Category Archives: Al-Azhar University

graduation from al azhar & the unknown soldier memorial

Sunday, July 29: Today we have our graduation from Al Azhar’s intensive 1-month-long Arabic course.  I think I know about as much as I knew the first day I arrived.  My entrance test and my final exam had about the same scores.  Oh well, at least it’s been the adventure of a lifetime.

the group of American women studying through Al Ameen Associates at Al Azhar University

the group of American women studying through Al Ameen Associates at Al Azhar University

another group shot

another group shot

me with Lisa on the terrace overlooking the courtyard at Al Azhar University

me with Lisa on the terrace overlooking the courtyard at Al Azhar University

the "infidels" - Kevin, me, Clint, and Shannon (the only non-Muslims in the group)

the “infidels” – Kevin, me, Clint, and Shannon (the only non-Muslims in the group)

me with my diploma

me with my diploma

Lisa with her diploma

Lisa with her diploma

Lisa and me

Lisa and me

Lisa and me outside in front of Al Azhar

Lisa and me outside in front of Al Azhar

me with my diploma

me with my diploma

On our way home today, we make a stop at the Unknown Soldier Memorial, a pyramid-shaped monument in Nasr City, Cairo. President Anwar Sadat ordered its construction in 1974 in honour of Egyptians who lost their lives in the 1973 October War. It was inaugurated in October 1975. The site was also chosen for the president’s tomb after his assassination in October 1981 (Wikipedia: Unknown Soldier Memorial (Egypt)).

Unknown Soldier Memorial

Unknown Soldier Memorial

Across from the memorial are the stands where Anwar Sadat was assassinated on 6 October 1981.  An annual victory parade was being held in Cairo to celebrate Egypt’s crossing of the  Suez Canal.  Sadat was protected by four layers of security and eight bodyguards, and the army parade should have been safe due to ammunition-seizure rules. As Egyptian Air Force Mirage jets flew overhead, distracting the crowd, Egyptian army soldiers and troop trucks paraded. One troop truck contained the assassination squad, led by Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli. As the truck passed, the assassins dismounted, and Islambouli approached Sadat.  Sadat stood to receive his salute, whereupon, Islambouli threw three grenades at Sadat, only one of which exploded, and additional assassins rose from the truck, firing assault rifles into the stands. After Sadat was hit and fell to the ground, people threw chairs around him to protect him from the hail of bullets.

fatwā approving the assassination had been obtained from a cleric later convicted in the US for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The assassination was undertaken by members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.   Though it has yet to proven, it has also been theorized that Sadat’s Vice-President Hosni Mubarak and Defense Minister Abu Ghazala played in role in planning the assassination. (Wikipedia: Assassination of Anwar Sadat)

me in front of the stands where Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981

me in front of the stands where Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981

me with Lisa at the Unknown Soldier Memorial

me with Lisa at the Unknown Soldier Memorial

When I return home after class, I find this email from R.

C,

Back from a family-sort-of-reunion-thing. People from around the country getting together.  Best part was I got a chance to spend some cool pool time with my granddaughter.  2 is such a cute age.  But I’ve a whole night of grading ahead. What a way to spend a Sat. night.  Would much rather be with you.  But I bought a bottle of Bushmills to
help get me through.  Usually, grades improve as the evening wears on.  Not entirely sure why.

Anyway, I’m not sure how much more you’ll be on-line and I guess it’ll be choppy until you actually get back.  And then maybe choppy until you get settled– whatever that means.  In the meantime, if you can, let me know when you think we might get a chance to get together.  From Aug. 1 on I’m flexible, so let me know.

Can’t wait to see you.

In meantime, stay safe.

Love,
r.

In the evening, Basim comes by to pick me up and we go back to The Virginian at Muquttum Corniche.  It’s so lovely now to spend time with him.  I’ve come to enjoy his company, even though it’s been hit or miss much of the time I’ve been here.  I realize I will miss him when I leave here.

