Sunday, November 30, 2008

Last Law Class

Today, International Refugee Law began an hour early to compensate for the canceling of a post-Eid class. Only when the professor mentioned it in passing did I realize it was our last official session of that course. We're having a mini-class on Thursday dealing with Palestinian refugee issues, but otherwise, it's just the paper and the final left. I've really enjoyed the class by and large and have stuck with my assertion that it's my favorite of the three I've had this semester. We ended by discussing whether refugee law was even a viable field and that morphed into a discussion of refugee studies as a distinct field from migration studies.
My stomach is still on the fritz and I'm eating less so as not to anger it. I'm hoping to keep dodging the doctor and that it will resolve itself. My family will have to fatten me up again while I'm home for Christmas.

Egypt "favors quiet diplomacy with Saudis" over abuse of doctors
Human rights committee spot-checking police stations
Egypt tackles AIDS stigma

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Long Days of Essays

Yesterday and today were spent nearly entirely in the apartment, though I've had Ross to keep me company as he too has been obliged to buckle down and write, write, write. Last night, I went to a part in Zamalek and most of the people there were Egyptian, which is much better for benefiting from Egyptian culture (obviously). My stomach is still behaving in a most unfriendly fashion, but I don't think it's severe enough that I'll end up going to a doctor (at least I hope it's not).
I'm meant to hang out with the French kids I met at the part the other night sometime this week, and have plans to get a meal here and there with this or that classmate or friend, but other than that, I hope to be wildly productive in hacking away at the thousands of words I have left to write. Ross and I began to get loopy from cabin fever and microwaved Christmas Peeps that mysteriously appeared in our apartment thus making them balloon up to ten times their original size. Already, behaving like overgrown children, we played some pranks on our Togolese neighbor who was quick to reciprocate. Don't judge! If you were cooped up writing all day in an apartment in downtown Cairo, you'd succumb to a bit of craziness too. Ha. Catherine is moving out tomorrow (much to our landlord's pleasure, I'm sure) and we're meant to be getting a German neighbor in her place as of Monday. It's quite the multinational floor we have.
Though I'm really beginning to find my niche here, I'm excited to be coming home for the holidays to see friends and family. I'm sure my visit will be a busy one, but a lot of fun. I just have to make sure I find time to get all my Christmas gifts and souvenirs to bring back with me amidst my essay-writing.

Egyptian physicist who worked in America for years returns to Egypt after having security clearance revoked
Egypt criticizes Hamas's preventing Muslims from Gaza making the pilgrimage to Mecca
Israel planning incursion into Gaza Strip

Friday, November 28, 2008


Despite my wistfulness at not spending this traditionally family holiday with my family, I ended up having a great Thanksgiving with friends and classmates and friends of classmates. At Brandy and Mary-Anne's flat in Zamalek, we had a pot-luck dinner complete with standards like stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, salads, pumpkin pie (even if it was a bit Egyptian), and even, to my utter euphoria, a tiny bit of cranberry sauce. Chickens stood in for turkeys for the carnivores. Brandy also served delicious stuffed dates and hummus and veggies for appetizers, adding a little local flavor into the mix. As planned, I brought beet and arugula salad and Tunisian wine. The latter wasn't stellar, but certainly better than anything I've had in Egypt thus far, which is all one can really ask for. I only had a taste though because I've been popping pills left and right for sleeping, for shrinking mosquito bites (Claritin), and to deal with recently arisen stomach aches--oh Egypt, you've caught up with me! As to the last issue, I can only hope I don't have to go to a doctor. Anway, because the world is a very small place, I ended up meeting a Bretonne (a girl from Brittany, the area in France where I studied) who works in Alsace (the area in France where I visited relatives and where a bunch of my mom's ancestors came from) and is a Rotaractor. She'd lived in Egypt some ten or years ago while her father was working here and in Madagascar (where my former supervisor from my State internship is working currently). We yammered on in French about Egypt and Thanksgiving and Rotary all over delicious food. After dinner, a handful of us migrated to a friend's birthday party elsewhere in Zamalek and, though the party overall wasn't my scene, I ran into a French acquaintance I'd met a while back and met a few of his friends. One of them actually goes to school in Rennes (the city where I studied in the aforementioned region of Bretagne) but is from Paris. Of course, more gabbing in French ensued. After the party, Amanda and I had a nice walk through the quiet, mostly-empty neighborhood and ended up at Metro market where I did some spontaneous early-morning grocery-shopping. I caught a cab with one of the best cab-drivers I've had yet. I gave him the same amount I usually give cabdrivers when taxiing from Zamalek to Bab al-Luq, but he seemed genuinely polite and thankful when I handed him the money. Maybe he knew that's what Thanksgiving's all about. Ha. Anyway, it was refreshing, especially since I continually overpay and get sneered at anyway for not lavishing my apparently millions upon the cabbies. Anyway, I got a brief phone call from my dad and his wife while in the cab. They wished me happy Thanksgiving and, when I logged into my email before going to bed, I found out that my host counselor had too. She took the time to send me a Thanksgiving e-card. I got one from my mom too earlier in the day. So much Thanksgiving thoughtfulness!
Today, I'm getting back to work on my paper and treating my stomach with suspicion. When I'd begun to again become disheartened by the magnitude of the paper-writing left to do, I thought of my walk to Zamalek the other day. If I had thought when I was at my apartment of how long the walk was going to be and nothing else, I might've just hopped in a cab. Instead, I enjoyed each step along the way, allowing myself the possibility of taking a cab after each errand. I ended up walking the whole way and not thinking about how much time left or what the distance left was. I enjoyed each place I found myself for what it was. Now, this is obviously more applicable to how I view my time remaining in Cairo, but as far as my papers go, I can only take them step by step. I ought to forget obsessively clicking on the "word count" in Word to see how much academic torture remains and just get on with it. Nose to the grindstone!

Story of a muezzin or prayer-caller in Cairo
Head of Cairo International Film Festival weighs in on future of Egyptian cinema
Moves toward reform in treatment of the mentally ill

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cabin Fever

Today has felt a lot like a day spent home sick only I wasn't sitting around guzzling Pepto Bismol and watching The World of David the Gnome. Instead, I spent six or seven mind-numbing hours writing about the integration of Somalis in Minnesota. I didn't leave the apartment AT ALL. So this is what all the complaining of grad school was about! After my brain turned to mush, I realized that I still have some 6000 words left in this paper alone and another 9000 looming over my head in the form of papers I have not yet begun.
To be nice to myself, I made a delicious dinner of stir-fried broccoli and mushrooms and penne in tomato and garlic sauce which I gobbled up while watching The Seventh Seal which turned out to be an excellent film.
Apart from talking to Ross when he got home, my human interaction today was limited to a couple of brief chats and then : one with Ablavi, my Togolese neighbor, in French--her electricity was out again and we managed to figure out how to push some wires together to make it work; and the other with the man that "cleans" the floors. He tried to rip me off, which just ticked me off (but not half as much as his previously-described doorbell-ringing antics). Dishonesty whether it comes from a landlord or a floor-cleaner seems to be the norm in this building.
Tomorrow, of course (or rather today since midnight has just come and gone), is Thanksgiving. I'm going to be joining some classmates for dinner in Zamalek. I'll be taking along some arugula and beet salad, some bread, and a bottle of non-Egyptian wine (a highly sought-after commodity since Egypt's wines are about as drinkable as vinegar).

Israeli Defense Ministry official makes secret visit to Egypt to discuss Gaza
More anti-Christian violence in Ain Shams as thousands protest the construction of a church
Police beat Cairo University students protesting against Gaza blockade

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Reading, Writing, and Christmas Shopping

Soon after I rolled out of bed this (early) afternoon, I decided that there was to be no belly-fattening lazing about the apartment. I gobbled up my muesli and yogurt and was out the door. The accumulation of dust on a car that hadn't been outside of my building for more than a day reminding me of snow piling up on vehicles in Minnesota, though I find snow much nicer and the prospect that there was already that much dust a bit disconcerting. Anyway, my first stop was the Greek Campus, where I picked up an encouraging letter from my friend Amy back in Minnesota. Sadly, there is still no trace of the package my mother sent me that I left behind in my errant end-of-class flightyness.
Next, I dropped by a Mobaco shop (of which there are a few in Paris in the neighborhood where I spent my summer a year and a half ago). They sell clothing made from Egyptian cotton at prices moderate in tourist terms but exorbitant in Egyptian terms. I got one article of clothing as a Christmas gift and then, because, wallahi, it's CHILLY at night here now I bought myself a zip-up hoody. As a hearty Minnesotan-born fellow, I am ashamed to say that my teeth now chatter when it gets into the low 60s. Following my shopping spree (so-defined because I spent more than $50--which, for a cheap-o like me is world-ending,) I remembered again how flabby I've been feeling and so skipped the cab ride and walked to Alfa Market in Zamalek to do my grocery shopping. Along my walk, I saw a man in the driver's seat of a car with his seat reclined, sleeping. Next to him, what I mistook from affair for a sleeping woman in a fancy galabaya was actually a Christmas tree which also appeared to be sleeping. I should've snapped a photo. I did managed to get a couple of fun photos at the grocery store where tacky Christmas décor seems to have been ralphed all over the rear display sections where Ramadan goodies once were hawked.
I derived a terrible sense of smug self-contentment when I saw some tourists scampering across the road and trying to dodge traffic. I love putting on my "jaded expat" face and stepping out in front of buses and taxis, though I think after only a quarter of a year here, my credibility is still quite low. Furthermore, I'll have to admit that every once in a while, I too am still a scamperer. Microbuses can be scary things! All this led me to reflect, though, about how much has changed about how I view Egypt since I've arrived. Despite my complaining and moments of misery, I've arrived at a sort of modus vivendi that helps me navigate life here while maintaing some level of sanity and event comfort. I've begun to be able to appreciate aspects of Egypt and even identify places, habits, and people that I'll sorely miss when I leave here. No, it's not home and not it's not France, but neither are the States or France Egypt (which is probably best for everyone involved.)

