DukeImmerse Research Journal Spring 2013


Throughout their time in the field, we will be publishing “Letters Home” from our DukeImmerse: Uprooted/Rerouted students in Egypt and Nepal.

Week 1: Nepal

Namaste from Nepal!

The drive to the Summit Hotel was our first exposure to life in Kathmandu. The streets were packed with cars and motorcycles. Because of the free-for-all driving dynamic, Nepali drivers rely on their horns to inform other drivers or pedestrians of the need to move out of the way. Also, there are barely any barriers separating the two flows of traffic. This, combined with the closely packed traffic, makes it quite nerve-wracking for foreigners like us to cross the street!

We arrived in sunny Kathmandu on Wednesday morning, eager to explore the culture we have envisioned in our studies for so long. We were determined to combat our jetlag the first night in Kathmandu, so we set off to visit Boudhanath – one of the holiest sites in Nepal. We crossed the main entrance, and immediately joined the worshippers walking clockwise around the shrine in a ritual prayer. We found a small restaurant, and ordered some traditional Nepali momos (dumplings filled with meat or vegetables) – which everyone loved immediately. Before the food arrived, the power went out. We were concerned at first, but we later learned that power outages are institutionalized. Kathmandu does not have sufficient access to energy to supply the entire city with power 24/7. Therefore, the authorities turn off the power twelve hours each day. Many businesses have generators (including the hotel), so we had not previously noticed.

The next day we woke up well rested, excited for our first full day in Kathmandu. We explored both the warehouse and tourist shopping districts of the city. We learned that the two areas are quite different, after we were given strange looks from shopkeepers in the warehouse district who were used to local customers buying in bulk. After, we stopped for lunch at Fire and Ice Pizzeria. As well as some delicious pizza, we had banana lassis – a popular Nepali yogurt milkshake.

The coordinators at the UN World Food Programme were gracious enough to meet with us later in the afternoon. They gave us a quick overview of their efforts in Nepal. We were surprised to learn that 60-70% of Nepalis living in the northwest mountainous region are victims of chronic malnutrition. Lack of food is not the root of this issue. Rather, these Nepali people face severe stunted physical and mental development due to lack of properly balanced nutrition. The UN WPF staff then went into greater depth about the Bhutanese refugee camps and the success of the food distribution.

After the meeting with WFP, we looked forward to our visit to the International Organization of Migration the following day. On Friday morning, we headed off to IOM to learn more about the transit operations within the resettlement process. Several staff members gave us a tour of the entire facility, which serves as the refugees’ last stop before they leave to be resettled. At maximum capacity, the Transit Center can hold 406 people and refugees coming from the camps in Damak typically spend between 4 and 5 days here. We were able to observe one cultural orientation class, where refugees were learning the skills they would need to navigate airports and planes.

We stopped for lunch at a café close to the hotel. We sat outside on the patio and had a leisurely meal relaxing in the sun. After lunch, we shopped around a bookstore attached to the café. We then went upstairs to see a photo exhibit chronicling the Civil War in Nepal. These photos brought to light the real effects political upheaval had on innocent civilians all over the country. Later that afternoon, we spoke with Kyle Knight, a Duke alum who currently works as a journalist in Nepal. Kyle told us about his experiences in Nepal since he first visited the country during a study abroad program his junior year at Duke. He also gave us a well-rounded overview of the political and social issues that Nepal faces.

We have loved our experiences in Kathmandu so far. We are sad to be leaving on Sunday, but we are looking forward to the beginning of our work with refugees in Damak. We will stay in touch!

Lexy, Caroline, and the DukeImmerse Team

Week 1: Cairo

Ahlan wasahlan!

When Max left his wallet in the taxi on the way to Raleigh-Durham Airport thirty minutes before boarding, we knew this was going to be nothing less than something interesting. Very fortunately, everything was settled and sooner than we realized we touched down in Cairo, Egypt at 12:45 PM local time.

Our first taste of the city was the state of the art Cairo International Airport where we were met by Sherrif, a hotel agent, who escorted us through Egyptian customs as if we were using Disneyland fast passes to be first in line for Space Mountain. We then met with Suzanne after a long wait for our luggage and embarked on an unforgettable first journey past the half-built brick neighborhoods, sand dunes, ancient mosques, dusty haze, and through the incessant horn-honking, pedestrians, food vendors, and congested streets of Cairo to our home in Garden City on Ibrahim Naguib Street.

