Growing up, my favorite subjects were always art and history. I’d read my textbooks religiously at night, fascinated by the lives of ancient civilizations. They had a functioning government and education system. They dedicated their lives to gods and goddess who might smite them. They created intricate and meaningful art that still inspires people thousands of years later. My favorite civilization to read about was always Egypt. I loved learning about Queen Nefertiti, the wife of the Pharaoh Akhenaten and the real ruler of Egypt at that time. I loved learning about the Nile, the longest river in the world, and the mummification process. The hieroglyphs, temples, and pyramids captivated me and were present in many of my childhood fantasies. This was a civilization so advanced that historians today are still impressed.
As I grew up, conspiracy theories of aliens building the pyramids turned out to be just a remarkable, extremely mathematic, specific and meaningful feat from a society that knew exactly what they were doing. No one was meant to really see the insides of these pyramids; they were meant to house that pharaohs in their afterlife, not to welcome visitors and thieves.
As much as I knew I would travel the world and live in different countries, never once did it occur to me that I might live in Egypt. I knew I loved Europe and learning Latin languages. I knew that I wanted to learn Korean and live in Seoul (I still do) and eventually learn Japanese in Tokyo. But the Middle East and Africa always felt so far away. I didn’t know a lot of people that had visited, let alone lived there.
But when I started learning languages religiously, the Arabic language quickly soared to the top of my list. I figured that I couldn’t leave a whole section of the world out on my quest to study cultures and linguistics. I thought of ways to learn Arabic; study partners, a university course, maybe a language school in Downtown San Diego. Still, the prospect of actual long time living in the Middle East was nonexistent. At least until earlier this year.
Back in the Spring, I began planning the trip of a lifetime. Two continents, three language schools, nearly twenty countries. I knew this could be the only time in my life that I could really do this. My dad’s good friend recommended I come to Israel and Egypt. I immediately took the idea and started to plan the trip. At first, I thought I’d learn Hebrew in Israel, but the Ulpans, Hebrew language schools, were ridiculously expensive. Then I realized, if I were to learn a new language, it had to be Arabic. This is a hot zone in the world and the language will prove to be extremely valuable in my future careers. So that was that. I was going to Cairo to learn Arabic.
Fast forward seven months and I arrive with all my possessions in a crowded airport in Cairo. My phone had stopped working, a girl I had never met was supposed to pick me up from the airport, and a ton of men was yelling at me to get in their taxi. I was genuinely scared. What had I gotten myself into? I was really out of my comfort zone here, more than usual. But within a month I was reading and writing in Arabic, now can get around town, have tons of friends from all different groups, and building a life here.
I used to never really stay anywhere more than a month, so the idea of being in Cairo for four or five months was exciting and new. It’s still so surreal being here. I’ve spent my life fascinated by the city I’m finally living in. I’m seeing the Nile River every day, speaking to random people in Arabic, and swimming in The Red Sea. Being here has turned out to be way more exciting and fun than I ever imagined it.
I’ve been here six weeks and haven’t even seen all of Cairo because it’s so huge. I’ve rented a yacht in Ain Sokhna on the Red Sea and explored the ancient city of Alexandria. This week, I’ll go stargazing in Fayoum and the week after that I’ll go to Dahab and scuba dive in The Red Sea.
I’ll visit Luxor, Karnak, and Aswan after school ends and before I go home to San Diego for the holidays. I learned about those sites in Art History class in college and I’ll finally get to see them in person. I still can’t believe this is my life. I still ask myself how I ended up here. It has been one of the biggest challenges of my adult life to learn Arabic. I have been scared and lost in a city I didn’t know but here I am. I’m so grateful to be living in the place that fascinated me for decades; a city that challenges me. I don’t want to waste a moment of my time here. It is truly like a dream.
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