Some in the Red Sea region see international efforts to stem piracy as Zionist conspiracy
Story on a sewing machine-repairman in Cairo
Nearly half of Egyptian wives have been abused by their husbands

Presenting Palestine

As I mentioned, the most notable event of my day was attending the first of six parts of a documentary called Chronicles of a Refugee that deals with the Nakba and the subsequent hardships of the Palestinians. The film itself was fairly well-done and provided a human face for the tragedies of the late 1940s, but the speakers afterward were inappropriate in much of what they had to say. As someone in search of the most balanced view of the Arab-Israeli conflict, I was offended at remarks aimed at minimizing the gravity of the Shoah and those suggesting that the economic downturn and any ill effects it had for America would somehow benefit the Palestinians. While I realize that for these speakers, all three Palestinian, the issue is particularly salient and emotionally charged, the only way to solve anything will be through compromise and the acceptance that the other side is indeed human as well.
I chatted with my neighbor Catherine and some of our Egyptian friends about the event before heading to get koshary and then to my apartment. Maged called me while I was sitting down to type up an entry and I joined him and his friends (who, together with a dozen or so others comprise a Christian worship band who perform on Egyptian television, or so I gather). Most of the conversation was in Arabic, so I spent time trying to pick out words I knew and trying to read the Arabic on ketchup packets and signs in the street.
Most of my pre-documentary hours were spent retooling my paper for my intro class. I'm now writing about the relationship between the evolution of the nation-state and immigration and refugees. It already seems like a pretty interest subject to delve into.

Egypt beefs up police presence on border with Gaza
US State Dep't to encourage online youth movements (including one in Egypt) to fight terrorism, political oppression
Sectarian clash in Ain Shams (the neighborhood where I teach English)

Monday, November 24, 2008

"And a pleasant, light breeze across much of Iraq," forecasts BBC World's weather service. I just watched the news over koshary after returning from watching the first installment in a six-part documentary on Palestine. I'll comment more on that later. Now, I'm off to meet Maged and some other Egyptians on Tahrir Sq. I've just gotten comfy on the sofa, but I figure interacting with real-live Egyptians is time better spent than half-heartedly researching and surfing the web.

Good Grades, Good Grub, and Mosquitocide

I am relaxing in the living room after an epic battle with two mosquitoes. They have returned to haunt my room, the evidence being several welts on my arms and a couple on my neck from last night. In a gentlemanly gesture, they avoided my face. Just as they did me, I found victory in a sneak attack. Upon returning home from a delicious Indian dinner with my Egyptian-Canadian-American friend Marise, Phil, and another of our classmates, Mike, I went to my room to toss my sweater on my bed. Near the lightswitch, the biggest mosquito I've seen so far in Egypt (I think it was a migrant from Minnesota, perhaps) was digesting my (no-doubt delicious) type O blood. Disgusted and resolute, I tiptoed to the nearest solid object (a folder) and dispatched the vicious fiend in one fell swoop. I grabbed my can of Off and eyed my window suspiciously, spraying the opening in it for good measure as I'm always a little uncertain of how effective the screen behind it is. Just as this is happening, I see one of the deceased's nefarious co-conspirators. Not wanting it to get away, I raced toward it, not having anything but the can of Off. Naturally, I uncapped the stuff and sprayed the beast which then hobbled somewhere, hopefully to its doom.
Phwew. Lest you think that was the only uphill battle of the day, I also met with the professor of my intro class who told me that I didn't have enough of the right sources for my topic. This wasn't a battle between us, but has become one to find either more sources or a more viable topic, and time is ticking. Yikes! In better news, I got my mid-term exam back in law class with a 103% on it. (We had 5 extra points thrown in for good measure.) This was a huge relief and cause for celebration with Indian food. Ok, so I'd already planned Indian with Marise previously. Rather than cab it over to Mohandaseen, Marise graciously conveyed us to what was a delicious and relaxing meal.
Paper writing and research will be on the upswing over this brief break from school (I don't have classes until next Sunday again) as well as a couple of interesting events--like a film tomorrow night about Palestine and Thanksgiving. In two weeks, a college friend who's studying in the UK will be on his way and I'm planning on dragging him to the pyramids, the desert, and maybe an oasis with Marise's help as she's also got a friend coming in.

Egyptian police accidentally kill man after entering wrong apartment in pursuit of drug dealer; spark riots
Mubarak hopes to increase number of women in Egyptian parliament
Bedouin in the Sinai call for blood of television presenter over remarks

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Lebanese Food and Listlessness

I've spent most of my Saturday being a good-for-nothing, web-cruising schmo. If I could get paid for listening to podcasts about the economy, the news of the world, and the quirky lives of everyday people, to read Huffington Post and the Drudge Report, and to travel the world, I would be in seventh heaven. I did make a bit of headway on my Somalis in Minnesota paper. Did I mention that my native state is home to the largest population of Somalis in the United States? Aside from this, I threw in a load of laundry and went out for Lebanese with my friend Edward from California. The glamorous life I lead!
Finding it hard to gather my thoughts and throw myself wholeheartedly into my research, I wondered about listlessness and agitation that probably relate to my thoughts about whether I'm doing the right thing or in the right place or where my future lies. Sometimes, this feeling masquerades as boredom. "There's just nothing to do here," I think. Wait, wait, wait...nothing to do in one of the most storied cities in the world where there are millions of other people? I make the excuse quite a lot that I don't like wandering around alone. Really, though, I've made enough contacts, acquaintances, and friends that I could always be up to something if I got on the phone or sent an email. And on top of that, of course, are a million topics to be researching and as many opportunities to be explored or applied for. When this wave of reality crashes down, it's a matter of not getting overwhelmed because that has the same effect as being bereft of ideas--paralysis and inaction. It's a game of taking the right risks and getting my act together, and what a game it is.
Another thing I was thinking about that was borne of my conversations about life and politics with my Egyptian host counselor and her family as well as an email from one of my great-aunts is the sheer depth of experience of each person in the world. Our interactions with others on a daily basis are often cursory and perfunctory, leaving us with no clue about the hopes and dreams, hardships and successes of those we encounter. I think this is part of the reason I have a mania for meeting new people and maintaining old contacts. I love to really know people and speculate about what makes them tick. This is hard to do when I'm complaining about their country (in the case of Egypt) rather than listening to what matters to them. So, I'm trying to focus on meeting more Egyptians and deepening friendships I've already made. All of this while pounding out three research papers and other assignments--who has time to be bored?!
Sorry to my readers for waning introspectively loquacious, I do hope you're all still enjoying the blog.

Researches find larger-than-expected proportion of religion conservatives in Egypt, Jordan; define this group as "extremely religious individuals who do not approve of gender interaction, expect others to follow religious practices and override their personal choices for religious beliefs"
Piracy off the Horn of Africa a continuing threat to the world at large and to the Egyptian economy
UN Secretary General calls on Israel to allow humanitarian access to Gaza

Friday, November 21, 2008

Egyptian Hospitality

Yesterday after class, classmates Phil, Marise, and Rebecca joined me in pursuit of Thai deliciousness. It was to be found at Bird Cage, which I've mentioned before. The evening was full of laughs, good conversation, and much-needed relaxation. After dinner, Phil and I hit a nearby store that sells clothes made of Egyptian cotton. I need to start Christmas shopping, so I think it'll be a stop when I make the rounds. After getting home, Ablavie, my Togolese neighbor, came over to hang out with Ross and I. Yet another chance for me to keep up my French!
Today has been just as good and restore my fondness for Egypt (and firmed up my thankfulness for Rotary connections). My new host counselor had me to her home for a late lunch--all Egyptian food. Molokhayya, fatteh, wara ainab, salad, and more. I brought them pastries from the pastry shop near my house, but I'm not sure of their quality. I'm not a connoisseur of Egyptian desserts, but think that if I am trying to be a good guest, I'll go to Al-Abd next time and pick up a tray of sugary goodness. Anyway, the meal was delicious. I decided not to share with Omaima my vegetarian tendencies and thus ate quite a lot of beef. My stomach feels a bit funny, but I think the protein's good for me. Before, during, and after the meal, we had really good discussions about politics. Omaima's husband, Tarek, explained in no uncertain terms his distaste for Hamas and the problems being caused in Palestine. He was also talking about how intractable the conflict in Iraq is. In his opinion, it's going to be harder to resolve than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We also discussed Egyptian names and their meanings and common American names. Tarek told me about his travels in America--apparently he's been to Chicago and Urbana/Champaign in Illinois, Texas, and many other polaces and they have a son that lives in Texas. Both on my way there in the metro and on my way back in their car, I realized that a love for Egypt was seeping back into my soul. It's less fleeting and more realistic than the euphoria that comes with novelty, and hopefully more enduring. It was reinforced by the incredible friendliness and hospitality of my hosts today which in turn was made possible through Rotary. It's finally all starting to work as it should. Al-hamdulileh.

