The Odyssey



Chat Transcript - November 18, 1999
Noon EST/9am PST

Welcome to The Odyssey Live Chats from Egypt! Monica Flores and Abeja Hummel will be joining us live from the computer lab at the American University in Cairo to answer questions about Egypt and the Trek.

You can submit question before and during the chat. You will only be able to see the questions the Team selects and their responses.

<Moderator> Good morning everyone! Welcome to the LIVE CHAT with Abeja and Monica. Right now they're in Cairo, Egypt - and here with you. We'll be getting started in a few minutes - so keep on sending your questions in to us!

<Abeja> Hi everyone! Monica and I are here in the Chatroom, live from the University of Cairo. Welcome to our chat!

<Daniel (MO)> You seem to have had a lot of hard times in Mali but not in Egypt. Why is that?

<Abeja> Well, we have hard times everywhere, but you're right, Mali was a lot more difficult than here. There are many reasons, For one, Mali is very poor, so the food and imfrastructure and busses and telephones and all the little things you take for granted were harder.

<Abeja> For another thing, It was the rainy season, so it was stick hot and full of mosquitos...But, all and all, it was one of the most amazing places I've visited. Good Question, Daniel!

<Jessica (SC)> I would like to know what do kids there do for fun? Is it different everywhere you go or is it the same?

<Abeja> Some things are the same, some things different. For example, I've never been anywhere where kids don't play soccer!

<Monica> I think kids are the same everywhere, they like to play, they like to sing and run and do all the things we do at home. One thing I've noticed, too, is that kids don't seem to need a lot of fancy stuff to play: we've seen kids playing with a tire and a stick, having a great time rolling it down the alleyway...

<Abeja> Kids like to talk to us for fun, too, cuz we're strange to them!

<Anna (Everett, WA)> Do you have McDonalds or Burger King? Do Egyptians still make mummys? How much does one dollar equal? Do Egyptians wear western clothes? (American clothes)

<Abeja> Yes, there are McDonalds or Burger King.

<Abeja> No, they don't still do Mummies!

<Moderator> One dollar equals about 3.30 - 3.70 Egyptian pounds, depending on the exchange rate you can get at the bank or changehouse!

<Abeja> Many people wear western clothes, or a combination of western clothes with Islamic scarves or galabiyyas, the long robe type things.

<Jon (CA)> What are the schools like in Egypt? Do all the kids go and how many grades are there?

<Monica> Public education is free to all children up through college, but it sometimes turns out that students from rural areas have to attend to household or farm duties and end up having to stop their schooling.

<Abeja> There are many different types of schools here. Many people go to private schools, because the public schools are overcrowded. Students in both public and private schools usually wear uniforms, and they study the same subjects you study, like Math, Science, Social Studies, etc. Plus ARABIC!

<Monica> I don't know how many grades there are, but we do have some Egyptian students coming online in the next weeks who can answer that for you!

<Jeff (CA)> Do you LIKE doing this or is it like a job?

<Abeja> I like it very much, BUT it sure is like a job! We spend a lot of time on the computers, and going out and interviewing people. But I wouldn't change "jobs" for anything! It's great!

<Monica> I love doing this. I've always wanted to combine travel in developing countries with my interest in volunteering and social justice, and I feel like this is a perfect combination of the two. I had wanted to do a two-year international volunteer program even before the Odyssey World Trek. When I heard about it, I realized it was a good fit! So no, I don't like doing this...I LOVE doing this. Thanks Jeff.

<Marcy (Chicago)> I read that the Nile is the agricultural center of Egypt, what kind of food do they grow there?

<Abeja> Wheat is one of main things that they eat and grow in the Nile valley and delta.

<Monica> Cotton was introduced by the British who wanted to turn Egypt into their personal cotton-supplier. In ancient times Egypt was the breadbasket, providing wheat to much of North Africa and the Middle East.

<Jackie (Everett Wa)> Do they still write in heiroglyphics?

<Abeja> They only write in Hieroglyphics for tourist souveniers. Otherwise, they write in Arabic!

<Monica> Jackie, it's funny you would ask that because Kavitha and I were also thinking about not only the written but the spoken language: in the time of the Ptolemies they were speaking Greek, but now they speak Arabic.... what about ancient ancient times?