Egypt is the cradle of the first civilization and claims the longest standing language and writing system. Between the rich historical, religious, social, and political backgrounds are the thriving everyday happenings from the pungent Dukkah spices that envelop the city, the motorcycles weaving in and out of unending, disorganized traffic, and the Imams’ booming city-wide “call-to-prayers.” Nowadays, its vibrancy is more palpable than ever as Egyptians are in the midst of redefining their society towards democracy. On our way to the 6th of October to have dinner with our research associates and their families, we saw citizens refuse to be complacent, gathering in the streets and waving flags painted with profiles of “martyrs” during the riots at Port Said. For being associated with sand and the pyramids, Cairo is actually a green city abundant in healthy trees and in tropical scenery that blossoms next to the Nile – the cool breeze from these palm trees are especially soothing and complement the pleasant 70º sunny weather.

By the time we had arrived at our apartments in Garden City, it had become apparent that language was going to be our greatest challenge. The very next day we were sitting in small desks at the Arabic Academy, staring at a television screen as our instructor introduced the course material to us in Arabic. The English slideshow and videos were a foothold for our understanding of the class, teaching us a few ways the Egyptian world was different from the Western society that we were accustomed to. For example, crossing a busy street in Cairo we were given three options: look and a wait for a sign the Western way, use a “human shield” where we follow next to another pedestrian so they are the casualty (just in case) or go head first across the street with the expectation that cars will stop for you, also known as walking Egyptian style.

Along with customs, food has been an equally memorable experience. The meals have been so rich in flavor, color and texture (not to mention spice) that they almost make Parker and Otis seem blander than plain pita bread (pardon the shameless Kenan joke). We have experienced most traditional Egyptian and Lebanese delicacies such as salatat, hummus, baba ghanouj, molokhia (green soup) arnab (rabbit), hamam (pigeon – Jack’s birthday dinner!) ful (fava beans), labna (yogurt sauce), fettah (served cold, pita bread, meat), taboula (wheat with chopped parsley, tomato, olive oil dressing), and dolma (stuffed grape leaves).

But above all, the home cooked Iraqi meal we shared with the research associates was the most delectable and plentiful; we were showered with generosity, great company, and delicious food such as dolma, ruz (rice) farakh (chicken) khodar (mixed vegetables), and plenty of kebab (meat). The group enjoyed just plain hanging out and engaging in multicultural experiences such as making fun of Twilight from the American and Iraqi perspectives.

Tomorrow morning, we will start our first interviews bright and early.


Max and Jack
Cairo DukeImmerse Team 2013

Week 2: Nepal

Namaskar, Durham!

We’re missing you all here but we’re having a great time! Since we last wrote, we have arrived in Damak. It was a bumpy flight, but we made it here safe and sound. The weather here in Damak is nice and warm. The sun is giving us all a nice tan. We’re staying at Madan’s guesthouse right across the street from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The family here is so hospitable and generous! They cook us delicious breakfast everyday. We especially love the fried eggs and crepes and the instant coffee keeps us going every day (it definitely tastes better here than in the U.S.). Breakfast is served at 7:30am and we love the fresh morning air. We want to start doing rooftop yoga in the mornings! One of the UNHCR staff members was kind enough to lend us his yoga mats.

The World Food Programme Sub-Office in Damak met with us yesterday, where the entire office presented to us on their programs in the camps and in the host community. They were so gracious with their time and really eager to help us. We were so appreciative because we had so many logistical questions after visiting the camp. It has been such a privilege and awesome opportunity to see these organizations working on the ground. In class back at Duke, we’ve been learning about how this all works, but seeing it in action is so different.

Our schedule is different every day but it’s always busy! Whether we’re working in the field or exploring Damak, we’re always having a great time. We especially love exploring the markets and discovering new restaurants. The Dhosas at Sangam Sweets are an all around favorite so far. We all bought colorful bangles at an outdoor market that we wear every day as friendship bracelets.

We have just started working with our research assistants Damanta, Umesh, and Bhakti – local Nepalis from Damak who are all bilingual and have extensive translation experience! Not only are they a great resource for information about Nepali culture and language, they are also a really great group of people to spend time with. Bhakti opened his own youth hostel called the Oasis, emphasizing learning and growing in a fun environment. While we’ve only know Damanta a week, KIE research teams have worked with her for years, and we feel like we’ve known her for years as well. We can’t wait to meet Umesh’s new baby son!

