Kaddee’s Cairo Chronicles


March 15, 2008

You can never have TOO much

Filed under: Learning Curve — Kaddee @ 1:17 pm

As people visit, they begin to think about things to bring home. Presents for friends, presents for themselves, artworks and memories. Inevitably the conundra (don’t know if this is actually the plural of conundrum…) of packing space and cash outlay rear their ugly heads and people begin “trimming” their list of “must-buys”.

Another inevitability is that, when they get home, they realize that they do not have enough things for everyone, or they have to give away EVERYTHING and have nothing left for themselves. There are e-mails and requests for the next friend to bring home more stuff for them, etc.

This occurred recently, and below is Jack’s response. Although directed at a particular event, I think it is a good lesson for travel and attempting to “gift” appropriately.

*******************************************************

Let this be a lesson to the ladies:

BUY MORE SCARVES.

Seriously. They make great gifts, they pack REALLY small and they are relatively inexpensive.

I will share some of our gift giving secrets:
When we returned we had a bunch of people we wanted to buy gifts for.

We divided recipients and gifts into groups

A group:
These were specific people that we wanted to buy specific items for.
“I want to give Bob a [blah] and Mary a [widget]. We bought those specific items

B group:
These were people that we wanted to give something to, but we didn’t have specific gifts in mind. We counted em up. How many women, how many men, how many childrens.
Then went shopping.
Bought so many male appropriate gifts, etc. Then assigned gift to person.

C group:
This was group of “gifts” with no names. Extra scraves. Key chains.
Some gag (really hideous Nefertiti cigarette lighters) etc.
This was for the time when we went somewhere and bumped into someone
we had forgotten about and said “Hey! Good to see you. We got you this
[pull out something] scarf!”

Indispensible!

We have a VERY large list of people to buy for though, so this method may not apply

************************************************

I will add to this, a mantra that Jack has instilled in me since our first “Big Trip” in 1999 -

ALWAYS BUY TWO.

I have a habit of seeing something that I want to get for a friend [and (not so) secretly for myself as well] and then when the time comes, I am either (1) extremely bummed to give it away or (2) I don’t give it away.

ALWAYS BUY EXTRA

March 14, 2008

Disillusionment

Filed under: Learning Curve — Kaddee @ 5:37 pm

The grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence.

This adage is often over used, but is also frequently apropos. I am struggling with this phenomenon now, as I was when I first applied for this job. Then – Egypt seemed to have so many more opportunities and so many fewer problems than Seattle. Now – the situations are mostly the same, but the perspective is 180 degrees shifted.

I understand human nature, behavior and expectations – and I am governed by them. We all want to move forward, be challenged, enjoy our lives, and yet few of us (myself included) can clearly see what we have now. We look to the future, to something newer, bigger, better and convince ourselves that the new thing is what we need. Change can be invigorating, but it does not fundamentally alter our realities.

When I came to Egypt, I was disillusioned with my job in the States. I felt like I’d “accomplished” the goals and aims that I’d set for myself, and had hit a glass ceiling. I had the feeling that I could go no further, and was going to be “trapped” doing the same things for the rest of my life. I wanted change and adventure and challenge. I got all of those things in coming to Egypt, however the day-to-day reality of work was the same. The adventure and challenges were, fundamentally, no different than in Seattle.

Things I love in Egypt:

  • Most of the people that I work with and most of my students
  • The invigoration of functioning in two languages – even if I’m not so good in one of them
  • The sights/sounds/experiences of metropolitan life
  • An ultra-urban living arrangement
  • The food – street food and “local” food – Cairo is NOT an epicurean fantasy, but the “real food” is excellent

Things I hate in Egypt:

  • The classism, have/have-not divide – felt in EVERY aspect of life and work
  • The CHORE of functioning in two languages
  • The noise and dirt and crowding of metropolitan life
  • An ultra-urban living arrangement

And when I look at the lists, the things I love at times are the very things that I hate. They are also the things that I love/hate about Seattle. No place is perfect. Some days are wonderful. I smile at the traffic, the people in the street (no – LITERALLY in the street), the challenge of making myself understood in Arabic, the thrill of NOT being taken advantage of because I am khawega. Other days (or sometimes the very same day) all of those things are an unbearable burden, and I wonder why I am working so hard to stay here.

