Monday, April 16, 2007

Cruisin Down the Nile in Style...

Originally uploaded by mfootey.

Ahhhh vacation time! I finally wrapped up my two months of work at NAMRU-3 in Cairo and now have a bit of time to try and see some of this very kooky country I have briefly called home. First mission: to take me myself and I on that Nile cruise I've been dreaming about since 2000 when I was last in Africa. Knowing my tendency towards cabin fever I booked a short but dense 4 day cruise from Aswan to Luxor stopping at several temples along the way.

What can I say about it...well for those of you who have been places like Italy, Greece, or Peru you understand the syndrome that develops after seeing antiquities to the Nth degree. The first day was fabulous...the great Philae temple that was moved with the help of UNESCO to a small island just inside Lake Nasser to save it from the rising waters caused by the Aswan High Damn. It was heavenly, gorgeous and in an incredible setting I doubt the Ancient Egyptians could have complained about. The second day was still lovely...we stopped at the Edfu temple on the banks of the river and caught a old-fashioned romantic sunset over the Nile and the ruins.

By the third day I was a bit tired...and hot...and sun baked. While we waited the 10 hrs to pass our ship through the lock on the Nile we parked in a...well I hate to use the word heinous...but lets just say unpleasant little town called Esna which consists of a few streets, a small temple, a large hassle-icious tourist bazaar and wandering hoards of adolescent boys with an evil longing/tendency to stoke the forbidden body parts of any non-Egyptian woman they come across...or maybe it was just my lucky day. Anyhoo after being sufficiently traumatized by that experience I went back to the ship and tried to take a nap and shower to wash off the memories of that awful place. No offense Esna, I'm sure there are lovely people hidden in there somewhere.

From there it all sort of becomes a blur and by the time I was finished with the Valley of the Kings in Luxor today (incredible as it was) all I wanted to do is sit in a cafe with a table full of cold beverages in the shade. I say shade mainly because it's bloody hot down here in upper Egypt and surprise surprise my semi-translucent skin turned a frightening shade of purplish-red after 1 session of laying out by the pool...with sunscreen on mind you! Sigh...
Nonetheless, despite my now jaded cynical view on the whole Egyptian tourist machine, my last day ended well with an evening session at Luxor temple to watch the sun set and the lights come on which illuminate the monuments at night giving it an amazingly peaceful ethereal feel even though you are still surrounded by hundreds of tourists and shouting guides. Now I am off to catch the overnight train back to Cairo so we'll see if this warm and fuzzy feeling lasts = )

Next stop: searching for the Sphinx

Monday, March 19, 2007

For those waiting on tender hooks for the big news...(mainly my parents)

I matched at the Montefiore program in Social Internal Medicine in New York!!!!!

It was my first choice and I couldn't be happier = )

Monday, February 26, 2007

Getting to know You...

Al-Azhar Mosque
Here I've been 3 weeks in fabulous (?!?) Cairo and as per my previous lamenting posts I've barely gotten a chance to explore the city. So I decided to rectify the situation and grab some girls hire a guide and check out some of the sites.

On the appointed day I awoke to a hazy view of the building across the street and a chemical burning smell which made me wonder if there had been a bombing in a shoe glue factory or something but after asking some of the locals I was told it was just a mildly bad air quality day. In the same vein, funny floating things kept whizzing past my eyes which I presumed to be ash from said disaster which were actually little flys that come out from the Nile when it is humid out (which is rare gratefully). When I got home the table next to the terrace door I left open was covered in the dead little beasts.
But I digress...

First stop was Coptic Cairo which is one of the oldest sections of the city. After Jesus came along, Egypt was actually a christian nation for many moons starting in 64 AD when early Christians were driven out by the Roman Empire up until the Islamic invasions began in 639 AD. In fact, the Coptic Church claims to hold an unbroken line of patriarchal succession to the See of Alexandria founded by Saint Mark, a disciple of Christ making them one of worlds original sects of Christianity. The history is fascinating and the language, art and dogma are truly unique so it was a pleasure to be able to go through and see some of the churches and monuments. We also passed by the synagogue in Coptic Cairo which is the oldest in Egypt. Although now the Jewish population in Egypt has dwindled so significantly they often don't have enough attendees to even hold services these days.

Then after much debate and cajoling with the nervous tour guide he finally agreed to take us through the Northern Cemetery which is the larger section of Cairo's infamous city of the dead, a group of vast cemeteries that stretches out along the base of the Moqattam Hills.
This area is home to around 5 million of Egypt’s urban poor who live among the spacious tombs, grave markers and mausoleums and have come to represent the desperate housing crisis in the city. By now water, sewage, and electricity are provided in the "neighborhoods" and many families who own the graves look at their (often) uninvited tenants as caretakers of the area. Being that it was a relatively seedy neighborhood and we were in a not so subtle mini-bus with a tour company logo (we thought we were hiring a taxi!) we didn't stay long but I managed to further ensure my spot in hell by taking a few apparently unwelcome pictures before being shooed off by a lady I wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley.

