Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Taking a breather from working on my draft, I had friends over to conquer the world (play Risk) and eat pizza (from the ever-delicious Maison Thomas). Getting kicked out of Europe was less fun than the good conversations and endless joking around that last until the early morning.
This morning, I finished off the very rough draft of my thesis proposal, printed it out, and went to class. As I looked over my literature review some more, I realized that I've finally reached that magical point where I want to delve further into something, to do lots of unassigned reading, and to work on academic things in my free time. I'm looking forward to get started with my thesis! In class, I ended up downloading articles on theories in sociology to read later.
Tomorrow, our new landlord (our old landlord's brother) comes to collect the rent. Hopefully they'll accept my deposit to pay for the month of May rather than June and let me out of the contract early. I don't want to have to impress upon them that their countless violations of the contract have already nullified it, but we'll see.

Migrants, among them at least ten Egyptians, die when ship sinks en route to Europe
Arab League rallies behind alleged war criminal
Muslim Brotherhood to participate in the upcoming 6th of April strike

I feel like I sort of just leave this news section disembodied, not really giving much context, so here's some commentary: I'm including the link about the sinking of a ship carrying migrants to Europe because it's an all-too common phenomenon. Irregular migrants desperate to find work abroad take huge risks in migrating, sometimes costing their lives. This happens all around the world (take Mexican migrants heading to the US for example).
The Arab League summit in Qatar start off by condemning Israel and with Israel being accused of war crimes in Gaza, perhaps rightly so. But tired rhetoric doesn't bring anyone to justice. Al-Bashir, the president of Sudan has, since having a warrant issued for his arrest, kicked vital aid groups out of Darfur, worsening the humanitarian crisis he fueled in the first place. I cannot begin to understand why the Arab League is roundly supporting him other than interpreting it as a circling of the wagons seeing the ICC as a tool of Western intervention.
As for the 6th of April, it will be interesting to see just how many people come out to protest. Even some foreign students at AUC are planning on taking part. I personally do not feel it's my place and, as part of my Rotary scholarship, I am meant to "exercise caution when expressing personal opinions about controversial political, racial, religious, and other issues."

Finally, I'll leave you with this link to an excellent Al-Jazeera documentary (in English) on the history of the relationship between Egypt and Israel.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dia' Eddin Gad freed

Egyptian authorities have finally released blogger Dia' Eddin Gad. ANHRI alleges mistreatment during his detention. More here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Later yesterday, I joined grad students from the Institute of Gender and Women's Studies and the political science department for dinner in Ma'adi. We discussed thesis research and our academic interests as well as life in Egypt while venting our frustrations about bureaucracy and classes at AUC.
Today, I was meant to join my host club to assist with a medical caravan, but no one ever returned my emails about directions or transportation, so I was unable to attend. Hopefully there will be other opportunities to volunteer alongside my host Rotarians in the future. Needless to say, I'm disappointed, but this isn't exactly the first time communication has broken down, so I've learned to roll with the punches.
I spent most of today trying to coax my draft thesis proposal into existence, breaking twice. I met an Australian friend to chat about religion and morality over coffee downtown and then later to have dinner and watch a movie with other friends.
By and large, I'm tired and frustrated with not having a clear understand of where to take this proposal. I have an idea I'm really excited about, but not sure how to go through the whole rigamarole of the thesis process. On top of that, there's lots of other work to be done for my methods and law classes and I have an upcoming presentation in Migration and Development. Luckily, spring break isn't too far off.

Further reports of mistreatment of Dia' Eddin Gad
Conspiracy theorists claim that a killer text is felling Egyptian cell phone users
"Egypt cracks down on bloggers" from The Guardian Weekly

