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

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A short entry is on order, as I don't plan to regale you of the tales of remaining all yesterday in my apartment. Suffice it to say I was very productive. I wrote several more pages of my thesis and caught up on class reading. Today will be more of the same, but I've resolved to leave. Mostly because a bag of muesli I purchased from the Alfa Market in Doqqi is crawling with tiny creatures that are begging to be returned. More shocking than that is the fact that I, with a bowlful on my lap, first ate the frozen yogurt I'd dumped on top while staring, nonplussed, at the occasional elongated beetle-like thing that struggled to escape the weight of a raisin or a dried banana chip before voiding the contents of the bowl into the garbage. This has not been a good food week. After botching an order of sushi, Bob Sushi sent us a replacement order in which, as we prepared to consume, we discovered a worm. My reaction was mild and we simply shut the lid on maki roll menagerie and called the restaurant. They refused to accept responsibility or do anything about it and in so doing lost our future business.
Food fiascoes and a new crop of exceptionally speedy mosquitoes (one of which feasted on my carotid last night) have alleviated some of my ambivalence about departing Egypt for good in a couple of months. Some, but not all. Egypt and its bugs have become a part of me.

News & Issues

Elsewhere in the Middle East

Migration & Refugees

Friday, October 16, 2009

At some point while I was gone, the rooster that lived in the trash heap behind our building disappeared. I'd like to think his was a slow and painful end in retribution for all the nights he kept me up or woke me early, but I'm sure whatever fate befell him was swift and routine. I was acquainted with him for a year. He was frequently a topic of conversation, an icebreaker in conversations with other downtowners who had their own poultry problems, and even provided recreation (Ross's bottle throwing, murderous plans to find a BB gun at the nearest sporting goods store, photography, etc.) I'm not so sentimental that I miss the noisy feathered monstrosity, but in some strange way, reflecting on the life and times of the trash heap rooster puts in perspective how long I've lived here and how things have evolved. Ross, with whom I switched from one rooster-terrorized apartment to the other, is now back in Texas and Phil and Cynthia have been living here for months. When I was first kept awake by cockcrows and car horns, I didn't eat street food, scampered through traffic like a frightened rabbit, and stressed over cab rides and landlord visits. I don't suppose getting over these issues implies any sort of grand personal transformation, but in so many ways, I really have grown from this experience. Lest I wax sappy, I won't share paragraphs of verbose self-analysis. I will say that, as a I grow preemptively nostalgic (I can't convince myself that having two months left with my friends and routines and favorite haunts isn't the same as leaving tomorrow), I am increasingly aware of how meaningful living in Egypt has become to me. My tumultuous feelings and ambivalence about returning have relented and I am, more often than not, convinced of the rightness of choosing to come here. Realizing that it's all coming to an end soon has me wondering what I'll miss and what's to come.

News & Issues

LGBT Rights

Migration & Refugees

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I'm still exhausted from the disruption in my sleeping schedule that attempting to get to New Campus at 10 AM brings. As a result, I beg your forgiveness for any orthographical or grammatical missteps or outlandish statements.
Today was a marvelous Egypt day, fueled by my having gotten ethics board approval for my thesis, helpful comments from my thesis advisor, lunch with a friend at the French cultural center, and having enjoyed a really excellent double class (which, I can say in all honesty, I would have liked to have run even longer). I had dinner with a fun bunch (that sounds like the way someone's grandmother would describe a group of people, wow) at Om al-Dahab downtown. I hadn't been to the baladi mom and daughter establishment since last year, but I realized I was missing out. The molokheya and bamiya were pretty tasty.
In the interest of capitalizing on the time I have available to rest, I'm going to cut to the good stuff:

New & Issues

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I'm sure it's in terrible form, but I'm writing this from the Writing Center. The mind boggles at my having been so ambitious as to ask to be scheduled from 10 AM until 3 in the afternoon. 10 AM is an hour of the day I am otherwise generally unacquainted with and today it occurred to me that my practice of catching the 9:25 bus which has arrived later and later (once it was 10:10) is not practical. This means I am now, barring the discovery of a magical shuttle service on the half-hour, going to have to rise at 7:30 AM to get ready and get to the 8:25 bus, arrive at 9:15-20ish, and wait forty minutes for the Writing Center to open. Yes, I realize there are children starving and wars waging. I don't feel particularly sorry for myself, but I do pity both the those that come in for tutoring when my brain is still not functioning and for my flatmates who have to put up with me when I take sleeping pills that make me loopier than a bucket of eels on a Farris wheel. Why it is that AUC planned the bus to arrive ten minutes after the hour, I'll never know. I presume it's the same logic that leads the buses to depart concurrently with the end of my Tuesday night class rather than after it.
In any event, I enjoyed my bumpy ride to the new campus this morning. After giving up trying to sleep, I paid more attention than usual to my surroundings. I even snapped some photos of the Christian and Muslim cemeteries we pass that have always fascinated me. The mausolea of the city's cemeteries make them look like small towns (and in many cases, they actually are). Past them are awful monstrosities of new construction, cheap glass and metal affairs pretending to look futuristic but succeeding only in looking prefab. AUC, incongruous with its environs for a lack of garishness, is an oasis (literally, really).
Last night's bus ride was less pleasant: I found myself relegated to a fold-down aisle seat that would be illegal in the States, no doubt. However, I eavesdropped on an interesting conversation between a French student and an Egyptian student. They talked about Islam and, while agreeing with her religion's restrictions on marrying non-Muslims, the Egyptian student expressed skepticism at the fact that in Islam men can marry non-Muslims, but women cannot. They talked about antiquities and the situation with the Louvre, and the Egyptian student spoke about her visit to the British museum where she took in the Egyptian exhibits. She concluded that the artifacts were better off there because of the ability of the British Museum to preserve and maintain them. I'm sure Zahi Hawass would be chagrined to know the feeling existed in one of his countrymen.

News & Issues

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Apparently even the quietest, darkest conditions, a half a sleeping pill, and concentrating on my breathing just aren't sufficient to allow me to pass out for the night. Since I've been going to bed later and later, trying to go to bed before midnight last night was, in retrospect, a doomed endeavor to begin with. I lay awake for over three hours before finally drifting off. And then, at 8:33, I was up and off. I made the proper bus to New Campus and everything.
I could swear that something in the air out there makes me just a little more positive. With the help of the head of the writing center, I printed out my application for graduation and transliterated my name into Arabic (I decided on مايكل كارل بود). I then took that and my passport to the administration building. By the time I left, I was 622 LE poorer, registered to graduate in February, had handed my passport into to have my student visa processed, and checked on my stipend. I probably visited five or six different offices. But because the new campus air is chock full of positivity, I barely noticed the effort and, in fact, decided that dealing with bureaucracy makes you feel productive. Ahem. I also ran into the IRB chair and Ray, my advisor. I had brief, welcome chats with both. I'm feeling pretty good about my thesis and getting it done before February.
Recently, I've been reading this downright goofy refugee case and the associated transcripts from the High Court of Australia review of its findings.
Well, the prospect of food and sleep are compelling me to leave today's blurb brief.

News & Issues

Monday, October 12, 2009

After encountering the frustrating email on graduation procedures and fees, I emailed a couple of AUC administrators. I have to say, I am impressed with their professionalism and competence. I received a response right away and follow-up emails today. I only wish that this level of responsiveness and efficiency existed throughout AUC's bureaucracy. Maybe one day.
The mysterious graduation fees were explained to me:

Graduation fees: cover to defray the cost of processing candidates for graduation, printing and conducting the commencement ceremonies. It also covers the cost of the diploma and its cover.

Participation in the commencement Ceremony is optional, but students must pay the graduation fee regardless of their attendance or absence.

The Alumni fees: covers services by Alumni such as the directory, career exploration and job posting information. It Also covers Alumni Communication via magazines and other printouts.

So, just as I'd feared, they're charging students for the commencement ceremony regardless of whether they show up. Ridiculous.

Other than this observation, I don't have much to share. I went to Marise's with Phil so we could all hang out and work on our theses. Otherwise, I've been rather pensive about the future as this chapter of my life is drawing to a close. I won't burden the reader with my existential musings, but I will say I'm a little surprised that I realize I'm going to miss Egypt more than I would've thought a couple of scant months ago.

