Saturday, January 28, 2012

A List of Numbers, part II

Here is a continuation from my first post back in September 2010 of my numeric experiences, reflections, and predictions to date.

164 - Number of days I have remaining until my COS conference in July (as of the date of this blog post)

8 - Number of jerry cans of water I use at site every week

0 - Number of cases of malaria

49% - My odds for a Patriots Super Bowl victory this Sunday night in Indianapolis

92 - Number of games I project the Red Sox to win this upcoming season

UGX560,000 - Number of Ugandan schillings my organization apparently owes Umeme (Uganda's electrical company) before we get our power reconnected

25% - My odds for the power being reconnected before I leave Uganda in September-October 2012

96 - Current number of students in my Senior 4 English class, the 1st term starting this week

3 - Number of computer cables I have replaced over the past year because of the daily power outages and dimming of power

As often as possible - Number of nights I fantasize over the home-cooked meals (tacos, hens, potroast and latkahs) I miss and long for back home

7 - Most number of passengers jammed into a car taxi - intended to seat 3-4 persons - i've experienced firsthand

$327 - Number of $'s I make per month as a Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda

3 - Number of dental crowns i've needed in Uganda

478,969,230,856 - Number of mosquitoes in Kachumbala, more than anywhere else in Uganda

108 - Approximate number of miles I walked in Egypt

Everyday - Number of times I have pondered my unknown future once I leave Uganda

24,000+ - Number of books expected to arrive in Uganda later this year for library establishment

1 - Number of times it has rained in Kachumbala over the past three weeks (it is currently in the dry season)

Every Sunday - Number of times I have been asked by Sunday mass-goers why I don't pray in the Catholic Church

4 - Number of times this week a Ugandan excused work not getting done/things being delayed by telling me "This is Africa"

6 - Number of hours of my computer's battery life, if not watching videos

4 - Number of hours of my computer's battery life, if watching videos

2 - Number of cats currently making the Mission their home

0 - Number of times, after asking a Ugandan how his/her day is going, the initial response is something other than "I am fine," "I am fair," "I am okay," or "I am somehow fine"

18 - Number of pounds I have lost in Uganda to date

9 - Average number of hours I sleep per night at site

5+ - Number of times I am likely to have edited this blog post

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Land of the Pharaohs

This past Christmas and New Year, I was fortunate enough to go on a second trip of a lifetime, to pharaonic and ancient Egypt. Despite the exaggerated news reports of ongoing protests and violence in Cairo, fellow PCV Gary Goodman and I still decided to venture out on our planned trip, excited to visit Egypt at such a monumental time in its history. Most other would-be vacationers to Egypt, however, decided to stay home.

Fortunate for us? There were no lines at any of the sites. Buses of tour groups were few and far between. Prices everywhere and for everything dropped considerably (this is Egypt's peak season for tourism). We were upgraded to a 2-bedroom, 13-story penthouse overlooking the Cairo Nile for free.

Unfortunate for business? The streets were eerily quiet, the hotels were often empty, and the sites were infrequently visited, all rid of tourists.

We also lucked out weather-wise. Contrary to Uganda, Egypt has hot-cold seasons, with scorching hot temperatures during the summer months and cooler temperatures during the winter months. Therefore, it made traveling with two large packs much more bearable, and a nice respite away from site.

Huge thanks to my parents for enabling me financially to go on a trip I will surely never forget!


Hiking off the beaten trail from the Valley of the Kings to the Temple of Hatshepsut alongside a 300m cliff face, providing us with an aerial view of the temple, the surrounding lunar-like landscape, and of the Nile River/East Bank of Luxor.


