Almost Christmas!

**I wrote this blog two weekends ago, but the site was down, and I didn’t get a chance to post it afterwards, so just pretend I posted it then;)

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Egypt doesn’t really celebrate Thanksgiving, obviously, so I honestly completely forgot about it until I started receiving “Happy Thanksgiving” texts. Nonetheless, I forced a big group of my coworkers to go out to dinner after work on Thursday, so I’m counting that as my Thanksgiving dinner. The weather here is still relatively warm, which helped me forget that we’re almost in December! Although most Egyptians are walking around with sweaters and coats, the temperatures are still in the high 60’s (Fahrenheit), so basically, it’s Nashville’s nice fall weather.

Cool adventures:

A couple of weekends ago, I got to take a day trip to the Red Sea to an area called “Al-‘Ain al-Sokhna.” It was a little less than a two-hour drive, and it was absolutely worth it. The water was definitely cold, but the sun made a quick dip in the water bearable. Seeing the sea and the desert intersect was mesmerizing. On the way back, I got to pass through a road between two mountains, and, in general, seeing the contrast between the beach, the desert, and the city made me truly appreciate Egypt’s beauty that much more!

The view of the beach meeting a little desert mountain

Driving through the desert

I also got to visit a church called St. MaryCoptic Orthodox Church in El-Zeitoun and hear stories about the people who witnessed St. Mary’s apparition there. Quick recap of the history/stories I heard: St. Mary started to appear, as a luminous figure at the top of the church’s domes, in 1968 and her apparitions continued for 3 years. People would come from everywhere, and they would shut down the church’s street, setting up camp all night until she appeared again. It was a great phenomenon, and some people in the crowds were even cured of their ailments whenever she would appear. Being at the church and hearing eyewitness accounts of these events was such a marvelous experience. Unfortunately, I went at night so my pictures don’t do it justice, but hopefully, I get to visit it again soon in the daylight.

St Mary’s church in El-Zeitoun

Volunteering Updates:

I’ve finally fallen into the groove of things at the office. However, since the big partner meeting is coming up on Monday, they’ve also been assigning me a bunch of documents, videos with subtitles, and PowerPoint presentations to double-check the English grammar and translate anything if needed. BLESS is kind of in a transitional period between phase 2 and phase 3 of their strategic planning. So far, I’ve been working on assignments pertaining to the 2020-2023 phase, so I don’t have much of an understanding of what’ll happen after the new year. However, my team has been invited to attend the meeting, so I’m excited to learn all about the new phase and to spend an entire day hearing mostly English.

Other good news:

My sister booked plane tickets to come to Egypt for January!! She’s stopping by Germany first, so I’m gonna take a couple of extra days off and go spend Christmas and New Year’s with her in Germany! I’m so excited to see her, and I’ve been learning German on Duolingo in my free time so I’m not totally lost when I get there.

Since Egyptians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, they’ve jumped right into the Christmas spirit. There are seasonal stores set up that are dedicated solely for Christmas shopping, and they go ALL out. I can’t wait for the weather to get cold and to wear ugly Christmas sweaters once December hits!

The decorations outside of a Christmas store

The inside of the store

Hopefully, I’ll be drinking hot cocoa as I’m writing my next blog.

Until then,

Ilaria Youssef

Yi Peng lantern festival in Chiang Mai

Recently, I went to Chaing Mai for Loy Krathong, which is celebrated throughout Thailand, and Yi Peng, which is celebrated in Chiang Mai and across north Thailand.

On the first day in Chiang Mai, some friends and I did a Thai traditional dress (chut thai) photoshoot. The traditional Thai dress styles were formalized into eight outfits for women attending official functions by Queen Sirikit. The chakkri, which is what we wore, is one of the most famous Thai traditional dresses. The outfit consists of a bodice wrapped in a shawl or sabai draped over the shoulder. The ensemble is then paired with ornate jewelry, like a belt, necklace, earrings, and bracelets.

The next day, we took a cooking class at a farm just outside of Chiang Mai. First, the owner, Da, picked us up and took us to the market to get fresh ingredients. Once we arrived at Da’s farm, he showed us his organic herbs and vegetables, then we started cooking our 4-course Thai meals. We were able to choose from several options for each course, and I decided on yellow curry with chicken, clear soup with egg/tofu/minced pork, stir fried minced chicken with holy basil, and deep fried spring rolls. The food was incredible; my favorites were the yellow curry and spring rolls.

cooking class with Da!