News & Issues:

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I woke up to an email from the CMRS senior secretary informing those of us that intend to graduate in February must perform a number of tasks involving AUC's Kafkaesque bureaucracy (ok, so perhaps it's not has bad as the Egyptian government, but efficiency and logic are often jettisoned). Furthermore, we have to do this by Thursday or risk having our "names deleted from the Fall 2009 Graduation List." They really have a way with words. So, being notified a week before the deadline on our AUC mail accounts (which few of us use) and four days before the deadline through our department, we're expected to cough up 560 LE to be able to graduate, zip to the new campus and visit at least three different offices between the hours of 10 AM and 2 PM pronto or risk being unable to graduate on time. This fee is not for a cap and gown mind you, but what it actually covers, God only knows. 75 LE of it is for mandatory "Alumni subscription dues". This cost is listed nowhere on the Tuition and Fees webpage, though the remaining 485 LE is if you look hard enough. For graduate students, God knows where the 75 LE is going because you don't even have the option of filling out a graduate student form (despite being asked to in the instructions). You are instead linked to the graduating seniors page where you're asked what kind of bachelor's degree you'll be receiving from AUC. Great. Thanks, AUC! When I'm not attending my swine flu cancellation make-up classes, working, or commuting, I'll be sure to make your four hour window by this Thursday even though you only notified of the elaborate process a few days ago. Don't bother explaining what my 485 LE for "graduation fees" covers or why you think it is you can come up with mandatory alumni subscription fees without announcing them beforehand. Nah. That would be honest and responsible.
An excerpt from another interesting email I was sent this morning reads as follows:
AUC has been notified that a student in the university's continuing education program has tested positive for the H1N1 flu. The student attends an English language class in Heliopolis and is being treated at Abbaysia Hospital. AUC's medical clinic director, Dr. Mohamed Amin, has been in contact with the student and the student is responding well to treatment.
In this case, I actually think the university is being quite responsible and neither overreacting nor unnecessarily placing students at risk. Bravo, AUC.

News & Issues:

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Carnivore and Caterpillar

I had the pleasure last night of visiting "Africa's greatest dining experience"...on a riverboat in Giza. Carnivore is a theme restaurant whose theme, as you might imagine, is meat. The interior of the restaurant is meant to recall the original location in Nairobi, Kenya. Though Egypt's English-language restaurant review site, Yallabina, assures you that you can ingest "every type of meat imaginable", pork products are glaringly absent. Furthermore, you can't get zebra or crocodile like you can in Nairobi; about the only thing beyond the usual lamb and beef that you'll find is ostrich. But why am I complaining? I am a vegetarian (or rather a pescetarian who eats the occasional entrecôte or steak tartare when my convictions about the social and environmental impacts of meat fail me once every year or two). On that level, I wasn't bothered by the "Masai swords" and skewers full of animal flesh in various forms, it was rather the bizarre spectacle of pseudo-African culture that didn't sit well with me. Living in this land of re-created "Pharaonic" villages and ancient Egypt-inspired kitsch, I understand the idea of trying to get the bang for one's buck by caricaturing one's storied heritage. And yet, I could only cringe watching a bunch of Egyptians sing a song whose most prominent lyrics were "happy bersday" and "hakuna matata" (apparently Carnivore is the birthday destination: they sang to nearly every table in the joint at one point or another). Watching one set of former British colonial subjects dress up as another to perform for upper class Egyptians and Western expats and tourists made me feel like I should've been wearing a pith helmet and a monocle, smoking a pipe, and making derisive observations about "the natives".

In an entirely unrelated vein, I followed a link a CMRS colleague of mine posted to a site purporting to reveal connections that various multinational corporations have to Israel's occupation of Palestine. Remembering that I'd heard Caterpillar had been in the wrong for their dealings in the Middle East, I typed the company's name into the search box and found this. Seeing the name of my hometown on the sidebar of such a webpage was disheartening. Like many Peorians, I have many friends and relatives that work for Cat. As a Bradley alum I realize the direct and positive impact Cat has both on Bradley and the rest of the community and I really want to believe Cat is an upstanding corporate citizen. According to an old article, when confronted with the realities of what its earth-moving and demolition equipment was being used for, Caterpillar responded essentially with a "guns don't kill people, people kill people" argument. You can find both sides of the debate over a shareholder proposal in 2005 to reassess Cat's dealings with Israel on their website (pages 28-29). I can understand that policing the sales of equipment can be difficult, but clearly given the effectiveness of divestment campaigns in South Africa it's not impossible. And furthermore, when I read that D-9s and D-10s are "specially modified", I'd like to know by whom. If it's by Caterpillar, then that's active participation in the goals of the Israeli occupation.
With all of the groups calling for a boycott of Cat, it's funny that countries like Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, to name a few, continue to import and use Caterpillar equipment. According to the Wall Street Journal, even Iran is happy to import Caterpillar equipment via a European subsidiary.
It's a complex situation and I'm conflicted about it, but I think that at the very least, Caterpillar should look more seriously into the matter in a public and transparent way.


