Friday, May 29, 2009

  As the call to prayer issues from Cairo's minarets, I lay here, scrambling to fire off emails to tie up loose ends, looking around me to size up how big of a job packing everything up will be this weekend.  I can't believe my Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship period is drawing to a close already.
  Yesterday as I relaxed on the beach in Alexandria (a much needed daytrip), I began to think of the lessons I've learned and what sorts of things I hope to talk about in my speeches.  Despite my acute displeasure with my situation in Egypt right now, overall I am so thankful for this experience.  I have learned a great deal and am sure I have a great deal more still to learn when I return.  
  I saw my friend Quin off this morning.  We were both tired, as I'm sure Marise and her brother Pierre were after we bargained at the Khan, hung out at Al-Fishawi Café, and took a calming late night felucca ride.  It's sad to think that Marise and Pierre will likely be out of Egypt by the time I get back, but given my penchant for globe-trotting to keep in touch, I'm sure we'll meet again.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

  I took my visitor to the pyramids at Giza today.  It went surprisingly--I think I found the too most honest cab-drivers in all of Cairo.  The camel ride we took wasn't particularly cheap, but the prices weren't too unfair and, I'll have to admit, it was kind of fun.  We took a whole lot of photos, some of which I suppose I should post some day.
  Came home to find the water wasn't working at all.  I called my landlord who eventually came to fix it and I pounced on the opportunity to relieve myself of a boatload of anxiety by asking him to sign the lease.  He was livid that we'd made amendments, but we'd simply added the provisions that had been in the previous contract we'd signed with his brother.  I don't know if he'll try and back out, but his signatures on the paper, and that's provided a little relief.  I'm not going to lie though, this whole ordeal as well as school-related stressors have not left me feeling positively about my decision to come back in the fall and finish my MA.  I think I need the whole summer away from Egypt to make it bearable to come back.  Hopefully this is just a phase.
  Anyway, tonight we ended up dining at La Bodega, a restaurant in Zamalek that I'd never been to before but am all the better for having visited.  I raved once about Crave on my blog, but this place was tenfold as fantastic in terms of service and the food was excellent as well.  I'll definitely be going back.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

I've become quite busy, hence the brief and less frequent updates. I've been running around doing touristy things with my guest. Yesterday we visited Cairo Tower after lunching in Zamalek. By night, we hit the Nile, attending the benefit cruise aimed at raising money for the Youth LEAD project. It was a lot of fun. There was Sudanese food, music, and lots of my friends and acquaintances from the refugee studies and refugee outreach and advocacy communities.
Today I had Yemeni food (including fasuliya), which was delicious and economic over at the aptly named Yemen Restaurant in Doqqi. Later on, my friend and I headed for Islamic Cairo and ended up at Al-Azhar park at sunset. Afterward, we had dinner there at the Citadel View restaurant. I'm back home trying to coax a few more pages out of my Migration and Development paper.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Egypt Gets It Right