*I have heard but cannot confirm that Dia' Gad has been released and that news on the subject will be forthcoming.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Today has been an exceptionally nice day and it's not even five o'clock yet. Though I stayed up quite late to capitalize on the little time I had left to hang out with Ablavi, I awoke at a reasonable hour, ate, checked my email, read the news online, and started to map out my draft thesis proposal. Before long, it was time to hop a cab to Doqqi. As I left my building, it felt as if all of Egypt were getting in my way. I weaved to avoid stockmen passing boxes assembly line-style into the foyer, destined for the contact store on the ground floor, dodge slow-moving elderly women and families and buses, and hopped into the cleanest taxi I've been in in eons. The drive was courteous and efficient–I almost felt obligated to pay double. As we crossed over Qasr an-Nil Bridge and I saw the palm trees and the hotels and business offices and billboards and feluccas and cars stretch out in every direction, bisected by the Nile, I had one of those beautiful moments where I think, "Oh my gosh, this is actually my life. I'm living in Cairo." Times like that make me want never to stay within the confines of my over-priced abode, to forget coursework, and to explore as long as my walking legs will hold up.
Once at my destination in Doqqi, I fished out an additional handful of fifty piastre notes to add to the five pounds I would've paid for a less comfortable ride, thanked the driver, and headed toward Misaha Street. After a bit of searching, I found next to the Algerian consulate a "villa". My subsequent haircut inside was quite the surreal experience. I timidly wandered in as there were no signs, but I found myself in this semi-swank colonial manor with crown-molding and high ceilings and a team of Egyptians dressed all in white milling around. At the center of the operation was a Parisian hair stylist who was a multi-tasking master–cutting hair, making nice with the customers, directing his team of assistants. As soon as I walked in, I was initiated into the cult; they put a white smock on me and led me to a comfy armchair where they offered me something to drink. A bit overwhelmed and wondering just how much such treatment was going to cost, I declined and looked around the place. Relatively tasteful music played just loud enough to drown out the din of Arabic, English, and French being spoken by employees and customers some of whom were Egyptian and others of whom were European expats. Before long, I was led into a room with comfy reclining chairs and wash basins. The shampooing room had artsy light fixtures and was ridiculously large and airy for its purpose. Wooden doors were drawn shut as I got my hair shampooed (twice?) and conditioned and had a full scalp massage. After that, I was led out to a chair where the stylist and occasionally his assistants lowered my ears. After finding out I was American, he complimented my French, but even better, he didn't screw up my hair. We discussed refugees and living abroad during the cut, and before I knew it, I had a lot less hair, was less than twenty US dollars poorer, and back out in the sunshine. Determined to save money, to get exercise, and to enjoy being out and about in Cairo, I walked all the way home. I crossed two bridges, passed a veiled woman speeding by on a 4x4 in the middle of traffic, and outpaced a worn-looking horse drawing a carriage. Upon reaching downtown, I was delighted to find that what seemed like ten times as many traffic police were out. No weaving and bobbing and ducking and dodging. I walked straight to the Mobile Shop, bought credit for my phone, crossed a half dozen streets without having to worrying about the errant taxi colliding with me.
High on sunshine, sporting my new haircut, listening to my iPod and satisfied with Egypt, I strutted up to my building, began to climb the steps and then fell up the steps. Can't win 'em all. Haha. So now, in addition to my new 'do, I have a new gash on my arm. Ma3lish. I'm sporting an inventive shoelace and sterile bandage contraption to keep the wee wound under wraps.
And now, back to working on the draft!

"Israel and Egypt: A chillier peace", from The Economist
Analyzing the causes behind sexual harassment in Egypt
Islamic cleric issues fatwa against female genital mutilation
Editorial on chances of peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Today I lunched with Ablavi for what is likely to be the last time in a long time. We joked with the waiter and chatted about what the future held over mediocre Egyptian fare from Felfela. Afterward, we exchanged photos from our day at the park and hung out on the sunny balcony. I left for law class which was followed by a seminar presentation by my Burundian friend Claudine who showed a documentary she created about one of the refugee camps she lived in as a child in Tanzania. It was excellent, but I didn't stick around for too long after because I wanted to get back to my building to hang out with Ablavi some more. She's one of the first people to be leaving that I've realized I'm really going to miss. Hopefully we'll be able to see each other again in Europe sometime this summer.
I've got a busy few days coming up with the Rotary medical caravan, a dinner with some of the people in the Gender & Women's Studies Institute at AUC, and a lot of work to be put into the rough draft of my thesis proposal. I am looking forward to spring break in Tunisia for sure!
I'll leave you with a video clip about the state of blogging in Iran. Egypt may not be overly kind to its bloggers all the time, but it's saintly compared to what the Iranian government has in mind.

Alleged war criminal Bashir visits Cairo
Israel marks 30 years of peace with Egypt
"Muslim-Christian Understanding Crucial to Better US Relations with Muslim World"

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A clip from Al-Jazeera English on the most recent Israeli offensive in Gaza.

Veiled Paparazzi

Later Sunday night, I had the privilege of dining with some friends from my alma mater who are here for the semester as study abroad students. Together with my flatmate's guest, we enjoyed typical Egyptian food and chatted about our feelings toward Egypt and toward the States. What made it interesting were our different relationships to the country-me here as a graduate student for a year and half, Tyler and Bridget as study abroad students here for a semester, and Rachel as a tourist here for a week. It was funny, Rachel and Bridget both had things they were looking forward to doing when they got back to the States. I haven't really thought much about those sorts of things being logistics-buying plane tickets, rescheduling appointments, etc.
Yesterday, the internet began working at my apartment again since the new landlord, Mohamed saw fit to renew the contract with the ISP. I took the opportunity to finish my paper for Migration and Development, a class I have in an hour and a half. Later on last evening, I joined Marise and some of her friends who study in Colorado. Originating from Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Chile, they also had unique perspectives on Egypt to contribute. We had a nice dinner at al-Azhar Park (seems I'm finding myself there a lot these days).
Other than that, my life has been filled with paper-writing, researching, and group project-tweaking--oh, except for when I got stopped in the street by a triad of teenage Egyptian girls who asked to take photos of me with their camera phones. Flattering or disconcerting, I'm not sure which.

