Caitlin Coyle’s Blog

Don’t let the bedbugs bite…

Posted in Uncategorized by caitlincoyle on May 31, 2009

antsI found ants in my bed. Four nights in a four-star hotel, and still, ants. Small ones, big ones, fast ones and slow ones.

Upon first discovery, I brushed them away…mildly grossed out, but nothing worth changing a room over.

I proceeded to search the entire rest of my bed, going as far as to rip off the sheets and dig deep under my mattress…no further sign of ants.

I quickly searched my roommate Lisa’s bed…no ants.

Thinking I had killed the only sign of bugs, I went to bed under the impression my room was ant free.

However, the next three nights only brought more ants. A rational person would have simply changed rooms. But I was on a mission; I had to find the source of the ants.

Could it have been a fallen pillow chocolate? Cracker crumbs from the previous guest? The sweet scent of my perfume on the sheets?

Maybe it was the free internet connection in my room. Maybe it was that I had already unpacked for the eleventh time on this trip. Or maybe it was the hours of sleep I forfeited to ponder the insects who were sharing my bed…Whatever the reason, I did not change rooms.

I write this post from Aleppo, a town five hours north of Damascus.

It is my first night in a new, insect-free bed and still I lie awake, thinking about the ants…

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The number one artist to ever grace the people of Syria:

Posted in Uncategorized by caitlincoyle on May 31, 2009

CELINE DION!!!

 

 

From hotel lobbies, to internet cafes and restaurants, Miss Celine --my heart will go on -- Dion is present. No other artist can compete….she is their Syrian Idol. Just when I thought my Titanic days were long behind me, Celine Dion has found her way back into my life.

From hotel lobbies, to internet cafes and restaurants, Miss Celine --my heart will go on -- Dion is present. No other artist can compete….she is their Syrian Idol. Just when I thought my Titanic days were long behind me, Celine Dion has found her way back into my life.

Syrian Politics 101

Posted in Uncategorized by caitlincoyle on May 30, 2009

I feel very important in Syria.

As guests of the government we have exclusive access to some of the most important people in Syrian politics. We’ve met Dr. Abdul Fattah Ammourah, the Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Higher Education, the Mayor of Al Qunaytirah (Golan Heights), and Minister of Information Mohsen Bilal. 

We have discussed Syria’s strategic position in the Middle East, the Bush Doctrine, the war in Iraq, the many conflicts in Lebanon over the past 60 years and the Arab Israeli conflict. Without question, American politics holds a seat at the table.

In this past week I have learned the power of my little blue passport. It has become very clear that Syria is determined to restore their relationship with the United States. As I listen to the praise of my country, I am continuously taken back the power America holds in the world.

To the Syrians, the presidency of Barack Obama represents a dramatically positive change. Dr. Ammourah explained, “Syria is waiting on what steps Obama will take in the process of exchanging ideas.”

However, the most recent step taken by Barack Obama has been his resigning the Syrian Accountability Act. In the simplest terms, the act renews sanctions and embargos on American goods. The bill, originally signed by President Bush in December 2003, was intended to end what the United States considered Syrian support for terrorism.

Of the many meetings we’ve attended one in particular stood out among the rest. While I have learned a great deal from every meeting, the press conference held with Minister of Information Mohsen Bilal carried great significance. Our unique presence in the press conference was matched by Professor Sullivan extraordinary representation of American principles and foreign policies.

Syrian journalists grilled Professor Sullivan, who, mind you, had no idea he was going to be a part of the Q&A portion of the dialogue.

I have assembled my favorite responses from Minister of Information Mohsen Bilal and Professor Sullivan.

They include:

“We are responsible, all of us to make our world more peaceful and understanding against the clash of civilizations.” – Minister Bilal

“The occupation [of Golan Heights and Palestine] is our own pain and suffering and we are trying to heal.” – Minister Bilal

“We are so hopeful about a new administration in your country who gets so much triumph against pre-emptive strikes and war.” – Minister Bilal

“You voted, you changed. We are pro-change, pro-Barack Obama, who put forth the dialogue and mutual respect.” – Minister Bilal

When asked the difference between resistance and terrorism:

“When innocent victims are targeted, where there is a chance of killing civilizations, there is terrorism. But, the United States was born out of resistance, and some of their means employed terrorism. I am not condoning terrorism, but explaining our history.” – Professor Sullivan

“The entire world suffers from an occupation of intolerance and injustice.” – Professor Sullivan 

Syria: Part I

Posted in Uncategorized by caitlincoyle on May 25, 2009

Twenty-five seat changes, one dramatic fight, two prayers, a very unsteady landing and we made it to Damascus. The flight felt like a very odd dream. One of those dreams that make perfect sense while dreaming, but in the daytime are completely ridiculous.

