Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My humblest apologies for failing in my blogging duties for the last couple of weeks. Things have gotten crazy, but simultaneously have gone really well. Despite my nervousness and stumbling through the presentation portion, my thesis defense went really well. I got lots of positive feedback and, perhaps even more importantly, had my thesis approved. Today I worked my last shift at the writing center and attended my last AUC graduate class. One final paper stands between me and the end of my master's degree. It's so surreal.
I can't begin to catalogue the list of things I've learned while here or the ways I've grown. My time in Egypt has changed me for the better. I went from skepticism and tentativeness a few months ago (and downright anxiety and bitterness at times about a half a year ago) to deeply appreciating what Egypt has come to mean to me. I have no doubt in my mind that this experience--living in this country and going through this master's program--was the right decision.
As for my blog, I hope to continue sharing my thoughts and observations, perhaps not only about Egypt but my travels in general. We'll see what I end up with time for. Thanks to all of you who have followed my ramblings about my year and a third as an AUC grad student and my time in Masr. My sincerest thanks again to the Rotary Foundation and to the districts, clubs, and individual rotarians who made my first year possible, and to AUC and the Writing Center for funding my final semester.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I'm here, I'm here! I submitted my thesis (which I'll defend on the 14th) and am now down to tidying up a group project and writing a 10-page and a 20-page final paper for my two courses. I have been busy waxing sentimental about Egypt and realizing how much I love about living here. I've been spending every chance I get with friends, wandering my neighborhood, and Christmas shopping when I can find time to step away from schoolwork.
The Egypt-Algeria row has long since settled down and some really great (and I don't mean it sarcastically) PSA's have popped up about Egyptian dignity and unity.


...مش مهم كاس العام

.المهم شكلنا قصاد العالم

This one, in Tahrir Square, says (more or less) "Egypt. It's not important, the World Cup. What's important is how we appear before the world." There's another across the Nile with a minaret and a steeple together, but I haven't managed to snap a photo of it yet.
Well, that's me checking in. I leave in less than two weeks and it seems harder and harder to do so the closer I get to that day.

News & Issues:

Friday, November 27, 2009

You may have surmised by the dearth of my entries that I finally got serious about my thesis. Kind of. I'm still not all the way finished, but recapping Thanksgiving and 'Aid are worth a few moments.
Yesterday, Marise, Phil, Erin, Cynthia and I went to Lucille's for Thanksgiving dinner. There was turkey with gravy and stuffing for the carnivores, and sweet potatoes with marshmallows, corn, carrots, green beans, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes for everybody except for Cyn who opted for a south of the border Thanksgiving and ordered nachos. For dessert was some very respectable pumpkin pie. While we laughed off the cheesiness of going around the table and each reporting what we were most thankful for this holiday, I think we were each cognizant of how much we had come to mean to one another in the three semesters. It was great to be with the people I've become closest to in Egypt even though it made me all the more conscious we only have a couple more weeks living in proximity, bumming around at each others apartments, and eating out like it's going out of style.
Today, Phil (never the early riser) woke me up and demanded I follow through on our plans to go see what was afoot for 'Aid al-Adha in the nearby neighborhoods. Last year, I saw little more than a puddle of blood and a detached hoof in the street. This year, Phil and I stumbled upon a whole crowd observing and participating in the ritual sacrifice of several cows. The men and boys welcomed, asked our names, explained what was going on, and asked what we thought of Algeria and the recent soccer match. We snapped lots of photos. Yesterday, on the way to Thanksgiving dinner, we'd seen a lot of livestock--one sheep was squirming in the trunk of a white taxi. Today we saw what was to befall all the transiting animals. I'd never seen a cow slaughtered before. I imagine that the three of my grandparents who grew up on farms would be more inured to the process, but my relationship with farm animals has been limited mostly to petting zoos and steak restaurants. There was something almost serene about the process. People watched intently as a whole team of men calmed each animal, set it on its side, and dispatched it swiftly. It didn't die right away, and that was perhaps the hardest part to deal with it. I won't explain all the details out of deference to more squeamish readers. But the best part was watching people's reactions. The little kids were more fascinated than scared and for other people, it was routine--just another 'Aid. We bid the kids we'd been talking to goodbye and returned home. I wondered how people back home would treat a couple of Arabs wandering into a celebration. I'd like to hope we'd be as welcoming.
Back to my thesis! 'Aid mubarak!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Things seem to have settled down here in Cairo. There're no new reports of chanting mobs. I was chatting with Marise about the whole debacle last night and we concluded that, with pieces like the one in the New York Times by Michael Slackman misrepresenting the source of many Egyptians' outrage, Egypt was in some small way, not getting a fair shake. While some of the protesters were without a doubt mere soccer hooligans, other people who have protested more civilly truly believed that Egyptians were being harmed abroad. The Egyptian media, Facebookers, and YouTubers exaggerated accounts of violence against Egyptians in Sudan and Algeria and convinced Egyptians moreover that the Sudanese and Algerian governments were complicit or at best, not doing enough to protect Egyptian nationals. That claims of serious injury have not been substantiated is immaterial. The fact is, Egyptians were led to believe that their conationals were being harmed and left unprotected by governments with whom Egypt has complex and sometimes troubled relations. This isn't just about people whining over a soccer match, at least not for everyone.
Still others (and perhaps this group includes the soccer hooligans) have turned this into an issue of honor. According to the BBC, the Egyptian president said "Egypt does not tolerate those who hurt the dignity of its sons" while his normally media-shy son Ala' said in an interview that "When you insult my dignity ... I will beat you on the head". While I can appreciate protesting civily in solidarity with physically wounded fellow citizens, the concept of protesting against violations of your honor (like the YouTube videos Algerians have made insulting Egyptians) is totally alien to me. Not coming from an "honor culture", bravado and reputation-preserving violence and boycotts make me cringe. A Facebook group called "ACT TO END RELATIONS BETWEEN EGYPT & ALGERIA" that, as of now, has nearly 5,000 members maligns (in all caps, annoyingly) Algerians and paints ending diplomatic relations between the two countries as a religious duty. Meanwhile, some 5000+ Facebook users are fans of a page called "Si tes [sic] ALGERIENS et tu F**k l'égypte pour notre drapeau qu'ils ont brulés [sic]" (If you're Algerians and you f**k Egypt for our flag that they burnt). Absurdity. This certainly shatters the façade of Arab unity.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I hear from friends in Zamalek that it looks like a war zone in the area where the "protesters" were. I failed to understand how translating a beef with another country's soccer team (or even a beef with the fact that your conationals are being attacked in foreign countries) into destroying the property of your countrymen is productive. Non-Egyptians have had to show their passports to get places within Zamalek itself and roads are blocked off. The Subway deliveryman made it here to bring Phil a sandwich though. Twitter's been abuzz with accurate and not-so-accurate reports about riots, mobs, and other collectivities chanting, protesting, rock and Molotov cocktail-throwing, Central Security arresting people, cameras confiscated from the media, and so forth. I'd heard there was a disturbance in Tahrir, but when Phil and I ventured out in the late afternoon, we saw only touts and families and lost-looking tourists—the usual. Who knows what will happen. Meanwhile, I'm hard at work finishing the conclusions section of my thesis!
Midwest meets Middle East:
I read a review of the movie Amreeka in Daily News Egypt and now I'm really curious to see it. It's apparently about a Palestinian family that moves to small town Illinois. Check out the trailer here.
I'm just now back from a wee adventure in Zamalek. Erin persuaded Marise and me to indulge her craving for Indian. I ignore my lingering flu symptoms and, after a double class, joined the two of them as well as Phil and two other friends for dinner in an Indian restaurant on one of the riverboats on the east side of Zamalek. Dinner was delicious and the conversation was good and it seemed like I'd have time to spare for my thesis. Then, however, a few of us decided to stop by the grocery store. Erin was trying to make her way home in the same general direction. Our whole party got in two cabs and headed north only to find several streets blocked off because masses of young Egyptians were "protesting" outside the Algerian embassy and for blocks around. Our cabdriver flicked on his lighter and told us that's what the shabab (youth) were trying to do to the Al-Gaza'air (Algeria) embassy. Erin and the other friend that went with her didn't even make it to their part of the island, but rather ended up all the way back in front of the riverboat. Meanwhile, we were shopping at Alfa, enjoying the tacky Christmas decorations for sale, and snapping forbidden photos of the live sheep in a makeshift pen at the intersection of the holiday section and the meat counter where they await their demise for 'Aid.
Erin got a hold of us and asked us to walk her home. We met up with her outside the grocery store and walked her to the line of riot police blocking off the road that led to the embassy whence she was able to quietly head up her street to her place. Oh, soccer and nationalism. Phil, our other friend Camilla, and I found our way to a cab, seeing improvised torches (hair spray or pesticide plus a lighter) in the distance, and returned downtown. Now there's shouting and the occasional little mob parading toward Zamalek. I'm keeping up to date here. In related news:
Other news and issues:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I'd planned to see one of my professors lecture at the weekly CMRS seminar, but am instead at home in my apartment curled up with my old friends thesis and fever. My throat is no longer sore, but my head kills. Happily, it isn't the sort of headache exacerbated by honking, drumming, cheering, or chanting, all of which are filling the air in Cairo tonight ahead of the Egypt-Algeria playoff in Sudan. Hopefully no one's killed in whatever happens when the game is won and lost.