I realize that I am neither the first, nor the last ex-pat to feel these things.  I also know that putting them in the blog does not mean that they will go away.  But there you go.

February 11, 2008

Releasing fear

Filed under: Learning Curve — Kaddee @ 11:43 am

I chide myself frequently for the things I fear. They are not the “normal” things like death (mine or loved ones), political instability around me, or even aging. My fears all center around not being able to do things properly (which for me means perfectly). It sounds really egotistical and trite when I write it out, but there you go.

One of the things that I’ve had chronic fear about since moving to Cairo is speaking Arabic. It is a difficult language phonetically. It has a totally new alphabet from the one I’ve known all my life. It is written from right to left. Words are as nuanced as English, but I haven’t grown up with the language, so I know only the dictionary definitions, not the “meanings” of the words.

I have been taking Arabic lessons since I arrived. I have had private tutoring, class lessons, intensives, courses on basic conversation and on grammar. Still I am afraid to speak.

“My vocabulary is limited.”
“What if I mispronounce something and OFFEND someone?”
“What if what I say MEANS something else?”

I’ve started my tutoring AGAIN with a new tutor, whom I really like. We “chat” half-English/half-Arabic. I learn new words and phrases that are relevant to things I am doing in my daily life (BEGED!!!)

In the taxi this morning, I was mistaken by the driver as being able to speak Arabic. I took the leap, and used VERBS and PHRASES that I’ve learned but never said. The driver kept up the chatter, asking me questions – which I actually answered! By the time I got to the university, I had managed to explain PRECISELY (bezopt) where I wanted to be dropped off AND he was offering me one of his tama’ya sandwiches for breakfast!! LOL – what a great start to the day.

October 23, 2007

More SNIC

Filed under: Learning Curve,NSTIW — Kaddee @ 3:37 pm
  • As I’m riding home in the cab, in HORRENDOUS traffic, I see a cabbie and his fare out of the cab and standing in the street. They are not fighting, arguing or negotiating. The fare is a nicely dressed man who is placidly watching the cabbie. The cabbie is waving a 50LE note at all the other cabbies going by. He’s attempting to get change.
  • Riding home in a taxi during rush hour (especially crazed because it is Ramadan, and everyone is trying to be somewhere for iftar) as we come up on a bicycle weaving thru the traffic. Nothing new or different, right? There is a man riding the bicycle. His wife is sitting side-saddle on the back fender/rack. Wedged between them is an infant in, what could only be described as, “church clothes”. (Ya know…like the christening layette thingy?)
  • So, I’m sitting in “Beano’s” (a Western style coffee shop near the University) with a friend chatting about everything, when both of us realize that the song that is playing on the store’s system sounds like a Christmas tune. How odd! It is only October. Then we listen more closely. It sounds like “Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland”. Then we tune in to the lyrics……………………………It is the PARODY of that song. The tune we were listening to was “Walkin’ ‘Round in Women’s Underwear” No kidding, in English, in a coffee shop in Cairo, in October.
  • I was leaving the building where I live. As I walked out, I saw one of the University shuttle busses in the middle of the street. Seemed a bit strange. Then I realized that it was not moving in the “usual” way – driving, parking etc. Upon closer inspection, one of the building security guards was hanging out a window, yelling at about 6 guys behind the bus. Someone was in the driver’s seat. The guys behind the bus were pushing it to try to bump start the vehicle. I’ve bump started plenty of motorbikes and cars, but shuttlebusses…..? This was a first.
  • Loads of people have old JAWA motorcycles or scooters in Cairo. One must be certifiably insane to RIDE one in traffic, but that is a different story. I saw a new sight recently, which was a JAWA trike. Still old, beat-up, bald tires, belching smoke, but a TRIKE. The more interesting thing was that the rider was a veiled woman!!! In 14 months in Cairo, I have seen women driving cars, or as passengers on motorcycles/scooters (frequently with the whole family on the bike) but NEVER as the operator of a two-wheeled vehicle. Her veil was flapping voluminously behind her, her knuckles were white and she looked TERRIFIED. Can’t say I blame her.