Egypt risks political unrest if economic slowdown not properly handled
Egyptian Minister of Endowments discourages the wearing of the veil
Former Secretary General of the UN condemns Saudi lashing sentence of Egyptian

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Notre Musique

Yesterday evening, I attended the CMRS seminar on protection and the roles of refugees in the humanitarian aid process. The lecturer, Anne Cubilié, also talked a bit about her experiences in Afghanistan and her interviews with woman and how their perceptions of themselves as people who simply aren't witnesses has shaped how they remember events and the narratives they construct to understand their experiences. I sat with my friend journalist friend, Liam, and chatted about with him, Anne, Maysa from the CMRS office, and another woman (Alana, might've been her name?) who's originally Palestinian. We then headed to Zamalek, where we were going to get coffee, but that turned into dinner and I already had plans, so I had to duck out, unfortunately.
At my friend Ewelina's apartment, a bunch of us gathered to watch Notre Musique over pizza from Maison Thomas (with their special Argentine sauce, of course). I really enjoyed the movie but, as others pointed out, it demands a second-watching to catch all of the symbolism. Every other line was as something from a book. So many different languages were used and conflicts touched upon, tying the human community together in a unique way. In one scene, a French-Israeli woman is interviewing a Palestinian author and they are speaking Hebrew and Arabic, respectively, without a translator.
Following the film, Andrea, who lives in my neighborhood and at whose place we watched the last Godard flick, headed to Metro Market in order for me to grab some long-awaited groceries (yogurt!) quickly before we hopped in a cab back to Bab al-Luq.
Not being able to fall asleep (quelle surprise) I listened to some NPR Talk of the Nation podcasts that were really interesting. One discussed whether or not it would be wise to bail out the auto industry, another the forgery of religious artifacts in the Middle East, and another tried to show that not all government lobbyists were bad people.
Tomorrow, my new host counselor, Omaima has graciously invited me to her house for lunch in Ma'adi. Setting the time at 3, she's a woman after my own time schedule! It should be fun.

Article on Barbara Harrell-Bond, refugee advocate and former AUC professor
Emergency meeting on Somali piracy held in Cairo
Che Guevara's daughter comes to Egypt

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Two Tabascos

After class last night, I grabbed a cab to Zamalek with classmates Erin and Brandy since they lived near Café Tabasco where I thought I was meeting my Egyptian-British friend Rania for her birthday. Little did I know, I was meant to be at the Tabasco in Mohandaseen. Oops. No harm, no foul--I jumped in another cab, had my friend give the cabbie directions telephonically, and was there a little while later. Over decent gnocchi (creatively spelled gnyocke on the menu) and Greek salad, I got to chat with my friend Crysta and get to know some of Rania's other friends. After dinner, Rania, a few of her Egyptian friends, and a German traveler staying with one of them, and I hung out first at an apartment in Doqqi, then at a bar downtown called After Eight where we were regaled with Arabic music and where Rania met a famous actor (who I didn't know from Adam, of course).
Today I am coaxing myself into doing research on Somalis in Minnesota to be able to move my Migration in MENA paper along a bit. Tonight is the film Notre Musique and some pizza from Maison Thomas. A good combination, no doubt.
[Portion removed]

Excellent NYTimes article on Egypt and its future
Bedouin forced to pick through trash in seaside resort town to survive
Germany possibly to sell submarine to Egypt, Israel worried

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Beet Salad and Better Days

Yesterday began looking like it was going to drag on unsatisfactorily, so I decided to be proactive. I went and picked up my passport newly stamped with my student visa (that strangely resembles my tourist visa but cost more money). Feeling a bit listless and not sure what to do with my time, I wandered to the Semiramis hotel and perused some of the shops before strolling to Tahrir Square, home of the Egyptian Museum and the Mogamma. There, I perched, put in my earbuds and people-watched for about half-an-hour with my iPod providing a soundtrack. Needing to get dinner before heading to teach English, I began heading back toward my apartment, hoping to find inspiration along the way. I began to get frustrated with the lack of options, but then I caught myself. My own negativity is a stumbling block to truly getting everything I can out of this experience, so I'm doing everything I can to keep it in check. My solution was to head to Taboula, near the law school, and get takeaway. So as not to annoy the waiter by hemming and hawing, I hurriedly picked three items without giving them too much thought and sat down to wait while my order was processed. 44 LE and twenty minutes or so later, I had my food and was off to the metro to trek up to Ain Shams. I got to the school early and chatted with Cynthia as I unpacked my dinner which turned out to consist of some delicious bamya (okra in spices and oil), beet salad, and some "sautéed" vegetables. The first two items were delicious. I hadn't even realized when I picked "Rocca salad" that there were beets in it. Getting excited about beets may seem a bit much, but I'm telling you, it's the little things! Unfortunately, there were problems at the school and Tito, whom I was supposed to give a mini-French lesson to didn't show. One of the students had gotten into a fight with an Egyptian earlier and the whole group was thus up in arms and in the street outside figuring out their next course of action rather than coming to class on time. Admirably, though, within a half an hour, most of my class had arrived and we went through our lesson as normal.
On the way back, a funny thing happened. As the metro is emptier later at night, I was able to find a place to sit. Next to me was an Egyptian guy about my age who, after a few stops, mustered the courage to ask me in Arabic where I was from. I indicated after answering the question in Arabic "Amreeka", I didn't really speak the language. He smiled understandingly and went on to tell me in English that he had been an Italian-Arabic translator and a tour guide, but was now doing military service. While we were conversing haltingly, struggling for words in one another's languages, a one-armed man with a box full of candy came by. This of course didn't faze me as people always go through this routine: they have trinkets or candy that they walk around the train car setting on people's laps before they can object and then they come back around asking for money. Prepared to return the candy, I was prevented by my new army friend who bought it for me. I laughed to myself at the whole scene and was genuinely thankful for the show of generosity.
My next stop was Horeyya to meet a couple of guys I met at the party I went to the other night. I wasn't feeling well, so I stopped home to drop off my bag and drink some water (my late grandmother's remedy for every ill) and marched onward to the café/bar/cultural institution. We ended up staying there for hours, our conversations ranging from personal to political and, later, including other characters--a Greek man who was born in Alexandria but forced to move to Athens as a young child by the political events of the Nasser era, an American student-turned-investment banker who's been in the country ten years, and a woman from Berlin who is in Egypt on vacation. The latter two and one of the guys I was with headed onto Odeon later where we ended up talking more politics as well as religion. Because Suzanne, the German, grew up in East Germany, her experience with religion was vastly different than our respective Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Evangelical upbringings. We also talked about how foreign the concepts of atheism, agnosticism, or simply believing in God are in a country where your religion is put on your ID card if you're a citizen, or in your visa applications if you're an expat. You can only be a Muslim, Christian, or Jew here, and that last category is a bit iffy. If you don't fit neatly into one of these categories, tough luck. I made it home after 4 AM, but considered my evening quite well spent in light of the fact that my insomnia and the roosters would've kept me up until then anyway. Better to be out having stimulating discussion than in bed tossing and turning.
Today, I got an email from my host counselor apologizing for the effect his busyness has had on his helping me out during my stay here and saying that I was being switched to Omaima, the woman who attended the Rotary event I spoke of in my last entry. We'll see how all that goes, but it's frustrating, because I have the impression that they were inconvenienced by all the miscommunication too and I don't want them to feel there's any ill will toward them on my part.
Anyway, in less than an hour, I'm off to class and then to Zamalek for my friend Rania's birthday party. Unlike in past weeks, I have plans for every night of the week, part of my concerted effort to make the best of Egypt rather than letting things get the best of me.

