Today was our last full day in Alexandria, and there was one more place we really wanted to visit: the Roman amphitheater. Luckily for us, it’s just a short walk from our hotel – not much more than a kilometer – so we set off after breakfast to buy our train tickets back to Cairo and see the amphitheater.
Whenever we get to a new place, Alan likes to pore over whatever maps he can find, looking for interesting locations that may not be written up in our guidebook. When you scan tourist maps of Alexandria, you can see the city offers a number of interesting places, including the old Jewish cemetery near Alexandria University’s Faculty of Pharmacy.
So after a visit to the Alexandria National Museum (great place, by the way), we walked toward the Jewish cemetery. As we got close to where it seemed to be on the map, we looked around, expecting to spot a large open space dotted with tombstones, just like other cemetery grounds in Egypt. No such sight appeared, so we walked slowly around the edge of a high wall overhung with tree limbs, looking across a small roundabout to the pharmacy school, where we could see lots of young people hanging out and chatting.
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.
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.
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.
When 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.
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.”
We’re enjoying how easy it is to explore Siwa Oasis on foot. You can walk to many fascinating landmarks, monuments and springs around the oasis, including Gebel el Dakrur, a collection of peaks that stands out in the desert landscape.
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.
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.