Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Welcome to Egypt!

The 2nd graders in the after school literacy program I coordinate have thrown down a challenge for the tutors to pick up. This isn't your ordinary challenge you'd expect from 2nd graders-- it is a story writing show down! The second graders love writing and analyzing stories, but more than anything they LOVE when the tutors write their own stories to share. The past 2 weeks we have had different 'guest' authors (aka tutors) write stories and comprehension questions for them and the enthusiasm is only building. A few of the students have even submitted some of their own stories with the help of their parents. I love seeing this enthusiasm especially since I wrote my first independent story "Ashley Hates Valentine's" when I was in 2nd grade. I decided to get in on this excitement and agreed to write a story to share with the second graders today.

Originally having major difficulty coming up with some sort of story, I finally settled on writing a second grade version of my January term study abroad experience in Egypt. For those of you who do not know, my alma mater, Gustavus Adolphus College, has a month long term during January where students are encouraged to travel abroad or take a class out of their major to "explore" other interests. For instance, I took Arabic one year and another year I took a class called Faith and Learning. My junior year, however, I made the decision to go to Egypt with roughly 20 other students and 2 professors in January 2010. Having a whole month to explore Egypt we went everywhere! We spent roughly 2 weeks in Cairo, 1.5 weeks traveling down the Nile to Luxor, Valley of the Kings, and Aswan, and then we spent a weekend in on the coast in Alexandria. I LOVED it all, but especially Alexandria.

My story is geared for 2nd graders, but I thought I'd share it with this audience too. Since the story was for second graders I had to take some of the better stories out... but maybe I'll save those for another time.

 Amy's Big Adventure

Me at the Pyramids!
When Amy was a little girl she loved to read stories about faraway places and imagine what it would be like to go there. One of her favorite places to read about was Egypt. Have you heard about Egypt? Do you know where it is? Egypt is very far, far, away from Michigan.

Amy used to read stories about the Great Pyramids in Egypt and she would pretend that she was an Egyptian Queen who lived there. She imagined herself having long black hair, wearing lots of gold jewelry, and having servants who would drive her on a boat on a river they called the Nile. Someday Amy dreamed of going to Egypt in real life.
Nile River in Aswan. We rode a Felucca (red sea traditional sail boat) to the botanical gardens where this picture was taken.
When Amy turned 20 she did not forget this dream and saved up all her money so that she could see Egypt like she always imagined. It was going to be a big adventure! 

After a 23 hour flight on an airplane, tired Amy finally arrived in a very big city, Cairo, where she could not understand a word people were saying! They did not speak any English and even had different letters on their signs! Some of the signs looked like this: العربية .  Can you read that? Amy couldn’t. It was the biggest city she had ever been to and Amy felt very small and alone. Luckily, there was a friend to greet her at the airport to show her around.

In the morning, her friend served her a breakfast of hot dogs, refried beans, cucumbers, bananas, pita bread, and hot tea. Amy thought this was unusual breakfast food, but was very thankful to eat before their big day. 
My first Breakfast in Cairo.
Stepping out onto the streets of Cairo, Amy saw many new things she had never seen before. All the women covered their hair with bright scarfs and wore long sleeved shirts and full length skirts. Some women even covered their face and showed only their eyes.  It was obvious Amy was not from Egypt because she wore jeans, a short sleeved shirt, and uncovered hair.
Street in Cairo on a Friday.. (equivalent to our Sunday) much less traffic than usual.

The people they passed on the street were very nice and would say “Welcome to Egypt,” to Amy as she walked by. Some who spoke English would ask her where she was from and say, “America! Beautiful. Beautiful!” A few times men were surprised she was 20 years old and not married. “So old for a beautiful girl to not to be married” they would say. She tried telling them in America being 20 years old was a very young age to be married, but they didn’t seem to understand.

Khan el-Khalili Bazaar
Amy and her friend stopped by a huge open market called Khan el-Khalili Bazaar that was filled with spices, scarfs, perfumes, Egyptian paper called papyrus, clothing, and more! The excitement of the market buzzed with business as people negotiated prices. In Egypt they sell things differently than they do in America. In Egypt the buyer and the seller have to agree on a price for the purchase. Usually the seller will ask for WAY too much money and the buyer has to talk the price down. Amy loved this! She learned enough Arabic to be able to handle the marketplace and got many good deals. At one point a surprised Egyptian spice seller said “You talk and buy things like an Egyptian!” Amy took this as a huge compliment. 

Egyptian Taxi.
Next Amy really wanted to see the pyramids like she always dreamed, but first they had to get there. They decided to take a taxi, but Amy didn’t know that driving in Egypt is different from America. In Egypt there are very few rules for driving. In fact most people do not even take a driving test! Their taxi swerved in and out of lanes and was honking all the time at people walking and other cars. At one point there were 5 lanes of cars on a 4 lane street! Amy had never experienced anything like it.

Amy could hardly believe she was finally going to see the pyramids! She was eager to see the Pyramids but at first she could not see them because the air was so dirty! She tried looking through the thick, heavy, smog ahead of her, but she couldn’t see anything! The heavy air made it difficult for Amy to breathe because she was used to fresh clean air. 
Looking over Cairo from the Citadel. You can see the pyramids faintly on the horizon. Yucky air pollution.

“Where are the pyramids!?! I don’t see them” Amy exclaimed to her friend as they entered the gate to see the Pyramids.
“They are right ahead of you!” she said. “You aren’t looking high enough!”

Amy tilted her head up higher and sure enough emerging from the smog was the Great Pyramid. It was much larger than Amy had expected and it sent chills down her spine. “I had no idea it was so massive!” she said. 
“That’s why they call it one of the seven wonders of the ancient world,” her friend replied.

Looking up at the Great Pyramid from it's base.
Amy and her friend spent the rest of their time together exploring many treasures like the Pyramids in Egypt. Even though Egypt was very different from what Amy had originally imagined she loved every minute of her time there making her dream come true. She was very sad when she had to leave, but promised herself someday she would return.
Beautiful Aswan Sunset on the Nile.
 The End. 

I really hope someday to return to Egypt. I was extremely fortunate to go when I did in January 2010 exactly one year before the unrest started in January 2011. Uhh it gives me chills thinking about it. I remember sitting in my house watching the tanks drive around Tahrir Square exactly one year after I freely walked there with my friends at night. I just sat glued to CNN breaking news watching people fight for their rights and observing the brutality that took place.

It was one of the eeriest experiences I've ever had, right up there with 9/11. But what was strange about it was that it was not at all a surprise to me. When I was in Egypt you could feel the unrest in the people waiting to explode, but no one would say anything to foreigners/me about it. Part of Egyptian culture means to always talk highly of your country ESPECIALLY to foreigners and you would NEVER say anything bad about your country to them. It's an interesting dynamic to work around. I would ask our tour guides about what was 'really' going on and their eyes would go dark and they'd mutter something in Arabic maybe throw out a few political parties under their breath and that would be it. All they would tell me is to look for Egypt in the news in 2011. They knew it was going to happen and when it did... it was no surprise, but traumatic nonetheless.


  1. What a wonderful and uplifting story. It's so amazing that you were able to have such a wonderful experience there. I would love to visit there someday, as it seems as if it's one of the most beautiful places on earth.

  2. Looks interesting, ill be sure to check it out. Property in Egypt