Egypt halts gas exports to Israel
Underwater museum planned for Alexandria
More on the first female marriage registrar in Egypt

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Typical Chaos in Cairo

Let me preface the less pleasant part of my entry by saying that I'm feeling better about my experience here in Egypt again, focusing on the opportunities presented and the aspects of life here I value. Walking to law class tonight after having hammered away at an annotated outline for my working paper, I was grateful for the beautiful weather. On my way to law class, I passed one of my favorite buildings in the neighborhood, an old colonial mansion of sorts, ochre in color, crumbling, and covered in some kind of native ivy. Flanked by an azure sky streaked with white cirrus clouds it looked like a still shot from a movie.
International Refugee Law went for only an hour and forty-five minutes today, though our topic, the errors made both by claim-processors and asylum-seekers, could have taken up much more time. The intention was that the class would attend a lecture by another of my professors on brand new research on Iraqi refugees in Egypt at 7. Unfortunately, I was invited on short notice to attend a Rotary event and felt obliged to go. The email, from a lady in my host club rather than my host counselor, mentioned something about the Rotary scholars in Egypt getting together with each other and our host counselors for high tea with the District Governor at 7:30 and something else about guest speakers at 8:30. Attached was a schedule, nearly entirely in Arabic and thus of no use to me. There was no mention of how to dress, nothing about the content of guest speakers' speeches or even the theme of the event. I asked for further information and was later informed that, in fact, I might even be asked to talk about my experiences in Egypt. I was actually relieved, because I've had such difficulty lining up speaking opportunities here. As no one from my club offered to pick me up I joined Ross to wait for his host counselor, who had, in fact, thought to offer him a ride. We headed to the Ramses Hilton, where we were meant to meet her, but Ross received a call after we were already en route that because an Egyptian team won a soccer title people were out en masse in their cars straining the already insufficient infrastructure and causing traffic jams all over the city. People were speeding around madly waving flags and wearing red headbands, honking likenobody's business. It was such that we waited until 7:45 to be picked up, but yanni, at least Ross's host Rotarians were nice enough to convey us to the event at all. We arrived after much direction-asking behind the World Trace Center. Pre-planning and foresight are consistently absent in Egypt across the board in nearly all of my experiences and therefore, apparently the security at the parking lot had not been informed that Rotarians would be arriving and need a place to park. Go figure. We sat in the car for some twenty minutes as the car's driver jovially bantered with security, finally securing himself a parking spot. "There are lots of rules in Egypt," remarked Ross's host counselor as we headed slowly toward the building despite being forty-five minutes late at this point. The lady who had emailed me was there when I came in and, when I went over to talk to her, she said she'd called the club president to ask where I was. I bit my tongue and instead told her it was nice to see her again. She told me that my haircut made my hair look much better than it did before, the probably-unintentional backhanded compliment not being nearly as frustrating as when she proceded to tell me that she had been saving me a spot but that someone took it and she "didn't say anything to them" so I'd have to go find a place to sit by myself. My host counselor didn't even show up. I sat next to Ambereen, a friend I'd made back in the outbound orientation, and listened as the scholarship coordinator for our host district explained that the event was all about ambassadorial scholarships. I wanted to scream. How was it that my presence at this event was such an afterthought when our role in it was central? Ever more vexing, the speaker said that it was the responsibility of host counselors to look after ambassadorial scholars and to actively engage them, involving them in the service projects of the club. When we had impromptu introductions, the same woman who'd been speaking pointed out that though my host counselor wasn't there (I was the only scholar out of seven--four ambassadorial, three cultural--without my host counselor there) people shouldn't worry about me because my host counselor, though very busy, had everything under control. I kept my mouth shut, but couldn't manage a smile at that point. To add insult to injury, Ambereen and Nathan and all of the cultural scholars were asked to briefly talk about their experiences in Egypt, as I had been prepared to do. Ross and I, however, were conveniently left out. It was offensive, to be quite honest. By the time Ross and I were dropped off back in Bab al-Luq, I was deeply regretful I hadn't simply skipped the event and gone to my professor's presentation on Iraqi refugees. Please note that I have no ill-will toward my host counselor who's been very amiable, it's just that it takes more than good intentions to make this whole host club-ambassadorial scholar dynamic work. Also, the woman who was there tonight has been lovely and I enjoyed my chat with her at the sohour where I met her. It's just that assigning me an inactive member who is too busy to be a host counselor and doing so weeks after I arrived simply isn't in the spirit of what this scholarship was made out to be. The miscommunication and disorganization is maddening, even more so because my host rotarians are such genuinely nice people and if they understood how frustrating things have been for me, they'd probably feel bad about it.
Though this all sounds like quite an abysmal account, as I mentioned, the last couple of days have yielded a net positive increase in my contentment. I had fun last night hanging out across the hall at Catherine's, chatting with her and Ross. I look forward to head back to Ain Shams tomorrow to teach English, and going early to meet with Tito to teach him the rudiments of French. I have plans to go to my Polish friend's in Zamalek to watch another Godard film and have some Maison Thomas pizza. I'm waiting for feedback on two of my papers after which I'll kick into productivity mode and jump headfirst into writing for the rest of the semester. All in all, I'm happy with where I am at the moment, al-hamdulileh!

Egyptian president's son, Interior Minister summoned in tycoon's murder trial

Egypt says that Sudan's president is not immune from ICC prosecution
Interior Minister decrees release of of AUC professor detained for two years

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Early to Bed, Early to Rise

Ok, so I'm not sure going to bed at 3 generally qualifies as going to bed early, but the way things have been going, it's an improvement to be sure. The night before, I went to be even earlier, though men operating jackhammers just across the street from 11:30 PM until 2:30 AM weren't conducive to my drifting off. Last night, the tool of choice sounded like a chainsaw. God only knows what they're doing out there.
Yesterday, I lazed around a bit before meeting my friend Amanda for a light dinner at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Zamalek. We talked about the ups and downs of Cairo life as I was positive when she was devising ways to leave the country and now that I've been down a bit she's hit an upswing in her appreciation of life here. It's good to have friends who can help bring some perspective and indeed, I've been feeling a bit better recently. After about an hour or so, a girl I'd never met swung by to pick me up in a black SUV and whisk me away to slightly trendy L'Aubergine, a restaurant in Zamalek. The professor at whose apartment I spent election night put me in touch with her because of similar research interests and so, over mediocre Egytpian white wine (all there really is available in terms of vino here), we talked about her thesis and life and the like. She also invited me to a party in Mohandaseen and, despite the fact that the following day (today) I had to lead discussion in my 9 AM Migration in the Middle East and North Africa make-up class, I stayed until 2:30. I met all kinds of interesting people from the expat community-Americans, an Australian, a Syrian, and more.
At precisely 7:34 I miraculously rose as if from the dead and somehow found the energy to shower and get ready for class. The morning sunshine, the brilliant blue sky, and the perfect weather made things just a bit easier and somehow, from somewhere, I felt rather positive about things. I paid more attention in class than usual and made a valiant effort in leading our discussion about the integration of the descendants of immigrants in Western countries for the second half of the class period. At noon, it was over and I returned home for a couple-hour nap. Just finishing replying to emails, I am now trying to come up with an outline and annotated bibliography for my Refugee Law class tomorrow.

Egyptian court rules aid must be allowed to enter Gaza
Egypt's first lady downplays prevalence sexual harassment in the country
Egypt blacklists Saudi firms that allegedly abuse workers

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bevet Breizh!

You linguists out there will have caught that my title is in Breton, not Arabic. It means "Long live Brittany!" more or less. Brittany is the region of France where I spent my junior year of college and also the birthplace of crêpes and their savory counterparts, galettes. Why on earth am I talking about this when I'm residing in Cairo? Because today, I went to lunch with my Egyptian friend, Reham, and fellow American, Rebecca at the French Cultural Center. Though my cheese and mushroom galette with salade verte more closely resemble a cheese quesadilla, the French-speaking staff and a Breton flag lifted my spirits. Even better, while my (dessert) crêpe itself was lackluster, it was filled with crême de marrons, or chesnut spread in English. This was the halawa of my France days--I ate it allll the time with yogurt, on bread, or by itself. I plan to stock up during my extended layover in Paris on my way back to Cairo in January.
Prior to my lunch outing at 2, I had been up for hours already, having been awoken by the maddening doorbell-ringing antics of yet another Egyptian wanting money. The trash man, the man who "cleans the floor," and the landlord are all bereft of any concept of doorbell propriety, pushing the button incessantly thinking it will somehow hasten us to the door. To cope, I only answer the door when some knocks (inevitable my American or French neighbors) or when someone rings once (or twice if I'm feeling tolerant). More than that and they're out of luck. Anyway, the morning sunshine and Ross's company were the upsides to the decision I made to get up and going, capitalizing on my early-rising misfortune as an opportunity to reset my body clock. Running on four or so hours of sleep, I felt eerily optimistic and pleasant and productive. I even scrubbed down the kitchen sink. God knows why. It was in this mood that I polished up my outline for class today and then set off on the twenty-minute walk to Mounira, where the French Cultural Center is located. I lugged along my big camera and snapped photos along the way and, as I neared my destination, was suddenly swarmed by school children. I spoke to them in broken Arabic and they shared their few English words with me: "rabbit, carrot, nose, donkey" and other very useful vocabulary items. It occurred to me after a few minutes resting against a wall by the Center that next to it was a girls school. Headscarf-wrapped heads popped out of screenless windows on the top floor and giggles erupted. If you're tempted to envisage young Egyptian ladies as somehow demure and reserved, you're quite off the mark. I was the object of blown kisses accompany by kissy noises, dramatic princess waves, and even notes dropped from the window. The notes, sadly, were all blown off course by the wind. One girl yelled "Oh my God" rhyming God with flood, likely the only English phrase she could think of to get my attention. After this, another roar of giggles. Reham and Rebecca rescued me after about a quarter of an hour at which point we enjoyed our quasi-French food and had really good discussions about Islam and Christianity, theology, the Qur'an, gender roles, and more. I'm thankful that Reham's excellent English gives me a view on Egypt and the Islamic world that my obscenely rudimentary Arabic cannot afford me.
I had a hard time staying awake in class because of my fatigue, but was glad to be able to turn in my outline. I'll have feedback next week and then be able to get started on my paper. Afterward, I declined some invitations to go out, grabbed koshary, and headed here, to the apartment, to send some pictures along for the Rotary newsletter. After some readings for an irregularly scheduled class I have on Saturday morning (the one I'm presenting in), I hope to hit the sheets early.

