Hello from Alexandria!! WELL it's been a couple of days and so much has happened, I do not even know where to start. Let's see... perhaps a traditional approach.
We flew into Cairo and got through customs with no problems. They could not have cared less that we were performing/working in Egypt. We also got our first taste of a noticeable element of Egyptian culture while waiting in line: their relaxed attitude around rules and structure (at least in some places that we experienced.) In this case, people just cut into the line without a blink of an eye. Hilariously, the spot people continued to cut into was smack in the middle of the Conudnrum crew. Once there was a solid group of at least 5 people standing in between the divided, confused circus artists that is us, we did as the Egyptians do and just cut right back! All was well after that.
The 3 hour drive that followed was fairly uneventful as it was dark and most people slept. But to be honest, my eyes were pretty glued to the environment outside. The dustiness and thick heat were noticeable as soon as we left the cool airport. The vastness of the space around us was also different. Our driver was friendly and we loaded our 8 enormous bags into a van and drove away. What I didn't know because it was dark at the time, is that as we entered Alexandria, what was once land we were seeing out the window to the left became the vast Mediterranean Ocean.
We woke up in the morning and got our first view of the landscape. Breathtaking. After gorging ourselves on the free breakfast buffet, we went out and explored. We had most of Monday free as we could not check in for the festival until 4:30 that day. Pictures are below of our travels. All the ladies adorned our long skirts, baggy shirts, and head scarves. It was hot, but we weren't bothered in the slightest. In fact, one of the hotel workers, a female, commented that we looked beautiful. It certainly seemed to put us in good favor with the locals. (a note about sexism: other than it being built into the cultures customs, I, at least, have not noticed anything overtly, and we have been treated with nothing but respect here by everyone. I think I'd have to spend more time here to really get a sense for deeper cultural veins such as that one!)
After exploring the basic area around our hotel, we caught a taxi to a place called the "gardens" where there is a palace. It is an enormous, beautiful stretch of maintained landscape, with palm trees, grass, and paths. An enormous, royal palace with armed guards looms in the distance. Some of us found a beautiful rocky alcove and spent some time in the sun on the rocks. We had to walk across a thin, rusty iron rod over the water to get all the way out there. Zora's handstand definitely drew the eyes of the locals nearby! Soon, a guard from the land blew a whistle loudly to call us back in. But again, the attitudes are SO relaxed. We just smiled and apologized, and once Jonathan engaged with him in Arabic (Jonathan has been the MASTER of conversing with locals and learning the language) he laughed and laughed.
There are too many stories to share here, so I'll trust that those interested in even more details and meeting and thoughts and observations about the trip, people, and culture, will chat with us in person!
Finally, we were picked up from the hotel and escorted to the Teatro Alexandrina, a beautiful old building where the I-ACT organization (the people organizing the festival) operate. Suddenly, we were with people who spoke English, filled us in, could answer our questions about... well, everything, and we've spent a lot of time with our assigned volunteers! Amina, Rashed, and Gedwy have been our primary volunteers and oh my gosh are they fantastic people! People mention hospitality being a part of Egyptian culture, and we have certainly found that to be true.
They also took us that evening to an incredible restaurant where we got to each lots of local food. A spinach quiche, lentil soup, three types of bread, and an olive, thyme, and onion tapenade, plus a dessert that was basically bread pudding with nuts. If those sound like foods you've had before, indeed they are similar, but just not comparable to the flavors, freshness, preparation, and presentation here. All the food, despite how it makes our stomachs gurgle, has been fantastic. Oh, and cheeeeap. We all got falafel sandwiches for the equivalent of $.30. To be fair, though, that food was not quite as delicious as the restaurant or hotel food :)
That evening, we saw our first performances through the festival and met many of the other festival participants. The first show was by a Hungarian couple. It was a movement and digital media piece, using live drawing on a tablet being projected onto a big screen, and the woman interacts with the drawings. It was a political piece, with strong messages, yet certainly oriented around love. It took place outside the Biblioteca and was less than 30 minutes long. The crowd loved it and afterward everyone mingled. The second show was inside the theater, presented by 8-18 year olds from the circus school in Egypt. It was so much fun! Equally live music and circus, all of the performances were sharp, well executed, and technically strong. The musicians were primarily brass instument players and drummers, with two singers, playing all traditional Egyptian music. It was amazing! The drummers utilized so many objects, like chairs, water jugs, and bucketes, and they were incredibly talented. The stage presence of all of the youth was astounding.
That brings us up to today! I think we are all impressed with how well we've been sleeping after only two nights. We spent all day inside the theater today, teching as usual for the show TONIGHT. So far, so good. I am hoping to go now to visit the actual library AND go to a museum where there are evidently.... MUMMIES. Yes. Wish us luck tonight and check back for another post tomorrow from the airport!