Merry Christmas from Snowy Ankara!

We're celebrating with a visit to Ataturk's tomb and a marathon of Christmas movies...and last night we went to a Christmas Mass officiated by a Papal Nuncio--the Archbishop who is the Vatican's ambassador to Turkey. Kelly tells me that having an Archbishop officiate over any service is very rare---so that's pretty cool. She had to tell me when to kneel because the last mass I attended was my cousin's wedding--and i'm pretty sure I was eight.

Tomorrow (the 26th) my flight departs Ankara at 10:30 A.M., and after a three hour layover in Frankfurt I'll be on my way to Dulles where I'm scheduled to arrive shortly after eight o'clock.

See you soon!


yaa al-qahira, ma'a sala'ama!

On the way back from campus, my last night in Cairo and after taking my last final, the bus driver decided to go through Tahrir and the heart of downtown Cairo before swinging off to cross the bridge over the Nile into Zamalek.

I was grateful. It gave me a chance to say goodbye.

The next morning, after packing all night, we made our way to Cairo International. The air was clogged with a mixture of smog and fog and the rising sun was just a diffuse orange glow behind the gloom that made the passing minarets look like dark gray shadows.

Two hours after take-off we landed in Istanbul, in the middle of something I haven't experienced since leaving the US four months ago: a rainstorm.

We're staying in the Sultanhamet, a maze of cobbled streets and bright lights a block away from the Hagia Sophia, where yesterday we spent several hours wandering beneath its massive dome.

I bought a winter coat and gloves and have been wearing plastic bags shoved into my socks to keep my feet dry, since the sneakers I bought for a desert clime are certainly not waterproof, and my little flats are certainly no match for puddles.

Walking in the rain, though, is refreshing.


It's (not) beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

...but it is starting to feel a lot like fall.

Scene in my apartment this morning: Miranda wore a turtle neck sweater and long sleeved shirt, Hannah a sweater, and me: a sweatshirt and scarf. It was 65 degrees.

In other news:

My sleeping train chugged into Cairo at 9 AM yesterday in classic style after a wonderful week long sojourn along the Nile.

Now its time to buckle down and get to work, but first: Happy Christmas to those Dittenhafers currently gathered at my aunt's house (and those missing the yearly event!) The crowd may be smaller than normal (this is the first time in my entire life I've missed it, and John's as well I think) but that just means more good food for the rest of you! Have fun. Eat some shrimp for me!


Eid Al Adha

...means a whole week of no classes and a whole lot of traveling for me.

We're going in the opposite direction of the hajj to visit Luxor, Aswan, and Abu Simbel.

My flight to Aswan leaves at 10:20 tomorrow night (bus/train tickets all sold out really early, unfortunately).

Monday night I embark on a Nile Cruise (Kelly and Tommy are taking a felucca, my friend Savannah is joining me on a boat that provides beds and bathrooms instead of just planks and blankets).

Wednesday we arrive in Luxor and Thursday night we return to Cairo via sleeper car.

It'll be a great time...even though I have textbooks stuffed in my backpack instead of novels so I can learn everything there is to know about comparative politics for my comprehensive final for which the professor (who taught us nothing all semester) refused to provide a review sheet. oh, and it counts for 40% of my total grade which counts for my GPA. but, as they say in Cairo, ma'alish!


Thanksgiving Expat Style

(written on actual thanksgiving...not posted because my lovely internet connection is completely gone. we're in deep mourning.)

My usual Thanksgiving plans involve watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and (semi) helping in the kitchen before gorging myself on turkey, pineapple stuffing, mashed potatoes, creamed corn pudding, apple bread, pumpkin pie, apple pie, and broccoli bake.

Today, my room-mates and I rolled out of bed early, took a taxi to Tahrir Square and bought plane tickets and then train tickets for our Eid vacation (I really don’t want to think about how much money I spent today). Kelly and I then got a guided tour of the Wikala of Al-Ghouri (in Arabic, Kelly translated and I got every third word or so). The Wikala is a 14th century hotel for merchants that’s been beautifully maintained, and our tour guide even took up us into the private quarters so we could peer through the original mashrabiyya screens.

The Mosque of al Azhar is a block or two away from the caravanserai . I wandered in alone as Kelly had to retrieve her camera (she’d left it behind in the dungeon of the Wikala, which has been converted into an arts and crafts center). There were students studying in every corner and the Mosque was full of people (very unlike Ibn Tulun, which was deserted). I walked up to the entrance to the praying area, unsure If I was allowed to enter (as a female and a foreigner, I didn’t think my chances were too good) but a man who was cleaning the carpets motioned me inside. Men were sprawled out, sleeping in the quiet shade, others were studying, still a few more were praying. I sat with my back to an ancient pillar, hidden near the doorway, and sat quietly until Kelly found me (she recovered her camera).

Hannah and Joanna met us outside of Al-Azhar, and after walking through the nearby local market, we were on our way to the Citadel.

Originally constructed by Salah ad Din, the Citadel rises above Cairo near the Muqattam Cliffs. There were four of us there—all girls—alone except for each other and unescorted. We were hassled from the minute we got out of the taxi to the minute we left, a few hours later. I’m pretty sure a ton of Egyptians have pictures of the four of us looking extremely pissed off. I’m not sure what the attraction was, but we couldn’t go two seconds without someone asking to take a picture with us or just taking a picture of us, without asking. However, the sites were worth it: the Mosque of Mohammed Ali dominates the skyline and is filled with lighted globes handing from the decorated ceiling. The Egyptian Military Museum—co-developed with the cooperation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (I’m not kidding, there’s a plaque)—is a fascinating place for a history major and museum fanatic to visit. I saw perhaps the best label of any artifact anywhere there: a statue labeled simply as “The Best Soldier on Earth.” There was no name, just the superlative.

After we escaped the clutches of the schoolchildren we made our way to the Maadi House for Thanksgiving Dinner, which AUC’s ISA office kindly informed us of. It’s an expat center of some type in a villa in the neighborhood of Maadi—quite lovely and difficult for black and white taxi drivers to find. Ours asked at least ten people on the way. At Maadi House we were able to eat turkey and mashed potatoes smothered with gravy and excellent carrots and pumpkin pie and coffee flavored cake…not quite the Thanksgiving my parents are throwing at home, but in this case Egypt came through. The only thing I missed—a lot—was stuffing. We met Tommy there, and after our meal he and Joanna and Kelly and I played a rousing game of contact ping-pong before returning to our apartment for…the first Christmas music of the season. On our way to Maadi we passed by the Nile Hilton, which had a neon billboard scrolling “Happy New Year 2009!” We think they’re getting a little ahead of themselves…but we still managed to cover three holidays in one day.