  I haven't slept much in the last twenty-four hours, but prior to my insomniac night and morning, I had planned to write this entry.  I was talking to Marise yesterday about her frustrations with so much of what's negative about the Middle East and Egypt being highlighted all the time and too little of the positive getting notice.  I think this is the trend in mainstream media in general, but it's all too often the way things work in everyday conversations.  Applying the adjective "Egyptian" to anything connotes inefficiency or a lack of sophistication or lateness far too often when in reality there is so much positive about the culture and the people.  The subtlest cultural insensitivity is often the worst.  A lot of expats feel entitled to speak so tersely about their temporary (or even long-term) home, and some times you have to uncork and complain to remain sane, but I think as I've mentioned before that it's important to disentangle one's frustrations from Egypt itself.  When we're in our own countries and something bad or vexing occurs, we're not as likely to attribute it to a nationwide phenomenon, but rather the particular people or phenomena involved.  Lately I've been trying to keep that in mind here.
  After a post-dinner game of Risk, I found myself too tired to give such an entry the proper attention, so I planned to wait until morning.  Unfortunately, I lay awake all night anxious about a meeting I was to have with my landlord, about finishing off the semester, traveling home, getting my thesis research done, etc. etc.  By the time my landlord showed up forty-five minutes early just as he'd done last time, I was in no mood to deal with him.  He did, as I'd feared, trying to snake his way into more of our money and this time, I didn't have Marise and her family around to help me out.  He left a contract, but is going to return at a later date to pick it up, signed and for the deposit.  I won't explain the whole interaction, but I was so livid and felt so beat down that I wanted nothing other to be home in that moment.  In my mind, there were no weasely landlords in America, no shabby problem-ridden apartments, in fact, nothing at all but family, friends, and relief.  This, quite obviously, is not the case.  
  After he left, I was still unable to get to sleep, so I breakfasted, showered, and slumped into a living room chair feeling victimized and angry.  I continued to feel this way all the way until I met my friends Amanda and Katie at Tahrir Square whence we headed to lunch at the French cultural center in Mounira.  Seeing friends I'd not seen in along time and walking and chatting, it finally occurred to me that the weather was absolutely perfect.  Sunny and breezy and beautiful, Egypt seemed a little less like it was conspiring to impoverish me.  I'm not becoming some kind of categorical Egypt apologist and I stopped believing long ago that it was even worth trying not to resent the problems around because it's somehow culturally insensitive, but I can say that things that used to bother me terribly don't get to me as much anymore.  I never thought that I'd adapt to the degree I have, but I am ten times less stressed out than last semester save for the landlord-centered flare-ups.  And since adapting, I've been able to appreciate even more the things that I'd already begun to like and notice other things to enjoy:
  The cohesiveness of the extended family here is impressive.  I'm sure it can be stifling at times to have to try and live up to the expectations of scores of people, but knowing that you have just as many people to help you out when you're in a bind is something that doesn't exist the same way in a lot of other places.  And furthermore, families are always willing to take other people under their wings.  Even if it's not always the help you're looking for or the way you think you'd like to be helped, there's a wellspring of good intentions and a willingness to help solve problems. There's a warmth and openness that I haven't seen in the same way too many other places.
  The positive side to all the disorder and informality and lateness is an immense flexibility.  People are willing and able to step outside a given role to assist you and to find a way around formal barriers.  It's as if everyone is in cahoots.  I'm sure some of it is disingenuous, but the kind of finagling people have done for me personally to get things squared away with AUC for example are deeply appreciated.  If there's a will, there's a way.  Unless of course Allah doesn't will it, then ma3lesh.  
  There's a kind of vibrancy in the fabric of Cairo that is also rare.  You never feel alone.  I think this must be the value placed on the family writ large.  People are always together socializing at all hours of the day.  Unlike in Europe, things don't close early.  You can run to a juice stand at 11 at night if you feel so moved or go the corner store or for koshary or to the cell phone shop long after the sun's gone down.  It's easy to make friends with Egyptians if you're looking to meet them.  Again, quite the foil to Europe's reserved social processes, it's easy to find yourself swept up in a sea of invitations from new friends if you make the slightest effort.  Above all, they don't want you to be lonely or feel left out.
  The combination of people you meet here is like nowhere else.  Though New York and Paris are diverse, Egypt mixes people together in different proportions.  As a nexus between the Middle East and Africa it is unlike any other place in the world.
  I count myself lucky to live here; to benefit from the warmth of the Egyptian people; to be challenged by the things I find upsetting in such a way as to be forced to examine my own values in a way I wouldn't in the West.  Every infuriating interaction or gesture of goodwill is a unique opportunity for growth that I've never have had if I hadn't come to be a part of this crazy, beautiful city.



Wednesday, May 13, 2009

  After a satisfying law class in which we discussed the desirability and feasibility of discontinuing citizenship at all and the ramifications of migration for liberal democracy, Cynthia and I came home to order in and hack away at our workloads.  Only a week left of classes!


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

  Cynthia and I just got back from a relaxing and satisfying dinner outing to Café Arabica in Zamalek.  Stuffed with salad and fiteer and frozen yogurt, we stopped to get her some phone credit on the way home.  Perched on one of the Mobile Store's stools was a distinguished looking man in his 60s who inquired where we were from.  I told him America and he wished us a good visit.  I politely corrected him, telling him we lived in the neighborhood.  He told us we had more courage than he, as he, though Egyptian, had been living in Australia for 38 years and was only here on business.  You know you're in trouble when an Egyptian's giving you kudos for living in downtown Cairo.
  Alas, Bab al-Luq isn't so very shabby.  The water and electricity have been working far more consistently this semester and a couple of the doors in the apartment aren't broken.  
  I finished my contributions to the mock convention that is our group project for Comparative Migration Law and tonight I plan to make a dent in my final paper for that class.  I can't believe next week is the last week of classes for this semester.  Al-hamdulillah!
  AUC hasn't been doing much to garner my favor lately, it having been revealed to me today that I may have to register for the "thesis guidance" course during the spring semester of 2010 rather than doing so this fall.  Meanwhile, its student newspaper has revealed that a majority of the student body at this university whose mission includes "advancing the ideals of American liberal arts education" and "promoting international understanding" do not believe that Israel has a right to exist.  AUC produces many members of Egypt's élite.  The ideas of today's AUCians is likely to bespeak the direction of future government policy.  


