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:
The 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:
These 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.