Archives for June 2010

Everyone’s a jerk compared to Gandhi.

Except babies.

After a good four hour sleep, we headed down to the front desk to inquire about breakfast. Breakfast was served on the roof under forced shade and weak ceiling fans. We ate while listening to some Australians [which I’ve decided have my least favorite accent of English speakers] and I couldn’t stop giggling. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing this show, you’d know why. [Watch a quick clip!]

During breakfast we met, Triin, a teacher traveling from Estonia. The three of us planned a car trip out to Agra the next day, and thankfully she decided to join us for the current day’s excursions as well. It was a blessing to have her help us get oriented. Off we went in an auto rickshaw…

Our first stop was at Gandhi Smriti, the location of Gandhi’s final 144 days as well as his assassination. Inside the museum you can see Gandhi’s bedroom and his worldly possessions. Kind of makes you feel like a materialistic jerk, no matter how minimally you try to live.

The first floor of the museum reminded me of an old Subway restaurant. Remember how the walls were decorated with old newspapers? The museum featured about a zillion black and white photos of Gandhi and important quotes from both Gandhi and his admirers. Just as I was thinking the place might need a little help with its curating, I stepped upstairs.

Not counting OMSI, this is the most interactive museum visit I’ve experienced. Every display involved the visitor. Whether you were placing wooden figures on a screen to make them talk or scattering “salt”to learn about the Salt Boycott, there was something for the museum guest to do.

Outside you can see the exact spot Gandhi was shot, as well as follow the footprints of his final steps.

The experience left me wishing I knew much much more about the famous vegetarian. Perhaps that’s a biography I should add to my list.

xo, jill

"Ok, this is a little crazy but…"

Molly has the best ideas.

Feeling the need for one last quick getaway before summer, Molly proposed we take a little trip…to India! Knowing that both of us want to one day spend a significant period of time in the country, we decided that this would just be a little sampler of a trip.

After some quick visa processing at the Indian embassy, we finalized our itinerary, which was anything but sane. We left Abu Dhabi late on Thursday night and arrived in New Delhi around 4am Friday morning. Friday and Saturday were for exploration until we were scheduled to fly back to Abu Dhabi, arriving just minutes before we were due at work Sunday morning. Plenty of time.

Well the first bit of excitement happened just as we landed in New Dehli. I suddenly realized that I gave our hostel the incorrect flight number. I was really nervous that no one would be there to pick us up. Guess what? No one was there to pick us up! Trying to remain calm (Molly was better at that than me*), I called the hostel. Oops! Not only did I give them the wrong flight number, I also gave them the wrong date! The taxi driver had arrived the previous day and waited for us for 4 hours… Ahem. The hostel sent him out again to get us and after only a 30 minute wait we were on our way!

It was tough to get a good first view of the city in the dark with our sleepy eyes. Turns out our hostel was on an “underdeveloped” road too rough for our taxi to drive down. We had an escort take us from the road down a narrow alley to our hostel. Sometimes you just have to trust [but don’t worry Mom and Dad, I never ignore the funny “danger” feeling in my tummy!].

Happy to have arrived we plopped ourselves down on our bed and fell fast asleep. We needed plenty of rest if we were going to tackle the country in just two days!

xo, jill

*Normally a situation like this would have me freaked out. I’m pretty proud that I was able to remain fairly calm and take care of business. However, all the credit should go to my wonderful travel companion who was so understanding of my mistake and not worried a bit. I’m going to have to channel her during my solo travel time this summer.

Mission Accomplished.

And I already miss them.

The end of the year wrapped up in a bit of a chaotic mess. The students were scheduled to attend their last day of school on June 3rd. Naturally, because this is the UAE, that means they unofficially stopped attending on May 27th.

It’s amazing how flexible I have become teaching here (did you hear that local school districts?). For example, on May 7th I spoke with my vice principal and I told her I planned to give my final exam on May 30. She quickly informed me that this was impossible! Grades were due May 11th! Eep! I had the weekend to write three final exams and prepare reviews. Then I had one day to grade the exams and figure final grades for my students. First semester I would have flipped. Second semester, no problem. It will be done… in’shallah.