The flight began with total disorder and confusion. Rather than following an assigned number, passengers chose their seats based on personal preference. I don’t think one person on the plane (aside from the captain and flight attendant) was sitting in the correct seat.

The seat fiasco caused a fight between two men on the flight. From what I gathered, one gentleman was furious that his wife was seated next to a stranger. Most importantly, that stranger was a man.

As the men’s words came close to becoming angry fists, I could not help but think how the incident would not be tolerated aboard most other aircrafts. Once the men were both calmed, seats were changed and they were allowed to remain on the flight. The entire situation reminded me just how far I am from home.

Before take off and landing a prayer was played on a screen depicting the Mohammad Ali Mosque in Cairo. Men and women, with their palms faced upward, repeated the prayer in perfect unison.

There was no need for headphones on the plane because the sound for the television played louder than the pilot’s announcement. Andrea and I reasoned that women must have trouble fitting the headphones under their headscarf. We wondered if that was why the sound was broadcast for everyone to hear.

I’ve noticed that landings in Cairo and Damascus are about as unpredictable and wild as a rollercoaster ride. The plane jolts from side to side, and drops down at unexpected moments. I breathe a sigh of relief every time I feel the plane come to a complete stop.

After landing, I began to realize the significance of our presence in Syria.

It is very rare for Americans to visit Syria.

After President Bush’s 2002 State of the Union our relations with Syria began to change. It was in this speech that President Bush introduced his notion of the “axis of evil.” He named three countries specifically, claiming they were evil entities that “murdered their own.” The three countries included: Iran, Iraq and North Korea. After blacklisting the three nations, he stated, “states like these and their terrorist allies threaten peace and stability.”

While President Bush did not name Syria directly, his assertion was clear. Syria has a diplomatic relationship with Iran and holds constructive dialogue with political parties that the US has deemed to be terrorist organizations.

As a result, it was very difficult for our program to receive permission to study in Syria for 10 days. This opportunity is truly extraordinary.

The importance of our visit is felt almost everywhere we go. The Syrian government has welcomed all 25 of us with open arms (and eyes). I include eyes because it is very clear that we are being watched, monitored even, while in Syria. After leaving a club in downtown Damascus, a couple of my friends and I noticed we were being followed. At the time we did not think much of it. However, it is entirely possible that they were sent from an organization. (Which organization I am not yet sure…) Other students had similar, and slightly more jarring incidents during their excursions last night. I would like to go into more detail, but such a post may have to wait until I return to the protection of the United States.

Our tour guide explained the current state of Syria perfectly during yesterday’s meeting.

“In Syria nothing is prohibited and nothing is allowed,” he said.

Thank you Mister President.

Posted in Uncategorized by caitlincoyle on May 25, 2009

One look at me and it is clear that I’m an American. In the past I would try to escape my nationality, like many other Americans abroad, claiming to be Canadian. Unfortunately, my cop out did not always work.

While living in the Czech Republic, I had to answer questions about President Bush and his administration. All the while defending the principle that the people of the United States are a separate entity from the government. We are not to be judged in the same capacity.

To be fair, I was living aboard at a very difficult time for Americans — it was 2003 — only a few months following the US invasion of Iraq. Tensions were high, and foreigners welcomed spirited debate.

Now, several years and a new administration later, life as an American abroad is very different. While the stares are the same, the response has changed. My colleagues and I have been welcomed throughout Egypt. People in stores, markets, cars, buses and elsewhere commonly shout, “welcome to Egypt!”

Even while shopping in the market I was given a very special “Obama price.” After my purchase I was told, “the Bush price was far, far higher.”

From walking down the street to souvenir shopping I can feel a sense of security. It is more than comforting to be in the Middle East with Barack Obama as president. I’ve had conversations with a number of individuals in regards to America’s new position in the world and the dialogue is astounding.

We had an insightful meeting today with Ammar Saati, the President of the National Union of Syrian Students.

“You will not see a citizen in Syria who hates an American just for being an American,” he said.

There is hope in Egyptians and Syrians for a more diplomatic and peaceful future. From what I have learned, they do not harbor resentment, but optimism. I am also hopeful and optimistic about the next four years. I am confident in President Obama’s ability to undo some of the damage inflicted by the Bush administration over the past eight years, and progressively move forward.

So, I thank President Obama for restoring our reputation and taking steps to appropriately address the Muslim community. On June 4, President Obama will deliever a speech from Cairo to the Muslim world. I am told that the word “terrorism” will not be used once.