Egypt tourism industry poised to weather the economic downturn?
Copts divided over criticism of Egyptian government
American women in Egyptian prison in adoption fiasco

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Crossed legs and cross Egyptians

I am currently outside in the courtyard of AUC's Greek Campus. I've traded my drab olive couch, my tiny TV, and the plethora of nearly-tastefully upholstered dining room chairs in my living room for pigeons, cats, and palm trees and remarkably beautiful weather. The reason? My landlord (whoever that is at this point, since apparently the one who I haven't seen in months has handed the reins over to his brother and niece(s)) neglected to pay our internet bill (the second time he has violated the rental contract by not paying for a utility). Since I've been fuming lately, thinking about how much money I've lost in overpaying for this ersatz abode, my blood pressure had nowhere to go but up, so it's a good thing that the internet's working on campus and that the sun is shining.
Despite my recent frustrations, I had a great time yesterday. I joined my French friends for a jaunt to al-Azhar park where we had a leisurely lunch before watching the sunset. For once, the call to prayer was beautiful. You could hear it from so many different minarets that it all blend together into ambient background music for the scene of the sun sinking behind the Cairo skyline. After navigating the alleys and streets back to my building, we rested our weary feet for a while before heading to Ma'adi to get Thai food with Phil and Ross's guest who's been visiting. It was good as usual. On the way back, in the metro, a curious thing happened. I was sitting with my legs crossed in a way so as not to show the bottom of my shoes (because the bottoms of one's shoes and feet are considered offensive to display to others) and talking to my friends when all of the sudden I felt a tap on my shoe. A young but severe-looking man in a galabaya motioned to me that something about the way I was sitting was inappropriate. Shocked that he had the nerve to touch my shoes with the bottom of his and thoroughly annoyed at his intervening, I asked him in Arabic just what the problem was. I'm not sure why I did, because my Arabic's not good enough to understand any explanation he could've offered, but he gesticulated along with his words and I signaled my discontent and ignored his admonition. I can't imagine what his problem was as Egyptians sit the same way I was sitting in the metro all the time. I don't think I accidentally flashed the sole of my shoe at him either, but by the end of the metro-ride I wanted to take it off and throw it at him. As much as I tried to be inconspicuous and inoffensive, the very fact that I have the skin, eye, and hair color I do attracts vapid stares and obnoxious greetings or even snide remarks and rude gestures. I'm tired of being harassed and ripped off just for being a non-Egyptian. At least I'm not a woman, they have to deal with much, much worse here.
Ma3lesh, at least the weather's nice. Mid-70s and sunny!

Egypt demanding return from US of ancient sarcophagus
Cairo the worst city in Africa for air pollution
Water scarcity an increasing threat to Egypt

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A night of Risk

Yesterday, I trekked down to Ma'adi with Cynthia where we met up with a Sudanese friend and ran some errands both in the parts of Ma'adi where expats seldom wander and in the parts where they wander too scantily clad, inviting the still-undeserved negative attention of young Egyptian men. We hung out at a coffee shop with Sudanese men who were not nearly as amused as Cynthia and I were by the cheesy Lebanese music videos blaring from a small television perched high up in one corner of the establishment and we shopped at a couple of grocery stories where I stocked up on the same things I always buy: coconut-flavor Lactel yogurt, Rich Bake baladi brown bread, frozen peas and carrots, Isis organic pasta, and pasta sauce.
Later in the evening, I had Phil and Cynthia over for "dinner" which consisted of my specialty-pasta with a side of peas and carrots. Who'd have guessed? Later on, we went back out to a toystore a block away. There we purchased Risk and Scrabble, though I doubt that Parker Brothers is making a dime off of the "special" version that we found ourselves playing.
Today, I made some headway in writing a reaction paper for my migration and development class. The topic is North African migration to the European Union. Speaking of the European Union, I will be spending the night there on the 1st of June. That is to say, I booked my return flights that will lead me homeward in two and a half months. I'll be back in Peoria somewhere in the second week of June and I hope to begin giving my Rotary speeches soon thereafter!

Darfur rebel groups cease peace talks with Khartoum
"Islam's Soft Revolution"
Relations with Iran up in the air

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I've been shirking my writing duties again, my apologies. I spent the rest of St Patrick's Day in a decidely un-Irish fashion: eating sushi in Doqqi with Michelle, Marise, Phil, and Marise's mom. The place, called "Bob's Sushi", is tiny but suprisingly has a leg up on all of the sushi joints in Central Illinois. The quality is inversely proportionate to the size of the restaurant itself which only has two tables. I think they're primarily a delivery venture. The menu is uninentionally witty, offering "Pisces" of sushi rather than pieces. Clever, clever.
Following our repast, we had tea at Marise's. In French, Marise's mom and I discussed religion, French authors from Albert Camus to Victoire Hugo, existentialism, Egyptian history, and more while I snacked on a Turkish delight leftover from Moulid an-Nabi.
Yesterday, after law class, we went to an eventful seminar on the provision of psycho-social services to the refugee community. The presence of a disturbed man who claims to have been a lawyer, but is now disabled did more to hit home the bleak situation for refugees in Egypt than anything the panel described. Afterward, a bunch of us went to the Italian club (alas without Italians, finding ourselves subject to the 10 LE cover charge). I invited Ablavi, my neighbor, and her colleague from CEDEJ. Afterward, we strolled leisurely back through downtown to our building. Speaking of our building, in the process of trying to shorten the length of my contract, I received an email from my landlord telling me he would no longer be "in the business" as of the 1st of April and that his brother and a couple of female relatives would be handling things from then on. I'm not sure what that means or whether our good ol' landlord's in the country, but I think that overall, it's an excellent development.
I receive another email, this one from local Rotarians, inviting me to join a medical caravan to aid people with limited access to medical care here in Cairo. I'll be doing that on the 27th if all goes as planned.

