Category Archives: Uncategorized

Hot season in full swing – Thailand and Malaysia

Recently, a coworker friend invited me to her community and family home. It was really sweet to see all the care that her parents took into cooking traditional dishes for me and making me feel welcomed. Community members also came over and shared some of their experiences with me, along with their history, including persecution and troubles with the authorities. This day really highlighted the privilege that I have, and although it’s something that I haven’t touched on much in the blog, this is something that’s been on my mind often throughout my time with AAT. Refugees in Thailand are limited in their access to work and also freedom of movement. International, refugee, and Thai staff all bring their own unique skillset and contribute to the organization’s mission, and I do think it’s pertinent for additional resources to be allocated for protecting refugee staff’s physical and mental well-being.

George Town, Malaysia

Over the weekend, I went to the colorful city of George Town, Penang, Malaysia, which was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. It is an arts and culture hub, with multicultural fusion in language and cuisine and a unique architectural landscape. It was super hot there, but I loved exploring the street art, murals, and unique shops. There was lots of cat-themed art and wandering cats to be spotted in the winding alleys. The food was also amazing, and I was so happy to have perfectly toasted bagels with lots of cream cheese (something that I’ve missed haha). I also stumbled upon a chocolate museum inside of a chocolate shop, which was interesting, as I’m a huge chocolate lover. One of my favorite activities was going to the Sunday market at Hin Bus Depot, which is a platform for entrepreneurs, artisans, musicians, and performers. In addition to pop-up exhibitions happening, there were also artists performing, and lots of crafts, food, and baked goods to browse.

art gallery with beautiful postcards and posters

amazing street art in George Town

Cheong Fatt Tze, the Blue Mansion

truffle cream cheese <3

free merch from the airline!

Songkran

Songkran, or Thai New Year, is coming soon – officially from April 13th to 15th, however celebrations often start a week in advance. This marks the beginning of the Thai traditional calendar, and Songkran is known for its water fights. The water symbolizes cleansing and renewal. I’v heard from friends who have been in Thailand for Songkran before that it’s almost impossible to leave the house during this time without getting wet. So, it’s best to expect to get doused and come prepared with goggles, waterproof bag, etc. One of my friends from the US will be visiting during Songkran, and I’m so excited to see her!

One more month in Thailand!

These past few weeks I’ve been in the beginning stages of planning my next steps, as I will be returning to the US in May. I booked my flight back home and have been looking at apartments in NYC and applying for jobs. I am going to visit Nashville for a week before I head back to NYC, so that I can catch up with friends/family and take care of some commitments there. It will be a journey traveling with Steven again – from Bangkok to Nashville, then Nashville to NYC!

Also, one of my friends here recently moved back to her home country, so I spent time with her before she left and saw her off. Another one of my friends from the US visited Thailand again, so we got hot pot and went to a night market and vintage shopping center. She also brought me Cheez-its and Goldfish, which I was soo happy for (have really missed those snacks haha).

hot pot

Aside from that, Steven had a dental cleaning appointment. It’s more affordable to get the procedure done here, so it felt good to cross that off my list of things to do.

In terms of work, I am handling a few more appeal cases (both advice/self-help sessions and also working on appeal submissions). The RSD team is also preparing for changes, as people are departing for new positions or due to their contracts ending. Because of that, we’ve been in discussion about case handover and thinking about wrapping up existing cases. We’ve also been spending time together as a team, especially since one coworker is leaving the country at the end of this week. It’s always hard to say goodbye, even more so because we have such a solid and tight-knit team, but I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to meet them and work with them.

celebrating a coworker’s birthday

bookstore kitty

Chinatown, BKK

Farewells and fun times!

Hi blog!

These past couple of weeks have likely been two of the most exciting ones of my whole stay in Egypt.

A little background before I unpack why they have been so special: Initially, Nardien and I booked our flights to leave Egypt and head back to Nashville on the 2nd of April. However, I recently changed my flight to leave Egypt on the 10th. Nevertheless, my last week in the office was this week.