Da’s farm

Yi Peng and Loy Krathong

Then, the day of the Yi Peng lantern festival arrived! There are three lights associated with this festival – the sky lanterns, krathong, and Phang Pratheep. The sky lanterns are the signature of the Yi Peng Festival, commonly believed to carry away bad luck. It is also a means to pay respect to the ancestors who rest in heaven.

About Yi Peng

Yi Peng refers to the full moon day in the second month according to the Lanna lunar calendar (the twelfth month of the Thai lunar calendar). During the festival, floating lanterns are launched into the air. Khomloy are made from a thin fabric stretched over a bamboo or wire frame, to which a candle or fuel cell is attached.

Origins of Yi Peng

The origin of the sky lanterns in Thailand is connected to the beliefs of the Lanna people. It is believed that they must worship the Buddha relics, Phra That Kaew Chulamanee, on the full moon of the twelfth month. However, the relic is stored at the highest of heaven floors. In order for their prayers to reach heaven, the Lanna people then used the sky lanterns to worship the Buddha relics during the festival.

About Loy Krathong

Loy Krathong is to express gratitude to the water goddess, Ganga. Some believe that floating the krathong is to worship their ancestors, removing bad fortune from their life, and to make wishes for their future.

The name, Loy Krathong, translates to “float a basket” and comes from the tradition of making krathong decorated baskets, which float on a river. Loy Krathong takes place on the evening of the full moon of the twelfth month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar; hence, the exact date of the festival changes every year. In the Western calendar, this usually falls in the month of November.

A krathong is decorated with elaborately folded banana leaves, incense sticks, and a candle. A small coin is sometimes included as an offering to the river spirits. On the night of the full moon, Thai people launch their krathong on a river, canal, or pond, making a wish as they do so. The krathong’s floating symbolizes letting go of one’s hatred and anger.

Phang Pratheep The Lanna people believe that lighting of Phang Pratheep is the act of showing gratitude to all their benefactors. The light of Phang Pratheep is also related to enlightenment and prosperity.

Yi Peng experience

Although there were Yi Peng and Loy Krathong events all throughout the city, my friends and I decided to go to one organized by Chiang Mai Arts and Design. Before the lantern releasing portion of the event, we enjoyed tribal village arts and crafts, like Lanna lantern making, and Lanna Thai food (khao soi, pad thai, northern Thai style pork curry, etc.). There was also a drum performance, candle dance show, and religious ceremony.

Once everyone lit their lanterns and they started floating to the sky, along with fireworks going off at the same time, the ensuing sight was incredible. It truly felt like something out of a movie.

Chiang Mai Sunday night market

2 Month Mark!


Hey Blog!

Wow I truly can’t believe it has been two months already, time is going by really fast and while I can definitely feel it, it is still shocking to think I have already completed a third of this trip! I am still really grateful for the opportunity to be in Egypt, and I am so happy to report that I finally feel like my Arabic dialect is becoming more authentically Egyptian rather than clearly an American who is speaking Arabic :).

These last two weeks have been amazing in terms of the work we are doing with Bless.  I had the phenomenal opportunity to meet his Holiness Pope Tawadros the 2nd during our donor meeting where Bless was showcasing all of the work the nonprofit has accomplished this past year and shared the plans for the coming year with the donors. It was a really cool experience where I got to see how to learn just how much impact the organization has on the local communities. In addition to the donors meeting, I was able to help work on a proposal to help eliminate female mutilation which was such fulfilling work.

I have been enjoying the experience of finding new restaurants and areas of Egypt to explore. I recently explored an area called the zamalek with some new friends and tried a  restaurant that sold Salmon on the Nile which was delicious with a great view.

It’s also been really amazing to be in the streets of Egypt, grab a cup of mango from a local vendor and  visit a local church to see the expression of the Coptic faith so beautifully powerful and learn about the historical significance. I really love the moving stories of the people who died for their faith in Egypt as they make sure not to let them die in memory and honor them by telling their stories to visitors to inspire their own faith. It is a impactful and amazing tradition that I have gained much from.