Egypt wants US, Europe to recognize and engage Palestinian government even if Hamas plays a major role
Call to prayer migrates from Cairo to Berlin in the form of a play
Israel to investigate war crimes claims

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy Saint Patrick's Day to all of you. Needless to say, the holiday isn't as widely celebrated in Cairo (or in all of Ireland, for that matter) as in the States, but as a proud Irish-American and a relative of Michael Collins, it's still St Patty's Day to me.
Yesterday was notable only for good discussions and positive social interactions which probably fall into the category of the banal for many of my readers. Instead I'll note that in our Methodology course, our TA lead us in an interactive group activity in which we had a short amount of time to decided what was the most ethical way to act in a given field research-associated dilemma. It was a lot of fun and led to robust discussion on ethics and morality.
Otherwise, not much of note is going on. I'm working on making contacts in Europe for my thesis research and have found some promising leads. I may also try to find a month-long internship for the summer either in DC or in Europe.

News and Links:
Egypt to open "Bent" pyramid to the public for first time
The steady demise of downtown Cairo
An Egyptian policeman in Ma'adi

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Apologies and Refugees

The Salon Afrique event went very well. The theme was apologies and their place as a political tool both in Africa and in the rest of the world. Apologies for personal wrongs with political implications, for national wrongs, and for colonial wrongs were all discussed. Most of the discussion participants were from Africa, so it was a much more practical rather than theoretical perspective on whether formal apologies should be accepted, what they meant, the accompanying moral imperative to act to rectify wrongs, and more.
Afterward, I joined my friend Claudine for Lebanese food. Another of her friends joined us and we had great conversation. Claudine, who is Burundian but was born in Rwanda, told us about growing up in refugee camps and her eventual resettlement to Maryland and how she ended up here in Cairo. It's amazing the kind of people you meet here.
While I was listening to perspectives on apologizing, another building was burning in Cairo. At least it wasn't an attack, just poor safety standards, apparently.

Fire hits historic building in downtown Cairo
Egyptians arrested over unexploded firebomb are claimed to have been "fighting [...] over girls"
US couples plead not guilty to buying Egyptian babies

Saturday, March 14, 2009

News of Imprisoned Blogger Dia Eddin Gad

When reading through news sources to come up with links for my previous entry, I discovered that Diaa Eddin Gad, the blogger who was taken into custody around the same time as Philip Rizk, has apparently been receiving treatment from a prison doctor and been allowed to see his family. An article on Global Voices alleges that he faced psychological torture while another blogger, Mohammed Adel, imprisoned since November was released a few days ago. In a statement published by Al-Dustour, Adel claims to have been subjected to whipping and electric shocks. It is as yet unclear when Dia Eddin Gad will be released.
Yesterday was one of those days of happy efficiency that doesn't have much interest for the wider world: I called my grandma, hung a mirror, did laundry, washed dishes, etc. Sometimes I think I should have a second blog to share my banal day-to-day life with the few family members and friends who actually want to hear about it and reserve this blog for exciting news and reflections on culture. Anyway, you'll be glad to know that my grandma was thrilled to receive a phone call.
Today I am attending a presentation on the main campus downtown by African Graduate Fellowship holders. There wasn't a great deal of information on the specific areas of research, but it promises to be interesting. Until then, I'm poring through webpages with information on EU law regarding discrimination in migration both for my law class and for my thesis research. Perusing EU pages makes me nostalgic.
Because I don't have anything life-changing to say, I thought I'd share this excellent short documentary on Cairo and the migration out from the core to the suburbs and the divisions it represents and causes. A friend of mine posted it on Facebook and I really enjoyed it.

Palestinian unity talks in Cairo stalling
Hizbullah vows never to recognize Israel
Egyptian cleric issues fatwa saying that neighbors and family can force couples to divorce

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Again my busyness is delaying my writing in a timely fashion. After a good Comparative Migration Law class yesterday, I attended a seminar during which the discussants, Nancy Baron, showed a film called Finding Courage. An education adaptation of a longer film, Echoes of War, that has made the rounds at film festivals, this edition was tailored by Nancy herself based on feedback from audiences in refugee camps and elsewhere around the world. Follow the link to check it out.
I grabbed Egyptian food after class with Marise and Phil. We found ourselves surrounded by a sea of tourists and attended to by a very eager-to-please waiter as we noshed on eggplants in various forms, ta3mayya, mashi, and the like. We stopped at Abd al-Hadi's where Philip purchased another kilo of baklawa and a toothy old man made eyes at Marise and told her a story about his college days. The rest of the evening and early morning was spent chatting with Ablavi who's leaving for France and then Belgium in a couple of weeks.
Today I trekked out to the new campus, using both of my bus tickets, to meet with Dr Martina Rieker who gave me some great possible ideas for directions to take my thesis. I hung around the library for a bit, but my computer went dead so I couldn't be very productive having left my adapter downtown. I came back via Zamalek where I did some grocery shopoping and then had a meeting with my groupmates from law class. Nothing else too exciting.

