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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Written May 27: more of Cairo

I haven’t had the chance to update in a couple days while in Zamalek, Cairo (mostly because of the many activities the choir has been up to, but also because of faulty Internet)! What are those activities, you ask?

If you caught my last post, the photo op of our wanderings in downtown Cairo and visit to the Cairo Museum, then you saw just a glimpse of what we’ve experienced. Our morning that day consisted of a couple hours in the museum with a local Egyptologist, where we got an up close and personal look at some the world’s oldest pieces of art, things I’ve only seen in textbooks and on slides in art history classes. We saw the Narmer Stone, one of the oldest artifacts in the world, and met Ramses II and Hapshetsut, two of several mummies in the pharaohs exhibit. After our time at the museum, we saw several monuments and other famous buildings in Cairo and got a glimpse of the City of the Dead, which is deceptively full of slums as well as very, very old grave sites. Out of the dusty brown one can sometimes glimpse an Acacia tree, which blooms fiery red around here – it’s very pleasing to the eye especially for those used to more colorful climbs. Coming from Portland where it’s all green has been different, to say the least, and difficult for others (mostly adjusting to food and water and dry air). However, now we’re bound for Luxor in the south for a sponsored stay at the local Sofitel and our final concert, which may include audience members from the higher-ups in the Luxor government if I’m not mistaken.

We have had three concerts so far during our stay. The first was at a church in Maadi, where we had a brown-out which ended mid-song in our first set of early American music. The second was in collaboration with Cairo American College, which I may have mentioned already. The best part of that experience was to share our knowledge of college a cappella with some of the high schoolers. We were able to do a ten-minute improvised song with the CAC kids, which was fun both because we all got to share our talents, but also because I haven’t had the pleasure of singing with the a cappella members from different groups at school before – but now is as good a time as any, though, especially when one is graduated! Two nights ago, once we’d moved from our home stays to Zamalek, we performed at a popular venue downtown, which was unfortunately and entertainingly on an outdoor stage by the Nile. It was quite an experience to sing with bugs zooming around the stage lights and into our mouths while in our concert black in 80 degree weather.

However, this was after a phenomenal day at the pyramids, where I got some great shots:

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Yesterday in Luxor we visited the museum, local monuments and the marketplace after checking out our performance space and checking out our hotel! Expect more photos soon.

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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7:56pm Portland/4:57am Frankfurt

As I write this I’m at the point of not knowing quite what day it is or how long I’ve been on this plane, having spent much of the last couple of days in a whirlwind of celebrations of graduation and preparations for the future both immediate and distant. A big group of us choir geeks departed from Portland for SEA-TAC at an unreasonably early hour for the amount of sleep I had the night before, and spent a lovely, bumpy bus ride chattering and/or sleeping, only to get on a 10-hour flight to Frankfurt. From there, we’re destined for Cairo.
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Other than the bus ride, it’s been remarkably smooth-going, aside from the fact that our choir director was the only one to forget her passport in her safety deposit box, and so will be joining us a day later than planned! Don’t worry, we’ve got our assistant director (who I happen to be sitting next to – hello, Charlie!), our accompanist, my previous trip leaders from London (joy), and a classmate’s parents who live in Cairo and have been the main liaisons and reasons for our international tour. Essentially, we’re well taken care of!
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This is to be the first bit of international travel for some of our choir members, which to me is immeasurably exciting! I love sharing my passions with people (especially friends), and one of those passions is experiencing new cultures. It was especially fun to coach people through security. Ha. This time, though, it’s going to be a new and different experience for me, as I’ve only traveled to Europe, Mexico and other English speaking countries. We’ve been preparing to wear headscarves, wear our hair up, and bring modest clothing as well as exercise caution on the streets and to be well-behaved, and although this isn’t necessarily something I wouldn’t do anyway, it’s not something that we as a group (and certainly for some more than others) have had to think about before while at home or abroad). It will be fascinating to see the adjustment process, and to experience it myself.
Once we land in Cairo we’ll be meeting and eating with our home stays, and the day following we’ll be performing in our first concert of the tour! But that’s only after we attend some workshops with the choir at Cairo American College (which is deceptively a high school) and the composer of one of our songs , “Aiyu,” which I have a brief solo in. Oh, and a tour of the Nile. As you do. It’s going to be an exciting start to our tour, unless some other crazy stuff happens during our layover in Frankfurt! I’ll keep you posted.
Expect a set of photos from our first views of Cairo!