So to start, I am sorry for the delay in getting an update up here. We are undergoing construction at the office on campus, so the internet has been down/super spotty since I've been back in the country. It hasn't been fast enough for me to even open this webpage until yesterday, and it has taken a full day to get the pictures uploaded haha. The joys of living with limited internet access :)
So, I'm back! in Egypt! I would be lying if I said I was entirely pleased with that statement.
It is great to be back, and I really missed all my friends here. But man, I am not ready to be working again! Especially since now there aren't any major landmark breaks to piece up the upcoming six months. Before, I had a trip to Italy and America to look forward to. Now, it's just six months of Egypt.
The two exciting things I have to look forward to are my mom, brother, and best friend coming to visit in March and then my dad coming to visit in June. So I guess I do have some future adventures I can daydream about as I sit in a freezing cold classroom trying not to sleep.
Um, did I say it was cold? Because it is. Freezing, really.
Egypt has had record low temperatures this week of about 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. However, unlike in the states, none of the buildings (including my house) have heat. So you wake up cold, walk around all day cold, and go to bed cold. 
I am queen of layers.
I may be getting frostbite soon.
Also, our water heater isn't working, so I can't take hot showers.
Talk about a welcome home, huh? haha. 
So I flew into Cairo last Saturday afternoon, at about three o'clock. After seventeen hours aboard three different planes. I was exhausted. 
Not exhausted enough to avoid another last-minute voyage, though!
I got back to the school around 4:30, at which time Sara, Phil, Jeff, Chris, Austin and I decided to take a trip three hours north to Alexandria for the remainder of the vacation. 
So with less than five hours of intermittent sleep under my belt, I unpacked, repacked, and set out with the five others for our travels. 
But first.
A very special celebration.
My absolute favorite little boy had his third birthday.
So we went to his party, of course!
Mtha turned three on January 6th (same as my mom - happy belated birthday mama!), and his family threw him a cute little party about an hour after I got home from the airport. 
There wasn't any chance I would miss out on it. 

This was his precious birthday cake. Mtha is so adorable!

His parents bought sparklers for us all to use as we sang happy birthday, but Mtha didn't quite get the concept haha. His faces crack me up!

He grabbed a bite of the cake with his bare hands before anyone could stop him. Not that any of us had the heart to, he was just too dang cute. 

We had lots of confetti to celebrate, and as we were snapping photos we got this gem. Austin and 'Tas face are too funny! The party was the best I've been to in Egypt yet. It was full of lots of good people and laughs at the sweet little boy we all gathered to celebrate. 

At about eight that evening, all six of us piled into a tiny little microbus to make the three hour trip north to the coast. 
Well, you would think I would have learned by now. Learned that seriously nothing goes as I have planned. Because over three maintenance stops, multiple flooded roads, and five hours later, we finally arrived at our destination freezing and exhausted. 
We stayed at the home of a pastor in Alexandria, and he and his family were incredibly hospitable and welcoming. I felt so blessed to be so warmly welcomed into a stranger's home at nearly two in the morning. 
We crashed then, to prepare for the next days' adventures.

So this is a view of the interior of Alexandria, a few blocks from the pastors' home and the sea. Although it may not look the nicest to some of you, I was surprised by how neat and orderly Alex was compared to Cairo. It was simply much neater than what I've experienced thus far in the capital city. Most of the locals abbreviate the name, as seen above, to just Alex. The name for the city in Arabic is actually "Iskandrea," which I think is so beautiful. 

Three of our students toured us around the city during our trip. Our primary "tour guide" was a senior named Mina (pictured center). He was soo great! Beshoy (left) and George (right) also planned some of the trip and took us around the city. 

The first stop on our trip was the Citadel. It is a giant castle on the coast. There is a huge courtyard filled with palms and sand; it was exactly how I pictured things looking in Egypt before I actually came here. You can go inside the Citadel, which is really awesome, and also climb to the top where you get a beautiful view of the city and the coast. 

Look at Mina being a good little tour guide! He was seriously so helpful, taking us around. Plus, he's come to the Citadel dozens of times with other visiting staff from the school so he knew a lot about the area. 

Standing on the top of the citadel, you can look straight out into the Mediterranean. The water is such a bright turquoise  we were there intermittently during a rain storm so everything was a bit darker than usual. It was super windy, and the swells were a decent size. It was so pretty to just watch the water. 

Sara and I inside the castle, looking out one of the windows towards the sea. I recommend that everyone visit at some point, it was one of my favorite things we've done in Egypt so far. 

