with Istanbul’s public transportation, which included busses, ferries, metros, and funiculars, all of which could be paid for easily with the Istanbulkart. Because waxing poetic about public transportation can get boring if not weird, I will quickly move on to my next topic. Just know that the busses had screens in them telling the passengers both the current and the upcoming stops. Okay, moving on.

Bluestanbul: The Bosporus and the Golden Horn were so blue! Blue blue blue! While sailing to the Black sea on a Bosporus cruise, I couldn’t stop thinking how jewel-like the water seemed as the light refracted through the waves and pierced into the deep. We could see jellyfish. They are my friends.

Istanpuff: The Ottoman sultans loved their puffy clothing. Based on the sheer size of the clothing on display at Topkapi palace, it was clear that the sultans’ bodies, when cocooned in their palace garb, bore only a passing resemblance to a human figure. Everything from their ridiculously huge turbans to their pointed shoes was an exercise in puffiness.

The Fortress of Rumeli is more like a big park. Great for kids and conquering Istanbul.

Histanbul: The place was disgustingly full of history. I couldn’t spit without desecrating a famous landmark that was named something ridiculous and looked like it came from a fantasy novel. Around every corner there was a mosque, church, church-mosque, or doner stand that seemed beautiful and worth visiting.

Blisstanbul: Because Istanbul restored my faith in cities. It had been so long since I’d enjoyed spending time outside in a metropolis and felt comfortable in my foreign woman skin. When I think of Istanbul I think of colors and peace and happy and days spent watching the waters and the people flow by. And the trees were good too.

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The Season’s Latest Look

Barbed wire is very in right now

I was walking downtown the other day and I have to say I was quite impressed at what the army has done with the intersection at Mohammad Mahmoud and Fellaki Street. What used to be a drab old street corner before the most recent demonstrations and raging street battles on Mohammad Mahmoud St., has now become an tasteful, chilling reminder of the political tension in the country.

Beforehand, the intersection was laughably pedestrian friendly and full of usable sidewalks. Would you believe that you could even pass through, as if it were a thoroughfare made to ease transportation of humans and goods? It was almost like an intersection in a regular metropolis, where people live normal lives under a functioning government. Thank goodness that has all changed, and a small, though not insignificant, portion of the population can fully grasp the eeriness of the current situation in Egypt.

Someone in the army clearly has a keen eye for aesthetics, since the piles of barbed wire that now block the intersection have ever so delicately trapped a good amount of rubbish, beneath their delightful spurs. Though razor wire would have obviously been the more luxurious choice, I wouldn’t say the atmosphere loses anything by using its cheaper, more standard cousin. The grey color is also breathtaking and provides a welcome contrast from the brown buildings and black streets. Finally some variation!

Another benefit of having the Mohammad Mahmoud Street completely blocked off are the creepy vibes that seem to seep from the numerous, inexplicable puddles and ooze from the silent streets that used to roar with traffic. If you walk for just a moment near the once bustling avenue, you can’t help but get spooked and want to hide and weep!

But perhaps the best part about the entire affair is the continual company the soldiers blocking off the street provide. It’s like having riot-gear-wearing houseguests that never leave or talk to you and help intimidate your friends and family. In short, nothing could be more welcoming. I feel like an entire Martha Stewart Living magazine could be written based on this one intersection and the creativity dripping from it.

Say what you will about the situation in Egypt, but these people know how to spruce up a place. I’m going to recommend them for my sister’s wedding, but I can already tell you we’ll need a lot of barbed wire and cinder blocks.

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The Rumor Mill

a captivating picture for a captivating topic

Here in revolutionary Egypt, rumors pile up faster than cigarette butts in a student bar district on a Friday night. For the most part, I’ve found it safe to assume that no one really knows or understands what’s going on in the political process. Those who claim they get it are either idiots, lying idiots, or just liars. Some people do know more than others, but they are few and far between.

This uncertainty leads to one of CASA students favorite daily activities: blind speculation fueled by sleep deprivation, emotion, breakfast foods, and twitter feeds. The results of this speculation can be quite surprising and often completely wrong, but this is nothing compared to the gems that fly around Cairo as a whole. Here’s an (exaggerated) sample of what happens.

The Rumor Mill

Fact: a small group of protesters has gathered in Tahrir and is calling for the end of military trials for civilians. There is a heavy police presence, but no violence. Some participants and bystanders are eating sandwiches. Meanwhile, a woman was going to get some groceries when she tripped on a curb. No one was injured.

(the actual occurrences proceed through the rumor mill)

I heard on twitter that the Egyptian government hired a squad of armed spaghetti aliens that entered Tahrir square  making a horrible “WOOP WOOP WOOP WOOP” sound and drenching the men, women, and children there with low-grade spaghetti sauce. They’re trying to drown the revolution in bland tomato goop!

Someone else said that the aliens were Israeli and were sprinkling the victims with tiny parmesan stars of David—-the hand of Israel AGAIN!

Yeah! And my friend told me that her sister’s boyfriend’s friend’s cousin’s facebook status said that all foreigners in the square have somehow remained clean of spaghetti sauce, so they’re definitely part of the conspiracy. The universe is attacking the Egyptian people!

