Kaddee’s Cairo Chronicles


February 22, 2009

All quiet in Zamalek

Filed under: How it works — Kaddee @ 9:00 pm

In case anyone is concerned because they heard about THIS - Jack and I were eating Chinese food at home when it happened.

We are fine.

We were blissfully ignorant until we heard about it on the news feed.

February 19, 2009

Bassily Hall

Filed under: How it works,What the...? — Kaddee @ 2:26 pm

We now “live” on a huge state-of-the-art campus in the middle of the desert.  That is what the PR people tell us.  I’m still not sure what state they mean, nor which art.  And it is not just the whiny, soon-to-be-leaving profs that are wondering about the choices for this move.

All that, however is water under the proverbial bridge.  We are there and we have to deal with it – in whatever way we can.

My most recent “Dealing” was in relation to the Core class that I coordinate.  Each week, we have  a General Lecture – general in the sense that everyone in the class goes to this lecture.  It is given 2 times during the week, so 300+ students attend the each presentation of the lecture.

Last semester the “grand lecture hall” was not yet complete, so we were put into the “next biggest hall”.  That hall (Mansour Hall – for those who know AUC) is a raked lecture hall that seats 225 people.  For those who can do simple arithmetic, you see that there is a problem.

We spent the entirety of Fall Semester shoe-horning students into Mansour Hall for the lecture.  No-one was happy with the arrangement – but we had no other options.

At the end of Fall Semester, we got the OK to schedule into the “grand lecture hall” – a.k.a. Bassily Hall.  Il hamduli’allah!!!!!  This hall was designed to seat 1400 people – should be no problem for 300 at a shot!  FINALLY things are getting easier.

So Spring semester begins and…. guess what….. we can’t have the hall for the first of our lectures because it is being used for the inauguration of the campus and graduate student mid-year graduation.  So much for reserving the hall!  Ok, so we go BACK to Mansour Hall, but only for the first General Lecture, then….AHHHH… into the big hall.

An unfortunate glitch was revealed to me as we were preparing for our first lecture in Bassily Hall.  After talking with everyone regarding using Bassily Hall for the General Lectures, the numbers of students we would need to accommodate, and double/triple checking (and being ASSURED) that the hall would be ready and available, I was informed less than a week before our first use of the hall that….
“Oh, by the way, there is no sound system, projector/computer/screen or any other type of AV equipment in the hall.  It was never installed.  I hope that doesn’t cause you any inconvenience.”

WHAT!!???  How are we supposed to give a lecture in a 1400 seat hall without any type of sound system?  There isn’t even WIRING in place for a sound system.  HOW THE HELL DID THEY DO THE INAUGURATION HERE?

Answer: AUC rented all of the equipment from a 3rd party source.

When is Bassily going to GET the equipment for giving lectures?
“UHHH, we don’t know, the campus is over budget.  It won’t be this semester.”

OK – <breathe> – then we need budget authorization to rent all the equipment from the 3rd party company, twice a week until the end of the semester.

“That seems like a fine solution – go ahead.”

WHAT!!?? Can you say “Penny wise and pound foolish”  Oh well, bottom line is that I get what I need for my class.  <WHEW> Catastrophe avoided.

Or not…

This week was the first time for us to get into Bassily Hall.  I was all atwitter to have the big hall.  Think of how much easier seating, attendance, and “riding herd” on the students will be when we can give each section a specific seating area that does not overlap with other sections!

I double checked with my secretary about the equpiment delivery, figured out seating for each section, made seating charts and went to Bassily to make sure everything was ready for the lecture.  And what to my wondering eyes should appear when I walked into Bassily Hall?  A tiny portable projection screen (you know the ones, your grandparents had them to show family movies on.  They fold up and stand in the front closet.  About 1.5 meters square – maybe) and a desktop projector.  FOR A 1400 SEAT AUDITORIUM.

I nearly had an aneurysm.

After my tirade in English to the equipment vendor, who spoke only Arabic, and frantic phone calls, and an Arabic tirade from my friend and close colleague, we settled what would be needed for Wednesday.

The lecture occurred with the tiny screen, an incredibly calm speaker who kept telling me, “Malesh, all will be fine” and a bunch of very confused students.