We had our first practice interview this week with local Nepalis from Damak. It was a great practice run for what we can expect in the field, and we learned a lot about how to interview with a translator and a partner. The experience provided us valuable knowledge on working across language and cultural barriers. Our first refugee interviews are on Monday and we are all really excited!

Our first camp visit was to Sanischare, which is about a thirty-minute drive away. There we did a few photography assignments and met refugees to better get to know the camp and the community. The graciousness, friendliness, and hospitality from everyone humbles and inspires us. We did a mapping exercise with the Bhutanese Refugee Women’s Forum. The women were excited to learn more about us and wanted to show us activities that they enjoy. Dancing seems to be an important part of their culture – all of a sudden, the women and our research assistants were clapping and singing along to a song they all seemed to know. Soon, all of us were dancing – our whole Duke team, the research assistants, and all of the Bhutanese women! We were all laughing and having a great time.

We can’t wait to tell you all more. It’s been an incredible life experience so far and we can’t wait for what the next two weeks will bring!

Basnus la hami gayau,
(We are leaving, which is a common Nepali salutation)

Dechen, Leah, and the Nepal DukeImmerse Team

Week 2: Cairo

أهلا ومرحبا بكم , Salaam alaikum!

Our week in Cairo has been jam packed with both work and play. The streets of Cairo are filled with sidewalk bazaars, pedestrians coming from every which way, and cars that do not stop for anyone! Just yesterday, we saw a Chevrolet truck carrying precious cargo – three lovely camels! There is never a dull moment, even while stuck in traffic. While walking past some of the street vendors, we noticed some animals for sale by a butcher shop. Rabbit is a common delicacy here in Egypt, and there were cages of bunnies up for slaughter. We decided to buy a rabbit from the butcher to save it. The transaction was filled with cultural confusion as we frantically tried to explain in broken Arabic that we wanted to buy the rabbit alive. It was such an odd request that the vendors laughed and offered us dried pretzels in order to learn more about our beliefs. The bunny is now safe and happy, inshallah!

Early in the week we visited the UNHCR in a suburb of Cairo, Sitta October. There was large crowd of people waiting outside to meet with coordinators. Our guide gave us a tour of this facility, and provided us with in-depth insight regarding the Refugee Status Determination and the resettlement process in Cairo. Moreover, she informed us about how the UNHCR is handling the rapid increase of Syrian asylum-seekers in Egypt! During the tour, our group was very surprised at how hostile and tense the environment was at the facility. Moreover, our group was very surprised when our coordinator stated that the UNHCR is only able 2% of the 60,000+ registered refugees in Cairo each year. Due to these restrictions, our coordinator stated that only people in the most acute situations are resettled each year, and that it is up to the UNHCR to make this difficult decision. Thus this trip was very informative, and provided us with a lot of useful information.

After this, we were lucky enough to witness a women’s group take place at Tadamon, a community center for Syrian refugees. Although there was an initial language barrier, the women did not hesitate to communicate with us by other means such as kisses and an offering of deliciously fresh Syrian taboulah. The women of the group cooked the dish together, and everyone was sharing a plate of the fresh greens amidst talk and laughter. The community center helps by offering the Syrian refugees a haven where they could be together, and also offers activities such as art therapy, computer lessons, and English and Arabic lessons. It has only been open for about two months, but has already been flourishing. Tadamon also advertised services such as RefUnite that helps refugees find family reunification. It is comparable to a Facebook for refugees as they can enter the likes and interests of their missing family member, where they were last seen, their pictures, and other relevant information. Everyone was sad to leave as we were all having a great time exchanging stories. It is surprising how much we can learn from each other over a plate of taboulah, even with a language barrier!

After we visiting these places, two of our translators and now are close friends, Zahraa and Anas, took us out to eat a traditional Iraqi meal. Although we love Egyptian cuisine, we were totally won over by the hot, fluffy sammoon (a fish-shaped bread), fresh hummus and babaganoush, and finely chopped taboulah. There were platters of creamy white dip made from heavy cream, and mounds of biryani rice and curried potatoes and vegetables. The plates were large and meant for communal eating. It was an intimate experience for us to all share food from the same plates, along with stories about our day. A friendly Iraqi man owned the restaurant, and a large flag of Iraqi adorned the wall. We felt grateful to be able to share a bit of Iraqi culture with native Baghdadis. Food is such a large part of culture, and Zahra explained aspects of Islamic prayer and Iraqi attire between mouthfuls of delicious food.