<Rob (NJ)> Do you all really get along or do you just make it look like that for the website?

<Abeja> We have our moments...but basically, the World Trek Team is cool! I love us all!

<Monica> We don't all get along all the time, as you can well imagine. We have lots of different stressful situations going on, and I wrote about my personal difficulties interacting with some teammate (you can find it in my archive). Abeja also wrote, in Latin America, about our first team meeting where we all had mini-tussles over the whole trek

<Marina (Everett Wa)> Do you have any holidays if so what are some of them?

<Abeja> The most important holidays in Egypt are the Islamic ones, especially the Moulids, which are celebrations of the patron saints of different towns and areas. I hope we get to see one before we leave, I hear they are Really fun and the whole town turns out!

<Monica> Do you mean Egyptian holidays or holidays for us as American trekkers abroad? We celebrated Valentine's day and all of our birthdays, and Abeja's parents are coming for Thanksgiving. We plan to spend Christmas and the New Year in Jerusalem. Ramadan, the most holy month in the Islamic calendar, starts in about three weeks (around December 8) and is a time of charity, fasting, and prayer.

<Sonia ( KS)> My Dad told me that the Nile runs backwards - from South to North, is that true or was he just pulling my leg?

<Monica> Kavi and I have written about the Nile River and, well, Sonia, your dad isn't pulling your leg. You would think that every river runs from North to South, because that's just how the map is drawn. But turn the map upside down (which is how I've seen it in places like Panama and Colombia) and it all looks very different. The Nile originates far far South of Cairo, even as far South as the great lakes of East Africa, and then moves downstream -upwards- towards Cairo and the Mediterranean.

<Abeja> It causes a lot of confusion, too, because it means that "Upper" Egypt is down South, whereas "Lower" Egypt is up North!

<Kate (Oceanport, NJ)> I would like to know what the reaction of the Egyptians was to the recent crash. I also wanted to know if they are mad at Americans for saying that the co-piolet guy crashed it.

<Monica> News of the crash is in the paper every day. It was truly an unfortunate occurrence and now, what with all the "conspiracy theories" going on in the newspapers, I would say that reactions are mixed. We were personally affected by the crash, tragically, as one of Jasmine's friends was expecting company from the United States, and they were in that airplane.

<Abeja> I don't think people are mad at Americans, though. Most people are just sad.

<Mark (Grand Rapids, MI)> We learned that Egypt is more like Europe than most of Africa, can you tell the difference from the places you have been so far?

<Abeja> Actually, I would say that Egypt is more like the rest of the Middle East than Africa. They speak Arabic and are mostly Muslim, like Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, etc.

<Monica> We've been a LOT of places. Starting with the most obvious differences of language and culture, as well as geography, there are definitely ways you can tell between Central and South America, and South and West Africa, as well as Europe and the Middle East.

<Abeja> I can definitely tell a difference, though. Everywhere is different, and Egypt is very unique, even compared to other Arab countries I have visited.

<Monica> But of course there are many similarities!! People are usually very friendly to us, wherever they go, and if we are respectful of the culture and try to learn some words of the language (e.g. Shukran gazilan=thank you very much in Arabic) we get very positive feedback.

<Abeja> Cairo is kinda like the Paris or New York of the Arab world. Most Arab television, fashion, and film comes from here.

<Dan (Oceanport, New Jersey)> Hello, I am one of the many students at Maple Place school. The whole 8th grade is so eager to talk to you and I'm very happy that I got the opportunity to contact you. One of my questions is about the society around you. Have you ever been in contact or seen things that you didn't really want to see? If so, why? Has there been any kind of threatening situation? Have you been treated differently without the company Kevin there?

<Abeja> Sure, we've all seen things we didn't want to see. I saw a man get shot in Guatemala City, for example (He lived, but I think he'll be blind in one eye.) I also see a lot of poverty that is very difficult. I want to help, but sometimes I feel so helpless.

<Monica> Kevin's absence has definitely made a difference in how we're treated. Without a male escort, we're often called at or whistled at or approached much much more than if we have a male escort. We also miss him as a teammate!

<Giancarlo( NJ)> How long are you staying in Cairo?

<Monica> The team is staying until December 3. But Abeja and I will be staying a little longer because our families will be visiting: good time to have some company.