Wednesday was better – equipment wise, but Egypt happened in that lecture too.  That is for another post.

January 19, 2009

Perception and Praise

Filed under: How it works — Kaddee @ 2:47 pm

I have mentioned in the past that I am currently the coordinator for a general education course. This course is mandatory for all who will graduate from the University. It is supposed to give them the tools to think “scientifically” (a.k.a. critical thinking). Each semester we offer about 20 individual sections of the course and serve about 600 students.

The curriculum for this course was conceived about 10 years ago, the delivery mechanism was modified about 5 years ago, and the organization/implementation has NEVER been established for either the students or the faculty.

As faculty are brought on-board to teach the class (usually kicking and screaming, and only agreeing because they need credits to fulfill their contractual agreements) they are given the titles and general topics that will be covered in the weekly “General Lecture” and set free to figure the rest out on their own.

This was my introduction to the course. Now I am managing it!

As you might guess from the above description, I do not think highly of the mechanics of the course and its instruction. I like the *concept* of the course, but in its current state it does not, IMHO, come close to its conceptual origins. My opinions are shared by some others in the faculty, and the majority of the students (as indicated by their course evaluations and desperate efforts to avoid the class).

Administrative “perception” – We are giving the students the necessary tools to be critical thinkers, assess science and technology as it pertains to their lives, and be informed citizens.

Faculty “perception” – We are giving the students an appreciation of science and its paradigms by chronicling how science has learned from itself and evolved as a discipline. This appreciation will OBVIOUSLY instill the importance of science and a desire to understand more about themselves and the universe.

Student “perception” – This is a useless course full of information that has no relevance to me or my life. It is a “hoop” through which I must jump (and suffer) in order to graduate.

My “perception” – This course has potential to show the relevance of asking and answering questions, whether in the realm of “laboratory science” or assessment of claims in advertising. This course is NOT A SCIENCE COURSE, it is a course about evaluating and concluding from whatever claims/evidence are given.

All that said, I opened my mouth about the problems in the course and got appointed the coordinator of the class. As such, I felt obligated to start “revamping” the curriculum in a manner that I felt worked better FOR THE STUDENTS. Of course, this is not what the faculty wanted. Although they might not be happy with the current curriculum, change means work on their part. BAD KADDEE!

For the last semester, I’ve been working to find consensus (OY VEY) about how to change or rearrange the curriculum. Finally, at the end of the semester, I simply presented my way. Now I am attempting to formulate a working “outline” with readings, activities, links and other professional support materials for the faculty.

Everyone thinks this is great! Kaddee is doing all the work! “But could you add [blah]?”, “How am I going to present [blah]?”, “Are WE going to do [blah]?”

All the questions are presented after praise about what a great job I am doing – NOW DO MORE. I am only one person. I am teaching other courses. (As a matter of fact, I am not even teaching in this class, just coordinating and doing the entire curricular review)

AND MOST IMPORTANTLY – I am leaving at the end of the semester to go home! There is only so much I can (and am willing to) do.

I suppose I got myself into all this, and I will get myself out – in about 6 months!

The sick-and-twisted part of all of this is that the University has not figured out who will replace me as coordinator of this HUGE general ed class. This (to me) means that all the work I am doing right now will backslide to the previous state as soon as I leave. It takes effort to move forward. Is there anyone who will put in that effort after I am gone?

November 12, 2008

Post-election

Filed under: How it works,Uncategorized — Kaddee @ 2:25 pm

The much-touted US election has been blogged to death elsewhere, so I will add merely a little slice of Egypt to the mix.

All the hoopla and run-up to the election was felt here, but only for one candidate. As far as I can tell (and remember, I’m firmly ensconced in the proverbial Ivory Tower) there was “only one REAL candidate”, and it would be an “overwhelming, tsunami of popular vote” for said candidate.

Well, although that didn’t happen (even though otherwise statistically savvy academics are STILL claiming a landslide victory) the jubilation here was incredible.

In all that, I waited. And I waited. And I waited.

As a good democratic (not in the “Which party do you belong to” sense) citizen, I was prepared to exercise my right to express my opinion. I understand that in my state of residence, my vote is not really necessary, as the state ALWAYS goes one way.