Workwise, these two weeks have been incredibly hectic. First, I had to sit down with each group of colleagues heading the different programs, so I could ask them about the prominent aspects of their programs that they would like to have portrayed in the big report. Then, I would create the graphs and charts that they requested, get feedback, rinse, repeat.

I was a couple of days into the second week, my last week, by the time I had finished all of those charts, but then some other smaller tasks sprung up last minute and I had to make sure to leave my last day with everything finished.

Thankfully, I finished them in time, and my last day in the office was incredibly wholesome as they got a small platter of sweets and gifted me a big box of goodies and thoughtful presents. Thankfully, my last day wasn’t incredibly busy for them, so after I finished my last task, I got to sit with them, take pictures, and reminisce about our time together.

The box of goodies that my colleagues kindly gifted me

Outside the office, Nardien and I went and explored parts of Cairo that are next to the Nile- we both love a good view.

Also, Egypt transformed into a whole new country with Ramadan starting. The colorful decorative lights adorn the streets. The roads are empty around 6 pm as everyone rushes home to break their fast. The streets are incredibly lively at night to the point that it’s easy to think it’s 9 pm, but when you look at the clock, you’re hit with the realization that it’s 2 am and all the streets are still flooded with people.

The busy streets and the decorated buildings

Nardien and I took a trip to Siwa, and it has now easily become a core memory of mine. We got to go with this tourist company that takes individuals on budget-friendly trips by booking large groups of people. On the way there, I got to meet so many awesome people that were on the bus with us, whom I hope to stay in contact with. In Siwa, we got to go hiking, sandboarding, and swimming in the famous Siwa oasis. The latter two activities have been on my bucket list since the second I knew I was coming to Egypt, and they were exactly as phenomenal as I had imagined them to be. We also got to go on a desert safari and speak to locals in Siwa. I was fascinated to learn that they have their own dialect which they learn at home when they’re kids, and they learn Arabic later on when they go to school. They also have slightly different customs and cultures. Being in Siwa felt like exploring a different country without ever having to step foot outside of Egypt.

The Siwa Oasis

These are all the adventures for now, but I’ll write again soon as I start packing to head back to Nashville.

Until then,

Ilaria Youssef

Siwa!

Hello Blog!

It is crazy to think this is the second to last blog post of this wildly fun experience but I must say its been quite fulfilling both in my personal growth in career aspirations.  I have truly learned how to be fully dependant upon myself for not only survival but also self  entertainment. I feel as though I am walking away from this experience a better version of myself and for that I am extremely grateful to Lumos for making possible.

Over the last two weeks so many exciting things happened, the main event being that Ilaria and I took a trip to Siwa, Egypt! It was truly magical as the natives of the land speak their own language, have their own customs, and partake in different traditions than the typical Egyptian would.  It’s interesting because Siwa is part of Egypt they even have their own governing system completely set apart from Cairo and go to religious authority to handle their disputes rather than police. Throughout llaria and I’s experience we visited historically significant sights such as the place where Alexander the Great visited Egypt, and the place of battle between the two tribes who lived in the region over two thousand years prior which was significant to the history of the natives who still occupy the land to this day.

In addition, the group got to experience things like the salt lakes which naturally are present in the region and cause you to float once inside, and the oasis in the middle of the sand desert which was my first time experiencing this which was hot and supposedly good for you. We tried riding sand boards which turned out to be really fun,  even though we ate sand in the process. One other notable experience was going on a safari which was more like a rollercoaster than a car ride, the thrill was phenomenal but my trust in the driver was immeasurable as he guided us through a seemingly impossible to navigate journey in the sand dunes.

A highlight of the trip was conversing with others on the trip who were quite friendly and who took us under their wing the entire trip to make sure our experience was pleasant, which was truly so kind. This kindness resulted in close friendship being formed and great conversations being held which were truly unforgettable. I especially got close to this australian couple who were recently engaged and were speaking English, which I missed dearly. We talked about the Egypt experience as an outsider and the entire conversation was truly insightful, it felt like journaling but where you the reader can reply in real time.

