September 28, 2006
“Can you tell me what letter THIS is?”
A question often posed to pre-school children as they are beginning to learn to read. They diligently say the name of each letter. They link the sounds of each letter to the next. They begin to sound out words.
This particular process of learning is usually concluded by a very young age, never to be thought about again. UNTIL YOU MOVE TO EGYPT. This is exactly the process I am going thru in learning Arabic. Imagine my joy when I looked at a street sign and could pick out the letters that spelled “street” in Arabic. Sheen – alif – ray – ein WOO HOO I can READ. Well, not really. However I am experiencing the same type of elation as I begin to recognize WORDS within the squiggles and dots that make up the language here. I find myself giggling maniacally in the street as I “decipher” some of the words. I’ve also experienced the bone-aching exhaustion that this type of mental activity produces. I’m amazed that kids ever learn language, considering how difficult and tiring it is.
For me, I’ve found Arabic to be challenging yet fun, in that I approach it as an exercise in symbol recognition and manipulation. It is like math, but prettier!
September 27, 2006
This is just a “stream-of-consciousness” update. I’ve been horribly remiss in my postings, mostly due to being extremely busy.
So – The Bank fiasco. This is still in full swing. Jack and I still have no ATM cards, the e-banking that I’d applied for 2 weeks ago still doesn’t work, and the people at the bank give me enigmatic stares and say “Insha’allah” when I ask when these things will get fixed. Tomorrow I have no classes to teach, so I will be at the bank when it opens to continue the “squeaky wheel” approach to getting my way.
Last weekend we went to the Pyramids. We were on another “bus tour” organized by AUC. We had a very knowledgable guide, but it was still a bus tour. (Think – “OK, you have 10 minutes here to take pictures then you need to be back on the bus so we can get to [blah].”) Jack and I have figured out that these organized tours are merely reconnaissance missions for us. They allow us to taste the places that we go, but do not allow for us to savor them. The savoring will be left to the two of us at a later date. With this outlook, even the bus tours can seem useful!
The trip to the pyramids was actually kinda fun. To see these Wonders of the Ancient World with one’s own eyes is quite breath-taking (as is the smell of the camels that everyone wants you to ride!). We poked around the Great Pyramid for a few minutes/pictures, then went to the Panorama. This is a hill near the pyramids that gives you a beautiful view of all three large pyramids, and the three small pyramids (which I didn’t previously know existed). Mostly a photo op, but not a bad “lay of the land”.
What I considered the most interesting part of the trip, was going into the Solar Boat Museum. This museum houses a completely reconstructed, “mummy boat” that had its own tomb beside the pyramid. The wood that comprises the bulk of the boat is around 3500 or 4000 years old! ??Where did the ancient Egyptians GET wood for a boat?? These boats were literal and figurative carriers of the bodies of the pharoahs. Literally, the boats brought the bodies to the tombs, figuratively they carried the souls and possessions to the next life. The boats were entombed in limestone burial chambers just like thier owners. These boats had narry a nail to hold them together. They were “stitched” together with ropes. The technical achievement that built these vessels is impressive!
We also went to see the Sphinx. It was very impressive, but being rushed thru the viewpoint, while a short history of pharoanic sphinxes is being chattered at you is not a proper way to experience this site.
Since our trip to the pyramids, it has been Ramadan. This is the Muslim month of fasting. I knew a bit about Ramadan from my students at Highline, however my experiences before coming to Cairo did not fully prepare me for the pervasiveness of Ramadan’s effects on life. The ENTIRE schedule of classes at AUC is changed during Ramadan. All classes start and end earlier. Classes now begin at 7am and there are no classes between 3pm and 6:30pm so that people can break the fast at Iftar. My students are virtually all fasting, so they can barely stay awake during class, and their brains are not running at normal speed due to low blood sugar and lack of sleep. Many of the services on campus have restricted hours or are completely closed. The one advantage is that I HAVE TO come home by 4pm, otherwise I can’t get a taxi or the shuttle until nearly 7pm. Live, learn, work less, live more.
September 23, 2006
Lots of people ask, “So what do you miss most, now that you are in Cairo?”
That is a very difficult question to answer. There are silly things that I was used to in the States that I can’t find here. For example:
- Half and half for my coffee – we’ve resorted to buying milk and whipping cream and combining them
- Snack bars – I used to eat Zone Bars almost daily as a snack to keep me going. Now I eat dried figs – like Fig Newtons, without the Newton
- Good coffee – I moved from Seattle where coffee is everywhere, here, Nescafe is everywhere. There is some good coffee (and the Turkish coffee will curl your toes!) but it is substantially harder to find. Even finding places to buy beans is a challenge
- WINE!!!!! There is wine here, but it is….horrible. This is coming from a person who was perfectly happy drinking two-buck Chuck! The wine here is mostly from imported Lebanese grapes, but the making of the wine leaves A LOT to be desired. Many of the wines have a chemical-y aftertaste, and cause my GI tract to rebel after one glass.