"Arab Diplomacy and the Palestinians" in the Economist
Hamas condemns rocket fire
Delicate balancing act with US aid and Palestinian unity
Wife of recently freed former presidential candidate eyeing possible 2011 run for Egypt's presidency

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Yesterday I got together with Ambereen one of the two other ambassadorial scholars here in Cairo that I met a year ago at my outbound orientation in Kansas City. We went for coffee, caught up, and talked about ways to help potential applicants understand more about the program. Hopefully we'll be able to organize something with Egyptian students interested in becoming ambassadorial scholars sometime soon.
Reading and Migration and Development followed coffee which was mercifully followed by my friend Erin's birthday dinner. We had it at Kandahar, the Indian restaurant in Mohandaseen, and it lasted for hours. It was the perfect opportunity for all of us to de-stress and be among friends. An Egyptian man outfitted in a tux sang her happy birthday between his renditions of Copa Cabana and Willy Nelson songs. Well worth the 5 LE entertainment charge we each incurred.
Tomorrow I'm heading to the new campus to meet with a professor about my thesis. I'm hoping she'll help me with ideas and literature for my lit. review.
Oh, and the mysterious situation with the butcher shop in Falaki Square seems to be nothing more than a case of the building fall apart on its own, the government not feeling obliged to repair it and thus tearing down the rest of the part attached to the edifice that was at risk of falling in. Understandably, some people are upset.

Paintings stolen from museum palace in Cairo suburb
Libya finds US hasn't conceded enough after Libyan halting of weapons programs
Egyptian cleric calls for boycott of Starbucks because of its logo

Monday, March 9, 2009

Particularly busy yesterday, I didn't have time to write up an entry. From 3 PM until 4 AM I had two meetings, trekked out to Hay al-Ashr to teach English, and hung out with friends on the rooftop of the Odeon Palace Hotel.
Teaching was fantastic. The students were very responsive and it felt like they were actually taking something away from the lesson. For the security of the NGO and its operations around Cairo, I'm not going to blog much about my teaching experiences, but will be certain to share my insights in my Rotary speeches this summer.
We took a couple of minibuses back. I prefer them to the larger city buses. Though before going to and from Hay al-Ashr I always dread the commute, when I'm actually in the taxi there or the bus back, I love watching out the window. There's so much to see in Cairo, so much that's completely unlike home and other things that are quite comparable. On the way back last night, we passed an unfinished apartment building with rebar sticking out every which way from the concrete foundations which were interspersed with bare brick walls. Three veiled women sat on the floor in the dim light of the only finished room in what might otherwise be a towering multi-family dwelling. On the wall was a picture of Ché Guevara. It reminded me of the poster of Usher, G-Unit, and other hip-hop personalities in the school earlier that night. It's interesting which aspects of cultures translate into others and how.
Today was Mohammad's birthday. My friend Reham explained that it's a bit like Christmas in a way–you gather together with family, eat a lot (especially the sweets that I mentioned before that are associated with the holiday), and hear stories about the founder of Islam. After class she and I together with classsmates Erin and Brandy went back to the pastry and sweet shop that Phil, Ross and I went to the other night. We each got something and then parted ways for the evening.
I was reading the Caravan today and, though disappointed by the fact that the Egyptian students are more than willing to organize protests over coffee on campus being too expensive while forgetting that several their fellow countrymen are being held in undisclosed locations without charge, I read a couple of articles about AUC's responses to student requests. The immaturity of the students and the oft-misplaced emphasis of their demands seem actually to be dealt with appropriately by the administration, but by and large, the institution does not function well and is an endless source of vexation for students and faculty. I guess it's a waiting game to see whether or not it will ever improve.
Along the way to Abd al-Hadi (the sweet shop) tonight as on the way to class, I passed by the pile of rubble where the butcher shop used to be out front of the building that houses the Bab al-Louq souq. There was a riot police truck, a heavy police presence, and people tearing down even more of the outcroppings of the building that used to crowd the entrance. I still have no clear idea of what's going on over there.

Cargo ship sinks in the Red Sea
Israeli offensive in Gaza boosts popularity of Hamas
British establish contact with Hizbullah, US not ready to follow suit
After setbacks, American and European delegations allowed entry to Gaza

