Looking’ Back

January 10th, 2017

I’m back at home in Ardmore, Oklahoma. I’m huddling inside not because of the blistering sun and sweltering heat I had become so accustomed to, but because I have come down with a gnarly cold. My left ear still hasn’t popped after a three plane flights, a Muscinex, and half a day of heating it—I can’t hear out of it at all any more. Haha! This cold all started the last day I was in Rio. It was one of my favorite, too.

It all started with me sprinting down out of my three-tiered bunk bed (after Kelsy got sick and we switched) because of the wicked diarrhea I was having for the first time on the trip. What irony! I stumbled into class seven minutes late for the first time in my life, accompanied with Emily and Kelsy who were either waiting for me before walking to class or just taking a long time eating, and noticed that not everybody was ready. People were just casually chatting, going to the bathroom, and filling up their water bottles and the like. I finally understood Brazilian time on the last day of class. Nobody really cared if something happened right on time. I was only seven minutes late that morning butI felt so disrespectful and like a total failure—and I was even having the worst stomach cramps since my childhood belly problems. I shamefully scuffled up to Erika and quietly apologized for my tardiness and explained my bowel problems. She was so understanding that she didn’t even focus on my lateness but just felt bad for my mischievous belly! Thank you for your kindness!!

We had a ying-yang class of emotion and seriousness that swirled around because the pressure of our last day all together. We may never, and probably will never, be together again. Even though Caren is coming to Norman in a few weeks, not everyone will be able to come, I am sure! We will all have to get back to real life. Our time in Rio was great—I’m already showing everyone I recapping my adventure to my new Capoeira moves and recounting my obliviousness about the open-air drug market I walked through without noticing a single baggie of weed or handgun strapped to the hip of a red eyed adolescent. I can only imagine what everyone else finding out to be the most memorable of their trip! In addition to the mounting sadness and the impending marathon traveling to another hemisphere, we had to finish off our last marathon class, too. That is something I really appreciated the entire trip, our class was almost never in class. I loved that. It made me realize how much learning there is outside of the normalized, traditional “classroom experience.” While I’m recapping to my friends and family the highlights of my adventure, I’m finding myself telling the stories of my time in Rio, not just what we learned in class. Even more interestingly, even when I’m talking about what exactly we discussed in class, I am explaining it through the fieldtrips we took.

For example, today I went to my hairdresser, it’s the day after I got back. He’s  a pretty cool dude who is relatively updated with some of the Brazilian happenings because of the Olympics. He is especially up to date because his kids were swimmers—he knew “all about” the favela that butted up against that particular section of the Olympic park. He told me about some swim fanatics he knew that got to go to watch Phelps rock the swimming world…and how they complained about how “staying in the slums to watch the Olympics was so expensive.” What? #1 He talked about the favela like it should never have been there and #2 When did outsiders get to stay in the favelas like they were hotels?! I definitely didn’t set him straight because I’m not a favela expert or anything, but I did go through and talk about how negatively the Olympics impacted not only the favelas but all of the country. Sure I could recount what I read in books like The Spectacular Favela, Encountering Poverty, or Dancing with the Devil in the City of God, but I’m already figuring out how much more impactful my experiences were than I thought they were going to be. It’s like someone knew how incredibly amazing this trip was going to be!


Journeying Home

January 9th, 2017

Still sitting across from John in the airport in Rio. He’s on two phones right now and that is a little confusing. Maybe the little one without a case is the one he used while he was staying down here (in Brazil) by himself? I haven’t seen him whip out the blue phone before now, and he definitely looks a little confused by it. I love this deductive reasoning. He’s also rolling his ankles in a funny way that does not look comfortable in the slightest. We should be boarding soon, I’ll ask him about the double phoneage then.

I’ll miss this place and its people. It is so damn fun to look up and see so many different patterns and colors on so many people who rock the bejesus out of them.

UPDATE: John didn’t clarify whether or not the iPhone 4 was the one we used when he stayed here by himself, but he did say that it is a phone he would be willing to hand over to somebody who wanted to nab it from him on the streets of Rio.