Friday, October 9, 2009

I'm not a big fan of Horaya, I must say. I don't have the qualms more seasoned and culturally-attuned expats have about study-abroaders and tourists invading the old bar-cum-ahwa and diminishing the atmosphere created by the ghosts of subversive political discussions and wizened old men playing chess. Or do they play towla, or is it dominoes? I never see them anymore to notice, always peeking in to see who of my Cairo acquaintances are there. My beef is primarily with the curtain of cigarette smoke that hangs heavy over the place, the terrible Egyptian beer, and handsy Milad, the waiter.
And yet, last night I found myself braving the carcinogens and Milad's ridicule for abstaining from Stella to "bro down" with a new CMRS friend (whom I thank for letting me borrow her "bro" phrase), her flatmate, a journalist friend of theirs, and half of everyone else I know in Egypt who also happened to be there. Because this city of 18+ million people is really quite small, the Egyptian blogger whom my new CMRS friend was meeting turned out to be a friend of my high school friend Sheila's. I met him last year when he, Sheila, and I did dinner. And then, who should come walking in but my Egyptian pal Sayed. I won't bore you with the additional connections and coincidences, but there were plenty. It was a Thursday night of the sort I'd forgotten about since I've been spending days on end in the apartment working on my thesis. It hearkened back to the days when Cairo was new and there were all sorts of people to meet and stories to be amazed by. Perhaps Cairo's still much newer than I give it credit for.
I recently discovered that I am not the first Carl in Cairo.
And yet, nothing's ever new, is it? I recently discovered that another, better-traveled and more adventurous Carl regaled the blogosphere with his tales of life in Egypt from 2007-2008. Before I begin quoting Ecclesiastes, I shall move to the news:


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Despite my best efforts yesterday, I was unable to write an entry because the perfect weather and cool breezes at the new campus overcame me. That and the fact that half the wireless access points in my vicinity weren't allowing me onto the internet. It's always a give-and-take with AUC. But really, when said cool breezes are being enjoyed from a desert development rather than blowing bits of rubbish and waves of pollution into your face, you really realize that October in Egypt is sublime. It's more than just clean air though that makes the AUC campus different. Being surrounded by even pavement, skinny jeans, AUC English, and being able to have an arugula and mushroom salad with Roquefort (though I was shocked when my supposed Roquefort was served shredded, alas) make me feel like I should be carrying a passport when I leave downtown for new campus. Meanwhile, back in reality, Egypt has slipped 11 spots in the Human Development Index. The measurement takes into account not only GDP, but factors like life expectancy and education. Find a breakdown of how Egypt measures up here.
I started at the Writing Center yesterday, albeit nearly an hour late as apparently the downtown-to-desert buses come and go as they please. I had to run after the one I did manage to get, or rather speedwalk given that the state of traffic at the time kept the coach stationary for sometime. The atmosphere at the Writing Center is terribly congenial. Katie, an acquaintance from last year, showed me the ropes after Tim, the director, filled me in on the basics. Katie and I are one of a handful of graduate fellows who staff the Center. Professors fill the rest of the time slots. Though I didn't have the chance to meet with any students (half of the few appointments we had were not attended), I sat in on a session Katie did. Because it would be in bad form to speak in any specifics about students who come to the Center, I'll only mentioned that I found it interesting that one of the topics he brought up in his paper was religion and how shocking it was when he first met an atheist. I've heard this more generally in Egypt, that it doesn't occur to people that broads swaths of the world's population may not believe in God. In the end, the student became friends with the atheist and all was well, but I wonder how an Egyptian atheist would fare. Maybe like this.
I look forward to things picking up as the semester goes on and getting to know the other tutors better. I'm sure that sounds schmaltzy, but I mean it. And hopefully in the downtime, I'll be able to continue making progress on my thesis. Though I don't plan on attending graduation in February (presuming I'm allowed to graduate after this semester), I'll have my own celebration in honor of vanquishing this many-pagèd beast. Funnily enough, as I was listening to Katie's simple suggestions and re-reading the manual, I thought to myself "Wow, brainstorming? outlines? thesis statements and topic sentences? How novel! I probably could've planned out my entire thesis before plunging headfirst into the writing process". Ma3lesh. I work better when I write an amorphous nonsensical mass that is later tamed and transformed into something half-way presentable.
Oh, the 6th of October finished up well too. Last semester when walking to Doqqi, I met an Egyptian student who was hellbent on befriending me despite my best attempts at pretending I couldn't hear anything or anyone over my iPod. We ended up talking, he helped me find where I was going. He asked if we could hang out sometime, explaining his love of Americans and the wide variety of nationalities that filled his coterie. Skeptical about joining his menagerie, I feigned ignorance of my own cellphone number and, instead, gave him my full name to allow him to find me on Facebook. He was tenacious and we Gchated occasionally and kept in touch through the summer and the first month of this semester. I finally relented to his indefatigable niceness and we met up for ful and ta3meya sandwiches. I made Marise come along which put the kabosh on Sayed's desire to stroll Qasr al-Nil Bridge. For some reason, he couldn't be convinced of the severity of the harassment young women meet with walking in Cairo, but we managed to convince him to settle for the next bridge up which was emptier and where we could park the car right next to our windy perch overlooking the Nile. We talked about Sayed's dreams to visit America, the French lessons he was taking at the CFCC, about his family, and about Marise's. In passing, the displacement of Marise's paternal family from near the Suez led to an entirely coincidental discussion of the October War with the subsequent realization that we were on the 6th of October Bridge. How perfectly patriotic of us. Or something.
Today, my classes recommence. I have Migration and Refugees in International Relations later this afternoon. Gone are the days of swine-flu vacations and undisturbed days confined to the apartment working on my thesis (and/or Facebook skills).
And now, the news:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Today is the 6th of October, a date on which Egyptians commemorate the launching of the October War (also called the Yom Kippur War) against Israel. The war ended with an agreement to return control of the Suez Canal to Egypt with the concession that Israeli ships be allowed to use it. Egyptians tend to view it as a marvelous victory over Israel; I'll refrain from sharing my own opinion. 6th of October Bridge and 6th of October City as well as 10th of Ramadan City (the date on the Islamic calendar of beginning of the military operation) all remind Egyptians of the events of 1973, as does the October War Panorama, described here by another blogger.

For me, today hasn't included retaking any canals. I ate some Turkish cereal while watching Al-Jazeera, turned on the bathroom sink only to have it shudder and violently expel a flood of light brown water (at least I think it was water), and killed a mosquito who apparently survived a night of eucalyptus-scented Allethrin-D poison. The ants, not content to be outdone by the mosquitoes were out in force in the bathroom today. A little bit of Kirox crawling insect spray and the garbage can became ant graveyard. I know, you're all jealous of my glamorous lifestyle.

My supply of sun-dried Turkish apricots (that I could swear have chocolatey undertones) is running out and I'd love nothing more to return, enjoy the fresh air, and buy some more. But apparently, leaving Turkey when I did was a wise idea. Opposition to the IMF has filled the streets of Istanbul (including Taksim Square and environs where we were leisurely dinnering last week) with protesters opposition to whom has filled the streets with riot police.

