Month: June 2013

Introduction

Enough with the semi-fictional pleasantries, time for something more concrete! My name is Thomas and I am a Belgian student with a bachelor’s degree in applied linguistics (for the languages English and Italian) and a master’s degree in management. I have lived and studied in Ghent, Milan and now reside in Leuven, a small Belgian city, where I will spend a last year studying business economics. I thoroughly enjoy fencing, athletics, travel and discovering big multicultural cities (I intend to live in one as soon as possible). I also strongly believe that fulfilment in life comes from pushing your own boundaries, which is why I intentionally put myself in new, unknown situations. Never do you feel more alive than outside of your comfort zone. So as a new challenge for this summer, I wanted to work abroad, preferably far away. I joined AIESEC, a community of people that helps you in finding an internship, delved into their immense database of internships and ultimately found work in Alexandria.

I will work for the “Make a Difference” Project, which is a group of volunteers that gets sent out to several NGO’s in Egypt. I will be sent out to the Shift Network, which is a company that tries to improve the Euro-Arab relation by trying to eliminate stereotypes and building mutual trust through several initiatives. There, I will develop the Human Resources unit and will talk about the Belgian culture. Everything is all still a bit vague, but that only adds to the challenge.

Only two days’ time separate me from Alexandria now. It’s a five-hour flight to Cairo, where I will stay on the airport for three hours before flying to Alexandria, a one-hour flight. Big plans I have for the six weeks I will stay in Egypt are: Visit the Pyramids in Cairo, visit an oasis in the desert, wear an Arab thobe and learn Arabic. In fact, I have already started learning the Arabic alphabet, which I find absolutely beautiful. Judge by yourself:

Arabic alphabetThe alphabet consists of 29 letters, almost all of which (with an exception or two) are consonants. Most letters have four different forms, changing when they stand loose or in the beginning, middle or end of a word. This may seem daunting, but it is not as complicated as it looks and you quickly get used to it.The small twirls and stripes above or below a consonant are the vowels, the dots above or below a letter are either part of a consonant or indicate that there are no vowels following that consonant. You also read and write from right to left and for a leftie like me, this is a gift from Allah, especially when you write in ink. No more ink-smudged left hand. Strangely enough, numbers are read from left to right. Anyway, knowing how to read a combination of letters does not give you the meaning of the word yet. So if I read something which could be transcribed as “Salaam”, I don’t know what it means yet (but in this case I do, it means “peace” and is used as a greeting). Nor is my pronunciation any good yet, as Arabic has many guttural sounds that are difficult to produce for Europeans and Americans. None the less, during the six weeks I will stay in Egypt, I hope to learn a good deal of the Arabic language.

There is something else I wanted to share with you. This is something my brother and I have hanging on our bedroom walls:

ThomasBramThese were gifts from our parents who had been in Egypt a few years ago. The left part is our name in hieroglyphs, which you need to read from top to bottom. So apparently some sort of hoof, a bomb (it’s probably not a bomb), an owl, a falcon and a staff makes “Thomas” in hieroglyphs. And a chopped off foot, an eye and another falcon and owl makes “Bram”. The right part of the picture is something I had always thought to be my zodiac sign, since I’m a Virgin, but on seeing my brother’s picture again, who is an Aquarius, I am starting to have serious doubt on that. If there would be anyone that has an idea what the right part would mean, if it were some sort of Ancient God or anything, let me know in the comments!

Now on an entirely different and more serious note: Perhaps the Arab spring is not entirely over yet, as Egypt is stirring once more. Titles such as “Pro- and anti-government protests under way in Egypt” or “Egypt deeply polarised as Morsi marks first year” were commonplace in international newspapers this week. Protesters are filling Tahrir Square in Cairo again and Mr Morsi spoke threatening language. I will not write my opinion on this matter here yet, as I would like to speak to a few Egyptians first and hear their opinion on how the country is governed and why the people are protesting. The only thing I would say is that the song written by John Lennon “Power to the people” is getting a completely new dimension, and it’s not necessarily a good thing. 

One last note. This Sunday, Mr Morsi will have been in office for exactly one year and mass protests are expected. Now, let me call on the international resonance of this blog to say that I would like protesters to leave the Cairo airport alone between 8 and 12 PM that very day. That is all. 

So Careful Now

I am the Arrow and I have been put into motion by the Archer, whose sole purpose is to be my scribe as I whisper him the stories of Alexandria. Many pages has he written already, as I have travelled through time and space and have had many forms.

I once was Alexander the Great, founder of the city.
I once was the Pharos of Alexandria, wonder of the Ancient World.
I once was the Septuagint, translation of the Hebrew Bible.
I once was the Ancient Library of Alexandria, centre of knowledge.

Once, Alexandria had been the greatest city on the whole flat Earth. It was Greek, Jewish, Egyptian and a beacon of light for humankind. But those days are long gone and my city went into decay. As I saw its Ancient magnificence would never return, I became dispirited and gradually disconnected from Alexandria. My scribe his writing became less frantic and his hand would relax as I found no more stories I wanted to whisper to him. Over time, I lost all sense of purpose and floated farther away, further unhappy. My scribe would have died and I would have disintegrated, if not for that one small town I had been floating over. Passendale, of all places, is a small Belgian town that I overheard was famous for its cheese and the first World War. The town housed a twenty-one-year old student that would be travelling to Alexandria in less than a week. My spirit fire rekindled as I noticed he had never seen Alexandria before. I would see the city with fresh eyes! I would experience everything as if I had never been there before! I had lost touch with the city, so who knows what had changed? The decision was made quickly and easily, but I knew the student was a lesser person and although I had lost much of my power, I would still be strong enough to damage himI would not have cared for his life if I had not felt this to be my last chance in returning where I belonged. So Careful Now. 

I am the Ancient Library of Alexandria and I stand on magnificent fire. I roar with emotions as the fume of crisp leaves fills the air with knowledge and wisdom. Men die, women cry, and while fire licks my foundations, water licks my anger as people try to douse me with petty buckets of water. Leave me be, and save the books, the books! Leave me be, and save the ideas, the ideas of your brightest minds! But it is too late, the brave hearts that try, die of my fume. Others are already at a distance, admiring my grand death. I gradually lose memory and conscience as more and more books burn. Gone are my precariously built visions of  past and future, of civilizations and people, of religion and symbols, of… of so much more… I want to grasp on to everything I am losing, but what am I to try? Everything is so confusing, let me crumble and die.

It had not been a nightmare, but more a disturbing dream that woke me up, although I could not recollect what it had been about. Books and fire or something, whatever. I turned around and sighed as my alarm clock displayed 03:21. I usually never wake up in the middle of the night, yet now I seemed wide awake. I flicked on my bedside lamp and squeezed my eyes to sharpen my otherwise blurry eyesight. Of course nothing had changed in my room, what was I even worrying about? Laptop, medicine ball I use as a chair, closed door, chair, closets, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, le città invisibili, a few sprinting medals, childhood teddy bear. Although I still had a feeling of uneasiness, I switched off the light and tried to regain sleep, comforting myself that everything was safe. None the less, I tucked my bare leg under the blanket.