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!

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