So this is the group. I honestly don't know how we managed to get such a perfect picture of everyone. We are all so flattering, and maintaining eye contact with the camera. I think this is a success, haha. 

This is the view of Alexandria from the top of the Citadel. Alexandria is the largest city on the Mediterranean, which didn't surprise me one bit when I was able to fully take in the scale from a distance. All these colored boats made it look so perfect; it felt surreal, like this place couldn't actually exist in real life. I would love to come paint this!

Standing near the edge during a sun break. It was simply beautiful there; I adore the water so I am biased though. I didn't think I would enjoy Alexandria nearly as much as I did, and I think the beautiful view of the sea played a big part in that. 

It was so windy! I've grown accustomed to my new bangs, but they are super frustrating at the beach. I was constantly rearranging them so as to avoid a faux-mullet. It was so incredibly cold too; being near the water with so much wind dropped the temperature several degrees. Even my sweatshirt, two jackets, and scarf couldn't keep my nose and fingers from going numb for nearly the entirety of the trip. 

So by far, the best, my most favorite, perfect part of the whole trip, the ultimate highlight, was the fact that we found this man with two horses we could ride down the boardwalk in front of the beach. It cost 20EGP a person (about $3), so a definite steal. I assumed he would probably just let us hop on while he led us at a walk down the sidewalk and back. Again, I was wrong. But in this case, it turned out for the better. He gave us free reign of the horses. Which meant that I set off immediately at a canter. So. Much. Fun. Now for those of you who don't know, I have been riding horses most of my life and worked for the past few years volunteering and taking lessons at a ranch in Olympia. So I know a decent amount about riding, and was pretty comfortable with my riding abilities. Phil, however, has never ridden a horse before. So I made the irresponsible decision to start my horse into a canter knowing that his horse would follow, and also knowing that he didn't have a clue about what to do. Poor guy.. he almost fell off. I do feel guilty for that, but simultaneously I had such a perfect time that it is totally worth it haha. 

I was so happy! It felt so freeing to be able to just ride. Plus it was nice to not be seen as a silly ditzy little American girl who doesn't know how to do anything, as I cantered down the boardwalk through groups of smiling Egyptians. I was surprised by how well trained my horse was too, because a lot of them in the area are not well cared for or trained. Mine however, responded well to the cues once I figured out that I had to give them in Arabic and not English haha. 

After our trip to the Citadel and subsequent ride along the coast, we began visiting students who live in the area. We started with our guide Mina's house. His mother had us over for a wonderful lunch; his family was incredibly hospitable. We were all pretty exhausted, and because you are obligated to eat a lot of food we were stuffed too. See above picture to understand. 

This is Mina's baby sister Krista! She was absolutely precious! She was so quiet, and never cried. Sara fell in love with her; we had to fight over who got to hold her. 

We visited four different students' homes over the course of the trip. Two of our students, Maryam and Christine, had us over to their house on the Coptic Christmas (January 7). Maryam is pictured far left, and Christine is on the far right. They have five sisters total, and they are all absolutely stunning! In the center is Katerine, and not pictured is Demiana and Miuriel. 

On our last day in Alexandria, we discovered a pet shop next to the Pastors' house where we were staying. They had a bunch of pets out for sale on the street, and that is where we found this bad boy. This adorable little monkey! We were seriously going to buy him should he cost 350 EGP or less... try 4,000 EGP haha. We spent several hours discussing the details of owning a monkey though. We are going to look for another one that is cheaper to buy here in Cairo instead. We named this monkey Baba Noel though, which is the name for Santa Claus here in Egypt. He had a big white beard, and we found him on the Coptic Christmas so we thought it was only too suiting. I want him so bad! Precious. 

I was worried that going on this last-minute trip would be a very bad idea. We left merely four hours after I arrived on the continent and was suffering from super bad jet lag. Well, it turns out even lack of sleep can't keep you from having a great trip when you are surrounded by hilarious people and amazing sights. Alexandria is by far my favorite city in Egypt so far, and I can't wait to go back! I am already planning on trying to take my family there when they come to visit. It was also a really good trip in terms of relationship-building. Nothing makes you closer friends with someone than being forced to sit on rock-hard seats for five hours straight in a freezing cold van, and nothing to entertain yourselves with except humorous stories and awkward surroundings. We have grown as friends in our group a lot the past week, which I have appreciated. It makes me sad to think we are finally having fun and going on adventures together, and we only have five months left! Oh well. Until next time :)

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