Meanwhile, an undergraduate AUCian was diagnosed with H1N1. Though this is likely another nail in the coffin of resuming a normal class schedule, the university claims that it will "close for the Thanksgiving and Eid holidays as announced on the academic calendar. The Eid break will not be extended and classes will resume on December 1st".

News & Issues

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I've had my own mini-plagues of Egypt experiences recently--after managing to avoid stomach troubles for months, I've been afflicted for a week, my throat mysteriously also has begun hurting (coinciding with a delightful post-nasal drip), and some mysterious creatures (not mosquitoes this time) have been nibbling away at me during my sleep. Pharaoh, let my people go. And write the rest of my thesis for me while you're at it.
After a night of stomach problem-generated sleeplessness, I walked to the shuttle, zombified. Everything seemed particularly surreal along my route because of the sleepiness, but a taxidermied fox, frozen forever mid-growl suddenly appeared on one of the streetcorners I pass. Suddenly in the sense that it wasn't there before, not in the sense that I was hallucinating stuffed creatures promenading around Cairo.
New campus had its share of interesting sights too--a Model United Nations poster with George W. Bush flanked by Hitler and Stalin. The text asked what they had in common. The answer? That none of them had Model UN in school. Never mind that Bush went to Harvard in the 1970s, a school whose MUN program began in the 1950s. To be fair, I don't suppose it's something an MBA student would've taken an interest in.
There's also a big poster depicting a friendly, fluffy sheep asking something like "Can you imagine an Eid without meat?" Given the cuddliness of the spokesheep, I had thought it was some kind of social awareness campaign about the social and environmental impacts of meat consumption (or perhaps even a PETA-style appeal). Nope. The cuddly sheep wants you to donate money to supply animals for poor people to slaughter during 'Aid al-Adha. Oh well.

News & Issues

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Today's the day my "final" thesis draft is due...better keep writing it! This entry's just to say, Egypt beat Algeria 2-0 and so survived at least until the next game. Nothing particularly violent happened a a result, al-hamdulilla (at least nothing directly related to the match, though a young activist was kidnapped and beaten while Egypt's eyes were on the field and the screen). Instead, the streets were abuzz with celebrating fans shouting, drumming, and carrying on for hours. Fun times all around, I hear.