Back to the colorful life of Cariocas. Throughout my short stay I ever failed to be impressed by the lives of the people of Rio. Maybe impressed isn’t the right word. I think I was always surprised. Especially after reading Barbassa’s book, Dancing with the Devil in the City of God, I guess I was expecting everyone who lived in Rio to be moping around about how horrible everything is in their city. And Barbassa’s depiction was even before the Olympics, most of its destructive construction, and that aftermath.

UPDATE: I have officially made it back to Dallas, Texas, USA! However, now I am camping out in front of the bag service counter waiting for the Aeromexico agent to arrive—my bad did not make it back to ‘Merica like I did. Additionally, I developed one nasty cold on the way back up north and have lost about half of my hearing to what is lovingly called airplane ears. Whoohoo. I was waiting for my ear drums to rupture and anticipating what that was going to feel like. On the way from Sao Paulo to Mexico City my right ear never popped at all. That wasn’t too bad, just really unsettling because, you know, all that pressure has to go somewhere. But the worst was the three hour flight from Mexico City to Dallas. My ears didn’t pop at all. That wasn’t even the scariest thing. Once I woke up from a nap I was able to feel the burning pain stretching from the bottom of my ear all the way to the joint of my mandible. Guess what? THAT STILL HASN’T GONE AWAY. I stopped freaking out once I got into the airport, though. At least there isn’t any more altitude to provide an immediate danger to my ears. And I am hearing some teeny weeny baby pops!! Whoohoo!


That’s the number of the agent who has been “coming soon” since about thirty minutes ago. Two different guys who worked in the baggage claim area called her a total of about six or seven times…with no answer! They both suggested for me to go through customs without my baggage to talk to the Aeromexico desk on the other side of customs. That’s a hella smart idea to design the baggage claim area with the people on the other side—haha! I was strutting out of the baggage claim to go sassily chat with some folks about finding my bag when the two men starting pointing at a lady walking in and shouting That’s her! That’s her! The women was moseying in at a snail’s pace with a cup of coffee in her hand. A women, who had also become involved in the hunt for my bag and the Aeromexico agent, walked me over to her and told the agent that I needed her help. The agent’s response was hilarious. She made a little disgusted look and said with a Mexican accent, “For what?” She was flabbergasted that someone would need her help! That whole encounter ended with me finding out that my luggage was somewhere in Brazil or Mexico and that I would get it back eventually. Good thing it’s all summer clothes!

More Photo Thoughts & Headin’ Home

January 8th, 2017

How is documentary photography any different from other careers that do indeed capitalize on other aspects of life? If capitalizing on other people’s varying degrees of life is wrong, why is it okay to write anthropological books? Both documentary photographers and anthropological writers critically document the world around them. And as far as I can tell there is no restriction to the anthropological world on what is “okay” and “not okay” to study. Syd, the person who showed us around the port area this morning (my writing is getting all jumbled up now) “doesn’t take credit” for her (I am assuming Syd is a female and will refer to her as a her for ease of writing—I recognize I am not sure of his or her gender identity) impact on uncovering and telling the world how abhorrent slavery was in Rio and the long-term effects that are still evident in all facets of life in the city. Her whole life has been devoted to studying and exposing that injustice—and she was going to write a book about to make money. She isn’t just taking a snapshot of horrific wrongdoings in a sliver of time, in or out of context, but instead detailing every nuance she can find and then interjecting her thoughts and opinions (although highly educated) with all of her work she has produced. Take her tour today for example—it was riddled so intensely with her specific personal ideas and opinions that Erika could not have her own opinion without being wrong. For arguments sake, now think about the photos that were featured in the New Blacks museum. They are images that were printed out after staging and photographing a scene of Legos. I do admit and recognize that the artist behind the camera had a specific intent when producing his or her work, but the photos themselves would have no definitive meaning without the context the artist chooses (or chooses not) to provide alongside the image and, most importantly, the interpretation of the viewer. Why is one form of art, don’t forget writing or even public speaking is an art, more exploitative than others? Writing and speaking are so pointed that there is little room for wavering around ideas. With them, everything has to be so explicit to successfully convey ideas with their intended meanings. But I see that the beauty of the visual arts, including photography, is that option to be vague that so many disciplines lack.

