Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Just beyond a strip of palm trees, the desert spreads out before me. The sight is much more in keeping with what most people think of Egypt than what I see most days. Between me and the little palmeraie, are the large panes of glass that let ample natural light into AUC's new campus library. I know I mentioned it last time, but this place really is gorgeous.
I hopped the Route #12 bus to the new campus this morning just in time to get here and get lost. The Humanities and Social Sciences (HUSS) building is not clearly marked on any of the maps around campus which in turn are unhelpful in that they don't have any sort of "You Are Here" indicator. Embarrassed, I resorted to calling the head of the Writing Center a total of three times to orient myself. Once I reached the actual building, I found that the numbering system made little sense. Ma3lesh. I found the professor I was looking for, he gave me the rundown on the Writing Center, and I was off to complete my next errand. Procuring a bus sticker was utterly painless and getting the process started for my student visa application was nearly as easy. The anticipatory knot in my stomach that manifests when I know I have to go to an office in Egypt gave way to a tentative satisfaction. AUC? Not so bad, right?
I ran into my Egyptian friend Reham on the way out of the administration building and strolled along with her, taking in the warm sun, the cool breeze, and the impressive architecture while catching up. When she headed to a bus to take her back to reality, I met up with an Iraqi-American friend who was involved with the International Affairs Organization and Model UN with me back at Bradley. She's studying here for the semester, taking classes on the history of the Middle East, Sufism, and Arabic. Over koshary—which after all of the horror stories of overpriced new campus food was comparable in price to what you'd pay downtown—I listened to Helen explain the novel sensation of being in a new place where she had such an affinity with the majority of people around her. She's eating up the mannerisms, the warmth, and the flowery phrases.
At one point, we popped into the library (whither we have returned) to grab a book for my thesis. I was overly impressed by the 3-M check-out machines. Now, I realize that all the cool kids have probably used these at their public and university libraries, but scanning my ID card and then laying my barcode-less unopened book on the apparatus to check it out seemed pretty space age. And at AUC no less. The self check-out machines and the ID-scanning posts at the one of the gates and at the library give a veneer of modern efficiency. So did the copy center that Helen had to stop by to get her course packets. That is, until she returned to pick them up and her order had mysteriously disappeared from the system. You can't win 'em all, I guess.
After today, I can't say I'm dreading coming to the new campus twice a week. Clean air and the lack of clutter are a welcome change from downtown. The construction in the library itself during regular hours today, however, keeps a little of that rustic, never-finished atmosphere. Feeling guilty about enjoying the place, remembering the misgivings friends who study urban planning and sociology and sustainability shared with me, I was relieved at the very least to find that the campus was designed to be low-impact and energy-efficient. This isolated desert community model, though, does seem as though it's draining the energy from the very heart of Cairo. Another blogger has this interesting entry that speaks about the trend and specifically about a community called Dreamland, coincidentally the first place I stayed in Egypt back in 2005.

News & Issues

· Online radio station to be launched by activists affiliated with the party of opposition leader, Ayman Nour
· MPs debate definition of death in Shoura Council
· Foreign Ministry defends murder of African migrants (see also Bikya Masr article)

· In a country where a majority of women don headscarves, women who do so and seek access the haunts of the small upper class sometimes find themselves discriminated against. Increasing conservatism has made the practice more popular, but many in the élite reject it. When I returned to Egypt this last time, I noticed that EgyptAir's flight attendants were unveiled just as many many television personalities on state-owned channels are (though there's been a row over this). It's interesting that the government would seemingly be interested in showing a "modern" image of Egypt to the world while this image doesn't reflect the practices of the majority of Egyptians.

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