Some observations that I have noticed while being in Egypt are that the people are extremely observant, they are friendly and welcoming and many are willing to help out strangers.

I also recently learned how to bargain which is a huge part of the culture here and is aiding me in integrating more and quite fun to do  as it feels like a small win when the bargain goes my way. I enjoy the feeling of blending in with the people around me and trying to truly live as a native which is becoming easier and more enjoyable as the familiarity settles in.

Some recent life updates:

#1 I got a haircut in Egypt that feels really different and exciting that I am really happy with.

#2 I got Christmas nails that are making me feel festive and remind me of home a little as thanksgiving wasn’t really a thing over here and I wanted to still be in the spirits.

That’s all for now blog,

Until next time,

Nardien Sadik

Cairo, Egypt


Adventures and Celebrations

Hola friends and family!

I hope you all had a wonderful and restful Thanksgiving! We all have so much to be grateful for, and I hope you were able to reflect on this while feasting on delicious foods and spending time with your loved ones. Thanksgiving was very different for me this year, but I’m thankful that I was still able to eat some turkey and mashed potatoes! As always, the past two weeks have been packed full of activities and adventures, especially with preparing for Thanksgiving at Casa Gloria.

Fall is one of my favorite times of year, and being in the tropics, I have missed watching the leaves change, wearing sweaters, and eating my mom’s delicious soups. So being away from home during Thanksgiving this year was also difficult. I really missed being able to cook my favorite foods and spend time with my family playing games and watching football. That being said, celebrating Thanksgiving with Casa Gloria was still a wholesome and exciting experience! We needed to prepare food for almost 50 people, so all of the staff took a recipe and started cooking the day before. In the end, we had quite the feast (picture #1)! Because Thanksgiving is not a holiday traditional to Guatemala, Jenna had me explain to the kids how we celebrate Thanksgiving in the States and why it’s important to remember to be grateful for what we have. After, all of the children and staff took a moment to say something that we were thankful for. This was a precious moment, especially listening to what the little kids came up with! I am extremely appreciative to Jenna and her family, the Casa Gloria family, and my host family for welcoming me with open arms into their lives and families. My experience with Casa Gloria has been so positive thanks to all of these wonderful people!

Besides Thanksgiving, my internship continues to provide new experiences and opportunities to learn. For example, I took a girl to the eye doctor and, let’s just say, I learned a lot of new vocabulary! In the past two weeks I’ve also helped out by driving people around to complete errands including castrating dogs, buying groceries for the children’s home, and picking up flooring. The other day, I even weighed out medicine for a few of the dogs! Like I’ve said before, there truly is never a dull moment! On a more somber note, Casa Gloria recently received two sisters who witnessed their father kill their mother. When I first heard the details of their situation, I was heartbroken. Unfortunately, these things happen regularly and is the reason why Casa Gloria exists. Thankfully, the girls are adjusting really well to living at the children’s home, but any thoughts and prayers for them, as well as the other children, are always welcomed and appreciated!

In the last two weeks, I also returned to Antigua for a few days and traveled to Panajachel, a town located on Lake Atitlan. While in Antigua, I spent time with my host family and friends, climbed Volcan Pacaya (picture #2), and witnessed the gorgeous arrangements of the Flower Festival (picture #3)! While visiting the towns around Lake Atitlan, I took in gorgeous views (pictures #4, #5, and #6), learned about the process of roasting coffee beans (picture #7), and attempted (not very successfully) to do traditional Mayan weaving (picture #8). I also did a tour of San Pedro on horseback (pictures #9 and #10)!

As always, thank you for your thoughts and prayers!

Much love y hasta la próxima,


P.S. I included a picture of my host sister, Michelle, and I because her smile brings me so much joy and she’s just adorable! Hopefully you’ll be able to receive some of that joy through the photo 🙂

Welcoming winter in Thailand

More about accompanying client to UNHCR:

When the day of the accompaniment arrived, I left early in the morning to account for Bangkok traffic. I brought everything I’d need with me including my accompaniment notebook, Muji pens I picked up specifically for this interview, my passport to show UNHCR, etc. Once I arrived at the UN, I saw the signature flags raised outside the building. I walked around to get to the UNHCR section/office, which was quite discreet, with a huge United Nations ESCAP sign, then a smaller sign below indicating the entrance for UNHCR. There’s a complaint & suggestion box, as well as a mailbox for submissions outside the entrance. My client arrived shortly after I did. The security officer checked our documents, then let us into the building, where they confiscated our electronic devices. From there, we waited until the client was called back for the first instance refugee status determination interview.