I’ll get off my soap box.

By now it’s January 12th—you know what that means. Leaving day. I’m in the airport sitting in a food court with Emily, Alex, Tom, and John (who is somewhere). He just got back. He has a gnarly looking sandwich in hand. He’s plowed through it in only seconds. Some of the other gang is arriving, too. We just saw Kelsy, Parker, and Daryl wander in. It took us a few seconds to flag them down. John and I are traveling together tonight. I lucked out big time. Thankfully, as I concluded earlier in this journal, I scream to the heavens that I am American so I haven’t encountered too many problems with a language barrier. My Spanish helped me a lot more than I thought it would, which was admittedly very low expectations to begin with, but I could read menus a little bit and I was beginning to be able to decipher what John and Caren were saying to some people—I still couldn’t pick up on Erika’s Portuguese most of the time! Haha!

The biggest struggle I have had in Brazil has by far been with the airports. After shuffling around for twenty minutes in the B terminal of whatever airport this is in (in Rio), I was told and read myself three different gates for one flight. I had the same thing happen to me in Sao Paulo! It is terrifying! I spotted John walking by and howdy-doed him to get his attention. He was definitely equally distressed as me about the game of hopscotch our gate is playing. I just remembered something, too! When I was trying to fly into Rio from the Sao Paulo airport (which I have now complained about three times, the gate did the same thing. The flight was a hodgepodge of different airlines the first time around, and it is now, too! I shared this idea with John yet. He’s a little intimidating to travel with—#2 because I can’t always remember what I’m supposed to do when I check in and that is very shameful to admit in front of a seasoned travel vet #2 he seems very edgy when he travels. Whateves. We have a long time of traveling together to think that through.


cancelled contract

he is growing inside of me even as you stare and search for new cracks in my surface

even as you watch with a wary eye for the weakening of my worn heart

even as you say your hands are out to catch me when I fall

even when I see your hands are shaking


he is growing and I am growing with him and I will not need your hands anymore


I know you do not know how to love me without needing a toolbox

burn that manual that was stained with my tears and creased beneath your hands before they began to shake

throw away those nails you used to pound into my skin telling me that the blood was painful but necessary, that the healing would come in time

bury those hammers in the back yard

those hammers you would hand out to the team of healers you recruited in my honor

those hammers that blocked the light enough for me to realize there even was light I had been missing

those hammers I tried to throw right back at you

give that wrench to someone else, to someone who is still in pieces, to someone who has yet to become a home for anything other than pain

break in half that staple gun I would press to my own skin just to show you that I felt no pain, just to show you that I was stronger than anyone else, just to show you that I was so empty, just to show you there would be no blood

squeeze out all that glue you used to bathe me in when I came home at the end of night with my own body scattered between my own arms, the glue you said would keep me together long enough for morning to come

burn those tarps you and the team would wrap my body in as I lay shivering on the floor


I am no longer a house for you to reconstruct

I no longer have a demolition wish for myself

I stand on the top of a crane called faith and I have no fear

though the wind blow and tempt me to fall into it’s cradling, lying arms, I stand firmly rooted, a million miles above the collapsed shack I used to be

and I shout “I am no building but the forest they want to chop down for wood!”

and I shout “I am no system of pipes but the rushing river they cannot tame!”

and I shout “I am no mess of wire but the electric shiver the earth feels when the lighting kisses her cheek!”

he is growing and I am growing with him and I have long since surpassed the cage I used to need to stay alive