Monday, May 11, 2009

  Cynthia and I and the rest of my Nigerian migrant survey group made it through our presentation (and those of four other groups) alive.  The class drug on for five hours in freezing temperatures because of the unregulatable air conditioning and the window that was bolted shut.  To be freezing in Cairo in May is truly absurd.  
  After we were dong presenting and shivering and the like, the majority of the class went to Shabrawi, the Egyptian restaurant on the corner of Nubar and Mohammad Mahmoud on the way back to my place from campus.  Dr Jureidini treated us to dinner, which was quite kind of him.  The proprietor of the restaurant tried to show his kindness to us in a slightly more bizarre way, writing "USA" in ketchup on our orders of baba ghanoug.  Let me tell you, sweet Egyptian ketchup isn't a pleasant accent for any eggplant dish.
  Now I'm working on finishing my section of the mock convention that my other group has to submit on Wednesday.  I'll be relieved when the semester is over, though I am glad it's not as hectic as the last one.

A bomb exploded near St Mary's Church in Zaytoun, a district in Cairo.  This is a place that Marise's mother and I discussed before; it's famous for an alleged apparition of Mary that happened in the late 1960s.  The bomb was placed under a car near the Coptic church and went off during a wedding, but no one was injured.

Egypt's ill-advised slaughter of pigs in response to the spread of H1N1 will likely impact the residents of Garbage City most severely.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

  Today wasn't particularly exciting for its hours of analyzing SSPS data and making a Power Point presentation for tomorrow, but I did call and chat with my grandma and my mom to wish them a Happy Mother's Day.  I also had a phone interview for a half hour.  It seemed to have gone well and I'll know for sure whether or not I've been awarded the scholarship by Thursday.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

  I polished off a law paper today, leaving two group projects and two final papers between me and freedom.  Tonight, I went to a friend's birthday get-together at the once shabby-chic (now just shabby) Café Riche in downtown Cairo.  Tomorrow, I am meeting with my Methodology class group to assemble and process our findings on Nigerian migrants.
  Today I was meant to go to Ma'adi to volunteer with the project through which I teach English, but some unforeseen events delayed that.
  On Sunday, I'm interviewing for a fellowship.  It's a really exciting prospect to think that I might have found a way to fund my next semester here.  Keep your fingers crossed for me!


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Since my last post of a quarter day ago, I've gone to my (rather helpful) advising appointment.  Ray explained that he doesn't suggest trying to do my thesis and two courses all at once next semester, but I think I'm going to try and get as much of my research done as possible this summer.  I'm really not inclined to spend Spring 2010 at AUC, but we'll see.  In any event, I'm not the least bit worried either way and am reenergized about my thesis and how dynamic and engaging the process of research and thesis-writing promises to be.
Following my meeting, I made a pit stop at home, chatted with the ever-changing group of people in my living room, and walked to Doqqi.  In between the two bridges, that is to say past the Mohammad Mokhtar museum, I was approached by a grinning Egyptian who I guessed was around my age.  I'd made it that far without any remarks or hindrances thanks to my power-walking and iPod-listening, but the chap was insistant, so I took one earbud out and greeted him tersely.  Over the next ten minutes, however, I realized he wasn't trying to show me his cousin's shop or sell me hash or take me on a tour.  He turned out to be from the countryside, but commutes in to take classes at Cairo University.  He was walking there from downtown as I was heading to get my haircut.  We chatted and inevitably America (I was picked out as American for a change, usually I'm mistaken for a German or an Englishman), George W. Bush, and Palestine came up.  I elaborated my views briefly, apparently to his satisfaction.  He then told me about his American friends and all the English they'd taught him, producing a notebook filled with obscenities and other "useful" phrases to enrich his academic English.  He inquired what the phrases "freak me out" meant, as he'd seen it somewhere and written it down so that he could later look it up.  I wanted to use it in context when he asked if I had Skype, but recognized that it's common for Egyptians to be so gregarious and socially straightforward.  I gave him my Facebook info instead.  Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to meet for coffee and pick up a little more Arabic.
  My haircut was great, as last time.  Getting all the massaging and shampooing and conditioning and cutting and styling for the equivalent of just over twenty bucks with tip included is fantastic.  I had a different hair-cutter this time, but he was just as good and also French.  I left feeling lighter both for having spent an hour relaxing and because he took a whole lot of hair off.  After a funny little discourse with the Ethiopian receptionist, I took off for the supermarket I raved about after going there last time.  More of my meagre funds spent on food.  Ma3lesh!
  I walked all the way back home, glad that my taxi-eschewing, in my mind at least, makes up for not exercising much.  I've just finished dinner and am going to a house party that's raising funds for an AUC organization offers a variety of courses to refugees.  Somewhere in there I hope to get some time for myself and to make a dent in my papers and projects!


