Sunday, August 31, 2008

Where's Ahmed?

Today was one of those days in Egypt that seemed long and busy only because the few tasks that my flatmate and I actually embarked upon ended up being hopelessly involved and time-consuming.
Actually, I should be rather thankful as I was merely tagging along as Ross tried to find a mysterious Ahmed Ali (of which there are several employed at AUC) who signed, two weeks ago, for a UPS package containing a credit card. We got nothing but fruitless suggestions leading us from office to office in various buildings at different downtown campuses (there are at least three: Main Campus, Greek Campus, and Falaky Campus and we visited them all).
Prior to all of this, I had a little victory: I am now registered for three graduate courses. They are, mercifully, all located downtown, but at three different locations: the previously mentioned Main Campus and Greek Campus as well as a building in Garden City. In keeping with the theme of a varied triad, I have a professor of a different nationality for each of my classes: for Migration and Refugee Movements in North Africa and the Middle East, I have a Frenchman, for my Introducation to Forced Migration and Refugee Studies, an Egyptian, and for International Refugee Law, an American. These (likely quite challenging) courses start next Sunday with times adjusted for the Ramadan schedule. The secretary in the Center for Migration and Refugee Studies (CMRS) was extremely helpful during the registration process. I've found in Egypt, people are often very willing to help and asking the right questions and explaining yourself in a few different ways enables them to do so more easily. For example, inquiring about receiving mail through the Graduate Studies Office (through which Ross was supposed to have received the now infamous UPS package) yielded an offer from the secretary for me to be able to receive mail directly through my program office downtown. Therefore, to those who've been asking for an address to send letters and such, I should have it within a week, insha'Allah.
After talking to three different Ahmed Alis in three different buildings (the theme of three continues, eat your hearts out numerologists!) Ross and I dragged ourselves to the nearby koshary joint where I mustered up enough courage to have a basic, short conversation in Arabic with the guy who kisses his handing before shaking Ross's, then mine every time we come in now. He's convivial and welcoming which gives him a leg up on the cheaper but less inviting koshary restaurant down the road.
No sooner had we returned to the apartment, ready to rest our weary selves for a while, than I received a reply to an email inquiry I'd sent to Better World NGO. There was a "recruitment" meeting on the Greek Campus in an hour. I almost didn't go, but I forced myself and ended up being glad I did. However, after the walk to the Social Sciences gate of the Greek Campus, I was met a set of eyes peering through the bars on the outside of two tall, solid wooden doors. After explaining (in at least three different ways) that I had a meeting and should, indeed, be let in, the guard relented and allowed me entry. It turned out that there was a rather loud audiovisual equipment-heavy AUC-authorized or -sponsored party for what seemed like teeming throngs of Egyptian freshman in the courtyard of the Greek Campus and, at another gate, they were patting down guests who were dressed as if they were attending a red carpet premiere. I didn't ask, but instead trekked up a flight of steps to the second floor only to end up at a door bearing a sign telling me that, though I was on the right floor, the door was mysteriously closed and I needed to take a different set of steps. I finally made it to the meeting, which went well. The founder of the organization was, in fact, an ambassadorial scholar to Montréal. We swapped Rotary stories and phone numbers and plan to get together soon. I also signed up to volunteer. If everything goes according to plan, I'll be teaching English (or possibly French) to underprivileged Egyptian public university students and graduates for a couple of hours each week. Better World aims to offer language, computer, managerial, and leadership skills to students who, because of deficiencies in the overburdened public universities, are not as competitive on the job market as their counterparts at a private school like AUC.
After returning home for a while for the meeting, I mustered up the energy to go back out into the streets once again, this time for dinner with Ross. As has been a problem before, the café we'd picked to go to was inexplicably closed. We ended up getting take-away from a place nearby. I opted to get a salad, and I can only hope I luck out. You see, I've read in various places that salads in Cairo are to be avoided because of the risk of contamination. Being a bit OCD and prone to overuse of my trusty bottle of hand sanitizer, this was either an uncharacteristically brave or uncharacteristically imprudent depending on whether or not I come down with a parasite over the next couple of days. Strangely, though, thus far I have had absolutely none of the stomach problems that inevitably plague tourists and expats in the days or weeks following their arrival. I've got quite a bit of time (and, no doubt, quite a few more sketchy salads) between now and my return to the States though.
I wanted to make sure to mention, to those of you who are tenacious enough to read this lengthy entries, that I would be more than happy to answer any questions you might have about Egypt or my time here. I don't claim to be an expert on the country, but I could probably find one or a hundred in the neighborhood.

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