Sunday, May 20, 2012

Finishing up the first week

Well.  Where to start.

Yesterday was such a long, fun day.  We started by visiting the step pyramids at Sakara.  These pyramids were build by the hollywood-made-famous engineer Imhotep for the King Djoser from the Old Kingdom.  Djoser did not build a regular pyramid, but rather a pyramid with six distinguished steps.  The seventh step signifies heaven.  After this we went to the bent pyramid and King Sinfru's pyramid.  We were able to go into a few, which meant climbing through a one meter high walkway for about 35 meters.  It was built one meter high so that anyone entering had to bow and show respect for the king.  I also rode a camel at Djoser's complex which was definitely interesting.

After this, we went to Memphis, the first capital city of Egypt.  We saw several statues of King Ramses II and the second largest Sphinx statue to be found.

The highlight of the day was that Dr. Hamad was able to bring in Dr. Amed, the president of the newly formed Egyptian Nor party.  His presence was a huge honor and such a great opportunity for us.  He began by explaining his history in being involved in the revolution.  He actually started in the 1970's by becoming involved in student unions that worked to represent Islamic views and traditions.  Dr. Amed served as a medical doctor and the groups overall purpose was to correct misunderstandings of Islam, and provide education and services for the poor.  This activism started under Sadat, and continued into Mubarak's rule.  While Mubarak was in office the Islamists were persecuted.  Even the schools and hospitals they built would be nationalized and then infiltrated and destroyed.

All of Egypt new that after the 2005 elections, Mubarak no longer represented Egyptian's views.  He won "96%" of the vote.  The two people who protested this were arrested and sent to jail.  Egyptians knew the election was rigged and stopped participating in the political process.

The entire political landscape of Egypt became geared towards preparing Mubarak's son to take over once his father became to old to continue.  The idea of the son-succession made Egyptians sick.  All the poverty and brutality they had endured for 30 years could not continue.

After the revolution, political parties began to form.  The first party was the Freedom and Justice party, followed by the Party of the Muslim Brotherhood.  The Nor party is the most recent.  Criticism that the party has taken over the fruits of the revolution, according to the Nors, is incorrect.  They claim the cause has run in Salafi Islam for several years, and there are even young revolutionaries in the Nor party.  The Nors have begun to gain international recognition.

The Nor party is not running a candidate in this election.  They believe the most important thing is for the elections to be free and fair, and for democracy to set in.  After the other parties began to back candidates, the Nor party extensively interviewed the 13, and decided to support Fotouh.  Fotouh, however, is not formally a member of the Nor party.

Dr. Amed was clearly a politician in answering questions.  He definitely spoke about a lot of important issues, but I don't believe all questions were properly answered.  Poverty, for example.  We all agree it must be addressed, but the matter of how was not addressed.  The younger spokesperson with him did make some very interesting proposals about entrepreneurship and inequality, similar to the theories of John Meynerd Keynes good inequality in a capitalist system.

There were also some major issues we, as a group, decided to not question about.  After the fact, I wish we would have but at the time no one wanted to offend.  For example, women's rights and Israel were not mentioned at all.

Our second speaker, a Professor at Cairo University, taught us about the local government system in Egypt.  He explained the problems with rural government systems and proposed a remedy.  Instead of appointments, he believes there should be a Leadership Academy for potential candidates, and appointments would then be chosen by the graduates of this academy.  He also recommended reforms for the Bureaucracy.

Today we went to the great pyramids, for King Qubes.  They were impressive.  Going into the great pyramid was even cooler.  It's one of the only pyramids to actually have burial chambers inside the pyramid.  It took over 100,000 people to build it.  Qubes also built three smaller pyramids behind his own for his queens.  His father's and grandfather's pyramids were in the same complex, along with the biggest Sphynx.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Day 2

I should start by updating about the end of day 1.  We played water polo (our team won, likely due to professor hamad) and then had an expert in Egyptian Microfinance speak with us.  Development economics is my favorite subfield, and I know our professor asked this specific speaker in to interest the economics majors.  She was wonderful and gave a great history of Egyptian micro finance.  She talked about how it is mostly provided by NGOs to groups of women.  The women-group-lending makes up 70% of micro finance here.  Individual finance and privatization are beginning to become a trend, but its still in the first stages.  

Most interesting was the amount of success this country has had with Microcredit.  The default rate for group lending is almost zero, and the graduated system allows for eventual financial inclusion for the active poor.  Also heartening was that the evils of privatization have not reaped havoc on poor Egyptians yet.  They have a lack of trust and a general disadvantage here, unlike in the Punjab province of India where they have created unhealthy lending habits and even lead to the suicides of some farmers.  I'm glad Egypt's industry is fairly successful.  