Most importantly, I also thank the American citizens for reclaiming our country’s values and electing Barack Obama.

Thanks to you all, I no longer disguise my nationality, but say it with pride.

Lens.

Posted in Uncategorized by caitlincoyle on May 19, 2009

While trying to update myself with the rest of the world I stumbled upon a new feature on the New York Times website. They have just launched a blog devoted to photography, video and visual journalism. In the spirit of blogging, I thought I would share it with you all.

http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/?hp  

Enjoy… 

Alexandria.

Posted in Uncategorized by caitlincoyle on May 19, 2009

What I can tell you about Alexandria is this: Make a hotel reservation before arriving. Though there are a number of places to stay throughout Alexandria, the term “hotel” is used rather generously. In reality, most hotels are really hostels, with more rats and cockroaches inside than guests.

Members of our group learned this lesson the hard way. We were dropped on a side street in front of a place that I have renamed “hotel hell”. I wont get into the details, but as you can gather from the name, the place was far from pleasant.

Of course, there are a number of beautiful hotels throughout Alexandria if you are able to spend the extra pounds.

Alexandria itself is an enchanting city. We shared a delicious dinner at the well-known restaurant Fish Market that sits right on the Nile. There is a fresh selection of fish sitting on a bed of ice as you enter the restaurant. When ordering, you walk up to the counter and select the raw piece of fish to be grilled, fried or steamed.

Hands down, the best fish I’ve ever had.

The next morning was spent along the Mediterranean. After weeks of covering a majority of our skin, we were finally allowed a little freedom. The girls were able to lie out and let their shoulders and backs be exposed to the warm sunlight.

We learned that the beach was also popular spot for young couples to meet under the umbrellas. While there we noticed a number of couples flirting and enjoying some privacy under the large beach umbrellas.

The Catacombs of Kom el-Shukafa and the Attarine Mosque followed the beach. I walked deep inside the catacombs, while trying not to focus on the fact that I was walking among the dead. The Attarine Mosque was serene and peaceful. I feel a sense of tranquility inside every mosque that I have the pleasure of visiting. Their enormity and exquisite detail astounds me as I consider the countless hours of work devoted to a place of worship.

Even for an unreligious person, the experience is moving. 

 

 

A glimpse of the ceiling in the Attarine Mosque in Alexandria

A glimpse of the ceiling in the Attarine Mosque in Alexandria

 

Notice the detail on the hanging lanterns.

Notice the detail on the hanging lanterns.

Faces of Egypt.

Posted in Uncategorized by caitlincoyle on May 18, 2009

 

Sadly, I do not have all of their names. 

face1

face2

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Mahmoud Hesham, age 11, at an African football game in Cairo.  "Football is the best sport in all of the world," he said.

Mahmoud Hesham, age 11, at an African football game in Cairo. "Football is the best sport in all of the world," he said.

Proceed with Caution

Posted in Uncategorized by caitlincoyle on May 18, 2009

Ordinarily, a cab ride is nothing to write home about. In Egypt, taxi-cabs are an entirely different mode of transportation.

As of yet, I can think of no other experience that can sum up the fast-paced culture of Cairo in less than 10 minutes…

There are no meters in the cabs so you barter the price of your ride before entering. As always, drivers try to get the most out of your wallet.

The negotiations take place on overly crowded and incredibly fast moving streets. Cars zip past as you arrange the cost to get to your destination.

The real thrill begins when you get into the tiny piece of tin on wheels. Somehow the driver forces the car back into the moving traffic and you’re off.

Inside the cab, the dashboard is adorned with neon fur and little Egyptian-themed trinkets, such as sand-filled pyramids and turquoise scarabs. As you zip through the streets, Arabic music blasts over the continuous sound of honking horns. On one occasion, our driver placed more attention to lighting his cigarette than the intense traffic, missing cars by less than an inch.

Experienced drivers in Cairo ignore ordinary driving rules such as traffic lights, lanes and blinkers. A foreigner is quickly spotted by a polite use of a blinker, indicating a turn or change of lane.

For my parent’s sake, I would like to say that caution could be exercised in Cairo. However, my experiences have taught me different.

Words and Thoughts.

Posted in Uncategorized by caitlincoyle on May 12, 2009

“Each Morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.” – Groucho Marx.

I found this quote in an Arab magazine inside café Arabica this afternoon. The quote reminds me of something my mother would send me in an email forward. While abroad, this piece holds significance. It serves as a reminder to live in moment – whether it be in or out of my comfort zone – and inspires me to accept daily situations with grace and optimism.

Slightly corny I know, but I had to include it in my blog.