1) Waking up at 3:00AM for a 3 hour drive to see the Great Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel.
2) Even though the Tourist Police advised us not to ride the main cabin train (that the locals ride) from Aswan to Luxor, we chose to do so anyway, thus getting more of a real cultural experience and being in better position to interact with the local people.
3) Walking through the Great Hypostyle Hall - comprising 134 stone pillars and covering more than 5,000 sq meters - at the Temples of Karnak.
4) Admiring the tombs at the Valley of the Kings and at the Tombs of the Nobles.
5) Getting lost in the streets and marketplaces of Islamic Cairo.
6) Despite our initial mishap, climbing to the top of inside the Great Pyramid of Khufu.
7) Seeing the Royal Mummy Room - housing the remains of some of ancient Egypt's most illustrious pharaohs (Ramses II, Ramses III, Ramses V, Seti I, Tuthmosis IV) and queens - at the Egyptian Museum.
8) Seeing King Tutankhamun's golden death mask, two sarcophagi, and lion throne at the Egyptian Museum.
9) Egyptian hospitality: with the exception of a few verbal altercations, the Egyptians we encountered could not have been more hospitable and welcoming.


1) The persistent hassling, touts, and scams right outside the sites and alongside the Nile Corniche. While the hassling undoubtedly results from people just trying to make a living for themselves and provide for their families, it makes the trip far less enjoyable when a felucca owner or a horse carriage driver follows you for 5 minutes, repeatedly offering you "the best price" for a ride, only to charge you double for it later.
2) Based solely on the areas we stayed in Aswan and Cairo, we were not able to find many sit-down (needed after a long day of walking) local eateries. Our options were limited to street food, fast food, or expensive restaurants to which most tourists flock.
3) Getting lost in a rough neighborhood of Aswan.
4) We had difficulty communicating with Egyptians who did not speak English, in asking for directions and negotiating prices. Learning only to speak basic greetings in Arabic can only take you so far.
5) Tacky souveniers sold to tourists, the majority of which are made and imported from China.
6) Being denied initial entry to climb inside the Great Pyramid of Khufu because we were issued the wrong admissions tickets.


1) The generational mix/contradiction of the traditional and the modern. For example, it was not uncommon to see young Egyptian girls wear traditional headdresses, with modern American-branded jeans, all while eating traditional Egyptian food sold at McDonalds.
2) The 5 calls to prayer - projected over a loudspeaker at sunrise, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and at night - are an incredibly personal and sacred daily custom.
3) Rightfully or not, crossing pedestrians do not have the right-of-way when navigating through Cairo's traffic/streets. Egyptians also like to honk their horns a lot, ALL THE TIME, not necessarily because it's needed but rather just to be heard.
4) Egyptians are very proud of their national heritage, culture, and of their capital city.
5) Egyptians are as crazed and passionate about football as Ugandans.
6) Egypt may be an Islamic country in North Africa, but it continues to rapidly develop and "Americanize" faster than just about any other African nation.
7) The general consensus amongst the Egyptians I talked to is that they supported the revolution to overthrow Mubarak and the Egyptian government, but currently they do not support the ongoing protests to oust the military leaders from power, in large part, because of how they've drastically affected Egypt's tourism, and simultaneously, their businesses.
8) Outside of the major mall, very few women appear to work in the service sector (waiting tables, driving taxis, selling goods, working in shops). This leads me to believe that Egypt is still very much a male-dominated society.
9) While the New Year is certainly celebrated in Egypt, it is not the all-out, drunken revelry that ensues every New Years Eve in the U.S.
10) Smoking "sheesha" (a tobacco water pipe) at an "ahwa" (a traditional coffeehouse) and playing backgammon/checkers are everyday favorite hobbies, and seemingly a great way to pass the time.
11) If you're ever planning a future trip to Egypt, be sure to bring lots of small change (coins, small notes) with you. People will inevitably demand "baksheesh" (tips) for anything from opening a door to taking you inside a closed tomb. For the majority of people, "baksheesh" is relied upon to supplement low wages. It's just the way of life in Egypt.
12) Because of the Islamic faith, alcohol in Egypt is not widely served outside of restaurants and bars.
13) Yes, you can really buy belly dancing costumes, Nubian viagra, Sudanese swords, and gold/silver in the marketplace.
14) The Pyramids are far grander, the Sphinx ("the Father of Terror") smaller, than I initially imagined. What I really didn't imagine was for both to be located right in the center of Giza, instead of isolated somewhere in the Egyptian desert.

Ugandan internet doesn't want to let me upload any pictures of the trip on the blog, but feel free to check out the album on facebook:!/profile.php?id=21502030.