Also, during the past week we visited and toured St. Andrews. St. Andrews is home to the St. Andrew’s United Church of Cairo, and to the St. Andrew’s Refugee Services Program. Church support groups founded the Refugee Services Center in the 1970’s. This Center has played a pivotal role in educating and providing assistance to African Refugees in Cairo. Although the Center primarily works with refugees from Sudan, the program also assists refugees from a wide array of other ethnic groups. The Center not only provides schooling to refugee children, but it also assists Refugees with resettlement and provides them with legal aid during resettlement. The best part of this visit was seeing all the Sudanese children’s smiling faces as they played soccer and interacting with the children!

Later this night, we went to a concert in downtown Cairo! We saw Naseer Shamma, a renowned Iraqi Oud player in the Middle East, perform live! Naseer Shamma is a Iraqi refugee that has been resettled in Egypt for the past twenty years. Not only is he known for his amazing abilities as an Oud player, but he is also known for his dedication to providing relief funds to Refugee organizations. He is known for organzing fund raising campaigns and donating  funds to refugees especially Iraqi Refugees. The concert was AMAZING! We danced the night away! We even got to meet Naseer after his performance!

Overall this week has been amazing! Although we haven’t gotten much sleep, and have found ourselves sleeping more in our taxi cab rides to the outskirts of Cairo than in our apartments, our group has truly been having an amazing time! I feel all of our “Ah-Ha” research moments are very much on their way!


Ciera and Niki + Cairo Family

Week 3: Nepal

Namaste friends and family!

We hope that everyone is doing well wherever you are reading this from! Week three has been full of exciting visits around Damak. It turns out that Thursday nights at the International Organization of Migration (our local hang-out and the only place we have access to internet) is pizza night—something that we all miss dearly! It was nice to have a little reminder of home.

On Saturday, we visited one of the refugee camps that closed a year and a half ago called Goldhap. When we were fifteen minutes away, we were stopped on a small dirt road by a broken-down tractor. We parked next to two brown water buffalo while its wheel was fixed and got the chance to walk around the surrounding community a bit. When we arrived to Goldhap, we met a local elderly man who walked us around some of the grounds. He had taken over the maintenance of a small Hindu temple that was right alongside the forest. Leah and Bhakti, one of our research assistants, met some middle-school girls who were having a picnic in one of the abandoned schools and got to dance with them! After lunch, we visited Khudunabari, another camp that closed in 2012. The camp had a very eerie feel, especially for Amber and Lou who had visited the camp with last year’s group.

We also had our first official interviews!! We’re happy to report that they all went well. With each interview, we’ve been able to better narrow down our research questions. It has also been exciting recruiting interviewees ourselves by walking around the refugee camps and arranging a time to hear their story. Hearing their stories has been very humbling and we’re really looking forward to sharing some of them through our papers at the end of the semester. Each time we visit any of the three camps, the refugees welcome us into their homes with such a warm hospitality.

After visiting the camps on Monday, one of our research assistants, Umesh, invited us over to his home. We got to play with his ten-month-old baby who was so adorable and get to know his family! Afterwards, his wife offered to accompany us to the store where she buys her kurtas, a style of tunic (sometimes with matching trousers!) that is really popular in Nepal. At the store, four of us held up piles of sparkling embroidered material—burnt oranges, deep reds, royal blues—colors that are seen all over the city and make it so vibrant. Then we went to the tailor and had our measurements taken so that the tailor could hand-make each of our kurtas. By next week we’ll be able to post a picture of us wearing them!

The group headed out to a nice restaurant on Tuesday night to have a fun send-off for Lou who is on her way back to the United States. We opened the menu and decided to order three things that were completely unrecognizable—one being a chicken lollypop”—and had a great time laughing over the unfamiliar plates that followed our order.

On Wednesday we were given a tour by the World Food Program of their operations in Beldangi 2, the largest of the Bhutanese refugee camps. We were shown how they distribute food, their reclamation garden program and some of the gardening programs that they’ve established in the host communities surrounding the camp. Afterward we grabbed lunch at our new favorite canteen and enjoyed some local food—rice with dal and spicy vegetables!

Sending lots of love from Nepal,

Alexa, Christine and the DukeImmerse team!

