Luxor – What really happened

Ronnie got an unexpected call from the manager of the Cairo Symphony asking if we would go play a concert in Luxor.  After briefly discussing, we realized it would be the last opportunity to go while living in Egypt, so we agreed. (4,000 EGP each didn’t hurt either. Getting paid to go to Luxor? Sign us up!)

I took two days off from work and we went to Cairo for the rehearsals. When we got there, we discovered that the symphony had hired two people to play 2nd Oboe, so Ronnie was only playing one aria, and he had a lot of extra sitting-around time. Between rehearsals we managed to do several things we’ve been wanting to do in Cairo for a long time, like go to the IMAX theater (where we saw Infinity Wars a second time) and Stella (a hole in the wall bar near Tahrir Square).

You may have gotten the impression that Egyptians don’t do time very well. You’d be correct, and this trip proved that 100 times over! After the last rehearsal at the Cairo Opera House, we all left with no information about how we were actually going to get to Luxor. No bus information, no flight information, just a vague “sometime tomorrow” (bokra insh’allah).

At midnight, Ronnie received a text telling us when the bus was supposed to leave.  We showed up to find a bus and about 6 people. Apparently they missed the part where you’re supposed to tell people what’s going on. After an hour of waiting in the hot sun, we got on the bus and took the worst bus ride I’ve ever been on. No air conditioning, 95 degrees, lots of traffic and smells for about another hour and a half — in a bus full of sweaty, breathing people.

When we finally got to the airport, once again no one knew anything about our tickets. First we were sent to an office to print our tickets so we could go through security, but then we were sent through security without tickets (which they didn’t appreciate). Eventually, we made it intthe airport, checked our bag, and airport-walked to the gate, just in time. Just in time to wait, that is, because of course the plane was late. In the end, everyone made it to Luxor.

They put us in the Steigenberger Hotel, right on the Nile River. Our room was on the end of the hall, on the corner, next to the Omar Sharif Suite, and had a great balcony and a FANTASTIC view. The hotel itself was okay; there were various performers in the evening, a pretty nice pool, and a full buffet for all meals.

[Quick warning: We stupidly decided to leave our camera at home, so we’re stuck with only the few pictures we took on our iPhones. They aren’t great.]

 

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The night we arrived, we were scheduled to have a rehearsal at 10 pm at the Luxor Temple after it had cooled off a bit. We decided to walk with a few friends the 20 minutes to the Temple rather than wait for a bus (we were quite fed up with waiting). On the way we stopped to stock up on drinks for after rehearsal and the guy at the shop said it was okay to drink in the street. So we did and it felt very weird. (No one paid attention to us. There’s an alcohol store a couple blocks from our flat in Alex, and the thought of drinking beer between here and there is inconceivable!)

When we arrived at the Luxor Temple it was about 10:30 and there was still no sign of the bus even back at the hotel. Upon entering the temple area, we discovered that the stage we were to rehearse on was not set up. They postponed the rehearsal to midnight.

Because we were already there, we decided to talk our way in and give ourselves a tour of the Temple. This was the best part of the whole trip. The lights in the deserted temple were breathtaking. Being in this giant place with just a few other people was amazing.

 

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In the end, rehearsal was cancelled that night, so we went back to our room for some beers with friends. Surprisingly, we were still able to wake up the next morning around 6:30 and got up to go sightseeing. We took the little ferry across the river and hired a driver to take us to the Valley of the Kings. He was a nice guy and I thought we did quite a good job of not getting taken advantage of. Unfortunately, we chose not to visit Hatshepsut’s temple. Maybe next time.

Tickets at the Valley of the Kings include your choice of three tombs, but several of the more famous ones are open only to those with special tickets (such as Tutankhamen). Luckily, one of the tombs was unguarded, so we were actually able to see four tombs! It was certainly a neat experience, and three tombs is definitely enough to figure out that they’re mostly the same.

 

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After the Valley of the Kings, it was heating up quite quickly, so we headed back to the hotel and went swimming. We weren’t alone, as several other orchestra members had the same plan. Rehearsal and the concert were that evening, after sunset. It was an event put on by the United Nations, the second of a Silk Road series of concerts around the world. (Another orchestra was supposed to travel to Egypt to perform, but plans changed, and the Cairo Symphony was asked to play instead. This explains the lack of preparation.)

The performance was uninspiring due to bad sound systems, but in the end we were more than happy to have had this experience.

We spent most of the next day in the pool, before our flight left that evening. Again, we weren’t given flight information until right before. The flight to Cairo was fine, then we got an Uber to take us the rest of the way to Alexandria.