July 30, 2007

Test Anxiety

Filed under: Learning Curve — Kaddee @ 1:16 am

I think it is a natural reaction. We’ve all experienced test anxiety, whether at 16 for our driver’s license test or at 30 when defending our doctoral thesis. I’ve been “academically oriented” all my life, so testing has been a continual, and anxious, part of my entire life.

Yesterday, I was hit squarely with an irrational anxiety. I decided to take an Arabic course during the summer, and had to take and ORAL PLACEMENT TEST!!! I’ve had a semester of private tutoring (during which I was not a very dedicated student) and a semester of evening class (where I was a better student, but still not all that dedicated), and I LIVE in Cairo. Why am I so worried about a placement test?

Pride.

I’ve been here for a year, managing as best I can with the language. I really don’t want to be placed in Egyptian Arabic Level 1 AGAIN. Two semesters of it is enough – even if I wasn’t a very studious student.

To my great pleasure (far greater than the accomplishment merited) I placed into Level 2 Arabic class!!! Major anxiety passed, I felt giddy! :)

Now I begin classes, 3 hours per day, 5 days per week, 3 weeks. If I don’t learn a LOT of Egyptian Arabic during this time, it is my own failing.

March 26, 2007

Driving myself nutz

Filed under: Learning Curve — Kaddee @ 1:20 pm

This semester is an exciting and nerve-wracking endeavor. I am (as usual) my own worst enemy. I am teaching 2 classes that I taught last semseter (can you say CAKE WALK?) which, I have to be honest, I am doing little with. channeling Jack: push lever, get food pellet. I worked out the basics for those courses last semester, so this semester I am changing the things that didn’t work last time, but not stressing too hard about what DID work.

THEN there is my third course – or shall I say my ONLY course, as it takes about 99% of my time, energy and brain power. In this course, I am reading two texts (one of which I like and the other is the “traditional” text for the course), writing lectures and generating PowerPoints from (practically) scratch, writing lab handouts completely from scratch, trying to figure out what we HAVE that I can use and what I’m S.O.L. on (and frequently I find out that we really DID have some of this stuff, but…well…we don’t let the students USE it!! Sheesh! [insert eye-rolling emoticon here]).

Now, let’s be rational – I am putting the majority of the pressure on myself. Probably no suprise to anyone who is reading this. The previous instructor left/sent a BUNCH of information. I am using some of his images, some of his summaries, and a lot of his material for reference (for myself). The problem is, I am not him. His background, style and interests are VASTLY different from mine. So…I have to make this information, and this course, my own.

Apparently (from third-party information) the students think I’m doing a great job. My TA’s (I am assuming this based on NO data) think I’m a flake, since I don’t have my labs ready for meetings a week in advance, and I’m usually adding to them right up to the time that lab begins. The lab tech (again an assumption) thinks I’m totally NUTZ because I ask for EVERYTHING, and I let the students use it! I think I’m losing my mind because, after 10 years of teaching Human A&P I had it down to a routine , I knew what I needed, what we had, how to improvise and who to get stuff from. Now I’m running around like the proverbial chick sans head and LITERALLY learning as I go.

I am actually (if I take a slightly objective perspective) getting an incredible amount done in the first semester of teaching a course like this. I will have a MASSIVE foundation on which to build/refine the course next time. Right now, I’m just barely keeping my head above water. “Look to the future” I keep telling myself “It will get easier” Then I worry that the light is the oncoming train, and I won’t get to enjoy all the hard work I put in laying this foundation.

The nice thing about an academic job, however, is that EVERY semester MUST come to an end. It is the twice a year reset button that makes all the insanity go away so as to be forgotten before the next semester begins. I am an optomist, so I always believe that it will be new and different. Sometimes it is, sometimes it is Deja vu all over again. And still I keep on believing.

