Disclaimer: This post was originally published on the official AUC Presidential Internship Program tumblr. You can read that version here. However, this is a more bare, less politically-correct version that’s more my style but can’t be shared in an email to thousands of prospective interns.
When I told my Egyptian co-workers that I was spending Eid on a four-day Nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor, I was met with praises for the region’s beauty and magnificence. Yet I also often met the follow-up remark “but you know, I’ve never visited.” I’m from Chicago, and when I hear this response, it reminds me of what Chicago natives always say about the Sears Tower (yes, Sears Tower) – it’s that world-famous cultural destination your pride never lets you visit because only the tourists go there.
But sometimes the tourists get it right.
We’ve all learned about the ancient Egyptians in class, seen pictures of hieroglyphics – hell, my high school even had a real Egyptian mummy in the social science department office. But none of that prepared me for the liminal experience of actually being there.
That feeling hit a little late at Philae temple in Aswan, a solid month into my time in Egypt I had studied Egyptian art briefly in high school and before this trip I could tell you that bas-relief is a type of sculptural relief that projects slightly from the background. However, the figures carved into the temple columns and walls were much more three-dimensional than any of my art history books suggested. The anklebone of each figure’s feet was rendered extremely lifelike, that indention where the foot meets the leg curved perfectly. And because I was in Egypt and not the snooty Met Museum, I was able to run my fingers along the two thousand year old grooves and rest my body against the hefty columns crowned with stone fig leaves.
Fast-forward a day (or a few millennia) to a café in Luxor. Against a brilliantly violet wall, we seven Presidential Interns squeeze onto a couch clearly designed to hold five. Soaring wooden stilts prop up a steeple metal roof. Long settled into their seats, groups of young Egyptian men huddle over low-lying wooden tables. The air is abuzz with colloquial Arabic, pierced by the click-clack of backgammon pieces. Soon enough, our own voices enter into the mix as we recount our long day – the colors decorating the tombs in Valley of the Kings, the heat that makes even your legs sweat, and Regie’s knack for using everything from napkins to empty toilet paper rolls to sneak croissants from the hotel breakfast buffet (college habits die hard).
If you were to glimpse us from across the room, you wouldn’t believe that less than a month ago we were complete strangers. We’re all pretty different, for sure. We got the entire spectrum going from me, the artsy hipster loner, to Abu Adventure (as we kindly call our sustainable desert irrigation intern), to our finance intern whose mind is organized as perfectly as the budget Excel sheets he sends out. But as it turns out, a program like PIP attracts a certain breed of fresh-faced American college graduates – a little restless, and a lot curious.