All in all, you can’t beat a free trip to Luxor! We thought we wouldn’t get the change to go, but we feel very lucky to be able to squeeze it in before we leave the country!

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Luxor

We were invited to

First we went to Cairo

The worst bus ride in history

EgyptAir does good flights. good flight, short flight, nice plane.

Really nice hotel

Good balcony

Temple at night

drank beer outside (in front of the muslims)

HOT

Valley of the Kings and a free tomb

Pool

Didn’t rehearse hardly at all

He only played one piece

Then we came home

 

 

 

 

 

 

Siwa

At the end of November we took a short trip to Siwa, an oasis 30 miles from the border of Libya. It was like traveling into a different, ancient world. The people speak a different language and are self-sufficient. They don’t need anything imported and take care of everything on their own.

Interesting story – when people first began to use plastic bottles and bags in Siwa, they didn’t know what to do with them since everything they had before this was natural and reusable. However, after someone explained that you have to dispose of plastic bottles properly, they got it under control. In fact, it is much cleaner than most of the other places we’ve been in Egypt.

They have ancient fortresses built out of the rock as well as natural springs, both hot and cold.

We left right after school which meant that we arrived at something like 1:30 in the morning.  Because it was cold and we were camping in small huts made of palm, we changed and went straight into the hot springs before we went to bed.

The next morning we took a walk to the salt sea and later a tour of the sights in the back of a tuk tuk. The food they cooked for us was also incredible. It was a feast of chicken roasted underground along with rice, bread and the usual Egyptian sides (babaganoug, tahini, molokhia).

It was a very relaxed environment and a wonderful escape from the city. Definitely a memorable experience.

2018

As I sit down to write  lesson plans, I can only think of other things I would rather do: catch up on blogging, knit, blow bubbles for the cats, sort my clothes that have tiny little holes from the cats’ claws, eat lunch, bake some bread, catch up on laundry, yoga for the day, possibly even wash the dishes. I imagine I will end up doing all these things before I get to the lesson plan writing.

One of my aunts chose this year to write a description of their daily lives rather than a year overview which I find to be an interesting alternative. I have decided to copy her because the whole year has already been recorded throughout the other blog posts. I hope you’re ready for a lot of reading.

It’s morning. Ronnie has gone off to the gym. He attempted to persuade me to come but, as my head was pounding from the Nth head cold I’ve had this (school) year, I decided not to join him today. I’ll do yoga instead. I’ve been trying to do yoga daily. From May to September, I was attending an air yoga class at a fitness center a few blocks away. I decided to stop going but continued regular yoga at home. I had been working on headstands until school started and, like teachers all over the world, I got sick. Now I try to keep myself upright as much as possible.

The kitchen is a mess because, after returning from vacation, one must prove that we can still survive here without gourmet wines and cheeses that we indulged on daily in Holland (also we took some ingredients home with us). I’ve made smoked salmon, Krab quiche in a signature crust made with Crisco and some cheese pie with substandard Egyptian cream cheese. We also found some real lemons (they call little green limes lemons here) and made Avgolemono, and oregano chicken. There are a lot of dishes to wash.

Winter time, whether truly cold or not, always gets me into a crocheting mood. I made hats for us to use in Amsterdam (very glad I did), and in the process remembered that my fingers don’t like to crochet, and get all warty and painful when I do. So I bought knitting needles in Amsterdam and I thought I would start on a project. If I was thinking, I would remember that all cool projects either require 20 balls of yarn or double point/circular needles…which I don’t have. So I’m trying an experiment. If what I’m doing turns out, I’ll write about it. Otherwise my failure will be my secret.

The water is hot, I’ll go wash a few dishes. That’s right, there’s no hot water in the kitchen so we have to heat up water on the stove. Quite primitive and it makes my least favorite chore even less enjoyable. At least we have hot water in the bathroom…Oh and make sure that you unplug the washing machine before taking the clothes out to dry on the line. Otherwise you will get a nasty shock.

I’m back! …after kicking the cat out of the kitchen. Leo still acts like a street cat, foraging through the kitchen (and garbage) for scraps of food. He’s quite fat and if we let him eat as much as he wanted, I am certain he would physically explode. I think he’s been a bit jealous of Zoe lately, who is growing and becoming more assertive by the second. They still have occasional cuddle time together, though.

I am currently writing this in a Word document because the internet is out. It could be simply that we need to go pay for the internet, or it could be that the network is down in the country, or the third option is that the government decided that no one is allowed on the internet anymore (that’s a bit dramatic I suppose, but it has happened here in recent history). We’ll go pay some money and see what happens.

