Catacombs of Alexandria and the kindness of a stranger

Catacombs NeighborhoodAlexandria is an interesting city, full of history from ancient times and forward. A lot of what we want to see is very walkable – an hour or less from our hotel. Today we walked through a series of interesting neighborhoods to the catacombs of Kom al Shoqafa,  a tomb complex dug deep into the ground – so deep that the bottom level is now underwater.

Entrance to Kom el Shofaqa, the catacombs of Alexandria
Entrance to Kom el Shofaqa, the catacombs of Alexandria.

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Net fishing in Alexandria

One of the great pleasures Alexandria has to offer is a morning walk on the Corniche. You can wander up and down, people-watching to your heart’s content, despite the constant flow of noisy traffic on the six-lane highway separating the seaside walkway from the rest of Alexandria.

You almost always see people fishing with incredibly long poles (I estimate they’re about 15 feet). But this morning we got to see something completely new to us: a large group of men wielding a huge net, and dragging their catch in to shore.

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Visiting the Alexandria Library

When I first read about the rebuilt Great Library of Alexandria years ago, I wanted to see it. But it never occurred to me that someday I’d be able to casually stroll there after breakfast.

That’s exactly what we did this morning, after enjoying a plate of fuul and some tomato-and-cheese salad at our favorite coffee shop. We walked along the Corniche, enjoying the morning breezes and watching fisherman casting their lines, until the Alexandria Library came into sight.

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Exploring the Shali, the central landmark of Siwa Oasis

 

The Shali mountain, viewed from the minaret of the new mosque currently under construction within the old city of Shali in Siwa Oasis.
The Shali mountain, viewed from the minaret of the new mosque currently under construction within the old city of Shali.

You can’t miss the Shali. As soon as you arrive in Siwa Town, you see it looming at the center of everything – a small mountain surrounded by an ancient city of mud houses melting together. It looks like it’s caught somewhere between a fairy tale and a futuristic sci-fi movie.

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Wandering the palm gardens of Siwa Oasis

Palm garden in Siwa OasisWhen you read guidebooks or travel websites describing activities around Siwa Oasis, it’s easy to overlook that this area is largely agricultural.  Most Siwa residents spend their days caring for crops – olive trees, date palms, vegetables, guava, nehbak and pomegranate trees, a bit of emmer wheat and forage crops for the animals. People here also keep domestic animals for their meat, milk or labor – sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, pigeons, cows, donkeys and horses – and the animals, too, require care.

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More fossils: a bike-and-hike trip to the north edge of Siwa Oasis

 

Dramatic shapes in the fossil-rich hills at the north edge of Siwa Oasis
Dramatic shapes in the fossil-rich hills at the north edge of Siwa Oasis

On the way out to Taghagheen Island to watch the sunset with our friends Amal and Ahmed one evening, Alan noticed that there were tombs and interesting formations along the line of hills at the north edge of Siwa Oasis. “It’s not really all that far from town,” he said to me. “We could bike out here and hike around these hills.”

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Six weeks in Sudan

 

Artist showing his work outside the national museum, Khartoum, Sudan.
Artist showing his work outside the national museum, Khartoum, Sudan.

We lived in Khartoum for six weeks. It was supposed to be six months, but as they say, life happens.

When we signed up last year for the Sudan Volunteer Programme, it seemed like an ideal choice as part of our three-year plan to live and volunteer in cultures unfamiliar to us. We’d been reading for a while about SVP, a nonprofit organization that’s been placing volunteer English teachers in Sudanese universities for more than 20 years. We liked the idea of staying in Sudan for months, not just weeks. Alan had wanted to live in an Arabic-speaking country for some time; I wanted the chance to get to know people in a culture wholly different from any I’d known before; and we both wanted to do something purposeful and helpful. We figured that being part of an organized program, and part of a university community, would give us the chance to do all of that.

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Seeing beyond the veil

Illustration of niqab, hijab and burqa courtesy of the Australian Broadcasting Corp. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-02/what-are-the-differences-between-the-burka,-niqab-and-hijab/5785816
Illustration of niqab, hijab and burqa courtesy of the Australian Broadcasting Corp. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-02/what-are-the-differences-between-the-burka,-niqab-and-hijab/5785816

Hijab, niqab, burqa: The issue of women’s bodies, and how much it’s okay to show – or not – resonates with almost everyone I know, no matter what their religion, nationality or gender.

As for me, I have always felt it’s important to respect every woman’s choice, even if I’m not sure just how much choice she actually has. And personally, I have never wanted to show much skin, even growing up in sunny beach-culture Southern California.

The one thing I have always cared about is connecting with other people. That happens with a smile, a greeting, and especially with the meeting of the eyes.

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