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Filed under Al-Ameen Associates, Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt, Middle East, Muquttum, Muquttum Corniche, Nasr City, The Virginian, Unknown Soldier Memorial

another day of arabic classes & a meeting at the grand hyatt cairo

Wednesday, July 25:  Another day of Arabic & Tajweed classes at Al Azhar.  After class, I pose in front of the Al Azhar University sign and Lisa snaps a photo.

me in front of the sign at Al Azhar University

me in front of the sign at Al Azhar University

This afternoon, I get another nearly incoherent email from R.

cn’t cll tdy cz hv Dr. appt n a.m.  bt wl wrt asap.

l,l,l,
r

Apparently he’s been busy texting with his grown children and has adopted the method of omitting vowels when writing.

I write back:

Are you still seeing the doc about your spider bite?  Or is this some other ailment?

I have one more Arabic class, tomorrow, and the Quran and Tajweed test tomorrow afternooon.  Lisa and I are so utterly hopeless, it will be a cruel joke for us to have to take that test.  Then the weekend, Fri and Sat, and the final test and a TV crew on Sunday.  Monday we’re off to wrap up personal business and pack and then we fly out Tuesday, Insha’allah.  I am still not at all sure they have secured our return tickets home.

I guess i will have to break down and study.   I have to admit my learning here has been a little less than stellar.  Oh well; it was a great time anyway.  And I have sooooo many interesting stories to tell (at least to me, although maybe not to anyone else!)

The young Mohammad continues to call and beg me to see him.  He’s “in love with me,” I’m “breaking his heart,” etc.  I thought I’d never hear from Basim again; however he surprised me by texting me yesterday: “How is the American beauty?  Are you still mad at me?”

I’m still sure I’ll never see him, however.  I am apparently horrible luck for anyone remotely involved with me.  You better watch out if you continue.

Well, not much else here to report.  I got a long email from Mike about the boys and Sarah and the family activities.  He apparently spent time at Bill and Kema’s in VA Beach last weekend, and spent the night with my dad.  I told Basim I thought they were all commiserating about what a horrible, irresponsible woman I am and they were growing their membership in the “Hate Cathy Club.”  I think Basim has decided to join that club, as may you in the end.

Well, take care, dear lover, dear friend.

I hope all will be well upon my return.

Oh, btw, I got my security clearance, so I am set for State Dept.
C

In the evening, I meet Ahmed Seddick, the Egyptologist, for a drink at the Grand Hyatt Cairo.  I’ve heard this is a great place to get martinis, accompanied by a great view of the Nile.  Ahmed doesn’t drink, but he agrees to meet me so I don’t have to go by myself.  It’s really so lovely.  While I’m there, I get a call from Basim and he asks if he can pick me up from the Grand Hyatt to spend a little time together.

me at the Grand Hyatt Cairo

me at the Grand Hyatt Cairo

Basim comes to pick me up and we go back to the Muquttum Corniche, where we sit outside at the Virginian Cafe.  I always think this is funny, a Virginian at the Virginian, in Cairo, Egypt.  After our fiasco in Alexandria, I find it quite funny that I have developed a greater attraction to this brain surgeon.  This is quite the opposite of what I expected.

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our tajweed class

Tuesday, July 24:  This morning, I get a response from R to my email of last night, which told him of my fiasco of a trip to Alexandria.

C,  Well, you just can’t imagine my disappointment that the trip to Alexandria was not everything that it could have been.  And I so wanted to hear of the life-changing, ‘Eureka’ moment that such a trip with a brain surgeon could bring.  C’est la vie.  I am so sorry.  But I’m very much looking forward to a wine-laden full post-mortem.  Indeed, many of them.  Hopefully more post than mortem.  But, we shall see.

As much as I love wine at the Tavern, I may have a suitable alternative (or at least additional) venue to explore.  Hopefully it is to your taste.  But, we shall see.

I appreciate the image of you hot and sweaty.  So thoughtful.  I’ll be carrying that around for some time.  And certainly II can identify with the idea of lots of showers.  I may need another one soon myself.  Oddly enough, the temperature here is quite pleasant.