In wake of row over whipped Egyptian doctor, Egypt halts doctor visas to Saudi
Egyptian president to visit India for the first time in a quarter century
Egyptian bystanders, emergency services duped by German art installation at Goethe Institut

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Seeking Solace in Goat Cheese

Last night, I managed to get to sleep at a reasonable hour with the generous assistance of a couple of pills. I woke up far later than I'd have liked, but not too exhausted. I made a bit of headway on my outline, but generally didn't have it in me to get much done. I threw on a scarf, more for effect than to combat the weather which is quiet mild and pleasant, hovering in the upper 60s. I looked like a European, perhaps a grumpy European. Listening to a lecture on my iPod about existentialism, I waltzed through AUC's laughable security and headed to a lecture on the unlawful killing of Africa migrants attempting to cross the border from Egypt into Israel. I've included links in my news section before. It truly is shocking. Men, women (some pregnant), and children have all been murdered by border guards, over 30 this past year. For it's part, Israel returns asylum-seekers who reach its borders, equivalent to refoulement because Egypt is not, in fact, a safe country to be returned to. Many have disappeared and any Sudanese who travel to Israel are considered by their home government to be traitors which could lead to persecution should they end up back in the country. My law professor was one of the two presenters of the seminar, the other being from Human Rights Watch.
After the seminar, despite being invited to a shisha bar (I still don't smoke shisha and don't plan to, but it's a huge social event here), I came home where I sought solace in cooking. I stir-fried some broccoli and garlic and boiled some rotini to which I added my store-bought Barilla arrabbiatta sauce. I topped it all off with some pepper-encrusted goat cheese and was actually quite pleased with the result.
Things are busy in the academic realm and I have a Rotary meeting I'm apparently meant to go to on Sunday. It's quite late notice, of course, but I'm going to try and get out of my law class early to go. Before that, I have to prepare my final outlines for the papers in both Intro to Mig. and Ref. Studies and International Refugee Law and prepare a presentation on the experiences of second generation migrants from the Middle East and North Africa in the West for 9 AM on Saturday since the professor decided we would not only reschedule a class slated for the 25th, but that we'd change the order of the class topics at the last minute, therefore leaving me four days to do a book-sized packet of readings, synthesize the main points, and develop an outline for leading an hour and a half discussion on the top. Nice.

HRW demands Egypt stop slaying migrants (related to seminar I attended tonight)
Clashes with Bedouin lead Egypt to beef up military presence in Sinai
Egypt donates medicine to Tanzanian government hospital
Saudi lawyer banned from receiving human rights award

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Misplaced Sunshine

Because my insomnia has returned with a vengeance, I didn't make it to sleep until sometime after 6 AM. Killing time until I was tired enough to do so, I listened to a pretty interesting podcast from the Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs. This episode was entitled, "Economic Gangsters: Corruption, Violence, and the Poverty of Nations" and may be found by clicking here. Sleeping in until the late afternoon, I had little time do anything but get ready and go to class. I'd like to have made more headway on my outlines and bibliographies, but no luck there. I stopped by the Greek Campus to check for mail and sure enough, a package had arrived for me from my mom and little brother. Insides were photos and other little tokens of home, all of which brightened my day. Unfortunately, after a class in which I found out, because of some spontaneous schedule rearranging, I have to prepare a presentation for Saturday morning, I was hurrying to catch up with some classmates who were getting a cab to Zamalek and let my envelope in the classroom. I only realized it once we were quite close to our destination. Frantically, I called a couple of people, the second of whom was still on campus. He agreed to go and check for the package, but in the end, it wasn't there. I have no idea if it was simply thrown away or if someone who'll be thoughtful enough to read the address on the front and return it to the CMRS office ended up with it. It's one of those little things that you'd take in stride were everything else going ok, but given the stress I've been dealing with lately, it broke my heart and has made me pretty miserable. To top it off, there were photos with my dog Barkley in them, who died recently while I've been away.
I ended up having dinner with my classmate, Mary-Anne, at Tobasco. Strangely, Sheila, my friend from high school who'd I mentioned meeting up with the other day, happened to be eating there with a friend of hers. After discussing class and our mutual friends, Mary-Anne and I said our goodbyes and I joined Sheila and her friend for a while. My next stop was the nearby grocery store where, when I went to grab a carton of juice, another tumbled to the floor and burst open. Given my mood, I was about ready to scream or cry or both, but, because it was Egypt, no one had even paid attention to my gaffe. I walked back to an employee, tried to explain what had happened, and he just smiled and nodded. I shrugged and did my shopping, not worrying about the expenses in my despondancy and the whole time, the only think that happened to the ill-fated juice carton was that it was set up-right. No mopping, no removal of the damaged good, but also, not blaming me, so that was nice. I grabbed the staples--halawa and aish baladi and yogurt, but because the coconut flavor was a bit old, I opted for vanilla instead. I also got some frozen vegetables--broccoli, peas, and carrots, some garlic, and some Barilla pasta sauce. I was hunting for dark chocolate, but to no avail. Proabably for the best as I'd have come home and eaten it all. Instead, I got a small container of halawa with pistachios (in addition to the other large container of halawa) and had a bit with bread when I got home as a dessert of sorts. The grocery store I went to, Seoudi, had much friendly and more helpful staff than either Alfa or Metro, so that was at least something positive to seize onto. Just as important, they were well-stocked with the bottled water I can never find at Metro. They asked if I wanted it delivered, but they ended up only doing so within Zamalek. The guy at the check-out felt bad for me and went out to hail me a taxi and carried the water all the way to it, which was nice. The cab-driver, apart from asking for too much money at the conclusion of the ride and being obliged to take a cop somewhere free of charge when the latter hopped in and demanded he do so, was amiable. I understood most of what he was saying to me in Arabic--he inquired about my studies, and Obama and Bush and my opinions of them. He told me Bush was crazy, but I held my tongue about my opinions of the Egyptian president. Now I'm about to catch the news, try to motivate myself to do some school work, and hope that I can get to bed earlier tonight.

New pyramid discovered in Egypt
Three bedouin killed in class in Sinai
Egypt attemps to delay genocide indictment of Sudanese president
Egyptian doctor exposed to harsh punishment at hands of Saudi government

Lowered Ears and French Favors

So I thought ordering in from upscale restaurants was quite something, but this evening, I ordered in a haircut. This wasn't a product of the Egyptian way of doing things (in which doctors still regularly make house calls and where you can order drugs sent to your door that aren't even available over the counter in the States), but rather the work of an acquaintance originally from Wisconsin. Now, those of you who know me well know that I'm finicky about my hair and rarely every pleased. I can only hope that the implicit trust I placed in my new friend is justified. My first few glances in the mirror revealed that nothing horrific had happened, but we'll see what I think tomorrow. As it is, I was rather impressed by the degree of professionalism.
Prior to my haircut, I'd been in Ain Shams where I spent the better part of two hours teaching about when to use "going to" and "will". My gosh, I have new-found respect for English teachers (including my mom). Tito, the one who's catching on the fastest, coaxed me into arriving early before class next Monday to give him a basic run-down on French. We'll see how that goes, ha! Teach French to an Arabic-speaking Sudanese guy in English in Egypt seems as though it could be an uphill battle. Later in the evening, during my haircut, I was also asked for a bit of French-tutoring.
The balmy weather (still in the 70s) and the teaching session lifted my otherwise stormy spirits. I'd been trapped in my apartment all day trying to assemble an annotated bibliography for one of my papers and got a case of cabin fever after about six hours. On my way to the metro, I wore the most impassive face I could muster, shoved in my earphones, and tried to ignore the world. Arriving at Tahrir Square, I passed an American couple trying to pleasantly turned down an obnoxiously persisent Egyptian man trying to get them to visit "his shop". As much as we talk about racism directly against Arabs, racism runs rampant here too. Egyptians on the whole are racist against black people, but also against whites. There's this view that we're these decadant infidels with gobs of money that can afford to be ripped off and therefore should be. I got into an argument with an unscrupulous cabdriver one night who asked me for twice the price an Egyptian would pay to go to my destination. I told him it was outrageously high and he didn't deny the price was high. Instead he goes, "but is it a problem for you?" suggesting that I could afford his inflated fare. Naturally, I found a more reasonable cab driver. Anyway, I left the American couple to fend for themselves after shooting them some sympathetic glances giving them an out to approach me if they wanted to. I next passed by a man getting his shoes shined in the street and contemplated how degrading shoe-shining is, or at least appears to be. I don't mean in places like George's shoeshine parlor in downtown Peoria, but rather where someone who is clearly impoverished is forced to bend over someone else's feet for a period of time attending to the shininess of their footwear. It is often the case that the shoe shinee here, be he a cop or a businessman, perches proudly and takes up as much space on the sidewalk as he can while this process takes place. Perhaps I'm not explaining it well, the site just struck me as off-putting and has the last several times I've beheld it.
On the way back from the metro, I went to get bread from a corner market only to find that, instead of whole wheat "Rich Bake" there was, in fact, a cat on the shelf. This was my second unexpected animal encounter of the evening, the first being in Ain Shams when walking to teach. As I passed an internet-café, an electronics shop, and a dry goods store of sorts, I suddenly found myself surrounded by goats. They were just sort of their, half-corralled, half-freely wandering among the cars and trucks. I don't ask questions anymore. Especially not questions like those inspired by the butcher shops in Ain Shams, such as, "Huh, that's an interesting tail on that carcass, I wonder what kind of animal that used to be?"