News & Issues

Saturday, November 14, 2009

After spending the day in my apartment writing, reading, revising, reading, taking breaks to eat, watch an episode of The Office and part of a documentary on Obama with Phil, reading some more, and writing some more, I ended up in a long e-conversation with an Egyptian acquaintance about sexual harassment here. He was discouraged by what he perceived as the recurrent negativity in my portrayals of Egypt, my focusing on the social ills. This was the same person that, when Marise and I met up with him insisted that she wouldn't be sexually harassed if the three of us walked Qasr al-Nil bridge together. He reiterated in a Facebook comment that this was a minor problem and so I went into the conversation guns blazing.
He vacillated between saying his religious sister's in the countryside didn't experience the problem and that none of his other foreign friend's had experienced the level of sexual harassment I described to saying he felt deep shame and explaining to me how he believed unemployment, the proscription of premarital sex, drugs, paternal verbal abuse, and pornography combined to create the phenomenon. I conceded that education played some role as I didn't see the same behavior perpetrated by AUCians or the well-to-do Rotarians and Rotaractors I've met.
As Egyptians are wont to do, my acquaintance told me that Egypt was a great country. When that sort of thing I said, I think it's more for the benefit of the speaker, as if pronouncing it makes it so. I told him that I wasn't arguing that Egypt was fundamentally bad (or good), that there were things about America I complain about too. After that remark, though, and as we amicably closed our conversation, I did think about my knee-jerk critical approach to life in Egypt. As I've mentioned before, I think it has to do with the fact that my impression of Egypt is colored far more by the people on the streets of downtown, by the cabdrivers and waiters, than by the students at AUC or the people I met through Rotary.
I began feeling disappointed again that I didn't get to know more Egyptians whom the language barrier wouldn't prevent me getting to know, to try to understand Egypt a bit more deeply, and to give myself the opportunity to see a sunnier side of things. When that sentiment has welled up in the past, I've tried to come up with rather abstract positives to blog about—the premium placed on family togetherness, the "flexibility", the late hours of shops and restaurants. I still agree with most of what I wrote in that entry, especially about disentangling Egypt itself from all of the frustrations and recognizing that this culture and society encompasses much more than my narrow window into it. Now, however, I don't feel like I'm grasping at straws trying to come up with something to make myself sound well-adjusted and cross-culturally savvy.
What I love about Egypt, in fact, are my Egyptian friends, classmates, and acquaintances. I love the environment that exists here that draw the sorts of often fascinating and quirky people that've stretched how I think. I treasure seeing Egypt through the eyes of friends like Marise who, accepting its failings, manages to see the best and to maintain faith in its potential. I am thankful to see Islam through the pure faith of acquaintances like Omar and Sayed who have, in their overtures of friendship and our open discussions, provided a counterbalance to both negative media portrayals of Islam and the intolerance I have encountered in other Muslims.
Egypt, like life, is a mixed bag. It includes ups and downs, hardships and celebrations, vexations and delights. So why do I still wrestle with the question of whether I like Egypt some fourteen months after I moved here? I don't like or dislike Egypt, but rather I would answer that I like living in Egypt in the same way I would say I liked being alive if you asked me if I liked life.

News & Issues

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Forgive my e-slacking, but I've nothing much new to say. Thesis, thesis, thesis. Both of my classes this week involved coming up with contingency plans for the inevitable extension of the 'Aid al-Adha recess. Some are even suggesting classes might be canceled altogether for the rest of the semester. We came up with some suitable solutions tonight after discussing Cosmopolitanism, but insha'Allah, we won't miss too many sessions. After class, I had a fantastic dinner with a CMRS colleague and our professor. Yes, we spent part of our Thursday evening (the equivalent of Friday evening's here in the Muslim world) discussing critical theory and academia and that is what I love about grad. school. Don't worry, Annie and I went to Horaya later on too and chatted and played games like normal people too.
Aside from that, I read Derrida for class and got a hold of AirFrance iron out my tickets to Madagascar. Seems that everything's booked. Without further ado, let's move on from my unremarkable prose to some...

News & Issues:
Indiana Jones thinks Beyoncé is stupid
Tomorrow's Algeria-Egypt football (soccer) match already causing violence
Clashes between security forces and smugglers on Egyptian border with Palestine
Egyptian teens in court to try and have religious beliefs recognized in official documents
Egyptian Christian banned by Egypt from seeking asylum abroad

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thesis progress has come at the expense of regular blogging, but I though I'd check in. A new print edition of AUC's Caravan is out, slightly better than the last. Their feature is an attempt at investigative journalism that reveals that several of the donors who have departments and rooms named in their honor may not be the most ethically upstanding. They took issue with a room being dedicated to the memory of Dr Mine Ener.
Ener was a professor at Villanova University and author of Managing Egypt's Poor and the Politics of Benevolence, 1890-1952. In 2003, Ener gave birth to a baby girl with Down's syndrome a fact that appeared to have caused Ener to sink further into postpartum depression. Tragedy struck when, gripped by mental illness, Ener killed her child and later, after being incarcerated, committed suicide. Villanova took down a plaque erected to her memory and instead held a symposium on postpartum depression and psychosis to memorialize her. The Caravan's choice of title for the story, "This Room is Dedicated to a Murderer. Who Else Has AUC Accepted Money From?" is sensational and doesn't take it account the role mental illness played. I won't add further commentary to the sanity and misdeeds of others whom the named spaces honor, but you can checked them out and draw your own conclusions.
Other topics covered in the Caravan included an article and a cartoon about the challenges faced by female students interested in student body politics. Charming quotes like "girls are unable to handle the kind of commitment and campaigning it takes to win a competitive election" and alleged threats to the reputations of women who decide to run for office come from male students, showing that for all it's progressive shine, the situation at AUC smacks of the rest of Egypt's pervasive sexism. The Muslim Brotherhood offer us another example, promising to suspend members who requested positions for women in the party's guidance bureau. "Not all jobs are appropriate for women," wisely asserts a member. This of course is not to suggest that the rough gender equality in the US is anything close to perfect.
The online version of the student paper euphemistically refers to the strongly possible canceling of post-'Aid classes as another "H1N1 Break". According to NPR, Egypt's PM has already declared that the four-day 'Aid al-Adha vacation will be extended a further six days for all government-run schools and universities. It's only a matter of time before they demand AUC shutter for this second "swine flu" vacay. The logic for such a class suspension escapes me, yet again.