  Erratic sleeping and filling my free time with social events (knowing that some of my friends are leaving for good while I'm away and some I won't see all summer) and with school work (which seems to be exponentially increasing with the advent of the semester's end have detracted from my faithful blogging.  My apologies.  

  The lastest news in my corner of the world is as follows: 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

  I spent yesterday breathing it bits of the Sahara as Google's weather report for Cairo accurately read "sand".  The sky turned whitish-yellow while the air itself seemed almost tangible because of the dust and sand it was full of.
  Undeterred, I managed to finish my thesis proposal and venture outside to make the trek to campus to print it out and submit it.  We had a guest lecturer from the Cairo Family Planning Association who talked about FGM and its pervasiveness in Egypt.
  Later in the evening, Phil and I joined Marise and her family for a trip to Hyper One.  This Egyptian hypermarket is apparently the homegrown answer to chains like Carrefour and Spinney's.  As with any of the hypermarkets, it's a strange feeling to stray into the suburbs and see this little slices of Egypt that are superficially similar to America, but not at all the same beyond the fact that many of the people who shop in them know nothing of life downtown or in the cities poorer districts.  In whichever country you find yourself, it's always possible to isolate yourself from societal problems.
  Yesterday was the president's birthday, but I didn't notice any particularly extravagant indicators of this.  The Daily News Egypt reported on it, but as of this entry, I cannot acces the website, nor can I find anything on Google news.  Strange.  What I have heard a lot about was the continuing of the rather ill-advised pig cull and the reactions.  
  Beyond this brief update, I haven't much time to type as I have to get my nose to the grindstone.  Final papers and group projects to finish up!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

  Struck with motivation, I am dedicating what's left of the evening to working on my thesis proposal which I think I've spent more time writing about in blog entries and Facebook statuses than actually attending to.  Today hasn't been entirely unproductive, though.  I met with my law group to begin out mock convention on the discrimination against migrants.  The interviews with Nigerians for my other group have been moved to tomorrow.
  The project I'd been teaching English through that had been shut down temporarily is starting up again soon.  I'll be transferred to a different suburb because of reorganization, but should get a few more weeks of volunteering in before I leave.  I will also return to the position past the end of my Rotary scholarship.


Friday, May 1, 2009

  Happy May Day, everyone.  Though growing up in Peoria, I knew the 1st of May as a more benign, rather unimportant having something to do with leaving flowers on peoples' porches, it is an important day to celebrate labor and protest for improved working conditions around the world.  Protests are especially vigorous this year given the economic crisis.  Moving beyond labor issues, many in the States are calling for progress on immigrants' rights.
  Meanwhile, in Egypt, the president reminded his constituents that striking is illegal and that doing so would only serve to hurt the economy.  While he was busy doing that, I was, with the assistance of my saintly Egyptian friend Marise and her helpful brother and her godsend of a mother, negotiating the renewal of my lease.  After ten months of getting ripped off, I finally have more or less a fair price.  It's a relief, but I'm holding my breath until I get the physical contract itself in front of me and signed by both parties.
  I got up early for the occasion and cleaned and am rather tuckered out.  Last night, we played Risk until the wee hours of the morning after some tasty and inexpensive Lebanese food in Mohandaseen.
  I've been making headway on my thesis proposal, but a group project for my methods class will have to take precedence today when Cynthia and I go to interview Nigerian migrants about their experiences in Cairo.
  I'm not longer dying from a migraine, but it last through yesterday.  At least I don't have swine flu, I guess, which is, says the WHO, henceforth to be referred to by its scientific name H1N1 Influenza A specifically because of Egypt's spirited but "misguided effort" to prevent the spread of the virus.  The Egyptian government now is claiming the measure was not swine flu-related, but rather a "general health measure".  Either way, Egypts' hogs have been sent to slaughter and Brigitte Bardot isn't very happy about it.  
  Meanwhile, back across the world in Peoria, Ali al-Marri pleads guilty to charges of aiding terrorists.  While it's more than a little unsettling to see Islamic fundamentalism hit so close to home, I sincerely hope that the events surrounding his trial don't fuel more of the ignorance and Islamophobia that are inevitably reflected in the comments on PJStar stories about al-Marri.