Cairo Trip, Day 0: it started with a surprise

This is part one of a four part series about my trip to Cairo.

So to catch everyone up on what’s been happening since my previous post, last week was the week before grading session deadline – an ominous phrase for most students, including myself. Teachers have to submit their grading reports to the school at the end of the week, so during the week they all plan ways to ‘evaluate’ us – meaning I had five tests and two papers all in one week! Stressful doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Then, on Thursday afternoon while I was sitting in economics class, one of the leaders of our MUN came in the room and asked to talk to me outside. As I follow her out, I see the other chairs waiting. They then ask me, “Do you want to go to Egypt?!” I was shocked and responded “Yes! Why? When?” They explain that there’s an MUN conference in Cairo hosted by a school that will pay for two of UWC Mostar’s students to attend. The two students would be myself and a second year named Quinten. Oh yeah and by the way it’s this weekend. As I struggled to process this, I excitedly agreed and then went back to my class, with no details about the name of the school or the exact dates I’d be gone or even what country I’d represent at the conference.

The next morning, Quinten, myself and our supervisor Pauline left Mostar, trying to comprehend that we would be in Cairo that night…. Or so we thought. Thanks to a miscommunication somewhere between the school in Cairo and our school, our flight was actually set to leave on Saturday, not Friday. So we went to a hostel in Sarajevo, got some rest, and then went out for dinner and a nice walk in the evening. Some pictures from our walk are below: a Muslim cemetery, a brewery, the view out of our hostel window, and a street.

oismun sarajevo

On Saturday morning we were finally able to leave for Cairo. About a two hour flight to Istanbul, four hour layover, then another two hour flight before finally arriving in Cairo around 8pm. We navigated our way through the ridiculous process of getting an entry visa (we had to go to two different counters before we could get a receipt for buying the visas – it led us to think the first one was selling them without the proper permit or something). Then we picked up our bags and went through the arrival doors. Anxiously searching the crowd and pushing past the taxi hagglers, we finally found a group of students and adults with a sign that had the conference name, OISMUN, on it. There were introductions and then they told us we would be staying with host families that had a student participating in the conference. My host mom and host sister, a fifteen year old named Amina, were there with the group so we left right away for their home.

The two of them were so kind and welcoming! They asked lots of questions, including why I didn’t have a Bosnian accent. Turns out they were told they were getting a girl from Bosnia and Herzegovina, nothing about being from UWC, so that’s what they were expecting instead of an American. I learned that the mother had lived in the US for a time as a young adult, in Georgia and New Jersey. Both her and Amina spoke English very well, as did Amina’s younger sister Fatima and their father.

I had no idea what to expect when we arrived at their home, but it soon became evident that the school hosting the conference was definitely for the kids of Cairo’s upper class. This was confirmed once we actually started the conference the next day, but back to the home. Part of Amina’s family lives together in their own apartment-ish building, each in their own flat. Amina, her mom, her dad, and her sister are on the third floor in one half, with her aunt, uncle, and family in the other half. Her grandparents live on the second floor. They have a maid and a porter, kind of a doorman-security-errand runner combination. Their flat is very nice and spacious. Amina and Fatima share a room with two twin beds, so I slept in one and they shared the other one. Her family was so welcoming – offering me a homemade dinner of homemade traditional Egyptian food, asking if I had forgotten anything like a toothbrush, and other gestures that made me feel at home. Left to right in the picture below are Amina’s father, myself, and Fatima.

oismun day 0 dinner

We talked a lot over the delicious dinner, including a fascinating conversation about the revolution. Amina’s family took part in the protests, until there was tear gas and things got violent. They stocked up on food and rationed it out, unsure of how long the protest would last. Her father and other men in the neighborhood created a system to keep watch, using whatever weapons they could pull together, as the prison guards stopped working so the prisoners escaped. It was so interesting to hear stories about the revolution firsthand. They even talked openly about their dislike for Morsi. Amina’s family is a fairly conservative Muslim family, especially for Egypt’s upper class where it isn’t uncommon for teen girls to not be veiled. But they’re unhappy with the Muslim Brotherhood because for them, and most of Egypt especially pre-revolution, religion is an individual matter. So to have the divide between Christians and Muslims in politics is really polarizing. They also said they don’t like that the MB uses religion as a political tool to get ahead, rather than allowing it to be personal and sacred.

Our whole conversation was incredible – I feel lucky that I was placed with such an opening, welcoming family that allowed me to ask questions and that I got to hear all these stories from real people who lived them, rather than something reported in a biased way by the media. But unfortunately, soon it was time for bed.

That was the trouble during the whole trip – we left so early each morning and came back so late each night, that after a meal it was basically time for bed already, leaving little time or energy to do research to prepare or send emails (or write blog posts!).

Click here to read the next post about my trip to Cairo.

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