Category Archives: Uncategorized

Secret Santa and the Opera!

Hi blog!

The past couple of weeks haven’t been the easiest, but we got through them, and that’s all that matters!


I’ve been inching a little towards burnout due to a compilation of factors. Winter weather and early sunsets are already a recipe for exhaustion, and my brain is still making a considerable amount of effort to translate everything I come across. Plus, something I hadn’t anticipated is the office-volunteering aspect of it all; when volunteering, most of the time, you interact with the people you’re helping and witness the impact of your work firsthand. However, when volunteering in an office setting, I’m only seeing the data behind the people, so it’s easy to forget that what I’m doing is also making a difference.

On the bright side, as we’re approaching the new year, they are currently ironing out some last-minute fine details of their new 2024-2027 phase, so I’ve been sitting in on a few meetings and getting to see the inner workings/ the administrative side and how decisions are made in an NGO. It’s been a valuable experience, and I even got to share my input from a pure data/statistical perspective and get feedback about my ideas.

The office has been playing a game of Secret Santa, and the way they’re doing it is that each person is supposed to give multiple little gifts leading up to New Years, and then on January 2nd, they’ll give each other a bigger gift. Since I won’t be at the office on the 2nd, because I won’t have time to land and make it in time, I’ve been helping everyone deliver gifts to each other, and some of my colleagues even told me that they wanted certain things, and I’ve been sneakily delivering these requests along to their Secret Santa. Even though I am technically not a part of the game, I feel like I hold so much power because everyone trusts me enough to reveal who their person is.

Cool Experiences/ General Updates:

This is very insignificant, but worth noting: I recently went to get a haircut, and unfortunately, it did not come out how I wanted it at all. In fact, it is comically awful and too short for me to even put up. I have been scouring the internet for tips and tricks on how to deal with it; hopefully, I find a solution soon.

I went to a concert at the opera last week, and I had the absolute best time.  The concert covered much of Fairuz’s, an extraordinary Lebanese singer, discography. There was a live orchestra, and different singers would come out on stage to sing different songs. It was such a magical, music-filled night.

I am so excited to see my sister soon!! It will be a nice, much-needed break to get me back in the groove.

Since this is my last blog post before the 25th, merry Christmas!! I hope you’re surrounded by family and friends, and that your year is ending on a high note!

Ilaria Youssef

Strolls, Bakeries, and Churches

Hello again!

For the past two weeks, as winter and early sunsets have set in, I’ve been intentional about forcing myself to go out a little bit more, even if it’s just for a one-hour stroll in the street. I’ve found myself stuck in a routine, and this helped give me a small push out of it.

Cool experiences:

I went to a park that had this little small festival where people with startup small businesses come and advertise their products. It was so inspiring seeing how these talented people decided to turn their hobbies into businesses, whether it’s woodwork, crocheting, pottery, baking, jewelry making, or anything else in between. One thing I’ve noticed since coming to Cairo is people’s overall work ethic and hustle. So many people in the street find some kind of small thing they can do, and they go out on the street and sell it. For example, there’s a lady that stands by the metro station every day selling homemade sandwiches for people who haven’t eaten breakfast and are on their way to work. There are also “coffee cars,” which are basically people with small cars that makeshift their trunk into a coffee station. It’s honestly incredibly creative and admirable.

The display of a pottery-making small-business

I got to go to this museum-like building in St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. They had wax figures of the past two patriarchs in the Coptic Orthodox Church and some artifacts/belongings of people who have greatly impacted the Coptic Orthodox church. I loved seeing a glimpse of the church’s history.

Wax figure of Pope Kyrillos VI, the 116th Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church

I’ve also discovered the beauty of Egyptian bakeries. They sell fresh bread and all kinds of cookies with different fillings. I’ve been indulging and buying different types every time I go so that I can taste all of them. My favorite so far is this bread-like textured cookie filled with cinnamon and honey.


The partner meeting on Monday was very interesting and information-filled. I got to welcome the partners and sign them in, as well as ask them a few questions on video for BLESS’ documentation team. It was extremely cool to talk to these partners, most of whom are from European countries but have been living in Egypt for a few years. I got to bond with some of them as our experiences were somewhat similar: coming from a foreign country and dealing with the small culture shocks that come with living in Egypt.

After the meeting, BLESS had arranged a dinner for the partners, and I was lucky enough to be invited. The dinner was outdoors, so naturally, there were cats, which made for a fun conversation starter. We were also invited on a private tour of some of the ancient churches in the area, and naturally, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, so I tagged along.

Things have been a little slow in the office ever since, so I’ve been trying to refresh my memory in some coding languages by doing online courses.

Small Updates:

I am so excited to see my sister and go to Germany! But I’m even more excited because my brother also booked tickets to come to Egypt in January, which means that my siblings and I are celebrating Coptic Orthodox Christmas together!

If I am not keeping myself busy, I find myself very homesick. However, it helps when I run into people that used to know my parents or when I get to meet up with some extended family that I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. Either way, I can’t wait to explore Egypt a little more with my siblings.

December is already looking great, but keep praying for me.