This afternoon, we went to a cafe in our neighborhood for coffee, almost across the street from the grocery store were we just paid our internet bill. He had a vanilla latte and I had a vanilla chai, since I don’t like coffee. We took it for granted at the time, but now we’ve discovered how spoiled we were by Barracuda! Good drinks? Friendly baristas? Definitely not things we’ve been able to find in Egypt! However, this place is the closest we’ve been able to come to passable drinks and passable food, and the employees aren’t unfriendly.

With our drinks, we walked to the park. Ronnie insisted that even though I’m not feeling well, I still needed to go outside for a bit. We feel fortunate that we have a park in our neighborhood, since parks are fairly uncommon around here. Not only that, but it’s a dog park, so there are usually puppies to pet!

Our instruments have sadly been neglected this year due to various (money-related) issues with the groups we play for. If we were real musicians, it wouldn’t matter if people were paying us to play, and our day-to-day routine would also include practicing. Turns out we’re not real musicians! Ronnie got some new reed-making supplies when his mom met us in Amsterdam, so he’ll probably make a few oboe reeds in the next few days. He supposedly has a concert coming up on Jan. 25 (a Mozart concert to celebrate his birthday), if they don’t cancel that one, too. I’ll probably find out that they want me to play a few days before rehearsal. Organization isn’t their strong suit, something that regularly pisses Ronnie off, given his past as a manager-type-person for a symphony.

(As an aside, Ronnie finally got paid by his orchestra after waiting nearly TWENTY MONTHS! They decided to start paying him as a substitute (that’s how I’m paid when I play) in March, but from Feb. 2016 to Feb. 2017, he just had to wait patiently while they figured something out. It couldn’t have come at a better time, as we were able to use some of that money in Amsterdam!)

It’s evening now, and we’ve finally got the internet up and working, so we’re going to watch some Netflix. We never got cable when we moved into this apartment, so Netflix (and less-legally downloaded movies) are our only option for entertainment.

This country has given us a lot of perspective and especially just coming back from the Netherlands, we are reminded once again how the tiniest little things can make such a difference. Like having hot water in the kitchen. Like having any type of food at your disposal. Like knowing that people will understand you when you speak English. Like having a peaceful neighborhood. Like clean streets. Like having toilet paper in public bathrooms. Like HAVING public bathrooms. Like not being stared at wherever you go. That being said, I hope we never forget what it was like here. Perspective is a good thing.

I wrote that last part in past tense, like we don’t live here anymore. If you didn’t already know, we are moving to Lithuania next August (God willing, insha’allah, whatever),  so this will be my last New Year’s post from Egypt!!!  So we do still live here, but only for 8 more months. We are incredibly excited about what the future school and country have to offer. We’ve been doing a ton of research already, and we’ve both started learning the language, which is incredibly difficult (but in different ways than Arabic.) It is our hope to stick around in Lithuania for a few years, but at the moment we’re just excited to move out of Egypt.

Here’s to 2018! A whole new year of exciting adventures (still no lesson plans completed).

Thanksgiving

Surprisingly I have no pictures to post of the massive feast we shared with our friends. It must mean something but I’ll leave that interpretation up to you.

We were both quite unhappy at this time last year. The Egyptian economy had just tanked, I had left my original school, I was homesick, and we were stuck in Egypt for Christmas which depressed me immensely.

The difference this year is massive. We’ve made some new friends in Egypt, we’re headed to Amsterdam for Christmas, and we have Lithuania to look forward to next year. I am so incredibly thankful for (and excited about) all these things.

Life is hard sometimes, but it’s also amazing sometimes. Don’t give up. Push through the hard moments and live for the amazing moments.

School Year 2017-2018

Guess what? School started. I bet you could have guessed that by that sudden disappearance.

It has been quite interesting seeing how the school has changed since last year. This is the first time that I’ve been at a school for the second year (finally!) and I have both enjoyed and disliked it. On the one hand, it is much more familiar; I know the staff, the students, some of the parents, the curriculum, etc. On the other hand, the school has grown, a lot. Without getting into gory details, I’ll just say the school is going through growing pains. The things that we were using last year just don’t work anymore.

I have 22 students where last year I had 17. It’s amazing what a difference 5 kids makes. It’s a good challenge for me, but it’s quite exhausting.

We had some guests come at the beginning of September and we explored a bit more of Cairo. I think that deserves a post of it’s own.

Then school started and that’s pretty much been our lives. We played a few concerts including Beethoven 9 (again) and a premier for some movie.

This week is our mid-term break. I love that it always happens over my birthday. We thought about taking a trip to Cairo or Siwa, but decided to stay home and save money for Amsterdam over Christmas.

How to be content

I considered titling this, How to be happy, but that’s a bit presumptuous. We aren’t happy all the time. We aren’t even content all the time, but our time in Egypt has taught us a lot about it.