In anticipation of our final days together, I made my girls a sweet gift and planned a party. We were going to play games, watch a slideshow of our year together, and settle a bet by eating apple pie. (My students are convinced that pie = pizza & pizza = pie… please). Unfortunately, the party coincided with a nasty case of food poisoning. Being the devoted teacher that I am, I dragged myself out of bed for the celebration. Needless to say, my girls came to school wild and excited for the party.

Imagine this:

Ms. Jill laying on the couch in the teachers room half asleep trying to keep as still as possible when all of a sudden a throng of grade two girls burst in screaming…

G2: “Ms. Jill! Ms. Jill come!”
MJ: “I cannot. I am sick.”
G2: “Come! Ms. Jill come!”
MJ: “I cannot. Ms. Jill sleeping, then Ms. Jill [makes motion of vomit]! I cannot come.”
G2: “Ms. Jill come, Shahad Khamis… come…”

Suddenly three more grade twos burst in the door struggling to carry… this…

Now I feel like a jerk for deflecting their invitations to come to the classroom. Slowly and carefully I raised myself off the couch and followed the girls down to our room. Oh my. The cutest thing ever. As soon as I enter the room the girls start singing/shouting “Happy Birthday Ms. Jill” from their hiding places. They threw me a surprise party! [Note: My birthday is in Februrary]. The singing then changed to “Happy Birthday Grade 2!” and several other student names. Apparently “happy birthday” is a synonym for regular plain “party”. The board [that they are not allowed to draw on] was decorated with adorable love notes.

Sadly, despite my heroic efforts to attend school that day, the principal sent all the students home early. We didn’t get to party down!

The schoolwide party was scheduled for Thursday, the last day of the week. The teachers explained that once the party is finished, the students will no longer attend school. It was a big and exciting day! The girls were exempt from wearing their uniforms and instead opted for… this..


For the first good hour of the day the girls ran wild through the school. Next we played silly games and ate tons of food the mothers brought in. I snuck my girls away to finally have our party… unfortunately we only made it through the slideshow before the bus lady came in to scream at the girls to get on the bus. The students were being sent home early! Party plans foiled again!

As the girls ran out the door I struggled to pin their gifts to their dresses. There was a lot of shouting and a definite absence of “goodbyes.” No worries, I’m happy to report that I’ll be looping up with my class next year. Hello Grade 3!

xo, jill

Spoiler Alert

To be fair, we had been warned.

If your personal travel fantasy predominantly features Egypt, you should probably stop reading. Seriously. I don’t want to be the one to deflate your dreams. Or maybe you’d appreciate a cautionary tale?

Now that I’ve given you the storybook view of our trip, let’s get real.


I knew what I was getting into… but not really. A friend visited Cairo during our winter holiday and had little positive to say. He was hassled for [monetary] tips incessantly. Another friend visited Cairo during our Eid holiday and provided a marginally better report. She was hassled by the men aggressively. But… you know… it’s Egypt. It’s the pyramids. We had to go!

Honestly, those two and a half days in Egypt were the most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt traveling. (Well… I’m not counting walking back to our hostel in Lima… passing prostitutes and discovering a porn shoot… that was awkward too…).

Our first morning we set out to visit the pyramids with a taxi driver contracted through our hostel. We were given the impression that our only option was to ride a camel or a horse to the pyramids. We were told it was a 12km walk through the sand and that it could not be done. If we had done more research… we would have known this was largely bull****. We found ourselves in a high pressure situation with few options. After negotiating a better price for our camel ride, it wasn’t so bad… until I saw the camels.

Maybe you remember my post about the elephants of Thailand? Yep, I felt like a total jerk climbing aboard a camel of Egypt. Thank goodness for sunglasses because I started to cry as the handlers began hitting the camels for not wanting to kneel down on hot abrasive pavement. As we ventured further on our camel trek, I felt more and more uncomfortable with our mode of transportation. Molly noticed open wounds under the camels’ chins from their harnesses which were being led by… a child.

The tour itself was nice enough although we didn’t get very close to the pyramids. Our guide was entertaining and friendly until it was time for the tip. Not only did he ask for a tip (which he was going to receive anyways), he made it known that our tip was not good enough and became flat out rude. What are you supposed to do when you still have a kilometer to go to reach the stables? Begrudgingly we gave him (and the child guide) more money and they led us back. At this point, I was happy to be moving on in our day. Unfortunately, as soon as we dismounted our camels, another set of tourists climbed on. No rest for the ones performing the real task.

