Ralph J. Bunche Center Howard University

On the African Continent…In Egypt

By Rahma Abdurrahim

All praise due to Allah, this past summer I was awarded a grant from the Ralph Bunche Center of International Student Affairs to study in Cairo, Egypt. Reminiscing about Egypt is similar to waking up in the morning and trying to recall the pleasant dream I had the other night. If it weren’t for the pictures I took and the entries I wrote in my journal, perhaps even I would not believe I made the incredible journey.

The first three weeks in Egypt were the most difficult for me. Simply put, I was miserable; I think I was basically experiencing what most people would call culture shock in its ugliest form. Everyday life also presented me with many challenges. How will I eat? What can I eat? Where are the markets? How am I going to get there? It didn’t take long to learn the ropes though. After about three weeks I started to feel like I was a native and Egypt was home.

Walking through Cairo is literally like traveling back in time…about 30 years! Be not mistaken, everyone carries cellular phones. You will find a fancy flashy mall in every district with internet cafes. Nonetheless, you will find yourself driving 115kmh on a highway along side a horse and carriage. Egypt is a mixture of old and new, a country struggling to accept change. I saw men constructing high rises in flip-flops.

This was how Egypt operated. To a person from a very structured

modern country, all of this chaos can be frustrating and can drive one crazy. However, eventually I got over myself and learned to accept Egypt just the way it was. I began to find humor in all the confusion. I became fascinated with this place called Cairo that was so "backwards" to the American eye. Above all, I began to love the people. I found them to be completely and utterly fearless. Disregard the FDA and those Occupational Hazard Sheets. Many people were complete contradictions to anything and everything I have ever learned in school or on the job in regards to health care and safety.

The fact that a person could carry a cellular phone and still ride in a horse drawn carriage is what made them Egyptian. I think it was the Egyptians themselves that helped me to survive Egypt. I found them to be some of the nicest and most hospitable people. They were honored that we came into their store or had dinner with their family. They are very social people, love to talk, and can remember everything! Above all, they’ll never forget your name.

I am happy to say that at least the school where I studied, The Fajr Center, in Cairo was well structured. In fact, the instruction was excellent. My courses consisted of Arabic Language, Tajweed, which is how to read the Quran in Arabic with correct pronunciation and Seerah, the study of the life of Prophet

Muhammad. I absolutely loved my professors. I studied under Muslim women who were knowledgeable in the secular world and also in Islamic Studies. I felt that they were more than just professors. In those short two months, I learned a great deal.

Traveling throughout Egypt, I visited the usual tourist spots such as Khan el Khalili, the pyramids in Giza, and several famous mosques. The most amazing experience I had was when a few classmates and I went snorkeling on a diving trip in the Red Sea Coast in Sinai. I never dreamed of doing such a thing mainly because of clothing requirements of the Islamic dress for Muslim woman. But we swam in regular clothes and my hijab (scarf) never came off.

When my days in Egypt became numbered, I could not believe all that I had accomplished and experienced in such a short period. It all felt like a dream. Had I really flown to Africa this summer? Did I just spend two months living on my own in a foreign country? Yes, I did go to Egypt and the experience has changed me in ways that I sometimes do not even recognize. It has changed my outlook on the world, broadened my vision, and increased my tolerance. I learned to appreciate the differences instead of always having to decide which is better. Now I am back at Howard and all the better for having lived briefly in Egypt.


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