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Full of Korean food and trying to muster up the will to finish my reaction papers for methods and for law, I thought I'd take a break and catch my blog up. Last evening, after Phil, Ross, and I hit the juice place (I got peach for a change-not bad), we headed to the Abd el-Hadi pastry shop where we received a warm welcome and were plied with samples of the treats that are being prepared for the week of Mohammad's birthday (which falls on Monday this year). Hadi, as he introduced himself, seemed to be on top of all the goings-on in his shop. He used to be an equestrian champion of some sort and at one point even produced an aged photo of himself atop a steed leaping through the air. Phil left with a kilo of baklawa (which he has apparently since consumed in its entirety), while Ross and I settled for some of the holiday goods–peanut bars surrounded with coconut and coconut bars with pistachios in the center, surrounded by apricot. Urging us to return often to help him with his English, Hadi bade us farewell. We headed back to the apartment and spent the rest of the evening hanging out with Ablavi from next door and a French coworker of hers.
Today I spent reading and writing and avoiding the increasing heat and sand outside. You can't call it hot yet, but I had to throw off my comforter last night because of how warm it got in my room. Later on, I joined Marise and Phil for Korean which was followed by juice with Ross. Further inquiring as to the mysterious pile of rubble and the hole inside of the building across the street where the butcher used to be, we were told cryptically that "they" didn't want the store anymore and that that's how the system works. God knows what that means. Seems like a drastic way to shut down a butcher shop.
I also found out that I'll be able to work on my thesis research this summer which probably be done at least in some part back in the States, maybe also in Europe. It'd be nice to find a job concurrently with the research for a month or two, but with this economy, that's probably impossible.

Egypt sees its first female mayor
Resignation of Palestian PMs signal progress toward reconciliation
British parliamentarian joins aid convoy bound for Gaza
Pullitzer-prize winning author to travel to Gaza on International Women's Day (tomorrow)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Closed Zone

Watch a short film on Gaza from Israeli Yoni Goodman who was the animation director of Waltz with Bashir. Read an article on the film from the Jerusalem Post.

Inert Elevators and Desert Foxes

Google's weather description of Cairo today does not read "sun" or "haze" as usual, but rather "sand". Yes, sand. Though I'm not quite sure that's accurate for today, the change in the weather that began yesterday was an agonizing reminder that it will only continue to get hotter from here and the sand forecast means the onset of the khamaseen (also called khamsin). Apparently, right now it's in the 80s out there in the world beyond my apartment.

In light of this, purchasing tickets to Tunisia for spring break yesterday was all that much more of a joy. Lonely Planet tells me that mid-March through mid-May is the perfect time to go and we (Ross, Phil and I) are going in mid-April. Mid-perfection, in other words.

After some trip-planning and koshary, I left with Phil to Ma'adi to watch The Secret Life of Bees at a friend's. It was nice to watch a happy film that wasn't a mindless comedy, we were briefly transported out of Egypt and into the American South (which, ironically, is almost more foreign to me than the Middle East as I've never been anywhere down there but Virginia and Florida). Immediately afterward, though, Phil and I were reminded where we were. We hopped in an elevator hoping to make our way speedily to the metro stop and head back downtown. No dice. As we descended from the 13th floor, we stopped on the 9th where two Egyptian men, the shorter one in a worn-looking suit and the taller, lankier one in a tan galabayya. Strangely, the illuminated G (for ground floor) became unlit and the man in the suit pushed it again. The doors closed and we lurched to a halt. "Oh good," said I. "Oh good," laughed the man in the suit before he began trying to call out on his cell phone, realizing that the interphone in the elevator was dead. None of us were getting service in the elevator car, though. By this time, I saw that suit man was carrying in his hand and handgun in a holster. Strangely, I was entirely unaffected. Par for the course, right? There I am trapped in an elevator with a jovial armed man, his sidekick, and my friend Phil in Egypt. What else would I be doing on a Thursday night? Suit man handed his weapon to his pal and proceded to pull open the doors of the elevator car only to be met with an even more solid set of doors to the corridor. He pounded, Phil pounded. Nothing. After a few more times of the doors closing again and suit man opening them, we heard noise outside. Suit man managed to yell for someone called Sherif who apparently scurried off to some control panel somewhere and turn off the electricity to the elevator. Great. Now I'm in the pitch black with a jovial armed man, his sidekick, and my friend Phil in Egypt. I took a drink of water, pressed a button on my phone that lit up the car with a feeble blue light, and kept waiting. Soon the electricity was on. The dear little G button was again illuminated, but the car had its own ideas. We ascended to the 21st floor where Phil and I bade our new friends farewell and took the stairs all the way down. We walked to the metro only to find that the last train in the direction of El Marg had stopped. Ma3lish. We went to a grocery store, got a cab, and headed back downtown theorizing about what would've happened if we'd gotten stuck for hours or days and wondering who suit man was and why he was armed.

Earlier in the evening, Phil, Camilla (the friend in Ma'adi we'd gone to visit), were purusing our university's illustrious news publication, The AUC Caravan. The content of some of the pieces in it is often good, even if the writing or framing of problems on campus are a bit off. One article, though, conveyed sheer absurdity. If you're down for a laugh, the article, entitled "Desert fox raids AUC campus" is full of gems. The title itself, alluding to German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's operations in North Africa during the Second World War, is a ridiculous hyperbole. "I did not see the fox, but if I saw it, I think that I would not come to college again," was the compelling testimony of one student while a construction worker was quoted as saying, "Even if there were lions on campus, we will keep working." Brilliant! Then why isn't the campus finished? The comments on the article are just as comical as the piece itself.