Ilaria Youssef


PS: I wrote this two weeks ago, but unfortunately, I am not posting the blogs as fast as I am writing them. I promise I’ll get back on schedule soon!

Khao Yai national park & Christmas preparations

Khao Yai:

I recently went on a weekend trip to Khao Yai, which is about 2 hours from Bangkok. The highlight of the trip was going to Khao Yai national park, Thailand’s first national park. My friend and I did a guided tour of the park where we saw all kinds of different animals: spiders, snakes, gibbons, macaques, elephants, monitor lizards, king squirrels, hornbills, and bats. We got really lucky to see so many different types of animals, especially gibbons and elephants. While we were hiking, we heard gibbons and then had to look really closely to see them up in the treetops, swinging from tree to tree! Also, at the end of the day, a park ranger informed us that there’d been an elephant spotting, and we headed to where the elephants were. At first, we didn’t see elephants, but we waited patiently, and then we saw a mom and baby elephant. They crossed the road and then made their way over to the salt lick on the other side where we watched them for about an hour or longer.

Also, at the Khao Yai national park visitor center, I was surprised to find a slice Tennessee there! It turns out that Khao Yai national park and the Great Smoky Mountains national park signed the sister park agreement in 2013, a concept developed to create international cooperation regarding exchange, research, academic study, and management of national parks.

P.S. It was so much cooler in Khao Yai (in the 70s), which I was loving!

wild elephant spotting (seen through binocular lenses that someone kindly let us borrow)

watching the elephants from afar


Khao Yai national park

Also, while in Khao Yai, we went to a flower park and natural spring:

Hokkaido flower park in Khao Yai

Ban Tha Cha spring

Bangkok Illustration Fair 2023:

The other weekend, I went to Bangkok Illustration Fair (BKKIF) held at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. BKKIF aims to promote and boost the potential of the Thai illustration scene as well as fostering development and expanding work at both the national and international levels. The list of selected BKKIF artists comprised Thai artists and international artists from the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, China, Ukraine, and Myanmar. It was a really unique opportunity to engage in discussions with the artists and learn more about their techniques/styles and the stories behind their artwork. The artists also had products for sale, and I bought many things including stickers, keychains, cards, books, and bookmarks.

I found out about BKKIF through a friend of mine whose art was featured. I’ve always wanted to learn how to draw, so I felt really inspired here; it’s one of the most creative spaces I’ve been in in a really long time.

Christmas in Bangkok:

giant Pikachu at Central World

Christmas market at Emsphere

Christmas party with friends

Work updates:

I sent in my first submission to UNHCR on behalf of a client,  an appeal submission, which meant that it was a tight deadline to request client transcripts from UNHCR, review the client’s testimony, interview the client, and format the submission, along with relevant COI. In this particular case, it was important to highlight procedural issues, as well as new information since first instance RSD interviews.

Myself and the other VLAs also conducted several intro to RSD trainings throughout November and December for Chinese, Hmong, Somali, and Urdu-speaking clients. Intro to RSD is particularly beneficial for new arrivals to learn how the RSD process works and what to expect.

Soon we’ll have two weeks off work for the winter break. Susu na!

It Finally Feels like Winter

Hey Blog,

I hope you are all well!

I finally feel like I have some updates for you guys that are exciting! The first thing is my efforts in trying to balance my time here with my applications for law school has been quite a challenge but I have finally finished and submitted! This will hopefully free up some time for me to go explore more of the city in my downtime!

I also am happy to report I have been learning some Egyptian dishes to make when guests are over and I have perfected the Nescafe drink and the classic bean and tofu combination to serve up.

In completely other news I met up with some distant relatives recently and it was a really emotional experience for me as I didn’t think I would have the chance to see them as they live quite far, but they made the effort to come all the way to Cairo when they heard that I was in the country and we shared a meal together. It was a great day filled with a lot of storytelling, picture showing, hugs and laughter. I am really thankful I got to experience being around them as I often used to feel left out when growing up away from all of my cousins and relatives in Egypt.

In more exciting news, I went wedding dress shopping for my upcoming wedding in July! While I haven’t found the dress yet, I am really excited to keep searching as the styles here are very unique to the ones found in America and I have a feeling I will fall in love with one soon!

As far as the office life goes, I can say that everyone has been extremely kind and friendly and all the coworkers recently went out together to share a meal after work. While it was a casual outing it made me feel like we had finally become friends and I have been really enjoying the company.

On that note, while I would love to come on here and say it has been smooth sailing all around in reality the home sickness has started to hit a tad bit. The excitement of the newness of Egypt has worn off and now things like missing my fiance, my family, and major life events have left behind a sense of loneliness. I am thankful once more that Ilaria is here with me though as she makes me feel companionship and our support for one another makes all the difference.

One of the best things I have done thus far in Egypt, which I have chosen to save the best for last for, is serving in the local church every Monday and  Wednesday. My service consists of teaching English classes to underprivileged children and it brings me great joy as the children are kind and hilarious and truly in need.  To be a small part of the reason they get an education makes this trip feel so important to me and has made me look forward to the days I get to see them.

Until Next Time Blog,

Bye for Now,

Nardien Sadik

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


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 mid 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

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

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