January 14, 2007

Valley of the Kings – part I

Filed under: Learning Curve,Travel — Kaddee @ 12:58 pm

The temples of Luxor and Karnak had exhausted us all, however the Valley of the Kings is one of the main reasons that one visits Luxor. Thus, we all went to bed early (about 9pm), in preparation for going to the Westbank early the next morning. The plan: the boys get up at oh-dark-thirty (about 5am) eat and head to the Westbank to get tickets for the valley sights. The girls would get up a little later (about 6:30am) and all would meet up on the Westbank. It all sounded good until my mobile phone rang at 10:40pm. I scrambled to find and answer it, only to find myself speaking to a pissed off Egyptian courier. Apparently he was from Al Italia and was standing at my apartment door in Cairo with mom’s bag! Only 5 days in the maelstrom that is the baggage handling on airlines! What a miracle. Then again, it was nearly 11pm and I was in LUXOR!! I asked him to leave the bag with the desk downstairs and hung up. WOO HOO – mom’s bag still existed!

At 11:30pm my mobile phone rang again – this can’t be good. Mr Courier man was just dropping mom’s bag at the airport again as he hadn’t figured out how to leave it at reception at the AUC hostel! When I questioned him on this, he hung up! OK, so now I have good news for mom (her bag exists) and bad news for mom (her bag is back at the airport and God knows if it will ever be found AGAIN!). No sleep for me.

The early wake-up call comes for Jack (it seems to me) just as I’m finally falling asleep. I set my phone alarm to get me up to meet mom and Kenz and promptly fell back asleep. The alarm launched me out of bed and into the shower so that we could get to the Valley of the Kings and meet up with the boys.

We had a lovely ferry ride (in accordance with mom’s “visions” of her arrival at the Valley of the Kings) across the river. We were only briefly hassled by a man who was sure that he could give us a much better price on a taxi for the Westbank sites than anyone else that we might meet. He finally left us alone when I dropped the “H” bomb (my husband)! We were met at the ferry by Ahmed, whom we found out was to be our driver for the day. Ahmed had a lovely Toyota Hiace minivan at which Steve and Jack awaited. We were off for the Valley of the Kings!

Steve and Jack regaled us of their morning tales as we wound our way up into the valley. Apparently, contrary to what we had heard and read (1) there was no ticket office near the ferry landing, so they had to go into the Valley to get our tickets and (b) there was really no reason to get there at oh-dark-thirty, we all could have come over together at a reasonable hour. OOPS, oh well. Now we were all here and excited to check it out!

On their ride over, the boys had met a very nice older gentleman who might (mumkin) be our guide. There was a lot of question about this since he had another group for the day, but we waited a bit to see if he (Mr Saleh) would arrive. We’d just given up, and were riding the mini-train up the valley when we saw Mr Saleh riding down. He arrived at the Valley gate on the next train. He is a stately gentleman, who garners immense respect from (seemingly) everyone on the Westbank. He spoke slowly, was unbelievably knowledgeable, and had the kindness of the grandfather everyone wishes for. We felt incredibly lucky to have this man guiding us.

Mr Saleh

Within the Valley, we saw 4 tombs. Three are included on the Valley of the Kings ticket, and we chose to purchase the extra ticket to see King Tut’s tomb – we had to do it, we were HERE!! The tombs that we visited were incredible. If memory serves me correctly, we visited:

  • KV2 – the tomb of Ramses IV – the most striking feature of which was the ceiling painting of the goddess Nut on a blue background in the burial chamber
  • KV6 – the tomb of Ramses IX – this one had a virtually raw painted rock burial chamber, as the pharaoh died before it was completed
  • KV8 – the tomb of Merneptah – this was an incredibly deep tomb with a granite sarcophagus lid in the final burial chamber. The lid had a breathtaking relief of the goddess Nut stretching from head to toe on the inner face!

At each tomb, Mr Saleh would give us a full rundown of the artworks, epochs, history and discovery of the tomb. I know that MY brain was brimming over with information and Kenzie managed to listened attentively at every tomb and even answered some of Mr Saleh’s questions!