he is growing and I am growing with him

he is growing and I am growing

he is growing

he is


January 7th, 2017

I’m lying in bed in the middle of the afternoon for the first time on this trip (it’s actually the 10th though). I’m tired, but not just physically. My throat isn’t sore, but the muscles under my tongue are tight. I asked the all-knowing John for his opinion on the matter. He reminded me how extensive the lymphatic system is in our throat and in the mandible—my body is literally struggling to process this place at this point. Everyone has been complaining about their throats, too. We are all having a tough time adjusting not just to air and food and such. On that note, I’ve also been having the opposite problem to a lot of people on this trip. I am most definitely not constipated if you get what I’m saying. I have lost so much weight since I have been here. The freshman fifteen I gained on my back, arms, and belly during the first semester has dramatically decreased from a combination of the diarrhea, perpetual sweating, and sporadic meals (not complaining about the last two).. The salt is definitely not affecting me as much as everyone else for whatever reason. I haven’t felt or been this skinny in years. But I am sun burnt to a crisp after frolicking in the ocean all throughout the morning on the ninth, even after applying two coats of sunscreen. I think the UV index is around 11 or 12 in the joints? Rio has been a total detox that I was not expecting at all. But this isn’t the first time I don’t just feel relatively exhausted from a combination of Rio’s climate, food, culture, and problems, but a little defeated.

I don’t even know where to begin. I think I will start off by saying how grateful I am to have been allowed and able to come on this trip. I hyped up coming to Rio to study inequality and activism in my head a lot. I told myself and thought that if I could handle this, maybe I would have a shot at the life I dream about having. Being able to be thrown into any environment to adapt and learn about that place and its culture is something I value for myself right now and for the future, but I am wavering here. Other than Dr. Theriault’s class, Understanding the Global Community, I haven’t had a lot of exposure to anything even remotely close to the ideology of this class. I am not having difficulty understanding concepts we focus on most in class, but I think I am coming to realize that a lot of it has never been my cup of tea, in the sense of capturing my attention before this or having that motivate me to act upon anything. Of course I had an idea of poverty, and I think (and hope) it was one of more than just skinny black children reaching out for food, but I did not realize until coming here and being surrounded by a whole new world how many things, ideas, and practices I was just simply not aware of. That scares me for two big reasons. #1 How do people tromp around living a day-to-day life without ever knowing atrocities that are so indelibly and discretely stamped onto our lives. #2 How have I tromped around living a day-to-day life without ever knowing atrocities that are so indelibly and discretely stamped into my life?

Take the negative ramifications of photography, for example. What are the limitations to photojournalism in a context similar to what this class is exploring? Am I considered a photojournalist or a tourist in this context? Can I be considered a photojournalist instead of a tourist just taking photos by not only the people I want to document but also by my peers and instructors? I just posed a question to Parker and Lily about how I don’t completely understand why it isn’t always respectful to photograph and document the favelas, besides the danger that it would pose to our group and to respect the people who would be photographed. They both said things along the line of how it can be degrading to the residents because my photographing of them and their conditions make them, and my peers, feel like I am making a spectacle, a zoo of sorts, of their lives. Is there a way for me to show or prove that cheesy tourism shots and “wow”-factor photography isn’t my “game” with carrying my camera everywhere I go?

Unexpected Expectations & Realizations

January 6th, 2017

“People a while ago said I was an outlier. Activists have to be outliers. My mother was a cleaner and my dad cut hair. They had no college education whatsoever. But my mother always said “You have to study, you have to study.” I learned to love to study. When I was 17 I wrote a book. When I was fourteen I was working through the church through the activist groups there. The work I did with my church combined with the book I read made me very worried about the future   Given my background I could have become a drug trafficker there were two paths. Seeing groups like coming abroad makes me know this was the right choice.” –an activist from Guanabara Bay translated directly by Caren

Still on the way to the museum from the Guanabara Bay mangrove reforestation tour. Again, it was nothing at all like I had imagined. Again again, I did not come to this country with expectations. I do admit, again again, that I did have images in my head of what this place would be like. During the Bay tour, for example, I did not see a single piece of trash floating anywhere. Just yesterday at Caren’s house we were cracking jokes about how smelly it was about to be and how much poop we were going to see because of the rain. It didn’t seem that bad at all! I wasn’t aware though, until the presentation this morning, how much work had already been put into reforesting and cleaning up Guanabara Bay. Eleven tons of trash was cleared out of somewhere, but I still don’t know where specifically. *Side note: I’m getting really sleepy in this car after seeing everyone else sleep. My lower back is also starting to hurt quite noticeably from all the sitting I have done today. I don’t have that TINS machine on me either. Drat!* I guess I was expecting us to be tromping around in water that was supersaturated with debris and undissolved poo. I thought, and I’m pretty sure we all did, that it was going to be a much more hands on and gross experience. Instead, it was a lovely boat ride throughout which we learned fun facts, played and took selfies with crabs on muddy beaches, got ourselves and our boots horrifically stuck on those muddy beaches, and felt the bay spray on our faces (which may or may not have been a good thing now that I think about it) underneath the shade of the boat cover. I also just remembered how I need to clean off my camera lens. It got so salty from the bay while I was trying to take photos! We saw dolphins from a drastically depleted population breaching for air and birds perching on the skeletons of indigenous and illegal fish traps.

