Monday, October 30, 2006

Egypt





Egypt has come and gone, and it has left us with many great friends, memories, and PHOTOS! Unfortunate for all you, our dedicated followers, one thing Egypt didn't have was good internet connection capabilities. I am now writing from Israel, which is an enormous contrast to Egypt! Israel is pretty much a little America, and is much cleaner, modern, and of course expensive, than Egypt. To give you a quickcomparisonn, Israel so far has costed roughly the same as most things cost in the good ol' USA, however our last night of accommodation on the beach in Egypt cost 10 Egyptian pounds a nightequivalentnt to less than 2 USD a night. The cheapest, and our favorite meal in Cairo, Falafel sandwich, cost 75 Egyptian cents, about 15 American cents, and petrol costs like 40 cents a gallon. So you get it, pretty cheap.

We hit up four big locations in Egypt, first big stop was Luxor, which is a major tourist city, loaded with the Luxor and Karnak temples, Valley of the Kings and Queens, hundreds of beautiful tombs and thousands of years of interesting history, it's no wonder Luxor sees so many visitors each year. However, from what I noticed, the Egyptian economy is overdependant on tourism, and most people in the city have nothing else to do rather than constantly hassle the tourists trying to get their money in one way or another.

Despite all the attempted scams, hassling I never felt threatened, in danger, or uneasy in the city. Actually I felt that way for all of Egypt, despite all the warnings I got from people before traveling there (Mostly from Americans who have never been to Egypt before, "What you're going to Egypt? Wow, your brave, be careful." Travel to Egypt broke a lot of the stereotypes I had before ever entering the countrafterAftrer exploring the variety of temples, tombs, and sites that Luxor had to offer, Mr. Ryan Brandle, Aaron, and myself (MrRyan) hired a private driver to escort us through the desert. We visited a few Oasises, camped out in the desert for two nights and even visited a Magical spring! As corny as the name sounds the "magical spring" was the highlight of the excursion. It's a deep water spring, that is over a thousand meters deep, but the water is rising so fast that you can't swim against it, and its an effort even to get further than 5 or 6 feet down. The result is a strange feeling of floating on water on a thousand little bubbles that give the bottoms of your feet a little massage.

Cairo gave me the most hospitable welcome of any city I have visited this trip. It seems that every person in the city had a meeting before we arrived and agreed on saying the same three lines, "Hello, how are you" "Where are you from" "Welcome to Cairo!". A lot of people would just yell, ‘Welcome to Cairo’ but we heard all sorts of variants from “Welcome to Cairo, I love you” to “You have a beautiful face. Like I said, they are very nice people. We also were in Cairo for “the Feast” which is the three day festival that follows Ramadan. For those who don’t know about Ramadan, all Muslim people must not eat, dring, smoke, or really do anything pleasurable from 4:30 in the morning until 5:30pm every day for the holy month of Ramadan. Following Ramadan they just go crazy and close everything in the city (except restaurants) and start eating everything they were denied for the past 30 days. For the last night of Ramadan, Brandle decided it would be exciting to head down the street, where hundreds and hundreds of places were set for anyone who was around, and ask if we could join them for dinner (Ramadan Breakfast). We were greeting more warmly than anything I had ever experienced, almost everyone at the table, all of whom were starving, jumped out of their seats to offer us a place at the table, and when the food did come, they would offer us all the food we could eat, and more. It was very nice, but it did make us uncomfortable since there were homeless, starving people sitting around begging for food (all the food was provided free of charge, but supplies are limited) and the people around us would steal food from the homeless people to give to us, their guests. We did what could to not take too much food, yet not be rude and ended up splitting one dinner’s worth of food between the four of us. (Everyone but Nithin, who is in Nepal).