<Dan (NJ)> How many pairs of shoes have you gone through since you started your journey and how much money has your whole journey cost so far?

<Abeja> My sandals are on their last leg, but they were made really well (Thanks Patagonia)..Since I wear hiking boots a lot, they are sturdy and survive...Besides, we take more busses than hikes these days!

<Monica> The question about the cost of the journey so far is a good one... let me do some calculations...

<Monica> Not! Ever since this was an idea in the mind of our founder's head, we've all put hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of time and money into the World Trek, with help from many sponsors in the form of grants and donations. We're living a very simple lifestyle as backpackers, eating local food and using local transportation, so it doesn't cost as much as, say, a package tour would.

<Moderator> For those of you who just joined us - Trekkers Monica and Abeja are in Cairo, Egypt right now, ready to answer any questions you may have. On TUESDAY, Nov 23, we will be doing ANOTHER chat. The Tuesday chat will be joined Egyptian students.

<Connie ( NJ)> What is your biggest wish at the moment?

<Monica> Maguro Sushi! a hot bath! My family!

<Abeja> Good question, Hmmm...Chocolate? My mommy and daddy? I wish I could see all my friends for a few days, then go back to the World Trek!

<Thomas (Everett Wa)> What kind of meat do they eat? We eat cow - do you?

<Abeja> They eat beef here, too, and chicken, and lamb, goat, and even CAMEL! What they don't eat is Pork or Dog, which are forbidden by the Koran. I'm a vegetarian, so I haven't tried a lot of their meat dishes this trip. But I remember really liking Lamb last time I was in the Middle East.

<Moderator> Well, we've only got about 10 more minutes left with this chat - but there are a lot more chats comming up! Here's a list: Chat with Trekkers: Kavitha and Jasmine Monday, Nov. 22 : 11 am and 1 pm, EST / 8am and 10am PST Chat with Egyptian Kids: High school students, ages 13-17 Tuesday, Nov. 23 : Noon and 2 pm EST / 9am and 11am PST Chat with Egyptian Kids: Elementary/middle school students, ages 8-13 Monday, Nov 29 : 11 am and 1 am EST / 8am and 10am PST Chat with Trekker: Kevin - Kevin will field questions from Tel Aviv about the Trek, his bout with Malaria, and about the upcoming Israel site visit. Tuesday, Nov. 30 : Noon and 2pm EST / 8am and 10am PST

<Marina (Wa)> Do girls still work at home or do they go to school?

<Abeja> Girls do go to school here. Sometimes, in very poor families, they may be taken out earlier than the boys, but, in general, education is very valued here in Egypt. The older generation, however, has a strong gap in the literacy rate between women and men.

<Monica> The situation of women and girls is our central theme in this site. The status of women in Egypt, particularly poor, illiterate women from the cities, has been criticized both within and outside of Egypt. Many of the people I've met have expressed great dissatisfaction with women's rights regarding: marriage, divorce, inheritance, travel, and children. Thankfully there are many groups and organizations working to improve the status of women and girls. Please continue to read up on the website for more information about the inspiring efforts these people have made.

<Suzy (Wa)> Do you have malls there? Do you wear bell bottoms or platforms? do you have name brands like Route 66, Skechers, Gap,Old Navy?

<Abeja> There are some malls here in Cairo, and in Alexandria, I'd imagine. People here are very conscious of their looks, but very modest, too. Platforms and bell bottoms are big. There are a few Benneton stores here in Cairo. And I've seen a Calvin Klein scarf on a woman's head. But I haven't seen the brands you mentioned too much. I think they will be popular here in a few years, maybe. Thanks for all your good questions!

<Monica> Thanks so much to all our students, especially our fans at Maple Place and across the world who are interested in learning more about world issues and the different cultures that make up our global home. Good luck to all of you and we hope to hear from you either via email: (which is our name and then like this:, in upcoming chats, or on the trek discussion board.

<Abeja> If you can't join any of our other chats, send us e-mails with the rest of your questions!

<Moderator> Thanks Monica and Abeja - have a great evening in Cairo! And thank you to all the classes that joined us! Check the top of this LiveChat webpage for details on the upcomming chats - we'll see you again soon!


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