In other news unrelated to travel, the Egyptian experience in Egypt has been quite unique in Ramadan. The overall mood is very light heart and friendly with the late nights becoming more expected due to the late hours of the restaurants. I haven’t quite figured out the best time to go get food as there is a preference given to the muslims who fasted all day but nonetheless its been fun and definitely a very culturally unique experience.

 

That’s all for now blog !

I’ll see you all in Nashville very soon,

Until Next Time,

Nardien Sadik

Cairo, Egypt

Hong Kong for the week

Hong Kong

I recently went to Hong Kong for about 5 days, where I tried lots of good food and explored different neighborhoods. I really enjoyed going to Kowloon Park, West Kowloon Cultural District (open green space/exhibitions/harbor view), Victoria Peak, Wan Chai neighborhood, Pottinger Street (often referred to as “Rocky Road”), Upper Lascar Row (one of the most renowned antique streets in Hong Kong), and Sheung Wan to do some cat spotting. I also got dinner with one of my coworker’s siblings who lives in Hong Kong; we ate dim sum, and he showed me some notable spots in Mongkok, a neighborhood known for shopping.

unique Hong Kong architecture and historic building, the Blue House

Pottinger Street

cute cats in Sheung Wan

classic pan fried buns

HK snacks

I also went to a heritage building, Tai Kwun, where I saw an amazing exhibition titled “Green Snake: women-center ecologies.” The exhibition focuses on the connections between art and the larger themes of ecology in the context of rising temperatures. The exhibition features more than 30 artists and collectives from 20 countries, with over 60 works that draw on mythologies and world views to explore possibilities for other ecological relationships. Green Snake points to the extractive economies at the root of ecological crises, and the exhibition asks about alternative narratives which are grounded in notions of care and ecofeminism. This points to the labor of care that is essential, but has been undervalued in patriarchal and imperial systems.

Green Snake exhibition

On my last full day in Hong Kong, I took the ferry to Lamma Island, which is home to many creative types. There are indie boutiques, craft stores, cafes, and hiking trails with sweeping coastal views. However, due to high humidity, the visibility at the top of the hiking trail was not great when I was there. However, I still enjoyed hiking and being at the beach.

Lamma Island

These are a few things I noticed and really liked about Hong Kong:

  • easy to get around – signs everywhere! & good public transit
  • water refill stations
  • public toilets
  • phone service on the subway
  • hiking trails
  • interesting architecture
  • lots of cuisine types
  • cats

Back in BKK

It was nice to have a getaway in Hong Kong, because even though it was still humid in Hong Kong, it was much cooler than Bangkok. Thailand’s hottest season seems to be starting early this year, and there’s currently a heat wave, with the “feels like” temperature projected to reach almost 50 degrees Celsius this week.

even the Grab driver has a little umbrella over his phone because of the heat and sun here!

I’m definitely not excited for the heat, but in other news, one exciting development is that a care package from friends in the US finally arrived! They sent it back in December, but somehow there were issues with the postal service, and it was about to be sent back to the US, but luckily I was able to contact the post office before this happened. It was filled with all of my favorite things, including chocolate, Goldfish, Christmas decorations, snacks for my cat, body products and face masks, etc. This was such a sweet reminder of their love and care for me, and I can’t wait to see them when I’m back in the US.

the care package arrived!

At work, the community engagement team has been facilitating projects such as Body Maps for Healing. Between October and December 2023, AAT facilitated four PFA art therapy sessions with 43 participants from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Somalia, DRC, and from the Vietnamese/Jarai/Khmer communities. During these workshops, several pieces of artwork were created, which will be exhibited for World Refugee Day 2024. To identify the pieces which will be shown in the actual exhibition, the AAT team voted for the paintings that we found the most intriguing. On the left side of the paintings, the participants were asked to find symbols for their past experiences, while the right side displays symbols for their future hopes and wishes. For the event in June, AAT will embed the selected pieces in specific story-telling format to better understand their context and significance.