Other News & Issues

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Lonely Planet will inform you in the online version of its guide to Egypt that
The incidence of crime, violent or otherwise, in Egypt is negligible compared with most Western countries. Most visitors and residents would agree that Egyptian towns and cities are safe to walk around in during the day or night. Unfortunately, the hassle factor often means that this isn’t quite the case for an unaccompanied foreign woman.
Indeed, it is common for many of us in the foreign student community here to marvel that we can walk around at 3 AM without fear either of theft or violent crime. We all too often paint Egypt as a place where sleazy but ultimately harmless men are but an inconvenience to foreign and Egyptian women alike. The stark and disgusting reality is that marginalized women don't experience this reality. Domestic workers and refugees are On top of this, gender-based violence victims have little access to services here.
Two friends of mine and I were discussing, yesterday, the stories of women they knew in Cairo. One, a veiled Muslim mother of six children whose husband had disappeared following poplution displacements in Eritrea had been repeatedly sexually assaulted by an Egyptian employer. Another, a 17-year-old girl without legal status had been raped several times, the last time brutally with a glass bottle that broke off inside of her body. She was left by the man to bleed out and her family, afraid of being deported because of their status, refused to take her to a hospital. My friend and his flatmate had to go and find and pay a doctor to come to the girl's home. Domestic workers from the Horn of Africa who have to take cabs home from their place of employment are sometimes not dropped off at their destination, but told by the driver's that they'll pay them for the services because "they know it's what they do".
While abuse of domestic workers and irregular migrants happens all over the world, I think the intersection of the general disregard for women in Egypt with the mistreatment of marginalized people is an especially insidious combination.
Not only are migrant women at risk, but Egyptian women as well. Marital rape, as in many other Middle Eastern countries, is not a crime in Egypt. Moreover, for more than 90 years (until 1999), there was a law on the books here that absolved rapists if they later married their victims. A similar law still existed as of last year in Lebanon.
And yet, this flagrant disregard for the dignity of women regardless of their background is minimized, even ignored and denied. The entire spectrum from verbal sexual harassment to rape is often dismissed. A male Egyptian friend couldn't understand why I didn't want to go for a walk downtown with a female friend of mine. I told him the kinds of disgusting things I'd heard with my own ears said to her in the past and he laughed it off and repeatedly told me that sort of thing didn't happen. In the wake of attacks on women by some 150 in downtown Cairo in 2006, the president's wife maintained, in an interview on Al-Arabiya, that "Egyptian men always respect Egyptian women".
Faced with these facts and figures and with the personal anecdotes that I hear all too often, I'm frustrated with my own helplessness to make a difference. While I'm in class reading theory or at some restaurant half the population can't afford, all of this is going on. I really wish I knew what I could do. I can say, though, I won't be complicit anymore in blithely describing Egypt as "safe" while wives and domestic workers are raped with relative impunity. In the end, this is an Egyptian problem that must be solved by Egyptians. Many of them are in the habit of minimizing the problems of their country to outsiders as a matter of pride, but recognize among themselves what's really going on. Perhaps change can come from this kind "internal dialogue". For a society so concerned with honor, one would think that this stain in Egypt's image would be of urgent importance.


For more on the vulnerability of Eritreans and Ethiopians in Cairo see: "The Insecurity of Eritreans and Ethiopians in Cairo" in the International Journal of Refugee Law. A preview is available here.

Other News & Issues

Friday, November 6, 2009

In my Migration & Refugees in International Relations class, we discuss citizenship, in-groups, and out-groups a lot in the context of migration. For yesterday's class we read a chapter from political theorist Bonnie Honig's book Democracy and the Foreigner. The chapter dealt with the love-hate relationship Americans have with immigrants. On the one hand, we have the myth of an America founded on the sheer grit and virtue of immigrants and on the other, we have the view of an "invasion" of "illegals" who steal jobs, form isolated enclaves where "un-American" ideals are fostered, and generally ruin the country for the native-born. Immigrants are seen as both integral to the greatness of America and as a possible force for its undoing. When this tension between xenophilia and xenophobia tilts in the latter direction, as happens during times of economic hardships and war, the "natives" of a country come more rigidly to draw the line between "us" and "them" even when "they" are native-born or have been in the country for years. In circling the wagons, people draw dangerously on insufficient or flawed understandings of that "other" that fuel hatred.
Place into this context the massacre at Fort Hood yesterday by Virginia native, Nidal Malik Hasan. The news is still fresh, and the facts are unclear, but there is much speculation about Hasan's religion. This is certainly the case in the comments on an AP article published in the online edition of my local newspaper, the Peoria Journal Star. As a student of migration and refugees whose living in the Middle East, I am inevitably drawn to what the PJStar's comment sections following articles about Islam or Arabs reveal about my fellow Peorians' attitudes toward the kinds of people that not only live here, but who are also part of the patchwork of the American citizenry. So how does Islamophobia play in Peoria? I realize that those who choose to comment on articles don't necessarily proportionally represent the populace, but they provide interesting insight nonetheless.
The first comment to introduce the idea of foreignness read,
This exemplifies why American troops should be natural born citizens. Allowing other nationalities to enlist in the United States military is detrimental to the safety and integrity of America.
"Common Tater"'s first mistake was that he conflated nationality with being born in a given country. Millions of American nationals were born outside of the US and, in many situations (take the Turks in Germany, for example), people who were born in a country and lived there their entire lives may not be nationals. In Honig's book, she mentions the myriad of ethnic group contingents that fought in the American Civil War displaying a patriotism just as zealous as those "natural-born citizens" they fought alongside. But, perhaps more importantly, what Common Tater failed to appreciate was that Hasan is a natural-born citizen.