It was very odd to see the irony in the beauty of the place while so much wrongness still infests it. The fish die in those traps because they bake in an every-shallowing bay because of the massive deforestation of the mangroves. Since the mangroves were destroyed (for a reason I cannot recall) and the surrounded forest has been depleted sediment has slowly filled it over time. That’s what is causing the dolphins to die, too. There use to be 800 in the bay, now the count is down to just 39. We were lucky to encounter the remaining pod today, but their presence served as a reminder that just underneath all the superficial beauty of Rio de Janeiro there is a treasure trove of injustice to even the environment.

Just thinking back on what that activist said to us right before we left Guanabara Bay, the thing that stuck out to me most was how he said that he, and activists, are tethered to life as outsiders. I believe I have recognized that for a long time. It baffles me that the life of those who care deeply are the outliers of humanity. Why is passion unusual and mediocracy adequate such a social norm at this point? That’s what drove the leader of the Rochina tour to his state of such extreme discontent. So few people care about topics that matter these days, and that’s especially prevalent in my generation. Maybe I am a millennial—I grew up with the kids that cared not at all about anything.

What Rochina Sparked

January 5th, 2017

I’m on the bus ride back from Guanabara Bay—I’m not looking at the screen or else I will get car sick, so bear with me! Let me start with yesterday before mocing onto today.

WE WENT TO ROCHINA! First favela! It was incredible! But honestly, shockingly, and admittedlky, it was nothing like I had imagined it being. Don’t get me wrong here, I didn’t just make up ideas in my head about what life was like in the slums of Brazil. I have read two books and been taught by two separate teachers about the favelas. Not to discredit the poverty of the favelas, but they were not even a fraction as mad as I had pictured them to be. First of all, the smell of sewage that is suppose to be a trademark of favelas was not too noticeable, at least to me. This is extra surprising because it is also the heat of the summer. The hottest of the hot, the most humid of the humid, and should be the smellieset of the smelliest. But the smell was only extra purfunctory whenever we were stolling by some of the little streams, distorted to an odd, cloudy white. That’s suppse to be from the extrament of the favela residents. Gross, right? Some people are trying to fix that, but most people aren’t and just don’t care at this point.

Besides the smell, the rest of the environment wasn’t what I expected either. One thing that Erika said describes this the best for me: it is much more of a community than it seemed before we actually saw it. I was imagining people in just horrific, paralyzing poverty. Although it kind of sounds like I’m discrediting the extremes, please know that I did not see everything, do not know everything, and cannot begin to claim that what I remember seeing and how it made me feel is at all correct. Let me give an example of this. While we were in class later, Alex brought up how horrible he felt about people living the way we experienced it, even with our status as gringos walking around the slums when we saw only a sliver of time of the life of a favela resident. He briefly mentioned how it made him want to do so much more. Oddly enough, it didn’t to me. I didn’t feel guilt and responsible to for their problems and to fix them. Erika responded to Alex’s comments by saying, basically, that we as individual people cannot fix all of the problems in the world. We have to pick our battles to make an impact. Maybe combating poverty isn’t my battle? To clarify, I’m not saying that I don’t think poverty is terrible and gentrifying and everything, it just isn’t the one of many dilemmas of the world that grabs at my heartstrings to leap to my feet.