UN building

sign for UNHCR office

kitty who kept me company on my lunch break

Some sections of the interview include the introduction, biodata checking, asking why the asylum-seeker left their country of origin/why they cannot go back, and follow-up questions. Some clients will require a follow-up interview, particularly if there are a lot of incidents or details to their claim. After all FI RSD interviews have been conducted, then the client will receive the notification of decision letter from UNHCR i.e., whether or not they will be granted refugee status.

This is an incredible opportunity and experience, as I am able to support the client and also see firsthand how UNHCR is conducting the RSD interviews.

I am witnessing more and more the impact that AAT has on the outcome of clients’ cases with UNHCR. For example, I’ve seen AAT flag certain cases to UNHCR to help speed up a step in the RSD process (like registration), especially if the client has been waiting a long time, and then the client(s) will subsequently be registered or receive the update. It is important for refugees in Thailand to have the UNHCR card (received after registration) in order to receive increased access to services like healthcare.

Stages in the RSD process for asylum-seekers:

Although I touched on these stages previously, some of my earlier posts got deleted due to technical errors, so I thought I’d include this information again here for further clarity.

  • Submit registration request
  • Registration interview
  • First instance interview(s)
  • RSD result
  • 30 days to appeal (if rejected)
    • Might have an appeal interview
    • Case is either accepted or rejected (again)
  •  Can submit request to reopen case (if case has been rejected on appeal)

NSM event:

Last week, I attended an event titled, “Thailand’s New National Screening Mechanism and the Future of Refugee Protection,” with panelists, Patrick Phongsathorn, senior advocacy specialist at Fortify Rights, and Prima Sukmanop, legal officer at Asylum Access Thailand and representative, Coalition for the Rights of Refugees and Stateless Persons (CRSP). The event was moderated by Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director and Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) board member. Representatives from UNHCR and the Thai government were invited, but did not participate in the event.

For a bit of background about the event, in 2019, then-prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha signed off on a “National Screening Mechanism” to change how Thailand deals with the challenges of protecting asylum-seekers and refugees. The Royal Thai Police and Ministry of Interior are to run the arrangement, screen applicants, and determine who will be a protected person and legally allowed to stay in Thailand. Those denied will face deportation. The system began in late September 2023, but there are many unanswered questions, and there has not been a rush of applicants.

Discussions from the event touched upon key principles under NSM, how the NSM regulation has been interpreted and implemented in parallel with Thai immigration and criminal procedure laws, as well as practical limitations relating to the processes. According to Prima, concerns were raised about “[h]ow the existing legal framework still criminalizes irregular migration by requiring NSM applicants to be prosecuted for immigration charges before they are eligible to apply for protection from refoulement.”

Below are notes and takeaways from the panelists:

Patrick Phongsathorn –

  • The principle of non-refoulement – certain groups will automatically be screened out of the national mechanism. Refugees in nine camps along borders, migrant workers, and individuals considered to be a threat to national security will be automatically screened out, and they won’t be allowed to appeal.
  • Applicants will be subject to criminal record and background checks. One of the biggest source countries for Thailand is Myanmar, so a political record check or criminal check raises red flags.
  • There will be no automatic screening of refugees who are subject to deportation. Refugees have to know about the system and have help navigating it.
  • Access to public services – NSM guarantees access to healthcare and education for people granted protected person status, but will need to see how that’s implemented in reality.