Moving is hard. Moving far away is harder. Moving far away to a new country where you don’t speak the language is the hardest.

One of the people I interviewed with this past year explained that living abroad isn’t easy and was more concerned about whether we knew how to make the best of things than about my teaching skills. For those of you not familiar with the international teaching scene, it is quite common that people don’t show up, only last a month, or leave mid-contract for one reason: It’s hard to live far away from everything familiar.

There’s also the fact that Egypt is a developing country. People do weird things and the stuff we want is often not readily available. It is so easy (and we are guilty of this) to get together and have a bitch-fest for hours on end about the people, culture, government, etc. It takes actual work to find good things to keep you sane and focus on being positive. And when you can’t find them, you have to make them!

Food

This is a fairly obvious one, otherwise comfort food wouldn’t be a thing. Specific things in Egypt that we haven’t found and have made ourselves include:

  • Butter: The butter in Egypt tastes atrocious, and there is no such thing as salted butter. So I began (and Ronnie has perfected) making butter by hand, and it is a billion times better than anything in the store! I keep telling him to write a blog about it, but he keeps dragging his feet.
  • Cocktails: There are a few bars here, and more in Cairo, but they charge hundreds of Egyptian pounds for one cocktail. That’s obviously unacceptable, so we have learned to make do with what we have available at home. We generally keep ourselves well-stocked (our alcohol store is called “Drinkies”). We won’t be hosting any Drinkology events, but we make do with what we have.
  • Crusty bread: Bakeries are overly abundant here, but they pretty much just sell muffins and maybe sandwiches. If we want, say, French bread,  then we’re on our own, so I’ve begun making that myself. I’ve tried sourdough a couple times, but I haven’t really had any success with that yet.
  • Iced tea: Apparently, this is a super American thing. Not only do Egyptians hardly EVER drink iced drinks, this one is weird to our British friends as well. It’s a trillion degrees outside, and Egyptians are still drinking hot drinks. Not us! Ronnie’s taught a coffee shop nearby how to make iced lattes (he’s the only person who’s ever ordered one), and at home, we’re all about iced tea.
  • Food of varying ethnicities: Bearing in mind that we don’t live in Cairo, the restaurants here suck. We’ve found one halfway decent Mexican restaurant all the way across town, and one grocery store that sells pretty okay pizza (they’re the only place we’ve found that uses sauce!). Even Egyptians’ idea of “American” food is disgusting. So we’ve started trying to improve our Mexican and Italian food, I found a great pizza crust recipe, and our friend left us a bunch of Indian spices when she moved to Bangkok a couple of months ago. This one’s a work-in-progress, but we’re trying. It’s better than anything we’ll get in restaurants, that’s for sure!

Exercise

If you’re an emotional exerciser (when I’m angry, it’s time for a run), this is essential because the culture will frustrate you at some point. However, running outside here is not the best idea. It’s possible, just not very convenient or pleasant. So Ronnie goes to the gym frequently, and I’ve become a lot more serious about yoga both at home and by attending weekly air yoga classes at a nearby fitness center. (This also helps when angry).

Video chat

Technology is wonderful, and a chat with family, friends, or even dogs can brighten our day. It’s good to see friendly (familiar) faces every so often. If you’re reading this we’ve never Skype’d before, let’s do it sometime!

Music

When I worked as a barista, I listened to the latest pop songs on the radio all day. As terrible as some the music was I realized that I missed listening to the radio. Since we don’t drive, I’ll often listen to random playlists on YouTube at home or in the classroom.

On the classical side of things, performing concerts is still enjoyable even though we don’t have close friends in the symphony here. At home, concerts used to involve going out for dinner or drinks afterwards. Now, the night usually ends with a trip to Cinnabon (there’s one conveniently located on the Library of Alexandria campus!) and a couple beers at home (not a lot of places to go for drinks here, and not a lot of musicians willing to join us!)

Pets

A week or two after we moved to Egypt we realized that this was the first time either of us been without a pet (college doesn’t count because we still had pets at home). There’s something about having a fur baby in the house that makes it more like home. Unfortunately, Egypt is overcrowded with homeless cats and dogs. We lasted about two months before we just had to take one home with us and our apartment became a home (aww…how cheesy). Seriously, though. This is definitely “home” now that we look forward to getting back to our pets when we’re traveling.

And now we have two! Zoe doesn’t have her own blog post yet, but maybe I’ll get around to it. We have no idea how we’re going to take them with us when we leave, but we will definitely do our best to figure it out before the time comes.

 

These are just a few things we do be content when it seems like everything sucks. Of course the most important part is that we have each other…as long as we can remember that we’re in it together.