Stepping into the Last Month

Hello again!

The last two weeks at the office have been extremely busy. I was tasked with double-checking every number within a 70-page report. It took me the entire two weeks to finish. Although there were data tables on almost every other page, what was most time-consuming in checking the accuracy of these numbers was hunting down and trying to find where each number originated. Additionally, the Excel sheets I was sent, which contained the original data, were in Arabic, while the report was in English. While I have significantly improved my reading, writing, and overall understanding of Arabic, it was still quite a challenge, given that I was dealing with mostly technical terms. Nonetheless, I enjoyed putting my skills to the test, and my colleagues were patient and kind with my excessive questions, ensuring my translations were accurate. On the other hand, BLESS has only recently, within the last few years, started to digitize their files, so I can’t begin to imagine how they managed these lengthy and detail-oriented reports beforehand.

Outside the office, the country is getting ready to celebrate Ramadan, so there are huge pop-up shops everywhere selling Ramadan decorations, making it seem as if the streets themselves are adorned with festive lanterns.

I believe that winter is officially over here, but people are not yet ready to retire their winter clothes that they haven’t had much of a chance to wear yet. The weather has been in the 70s Fahrenheit and has even reached the mid-80s on a few days last week. Since we’re basically back to summer, Nardien and I dined at a cute restaurant on the Nile, enjoying the view, the food, and, of course, the company!

I’ve also met with family members, as I am starting to realize that I will be leaving soon and will miss the cozy feeling of familial love. So, I am trying to soak up every last ounce of it.

I was blessed with the opportunity to attend a Sunday service led by the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church. It was a special and beautiful service because they were also consecrating the altar of that local church!

A huge pop-up market was held over the weekend, where small businesses go to advertise and sell their products. I always feel inspired walking around and seeing how these people have turned their extraordinary talents and passions into a living. Everything in the indoor market was handmade: food, clothes, bedding, lamp shades, accessories, tableware, and everything in between. It was a wonderful opportunity to support local businesses.

My weekend wasn’t very eventful. Having crossed into the last month of being in Egypt, I spent the last weekend mainly planning my next steps. I’ve been applying for jobs in the U.S. and planning some other travels after Egypt but before I head back to Nashville.

Only a couple of these blogs left to write. What a surreal thought and experience it has been so far.

As always, send prayers my way.

Ilaria Youssef

An Eventful End to February

Hi Blog!

This post is going to be a lot because well, a lot has happened! I can honestly say its felt like a year since the last post. Since the last update I have visited the president of the University of Dimerdash to award a professor on behalf of the Pope, been offered a job to work for a bishop, attended an engagement reception in Egypt, and also unfortunately a funeral for my uncle’s wife’s father.

Starting with the trip to Alexandria, it was actually a bit of a funny story really. My job includes working under this priest whose name is Fr. Bolos and while he is truly one of the smartest people I have ever met he is also one of the busiest. This results in some things getting lost in translation at times. This trip was one such instance, he told me the day before that “they” were going to Alexandria tomorrow to see a professor and that I was welcome to join tomorrow (the following day) and that I just needed to arrive at 8 am sharp. The way that the invite was offered I assumed there would be a group going and that it would include some sort of van for transportation. I arrived the following day at 8 am and as it turns out it was just Fr. Bolos, me and the driver who would be taking us. I also found out while on the way there that this professor was responsible for the preservation of Coptic archaeology and that we would be going to honor her with an award on behalf of the president. I really appreciated that abouna allowed me to come experience this as the entire conversation was extremely enlightening . In the end we sat in the university for hours while various professors came and spoke with abouna about different projects they wanted BLESS to partner with and I was dutifully taking notes and getting contact information. Because the meeting was going so well we were invited to meet the president of the entire university and discuss the initiatives in a more official way. The entire interaction was extremely pleasant and I got to try peppermint and mint tea which was great!

