Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Childhood Dream Come True

The week after Eid has, predictably, been extremely busy.  Between hosting an amazing music performance (see previous post) and a quick trip to Riyadh (where I got to see many good friends and colleagues and meet some new ones), sleep has been hard to come by.  I wouldn't trade it for anything, though, and I've now had two straight decent nights of sleep. 

Tomorrow I head out across the Red Sea to a place that I've dreamed of visiting since I was very young - Cairo, Egypt!  In my elementary school, we studied Ancient Egypt and the Pharaohs several times through the years, followed by at least once in each high school and college as well.  So, like many of my contemporaries, I have the typical idolization of the history and archaeology of Egypt.  Interestingly, though, after a year spent trying to mentally distance myself from all things Egyptian in an effort not to have my Arabic 'polluted' by the very different and distinct dialect spoken there, I lost a little bit of the magic and wonder I've always had about the place.  Going to Cairo became an inevitable visit rather than a true dream destination like it had been throughout my childhood.  It's the same way you start to take things for granted after awhile when they once seemed wondrous and novel.  Whenever I've moved somewhere and been struck by the beauty or excitement or potential of a place, I've vowed not to take it for granted, but it always ends up happening.  I think this is what happened to Egypt.  (I also think that spending a year learning about a volatile region and talking daily about the comparatively unstable situations in other Middle Eastern countries has desensitized me somewhat, wherein Egypt became a tame alternative to places like Iraq or Yemen.)

So when the opportunity to attend a great conference in Cairo came up, I was excited to go but not overly so.  (Frankly, I was more excited about the prospect of staying in a fancy hotel for a week and getting another stamp in my passport...)  But after spending all of yesterday frantically planning my last-minute trip and much of today getting caught up enough to be able to go, it was time to relax and start planning.  I am bookending two weekends, so I'll end up having a couple of free days to explore.  One of my friends/classmates from my DC training days has graciously agreed to host me for the few nights I'm not on per diem, and I'm thrilled to see her again and compare our first months at post.  So that's a very exciting part of my visit.  But what else to do?  And that's when it hit me.

I'm going to CAIRO!  EGYPT!  A place I have learned and read about from the time I was old enough to remember.  How on earth could I not be stay-up-all-night-in-anticipation, first visit to Disney World, Christmas Eve excited for this!?  So after spending a day thinking, planning, reading, now I am :-).  I have a list of things I want to do/see on this trip (Giza Pyramids, Sphinx, Khan-al-Khalili, Blue Mosque, Nile boat ride, etc.) as well as a backup list of many many other things for the next visit (and there will definitely be a next visit).  There's so much to do and see that I have to accept I can't see it all this week.  The conference also has a couple of activities planned, including a visit to a UNESCO World Heritage site called Valley of the Whales, to which I'm very much looking forward. 

So I'm currently doing laundry, packing, and planning for tomorrow's departure.  The kittens have still not quite gotten over the trauma of me being gone for a few days this week, but they'll be in very capable hands with my housekeeper.  A short two-hour flight tomorrow, and I'll be retracing the paths of the Pharaohs.  Stories and pictures to follow!

Country Music in the Kingdom

I try to keep this blog about my personal life, but I have to add in a quick work-related story.  (This also explains why I haven't had time to blog this week.)  This week the Kingdom's three posts hosted a country music band from the US, Thom Shepherd & the Nashville Songwriters.  Their performance was my first event, and, needless to say, I spent much of the Eid week worrying and planning and what-if-ing.  I was control officer for the band, which involves pre-planning and logistics as well as escorting them and facilitating everything during their stay.  As soon as they arrived at the airport with all their luggage, I breathed a big sigh of relief, and everything went swimmingly from there.  The performance was amazing, and guests, musicians, and our staff all had a wonderful time.  The band has been blogging and taking lots of wonderful photos and video, so please visit their site to learn more (  I of course owe the lion's share of the credit to my amazing colleagues, who also put in countless hours to make this a successful program.  The band is having a similarly great time touring the rest of the Kingdom right now!  So the short version of the story is that I truly have one of the greatest jobs in the world, getting to meet wonderful people like these and contribute to cultural exchange in a myriad of ways.  I've gotten lots of email, phone, and verbal responses to the concert, which have all been overwhelmingly positive and excited.  Here's to many, many more wonderful events!