It's nice to have a bit of levity to make living here just a bit better, but it's all too easy to forget that there are people, presumably in greater Cairo, still locked up without charge. Human Rights Watch came out with another article on the situation of Diaa Eddin Gad and other activists on the 4th. He has been held since 6 February. I guess all I can do for now is blog and send letters.

This morning, my landlord's brother came over to talk to my Ross who in turn woke me up saying something about signing a document. It's the question of taxes again. Now they're asking us to outright lie in writing, claiming that we pay 1400 Egyptian pounds less than we do. We politely declined pointing out that being dishonest with government agencies isn't the sort of thing that puts foreigners in good standing with their host governments. Perhaps Dr Rizk should just lower our rent to that level. Then everyone would be happy (and honest). I just hope they don't forge our names on a legal document. Oh the joys of renting in Cairo.

Rapists sentenced to death by hanging in northern governorate of Kafr al-Sheikh
Russian diplomats cause row on EgyptAir flight from Cairo to Sanaa
Ancient statues uncovered, the latest in a string of significant archaelogical findings this year

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I had law class yesterday during which we discussed the International Criminal Court's issuing an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan. He was just in Cairo a week ago, but now, in theory, every time he sets foot outside of Sudan, he risks arrest. In retaliation, he expelled ten aid agencies working in Darfur. More suffering for the Sudanese simply because he aims to conflate NGOs and colonialists and intergovernmental organizations.
After class, Marise, Mallory, Michelle, and I grabbed dinner at Estoril, a Lebanese place downtown before heading to Mohandeseen where we were looking to avail ourselves of the sales at Benetton. Unfortunately, we couldn't find it right away and after several phone calls and passing such stores as "Naïve: Accesories for Ever", "Wild", "Tommy XXL", and the stores where "brand names" mysteriously cost 7 and 9 Egyptian pounds respectively, we arrived at a darkened three-level Benetton only to find it had just closed. Instead we went to a drive-in juice place on the way back downtown. I had delicious sobia and that was that.

News and links:
Details on the charges against and the arrest warrant for al-Bashir
Egypt calls for suspesion of arrest warrant
Iran says will press Interpol to help it arrest Israelis for alleged war crimes in Gaza
Somali pirates free Egyptian ship held for two months

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chinese Organ Breathing

For the second day in a row, I managed not to spend any money. I made eggplant and sun-dried tomato spread sandwiches, packed them up like a middle school "cold lunch", and headed to Greek Campus to meet my classmates who were eating and reading for class and chatting. We had an excellent guest lecturer, Dr Marisa Ensor, who talked about how international law pertains to migration.
Immediately after class, I joined my flatmate, Ross, on Tahrir Square where we were picked up by Khaled, a Rotarian from the Cairo Royal club. He whisked us to one of the riverboats, Le Pacha, where we had quite an evening. Over delicious Egyptian hors d'oevres Ross and I chatted with Mona, a young lady who is going to North Carolina in April as part of Rotary's Group Study Exchange program. She'll be serving as a cultural ambassador for Egypt while gaining professional experience in an American accounting firm. The members of the club were attentive and interested in us and in the several other guests; there were visiting Rotarians from Lebanon and Tunisia. Graciously, they held part of the meeting in English. Even the evening's speaker, a maxillofacial surgeon-turned-homeopath, conducted half of her lecture in our language. It was on methods from alternative medicine for dealing with stress. Calling herself a "homeopath, reiki master, and reflexologist", she was certainly the product of exposure to the world at large. Most of the ideas she shared, including "Chinese organ breathing" in which she involved the club in a breathing exercise meant to vent all one's anger out of the liver, are things that I don't subscribe too, but I was fascinated with the liberal way in which she spoke of religion and spirituality. Religious pluralism was the order of the day and it occurred to me that non-sectarian Rotary clubs sometimes are able to bridge deep divides between practitioners of different religious. And tonight, they were connected by chuckling at some of the speaker's explanations of ill health. She enumerated the criteria for the WHO definition of a healthy person and one audience member interjected "mish Masri" or "not Egyptian". In other words, being Egyptian disqualified you from being considered healthy. Though it was a joke, I certainly buy into pollution and precarious road conditions being more of a threat to the average person living in Egypt than negative electro-magnetic heartwaves. The lecture stretched on for much longer than the president of the club intended, but included singing and stretching and lots of crowd interaction, so Ross and I and our fellow ambassadorial scholar, Ambereen, were thoroughly entertained. The generosity of Cairo Royal was exceptionally warm. In the course of this one meeting where we were fed a delicious meal and given special attention, we were also given two separate invitations to Rotarians' vacation homes on the Red Sea. The president even said she'd make arrangements for our transportation there. I'm not sure if I'll be able to make it, but I was moved by the show of kindness.
Khaled dropped us back home and, driving through Falaki Square we saw a gaping whole in the side of the building that houses the souq and the Truman store and the honey shop and the "exlant tourism" restaurant. Ross had seen a police vehicle there earlier, but didn't know for sure how the hole got there. Hours later, there were still people milling around a pile of rubble that looks like it used to be a butcher shop. With the cautions about security issues, we couldn't help but speculate, but I haven't found any news on the subject, so I'm thinking it was faulty construction or an errant vehicle careening into the building or something. Instead of worrying too much, Ross and I came home and, like nerds, played Civilization IV together for a while. I had Twining's jasmine green tea and McVitie's ginger nuts in a fit of Britishness.