Facebook activism in Egypt (with a video worth watching)
Egyptian president Mubarak visits Sudan
Egyptian woman killed by bulldozer while protesting the demolition of a home in Qena

Sunday, November 9, 2008

An Inexplicable Energy Outage & Religion with Reham

Feeling better-rested than usual, I was prepared to start the day off on the right foot. I wandered, half-awake, down the hall to turn on BBC World, as usual, but without effect. I peered at the remote control, but couldn't see much since the closed shutters and doors blocked out the sunlight. I got up to turn on the overhead light. Nothing. Surely a fuse must've blown. I check--nope. So it was that our apartment (and ours alone in all the building) was without power all day. I can help but indulge the suspicion that Ahmed, furious about his altercation with Catherine and her comrades was seeking revenge and that it got botched in the process, our apartment being mistaken for theirs. That's just speculation, of course. Fuming, I ate my muesli with yogurt from the fridge that was warming up again, just as when the motor broke down not so very long ago. I showered, grabbed my things, and stormed off to Costa Coffee where I half-heartedly read the required readings for Refugee Law today. At 3, my friend and classmate Reham joined me. We'd begun discussing Islam and religion in general the other day and had decided to get together again to discuss more. This was put off in favor of venting, which both of us did. Eventually we reached the topic at hand and discussed the similarities in our religious over mediocre mango "Frescatos". We also discussed the propensity for Copts to have favored John McCain in the American presidential race, their identity and Egyptian identity in general. We touched on extremism and Ibn Taymiyya and the concept of Islam having a detailed plan for temporal governance while Christianity was differently focused. We spoke of saints in Christianity and a similar practice in Islam and found that we hold in common a disagreement with the ideas of praying to the dead and worshiping people instead of or in addition to God. Reham readily admitted that Mohammad was simply a man who was dead and could be of no supernatural service to mankind any longer, a huge distinction between Mohammad and Jesus that those who would seek to compare them cannot reconcile. The life of Mary (or Maryam as she is known in the Qur'an) is treated far differently by the Bible than it is the Qur'an (as are a great many things). Reham and I found it interesting that many Christians and Muslims across the spectrum agreed on a whole host of social issues, but that it is theology that divides us. Next time we meet, we hope to delve into that theology a bit more.
We were off to Refugee Law after that. The topic today was exclusions clauses of the 1951 Refugee Convention--reasons for revoking or denying a person refugee status. After our three-hour class Phil and I went to the Thai restaurant in the Semiramis Intercontinental only to find that the half-dozen or so empty tables were apparently all reserved. We then trekked (somewhat circuitously as I tried to remember how to find my way) to Kowloon for Korean food. Tomorrow night is my night to teach English in Ain Shams after which I may be having a friend cut my hair. God only knows how that will end up.

Omar bin Laden ends up in Qatar after being refugee asylum in Spain, Egypt
EU, US officials meet with Arab leaders to discuss Iran
Nile, source of conflict among Egypt, Sudan, and Kenya

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Band of Outsiders

I always find it funny when BBC World's weatherpeople describe conditions in the Middle East as "dry and sunny" as if it's really ever much else. They've moved onto weather in North America and the Caribbean while I ask myself the vital question "how much halawa is too much?"
I didn't manage to fall asleep until somewhere around 6 AM this morning and didn't stay asleep even then. My admirable attempts at slogging through the outline and annoted bibliography I have due next Thursday were thus markedly slowed by a fog of fatigue. If you find my prose a bit lacking in this entry, that will be why. Despite some progress, I'm not sure where the rest of the day went apart from a successful outing to the post office. Strangely, when I'd mailed my grandmother a card recently, it supposedly cost 2 LE to send. This price was determined by weighing the piece of mail, something that the post office employees did today as well. The card weighed the same as the other, but now inexplicably required 2.25 LE to send. I can only hope that both make it to their destinations.
For dinner, I'd planned to run two doors down to Zaaim for koshary, but decided I needed something green. I ordered in from Taboula, getting a rather sizeable tomato, lettuce, cucumber, and radish salad that wasn't half bad in addition to some eggplant fatteh. By 8, I was headed out the door to the nearby apartment of an acquaintance with with whom I share a mutual friend that I made during my trip to Alexandria. The latter is a lovely Polish girl named Ewelina who's spent many years in New Jersey and loves absurdist and classic films as much as I do. It was thus that the three of us watched Jean-Luc Godard's Bande à Part, also called Band of Outsiders in English. Though I wasn't overly fond of Godard's Week-End, I think Bande à Part has the potential to be one of my favorite movies and the bits I saw of À bout de souffle (aka Breathless) a couple of years ago were great. It could've been the sleepiness, but the film itself seemed to blend with the shabby-chic apartment and its decades-old wallpaper, high ceilings with crown molding, and worn-but-elegant furnishings that recalled an era of stuffy British colonial administrators. A single dangling light socket emptied of its bulb left the room lit solely by the glow of the city that came in through a window that opened onto a small balcony. As she stepped out for a cigarette upon the film's conclusion, Eve (pronounced Evie) as she's called for short, transformed the balcony scene into a veritable tableau vivant offering her opinions and interpretations of the existentialist and Marxists themes in her Polish-accented perfect English between puffs while surveying the Cairene skyline from under her jet-black, straight-cut bangs. The whole ordeal felt wonderfully pretentious, but our conversation afterward and a subsequent phone call from my father were just as important in making my day a good one despite the tiredness and Egypt-fatigue. Eve and I conversed about how the dynamics of social life in Egypt and how being surrounded by new acquaintances rather than old friends from home forces you to be rather more reserved with genuine feelings and inner struggles as you play up the fun, party-tricks, friend-winning aspects of your personality. This leads to introspection and times where you tackle your problems alone when you'd otherwise go to a friend or family-member. We agreed that, in the end, it can sometimes be productive and help you to know yourself better, but that we also miss the relational depth enjoyed back home.
As I headed back to my apartment, I felt present in the moment, taking in the montage of street sights and sounds that make Cairo unique unto itself. I passed a Nubian store, still open late in the evening selling cassette tapes and souvenirs, some men slouched semi-somnolently in chairs, perhaps in a nominal attempt to watch over entrances to residential buildings, a glowing TV flashing images of Olympic athletes to a triad of enthralled onlookers, and then I drew a deep breath. Hoping this was some kind of revelatory, "come to Jesus" moment when I come to understand clearly why I am in Egypt despite its manifold vexations and what to make of my future both here and more broadly, I let out a sigh, marched forward into the night, and promptly tripped over the uneven pavement so ubiquitous in this city, nearly plowing into a woman in a hijab, her amply-bearded husband, and their kids. Serves me right for all that grandiose thinking. I was, however undeterred from thinking symbolically and decided that the combination of all of those elements was indicative that, like any other place in the world or any other time in my life, there's good and bad and it's up to me to maximize the good where and when I am.
Providentially, perhaps, I received a phonecall from my father who, among other things, advised me to relax and not to get so worked up about the life decisions awaiting me. Approaching them rationally and calmly is not something I've been good at lately, but hopefully with some deep breaths and heeding my parents' admonitions, I'll be able to manage things a bit more healthily in the last five weeks remaining until I spend some time in the States and France.
And to top the evening off, I just executed one of those vicious, miserable little mosquitoes, how much better could it all get? Ha!