Even so, I was patiently waiting to be a part of the process.

WELL NOW MY TIME HAS COME. My state and federal elections ballot was delivered to my desk today.

LOL – HMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM, who should I vote for?

November 10, 2008

“Let me buy you Paris”

Filed under: How it works,Uncategorized — Kaddee @ 6:46 pm

Well, only kinda – I have the joy to be able to give my darling part of the Christmas season in Paris.

This year, Eid el Adha (the BIG Eid) is the second week in December. This ROYALLY messes up class schedules, as we have a week off and then come back for 3 days before giving finals! Malesh!

We have already planned our Christmas/New Year’s trip, and have been trying to figure out what (if anything) we would do for Eid.

We were avoiding other Muslim countries, as the Eid is a time when EVERYTHING shuts down for the feast – so vacationers are frequently left with few options.

Gozi expressed interest in seeing Paris (funny since every time France is mentioned in his presence he exclaims, “F**k the French!!”). The tickets are unreasonable, but so are the French! Besides, Christmas season is Paris is supposed to be MAHVELOUS!

So off we go – for the start of the Christmas season in Paris. We have our flight and a hotel, what else could we need. It is Paris, after all.

September 30, 2008

Adventures in Stupidity – part 2

Filed under: How it works,What the...? — Kaddee @ 10:30 am

Transport-stupidity

After my nearly-aneurysm-inducing meeting with the Bb specialists, I decided it was time to go home. New Campus is in the middle-of-nowhere-Sahara-Desert. My commute is between 1 hour 15 minutes and 2 hours 30 minutes EACH WAY. It is Ramadan, so there are only 3 scheduled departures from NC to my neighborhood. However there are hourly shuttles to the old campus in downtown. I could bear no more, so I decided to take the shuttle.

I boarded a nearly full bus, which rapidly completed filling. Departure time was scheduled for 3:30pm. The bus was full by 3:10 or so. There were other buses also filling for the 3:30 run, so our driver departed once his bus was full. This has been standard practice for the last 3 weeks, as long as there are other buses to take passengers up until the scheduled departure time.

We had driven for about 15 to 20 minutes, the traffic was not too bad, and we were nearly at the Ring Road which leads to Cairo when the driver’s phone rang. He had to pull over to answer, as it is now a LE500 fine for talking on the phone while driving. After the call, he pulled a U-turn and started to drive BACK TO NEW CAMPUS!

Needless to say, much chaos ensued – all in Arabic. What was finally translated to me, by a student who was on the bus, was that the driver had left before the scheduled time and the dispatcher was going to reprimand him for it by making him return to NC!!! We tried calling the dispatcher from the bus to explain that if we returned to NC, the bus would ARRIVE there after the scheduled departure time – making the bus now LATE. We tried to explain that the bus was FULL, so in returning we could not take any other passengers. We tried to explain that people on the bus have other scheduled appointments in downtown that will be missed or severely delayed if we returned to NC. We tried to explain that this was an egregious waste of gasoline, time and resources. The dispatcher didn’t care – he must assert his authority and reprimand the driver.

So we returned to NC. When we arrived, I got off the bus to “have a few words” with the dispatcher. Of course, he spoke no English, or would not admit to speaking English. I asked for his supervisor’s mobile number, but, not surprisingly, it was turned off when I called. There were no English speakers available from the transport company to explain the rationale for why the bus had been turned around.

And the bus sat. Full of people with plans and destinations. The bus sat.

I eventually managed to get a seat on the 4:30pm bus to my neighborhood. The 3:30 shuttle bus, which had been brought back to NC was STILL SITTING THERE WHEN I LEFT AT 4:30pm.

I went to the transportation company’s website to lodge a complaint. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but when I clicked on the “Comment/Complaint” button I got a “404″ error. I had to laugh out loud. That pretty much sums it up.

Adventures in Stupidity – part 1

Filed under: How it works,What the...? — Kaddee @ 9:57 am

Techno-stupidity

I am frequently amazed to find that my “technical expertise” is substantially beyond that of others in my field (although the empirical evidence is vast), however I usually assume that the IT/ACT/Tech people know more about the systems and software than myself. I have been proven wrong.

