An Egypt Travel Manifesto

The Abu Simbel Temples, Egypt – Photo courtesy of Rosanna Leung via Flickr.com

In a little over 24 hours, a not-so-well-traveled thirty-something female from the D.C. metropolitan area will embark on her first trip to the continent of Africa.

  • Destination: Egypt
  • Duration: Seven days
  • Companions: Three well-traveled gal pals
  • Origination: An irresistibly hard to pass on LivingSocial Escapes Deal
  • Motivation: It’s about damn time I did something like this

Other than a week-long trip to Buenos Aires and the Iguza Falls in 2008, and a few days in the Bahamas, my passport’s stamp collection is nothing to be admired. The globetrotting history of my Egypt travelmates includes Paris, Italy, Germany, Morocco, and quite a few other fabulous cities and countries.

According to the State Department, “Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world and the second-most populous on the African continent.” And exactly three days following our arrival to this country of 82 million, citizens will cast their votes in Egypt’s first-ever contested presidential election – over a year after the country’s political regime was uprooted by citizen dissidence and its former President Hosni Mubarak resigned from office.

An excursion like this will probably happen to me only once in my lifetime.

So in addition to the to-do (secure tourist visa, buy linen pants) and packing lists (SPF 45, straw hat, international plugs, and 32GB SD card) I’ve been following diligently, I figured creating an Egypt Travel Manifesto – a declaration of what I hope to accomplish while I’m there would be a list to have as well. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • PHOTOS: Take between 50 and 60 photos per day. With a newly purchased Canon EOS Rebel T2i Digital SLR Camera (Thanks, Target, for the awesome sale); a borrowed extended lens from my ultra-generous photography mentor and coworker, John Taylor; and an ample number of landmark visits on the travel itinerary,  I hope to kick my photo-taking skills up a notch or two, and have a great portfolio of high-res digital photos to prove it.
  • CULTURE: Be a good representative of the U.S. and fully respect Egypt’s mores. No profanity, inappropriate attire, staring, finger pointing, or disrespectful behavior. I try not conduct myself this way on American soil, but hey, even I have an off day. In any case, this will be my first trip to Africa and the Arab Spring, and I will not give credence to the notation that Americans are not tolerant or willing to immerse themselves in foreign traditions, the Islamic faith or countries abroad.
  • LOCAL NEWSPAPERS: Pick up a few local newspapers the day after the presidential elections. Next week’s presidential election will be as historic for Egypt as the 2008 presidential elections were for the U.S. I purchased a copy of a few national newspapers following the U.S. elections, and although I can’t speak or read Arabic, I hope to do the same in Egypt.
  • NOTES: Photos are great, but journal keeping is good as well. Great photos of the pyramids and local residents will serve as a great record of this trip, but I also want to remember the intricate details and experiences that photos can’t capture. An interesting question that’s asked. A nice nugget about the local culture from the tour guide. A funny joke from a local businessman. These are memories that will definitely be the bookmarks of my trip and I hope to capture them in the written word.
  • FOOD: Don’t be afraid to eat the unfamiliar. The DC area has no shortage of restaurants devoted to authentic ethnic cuisine, but I’m sure none of these establishments can beat the palate pleasing experience of dining at an establishment in the heart of Cairo or along the Mediterranean Sea.
  • SHOPPING: Gotta buy stuff for the ones you love. Fresh spices, fabric, jewelry, and coffee are just a few of items and gifts I’m buying for family and friends while in Egypt. Hopefully I’ll be able to get everything through customs on the return trip and in one small bag. Traveling internationally with extra luggage is not cheap.
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Don’t neglect Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr. I’ve been shamefully neglecting these social media channels over the last few weeks — work, life and tweet balance. I’ll be solely dependent on WiFi whilst there, but hope to posts as many real-time updates and photos as possible. Thanks in advance to the Cairo area Starbucks I plan to camp out in for a few hours.
  • TROUBLE: Stay out of it. Most if not all of our itinerary stops will be in safe tourist areas, but if the unexpected protest, peaceful demonstration or whatever happens to occurs near us, I will resist the urge to take photos or grab a flag or poster in support – “if I know my place, I’ll stay safe.”

A long manifesto, but a simple one to uphold. If you have suggestions on what I should add to the list, please, please share. I welcome your ideas, especially if you’ve previously visited Egypt, Africa or anywhere in the Arab world. 🙂

You, Two Rooks, and a Tight Hip-Hop Hook

Eight year-old Bum Rush the Boards 2012 participant practicing with father before start of the tournament (April 21, 2012)

Imagine you’re the lead character in a movie about an African-American high school student from DC’s Ward 8 or the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, NY with a talent and winning streak for chess – a game that is purported to have origins dating back to 600 A.D.