Omar bin Laden and his wife in limbo after being sent back to Egypt
Egypt delays Palestinian unity talks in wake of Hamas boycott threat
Sec. State Rice arrives in Egypt for talks
Seven-year-old hash dealer arrested in Suez Canal town of Ismailiya

Friday, November 7, 2008

Fighting Back, Feeling Better

So in hindsight, I might have been a bit rosier in my last entry had I mentioned, for example, that my panang tofu (tofu and veggies in a red curry sauce) and som tam were both pretty delicious, that Ross somehow found Craisins on the new campus and brought me back a package, and a couple of other small positive things, but, when drowning in a sea of aggravating problems, it's hard to pick out the good and highlight it sometimes.
That Egypt and its people aren't all bad, I already knew in theory, but running into Mr Negativity himself today helped me to recall it more clearly, paradoxically. As I was walked through Falaki Square on my way to the metro, a British man approached me, saying, "Do you live here too?" I confirmed and was then subject to a five-minute tirade en marchant about what awful people not only the Egyptians were, but also the Mexicans apparently. This man advised me that the happiest path to take were one obliged to live in Egypt, is one intentionally devoid of friendship with Egyptians. No matter what, I was informed, Egyptians will make ill use of you in the end. I am sprucing up the language which is not appropriate to reproduce here. He complained about the "stupidity" and lack of logic and made himself sound like a perfectly awful racist. I didn't bother to asked what he was doing in the country, in the end, managing to slip away into the metro.
Now, I won't gloss over the fact that certain norms, ways of acting and interacting that are acceptable to the majority of Egyptians, etc. are to me endelessly vexing and intolerable, but I will say that absolutely none of that is inherent. I find racism, that is to say in the sense of discriminating against someone or believing someone to be lesser because of a perceived and widespread biological inferiority in a people group, absolutely ludicrous. To suggest that Arabs are somehow bereft of logic in their very genes is ignorant. This is especially so because it was their civilization centuries ago was the crowning achievement of humanity and to whom modern Western civilization is heavily indebted especially in various hard sciences, philosophy, medicine, and so on. The cultural values and habits of modern Egyptians that frustrate me are the result not of something inborn, but from a complex web of circumstances stemming from colonialism, Islamism (in its current form itself largely a response to colonialism and Western actions), poverty, religion, and more. Rather than writing off all Egyptians from across the ages as one thing or the other, I remain thankful that I was born where and when I was to have acquired the cultural values and idea that I have and wonder if perhaps some of them might not think the same way, to some extent. I don't have to adopt the Egyptian way of life but rather a way of living in Egypt. I'm proud to be an American, and, unlike when I lived in France, spoke French, attempted to pick up Franch manners from my fastidious host mother, et cetera, I'm not in Egypt for cultural immersion. I'm here to represent my country and the values of Rotary to others while being respectful and taking the best from what I encounter. On the same token, I cannot Egyptians to cater to me and my expectations in their own country. With that in mind, I'm trying to go forward down the path of least resistance, having minimal expectations and being pleasantly surprised when anything exceeds them. This is my way of fighting back, not against Egypt, but against some of the unhelpful ways of thinking that I inevitably slip into after days or weeks of setbacks and frustrations. Like one of the true forms of jihad in Islam (or gehad as it's pronounced here in Egypt), the struggle is inward, not outward.
Well, enough of my rambling explanations of how I'm coping with Egypt. The purpose of my trip to the metro (which was interrupted by the one-sided conversation with the racist Brit) was to go to Ma'adi. I met Phil for what was essentially a late-afternoon brunch at Lucille's. Enjoying Phil's company and stories and the food at Lucille's, I had a great time. Afterward, Phil joined me in a quest to find some bug spray. We found some Egyptian-made Off! at a pharmacy, and just purchasing the bottle of 15% DEET insect-repllent gave me a feeling of relief. I can't tell you how powerful I felt when I popped the top off and began spraying my mosquito-bitten feet, and the couch, and pretty much all of Cairo upon my return home. It was more of a psychological victory than anything. And so it is that I'm feeling much better than when I authored my last entry, once again illustrating the ups and downs of life in Egypt.

European politicians bound for blockaded Gaza in defiance of Israel
Obama sends senior Middle East advisor to Egypt & Syria to outline policy on region
More on the violence at opposition party headquarters in downtown Cairo

Maddening Mosquitoes and Other Frustrations

The acuteness of the pervasive and ever-present sense of struggle that is living in Egypt is returning, exacerbated by unforgiving mosquitoes who are smaller and faster than those in Minnesota. Just when I catch one in my sights, their tiny forms silhouetted against the dingy, uncleanable wall whose shade of paint is what only the sunniest of optimists could call cream, they sink down, blending in with the non-descript "neutral" tones of the haggardly area rug or the olivey fabric of our strange-smelling furniture. Sometimes, while typing, I suddenly notice a little hematophage feasting on my arm or foot or, as just now, I hear one buzzing past my ear. While I can take swipes at them while awake, the numerous red welts on my feets, legs, arms, and even face are evidence that they manage to let themselves into my bedroom (one of the windows in which, I have just discovered, cannot be properly shut and has a rather unconvincing mesh screen).
Like mosquitoes, the small aggravations that come with living in Egypt are most unnerving they're numerous, difficult to deal with, seemingly endlessly elusive, and pop up one right after another, just when you think you've vanquished them. I won't go through and complain about the particular problems with my apartment beyond the pesky flesh-nibbling one I've described and to say that after the fiasco with my landlord and my neighbors, I feel compelled to find other lodgings (Ahmed called Catherine all kinds of foul names I won't repeat her, told her he had the upper hand because he was a doctor and an Egyptian, reminded her that his "uncle" who lives upstairs works for the Ministry of the Interior, etc.) Beyond this, I keep wavering on whether or not to stick with the program I'm in and turn it into a Master's. I'll go for weeks at a time, convinced of the soundness of my plans, and then get discouraged and think I'm perhaps not on the right path. At school, my papers are seeming daunting and I should really meet with my professors to try and understand better what's expected (though I've been getting good grades thus far). Taxis, the service (or lack thereof) at restaurants and grocery stores, the stares, the things shouted, and the general lack of logic as I'm accustomed to it have again become wearing. Add to the stress emanating from my living conditions, school, and my interactions with Egypt an email reply I received from my scholarship coordinator at Rotary HQ in response to my first report in which I explained the difficulties that have prevented me (along with the three other scholars in Cairo) giving speeches yet, and I've just about had it. The email said that the scholarship coordinator would not accept my report without the "Required Presentations Form" with the "correct number of presentations listed and the appropriate signatures listed." Lest I offend, I am going to refrain for the time being from making further remarks about this, but will report on how it all ends up resolved.
Last evening, I met up with my friend Sheila who, in the nearly half-decade since I'd last seen her, had married an Egyptian investment banker and had traveled to the Middle East a dozen times, seems to be doing really well. We had dinner with the requisite reprehensibly rude service at Sangria. Some of the food was pretty good which, combined with the fun of catching up with an old friend, sort of made up for the rest of it. A taxi driver who drove like a maniac was my means of returning home and became disgruntled when I didn't give him the exorbitantly high fare he demanded.
This evening, I had Thai with classmates who were also quite good company. The service was spotty, as is obviously the theme here and so it was when I went to Metro Market afterward to try and get groceries. They were out of the bottled water I'd gone there to buy and I won't even delve into the antics of the cashiers in the check-out lanes. Thankfully, the taxi-ride home tonight was calmer and more peaceably concluded than the last. I mailed some postcards and greeting cards to friends and family, bought some bottles of water, and came back to seek solace in aish baladi and halawa only to receive the aforementioned email.
I'm reading through the news now and it seems some minor violence erupted downtown today, see the first article below. I heard some commotion earlier, but suspect it was just your run-of-the-mill brawl and not connected, though you never know. I'm not sure how close Ghad headquarters are to my part of Downtown.

Clashes erupts at Egyptian opposition party headquarters
Osama bin Laden's son, currently living in Egypt, was refused asylum in Spain
Optimism in Egypt in wake of Obama win

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Two Battles

Yesterday was quite a productive (and successful) day in a number of ways. I started off by heading to the main downtown campus to complete the process for obtaining my student visa. Leaving my passport with foreign nationals has never felt like such a relief. Ha! My next stop was the campus bookstore, where I picked up some cards and postcards in order to send correspondence to people I've neglected. After this, I hopped over to the Greek campus where a letter from my grandma was waiting for me. Getting mail is always nice, especially when it arrives in one piece and unopened; my mom is sending me a package and I'm not holding my breath for its final integrity upon arrival. Back at home, I polished up my midterm and began a reflection paper before classtime rolled around.
After three hours of nervous fidgeting in class, wondering how the election was going, my classmates Phil, Erin, Brandy, Mary-Anne, and I headed to Zamalek, first for Cairo's best pizza at Maison Thomas, then to a professor's apartment to watch the battle for the presidency unfold. Meanwhile, back in my apartment building, something equally dramatic was taking place. The attempted eviction of my Danish neighbor, which had raised the hackles of her American flatmate, Catherine, turned into a full-blown and mildly violent event involving lawyers and police. In fact, after some physical altercations, the inhabitants of apartment 8, my landlord, and the rest of those present ended up at the nearest police station. My histrionic landlord apparently was shrieking wild threats at the girls across the hall, reminding them that his uncle who lives upstairs worked for the Interior Ministry (think intelligence, national security, immigration), that he was an auspicious doctor and Catherine just a lowly novice lawyer who, because she was American, did not have the advantage legally. His upperhand proved non-existant as Catherine managed to get a restraining order on him, a promise he would return her deposit, and final month in the apartment before she has to move out. Craziness.
Compared to this, the other battle going on between Senators Obama and McCain seemed far more tame. I was glad to have been in Zamalek watching CNN International with other Obama-supporters (as I've said, McCain supporters are few and far between here), a Palestianian-Australian, a Brit, an Iraqi refugee (who, incidentally is a McCain fan), aFrenchmen, etc. I returned home around 4:30 AM, staying up a while longer in hopes of seeing the results. I caved, however, and went to bed, waking up to find out that the candidate I supported was now the president-elect. Realizing the implications of this for our foreign policy (a main issue in my decision to vote for Obama) and a whole slew of other arenas was so invigorating. I did not feel the same way four years ago when I helped re-elect our current president.
Well, I could babble on a lot about all of this, but I'm meeting an old friend that I knew from Dunlap High School who happens to be in Cairo and I've just spent too much time watching the Obama victory speech and the McCain concession speech. McCain was exceptionally gracious, even if some of his supporters were not.