We next made our way to Islamic Cairo, which is the ancient walled quarter and is home to some of the most impressive mosques and landmarks in the city. This area is amazing and I didn't give the group a choice before I beelined straight for the Bayt el Suhaymi, a gorgeous restored 17th century mansion along a perfectly hidden little side street in Fatimid. I fell madly in love with this house and the surrounding area and could have spent hours wandering around the labyrinth passages, peeking through the mashrabiyya screens, and and marveling at all the treasures of the old Islamic architecture I am so keen on. But eventually I started overhearing the girls asking the guide how to say "slow" and "hurry-up" in Arabic so I took the hint and scurried off after the group.

Reluctant as I was, I'm glad we moved on because the next stop was the incredibly lovely and blessedly peaceful Al-Azhar Mosque, which claims to be the oldest surviving university in the world (although Morocco makes a similar claim, so take that with a pinch of salt). I surrendered my shoes at the door and dawned a head scarf for the first time and walked peacefully around the huge inner courtyard that leads into the main area of worship full of rich sounds and men at prayer on the thick green carpets hidden among the many columns and curtains.

The last stop was the legendary Khan al-Khalili market. Here you can find anything from bread, American jeans, to fine gold Bedouin jewelry. Just wandering around is an experience in itself but I rallied up the nerve to try a little bargaining and left feeling a little ripped off but with an awfully purdy necklace! I felt redeemed by bargaining down to a very locals price on some beautiful mother-of-pearl inlaid boxes. All in all, it was a very successful day that was rounded out with fresh mango juice and meza (ie. yummy middle eastern appetizers) at the posh landmark Mahfouz Coffee Shop inside the Khan...we made a graceful exit as what appeared to be every man in the market waved and called out "goodbye Spice Girls"...I think I'm going to enjoy getting to know Cairo better.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Egypt Update rank list is finally turned in (see prev post for explanation) and now I can relax relatively stress free until March 15th when Match Day comes along!

In the meantime Cairo has been going well. I am living in an area of the city called Ma'adi, which is about 70+% expats...mainly embassy, oil, and military people from US and UK. I was expecting at least a small amount of adventure in my day to day life which I am sorry to report does not really exist. To put it into perspective I am closer to a McDonalds, Quizonos, Pizza Hut and KFC than I am to a single Egyptian or Lebanese food restaraunt! Oh and here all the fast foods joints deliver to your door...come to think of it I think you can get pretty much anything delivered here including beer and groceries!

As for my daily routine I get picked up everyday by one of the Navy people, go to work in my nice cozy climate controled lab. I work with three lovely Egyptian girls, one of whom I have become pretty good friends with named Myriam. Then I work out at the NAMRU gym and then am driven back home in my bullet proof glass vehicle. When I go out on the week nights it is either with one of the Navy people of one of my Egyptian co-workers and usualy consists of shopping or going out to eat. Otherwise I stay home and watch Sex and the City on preferred activity of course = ) On weekends there is usually an embassy or house party to go to with the young and beautiful Egyptian scensters and expats from all over the world. Don't get me is a nice comfy life, but certainly not full of daredevil adventure. However I did have to cross the corniche (aka, the deathtrap anarchic highway that runs along the nile) a few times on foot the other day which was actually the closest I've come to death in a loooong time! Take the thrills where you can get them I say!

As a nice change I finally got out of the city last weekend. My friend Myriam and I went to Ain Soukhna on the Red Sea close to the Suez Canal. It is basically just a resort are with no real town to speak of. We stayed in a big resort complex with multiple hotels and a private beach with half board (b-fast and dinner) included. Not my normal thing but it was definitly cushy and relaxing.
Here I will swallow the urge to get preachy about responsible tourism and my belief in supporting the local economy instead of pouring money into the fat pockets of an Italian Mega Hotel corporation because in this case, that would make me a hippocrate with a mild sunburn...
Unfortunatly it was still a wee bit chilly for the beach so most of the time we were fully clothed on the beach chairs with towels wrapped around us to stay warm and would then quickly shed down to our swim-suits when the wind would die and the sun would fully present itself for a few precious minutes at a time.
Ain Soukhna
Then on Monday I was able to go with someone from the lab on a site visit to Alexandria and to another rural hospital in the Nile delta region. The project we were going for is an acute febrile illness surveillence project which tests blood samples for Rickettsia, Lepto, Brucella, and the nl blood pathogens. The site visits themselves are not that exciting, mainly you go in greet the hospital admin people, talk about bird flu and drink tea (of course), then I try to stay awake as everyone chats in Arabic and then finally we pick up our samples and replace their supplies. On both visits, some friendly person would offer to show me around and then some not nice person would inevitably get mad that some foreigner was walking around without them being informed of it...there is a lot of petty self important power tripping in medicine all over the world I suppose...oops, am I getting jaded already???

But in the end I made it through unscathed and full of tea and was able to collect on my reward which was a night in Alexandria at a VERY lovely hotel perched above the Mediterranean in the gardens of the last kings summer palace. The key to Alexandria is to not go in with and grand expectations and just enjoy it for it's simple eating incredable fresh caught seafood next to the main city mosque...walking along the waterfront to watch seemingly half the population out fishing out on the rocks...or sitting for hours in one of the period cafes smoking a sheesha pipe and drinking mint tea...