There is another bit that makes me wonder about my sensitivity to strife and suffering. While I was in the favela, I wanted to photograph everything, besides the things that would have gotten me and my group shot, of course. I don’t know if it the photographer in me who has a deep respect for documatitive photography and the cost of its production, or the little kid in me who grew up hardened by life-changing and mindset-altering obstacles that indelibly shaped me. As everyone says, probably a little bit of both. So I felt no shame in wanting to photograph the favela, its people, and its conditions. It is another element of life to me, why should it be “respected” so much to leave that stone unturned to the eyes of the outside? I do understand a point that was discussed later, how exploitative photography does little good while it stirs up muck. However, whenever I saw that picture of the shriveled girl and the vulture I did not think it fell under that category. I had never seen it before, but the moment I looked at it for the first time I could feel the power of the moment the photographer had captured. I think that’s why I see it differently than some of the others—I judge the image from the eye of an artist gleaning the weight of that image. Some of the questions that popped up about the negative connotations of the photo, to me, make the photo of the suffering, that took place at both the photographer and little girl’s expense, more powerful, visible, and moving. The photo is an utter success at an astronomical price, but it did its job and brought attention to the situation at hand—the consequences of immeasurable poverty previously unseen to the world.

Shout-Out, Girl Talk, & Gunshots

Since I haven’t made it abundantly clear by this point, I went on an intersession with OU to Rio de Janeiro this winter break! The past three posts, this one, and several more are my daily journal entries I had to keep for a portion of the class. Some are a bit silly, but towards the end I definitely forgot that I was only expected to comment about what I did every day. I put a lot more thought into some of them than I was anticipating to, so after realizing that and hearing from the spectacular Jaci Gandenberger that I actually have a follower!! for this blog, I will post them all with all of their exhausted, rambled, honest, and unedited glory.

Thanks for the support, Jaci!

(journals continued…)


I’m loving not just this trip, but these people.

I’m chilling in the girls’ room—this is utterly hilarious. We’ve discussed everything from acne and the effects of Accutane to abortions, “bubble-but” chins, cracked nipples from breastfeeding, drugs (including acid, meth, marijuana), ugly-ish puppies, Americans’ binge drinking problem among youth, privilege on OU’s campus, our favorite snacks, how to “measure the weight of your boobs” by either weighing them on a scale or by calculating their displacement in water, Zumba versus martial arts, and surprisingly many, many other things. Lilly just added how she once had a drunk friend pepper-spray and tase him several times over. We are now back on the topic of boobs. Can you tell we are a bunch of college girls? Then Kelsie just chimed in on how John commented on how refreshed she look by splashing water on her face. Haha! And how we don’t have class during Dead Week this year?! Is this real life?! We’ve moved onto our boyfriends and how we all met our loves. I told the cliché story about how I somehow ended up being homecoming queen and my escort asked me to be his girlfriend the next day. I even included how one of my best friends was head-over-heals for him for three years but he started liking me—that definitely ushered some, “You’re that girl!” Parker found out through casual conversation that he considered her his…

GUNSHOT? The first thing that shot through my head was We need to go to Erika’s! We need our emergency meeting spot!! I went downstairs with Madison to scope out the scene. We first knocked on the boys’ room door—no answer. Maybe they were asleep? No! They were all downstairs, maybe drinking, but totes having good-ole boy fun. They were hanging out on the patio, like nothing happened at all! We rushed out wondering what they saw, they must have seen it firsthand! But it was, interestingly, just a firework. They said it must have been that instead of a gunshot because of all the smoke. I could smell it in the air. We could have sworn that it was a gun, though! I guess that’s something that I got very sensitized to about that certain side of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil I read and learned the most about. The others must have, too, because that’s the first thing they all thought. We froze, except for Lilly who immediately peaked her head out the window to check it out!

Back to our girls’ room shenanigans. Last night was our warm up. First my book got slung-shot around up to Kelsie’s triple-decked bunk bed. Unfortunately, she missed her catch and the book went flying down three tiers of beds into the abyss underneath Lyssa’s bottom bunk. We all had just a hoot-and-a-half trying to figure out ways to retrieve it. First I photographed the scene underneath the bed to conceptualize the scene of the crime. We found a disgusting and discarded pair of camo pants…and my book on top of it! Lyssa tried to shove her arm behind the bed, then I did, then we whipped out the Rwandan parasite arms to slide into the tiny crack. But no luck! So then Lyssa and I ripped out (don’t tell the hostel people) a drawer and we still couldn’t reach it. At this point the whole crew became involved. Madison contributed her selfie stick to add the extra stretch we needed to reach it all the way back against the way. Once Lyssa successfully retrieved it, we found out it was covered with some mystery white dust. Someone immediately shouted out Cocaine! That definitely made me laugh. After double-dog-daring someone to try to taste it, I wiped off the drug-like substance and proudly handed it over to Kelsie. And that was just the start of our bunk bed struggles, I think two phone got dropped down there, too!