Monday, November 3, 2008

English lessons and a Danish evictee

I've just gotten back from a few hours of teaching English to south Sudanese students in Ain Shams–my first official class session. Ok, the just part is was only true before I was dragged across the hall to be told some shocking news and after I had three squares of dark chocolate.
Despite the reports I've heard that certain NGOs won't work with the students I'm teaching because they belong to "gangs" and are incorrigible, all of them were exceedingly polite. I'm called "teacher" rather than by my first name. This sign of respect is afforded me even though the students are essentially my peers, ranging in age from 18-30 with most in their late teens and early 20s. We covered negation in the singular and plural–including some versus any, and how to read a map and discuss where certain things are located. Someone brought up Obama, so I also briefly explained the legislative branch of American government and what senators were. Though I was nervous I'd not be able to properly convey the concepts in my lesson plans and be effective in my teaching, things went very well. One student, Tito, asked me after class if in the future I would mind giving him French lessons on the side. After all the upheaval in his life, I'm amazed at his drive and determination.
On the way there, my best efforts to look calm, collected, and disinterested with my iPod playing and my distant stare not inviting "welcome to Egypt"esque remarks were all thwarted when I got my fore-arm stuck in the closing metro doors which, for some reason, had not opened all the way in the first place. It wasn't particularly painful, and my fellow passengers were quick to help me extricate my limb from the door. I shook it off wedged myself into the sardine-can tightness of the train. The way back was much less congested; I even had a seat to sit in.
Upon returning, I found that I had been copied in an email from my landlord (who now seems certifiably nuts) informing everyone in both the flats on our floor that the Danish girl who lives with Catherine is being evicted tomorrow because of a contary email she sent. Up in arms, Catherine contacted an attorney at the American embassy and also looked up relevant laws in the Egyptian Civil Code, replying to Ahmed's various threats with a barrage of counter-threats and demands. The evening turned from astonishment over the events to normal conversation, affording me the opportunity to chat in French again with the Dane, her French boyfriend, and a Togolese-French girl who's just moved in. So apparently both Camilla and Catherine are moving out tomorrow. I myself wish I could find a reasonably-priced place that was a bit nicer than this with a landlord who didn't fall into the categories of flake or crook–Ahmed definitely being the former, though thankfully not much of the latter. It will be interesting to see how all this drama unfolds. It was nice to get to know my new neighbor a bit and to be told again that I had presque pas d'accent (nearly no accent) in French. Just when I get worried I'm losing my language skills from having been out of French for a year and a couple of months, something like that comes my way, and it's great.

Former Sudanese president dies in Egypt
"Paradox of Power" in Egypt
Egypt to build nuclear power plant, likely with aid of US firm
Freedom of speech still not so free in Egypt says BBC
Another migrant murdered by guards at Israeli-Egyptian border

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Election Politics over Lebanese

For lunch, I met up with my friend Maged who you may remember from my excursion to Ras Sudr at the Red Sea. He and his cousin and I went for Lebanese food at Taboula. Or at least, I went for Lebanese which is despite some similiarities to Egyptian cuisine, too foreign for Maged. He opted for some meat and french fries alternative from the "international dishes" options. I had fatteh with eggplant and a delicious fresh salad. Over the course of our meal, we began discussing politics and I find it quite telling that as I was typing just now I almost wrote "disgusting politics".
Apparently, Maged's been hearing things from relatives in America and from Fox News about how bad Barack Obama would be for America. Naturally, I reassured Maged that he was definitely not a Muslim and that it shouldn't matter if we had a Muslim president anyway and also suggsested that perhaps allowing gays to marry was a little less evil than turning Iraqi civilians into casualties. Firmly pro-life myself, I agreed with him that Obama's proposed policies on abortion and adoption did not go as far as I'd like them to, but posited that a McCain presidency would do little to change the status quo. I think that a more rigorous sex ed. program in public schools would also help reduce unwanted pregancies, in turn reducing the number of abortions. This is more likely to happen under Obama. Anyway, Maged wasn't having any of it. Fox News and his relatives who swear Obama's a Muslim poised to cause the downfall of America had already won his heart and mind. Defeated, but glad Maged wasn't a US citizen with a vote, I did the only thing I could, called up Catherine, my favorite McCain supporter (the only American I know here who is) and got them together to chat about the economy, their reservations about Obama, and a host of other unrelated non-political things. They exchanged phone numbers and plan to hang out soon. I'm fostering cross-cultural relationships and goodwill even among those whose political views drive me nuts. Go figure.
For the past hour or two, I've been working on my midterm, which is actually a great deal of fun. My law professor, Mike Kagan, has a great sense of humor and has incorporated it into this three theoretical cases to be analyzed. Maybe now I should start on another paper I have due Tuesday or my Rotary report. Yikes! So much to do.

Online counter-convention held by Egyptian opposition
Egypt to recognize Kosovo's independence soon
Students associated with Islamic Brotherhood launch xenophobic campaign on campuses
Mubarak pledges reform

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Good luck, Chuck!

Halloween itself ended up consisting of me hanging out in Mohandaseen with my friend Amanda eating Indian that we had delivered and watching a couple of episodes of Ugly Betty, which I'd never seen, not being a big TV guy. It was fun, low-key evening. My cab ride over there was illustrative of my earlier cultural lamentations--despite nodding and affirming he knew where to take me (Aswan Square in Mohandaseen), he ended up rolling down the front passenger window to make kissing noises at a fellow taxi driver. This, along with hissing, is an unpleasantly common means of getting people's attention in Cairo. "Gidu (grandpa)," he yelled. "Midan Aswan?" Clearly, he had no idea how to get there and this was further evidentiated by other episodes of yelling to other taxi drivers and passersby. Oh well, I got where I was going eventually.

Today, for some reason, I woke up in a rather optimistic mood. Impervious to swerving cars, honk-happy cabbies, stares, and the like, I greeted everyone and everything with a smile. Amanda and I hopped on the metro where, surprisingly, a young Egyptian guy with a 1000-kilowatt grin said to me in perfect English, "Crowded, isn't it?" Where on earth did that come from? Chummy, pleasant conversation from an Egyptian on a mode of transportation where you feel like you're going to be stampeded by overzealous passengers disembarking and boarding or harrassed by men trying hawk wares to a captive market. "Yeah," I said "it certainly is." He got off at the next stop, but not before smiley broadly and saying, "Good luck, Chuck." I was stunned, he must've been an American in disguise. It certainly made me laugh and made my metro ride.

We brunched at Lucille's where I made the mistake of ordering a side-salad. My omelette and hash browns were respectable, as before, but this salad tasted like weeds or grass (not that I regularly munch on either) which was strange considering it was composed of iceberg lettuce, cabbage, and shredded carrots. Not expecting any kind of American customer service, even in this bastian of American food and culture, I didn't feel like giving up. I very pleasantly told the waiter when he came to clear our food that the salad wasn't good. He offered to prepare me a fresh one, but somehow having a new salad with the same ersatz ingredients wasn't appealing. He told me that "this is your restaurant! I don't want you to be angry about the salad!" and subsequently began mentioning dessert, leading me to believe (silly me) that he was making up for my lettuce letdown with carrot cake. Amanda and I thus split a slice of pretty darn good carrot-cake with cream cheese frosting, amazed with this seemingly great service. Then, the bill came with both my side salad and the dessert listed. Undaunted, I called Eslam over again and said, "Seeing as how I didn't really eat the salad, would you mind taking this off?" He hesitated, mentioned having offered to make me a new one, but then said, "Okay, this is your restaurant!" and returned with a bill adjusted to include only the carrot cake. Simple as that. Marvelous. Oh, Lucille's, you've won me over.

The rest of our stay in Maadi involved bagel-buying and grocering. I replenished my coconut yogurt stock that had been decimated by the fridge failure and now all is well with the world. I also got some German dark chocolate to keep in the freezer for special occasions. Oh my gosh, I think I'm becoming a middle-aged woman. Annnyway, I'm back to the apartment, going to make dinner, and then look up some articles on the refugee community in Minneapolis to begin writing one of my papers. Tomorrow I have my two-day law midterm which will involve me analyzing cases and determining whether or not the people involved are legally refugees. Monday night I teach. Tuesday is, of course, the election and I'll be attending a get-together with a crowd of nervous expats watching anxiously to see who becomes the next president.

Egypt calls meeting to fight piracy
Egypt's poor infrastructure and bad driving practices cost more lives
Many irate over use of song from Arab-Israeli War period in ad
Sexual harassment case restores victims faith in Egyptian legal system