Our final tomb visit in the Valley was, of course, KV 62

Tut

In reality, the tomb was smaller and much less impressive than the previous three that we’d been in. The truth of the matter was, the reason that EVERYONE knows about Tut and his tomb is because it is the ONLY ONE that was found intact – with gold, furniture, food, wine etc. No robbers had ever found this small tomb. The best inside feature (IMHO) was the painting of the 12 baboons to “entertain the king during the 12 hours of the night”. :)

December 4, 2006

Sometimes life is unfair

Filed under: Learning Curve — Kaddee @ 1:28 pm

I will preface this with – I am an EXTREMELY LUCKY individual. I’ve had opportunities that many people dream about. That being said, I’m currently mourning a missed opportunity.

[Whine]

For a few years I’ve been restless. I have a great job at HCC with great people, and yet it was not fulfilling my career “dreams”. I really wanted to be in a school like the one I got my Bachelor’s degree from – a small, private, liberal arts, four-year school. I know, I sound like a snotty, educational erudite, elitist, but THAT was my dream.

In searching for the elusive brass ring, I stumbled upon an unbelievable, temporary position in Cairo, Egypt! How cool would THAT be??!! The job description was nearly tailor made! My luck (and a little hard work) brought me to an amazing adventure, which I am still in the middle of. So, you ask, how can I possibly be lamenting a lost opportunity?

The small, private university position has been posted. It is in my specialty, neuroscience. It incorporates many of my strengths – teaching, involving undergraduates, working with graduates. It allows me to return to my love – working with the nervous system. It is located less than 10 miles from my house in Seattle. What could be better than this?

Much to my dismay – I’d heard rumor of this job, but could not find any listings for it, until today. Today, one of my closest friends (and evil twin), who is applying for this position (and is probably WAY better qualified for it than I am) posted some of the details of the job. The deadline for applications is tomorrow. Even if I stayed up all night to get the paperwork done, I couldn’t get all the necessary documents together, let alone to Seattle, in time.

[/Whine]

Seems like a small disappointment, considering that I’m living in Cairo, teaching at a prestigious international university, and yet I mourn my loss. Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

All *my* students are ABOVE AVERAGE

Filed under: Learning Curve,NSTIW — Kaddee @ 12:39 pm

So, in my Scientific Thinking classes, we had our first midterm just before the Eid in October. This was their first big exam with me. This class is part of the core curriculum and is required for graduation. Most students take it in their freshman year. The purpose of the course is to introduce the students to the “scientific method” of problem solving and critical thinking. The curriculum (which I have no direct control over) covers the coming of age of science – Ancient Greek astronomy, Galileo and Newton, Falsificationism, Big Bang, Darwin, DNA, Ethics in science. Mostly it shows the refining of scientific thought thru the major advances in astronomy since the time of Aristotle.

So…from my point of view, this is a fairly interesting “History of Science” course. We can play with different dominant paradigms and scientific revolutions. We can look at modern day news articles and websites and discuss things like evidence and fallacious rhetoric in everyday life. This has the potential to be an interactive and fun class.

Unfortunately it has not lived up to that. The educational system that most of the students have come from is a “memorize and regurgitate” style. Their lives are bounded by religious and cultural rules that they have never contemplated, let alone challenged or critically examined. SOUND FAMILIAR? Trying to get the students to interact, discuss or think is like pulling teeth. I have assigned some readings (Feynman, Sagan, Gould) that are written for the “lay scientist” and I give them reading questions to help them focus on key points. I tell them to answer the questions and we will use those to begin discussing the article in the next class. The “discussion” usually begins with the question, “What is the answer to question #whatever?”

Ok, so the stage is set. The first midterm went OK. Class average was about 77%. In preparation for the second midterm, we had an entire class period where we listed general topics we’d covered since the last midterm, vocabulary and key subtopics for each main topic. These were posted on the class website and students were told that they were “responsible” for that material. The second midterm comes. The NEXT DAY I have students in my office complaining about how hard the test was.

“It isn’t fair. You didn’t TELL us how to answer these questions.”
“The answers for the questions were not on your PowerPoint slides.”
“What are we supposed to do in a ‘Synthesis’ question? That covered a LOT of different topics at once. That wasn’t how we learned them in class.”