Tomorrow I start at the Writing Center. To that end, I need to read the tutors' manual. But before that, the news:


Monday, October 5, 2009

Yesterday, after poring over Australian and Canadian court decisions while being feasted upon by tiny, silent mosquitoes, I decided that escaping to the outside world might be a good idea. The previous day, I hadn't even left the apartment. I did however, have a delightful visit with the very polite man downstairs who's somehow connected to my landlord. Mohamed (my landlord), sent him to check on our toilet whose tank, over time, had decided to stop refilling. Using my lamentably sparse Arabic vocabulary, I was able to prevent our guest using a dinner fork to fix the problem and to kindly ask another man brought in later to quit smoking in our hallway. At the end of that day, we had a fixed toilet, muddy floors, and the lingering smell of cheap tobacco to give our humble abode that homey touch.
Anyway, my flatmate Phil and I went on a field trip to escape our theses and the confines of the apartment. We strolled effortlessly through traffic and over uneven pavement around piles of trash, old hats at Egyptian Frogger, ultimately arriving at the unadvisably-pink Bostan mall. Here all sorts of electronics both licit and illicit (a classmate's stolen laptop resurfaced here last semester) are sold. But that's not all, you can even find the grandiosely-named "Café de Paris" and a couple of clothing and shoe stores thrown in for good measure. From every direction, music blares, each habibi-filled ballad competing with the others while the omnipresent fluorescent light transforms night into a desert summer day. We were there to pick Phil up an external hard drive and to find a power strip for the kitchen as the previous one had given up the ghost. As Phil inquired about the specifics of the hard drive, I idly observed the comings and goings of a storefront that had been covered over with crazily studded sheets of multi-colored metal. Another layer beyond the narrow opening prevented you seeing into the mysterious establishment. Is the Bostan mall cool enough to have a club? Before I was able to get the courage up to find out, we were off to the pastry shop near the apartment where Phil indulged his love of baqlawa. As the man who usually tends the store wasn't there, we made a new friend who asked the usual question of where we were from. "Amreeka," I answered. He told me my cheeks were too rosy for an American and that that, combined with my mechanical way of walking which he took delight in imitating betrayed to him that I am undoubtedly either a Russian or a Czech.
That was the extent of our fun for the day. We returned with the electronics and pastries to our mosquito-breeding ground (which some ants have recently provided with a bit of diversity). We ordered food from a Turkish restaurant, wistfully recalling the old days in Turkey. Before long, I smelt something burning. Since I often smell peculiar scents wafting in from outdoors, I didn't bother to check but we later found out that our new power strip had fried. Streaks of black and melted plastic had deformed the white cord. I supposed we should've realized that plugging two major appliances into a power cord rated only up to 250V wasn't the wisest choice. Ma3lesh. Another day on Tahrir Street.
After working on my thesis today, I'm meeting a new friend, Tsega (yet another Coloradan) for Yemeni food. With Phil, Marise, and Erin, over Lebanese the other night, we had discussions about cultural differences among the US, the Arab world, and East Africa, including how sharing is viewed and what constitutes politeness were really a lot of fun. We debated how many times if at all you should politely decline something offered to you that you really want and other such questions. An Ethiopian-American, Tsega, grew up negotiating two cultures, as Marise did.
Alright, I'm back to nursing my mosquito bites and reading refugee cases. I leave you with the news:

Sunday, October 4, 2009

At this stage in the game, needing more of my words-per-minute to line the many still-blank pages of my thesis, I'll be spending fewer minutes blogging. So, without further ado, straight to the news and issues:

Strange bedfellows, the US and Egypt, have gotten a resolution on free speech passed at the UN Human Rights Council. Egyptian ambassador Hisham Badr made clear what Egypt's aims were: "“the joint US-Egypt resolution is key to achieving balance on the issue of incitement that erupted in the world after September 11." To me it seems like free speech advocates are trying to use an anti-incitement, anti-defamation resolution to further free speech in the Muslim world while others hope to use a free speech resolution to restrict free speech when they find it offensive to their religious sensibilities. Free expression group Article 19 is nervous that the resolution seems to defend religions rather than believers.

Protesters at Al-Azhar demonstrate in solidarity with Palestinian protesters barred from entering Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem (Al-Quds) following a riot last week.

The Muslim Brotherhood is finding itself pulled in several directions ideologically even as the Egyptian government cracks down and the press lashes out. Friday morning, 15 members of the MB were arrested.

Mubarak urges Israel to rethink its Middle East strategy.

Trash heaps crowd out fears of swine flu in working class Cairo neighborhoods.

Human rights group pressure Egyptian government to intervene on behalf of its citizens in Saudi Arabia.

Factions in Egypt's Christian community trade barbs. The Coptic Orthodox Church apparently fears Evangelical missionary efforts, while Evangelicals are saying members are leaving Orthodox churches because of stagnancy and unresponsiveness to changing times.