All goes well.  I spent Sunday doing toilets and showers. I don’t like plumbing.  Some hiking, and I read a book for someone dying to to discuss it with me.  I’m dying to figure out just what in the fuck he thinks is valuable in this piece of shit infomercial of a book about having the ‘mind of a millionaire.’  I spent from pages 7-162 just trying to figure out how to get my $20 back from Borders.  Jeez I hate when I do something that stupid.  Other than that, just overworked, overcommitted, overwrought, overshowered, and overwhelmed.  But not over you.  Can’t wait to see you again.

Stay well.
love,
r

I head to Al Azhar again, after being absent for four days:  the weekend, the one day I skipped, and the National Holiday.  We had a crazy time in Tajweed class today with Mona.  As usual, Lisa cannot read Arabic, but she can understand it when spoken; I can read it but not understand it.  At one time today, we burst out laughing so hard we are almost in tears, because of our inability to learn these Quranic verses.

Lisa, Mona and me in Tajweed class

Lisa, Mona and me in Tajweed class

As I discussed in an earlier post, here is what Tajweed is all about:

Tajweed of the Holy Qur’an is the knowledge and application of the rules of recitation.  The goal is to read the Qur’an as the Prophet Mohammed recited it.

It is expected that you should have certain manners when reciting the Qur’an:

  • Purity of body and clothes and place.
  • Using sawak, a teeth-cleaning twig taken from the Salvadora persica tree. This is supposed to be used at every prayer or recitation of the Qur’an.
  • Facing the Qiblah, a direction that should be faced when a Muslim prays.  Muslims everywhere should pray facing this direction to achieve unity for all Muslims throughout the world.
  • Seeking refuge from rejected Satan and reading the basmalah, or the formula prayer in Islam “bismi-llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm,’ “In the name of God, the most kindly merciful.”  It is recited before each sura except for the 9th.  It is recited several times as part of daily prayers.
  • Not reading when yawning.
  • Avoiding cutting off reading to talk with people.
  • Stopping at a verse of warning and seeking protection with Allah, and stopping at a verse of mercy and asking The Merciful for His Bounty.
  • Humbleness and crying when reading.

The last rule is most definitely broken by us today with our uncontrollable laughing fits at our inability to do this recitation.  Oh dear.

Later in the evening, I get an email from R, but it seems to be quite unintelligible.

C,

Gttng rdy 2 hd hm + wntd 2 sy gnt. Bn txmging w/ sm tngrs + pkd up sm
nw trks 4 btr wys 2 cmmnct.  Isnt ths fn?  hddspf? m2. smmo.  thn I
sslfo!!! + i thgt, hly sht.  Its so comcal.  dnt u thk so?

wll, rly lvd tlkg w/ u.

s w!

l,
r

Obviously, he’s having a bit of fun acting like a teenager, omitting the vowels from words.  I have to admit I don’t even understand half of what he’s saying. 🙂

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coffee brewed on a brick at al azhar & coffee in a cairo cafe

Wednesday, July 18:  During one of our breaks at Al Azhar University today, a lady sells coffee that she brews on a large brick with a heating element of some kind in it.  What a lovely facility this Al Azhar is.  Don’t these people know it’s 2007?

the "stove" at Al Azhar University

the “stove” at Al Azhar University

the "stove" and the coffee pot

the “stove” and the coffee pot

the coffee lady

the coffee lady

After class, I get an email from R in response to my email of yesterday.

C,  Got back onto anitbiotics.  That, in theory, should solve this as the most recent prognosis {of the spider bite} is a consequent infection (cellulitise?) in the skin.  Napped all afternoon and the swelling is going down.  Color is getting better and I feel, well, napped.  I rather suspect a nap a day might be better than the antibiotics, but I’ll try the chemicals for a while. Should be enough to fix this.  I’ll keep you posted. And I’ll be completely honest about it.