"slick06" is less polished in his or her arguments:
He was a Muslim that's why this happened!!! The Muslims are waging a hold war on us at we let them into the armed forces????
Even if Hasan's break-down and subsequent act of violence was related to his religious beliefs, it is a question of religious extremism, not something unique to or inherent in Islam. In that case, it would be appropriate to say "he was a violent religious extremist, that's why this happened". Just as the supposedly-Christian abortion clinic-bombers don't represent all of us, neither do suicide bombers or rampaging gunmen represent all Muslims. "The Muslims" slick06 refers to are a diverse people socioeconomically, linguistically, ethnically, politically, ideologically, and so forth. If they were all united in waging a war on us by now, I'm sure I'd have been felled by my landlord, a taxi driver, a waiter at one of the restaurants I frequent, a policeman, the woman that begs for food down my street, one of my professors, the Rotarians who hosted me last year, or any other of the tens of millions of Muslims in this country. Furthermore, there are thousands of Muslims in our armed forces and there have been for years. Muslim Americans fight alongside other Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan and there were Muslims in the Allied Forces in World War II. Islam does not detract from a person's service in the military of a non-Muslim country, it is rather a question of ideology and extremism.
Thankfully, I'm not the only Peorian who thinks this way. Says "nothingshocking":
common tater-i didn't read anywhere in the article that the gunman was not a natural born citizen. since when does one have to be a foreigner in order to convert to islam? timothy mcveigh was a natural born citizen and was capable of blowing up a building filled with his fellow americans. crazy is crazy-regardless of creed, religion, or race.
Still, "Pancho" brings us this lovely reminder that ignorance is rampant:
slick06 nailed it, and yeah, part of this IS Obamas fault. His way of thinking assists people like this to prosper in OUR country. OUR country is full is trash that want to bring us down. What a shame it has come to this.
Whatever you think of the president, Pancho's comment has little to do with politics, but rather those fundamental questions of "us" and "them". Who is the "us" to whom the country belongs in Pancho's statement? And who, in fact, is the trash? Many of us in Central Illinois have German and Irish roots. These ethnic groups, now an indistinguishable part of "White America", were vilified and demonized just as much as Muslim Americans are now. German-Americans were associated with Nazis, the Irish were considered job-stealing scum, etc. etc. I would put to Pancho that this "us" is comprised of the descendants of the "trash" of past generations.
The rest of the comments were divided between reasoned expressions of concern over the stress of war, impending deployment and multiple tours of duty and more ignorant comments about Muslims and Islam. While I understand the fears associated with the unfamiliar, I really hope that those in my hometown who struggle with how to fit those who are different from themselves (especially Muslims) into their idea of America will think deeply and rationally about it.

News & Issues

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

This morning, I rode the bus with a fellow blogger. As we passed the Ministry for Social Solidarity, the Ministry for Tunnels, the Potato Grower's Cooperative, and the sea of McMansions, we chatted about Egypt (what else?). We bonded over our predilection for sarcasm, a feature that permeated our conversation all the way to campus where I saw, behind the monstrous tentlike structure that's blocking out the sun from the main quadrangle, two Egyptians dressed like Fonzie from happy days.
The Writing Center was busy and full of interesting characters and even more interesting papers. One of them extolled the virtues of Michael Jackson, endearingly referring to him as "Mike" throughout. Another complained that the garbage problem in Cairo was an affront to his "social status". My favorite moment came when a young woman burst in and loudly interrupted two tutoring sessions to announce herself. I motioned her to sit down at which point she told me I looked really young. I suggested it might be because I am, in fact, young. She then added that I "looked too young to be a professor". I informed her that I was not a professor. After being handed an essay dripping with sarcasm, ellipses, and exclamation points that read like an instant message, I explained the need for formality in academic writing. After half-listening to my comments, she asked if she too could "get a job" at the Writing Center. Unfortunately for her and for everyone else, she can't. Ma3lesh, ma3lesh.
The growing urgency to take more notice of my surroundings as I realize how short my time left in Egypt is has pressed me to have my camera on hand more often. When I wasn't sleeping in the bus stuck in traffic, I was doing my best to be surreptitiously snap photos of "the street". Maybe I'll upload some when I get time (next century, after my thesis is finished).

News & Issues

Monday, November 2, 2009

Today, walking down the street, I ran into a lovely new scam. I was ignoring the world with the aid of my headphones and a man came up beside me and shouted "welcome" until I finally took one earbud out. He walked alongside me, realizing I wasn't about to stop, and engaged me in conversation about where I was from. He asked me about the cost of living in Cairo, whether I didn't think it was cheaper than the US an Europe and it didn't take me long to realize what he was getting at. He claimed to be a Palestinian that had been in Egypt for 20 days, that his wife and four kids were killed in an Israeli attack on Gaza, and then he'd found the Egyptians to be terribly inhospitable and unwelcoming. He then told me that an old man in Dubai had been paying his way at the hostel for these 20 days, but that he had stopped and now had nowhere to stay. Without bringing up the fact that the Palestinian border wasn't opened 20 days ago, I politely told him we didn't have any extra beds in our apartment. He told me he only need me to go with him to the hostel to pay $7 which "wasn't much". He backpedaled and said, "well, it is a lot for me". He proceeded to tell me that he hadn't eaten in 20 hours (20 being his favorite number, apparently). I told him I didn't feel comfortable giving him money but would be glad to buy him a meal at the restaurant right across the street from where we were. His hunger magically vanished, he shook my hand, and disappeared into the crowd.
That was but one interesting conversation I managed to have today, but I'm getting up in the early hours tomorrow to be able to catch the bus to new campus, so those are stories better saved for another time. In the meantime, enjoy the news:

News & Issues
The ol' thesis is due in two weeks, at least in theory. Forgive the sparser and sparser entries and, with the advent of nice weather, my sappy comments about gentle breezes and mild temperatures.

News & Issues
Elsewhere in the Middle East

Saturday, October 31, 2009

I forgot to mention that yesterday, when I was typing away at my computer, I heard water being dumped outside my window. Curious to know who was doing such a thing, I opened my window and shutters for the first time since I've been back. Lo and behold, it was actually raining; raining audibly and copiously, at least for a brief time. Happily, upon opening my room to the outside world, I found a brilliant blue sky, a rare sight since the black cloud has been blanketing the city in a grey haze. Today, the weather was even better. Late October in Cairo!
Though it's Halloween today, I got all of my Halloweening over with last night. The party was fun and some of us there, like the giant nerds we are, ended up talking about migration. I know, I know. Anyway, my life of leisure has not boded well for my thesis, so I can't do much more than include some interesting news tidbits. Oh, and this: El Koshary Today, Egypt's answer to The Onion.