Bytheway… when you see a World Wonder behind a chain link fence… it just takes a little something from the magic. Oh, and did I mention the litter?

As uncomfortable as our pyramid visit was… the best was yet to come. The men in Egypt… they are something. You can’t walk a block without getting hassled. They try to engage you in conversation. If you ignore them, they follow you and get angry. If you politely answer their questions while still walking briskly, they follow you and get angry. At one point in our trip we made it safely back to our hostel… and didn’t want to leave again. Molly even considered manufacturing a baby bump so they’d leave her alone. Wearing modest clothing and avoiding eye contact were completely ineffective.

Seriously. It’s annoying. It’s exhausting. It’s frustrating.

Here are a few memorable quotes:

“Well, have a bad effing day!” – to Hannah after she politely explained that we weren’t interested in furthering our conversation
“You know what? If you ever needed help… I would not help you! You know why? Because you are rude!!!” – love the irony of that one.

And then something to the effect of Molly dying alone amidst regrets of not taking up with an Egyptian man.

It’s difficult because when you visit a place for just a few short days, it’s impossible to gain a full understanding of the culture. But the impression that Cairo left on me, was negative indeed. After speaking with other friends who visited Cairo at other times with similar experiences, we developed a theory of why Cairo (obviously not every single person in Cairo) treats their visitors so poorly.

Because they can.

Egypt has so much history and so much to offer the curious traveler that tourists will never stop visiting. The tourism industry doesn’t have to cater to the tourist to lure them in. You can be a jerk when you have an ancient pyramid in your backyard.

So should you visit Cairo? Of course! You have to go, it’s Cairo. But consider this your fair warning…

xo, jill

*Note: I’d strongly advise against females traveling solo to this particular destination

Novelty Snacks of Egypt

Eat. Snack. Eat.

You know we didn’t go to Egypt and fore go any novelty snacks.

Novelty Snack: Bake Rolls, cheese flavor
Description: The Arab world’s version of bagel chips
Tastes Like: A very chemically tasting cheese powder on crispy slices of bagel
Verdict: Thumbs up! (duh)

Novelty Snack:
Potato Chips
Description: Potato chips flavored with lemon and chili
Tastes Like: Spicy potato chips
Verdict: Thumbs neutral

Novelty Snack:
Potato Chips
Description: Cheese flavored potato chips
Tastes Like: A very chemically tasting cheese powder on potato chips
Verdict: Thumbs up!

Novelty Snack: Rocket Chocolate
Description: A chocolate bar that apparently makes you very strong, just like the weird baby thing on the wrapper
Tastes Like: “Waxy chocolate with really hard Turkish Delight in the center, in other words, it didn’t taste that good.” – Molly
Verdict: Thumbs neutral… later changed to a thumbs down after she’d experienced the full effect.

Novelty Snack: Lion Potato Chips
Description: Salted potato chips
Tastes Like: Potato chips with salt on them
Verdict: Thumbs up! (really now…)

xo, jill

Mosque in the morning.

Step up your game, Western churches.

Back in Egypt now… the morning of our final day we headed to the citadel that sits up above the city. The Cairo Citadel was built between 1176 and 1183 to protect against those wild Crusaders. The highlight of the structure is the elegant Mohammed Ali (Alabaster) Mosque. The mosque was built in the Ottoman style and is quite different from the mosques we have in Abu Dhabi. Not that I’m now an Islamic architecture connoisseur or anything…

Inside the mosque was lit with hanging lanterns that provided a luminous atmosphere. I could almost imagine holding a wedding here… I mean, if it wasn’t a mosque. I liked seeing a very rustic style of decor as opposed to the opulence of Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque (which I will post about soon).

Another highlight of the citdel is the view it provides of Cairo. Just imagine if the air wasn’t thick with haze…

After scoping out a few more bits of the citadel, we scampered back down to find a cab to the Egyptian Museum.

We decided to hire a guide to help us find our way around the rooms stuffed full of ancient artifacts. Our guide must have been able to read us well as he seemed to tailor his tour to the particularly sexy bits of history (I didn’t need to see King Tut’s condom or underwear, but ok). We are loose Western women, after all. Check out Molly’s post on the museum to learn a bit more.

After the museum we took a leisurely taxi ride to the airport. And by leisurely I mean hot, sweaty, and life endangering. But we made it!

xo, jill

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