This leads to the next part of the story because once we finished our meetings and headed back towards shubra, which takes about 3 hours. Abouna let me know he was selected to be ordained a bishop by the pope and asked me if I would like a job as his secretary ( a huge honor to be asked). It was really special to be considered as I really look up to Abouna even if it won’t be possible due to law school committments.

The next really cool thing I got to experience was an Egyptian engagement in Egypt! It was very different then my own Egyptian engagement but overall really fun and memorable. Egyptians sure know how to have a good time! Unfortunately the very next day I had a death in my not so immediate family and experienced for the first time mourning with larger family. It was truly heartbreaking to see so many of my loved ones who were upset and not being able to offer much in terms of comfort. It was challenging to go home that night and process it all.

I feel as if February has flown past and I can’t believe there is only one short month left.  I am really going to miss Egypt.

Thats all for now Blog,

Until Next Time,

Nardien Sadik

Cairo, Egypt

 

 

 

 

 

Meeting with the president of the university of dimirdash

The office of the president

An Egyptian Drink that tastes like mint and sprite

The professor we awarded the plaque too on behalf of the president for her work with Coptic Archeticture

a poem

A ceasar salad in Egypt that I thought was aesthetically pleasing

A family on a single motorcycle

Another Picture from the Engagement

A final Picture from the engagement

February Fun!

Hi blog!

The last couple of weeks have been so much fun!

First of all, work has been a little slow because everyone in the office is wrapping up reports for the end of the 2020-2023 phase. My task will be to read through them, ensure all the numbers are correct, and add some data visuals once the writing portion is completed. So, I went around helping my colleagues with some of their other tedious tasks that are simple enough for me to handle without requiring much instruction (since most of them had a lot on their plates anyway). With not much for me to do, I seized the opportunity and requested a couple of days off until the reports are ready for my contribution.

A goal I set for myself at the beginning of this year was to go out and explore a lot more, and I’m proud to say that I’ve been sticking to that goal pretty well throughout February.

Every chance I get, I either walk to a new bakery, discover coffee shops in the area, or maybe even get groceries from a different store. However, I also returned to the Opera House because music is simply healing for the soul, and I couldn’t resist a flute and harp recital. The recital was so angelic and has been one of my favorite concerts to attend so far! I also went to a small art exhibition of a local artist and was mesmerized by their mastery of colors!

The flutist and harpist enchanting the audience with their skills

Fascinating art piece from the gallery

Nardien and I found a delightful restaurant that offers all kinds of board games for customers to enjoy while dining. So, as we had dinner, we engaged in extremely competitive games of backgammon and checkers. At one point, we may have both gotten a little too intense about winning and were definitely the loudest in the place, but thankfully, we both ended up tying, so it’s safe to say that we are still friends.

Nardien accepting defeat at backgammon

For my long weekend during the second week, I traveled to Alexandria to meet one of my closest friends from Nashville, who, by some divine intervention, had to move to Egypt at the start of this year. Having not seen her since October, I just had to take a trip to Alexandria to catch up with her. Alexandria was rainy the whole weekend, so we mainly stayed indoors, but we managed to visit some cute coffee shops, the Greco-Roman Museum, and have dinner at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the beach. I left Alexandria feeling a sense of home and completely recharged.

The view of Alexandria from the rooftop

A small statue in the Greco-Roman Museum in Alexandria

A small update about my broken laptop: There’s no Apple Store in Egypt, and I couldn’t find a way to fix it, so it will remain broken until I return to Nashville. However, thankfully, I think I’ve found a good alternative solution, so I don’t have to wait to post at the office. Hopefully, this will be the last belated post.

That’s all for now, but I’ll write again soon. Until then, please keep me in your prayers!

Ilaria Youssef

Music explorations and newfound jazz fan

The past few weeks have been filled with exploring some new activities in Bangkok. I went to another art fair, Illust Fusion, at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (I can’t get enough of the art events here haha). Illust Fusion is an exhibition of art and handmade products that brings together artists, regardless of their age, style, or experience. The event is held every year, twice a year, around February and August. The theme for this Illust Fusion was landscape of the art world. I met many new artists and really loved the element of mysticism in their work. I even bought Steven some treats while I was there!