The university has changed its “Classroom Management System” from, the now defunct, WebCT® to Blackboard®. (While moving to a new campus, etc, etc, etc – just to make life that much more fun for faculty, staff and students) This has been a VERY STEEP learning curve for everyone, aided by the fact that none of us were given access to Bb or our courses until after the semester began. So here we are with new technology that we know nothing about, no FM to use even if we WANT to, and a heavy reliance by many of us on the technology for delivery of content and presentation within our courses. Sounds like a winning combo! LOL

Having used Bb prior to coming to Egypt, I have an ever-so-slight advantage. However the product has gone through many upgrades since I last used it.

I am managing a 20 section class (although not teaching in it) and asked the Bb specialist to make me a “designer” on the class site. This seemed like a reasonable request, it was eventually granted, and I busily removed much of the outdated information and simplified the exceedingly laborious pathways (4 or 5 “clicks”) to access files. I had been doing this for over a week, thinking that it was being seen by all parties in the course. I WAS WRONG. Only instructors could see the changes, and only in an “instructors only” course that no-one looks at.

So I went to the Bb specialist and asked why this was happening. I explained that I wanted to be able to post “Global” content that would go out to all sections. All I received in return was a blank stare, and the response, “That is not possible.”

After 30 minutes, 3 phone calls to higher and higher levels within the tech support office, and the incessant repetition of “That is not possible”, my head nearly exploded. The final result was that I was told that there is no technology to support what I want to do and given a look that said I must be smoking crack.

My final effort was to go to the Blackboard webpage to see what I could find. On the front page of their Higher Education section was a banner, “Streamline multiple sections for large courses”. HMMMMMMMM how interesting. When I clicked on that banner I got:

The Blackboard Content System streamlines managing multiple sections of a large course. For example, an instructor may create a learning object for use in 15 different sections of a large course. On most campuses today, that would mean creating 15 different files, one for each section. With the Blackboard Content System, the learning object is created and stored just once. The instructor then simply links to it from all 15 course sections. The result: more effective use of the instructor’s time. When the instructor wants to update the learning object, he or she does it in one place and only one time.

I don’t know if this is going to work – or if I can get the techies to believe it, but I’ve gotta try.

September 19, 2008

Small Victories?

Filed under: How it works — Kaddee @ 11:17 am

Picture, if you will, the following New Campus vignettes:

Two faculty members bump into each other on the way to their respective classes. They exchange the usual pleasantries,

  • Fac #1 – “So, do YOU have an office yet?”
  • Fac #2 – “No, I’m camping out in [insert other faculty/department name here]‘s office for now. They have internet and a phone!!!”
  • Fac #1 – “NO KIDDING?? I have a room that locks, but no furniture, A/C, phone, internet or electricity.”
  • Fac #2 – “Yup, I know how that goes. I’m hoping for a locking room by the Eid .”
    • October 6th is when we return to school after the festival – Eid. Classes began September 7th. Many of us are HOPING for an office, not necessarily having the same level of functionality that we LEFT on old campus, ONLY a MONTH after classes have begun.
  • Fac #1 – “Good luck with the office – maybe you can get a computer too, insha’allah.” [Manic laughter from both faculty members as they depart]

A faculty member walks into their lecture room as another faculty member is finishing their class. The faculty member in the lecture hall is erasing the white board,

  • entering faculty – “WHERE DID YOU GET THAT ERASER???”
  • finishing faculty – “I was in the Provost’s office yesterday and they had them. I asked if I could have one, and they GAVE me one!!!!”
  • entering faculty – “Really??!! Yesterday??? Do you think they have any more?”
  • finishing faculty – “There were only about 5 when I got mine.”
  • entering faculty – “I still have 5 minutes before class begins, I’m going to RUN to the Provost’s office to see if I can have my own whiteboard eraser [a faraway, misty expression crosses faculty's face]“

This is our current state on New Campus. Ahh how far the mighty have fallen.