Our last stop was very chill, and brief. It was a small town called Nuwebia, which is on the Red Sea coast, offering ferries to Jordan, an hour’s bus trip to Israel, and across the sea from Saudi Arabia. We lived in straw huts, and lounged on the beach all day at a very reasonable price ($1.80 a day). But alas, after two relaxing, hassle free days, we had decided that it was time to move on, working with limited time, and set off for the holy land, Israel. If it greets us with half the hospitality of Egypt I know we will have an unbelievable time!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Nithin: Nepal Update

Happy Tihar from Nepal!

Tihar is a festival, more commonly known around the world as Divali or Deepavali, that takes place over 5 days. Today is the last day of the festivities. The streets are lit with candles, mischievous children throwing deafening fireworks in your face (my ear is still ringing), prayer flags and children going from house to house asking for money or rice.

My stay in Nepal is through a local run non-profit organization, INFO Nepal, which runs orfhanages and assists in aiding rural Nepalis to learn english and good sanitation habits. In Kathmandu, I stayed at an orphanage with other volunteers and children, learning nepali, eating dhal bhaat with our hands, and truly immersing myself in the local culture in a way I've been unable to in any other country.

Tonight, my real adventure begins, as I head to a village outside the Kathmandu valley where I will be staying with a Nepalese family and teaching english in a local Government school. Should be interesting. Photos to come once I find fast internet!

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Nithin: Sultans and Censorship - The United Arab Emirates

Im 23 years old. That's 8395 days, give or take a few hundred. Of those days, 8391 were spent in Democratic nations, where freedom of speech, religion, and other rights were
guaranteed.

The last four days have been spend in the United Arab Emirates, where the freedoms I had
taken for granted my entire life do not exist.

The UAE consists of seven relatively autonomous Emirates, each ruled by a Sultan with absolute power. Sharjah, the Emirate I flew into and broke my Democratic monopoly in, is
considered the most conservative Emirate, where women and men who are not married are
forbidden from spending the night in the same room. Where you can be arrested for wearing
shorts, if you're a woman. Where during Ramadan, it is illegal to eat or drink in public. Want
to visit a website? Couchsurfing, Craigslist, numerous political and news sites, and all "adult"
sites. Censored and blocked.

Dubai, the most well known of the Emirates, is only slightly better. Rapid economic growth has changed Dubai's ethnic composition dramatically in the last 10 years. Now, only 20% of the population of the city is native Emirati, the remaining 80% being rich western expats, other Arabs, but mostly, low-wage laborers from South Asia. The construction boom that is endemic in Dubai is being built by workers with no rights, low wages, and shoddy transportation.

During my two days in Dubai, I rode the cities public transportation system, the antiquated system that takes workers from their shantytowns, far out of sight of the Emirati and ex-pat community, to the shopping malls and skyscrapers of the city. The buses run infrequently, are overcrowded, and can take hours to cross the city, which is not terribly large. Moreover, no one uses the buses but the migrant workers, the first sign of how, in a city so cosmopolitan, the various ethnicities rarely mix. Being Indian myself, I was able to blend in seamlessly, an Arab Emirati would have been terribly out of place. None of the laborers are citizens of the Emirates, and they will never be citizens. A large, but discreet, police presence keeps order in a country where the numbers just do not add up. How can the Emirates keep the vast majority of its population under wraps, to keep the Emirati minority wealthy and the rich westerners and Corporations happy?

Many of the South Asians that I spoke to are in the Emirates for only one reason - money.
Most plan to return to India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh someday. They don't see hope in
the Emirates, but also don't see the power to make a difference in themselves. Many
complained of wage discrimination, for example, how all business dealing required an Emirati partner, who would do nothing but cash in. Many spoke about how their work was taken for granted, and often were astounded that I, a “rich” foreigner, actually cared enough to ask them about their families and their well being.

Such remarks reminded me that, amidst all of our problems, we do have something great in America. We must work to preserve what we have, and not allow money and financial gain to allow us to treat other humans with inhumane disrespect.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Internet Again!