THE BEST WAS:
“You don’t understand, this is supposed to be an A class. We’re not supposed to WORK in this class.”

Well, the second midterm average was about 79%, class average is currently a 79%. Students have been POURING into my office because “you HAVE to scale the grades. These grades are too low. The (read this bit carefully) class average should be AT LEAST a B+!”

Apparently C is no longer average. Apparently the students don’t understand that a curve only HELPS if the class average is BELOW 75%. Apparently…

ALL OF MY STUDENTS ARE ABOVE AVERAGE.

November 3, 2006

Madrid and Casablanca

Filed under: Getting There,Learning Curve — Kaddee @ 8:14 am

Yes…as many of your astute comments have questioned…we went to Morocco via central Spain. As I’d said, we were on a tour that was sponsored by the Student Programs and Housing office. We were on a tour designed for the undergraduate students. (Read: CHEAP) In order to be cheap, you end up with the most circuitous flight arrangements! So our flight went from Cairo to Barcelona to Madrid (multi-hour layover) to Casablanca. We left Cairo at 12:30AM and arrived in Casablanca at noon local time (2pm Cairo time) – 14 hours of travel time. OUCH. Oh well, it is cheap.

We had a longer-than-planned stop in Barcelona, caused by our smarmy^H^H^H travel agent. Apparently he had messed up two of the tickets, so decided to deplane in Barcelona WITHOUT HIS LUGGAGE. Imagine airport security – Egyptian man and his wife get off a plane without their luggage at a stop that is not their destination. Kinda fishy?! Well, they searched the whole plane, trying to identify the owners of each piece of hand luggage, before we could go on to Madrid. The unfortunate part of this story is that one of the students was asleep during the search. Because she was sleeping, she did not claim her carryon bag, so it was confiscated in Barcelona. This bag contained EVERYTHING she was bringing!

When we FINALLY made it to Madrid, the best part of the layover was BREAKFAST (shown here with my mascot).

Beaver and Bocadillo

Jack and I got a chance to enjoy our favorite food on the planet: jamon bocadillos! These are crispy small baguettes filled with pieces of serrano jamon, sometimes Manchego cheese and a little olive oil. Khalas! That’s all! YUMMY!!! We practically lived on these during our trip to Spain. Bocadillos, fresh OJ, really good coffee and we were feeling good!

The flight to Casablanca was uneventful. The woman whose bag had been taken in Barcelona had to file a lost bag claim, but we got out of the airport with minimal chaos.

Casablanca, for the most part, was a disappointment. Everyone knows the name from the movie, but the city is a modern, planned, business center. It is neither lovely nor romantic. We had a “tour” of the city – saw the Corniche (seaside drive) and the Hassan II mosque (3rd largest mosque in the world, largest in Africa) and were pretty much done with Casablanca. Jack and I decided not to go for the dinner (arranged by the tour) and to strike out on our own. We found a FANTASTIC traditional Moroccan place (see Jack’s pics) near the hotel for pretty cheap but tasty Moroccan food.

In the morning, we were getting ready to head for Rabat, when we found out from the students about their dinner. Apparently they went to an italian restaurant (remember, we are in Morocco) AND were charged $20 (yes, that is US dollars!) per person for it. Jack’s and my Moroccan tagine and couscous dinner cost less than $20 TOTAL! We also found out that we all had to PAY EXTRA for the city tour of the previous day! AND the travel agent was asking it to be paid in AMERICAN DOLLARS. Spidey senses were tingling – this is not Kosher!!!

Rabat was fun. The Kasbah was beautiful, and Jack and I abandoned the tour about mid-day. The travel agent was not happy about this and warned us of “all the dangers in Rabat” before, begrudgingly, agreeing to our departure. (Not that his agreement was necessary in the first place… ) The rest of our day in Rabat was, although not overly spectacular, OURS. We wandered, ate street food, watched people, took pictures, laughed too loud and enjoyed ourselves. We got back to Casablanca on the train, for less than the “bus tour” cost.

We wakened the third day to cold rain in Casablanca. Not that it mattered, we had a 4 hour bus ride to Marrakech to look forward to!