Week 3: Cairo

Salam 3laikum ya Amrica,

Wow. Three weeks in, and I cannot believe how much we have seen, done, and experienced. Cairo is the dream scene to any Arabian movie, and we have merely been extras in a plot cast with excitement, drama, and thrill. From historic sites to influential NGOs, this letter would have to be a novel to even put a dent in our experiences.

Islamic Cairo:
On Thursday, we ventured out to Islamic Cairo, which started at Al Azhar mosque, one of the oldest mosques in the Islamic world, and ended on Al Muizz Street, one of the oldest streets in the Islamic world. Every mosque had an open courtyard surrounded by breathtaking pillars and arches. The mosques we visited were founded in the 900s, and they still stand high and proud. We also entered a hamam (public bath), sabil-kuttab (water source and elementary school), and madrasas (schools). The architecture in each place was ingenious. The amount of history surrounding us was invaluable, and the feeling you get from seeing and touching something so beautiful and sacred will forever be indebted in our memories.

Wednesday we visited the IOM, which gave us a completely different perspective on refugee issues. We were all surprised by the professional atmosphere, which is contrasted with the aura of the UNHCR. We learned about the refugee resettlement process once it advances through the UNHCR, which was a completely different perspective. Additionally, one of the IOM workers gave us a fascinating lecture on migration and migration patterns. One of the unique aspects of the IOM were the connections that they have with the detention centers, airports, within the community, and along this migratory route.

Although protests are number one on the “not to do list,” (followed by no skinny dipping in the Nile), we cannot help but ask Egyptians what is going on. Taxi drivers have become our best friends, and the information they share with us is not only influential, but also extremely moving. After discovering that Egyptians had set cars on fire not too far from our street, we began to worry about rising riots. A taxi driver noticed our flurry and, in Arabic, told us “What are you scared of? You witness this maybe once or twice in your short visit here. I live here. I see this everyday.” This conversation really changed the way we react to news in Egypt.

How could we forget about the pyramids? We approached Giza first class. Water bottles in hand, we left the air-conditioned, spacey bus and mounted top-notch, luxurious camels and horses. Mercedes-Benzes had nothing on my Michael (and his friend Shakira). We paved through what seemed to be miles of endless sand. With the perfect sun and breeze, the scene was a replica of any Arabian movie.

Here’s a poem detailing our overall experience here in Cairo. From refugee studies to Cairo, it’s amazing how our coursework transcends the boundaries of books, and we are very fortunate to have this influential city as our classroom.

Danger is light Red
Nile isn’t that blue
Could this really be Cairo
Did she lose her vibrant hue?

In the middle of the Chaos
Traffic, riots, barricades, too
The graffiti that marks the walls
Shows what the Egyptian people can do

We navigated the festivities
With the help of Egyptian transportation
Visiting the IOM, UNHCR, all these organizations
to come to this realization:

The success of the refugee
Is based upon the community
Lawyers, social workers, psychologists and the like
Work with refugees in order to ease their plight

They hope for a future
In a place they can call home
Until then
They continue with strength
In a place not set in stone

This experience is unforgettable
From the remarkable stories, to the sites
Peace out, America
Our story doesn’t end ‘till our flight.

M3 Salama! See you in a week Duke!
Leena, Maura, and the rest of the Cairo team

Week 4: Nepal

नमस्ते  (Namaste)!

Early Saturday morning we all piled into the van with our research assistants for our field trip to the tea fields of Ilam. Despite it being so early we were all excited to visit the tea fields! Bhakti, one of our research assistants, brought his drum. To the beat of the drum and Nepali songs blasting from the stereo, we all sang and danced in the van as we drove up the windy roads from the low lands of the Terai. The higher we climbed up the hills the air became clearer, crisper, and fresher. The sun broke through, revealing a beautiful sunny day with blue skies. For our first stop of the trip before we reach Ilam we climb up a tall hill to get a better view of the tea fields and the hills. The hill is very steep and we all walk up slowly. By the time we reach the top we are all out of breath but the view was worth it! We felt invigorated by the short hike up, the crisp air, and the beautiful view. From the top we could see a striking panorama of rust-colored hills covered with rich green tea fields, roads winding in and out. Our next stop was the actual city of Ilam. Once we arrived we climb up another hill that granted another stunning view of the tea fields. Before we left Ilam we made sure to buy plenty of their famous tea. We can’t wait to try the tea when we get back home!