Prima Sukmanop –

  • NSM is not a national asylum system. The reasoning lies behind the legal mechanisms currently available in Thailand.
  • NSM offers protection against refoulement, but it doesn’t fully recognize the right to seek asylum. The Immigration Act still exists alongside NSM. People interested in going through NSM would first have to be prosecuted under immigration law (perhaps done through an arrest), go through the court process and be penalized/fined, then transferred to immigration authorities and custody. At the point of deportation custody, then NSM would intervene.
  • NSM only aims to screen urban refugees already charged with illegal entry or overstay.
  • Camp refugees are managed by the Ministry of Interior and are already subject to their own specific system, therefore they are not eligible for NSM.
    • Limited mechanism
  • NSM is not a durable solution because it doesn’t provide a pathway to livelihood or status, although it does provide education and healthcare.
  • If applicants are given protected person status, they will be granted an identity card that will be valid for five years, but the question is what happens after those five years are up.
    Lack of resources – the interpretations will be to Thai. Since there are not as many people in Thailand in this context who speak Thai, there’s a possibility that there could be two different interpreters e.g., applicant’s language to Thai and English to Thai. This leaves more room for misunderstanding.

NSM event

Cooler weather:

It’s starting to feel like Thailand’s “winter,”  with temperatures of low 70s in the mornings, then reaching the high 80s/90 during the day. I’ve been loving this cooler weather! Since I arrived in Thailand during the hottest time, 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit feels like a breath of fresh air to me.

Lumpini Park

monitor lizard at the park

and... the many cats of Sena Nikhom (my neighborhood), featuring Steven’s twin

Egypt is Home :)

Hey Everyone!

I am loving Egypt. The atmosphere in Shubra is very welcoming and community based and I am starting to feel like my integration into the community is paying off. I have mastered simple tasks like crossing the road, buying snacks from the local bodega, and having small conversations with my neighbors, and learning the bargaining culture.

Some honest thoughts continuing into month number 2 are as follows:

    • The Arabic language is so versatile and I love learning the informal Arabic as much as I love learning new words to add to my limited vocab. Only being here for a short time has already made me feel more Egyptian than I ever have and fitting in with the locals feels like a small win every time. I learned not to pay in high number bills as it can come across as rude or inconsiderate irregardless of your intentions or the fact that you only have a 100 to pay with.
    • While my accent is a giveaway that I am not a native some people simply think I am from a different middle eastern country and so more or less treat me the same as a local Egyptian. If I act with confidence it works out pretty much everytime.
    •  The bargaining culture is very fun but I’m still figuring out the prices of things as they sometimes change depending on what the seller is feeling that day and I never know when I got a good price.
    • Another really exciting update is one of my friends from the United Kingdom was able to come visit Egypt for a few days and we got to meet up for a little dinner before she left again back home. Getting to see someone familiar and sharing this experience with them for a few hours was truly an amazing time and I am really thankful that I was able to do so. 
    • Another really exciting part about being in Egypt is the family! While I don’t often get to see my family as they all have busy lives filled with work and school and daily life, some of my cousins and I have gotten the chance to reconnect after church on Sunday which was a really fulfilling experience for my inner child who has always wanted to have a large family. I got to play chess, eat amazing Egyptian food, and just overall be in their presence for a little which was really exciting.
    • Perhaps my most meaningful update is I recently took on a service at the local church on the weekends and some days after work to help teach English to children who are unable to afford a teacher, and whose parents are either deceased or illiterate. It’s been the highlight of my time in Egypt and truly amazing to get to be a part of as the kids are truly in need and feeling like I am part of the solution leaves a warm feeling in my heart. They are all extremely precious and graciously welcomed me in with open arms. Truly some of the smartest students I’ve ever had and while this service was unplanned it feels like it was meant to be. I love them deeply already and I can’t wait to watch their progress for the remaining time i’m in Egypt.
    • The Cathedral where I work
      • A funny shop name
      • My cousin and I playing chess
      • My friend from the U.K.
      • My cousin and I reconnecting 
      • A fun activity I did over the weekend
      • Office space
      • family pictures I’ve never seen
      • Another view of the Cathedral I work at .


Thanks blog thats all for now,

Until Next Time,

Nardien Sadik

Cairo Egypt


Becoming a Cairo Local

Hello again!

The past two weeks have been eventful! As usual, I need some sort of structure/list to help break it down, so here we go:

Updates about being a Cairo local:
For the past two weeks, I’ve been slowly transitioning into finally feeling somewhat like a local. After weeks of experimenting with different modes of transportation, I now feel the most comfortable riding the underground metro and even switching between metro lines.