But anyway, today was a pretty darn fun day. It started out with heading to the beach this morning with Emily. She took a lap and a half from the 11 kilometer marker with the faded Brazilian flags down to the OU office…

Caroline in Cairo: Observations

Over winter break I traveled to Cairo, Egypt where I spent a month with Lamis and her family. I had an amazing time, learned a lot of Arabic, saw some crazy stuff, and returned with a lot of stories! Here are some observations I made while in Egypt.



I’ve taken all forms of transportation available in Cairo.
Train- pretty cool. average train ride. my ticket from Cairo to Alexandria and back was 90 Egp.
Bus- no. never again.
Minibus- so so so crowded. also scary.
Microbus- super cheap and generally pretty trustworthy. Most tickets were 4 Egp.
TukTuk- So much fun! They’re usually decorated with feathers, lights, or stickers. The only downside is how slow they are.
Boxtruck- Yikes. Crammed with people, nails sticking out of the sides, guys hanging on the back, and a very bumpy ride.
Taxi- some drivers have timers that determine the fare. These drivers are suuuuper slow. Downside of taxi is that sometimes the drivers try to be funny.

1st Microbus ride! In a boxtruck with Salwa (Lamis's friend) before it filled with people! a camel counts as transportation, right?! a mean taxi driver In Lamis's father's car on the way to her mother's village! a man in a village outside of Tanta driving his cart a donkey with a job I rode a donkey sans saddle. it was scarier than the camel.  Lamis's cousin was very patient and only laughed at me a little bit. the train to Alexandria. round trip= 90 egp a boat we rode in Alexandria

There are no rules for driving. At all.

Cars will try to run you over. Especially female drivers.

Crosswalks either don’t exist or they’re not visible. Crossing the street basically just means jumping in front of cars and looking mean enough to hopefully make them stop for you.

Sidewalks are where stores conduct business, the street is shared by pedestrians and cars.

Traffic lights and stop signs are suggestions.

Animal-drawn carts aren’t the weirdest thing. If you leave the house you’re most likely going to see at least one donkey pulling an orange cart



While in Egypt i ate pigeon, rabbit, quail, beef, chicken, fish, shrimp, ful, t3mayya, kufta, koshary, mulukhayya, and just about every other thing you could think of. The food was always so good. I was fortunate enough to have an excellent host mother (my friend’s mom) who was continuously cooking for us.

1st meal in Egypt! kufta from down the street 1st breakfast! (Lamis's mom said "Don't port this picture! they'll think i'm starving you!") cotton candy at the souq! I wanted the heart and i didn't even ask, the guy just knew. snacks and drinks by the Nile (Lamis and her dad got a hummus drink) Lemonade with mint and pomegranate juice with seeds eating Libyan food with Lamis's old neighbors posing with a dead pigeon Lamis's aunt cleaning the rice for our lunch Lamis's aunt baking the rice a delicious home cooked meal in a village outside of Tanta creeper shot of the meal Koshary (not at Abu Tarek's place) Egypt has Chili's and Johnny Carino's ??? cotton candy by the sea (not pictured: the sea) a very popular seafood restaurant in Alexandria my plate of seafood

Nescafé is love. Nescafé is life.

Guests are served coffee, tea, juice, or Nescafé made to their specifications on a silver tray.

Every meal must have side dishes. Grape leaves, stuffed vegetables, other meats.

Black tea usually follows a meal.

There are endless types of cheeses and everyone has a different favorite. *Cue weird looks if you eat the wrong cheese with the wrong meat.*

You can get a sandwich for 2 Egp (shoutout to Shabrawwi) that tastes amazing.

Falafel is called T3mayya is Cairo. Just go with it.