News & Issues
Migration & Refugees

Friday, October 30, 2009

I've been spending more time in the CMRS office lately. In addition to the congenial atmosphere, the downtown department digs have professors of whom I can ask questions while I'm working on my thesis or work for their classes and faster internet. But also, it's a great forum for some really interesting discussions.
The class I raved about, Migration and Refugees in International Relations, used to meet on the main downtown campus in a room with awful fluorescent lighting and even worse acoustics. We ended up migrating to the library at the CMRS office one week when that classroom was unavailable for a make-up class and have met there ever since. The readings are the sort that you'd want to undertake even if they weren't assigned for a course. They've certainly stretched my understandings and assumptions about concepts like the nation-state, ethnicity, and culture. as well as about international relations both theoretically and practically. The professor's lectures, which are incorporated into rich discussion of the topics, are the kind that illuminate the readings, rather than summarize.
Yesterday, for instance, we talked about in-groups and out-groups and the idea of a culture as fixed. We interrogated the justness of assimilation and assumptions about the fixity and monolithism of culture. We briefly also considered the idea of dying for one's country, asking ourselves whether we had that kind of commitment to an idea of Canada or the US or Uganda or Egypt or Norway (our countries of citizenship). Instead of sharing my answer, I encourage you to really think about it, about what connects you to the nation and also about your connections and obligations to people outside of the boundaries of whatever country you live in.
Even outside of classtime, the CMRS library is fertile ground for dialog and the tweaking of ideas. Before class, Annie and I had an interesting discussion about sexuality and gender norms in Uganda with our Ugandan classmate after I explained to her my thesis topic. And, while I'd like to think I'm open-minded, I'll admit I have a certain amount of prejudice in terms of my assumptions about the rigidity of post-colonial African societies' ideas about sexuality. (Especially given the story about recently-proposed Ugandan legislation I linked to in the new & issues section before.) And yet, Amoding spoke frankly about the Western gender binaries and how they just didn't fit in Ugandan society. It was these expectations about masculinity and femininity and their relation to sexuality that she found too rigid. The conversation would continue and broaden over Yemeni food after class. (Which in turn was followed by a visit to a party shop selling Halloween costumes, a hysterical place to visit in Egypt.)
Annie and I also got to chat with our professor about class discussion, expectations, and academia. We talked to her about graduate school and writing theses and dissertation and the anxiety over providing an original contribution. There were so many good chats yesterday! It makes me rather keen on the idea of getting another degree sometime in the future. I love the stretching and growing that I've experience both as a result of living in Egypt and attending grad school.

News & Issues

Middle East meets Midwest
  • Speaking earlier of sacrificing for one's country and including a category about the intersections between the Middle East and the Midwest, it's only fitting to inform you that Peoria's Lebanese American community is hosting its annual Itoo supper at the Itoo Hall on 1 November from 11 AM to 7 PM. They're offering 300 free meals to vets and reduced prices for active military personnel.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

After my little identity-inspired writing outburst of yesterday, I was more conscious of the different types of people milling around the campus this morning. I saw a real live Egyptian "goth" girl, an Egyptian "thug" sporting a 59Fifty hat and baggy pants, another Egyptian wearing a bright fuchsia polo, and so on. And then...I saw some Americans tossing around a football. I don't even know where you find an American football in Egypt. Good on them, I guess.
Anyway, being the good American I am, I met up with some friends for Lebanese food and then we headed to watch a documentary on Napoleon in Egypt at the French cultural center in Mounira. I can't say it was particularly well-made, but it was cause for me to meet up with a French acquaintance. She and I ended up at Horaya. Phil joined us and a whole little group coalesced since as people we know kept showing up. We talked about colonialism and racism, about whether Napoleon's brief incursion into Egypt brought about modernism in the country, about the creepy men that linger outside of Horaya looking in, and so forth; the usual.
And here're all the more interesting things that were going on in the world today:
News & Issues

Migration & Refugees

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Because I have nothing more culturally enlightening to share than the fact that Cynthia and I discovered tonight that the Yemeni restaurant in Doqqi delivers to our downtown doorstep, I am going to regale you with some of the latest AUC news as covered by the student-produced campus newspaper, the Caravan.
First we have this choice comic strip wherein Americans are portrayed as green-eyed frat boys in pink polos ("dude bros", if you will), busty blonde valley girls, and hip hop-garbed black kids who speak only monosyllabically. These three archetypal Americans are shaming an Egyptian for being able to speak Arabic and enjoying Egyptian cinema. While there's a whole lot wrong with the comic, the irony is that most AUC students don't know Americans like this. The Americans that study abroad or come here for grad school exemplify a whole set of stereotypes on our own. You have the noble types who are seeking to better understand the Arab world or Islam, the know-it-alls who are here to study Arabic and treat you with the utmost scorn if you're not smoking shisha with old men in an ahwa and deploying your best colloquial Egyptian Arabic phrases by your second week here, the wanderers who are "finding" themselves in a foreign land, the go-getters who're adding studying in Egypt to résumés already replete with internships at various government agencies—they inevitably all want to work for the CIA or the FBI, the bleeding hearts who have come here to volunteer among the poor and refugees, the embittered ones that hate it here and become alcoholics, etc. etc. Most of us are some mix of most of those categories (though I assure you, I'm not an alcoholic and my Egyptian Arabic is nothing to hold over the heads of others). Only among the undergraduate study-abroaders do you find anyone approaching the stereotypes in the comic and even then, they're a rarity. The people on campus who most closely fit those caricatures? Egyptians! Upper class, popped-collared, designer brand-donning, gigantic sunglasses-sporting Egyptian kids. I swear, AUC's undergrads are more "American" than me, at least superficially. They haven't quite caught on to the idea that you're not entitled to throw trash on the ground just because some man* in a uniform following you around with a broom and cleaning your every mess. (*Or child—AUC's food contractors hired children in an move embarrassing for a university that has published research on the phenomenon.) Anyway, I'd wager their Western ways and styles come more from movies and other media than from real live Americans and other Westerners. The comic strip appearing in the latest print version of the Caravan was even worse, depicting a terribly inappropriate rendering of a Chinese man that looked like something out of a racist propaganda leaflet from a mercifully bygone era.
The actual articles in the student paper range from the informative (like the one about AUC's new connections with Columbia and Sciences Po) to the ridiculous: AUC, despite being an American liberal arts university, is too prudish to allow nude figure drawing. I guess that's par for the course, though, when there are worries about Beyoncé's scandalousness is apparently a threat to the Muslim Brotherhood. Another article, was accompanied by a photo of a bunch of bored looking AUC students protesting Israeli actions in East Jerusalem (Al-Quds), one of whom had a creative little sign with a blurry, crossed-out Israeli flag. She was, no doubt, showing her commitment to a commitment for a two-state solution. The protest, according to the article, featured a Jewish kid from New York who "surprised the crowd with his condemnation of Israel’s actions". I can hear the gasps now and the excited whispers, "Ya salaam, he doesn't even have horns!" Meanwhile, their more spirited compatriots at other universities were busy burning Israeli flags.
Anyway, that's about enough fun for today, onto (more) news.