Speaking of honest, no I didn’t spend the night with a student.  (You did mean female student, right? 🙂  Actually, I didn’t feel all that well and think I went through a short-term fever, which broke sometime during the night.  Weird.  I only sleep about 4 hours a night, but sleep them pretty deeply.

Speaking of honest, keep me posted on the ‘dates’ with the brain surgeon.  Or maybe not; your call.  Like you, I always like knowing where I stand so I don’t make a fool of myself.  Actually, one of my biggest fears in life is being an annoyance or extra baggage and not knowing it.  I’m quite certain it has precluded many adventures over the years because I was so afraid of being an unwanted and not knowing it. So I assume being not-wanted and act accordingly.  And yet, I’ve admired those who seem able to ignore the possibility and act boldly, and then shrug off the rejection.   I wonder if that is nurture or nature.  Oh well, something to explore.

Anyway, I’d rather be in Egypt, or NY, or Baltimore for that matter. I’m pretty burned out with this whole job thing right now and just jealous as hell about how alive you sound.  I’m not TOO bothered by Basim; that just goes with the territory.  But I do really envy how alive you sound.  So wish I could be part of that.  Damn.

Stay well, stay safe, and stay in touch.

Love,
r

In the evening, Lisa, our roommate Souhaila, and I go into Cairo to meet Lisa’s long-time Egyptian friend.  Mahmoud drives us there.  We drink coffee and chat and then return back to Muquttum after a fairly uneventful evening out.

Back: Mahmoud, Lisa and Lisa's friend; front: me and Souhala

Back: Mahmoud, Lisa and Lisa’s friend; front: me and Souhala

Mahmoud, Lisa and Lisa's friend (I forgot his name!)

Mahmoud, Lisa and Lisa’s friend (I forgot his name!)

 

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meeting the grand imam of al azhar

Sunday, July 15:  Today we go to meet someone important at Al Azhar University.  I’m not really sure who he is, but I think he’s the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar.  If he’s not the Grand Imam, then he’s the Grand Mufti.  As usual, when it comes to these official matters, I am clueless.  I really believe he’s the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, but for some reason the title Mufti keeps coming to my mind.

We all meet in the conference room at the Al Azhar headquarters

We all meet in the conference room at the Al Azhar headquarters

The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar is a respectable prestigious Sunni Islam title and a prominent official title in Egypt, and is considered by some Muslims to be the highest authority in Sunni Islamic thought and Islamic jurisprudence. The Grand Imam supervises Al-Azhar Mosque and by extension Al-Azhar University and is responsible for official religious matters along with the Grand Mufti of Egypt (Wikipedia: Grand Imam of Al-Azhar).

Someone important at Al Azhar

Someone important at Al Azhar

an important man at Al Azhar

an important man at Al Azhar

a small group shot.  The Grand Imam (I think) is the man between Shannon and me (in the blue)

a small group shot. The Grand Imam (I think) is the man between Shannon and me (in the blue)

The Grand Mufti is the highest official of religious law in a Sunni of Ibadi Muslim country. The Grand Mufti issues legal opinions and edicts, fatāwā, on interpretations of Islamic law for private clients or to assist judges in deciding cases. The collected opinions of the Grand Mufti serve as a valuable source of information on the practical application of Islamic law as opposed to its abstract formulation. The Grand Mufti’s fatāwā are not binding precedents in areas of civil laws regulating marriage, divorce, and inheritance. In criminal courts, the Grand Mufti’s recommendations are generally not binding either (Wikipedia: Grand Mufti).

If any of my Egyptian readers can identify this important man, I would love to hear who he is.  He was in the position in July 2007.

Inside Al Azhar official offices

Inside Al Azhar official offices

me in a headscarf and dressed very conservatively for this visit

me in a headscarf and dressed very conservatively for this visit

Me in Muslim dress

Me in Muslim dress

This evening, I get another email from R:

C,
Thanks for all the emails. And thanks for the details,

Why am I taking cold showers???  Well, Duh!!  Damn, girl.  And you went to W&M??  Yeah frustrated.  And yeah, thoughts of you.  And Moshen and Muhammed, and Ali and Gathbiyya, and every other 20 something stud in Egypt.  And then the brain surgeon!?!?