Abu Tarek has the best koshary and that’s final.

Lemonade will probably never be the same for me. I drank a lot of Lemonade with mint, 2hwa mazboot (sweetened Turkish coffee), and tea with mint. I also tried fresh mango, strawberry, and guava juice!




There is a song for everything. Everything has a movie or TV show reference, a little chant, a song, or some connection to pop culture. 

Key gestures and phrases made my life 1000x easier.

ex: there’s a gesture to show someone you’re actually full and not just being nice.

there’s a phrase to tell the person asking for money that you don’t have any but you hope their life gets easier.

*sidenote* sometimes shopkeepers will tell you that your items are free and you don’t have to pay. they’re just being nice %99 of the time and you really do need to pay

I’m creating a second post dedicated solely to shisha and coffee shops.

The Quran is absolutely EVERYWHERE. This might’ve been the biggest shock for me when I got to Egypt. Almost every car has بسم الله, ما شاء الله, الله اكبر or some other religious phrase written in sharpie, painted, or (the most common) attached as a sticker. Taxis, buses, microbuses, and minibuses are especially decked out in written prayers asking for God’s protection. Quranic recitation is unbelievably prevalent. I heard recordings of the Quran being played in: taxis, microbuses, grocery stores, on the street, shops, etc. I was touring the Citadel in Alexandria and i even heard one of the cleaning men reciting the Quran.

*sidenote* One of the mechanics across the street from Lamis’s house blared the Quran non-stop 24/7 the only exception being during soccer games.

Idle chitchat is mandatory when a guest comes over. I really value alone time so i occasionally struggled to keep up with the Egyptian social life.

People stare. A lot. Some people make weird comments. No one ever touched me or was hostile. 

Personal space doesn’t exist outside of the house. There are a ton of people in Cairo and it’s very apparent when there’s a big event or holiday. (like New Year’s Eve)

Foreign brands are everywhere (they have cheetos).

People yell in the streets at all hours of the night. It’s fine. Most people are awake anyway. 

Being late is normal. Meeting times are just general suggestions, give or take a couple hours.

Men will invoke the name of God while catcalling you because that makes it fine???


Haggling is a must. Speaking Arabic helps. Being Egyptian helps even more.

The conversion rate during my time in Egypt was about 18-20 Egp/ 1 USD.

Egypt was very affordable for me but worsening economic woes have exacerbated class tensions as purchasing power decreases and prices of basic goods continue to rise.

I gave my dollars to Lamis’s dad to convert for me at the bank. I didn’t mess with conversion companies but I did see some around.

I bought lots of gifts and spent rather freely and i ended up spending ~1100 Egp / Week. (including a train to Alexandria and frequent trips to coffee shops)


I know that generalizations aren’t the best way to obtain a nuanced perspective of a country or a culture; however, the aim of this post is to provide a fun and funny glimpse into Egypt as I saw it.

Reflections on this semester

The semester is over, and with it I have safely tucked away all of the memories it has given me. It has been a time of ups and downs as with many other things in life. As I predicted at the beginning of the semester, I am a different person with a new perspective on the world.

Without a doubt the best part of the first leg of my study abroad year was the combination of many small events. These include the many times I was engaging with not only Taiwanese students, but others from all around the world. I went on many trips and joined a few groups, so I can confidently say that I got the most out of this semester. Focusing on studies as well as the entire international experience was challenging, but I welcomed it openly and used it to my advantage to gain a more solid foundation in achieving my goals.

Speaking of academics, classes were probably the hardest part of this journey. I took on a full load of engineering coursework. Although I am fluent in Chinese, I found knowing a language and being able to apply it are two almost entirely different things. Take the example of going to office hours. This is something I took advantage of while at OU, but having to explain your question about an equation in your second language really pushes language learning. However, this challenge has let me achieve a level of fluency that I could find through few other opportunities.

Looking forward and in reverse, I find that the next semester is approaching quickly and that thanks to my time in Taiwan I am all the more prepared to tackle new adventures on my bucket list. I’m sure I will learn countless new things on later trips, but this first one might provide the foundation I need to achieve a unique experience. My study abroad year might be almost halfway over already, but I feel like it has just started!