Inside the metro, the names of the stations/ stops are written in both English and Arabic

A mural inside the metro station portraying influential Egyptian people: two of whom are Coptic Saints

A mural inside the Abbassya metro station: portraying the word Abbassya in the Coptic Language and showing a couple of the area’s landmarks

I’ve also started to get in the groove of things: I set up a routine for myself, and I familiarize myself with the areas I am going so that I can feel oriented whenever I go out. I’ve even been asked for directions a couple of times!! (Granted, I was only able to help once, but it’s a satisfying feeling all the same).

Update about work:
I have befriended some of my colleagues, and a couple of them even invited me out after work last week. Meanwhile, the others give me weekly recommendations of must-visit places in Cairo. I am surrounded by kind colleagues, and I feel extremely blessed to have met them. As for the actual work aspect: learning so much about what the NGO does and hearing Arabic 24/7 was very unexpectedly overwhelming in the beginning, but thankfully I’ve gone from the “observing and asking questions” stage to the “trying, being assigned a couple of tasks, and getting feedback” stage. This past week, I had to analyze and create charts portraying BLESS’ most prominent services for a partner meeting coming up later this month. I had the opportunity to work in a team and present my progress in small team meetings along the way. This was such a valuable work experience that I had yet to gain until then, but I’m fortunate to have such a supportive team helping me through it.

Update about my cat phobia:
The last two weeks started out being a bit rocky, with a major phobia freak-out. In short, I now absolutely have to double-check that there’s indoor seating before I go to any cafe. I think it’s calmed down a bit since then. All is good; I know that progress isn’t always linear.

Cool experiences I’ve had so far:
Egypt is full of history as it is full of life. I’ve explored that side of Egypt a little more these past couple of weeks as I visited a few ancient Coptic Orthodox churches. It also turned out that one of my childhood friends spent her summer in Egypt, and thankfully, I found out that she was still here just in time before she left. We got to reconnect and visit the pyramids together. Catching up with my childhood friend that I hadn’t seen in a few years while visiting one of the Seven Wonders of the World wasn’t on my bingo card for 2023, but it was definitely a pleasant surprise.

A cavern, inside one of the churches I visited, where the Holy family stayed for three months

I am gradually acclimating to everything, so I am currently in the perfect balance of feeling like a local but not too much so that I can still recognize the magical feeling of living in this city.

I can’t believe I’ve been here for one month already. Keep praying for me so that I can get the most out of this journey!

I’ll write again soon,

Ilaria Youssef

Settling into Life in Santa Cruz

Hola friends and family!

It’s hard to believe that another two weeks has already passed by. My time with Casa Gloria is going so quickly, and I want to soak up every experience that I can! Each week brings new opportunities for me to learn and to grow closer with the staff and kids at Casa Gloria, as well as with my host family. I’m so thankful for them all!

In my last blog, I mentioned that the founder of Casa Gloria’s name is also Jenna. As you might imagine, having two Jenna’s around could cause some confusion, so the two of us had decided before I arrived that I would go by a different name while I was here. I told Jenna that some of my friends call me Jordy (a combination of my first and last names) and she thought that was the perfect solution. Well, upon arrival in Santa Cruz, my host family had a hard time pronouncing “Jordy,” and also promptly told me that it was a boy’s name. This was confirmed when someone told me they were looking for “Señor Jordy,” to which they were shocked and slightly embarrassed when I told them that I was, in fact, the Jordy they were looking for. Anyway, the result is that, to anyone in Casa Gloria, I am Jordy and, to anyone from my host family, I am Nicole (my middle name). That being said, whenever I meet someone new, I never know how to introduce myself because, so far, I’ve gone by three different names (Jenna, Jordy, and Nicole) in the six weeks that I’ve spent in Guatemala!

One thing that I love about my host family, is that we all are genuinely curious and interested in learning about our respective cultures, especially my host mom, Vilma, and me. I cannot tell you how many times she has graciously taken the time to explain to me when I do or say something that is a little culturally “off,” and then to ask me how I would handle the same situation if I was at home. It’s so wonderful to know that we are both able to learn from each other! For example, at the beginning of last week, I was having a conversation with Vilma about cooking and she mentioned that she almost never uses her oven, but that she wanted to learn how to make a few things in it. Naturally, I offered to teach her how to make cookies. She readily agreed, and this resulted in me, my host sister, Sulmi, and Vilma all making a batch of Joanna Gaines’ chocolate chip cookies together (picture #1)! We had so much fun, especially when the cookies were ready to eat! As far as other things go related to my host family, I’m happy to report that I’ve learned a few more Spanish songs, so now I don’t have to keep repeating the same two over and over again. At this rate, I’m going to have a whole repertoire prepared by the time I leave!

