Visiting BA students 2016
Every year we are honoured to host several Arabic and Islamic Studies students from Flemish and Dutch Universities. On this page you can keep track with their adventures and reflections on their stay in Cairo.
We took our BA students Arabic & Islamic Studies from the Netherlands and Flanders on a five-day trip to Alexandria. Taking the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road, me and Shahdan (NVIC’s liaison officer and an Alex connoisseur) arranged for a stopover in Wadi El Natrun. This valley, just west of the Nile Delta, is home to a few Coptic monasteries, two of which we graced with a visit. The calm of these monasteries, disrupted only by the serene excitement of Coptic families visiting these houses of religion, sure is something else than the everlasting hubbub of Cairo.
The remainder of the five days was spent in Alexandria itself. This ancient Mediterranean city has a lot to offer, so we had to make a careful selection of things to do. Traveling with students of Arabic, we of course arranged for Arabic-speaking guides everywhere we went. To cover the city’s rich Graeco-Roman heritage, we visited the catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa (one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages!) and the amphitheater of Kom el Dikka. Islamic sites included the mosque of al-Mursi Abu l-Abbas and the citadel of Qaitbey, located where once the Lighthouse stood, another Wonder of the World. The students’ academic curiosity was satisfied by a tour through the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. The impressive modernist architecture of this complex is overshadowed only by the gargantuan amount of books it houses.
But of course, it wasn’t all history, museums, and tours. Alexandria is also a place you go for the sun, the beaches, the cafes, the delicious sweets, and of course the seafood. And so we did. We took our time to enjoy the sea breeze and the sun (yes, we were lucky!) at Montaza Park and Mamoura Beach, and selected nice restaurants to have lunch and dinner, ranging from one of the most popular grill houses in town to the fancy, upmarket Greek Club, which offers a nice view across the bay. At night we let our students free, and I’m sure they explored Alexandria’s many bars and cafes—or at least so did we.
The worst part of the trip was returning to Cairo, where it was back to work for us and back to class for our students. But hey! At least we’d had a well-deserved break from our daily routine, and I’m sure that our students too could use some time off from their intensive program…
Assistant Director and Programme Coordinator Arabic Studies and Islam
Excursion to Alexandria
Sunday morning, 7 o’clock a Group of 30 students gathered at the Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo at Zamalek. Representing the universities of Leiden, Amsterdam, Nijmegen, Leuven, Groningen and Maastricht they were bound for an excursion to Alexandria under the direction of Rudolf de Jong and Liaison officer Mrs. Shahdan Ibrahim. The next four days a bus would be at our disposal to deliver us to any destination, even if only 20 meters from a restaurant to an ice salon.
Our first stop was a monastery complex in the desert between Cairo and Alexandria. The two monasteries visited illustrated nicely the Coptic history of Egypt. These settlements used to be very secluded, but in recent days they are quite easy to reach. Within the walls of the monasteries a quiet oasis was found. The local monks explained the history of the monasteries and told a little on the Coptic church in general. A striking feature of both these settlements were the defensive wall, drawbridge and tower that provided the monks with safety against raiding parties. There were also these ancient wall paintings that were (partly) preserved. The tour guide kept the tour entertaining by introducing a quiz with fantastic prizes.
In the evening the group arrived at the hotel and the fresh air of the sea could be enjoyed, a relief after all our time in Cairo. Every evening the group gathered on the top floor of the hotel. Every student had to give a short presentation about the activities of the day. The stuttering and giggling brought back memories of high school presentations. After these lectures the group split up to explore Alexandria’s nightlife, ending up on (roof)terraces, in pubs but also the bakery/patisserie seemed to be a popular destination.
Monday a tour of the famous library of Alexandria took place Though this very new building doesn’t resemble the original old library at all, the exhibitions with manuscripts, art and textile were quite interesting. Apart from being a museum, the building also houses a state of the art library. Several people commented it was the first public building they encountered that didn’t have cracks in the walls and windows or where the wiring was visible. In the afternoon we paid a visit to the fort of Alexandria. This fort was built on the foundations of one of the seven world wonders, the Lighthouse of Alexandria. The day ended with a meal in a famous fish restaurant.
Tuesday the bus drove us to the old catacombs that served as a cemetery and to a beautiful park (Montazah) at the beach. The afternoon was spend wandering the beaches and park and gazing at the Montazah palace. Unfortunately there was no possibility to swim because of the somewhat low temperature and the reserved attitude of the people at beach.
Wednesday the palace of princess Fatma al-Zahra was visited. In it the royal jewels and other treasures were displayed. The building, decorated in European style, made as big an impression as the exhibited treasures. Especially our female colleagues seemed mesmerized by the beautiful jewelry. The men seemed less affected, as most of them spent the final minutes of the trip on the stairs of the palace, enjoying the sun. After an official photo session on these same stairs, the return trip commenced.
This trip went quite well apart from the collision our driver had as well as the fact that the final 10 kilometer in Cairo took about the same time as the first 200. Despite this everybody was happy to see our temporary hometown again. The noise, stench, crowdedness, typical architecture and other shortcomings were missed by some of the students. One of the students remarked that it takes a trip outside the city to realize, upon arrival, how ugly Cairo actually is. After an emotional farewell speech by mister de Jong the institute came in sight with it and the end of the trip.
Robin de Keijzer and Tom Verplancke