Salam alekom! I have finally arrived in Egypt, which I believe means I am actually in Portion 4 since tomorrow I will greet Mr. Ryan Brandle at the airport and Mr. Tobias will be arriving the next day, so some of the trippers will actually be travelling together again! But another exiciting fact about arriving in Egypt is that I finally have some free time to just sit around and lounge, ahhhhh. The past three weeks I think I have seen 16 cities in 21 days, and very very few chances to get online, its exahausting being a tourist. Egypt during Ramadan however is the perfect place to just lounge. I think, because of Ramadan, there are far fewer tourists in the town, and those who do live here just sit around all day in the streets, waiting for 5:30 to come so they can have "Ramadan Breakfast" or their first meal of the day. I think Ramadan is even wearing on the street vendors because they seem much less energetic and hassel-ish than I would expect.

I have to catch up on internet stuff, so I leave you with a special treat. A photo of the street I live on. It's a pretty cosy place...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Nithin: Ramadan in Turkey

Im hungry.

Not that finding food is difficult during Ramadan. Just down the road, here in Trapzon, Turkey, along the Black Sea coast, is a restaurant full of Turks enjoying Kebabs. Here is this internet cafe, no one is smoking, one of the most welcome respites of Ramadan which also restricts smoking during the day.

Actually, most Ramadan abiding Turks have complained that smoking is the hardest thing to give up, and when the prayer call rings at sunset, they reach for their Malboros. But the keyword is Ramadan abiding Turks.

"Are you Ramadan?"

In Ankara, the Burger King's are full, stands are selling food everywhere. Even the bars are filled, albeit not to their pre-Ramadan levels, but still full. Turkey is a secular country, and many choose not to follow Ramadan, especially young people. The same young people who no longer dawn headscarfs.

In the smaller towns, things are a bit different. I'd always wondered how children deal with Ramadan - do parents force young Children to fast? The answer - no. Some children fast during the morning, but parents rarely force young kids to go without food and water all day. So many Kebeb shops and fast food stands stay open during Ramadan in smaller town, to serve the children! And to serve me. Just imagine, me, grown, 23, enjoying my Kebab in a diner full of famlies with only the young children eating. Ahhh!

In Ramadan, the tides of change that are rushing through modern, secular, westward bound Turkey are more apparent then even. The masses of Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir differ greatly from the smaller towns of Goreme, Safranbolu, and Trabzon. No way is superiour, but the attitudes and culture is remarkably different. I wish I'd have the chance to check out Konya, the 5th biggest city in Turkey and a conservative Islamic stronghold.

I've been told Ramadan is a completely different story in the United Arab Emirates, where I am heading next week. We shall see!

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Nithin: From One Continent to Another

After 6 months of travelling (the point I reached yesterday, coincidentally on the first day of Ramadan), you become...complacent. Culture shock? After 15 countries and 180 days on the road, nothing can shock me! Throw your street food at me, my hardened stomach can handle that! Bumpy night bus for 10 hours? Pshhh! I've done worse!

Of course, I'd spent 5 of those 6 months in the first world, but let's ignore that fact. As I crossed the ferry from Ecebat, Turkey, to Cannakale, Turkey (or, in more dramatic, layman's terms, from EUROPE to ASIA), sipping apple tea with TJ's brother and two New Zealanders, that I decided - this is it. This is my symbolic, iconographic, momentour halfway point of my trip. What better way, sailing the Dardanelles, where the Crusaders had swept down to Damascus from, from one continent to another.

Where's the damn "Welcome to Asia" sign?!

Of course, nothing is as symbolic in reality as the movie. I was too busy talking to even notice that'd we'd docked in Asia, and upon getting back onto my bus, forgot even to take a photo.

Asia decided to greet me...Asian style. From inside, specifically, from the stomach. Then outwards...over and over again.

But you don't want to hear about that, do you?

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Nithin: Portion 3 Photos from Turkey

Some Photos from Turkey to wet your appetite.




















The Blue Mosque in Istanbul, the first mosque I ever went inside.















Memorial to a troop that lost every soldier...except one, the lucky Mustafa Kemel Ataturk, father of Turkey.














I decided not to do that. Ruins of Ephesus.

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