In the past two weeks, I also traveled to both Tikal and Semuc Champey. In Tikal (pictures #2, #3, and #4), I learned about Mayan history, climbed temples and pyramids, and even saw a tarantula! It was a powerful experience to witness a way of life that, now, is completely non-existent. Jenna, Evelia (Casa Gloria’s psychologist), and I also had a great time getting to know each other better during the 18 total hours of driving that we did on that trip. Let’s just say, it got to the point where we were taking personality tests, so we DEFINITELY know each other well now! At Semuc Champey (pictures #5 and #6), Mayda (Vilma’s younger sister) and I swam in the gorgeous, crystal-blue waters and dove into an underwater cave. We were even able to tour one of the Lanquin Caves (picture #7) and see where some Mayan sacrifices took place!

My internship at Casa Gloria has also been quite eventful over the past two weeks. I’ve continued working on my normal projects like finishing the Christmas cards, taking dogs to the vet, and teaching English classes, but I’ve also taken kids to doctor appointments, weighed babies, and celebrated Día de los Muertos. There is truly never a dull moment around here! I have come to really enjoy teaching the English classes because the kids are always so enthusiastic and eager to learn the material I give them. It can be challenging due to the differing levels of education and English knowledge that the kids have, but overall, those classes are some of the most fun I have throughout the week! This past week, I also had the opportunity to share a little bit of my story with Casa Gloria’s kids, as well as the reason why I chose to work with Casa Gloria in the first place. I shared how they had already deeply impacted me in the few short weeks that I’d been here and how grateful I was to be here with them. These kids have experienced some of the most cruel and disgusting forms of human behavior to exist, and the way they’ve picked themselves up and support each other is so inspiring. This was a really powerful and beautiful moment for me and one that I will cherish forever.

As always, thank you for your thoughts and prayers!

Much love y hasta la próxima,


Susu na!

It’s been business as usual the past few weeks. On October 31st, I celebrated Halloween by going to Jodd Fairs night market where they had Halloween decorations, food, face paint, and costumes. I was surprised that there were more Halloween events happening in the city than I was expecting. Even though it didn’t feel like Halloween weather-wise, it was still nice to get together with friends and celebrate. It was a day full of smiles and zero scares.

Halloween in Bangkok

The next week, we had the day off work on Friday, November 1st for wellness day. A few coworker friends and I went to a cafe where we read and enjoyed the backyard bbq they were cooking up. It was a beautiful space and appears to have been a family’s home before it was converted to a cafe. There’s an outdoor sitting area with flowers and fairy flights, plus an indoor dining area, central cafe with baked goods and nooks to sit in, plus a very quiet upstairs area with lots of natural light. The cafe holds events frequently, including their weekend bbqs, workshops, and their daily paint & plant sessions (paint pots and plant, 2 in 1). After that, my coworker friend and I jetted off on his bike to a kpop dance class across town. We learned the dance to B.O.M.B by TREASURE, but it was taught in Thai, so I did my best to follow along. After the class, my friend taught me to count from 1-10 in Thai and quizzed me on the way home, asking me about different numbers on the road signs. It’d be a good road trip game, and it made learning Thai feel more fun than your average class!

cafe all day

AAT updates:

We have two new VLAs (same position as me) at work on the RSD team, which will expand the team’s capacity. Although it will take time to train the new VLAs and get them up to speed, they have great experience with research and screening/interviewing clients. It’s also nice to have other VLAs on the team with me because I’ve been the only RSD volunteer for a few months since our summer intern and another VLA departed.

The upcoming weeks will be quite busy and challenging at work, especially as I’ll have a heavy caseload, many of which are new processes to me. I am in the midst of conducting country of origin research on the treatment of women in Somalia (particularly FGM), working on an appeal submission, completing my first full screenings, and also my first accompaniment. For the appeal submission, the steps include reading through the client’s file and testimony, scheduling another interview with the client, interviewing the client, and then starting the appeal submission from there. Possible reasons for appeal include: incorrect facts, problems with procedures or process at first instance, new information relevant to the refugee claim, other reasons, or if there’s any additional documents or evidence the asylum-seeker would like to submit in support of their case.