News and links:
Forbes article on the Internet and Egyptian society
Egypt detains and releases Internet activist
US reduces aid to Egypt, maintains funding for Israel

Monday, March 2, 2009

Another normal day in Cairo, as if there is such a thing. I step out into the sunshine, put in my earphones to try to drown out the ceaseless honking and the cries of the bikya men. My sunglasses shield my eyes from the bright sun while shielding from my glares the drivers of black and white taxis plowing into the intersection of Nubar and Tahrir streets despite the commands of traffic cops, nearly committing a dozen or so acts of vehicular manslaughter each. Unfazed, I weave through the crowd on the southwest corner waiting for buses they have to have a running start to board since the drivers often don't bother braking. I pass the area where men gather to pray when the calls from the loudspeakers beckon them five times daily, past the post office where I sheepishly try out my Arabic a handful of times each month in order to procure stamps for post cards and letters. I pass the banana cart where Fahmi Street empties into Falaki Square, noticing with curiosity and concern that the windshield of a car parked by the string of banks there was smashed in. Things like that just don't happen in Cairo. I tell myself it must've been an accident as I glance down at the old women selling vegetables from their unchanging perches on the sidewalk across from the man who shines shoes. I pass covered ATMs and a police post, a florist and a fruit stand and then dodge a group of idle men gawking at a flatscreen TV with a football (soccer) game on in the window of the new Truman electronics store for the opening of which the entirety of Falaki Square was illuminated with multi-colored lights, a special tent set up and some kind of religious ceremony held. The restaurant next door bills itself as and "exlant" Egyptian "tourist restaurant" but I've never seen a tourist inside. That they also advertise delicious brains for sale might dissuade a large majority of them. On the same block are the entrance to the Bab al-Luq souq where one can buy produce and meat if you don't mind braving pools of blood and narrow thoroughfares and a dedicated honey store. Varying my routes as I learned to do from my summer with the State Department (though I suppose blogging about them in detail defeats the purpose), I sometimes turn left and head down Falaki Street, pass the Isis corner store where I occassionally buy bread, and make a right into one of the three entrances to the Greek Campus where I have all of my classes this semester. I meet friends in the courtyard and chat or read for class depending upon how studious I'm feeling. Other times, if I take an entirely different route, I grab fuul and ta3mayya at Canary and grin at the same employee who always laughs with me as I get lost in the shuffle of hungry Egyptians. Or maybe he's laughing at me; I presume I do look quite goofy rather often.
Methods class today revolved around proper form in conducting efficient and ethical surveys. Wording, we learned, is everything. Clarity and sensitivity respect the interviewee and contribute to accuracy. The class is divided into groups who will be working on different projects. I was please to have been assigned to a group with my friends Cynthia, Brandy, and Reham. We'll be conducting a survey on the family life of Nigerian economic migrants.
Determined not to spend any money today after yesterday's indulging, I had both lunch and dinner at home. Eggplant and sun-dried tomato spread on 'aish, salad, dates, and halawa made a fantastic lunch, while my dinner of penne pasta with tomato and onion sauce accompanied by peas and carrots was unimaginative, but tasty as usual.
Well, hopefully my little slice of life narrative wasn't overly boring. With the spate of violence recently, I actually prefer a bit of boredom. The US Embassy sent out a message to the expat community today saying of the events that they "do not appear to be connected, but there is some indication that additional incidents are planned".

US invites Palestinian bloggers to cover Sec. State visit to Egypt but Egyptian government bars one from entering the country
Mixed reviews of the diplomatic efforts surrounding the rebuilding of Gaza
President Mubarak's son, Gamal, visits US

Sunday, March 1, 2009

March Mirth

Today was one of my most favorite days in Cairo. I was productive, getting work for law class done, paying my rent, mailing post cards, etc. and I had a full day after all of that. After getting koshary for lunch, Phil and I trekked out to City Stars where I stocked up at Spinney's and found a nice hoodie on sale at Benetton. A metro ride and then a cab ride got us there, and chatting with the Coptic Orthodox cab driver was really interesting. We talked about America and how he perceived it as a place where people of many religions peacefully coexist. He also talked about the sometimes-uneasy relationship between Egypt's Muslims and its Christians.
For dinner Cynthia and I joined our Norwegian friend, Benedicte, in Zamalek at a place called Crave. I was blown away by the service, the quality of the food, the ambience, and every other category of restaurant satisfaction you can think of. It was literally the best meal overall during my half year in Egypt.
Cynthia and I talked about the recent violence in Southern Sudan and how illogical it is that there are efforts to repatriate Sudanese now living in Cairo who originate in the area. There isn't sufficient stability to support an influx of refugees back home. She and Ben and I reveled in the fact that we'll all be in Cairo together next fall. I'm still really happy with the decision I've made to pursue my Master's here.

Another human case of bird flu in Egypt
American attacked in Khan al-Khalili unfazed, says event was isolated
Egypt may significantly up its export prices on gas destined for Israel