Below are snapshots from a few cute pieces that caught my eye:

they always get me with the cat trinkets!

I also went to a jazz bar and discovered that I actually do like jazz! The bar featured a full band and DJ playing vinyl. The singer’s voice was beautiful, and this really makes me want to explore more live music venues in Bangkok. I think there’s many places here where you can see live music for a minimal cost. Another perfect example of this is the free concert in the park series I went to, featuring the Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra. This is another music genre I don’t typically listen to, but it was nice to be outside once the sun set and listen to classical music. The vocalist sang songs like “New York, New York” (substituting Bangkok in place of New York), “Fly Me To The Moon,” and “When I Fall In Love.” One of my favorite songs from the orchestra was one from Swan Lake.

music at the park

Aside from this, at work I’ve continued with pre-screenings, conducting interview prep, and preparing for upcoming legal clinics. I also accompanied another client to their RSD FI interview at UNHCR. This was a long day, as I wrote out by hand everything that was said in the interview. I spent the next day typing up the entire transcript. However, it was nice to be able to see the client in person and support them during the interview. Much of my client interaction is over the phone and not face-to-face because it can be risky for asylum-seekers here to travel unnecessarily, as their freedom of movement is extremely limited. Therefore, we try to reduce the number of clients traveling to the office or elsewhere, unless necessary.

Other than these developments, I’ve been planning some potential  trips and also thinking about preparations for the upcoming summer, including law school and which part of NYC I’ll be living in. I’ve been submitting required forms to CUNY and going through other necessities to get ready for the upcoming school year.

street food

ก๋วยเตี๋ยวไก่มะระ
a Thai soup with chicken, noodles, and veggies

scenes from jazz night

stumbled upon this local market in a side street in Ari

adorable limited edition Valentine’s Day Tao Bin cup from a local artist, Panaholooya

February Update :)

Hey Blog!

These past two weeks have been really good! I am in love with Egypt adventures and have been making good on a promise to myself to explore more while I am here! I had the awesome opportunity to go to a show at a local church that was put on by the kids who attend the church. It was really good and I enjoyed watching Egyptian theatre and comparing art styles with American ones.

I also have recently been going out to new cafes and restaurants with some friends I’ve made while being in Egypt which has been really fun. One of the friends I made while here got a visa to go work in Dubai so we threw him a goodbye party and I spent some time teaching him some key English phrases in order to help with the adjustment. I also have gotten really into Paddle and go somewhat frequently now to the local paddle court. I’ve always really loved sports and learning a new one with a few friends has been a fun way to pass the time.

I got to go paint some pottery recently which was also really fun and a lot harder than I thought it would be. I really like a challenge so I will definitely be going back. I recently said goodbye to a friend who was visiting Egypt who I got to see and it was really hard to not to miss her but the memories we made were so special.

The weather here has been slightly warmer which has also been helping with my good mood, and I am happy to report that I got into Vandy Law this past weekend which has been awesome as it has helped me not stress so much about the admissions cycle.

In addition to going out to the theatre, cafes, and picking up a new hobby in paddle I have been having some really fulfilling meetings at work. I got the chance to work on the presentation a monk will present abroad discussing orthodoxy in great lengths to a group of who has never heard of it before. It was really cool to learn so much more in depth about my faith and get to share this knowledge with others in an indirect way.

 

a colleague and I took a picture in the office

after photo of a shirt i decided to cut the neck off of

before photo of the shirt I decided to cut up for fun

group photo of the little get together for the friend leaving to Dubai

hang out in a cafe

donkey in the streets of egypt that looked kinda cute

photo of my friend Amira who was visiting from the States and has now gone back

Zatun in Egypt, a new city explored

pottery with Amira!

 

Church theatre performance

 

Thats all for now Blog,

Until Next Time,

Nardien Sadik

Cairo, Egypt