Also, although I’ve completed pre-screenings part 1 and 2, this week I will be conducting full screenings wherein I ask the clients detailed questions about why they left their country of origin. After that, I will write up my analysis to my supervisor, and he will make the final decision on whether or not to represent the client.

This week, I will also be accompanying a client to their first instance RSD interview with UNHCR. AAT provides accompaniment to clients who are from groups who are typically unfairly rejected from UNHCR or who present vulnerabilities. The legal advisor is not able to intervene during the interview; the legal advisor’s role is to transcribe the interview, which can take the entire day. This is to support the client and also presents the possibility that AAT can submit post-interview submission (PIS) for the client if there are any errors or anything that did not go well during the interview. Due to current UNHCR Thailand policy, I will be unable to type the interview. Therefore, I will need to handwrite the entire interview, then spend the next day converting it from my handwritten entries to text.

As we say at work when it gets hectic like this, susu! This is a Thai phrase, which means ‘fight! Don’t give up.’ This is a phrase of encouragement, which can be used in many different contexts, for example if you’re eating with friends and still have lots of leftover food to eat, or if you have lots of work to do. It’s similar to the Japanese phrase, ‘ganbatte’ ((がんばって), which means ‘do your best,’ or phrases in English like, ‘you got this! You can do this.’

I’ll keep you all updated on the new work developments and the accompaniment in my next post. Thanks for following along!

P.S. Monsoon season is over, so we’re heading into the dry and cool(er) months. I actually kind of miss the daily rain from before :/

more kitties! spirit house kitty

spot the hidden cat

pad see ew, my favorite

my sweet friend made balushai for me (a Bangladeshi dessert).. soo yummy

A very eventful first month.

As I write this it is currently Halloween which isn’t really a thing in Egypt but it felt right to acknowledge. Blog! Egypt is a beautiful country and honestly it feels like the time has flown by. I have enjoyed getting into the rhythm of things and finding a routine for myself. I mistakenly thought the weather would be much colder than it actually is in Egypt right now, currently it still feels like fall and I am severely underprepared as I stuffed my suitcase with sweaters upon sweaters, but I managed to take a belmont shirt which thankfully has saved me on many occasions in this weather. I also got the amazing opportunity to visit a beautiful  Coptic Orthodox Church and I have loved getting to experience the liturgy in mostly arabic and coptic as opposed to English, Arabic, and Coptic. It is hard to put into words how special it is to finally connect with this part of my identity and make it my own but that doesn’t mean I haven’t tried! I’ve been writing a lot of poetry making sure to process everything going on and really let it sink in that I am in Egypt. The entire thing has felt a little surreal even 3 weeks in but I am slowly grasping that this is reality for a while and I am loving it.

Part of accepting reality is acknowledging that Egypt has a border with Gaza and that there is so much happening a mere country over. My thoughts often go to how I can support those affected in this time during my freetime seeing as I am so close geographically, and I care. I find myself praying for peace.

Another really cool aspect of this experience thus far is learning how to be self sufficient. The other day I was making nescafe, a common Egyptian drink and I learned how to light the stove top which uses gas with a match. While it doesn’t seem like a huge deal the fact that I sat there and figured it out felt extremely satisfying afterwards when I finally produced the desired coffee and it definitely tasted even better.

To speak about the internship experience so far, its been really cool to meet my bosses Safinaz and Ghada, they are both incredibly humble people who volunteer their free time to Bless in order to an their home country a better place.  So far I know there is a huge event on Nov. 27th that requires the majority of Ilaria and I’s  attention, and I have been trying to learn as quickly as possible in order to switch gears. I wanted to see if there is a way to support the Gaza humanitarian relief that Egypt is doing currently for the civilians affected by the war and am still ironing out the details so hopefully I will be able to update the blog about that soon!

In more personal news I get my LSAT score back tomorrow which is my last step before submitting applications. I hope the best and will update the blog as decisions come in!

Thats all for now blog,

Nardien Sadik

Cairo, Egypt