Our last day in the camps was certainly bittersweet. From walking by familiar places on the way to and from our last interviews in Beldangi II to eating our last delicious lunch of dal bhat in the camp canteen, it was surprising and saddening to think that we wouldn’t be returning again on this trip. The people in the camps that we have met, from the refugees to workers from the international organizations, have been so gracious and lovely to us, and we will certainly miss them. However, the lessons that we have learned from them and the stories of their lives will forever remain with us.

For three days, we intensively prepared for a presentation of our research to UNHCR. Each of us presented a 3-5 minute presentation based on themes we have gathered from the life-story interviews we have been conducting in the camp. We covered gender, religion, marriage, community, expectations of resettlement and the health effects of resettlement. We had expected the presentation to be a round-table discussion but arrived to UNHCR and found a room with lined plastic chairs facing one side of the room. Each of us stood and spoke to a room of fifteen UNHCR employees. We began the presentation with a video from last year’s Immerse group performing monologues at the Nasher Museum. The presentation lasted about an hour with questions. Each of us drew from each other’s interview summaries and worked together to put on the presentation successfully. We could not have done it without Amber and Lou’s guidance throughout the entire process. Not only was it exciting presenting to UNHCR officials who are experts in these fields, it was also nice to see how much work we have accomplished in the past three and a half weeks.

On Wednesday night, we had a goodbye dinner with our research assistants, Bhakti, Damanta, and Umesh and his wife Niru.  The six of us dressed up in our colorful kurtas (traditional Nepali dress) to celebrate.  Our host family cooked for us and we ate on the roof of our guesthouse, watching the sunset and then sitting around a covered patio table with lights.  We ate chicken skewers, rice, vegetables, and the best dal that we’d ever had!  It was delicious and we all thoroughly stuffed ourselves.  We sat around reminiscing and chatting after dinner and then Umesh gave a beautiful pre-written speech, where he said how much he had enjoyed working with our group, that we would always be a big part of his life, and how much we would all miss each other.  It was incredible and could not have described our feelings more perfectly.

Before and after dinner, we had a dance party!  Damanta played music loudly from her phone with Christine’s speakers and we all danced around with an eclectic mix of Nepali, American, and completely made-up moves.  We were so impressed with how well all of our research assistants could dance – we had never seen Bhakti or Umesh move their hips like that before!  Our hearts melted when Bhakti picked up the baby boy of the host family, who we were all obsessed with, and danced around with him on his hip.  It was a great last night for all of us to spend together, laughing, talking, dancing, and taking more pictures, though very bittersweet because we knew how much we would miss them.

We were sad to say goodbye to the family at Madan’s Guesthouse – particularly to the adorable baby Somar who had become less shy throughout our stay and shouted Bye didi (“Bye sister”) to us from the roof as we loaded our bags into the van. Bhakti, Damanta, and Umesh rode with us to the airport. We all welcomed the chance to put off saying goodbye to them a little longer, and we savored our one last chance to dance and sing to Nepali music with them in the van. Unfortunately, we did eventually have to say a sad goodbye as they left the airport to go back to Damak. Though we had two more days in Kathmandu before leaving Nepal, it felt like the experience was really ending when we said goodbye to the three people who were responsible for the massive amounts of laughing, dancing, and general unforgettable experiences we were so lucky to have in Damak. Fortunately, like Umesh said at our farewell dinner, “The earth is round,” and you never know when you might have another chance to see the people who have touched your life.

When we arrived at the Damak airport, there were three IOM buses full of refugees who were about to board their flight to Kathmandu, on the first step toward third country resettlement. They were dressed in gorgeous colorful outfits, and many of them had red tikas with rice representing victory and white or yellow satin neck scarves for good luck. We were all grateful for the chance to have our experiences in the camps come full circle by seeing the refugees start a completely new life chapter.

Already missing Damak,

The Nepal DukeImmerse Team

Week 4: Cairo

A bittersweet goodbye from our family here in Cairo. Each of us has had different profound experiences in this journey of self-discovery, so we thought it appropriate to share each of our special memories for everyone back home.