News & Issues
Migration and Refugees

Monday, October 26, 2009

Though Cairo's black cloud usually makes it look like we're on the verge of a storm here, today it actually rained. If memory serves, this is the fourth time I've been rained on in Cairo. I didn't mind the light sprinkles so much so long as I was able to keep myself from thinking about what kind of polluted tidbits were inside.
Beyond just the rain, precipitation was the order of the day, apparently: After spending the afternoon at the CMRS office, Erin and I planned to go to dinner in Zamalek. We marveled at the raindrops and crossed Mohammad Mahmoud and I flagged down one of the new white cabs. These cabs are part of "cash for clunkers"-esque push to get decades-old death traps off the road. Anyway, tell the driver our destination, he agrees, and we hop in. It took a couple of minutes for me to realize that we were in a "fake" white cab. There was no modern meter. This guy painted his old car white, put a new checkered strip around the side and was ready to rip off whomever he could. Ma3lesh, we thought, we'll just pay him the 7ish LE we usually give to black & white cabdrivers when they take us from downtown to Zamalek or vice versa (with a white cab, it's been beteen 5.25 and 6 lately). So, we're riding along, our driver is swerving and nearly slamming into people, something to which we have become accustomed and he gets to the general area Erin had mentioned. She told him in Arabic "right [the direction] here, please" and he misunderstood her to mean she wanted him to pull over on the right-hand side. We politely correct him and he yammered on belligerently for a few seconds as he arrived at our destination. Erin task me, as the man, with handing him the money. I went to do so and he yelled "no, ten pound". I shook my head and held out the money to him. When he didn't take it, I set it on the passenger set and turned to walk away. Every other time this has happened, it has elicited a dejected head shake and a quick departure from the driver. Tonight the man actually spat at me and yelled. Startled, I let out a few choice words. Delightful.
Erin and I got some fiteer and laughed off the man's untoward behavior. Uplifted by being able to meet with my advisor to alleviate my thesis frustrations and squaring away my post-grad school travel plans, I was pretty feeling pretty unskinable.
Apparently though, I wasn't done offending Egyptians for the day. I posted a comment on my flatmate Phil's Facebook wall that was, I assure you, completely benign, but had a passing reference to Mohammad. My Muslim Egyptian friend felt I was "taking her Prophet lightly" and told me that she could forgive me if I wronged her, but "not Him". Given the gravity of her response, you'd think I'd said something decidedly blasphemous. I wish I could reproduce the utterly inoffensive comment here to prove my point, but I don't want to risk inflaming the situation. Exceedingly respectful of other religions, I never thought I'd accidentally find myself up against this kind of reaction. Ma3lesh. I apologized only that she took offense and not for my words. It was my own little taste of a broader tension than I'd hoped to avoid.
The combination of spitting cab drivers and spats with friends weren't enough to overcome the premature nostalgia I was experience for Cairo. I'm really in deep, I guess.

News & Issues
Elsewhere in the MENA

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I managed to leave the apartment today, an improvement over yesterday. Being frugal, I took the metro over to Doqqi, apparently choosing the Egyptian hipster car. Usually I see dusty galabayas, mismatched suits, and wrinkled army uniforms, but today I saw skinny jeans and trendy scarves.
Anyway, I had Yemeni for dinner. Delicious as usual. My meal companions and I discussed our imminent departures from Egypt, some sooner than others and how we felt about it. I received an email back from my thesis advisor letting me know that, so long as I had my thesis approved and filed by the time I left, I didn't have any further business to attend to in Cairo. Now, despite some encouraging feedback on an initial draft, I've returned to worrying about my thesis. I'm about 43 pages in, which is a little under halfway, I guess. I'm just not sure how to organize and keep getting lost on tangents. I guess I just wish I had quicker and more copious comments to point me in the right direction.
Enough whining...time for the news!

News & Issues

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Today I booked a one-way ticket to Chicago via Istanbul. While this doesn't mean I'll remain in the States long (I'm tentatively heading to France and Madagascar in January and February), restrictions on frequent flier mile tickets and the costliness of air travel are more than likely keeping me from adding Egypt to the mix. Unless I need to return to Cairo for urgent thesis or other graduation requirement-related matters and can cough up the money for that round trip ticket in addition to the one to Antananarivo, the 16 of December is my definitive date of departure from Egypt.
I guess I knew it was coming, but not having the cushion of a week or two in January to say my goodbyes and tie up loose ends makes the end of my year and a half in Cairo look rather stark. And speaking of stark, with the end of grad school and the depletion of my meager financial reserves imminent, I'm staring down the reality that I'll have to get a real person job for the first time in my life.
Despite the relief I'd felt this summer at the prospect of wrapping things up by December, Egypt feels like a home of sorts again. Though my thesis-filled days are less exciting than those spent exploring Cairo during my first two semesters, their more comfortable and more productive than all the other days where, frustrated with Egypt, I whiled away my time indoors doing nothing in particular. My life in Egypt is no longer an adventure (nor a periodic nightmare), it's life as usual somehow and I'm going to miss it. There, I said it.