June 28, 2008

The Wedding-Anniversary-Vacation Trip: Rome

Filed under: How it works,Travel — Kaddee @ 11:06 am

After 2 weeks of relaxation in Barcelona, we flew to Rome for 4 days of being REAL tourists. I had not been in Rome for over 20 years (OMG – how is that possible??), and this was Jack’s first visit, so we had things to do.

Rome was MUCH hotter than Barcelona (although cooler in temperature than Cairo, it was much more uncomfortable due to the humidity). We made a valiant attempt to see as much as we could in four days. Unfortunately, both Jack and I were “out-of-shape” for the tourist blitzkrieg. The heat, humidity and hills took their toll on us!

The day we arrived, we met TV&KC near the Spanish Steps for a glass of wine and a nosh. The four of us had a beautiful postprandial stroll to the Trevi Fountain before heading off on our separate ways.

This is one of the cool perks of this job and location. How often does anyone get the chance to say, “We flew to Rome and met XYZ for a drink and a stroll….”? I know I am incredibly lucky to be able to do it – and it makes me giggle to see it in “print”. :)

Day 2 in Rome was scheduled for a FULL itinerary of tourist stuff: Colliseum, Forum, Pantheon. We got a very late start, and only managed the Colliseum, due to the heat.

Day 3 was mellow, in that we used one of the Hop-on-Hop-off busses to get around the city. We stopped at the “Bocca de la Verite”, Plaza Venezia, Plaza Navona, Plaza de Popolo. Again it was hot, so we would stop for a few pictures, something to drink and a short walk around each area before getting back on the bus. We drove by the Circo Maximus and the Forum, and the Vatican, but did not have the energy to explore either place. In the evening, we went back to Plaza de Popolo for an outdoor “show”. It was similar to the one we saw in Lisbon 9 years ago. There was scaffolding and guy wires around the fountain on which acrobats performed “dances” in mid-air. There was also a stage around the fountain, where dancers performed short choreographed pieces in shallow pools of water! Very odd, surreal and fun!

Day 4 (our last day) we went to the Vatican museums. I *had* to see the Raphael “The School of Athens” fresco. It is one of my all-time, Renaissance favorites. I was nearly in tears (really!) to see it in person!

And, of course, we were both excited to see the Sistine Chapel. I cannot express my awe at the frescos of the Chapel, and my horror at the general behavior of the masses of people in the Chapel. There are signs everywhere, and guards “reminding” everyone that this is a religious place – BE QUIET and no pictures or video are allowed. I think Jack and I were the ONLY TWO PEOPLE who DID NOT take any photos in the Sistine Chapel. EVEN THE NUNS WERE TAKING FLASH PHOTOS. I was horrified and offended by people’s behavior, and I am not Catholic, or even religious!

After the Vatican, we went to another religious structure – the Pantheon. This was a bit more in line with my ideas. It has survived for over 2000 years by serving as a site of worship for “all gods”. The interior is still beautifully covered in marble and inlays, and there is nothing quite as captivating as the “Oculus” in the ceiling, allowing a single beam of natural light to illuminate the interior.

More Rome photos HERE.

May 9, 2008

Seasonal food

Filed under: How it works — Kaddee @ 10:01 pm

Jack posted recently about eating seasonally, in reference to an OUTSTANDING Tomato Lime soup from the Moosewood. We have come across certain recipes, over the years, that we really enjoy during “season”.

Egypt is all about season. Eat the mangoes/figs/apricots when they are in season, then you don’t have them for another 3 or 4 months. The fruits are incredible, but the seasons are short. Luckily for us, here most of them have more than one crop per year (mangoes have 2, tomatoes have 3).

Right now is prime watermelon season! They are as big as a basketball and so juicy that you can’t eat them (modestly) in public! Before we left to come to Egypt, a good friend, LindaF, made dinner for us including the most exquisite watermelon salad.

This evening, I made the salad for us and AnneJ, to great raves. It seems an odd combination – watermelon, cucumbers, blue cheese, vinegar, honey and tea. The end product is a sweet/savory tastebud sensation.

In the States, we frequently forget what is “in season” because we can get things year-round. I have to admit, I enjoy varying my diet to match the best fruits and veggies available. We eat fresher, and the food tastes better! Go figure.