The Monkey Boys of Cairo – Jack
Our days were long from interviews but ingrained with the excitement of the city. Police, being ever so useful here in Cairo, put concrete barriers in the most inconvenient possible places ever since things had become a bit heated over here. As Leena and I were driving back in a taxi, the driver had had enough of constantly weaving his way through crowds of people and kicked us out in the middle of Garden City. A gang of three boys not even reaching Leena’s neck came sprinting towards us, running around like they were on a sugar high before grabbing us by our hands. The boys were monkeys, dancing around around the city to help those in need and raise hell for the locals. They ushered us to a hole in the wall where we discovered that only in Egypt would people use this as an average traffic path, hopping by like it was normal. We joined along and achieved local Egyptian status by stepping through the hole, wondering our way down twisting streets and somehow getting home safe and sound.

The Graffiti Movement – Niki
We stumbled upon one of the most inspiring and tragic outdoor galleries on Mahamed Mahmoud Street by Tahrir Square. This street showcases the graffiti of Egyptian artists who have commemorated the martyrs of the Revolution and the chaos that followed between the protestors and the armed security forces. In a country where political expression has been stifled for decades, no one has been able to erase the street art covering the walls of Mahamed Mahmoud St. Whether it is depicting Queen Nefertiti with a gas mask or using charcoal and spray paint to bring the faces and voices of all the martyrs to life, this area has it all. There is a reason that this controversial and absolutely amazing area of Cairo has remained nearly untouched. Political expression has come to life on the walls of Mahamed Mahmoud St!

A Journey Through the Past of Coptic Cairo – Max
Leaving Mar Girgis Metro station, Old Cairo began to unfold before us as we stepped down from the modern cement steps onto the sacred stone ground of the Fortress of Babylon. With each step, the solid copper crosses beaconing atop the white granite churches became more and more defined as they evidenced the craftsmanship of the Coptic Orthodox artists. El Muallaqa, also known as the Hanging Church, built above a gatehouse of the Fortress welcomed us with shining mosaics of saints, which led us to the relics of Saint George and the richly decorated iconostasis. We then entered through the gates of the Coptic Museum, where we found limestone pieces of the pillars that once held up the oldest monasteries in Egypt, the world famous Coptic textiles that recounted the memories of religion, style, and social class in the medieval ages, and the icon of the Holy Family – the most revered out of the vast collection as it depicts Mary, Joseph, and infant Jesus seeking refuge in Egypt from King Harod’s persecution – luckily for Jesus, he was able to bypass the IOM’s security checks and repatriate to his home.

Sad Goodbyes, Happy Cries – Maura
We have all had the most incredible time here in Egypt, and this could not have been possible without the work of our AMAZING research assistants. Good-byes are never easy, and it was especially hard to leave people who had welcomed us so graciously into their lives. Today, we travelled to Sitta October for one last good-bye with Zahraa, Anas, Um Bashar, and Miriam. We had a delicious lunch, followed by Zahraa and Anas telling us their life story. Afterwards, we split up and had girl dance party, while the boys went off and did “boy things.” We, the Americans, were clearly outdanced, but it was so much fun to watch them move to the different Iraqi music. Although we are sad to leave, I can’t imagine a better last day with our research assistants!!

An Unexpected Visitor – Leena
They say the most memorable experiences are the least expected. After Arabic class one day, a Syrian refugee entered our apartment thinking it was a hotel. She had traveled 8 hours from a city outside of Cairo to get papers signed at the Syrian embassy. They scheduled her an appointment later and told her to find a hotel to rest at until her appointment. It was interesting to note how the group greeted her–scepticism and doubt intertwined with curiosity. Although our entire semester has been rooted in refugee studies, I don’t think anything could have prepared us for this moment. It seemed almost planned that a refugee had found our 10th floor apartment.

Dance Fever – Ciera
We attended a play produced by the staff of Nancy Barron’s Psycho-Social Training Institute in Cairo this week. The play was an outdoor extravaganza created by PSTIC to inform the Egyptian community about refugee life before and after they arrived in their country of asylum. The play highlighted the stigmas and discrimination that the ethnically distinct refugees groups that live in Egypt face from natives, and from organizations designed to assist these groups. Moreover the play highlighted the ignorance prevalent within the Egyptian community in regards to refugee issues as a whole. The play was very insightful, and it allowed the Cairo team to understand refugees’ daily struggle of living in a new land in a new light. It was also very fun to interact with the native and refugee and native children at this event! The Cairo team danced with the children at the end of the play, and learned a lot of new dance moves!

Ma’ salama Cairo, you treated us well.

The Cairo FAM