News & Issues

Friday, October 23, 2009

After finishing six pages of a literature review analyzing the foundation of State of Israel through the lens of a chapter from Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism, I plunged into my thesis again, making halting progress. I can feel my brain atrophying as the virtual stack of sources cluttering my desktop crowds out my thinking space. I shall overcome, however. In a matter of months it will all be over (which is bittersweet, actually–I really like researching). Anyway, now for the news:

Elsewhere in Africa
Migration & Refugees
I got up and got ready and marched over to the CMRS office today, ready to be productive. Alas, not long after I arrived, the internet petered out. I accomplished nothing on the ol' thesis today. I did read for class though. This was our fifth session and I still dig our discussions and never mind staying longer than the allotted class time.
Afterwards, I returned to Taboula for the first time in months but with a new crop of friends. Hanging out with the new kids in the program and their friends leaves me feeling torn. It's strange to realize that they're embarking on what inevitably be a fun and memorable adventure and that, I'm already mostly finished with mine. (At least this particular adventure.) But I don't see an impending move as a reason not to meet new people even as I become closer with the friends I've already made.
Planning for the future lately, I've been perusing job sites, checking out the State Department's test cycle, and looking for cheap tickets to make sure I stay on the move. If any of my readership knows anyone clamoring to hire a newly-minted graduate student, do let me know.
Back to my thesis, but first, the news:

PS When my posts wax banal because my writing capacity has been sapped by hours of academic endeavoring and you're looking for something more intellectually stimulating to read, don't forget to check out the blogs on my blogroll and the other links on the righthand side of the page. For example a Cairo newbie I've had the pleasure of befriending recently has glowing things to say about his new home and the LATimes always has something interesting to say about the Middle East–like the scandalous possibility that Israel and Iran engaged in secret nuke talks in Cairo.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In between writing center conferences, I'm catching up on the news and trying to find the energy to read the articles I need to cite in my thesis. Though I had trouble falling asleep again, I don't feel as much like a zombie today.
Wednesday mornings are fun because I've got my fellow grad. fellow Katie to chat with. We have a lot in common in terms of our academic interests (and misgivings), some of our thoughts on Egypt, and on the future. As I already mentioned, everybody I've encounter here has been high quality–interesting, engaging, insightful.
The supervisor there is all these and responsive to boot. It's a refreshing thing to find someone at AUC who takes people's concerns serious. After I mentioned in passing the problems I had in straightening out my stipend (I'd heard other students had had more consequential problems with the man who had blustered and raised his voice and claimed not to have said the things he assured me of last week), the Writing Center supervisor took up the cause with the man's supervisor. Feeling supported in the face of the failings of the AUC bureaucracy, what a novel feeling! (Though to be fair, there were certainly a few understanding administrators that responded to our complaints about the graduation nonsense.)
Anyway, enough gushing. I need to get to back to reading thesis articles until the next student arrives.

News & Issues

Migration & Refugees

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Despite popping a pill and getting to bed before midnight, I was completely unable to sleep before four in the morning. And so, dear readers, I come to you with half a tank, as it were. I woke up at 8 and miraculously made it to the 8:25 bus. I drifted in and out of half-sleep along the way, opening my eyes only twice. The first time I saw palm trees and what looked to my like cypress trees and the second time sand dunes. I somehow managed to avoid all of the unfinished, mismatched crumbling apartment buildings that later give way to commercial developments and McMansions.
Once on campus, bright and early, I went to check on my fellowship stipend that a man I met with in the administration labyrinth assured me would be available this week. It, of course, was not. When I returned to the man's office, he unabashedly told me he'd never made any such claim about the availability of the funds, got visibly flustered, raised his voice, and told me I could complain to the president. Nonplussed by the near-hysterics nor excited about his solution, I convinced him to call one of the secretaries in my department who was responsible for submitting some form or another. The ever effervescent Hend chuckled to me about the man's dramatics and assured me not only had she seen to everything, but that they'd arranged for me to pick up my stipend downtown. Delightful. I still didn't appreciate being yelled at in the basement of the admin. building because of a series of unsent forms and miscommunications that had nothing to do with me.
Anyway, when I wasn't tutoring or reading for my thesis, etc., I picked up a copy of the ever-inspiring AUC Caravan. The beacon of student journalism led with the story of the Japanese woman who fed the cats on the Greek Campus and found inner fulfillment. Now the cats are homeless and, on another page of the paper, you can see photos of each of them with descriptions and information on how to adopt. I will confess that with the time we spent in the courtyard of the Greek Campus, my classmates and I developed quite the mythology around the cats–some of us, me excluded, even became rather fond of them. However, it was the story of American AUC students protesting against the "posturing" that goes on at "Gucci Corner" that piqued my interest for its ridiculousness. This area is where upper class Egyptian AUCians go to seen and be seen, apparently. Apparently there was a Facebook group or an event or both. I haven't found either to link you to for your edification, but will keep you updated.
In more serious and more troubling news, I found out yesterday that my paternal grandfather has been in the hospital since Friday with blood clots that initially landed him in the ICU. I don't care to dwell on it here, but it's another of those times where I feel very far away. Prayers for my grandfather (and my cousin, who's also still in the hospital) are appreciated.

News & Issues

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Last night, I heard from my mom that my second cousin was in a bad car accident. In addition to feeling terribly that I was so far away and could do nothing to help the family out, I thought about family and how different it is in the States and in Egypt. My second cousin, who's going to be ok, is someone I've only spent time with on a handful of occasions. I care about her because she's my second cousin, but more by proxy because I am close to her grandmother (my grandmother's sister) and her aunt (my mom's first cousin). My great-aunt became like a surrogate grandma when my own grandma died and my mom's cousin has always been around since I was little.
If we were an Egyptian family, we would without a doubt be much closer. The importance of the extended family is one of the things I envy about Egyptian culture. I'm close with only a few of my second cousins and see my paternal first cousins only a few times a year. My friend Marise, on the other hand, lives in the family building. All the floors are or were at one time occupied by relatives. Marise is constantly going to the weddings of extended family members and talking to her cousins on the phone daily or spending time with them in person. She has "aunts" and "uncles" who are first cousins once-removed with whom she dines regularly and who look after her well-being.
I realize that there's also a stifling element to the Egyptian family, many more expectations, opinions about your choices and behavior being offered, unsolicited, all the time, more obligations, and so on. And I also realize that there's something that seems arbitrary about being loyal to people just because of blood ties. I value the diversity of our social spheres in the US and that we rely on friends who like us because of who we are rather than shared genes, but there's some primordial draw to family closeness that I feel. I've always regretted that. Getting into genealogy and seeking family stories from older family members has resulted in closer relationships with many of my great-aunts and -uncles and other relatives. Valuing that and knowing that's not the norm has, in a rare instance, made me jealous of Egyptians.
All that said, those of you that pray, please keep my second cousin and her sisters, mom, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandma in your prayers.

News & Issues

Elswhere in the Middle East

Migration & Refugees