Friday, October 2, 2009

After my previous, dreadfully dull attempt at a soul-baring entry, I will spare you from somnolence by returning to the business of linking you to relevant news and issues from my corner of the world and related to my studies.

In the course of my thesis interview in Istanbul, it was recommended I watch Gender Against Men, a documentary about gender-based violence in the Great Lakes region of Africa. It explores how men are often left out of the equation or seen only as part of the problem in a gender-based violence paradigm that focuses nearly exclusively on women as victims. It takes up the issues of sexual violence perpetrated against men themselves and against their wives as a means of emasculating them, of the effects of shifting gender roles in refugee communities, and of the treatment of gay men in Uganda. It's 44 minutes long and watchable here in several different formats.

Politicians and intellectuals are boycotting a Sunday meeting with the US ambassador upon learning that Al-Ahram's Hala Mustafa was invited. Mustafa has been heavily criticized for a Ramadan meeting with the Israeli ambassador to Egypt.

Muslim Brotherhood leader removed from UN Security Council terrorist list

Heavy security presence thwarts Bedouin protests in North Sinai

Swedish journalist Per Björklund deported this morning following detention

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A number of things occurred to me as I took the cleaner of the two metro lines from Mohamed Naguib station to Doqqi for dinner and on the way back (I returned on foot): one, I haven't written a particularly personal entry related to my experiences here lately; two, a lot of the way I see Egypt has been colored by my struggles with anxiety rather than Egypt itself; and three, Yemeni food is delicious.
Though during my scholarship period I attempted to keep my entries upbeat and look for the silver lining, I'm sure there were more than a few that revealed some, shall we say, acerbic sentiments about my host country and its people. It reached the point where I could see nothing but chaos and filth, dishonesty and decay, corruption and inefficiency. I saw my return home and to Europe for the summer as something of a prison break and harbored a deep resentment of Egypt that fed an utter dread of returning.
When I did return, I sought refuge in my air-conditioned room, seldom went out and blocked out Cairo with my iPod and a determination to be bothered by no one. I tried to live in Egypt without actually living here (which is essentially what Egypt's upper class does by retreating to desert compounds and gated communities). There's something to be said for preserving one's sanity, but what I was doing wasn't healthy either. I carried this feeling to Turkey, constantly pointing out Egypt's shortcomings in comparison (i.e. my last entry).
Last night though, something shifted. Walking down Tahrir in the direction of Abdin Palace, I forced myself to ask the question, "Is Egypt really how I think it is?" I wiped the standard dour, standoffish expression of my face and descended into the metro station. On the train, I didn't recoil dramatically or sigh loudly with exaggerated exasperation every time I got jostled. One man turned to talk to me and I tensed up. I didn't understand his Arabic and another passenger translated "Are you getting off at the next stop?" I replied in broken Arabic that I wasn't and realized that they were making sure I was close enough to the door to be able to maneuver through my fellow sardines. The rest of the evening was filled with equally mundane little attempts to recognize and respond positively to the good things I'd convinced myself didn't exist here: instead of scowling at a little kid who yelled "hello," I turned and smiled, etc. etc. Perhaps the most significant indicator happened this morning, however. My landlord, he who inspired near panic-attacks and sleepless nights before, came to collect rent. Already calm from the evening, I went to bed without worrying about what the morning would bring too much, but when the doorbell rang sometime before 11, I felt my stomach lurch and my stress level rise. I was ready to fight over anything. Restraining the force within that almost caused Mohamed not to renew our contract, I allowed for the possibility that maybe he wasn't the evil, weasely man I'd always assumed (by association with his brother, mostly). Lo and behold, our brief meeting was more than pleasant. He apologized that the rubbish collector had been harassing Cynthia and told us he would take care of it and that, instead of us paying the man directly, Mohamed's relative upstairs would take care of it for us.
I realize this is all very minor-sounding, but being able to take into account that the lens through which I view my surroundings makes all the difference is priceless. Demonizing or idealizing serves no one's interests, I don't think. So, dear Egypt, sorry for the bad rap I've given you in some circles. Here's to hoping the Cairene chapter of my life story will end happily.

News & Issues