Final thoughts on Egypt

Then: So. 2:26 AM, Cairo International Airport, Terminal F. We are at the end. I’m at the end! It has been a crazy, crazy couple of days here in Egypt, and those crazy, crazy days are ones I’ll never forget.

Tonight we celebrated at the house of one of our choir members who lives in Cairo, and whose parents have made much of this amazing trip possible. We ate traditional Egyptian dishes and sat outside listening to a band and talking and just enjoying the presence of the amazing, talented, warm friends we’d been making over the course of the trip, of the year, and for some for four years. While listening to music with my friends, we could hear the surrounding mosques go off for the evening prayers, which was just… a cacophony of brilliant sounds, which echoed around our garden party in the heat and made for quite an ambiance. It was a good night, reminding me why I love choir, why I love my school, and why I love travel.

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Now: It was bittersweet leaving Cairo because it was final. It was an end to my undergraduate career and and end to my time in collegiate choirs. Some people I spent time with I may never see again, but I’m grateful to have shared this crazy awesome experience with them, regardless. Now, back in Portland, I’m disoriented from jet-lag and from a lack of belonging – I have more options and opportunity ahead of me than decisions under my belt. All in all, though, Egypt was a great extended graduation party! I’m somewhat glad I have more travel to look forward to over this summer, just so I can adjust more to being alone, while also having these amazing, once-in-a-lifetime learning experiences.

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A high point: I thought I’d end on a high note, though. Just before leaving Luxor to come back to Cairo, we were able to meet up with the supervisor of Karnak Temple and visit some of the areas of that 30-some acre ruin that everyday tourists don’t get to see (because the supervisor had seen our concert the night before – perks of being ‘famous’). We got to see some of the restoration of the paint in some of the smaller chambers in the main building, which was spectacular. One chamber in particular we ventured into, awed at the natural sunlight that lit up the small space and the intricate, precise hieroglyphics and reliefs of the pharaoh and gods. Naturally in the spirit of choral singers everywhere, we decided to sing “Lay Me Low” from our set of Shaker songs.

“Lay Me Low” arranged by Kevin Siegfried, as performed by the Washington State University Concert Choir

Around twenty seconds in, we were experiencing one of those moments that’s hard to describe, a moment that makes you choke on emotion and feel a certain connection to everyone who is participating. I had to pause a couple times during the song because I couldn’t quite get control of myself, the feeling was so strong. Think about doing something that’s a part of a close collective, that involves physical exertion and emotional investment, and think about doing that in a space that is acoustically brilliant and also happens to be 4,000 or so years old. You’d be choking up, too! The host of our final party (the one at my friend’s house in Cairo) described it like this,

“I genuinely believe that you all were touched by angel’s wings.”

Regardless of belief systems that anyone has, to hear that from someone who was not participating in the actual singing is a compliment beyond any I’ve heard in a while, and one that I will remember for years. This whole trip will be like that, in my mind, and as much as I’ve mentioned I’m thankful for sharing it with my choir, I’m also glad to have shared it with you! I think I’ll leave you with that.

See you in July, when I’m off to Florence, Italy for a monthlong stay!

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The First Day

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Although yesterday was technically the third day we’ve been out of the country, it was the first day that our group really got to experience Egypt. And what a long day it was!

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Think of singing from 8am-4:30pm. 8.5 hours. Yes, that long! We had two class sessions with the Cairo American College choir to practice for our second concert (the first being tonight). We are singing our normal repertoire, which consists of both traditional, spiritual and modern American pieces as well as music from the Middle East, and then two songs with the CAC choir – “Battle of Jericho” by Moses Hogan and “O Nata Lux” by a local (local meaning Oregon) composer.

Battle of Jericho video (intro by Moses Hogan)

One of my favorite pieces in our Middle Eastern rep, Lamaa Badaa Yatathana (solo version)

It has been exciting, both to share our experience with younger kids and workshop with some of the composer of the music we perform, but also to experience the brown-outs that are recently common in Cairo, to see the rubble, graffiti, and the homeless on the streets, to taste some real Egyptian food and to feel the dusty heat on our faces while walking to school.

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Even then, Maadi is a nice neighborhood for Cairo – full of ex-pats and the privileged – so our experience is still limited to watching out of bus windows and from the side of a felucca.

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Yes, I did say felucca.

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We ate koshary on the Nile last night, strapping two boats together and floating along as the sun set. It was a rewarding end to a long day.

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Today we’re bound for downtown to see museums, and then we have our first concert! More details and photos to follow!

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Travel Alert!

Hello folks!

It’s been an incredibly long time (minus that one ghost-post you may have caught weeks ago), but I have come back online to announce my looming journey to Cairo and Luxor in Egypt! I leave on Sunday! And not only do I leave on Sunday but I leave on Sunday at 7 AM, the day after I graduate from college!

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(Those white/red/blue ribbons are for my semester abroad in London, if you cared to know.)

It’s been and will continue to be a whirlwind of a time as I shove various and sundry items into boxes to ready them for storage (as I can no longer live in a dorm) as well as pack for a ten day trip to Africa, as well as spend time with my family and friends and choir. Will I have time for sleep? (Unlikely.)

Anyway, I’ve never been to Africa! So. That said, I felt it would be good to keep and share a record of my first experience of such a culturally different and growing country while on tour with my college’s chamber choir. I’ll keep you posted of my whereabouts and of the shenanigans that may take place along the way. Expect pictures, crooning about choir, and of course my usual gushing about new cultural experiences.

And that concludes my rambling for now! Enjoy your Thursday!

-Ava