Today was Friday and we went to the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities.  Our tour guide, Achmed, who is an Egyptologist, gave us a brief description of Egyptian history while we drove to the museum.  There were two regions in Egypt- upper kingdom and lower kingdom.  The ancient history begins around 5000 BC if I remember correctly and is divided into 30 dynasties with 3 periodic kingdoms.  The museum was mind-blowing.  There were so many statues and hieroglyphics; i'm astonished Achmed was able to memorize where they all came from.  Most well known is the tomb of King Tutankamun (sp?).  He ruled from the age of 10 to 20 and had the most treasure in his tomb.  He was buried in four sarcophaguses, the inside one made of solid gold.  We also saw several mummies, including the mummy of King Rameses II and several animal mummies.  Even a Gazelle, which was cool for me to see.  

It was unbearably hot today and by the time we left the un-airconditioned museum I was so hungry I thought I was going to fall over.  Luckily, we went to a wonderful restaurant and had Koshery-- a traditional Egyptian working class, vegetarian, lunch.  (pictures below).  It definitely blew American food out of the water.  

After lunch we did a little shopping and returned to the hotel where I napped, and then listened to a participant of the revolution tell his story.  It was so neat to hear from someone that was on the ground on January 25-28 and to hear him talk about Friday of Rage when they stormed through the bridge into Tahrir Square and drove out the police.  This lack of security resulted in a need for Egyptian men to guard their neighborhoods every night all night for looting.  It was wonderful to hear about the solidarity and faith/energy of the young Egyptians.  

Lastly, we had seafood (again, blows American food out of the water) and discussed the best outcome for the Egyptian elections-- how will they measure the success of the revolution? I believe that if any member of Mobarak's former regime, such as front runner Amr Moussa (sp?), wins protests will again break out.  Its a sad truth that it may take Egypt a very long time to become the consolidated democracy it desires.   I will follow Amartya Sen and say that to measure success in Egypt the people must be equipped with the freedom of choice.  To choose the paths of their lives- no level of poverty or social class should stop any one humans development choice.  

Tomorrow we see the step pyramids.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

In Egypt!

We finally made it to Cairo.  I'm so jet lagged I'm completely confused about what day it is and what time it is back home.  It feels like I've just been awake for so many consecutive hours.... and I have no sense of time.  With that said, I think I'm tired but unable to sleep because everything is so beautiful.

Our hotel is legitimately incredible.  It's really a first class resort.  I love the people and the food, but up on the balcony you can see past the walls they have erected for tourism.  Past the walls is the barren desert.  I want to see more of that.  Staying in a fake resort seems so opposite of the reason I want to be here.

There are a few things very different from America here.  First, cigarette smoking is allowed almost everywhere.  Very different.  Also, there is a beday in my hotel room.  I discovered this on accident when I turned the knob for the beady intending to flush the toilet and water shot out and hit the mirror.  Quite shocking.

Today is Thursday here and we have slept a little and had breakfast.  We talked with our Hotel Lounge Manager about Egyptian politics and the revolution.  She was so interested in our opinions.  She very much supports Amr Moussa-- the more conservative, experienced candidate.  She also spoke of how the tourism industry has been affected by the revolution and how she feels there is a lack of nationalism in Egypt.  As she put it, at one point in time Egypt was a great, powerful country and all Egyptians should see the potential and want to get back there.  They should have hope for their country and confidence that, maybe not right away, but eventually the revolution will take effect and democracy will ensue.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Layover in Turkey

I have made it to Turkey! The flight was pretty long, but Turkish airlines was far superior to any domestic airline and I was very comfortable.

The Turkish airport has been a bit of a struggle.  Our professor, Dr. Hamad, told us we should purchase entry into a lounge-- this includes showers, food, wifi, the works.  There's a catch to the lounge though, you have to pay with a visa card (something I was not immediately equipped with).  They do not accept any form of discover card or currency. To make a long story short, my traveling buddy, Ian, and I got stuck in the airport wandering around trying to figure out someway to enter the lounge.  It was frustrating but overall a neat experience.  I didn't think about how difficult something like using a pay phone would be in a foreign airport.  We did meet an Italian designer, who was traveling from California to Moldavia.  She was helpful in finding a solution to entering the lounge.

At long last we made it in, thanks to help from some friends.  It was definitely worth the wait as they serve sushi and fresh, hot food-- definitely an oasis in our travel thus far.

We leave for Cairo at 12:30p.m. Turkish time, so for those in America it will be around 5:30.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Story Begins

For anyone who doesn't know, my name is Hannah and the next seven months of my life will be full of international travel.  My first engagement is in Egypt for three weeks, followed by a four month semester in Argentina.  I will be studying in both places.  I'm going to use this blog to track what I learn and describe my experiences.  

Right now I am sitting in the airport trying to wrap my head around the fact that I will be in Egypt in 24 hours.  I have been waiting for this trip for so long it seems surreal that it's actually here! Our flight to Istanbul leaves in two hours so Goodbye Chicago.  Salem Egypt!