Friday, February 6, 2009

A bite of crow

Ok, ok, so I'm all about admitting when I'm wrong. I decided that my apprehension about my psychosocial class and about trekking out to the new campus once a week was more or less unwarranted after all. The class, though it seems a little too undergraddy, promises to be pretty interesting. The TA who's an American who studied in Canada, Sweden, and now Egypt is married to an Egyptian, and I ended up spending the busride back chatting with her about, among other things, her experiences with her Egyptian in-laws and how alternately frustrating and rewarding that situation can be. We talked about racism in Egypt in the wake of my cab experience and a heated conversation she had with her husband's aunt.
I do have to say that the new campus has something of a surreal atmosphere. Everywhere are Egyptian undergraduates dressed to the nines having little (aesthetically) in common with the kind of over-the-top, bi2a, faux designer, blindingly-shiny or awkwardly tight garb so common downtown. As they lounge around on the steps, ledges, and other seating areas of the multi-million dollar dessert campus, they look more like an Abercrombie advertisement than a scene from the eastern reaches of the Sahara Desert. Adding to the effect are large speakers at every turn piping in almost-tasteful Egyptian pop-esque music, though I don't recall there being any lyrics. The sunshine was warm and inviting, but I imagine that the closer we get to summer, the less I'll be of that opinion.
The busride itself wasn't so bad either. On surprisingly well-kept buses, we leave downtown along a route that hugs the Nile for several kilometers before cutting through the suburbs, then the desert. Along the way, shoddily-built "luxury villas" and institutions seem to have sprung out of the sand each with their own unique style. Some like the Future University of Egypt are an exercise in high kitsch. It's main building is a miniature colosseum (like something you'd see in Vegas) with one side cut away revealing an all-glass entrance seeming to suggest a marriage of classical learning with cutting edge technology. I don't know about the credentials of said university, but somehow I don't think they'll be giving AUC a run for its money anytime soon.
Back at home, feeling lighter at the prospect of really enjoying this semester--no classes to sincerely dread as I did my intro class last semester--I made dinner, or rather boiled pasta and frozen vegetables, and then got juice with Ross and Phil. The pomegranate juice, which costs the equivalent of 36 US cents, was spectacular. Later on, I caught a ride with some friends to a party in Zamalek where I met an Egyptian who tried to make it as a used car-salesman in Lawrence, Kansas but after getting into an auto-accident himself and being wronged, so he told me, by an insurance company, he ended up out of money and having to return to Egypt. Mentioning Caterpillar as I do when I mention being from Peoria, I learned that I can apparently make tens of thousands of dollars selling used loaders in Egypt. I'll keep that in mind. I bonded with another acquaintance over our sobriety. Neither of us is particularly fond of excess when it comes to alcohol--she doesn't drink at all and I'm a wine with dinner kind of guy or a sucker for good Belgian beer, but not more than a couple. We decided that it my be fun to try finding more culturally significant or even offbeat adventures outside of the parties and bars that preoccupy many in the expat community, so hopefully fun will materialize out of that. The circus, maybe? I met a Russo-Egyptian journalist and one who is Franco-British who told me of a Rotarian he met in Canada who was a warden at an upscale prison. Rotarians are everywhere and do everything, it seems.
Soon, for the reading pleasure of those that follow this blog, I will be including an interview or maybe several interviews with Egyptian friends and their impressions on things like the recently-inaugurated American president, relations between the West and the Islam world, American values, terrorism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and more. If you have any questions you'd like me to ask, please send them along.

How the US is trying to spread tolerance and a respect for diversity in Egypt
Ransom paid to Somali pirates to free Egyptian ship and its crew
Dreams fueled by hyperconsumptive tastes and poor planning to yield more suburban sprawl outside Cairo

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