But I heard that the protesters were fighting back with stolen chopstick launchers they stole from the police force and that they had also commandeered a militarized Zamboni from the army and were running over valiant army officers, who they claim to be mercenary spaghetti aliens. The protesters are THUGS!

And state radio said that the concert going on in Tahrir square might cause an excess amount of noise for the next few days and that it might sound like “WOOP WOOP WOOP WOOP.” It also said that the Egyptian government would never do anything to hurt its people. I think we should believe them!

But my friend saw a soggy scrap of paper on the ground that said there were a bunch of Salafis in the square wooping it up and calling for the imposition of Sharia law under the absolute jurisdiction of an infant that would be chosen by the most righteous man in the country as determined by a reality television show. I’m going to protest against them!

Don’t be ridiculous! It was the Muslim Brotherhood putting on their annual dodgeball tournament in order to raise money to buy all of the ground water in Egypt so that they can blackmail the government into giving it supreme power. I’m going to protest against THEM!

I thought I heard someone say they read an email that mentioned the possibility of class being cancelled, so we should probably stay up all night and not do homework. Woot Woot! No class!

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Egypt: The Plot Darkens

AUC bookstore, Tahrir: this place got burned a little bit

Classes today took place on AUC’s campus in Zamalek, an island in the middle of the Nile, since the Tahrir campus was busy being mildly attacked and then looted.

In the meantime, I enjoyed sitting on the couches in an environment not unlike a hotel lobby, watching the madness of Tahrir on a big screen television during breaks between classes. Only a five minute walk from that square, one of my friends has been holed up since Saturday, forced to listen to gunshots, finish his homework, and watch TV all day while catching the occasional whiff of tear gas. It’s amazing the difference a couple of miles can make.

I could talk about current situation in Tahrir, about how over 30 people have died and over 1000 have been wounded, about the resignation of the civilian government and the short-lived cheering in Tahrir that was silenced by increased gunfire from police and security forces, about the kind of tear gas being used that is both new and particularly vicious, about the hopelessness I saw in the eyes of my Arabic teacher as she said it was now clear the military has won, about the desperate calls for medical supplies and food down in the square, about the use of live ammunition against protestors throwing rocks, about the contradicting news reports and constant confusion about what’s actually happening on the ground etc. But I’m not really qualified to do so. If you’re interested, Al-Jazeera has a live blog that’s good, though sensational at times. It is not a terrorist organization like I thought it was in high school. The Guardian also has good coverage.

But I can say some things that rely little on fact: A classmate today reminded me that even though (as of then) 20 people had died in Tahrir, about that many die every day in Assad’s continuing assault on his citizens in Syria. It struck me as particularly sad that the value of lives could differ so much in their recognition across borders.

There was a song that Conan O’Brien used to sing on his show during election times and it went a little like this, “Yay boo yay boo it’s lots of fun to do! If you like it holler yay. If you don’t you holler boo.” There’s been quite a bit of yaying and booing going on about whether or not the protestors are doing right or if they’re just messing everything up by fighting for freedom. But regardless of how you feel about that issue, the reality is that people have died and others are injured. Their lives should not be considered worthless, even if you don’t agree with the cause they died for.

I, and many others, hope the violence comes to an end, but I hope it does not come at the expense of the dream of Egyptian democracy, and dignity should certainly not be a casualty as well.

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At Least We Have the Cappuccini

They don’t do the hearts, but they’re still tasty.

Each week in our Arabic classes, we take on a different theme pertaining to Egyptian society or culture. Unfortunately, the discussions branching from these themes are often depressing.

In a country that has a 20-25% unemployment rate, a weak economy still recovering from the revolution, strained gender relations, rampant urbanization with insufficient accommodation capabilities , deteriorating environmental conditions, an exploding population set to double by 2025, an increasingly tense religious atmosphere, rapidly disappearing natural resources including water, border skirmishes with Israel, a broken political system and growing disillusionment with the political process, skyrocketing food prices,  a 20% poverty rate and 40% adult illiteracy rate, and an egregious gap between the rich and the poor (not as egregious as the one in the United States), sometimes it’s hard to find something pleasant to talk about.

On that note, I’d like to discuss the cappuccino situation at the American University of Cairo: Tahrir Campus. It is fantastic. For only 8 EGP (about $1.20), you can get a delicious espresso drink that is easily just as good as the ones found at nearby Cilantro, Beanos, and Costa Coffee, all of which will set you back at least 15 EGP.

Though the cappuccino I bought yesterday was not as good as the one I purchased on Monday, I have high hopes for the drink I might be purchasing today. And this hope will persevere. I have tasted the foamy, cinnamon sprinkled froth of AUC Tahrir’s espresso machine and I will never forget the sensation of perfect harmony that seeped through my veins upon contact with the exotic elixir.

Nay, though our theme next week be prison literature, or the one after that infanticide, still will the hope churn in my belly for the sweet 45 minute break I have at 10 o’clock, during which I might escape, if just for a moment, from the ever oppressive reality and bury myself in the delightful embrace of the one thing that has never let me down: spending money on coffee in order to lift my spirits.

Some might say I’m ignoring the bigger picture here, and that the fact I can afford to spend 8 EGP on coffee at the most prestigious university in the country without batting an eyelash is an indication of a wider, more troubling social phenomenon. To them I say, “Want a sip?”

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