Classic Alexandria

Or as in my case, you can spend most of the time sitting on your balcony eating apples, enjoying the fresh sea air and admiring the ocean view to my right and a palace view to my left!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Arrival to Cairo

Arrival to Cairo...

After finally making my way from Tucson to London to Amsterdam, I finally landed into the Cairo airport where I will be doing a couple months of biomedical research with the US Navy Medical Research Unit. From the second I landed, I knew that experience would be like none other that I have had while traveling to the developing world...easy!

Immediately after stepping off the plane I was greeted by my "expediter", which is essentially a professional 'get people through the airport' person. Within minutes he had my passport with visa stamps inside and whisked me through the diplomatic entry point to my luggage which was already waiting with the driver by the car...whoa! Granted, it does take away that nervous excitement of landing in an unknown city with nothing but your wits and a lonely planet... but of course I am willing to make some sacrifices in the name of new experiences = )

I was dropped off at the home of my boss where a party was going on. I was handed a mixed drink and a plate of Thai food as soon as I dropped my luggage and met about 20 people in the span of few minutes. Aye yi yi yi!! Oh and I was introduced to everyone by my Puerto Rican boss as Mary Footeeeee. Ahhh, it's good to be me! At the end of the evening, to finish off a lovely first few hours in Cairo, I was driven to my new home for the next month...which happens to be a posh 3 bedroom apt with wrap-around terraces in expat city (Ma'adi) which I am "housesitting" for an officer who is disease hunting in Afghanistan. I went to bed cozy and warm under a hand embroidered Afghan blanket listening to the calls to prayer wafting in through my open window...

At Saqqara Pyramid, the oldest in the world!


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The long haul to today...

Hood River Gorge and the Orgeon Coast

Happy belated New Years!!! It's been a busy few months for me and every other 4th yr medical student in the country. Interview time kept me pretty busy non-stop in Dec and Jan as I decided upon the lucky city that will host me for the next 3 years while I complete a residency in Internal Medicine. While spending time among the contenders I had beach vacas in LA and Miami, a nature extravaganza in Portland (the perfect city), ski breaks in Salt Lake and Denver, dreamed of sailing in Providence, went country in North Carolina and punk rock in NYC. For those of you less familiar with the process, "the Match" can be a bit confusing...
First you decide what programs you would like to get to know better. Then if they like the look of you they ask to meet up for a chat (kind of like Internet dating I suppose). If you think they look good, you go for a visit, eat lots of free food and couch surf your way across the country looking up every long lost friend in your address book (all which is a pleasure in and of itself). Then when you finish interviewing in Jan, you make a list of programs you would be willing to commit to in order of preference. The programs do the same with the prospective residents. Then a big computer program in D.C. puts the two lists together and on March 15th you have a great big party and find out who loves you the most! My rank list goes in the next couple of weeks and I'll let you know where it all leads... In the meantime I thought I would offer some pretty pics taken during the oh-so-rough process. Sometimes life is so hard = )

Venice Beach- California


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Why the Starfish??

People always ask me, why a starfish tattoo? Couple of reasons I suppose....
One is that it is a symbol for the Virgin Mary in Christian mythology, which I always just thought was cool...I'm Mary...haha. Second, I'm a diver and I'm always happiest when I'm on a boat or in the ocean. Mainly though it was inspired by a story called "the Star Thrower" by Loren Eiseley, a scientist and a naturalist poet I greatly admire. I read it a long long time ago but it always stuck in my mind and has helped crystalize my personal philosophy to life and service. The following is a paraphrased version...

"Once upon a time, there was a wise man, much like Eiseley himself, who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had the habit of walking along the beach before he began his work.

One day he was walking along the shore; as he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day, so he began to walk faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn't dancing, but instead, he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean. As he got closer he called out, "Good morning! What are you doing?" The young man paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing Starfish into the ocean, the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don't throw them in they'll die." "But young man," he replied "don't you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and Starfish all along it, you can't possibly make a difference!"

The young man listened politely, then bent down, picked up another Starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves. "It made a difference for that one" he said before continuing down the beach. His response surprised the man, he didn't know how to reply, so instead he turned away and walked back to the cottage to begin his writings.

All day long as he wrote, the image of that young man haunted him; he tried to ignore it, but the vision persisted. Finally, late in the afternoon, he realized that he the scientist, he the poet, had missed the essential nature of the young man's actions. Because he realized that what the young man was doing was choosing not to be an observer in the universe and watch it pass by, but was choosing to be an actor in the universe and make a difference. He was embarrassed. That night he went to bed, troubled. When morning came, he awoke knowing that he had to do something; so he got up, put on his clothes, went to the beach and found the young man; and with him spent the rest of the morning throwing Starfish into the ocean."

~ Loren Eiseley

Me at Torres del Paine in Chile, my birthday, December 2005