Your residential surroundings might not be ideal, but your parents and teachers recognize your desire to live a less than ordinary life and overwhelmingly give their support and time to help you walk this path. Your character – the quintessential protagonist – has one best friend who also shares your dream, another who serves as relentless roadblock, and a love interest whose commitment to you has started to waiver.

What would you want the soundtrack of this movie to sound like?

If none of these suit your tastes, try looking to hip-hop culture for some inspiration. About two weekends ago I did exactly that.

I had already decided to attend and write about the Word, Beats & Life Seventh Annual Bum Rush the Boards event before my interest was heightened further after reading a recent New York Times piece about the rise of successful young chess champions in urban environments.

Like one of the students in the New York Times story,  I’m a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School, but chess was not an activity that was ever presented to me in my adolescence. And although I grew up during the meteoric rise of The Wu-Tang Clan, a popular hip hop ensemble obsessed with mastery of chess, my days and nights were sadly limited to spades, Scrabble, and Nintendo.

Luckily for the young participants I met that Saturday in late April, Words, Beats & Life, Inc. realized almost a decade ago that chess can offer significant benefits to players who master its intricacies, including enhancing memory performance; building self confidence and discipline; increasing concentration; improving communication and independence skills; and developing critical thinking skills.

Couple this long list of pros with hip-hop music – an art form that when done right can be an amazing and genuine expression of artistry and imagination – and you get Bum Rush the Boards. Started in 2005, Bum Rush the Boards is billed as a civic event convened to “promote strategic thought and actions within the hip-hop and chess communities.”

With great partners like Chess Challenge in DC – and DC’s DJ RBI providing a backdrop of songs from artists like CommonJay ElectronicaA Tribe Called Quest and Outkast – over 100 students from various DC metro area elementary, middle and high schools were given an outlet to showcase their love of chess with a full-day tournament.

As round one of the tourney’s four kicked off, most parents watched intently from the stands, but a few parental units with kids as young as six decided to unwisely join the tournament monitors on the playing floor. They were kindly and respectfully guided back to the stands by round two. Five hours passed with a lunch break, and a few workshops on DJ mixing and abstract art in between play. The winning chess teams were from Ballou Senior High School and the Ceasar Chavez Public Charter Schools, and in the end, dozens of students got an opportunity to display their talent for the game and enjoy time with others in an environment that fed their creativity through a continuous stream of hip-hop music and art.

Here’s a link to the event photos I captured and details on what I learned:

  • There’s no reason anyone should be without a basic understanding of chess – It’s always good to try a new activity that will challenge and stimulate your mind. While I was there, a former chess coach took pity on my novice understanding of the game and gave me a mini lesson. And without taking notes, I discovered the game is not too difficult to pick up and actually quite fun. Sixty-four squares, a few knights and rooks, eight pawns to guard your most important pieces, a diagonal move here and there. Got it.
  • Chess play does not need to occur in so-called traditional environments – Mentions of chess can evoke stereotypical images of tweed jackets, bow ties, boarding schools and perhaps, even solemn old men with long white beards congregating in New York’s Central Park. Groups like Words, Beats and Life have proven that chess is not a one-dimensional activity and can be coupled with other cultural elements like hip hop music and art in an effort to enhance strategic and creative thought.
  • Organizations like Chess in the Schools and Chess Challenge in DC are doing what successful enrichment programs do best – Whether it’s focused on polo, tennis, golf or advanced spelling, after-school programs that teach children a new skill while also getting them to think strategically; develop self-discipline and positive social skills; and increase their self-esteem, are a great resource for schools which lack immediate access to such programming, and they deserve our support. I plan to help sponsor a Chess Challenge in DC school.
  • Mastering chess is another pathway to a life in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) – A large number of the chess coaches I met at the Bum Rush the Boards tournament were math or science teachers at their respective schools. And while no singular extracurricular activity can compensate for years of hard academic work, a specialized curriculum and dedicated adult supervision, I assume for these chess coaches, learning the game as a child served as a significant catalyst towards their interest and eventual success in STEM studies and careers.

If chess is an activity you know well and love, you can make a huge impact in the life of a child by sharing your knowledge with them. If you’re a novice to the game, try to take your skills up a notch. The benefits are endless. Mix in a little hip hop music with your play and you might find a creative spark you never knew existed.

Still don’t believe me? Read what this guy has to say. Chess and hip hop are his specialties.