Hey, sure I enjoy my weekends.  I enjoy every single day the best I can.  Carpe Diem.  But I’m not the one collecting young boyriends like baseball cards. And the brain surgeon?  I was one for a while.  Didn’t work all that well because I only became a good liar later in life.  Ask him whether to saginate the third ventricular cortex or the pineal region when measuring the reach of cancer metasizing from the liver.  If he has any answer at all, try the phoney number.

Glad you’re living each day.  Soo very glad.  But my cold showers are new.  And they have your name all over them.

Well, I wish there was something more exciting to tell about, but, well, there isn’t. Anyway, gotta go cuz I got a new shampoo I’m just dying to try out.  Catch you later, after the surgeon, or the wedding, or Anwar or something.

Stay safe.  I  miss you.

R

p.s., I really do miss you, so much.

Late this evening, I get a text message from Basim, regarding his day at work today and our time together last night:  My day have just finished minutes ago.  Then you can imagine how it was.  Yesterday was quite lovely. Thanks for accepting my invitation.  You looked great in your green outfit.

I am quite pleased with his compliment, as last night I was ready to jump across the table and kiss him.  I’m happy to know he felt the same. 🙂

I text him back to tell him I really enjoyed the evening and I thank him in return.  He writes: Not at all.  It is always a pleasure to be with intelligent nice-looking lady.

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another day at al azhar

Monday, July 9:  Today is another miserable day at Al Azhar University in our derelict classroom with its barely functioning air conditioner.  We liven things up a bit by taking photos of our motley little class.

our teacher

our teacher, Heba, and Matiniah, Dr. Jones’ wife

Anita, the teacher, me and Matinya

Anita, Heba, me and Rabia

Matinya, Anita, teacher and me

Rabia, Anita, Heba and me

In the evening, I do some laundry and pay 15 Egyptian pounds for a dinner of meatballs, mashed potatoes, and carrots made by a local Egyptian woman. It seems a little strange to eat an American-style dinner made by an Egyptian, but it is good!

After dinner, I check my emails and am pleased to get an email from R, a man I started seeing in early June.  It is still early in our relationship and we are still in the heady days of mutual discovery.  There is no commitment on either side.  But in June, before I came to Egypt, we enjoyed each other’s company immensely.

He writes, in response to an email I sent him about my experiences so far:

Thank you so much for the details.  It is such a joy to be a part of your experience.  I’m not troubled by the details; I relish them.  I geared myself up for you having a full-blown, way-out-there, grab-all-you-can-grab experience in Egypt.  That is just what I would do.  In our race with death, I know that both of us are desperate to take advantage of every delicacy that life has to offer.  While I am surely of two minds on certain experiences, I fully anticipated that you would maximize all tastings that come your way.  And I would never want to be in the way of that.  “Of all the words of quill and pen,  the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.'”

I rather assumed that the fullness of your adventures by now would have moved me to a back burner, en route for the left-overs pile. That it seems not to be the case yet I take as a very positive thing for me.  And, as for details, it is so much better to know (and relish) what is going on than to imagine what could be going on.  Been there, done that, and I cannot tell you how special it is for me to have someone with whom I can be so honest and open.  I can now see why shrinks are so popular.

Moreover, it is such a joy to just read your words.  I poke my head into gmail several times a day just to check for the new and to re-read the old.  Makes me feel closer.  Envisioning the actual miles between us is a bit more than my 3-D mind can do.  But having you so close electronically is comforting.

Things here progressing well.  Same ole frustrations, and same ole positives.  All in all, I’m cool.  More disciplined now.  Writing on schedule.  Working out more.  Taking a bit more charge of my job environment with command decisions (which is annoying people) and some successful trouble-shooting.  So things better here.

But lonely.

Stay safe, enjoy to the max., and share as much as you are able.

MUM, ~ R

I email him back and, surprisingly, he calls me on my mobile.  I miss picking up the call and so I call him back.  He says, “Oh my God!  It sounds like you’re so close!”  He’s happy to hear my voice and I’m happy to hear his. We laugh a lot, as we always seem to do when we’re together.

After we hang up, I get to work studying my Arabic.  Later, R calls again to tell me is listening to the CD he gave me before I came to Egypt, the soundtrack from the Brad Pitt movie, The Mexican.  Since R and I met in Mexico in May, it was the perfect gift.  When he calls back I tell him the funny story about how I used “Dusharufna” with the Egyptians to say “Pleased to meet you,” and they laughed their heads off because the Arabic translation is something horribly formal, like “Honored to make thou acquaintance.”

In the earlier email to R, I had told him about my time at the Muquttum Corniche with Basim, the brain surgeon.  R tells me on the phone that he felt a “pang” to hear about the brain surgeon, but he loves my honestly and wants me to tell him anything and everything.

Later that same evening, he sends another email:

Thanks so much for calling.  It was great to hear your voice.  After,  I thought I’d listen to the album. Very comforting, and a connection.  Me gusto mucho.

I’ve a terrible feeling I’m not saying the right things about details.  Sorry.  It’s a knack of mine.

Well, good night (or good morning, as appropriate).  I’ve got some  listening, and remembering, to do.

Ciao.  ~ R

After hearing from him, I get back to some heavy-duty studying.  It’s hard to concentrate on my studies with all the daydreaming about R.

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a tabletop chalkboard, back to city stars and an evening at muquttum corniche

Sunday, July 8: The facilities at Al Azhar University are horrible.  The classroom has an air conditioner, but it barely works.  The teacher uses an upturned table as a chalkboard.  The entire room, including our tables and chairs, is decrepit and dirty.  On top of that, all women are required to wear the hijab while at the university, which makes the heat doubly uncomfortable.  I just count the seconds to get through the day.  I am learning some Arabic, but the teacher speaks English so it is not a full immersion, which is what I expected it would be.

our teacher and her tabletop white board

our teacher and her tabletop white board

Lisa plays “sick” today because she needs to go to the American Embassy for some kind of documentation over a claim she is making against an Egyptian with whom she was involved in the past.  So, I am stuck in Tajweed today alone with Mona.  It’s horrible without Lisa there. 😦

Once I get out of class, I take a taxi immediately to City Stars Mall, where I bought my phone yesterday.  I can’t make calls on the phone, so I want to get them to help me with it.  They do, and when I finish I take a taxi back to Muquttum.

I am finally able to text Mohsen my number, after which I do some laundry and eat a dinner I prepare on our disgusting stove.

Basim, the brain surgeon, calls and we go to the Muquttum Corniche, which are really cliffs looking out over Cairo.   There is quite a lively commotion in the narrow parking area with a jumble of cars honking, a gang of motorcycles revving engines, and battles over limited parking.  Basim finally parks his old Mercedes and we sit at a plastic table and drink banana juice and cardamom tea.  When I realize there is no place to put my tea bag, I say, “In America, we have plates to put our tea bags.”  He says, “Yes, but we’re in Egypt, so we put them here on the table.”

I say, “I’m older than you, you know.”  He says, “I know you’re older.  I figure you’re about 40.”  I don’t say a word to refute that, even though I’m actually 51. I ask him his age and he tells me he’s 34.  Hmm.

I tell him about my marriage and my children and our separation and I don’t know what he thinks about that as he’s a conservative Muslim and doesn’t drink or do anything improper.

We have a lot of laughs as he tells me a hilarious story of taking a bus in Houston (which now I sadly don’t remember) and I tell him the story of Lisa and Mahmoud and their free Presidential Cruise on the Nile.

When we leave the Corniche, we have to fight to untangle ourselves from the knot of honking cars in the parking area.  He yells at the other drivers and the other drivers yell at him.  What a noisy ending to a lovely night. 🙂

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Filed under Al-Azhar University, Cairo, City Stars Mall, Egypt, Middle East, Muquttum, Muquttum Corniche