- My chair-and-a-half and hassock (sp?). Our furniture is functional. It is not pretty, nor particular comfortable. We do not have foot stools. We are working to rectify the situation, however (see below) we need to figure out the process. (more…)
September 18, 2006
This morning, one block from the Hostel, my taxi ran out of gas. Truly. Ran out of gas. We quietly coasted to a stop, just barely out of the lane of travel. My driver turns to me and babbles a whole lot of Arabic that I can’t understand and ends with a word that resembled, “Petrol”. Ah – yes, the engine is no longer running. We are out of gas.
He is very cheery about the whole thing and quickly gets out of the taxi and opens the trunk, from which he removes a Jerry Jug. I watch as he removes A gas cap from the filler tube (notice I did not say THE gas cap, as the one he removed was wrapped with plastic grocery bags to make it “fit”). He then pulls a wooden dowel rod out of the trunk. This caught my attention.
It took almost no time to figure out that the Jerry Jug did not have a spout (or a real lid, for that matter, it was another plastic grocery bag). He used the dowel rod to shove down the filler tube, opening up the “safety flap”, and also to give the gas something to “run down” to get it into the tank. He added somewhere between half a liter and a liter of gas.
Yes, you read that correctly.
He then threw all the implements back in the trunk and we merrily trundled off to AUC.
I must mention, this is WAY better than my driver to AUC the previous morning, who spend the entire ride telling me, in pidgin English, about his five “bee-bee’s”. His oldest daughter has breast cancer. She is going for an operation. If she doesn’t have 2 liters of blood (costing 300LE) then she will die. He has no money.
We spent the 10 minute ride with him wailing, pulling at his hair and crying. He kept insisting that he needed money to get blood for his daughter. I paid him a little extra when I got out of the taxi, and he wailed about his daughter…until I walked away. At which point, he ceased his wailing and gnashing and resumed his driving. Business as usual.
Every day (and every taxi) is a new adventure. I’m really getting to love this place.
ADDENDUM (the next day):Â It happened again!Â My taxi this morning ran out of gas.Â It was lurching and sputtering, and I thought, “This car is just about out of gas” when the engine went silent.Â THIS driver flagged another driver to take me to AUC, and unfortunately I had no extra “small money” (an upcoming post) so the first driver got no money and the second one got the full fare.
One other note: Streets.Â There are one-way and two-way streets.Â Apparently one just “knows” this, or can assess it by the direction of parked cars (not always conclusive) or the direction that OTHER cars are going on that street.Â The street beside the hostel is (I think) a one-way.Â However, in true Cairene fashion, as Jack and I were coming home from the symphony last evening, we gave the cabbie directions.Â We had him turn UP our side street – which is apparently a one-way (the opposite direction of what we told him).Â He did not even twitch.Â He drove the wrong way up the street for one block, past a passle of policemen, and turned to drop us off in front of the hostel.Â I guess “street direction” is merely the direction one is going, not a designation, just a suggestion.
September 16, 2006
Yup – it is true. The Faculty Services Committee has planned a bus tour of greater Cairo and the “New Campus” of AUC. It is an optional trip, and I’m not a HUGE fan of lots of people crammed on a bus, looking OUT of the fishbowl, yet I would like a better idea of the layout of Cairo, and what the new campus is all about.
It is my understanding that the new campus is “Way Out There” in the desert. It is supposed to be lovely and well appointed, but “Way Out There” in the desert. One of the current draws of AUC is that it is an urban campus, so I am interested to see what this new campus has to offer. The move is currently scheduled for the summer of 2008, so that all will be at the new campus in September 2008 (insha’allah).
After the tour: We went around a lot of the sections of Cairo, and the litany of historical “New Cairos” as the urban center has moved. Most of the moves have corresponded with vascillations in the river, and mad leaders (more later on mad leaders). That part of the tour, although intellectually fulfilling…got long. The interesting part of the tour was seeing “New Campus”
First – Yes it is “Way Out There” in the desert, however “Metropolitan Cairo” is also expanding rapidly in that direction. So the milesandmilesandmilesandmiles of unbroken desert that I expected on our journey to New Campus were not there. Going to and while at new campus, we could see housing and infrastructure being built. Now, keep in mind, it was BEING BUILT. This means that new campus may not be in the middle of NOTHING, but it is not an urban campus. One would still need transportation and time to do simple daily chores, like grocery shopping. And most of the housing is “gated luxery communities” which may (or may not) be to one’s liking.
Second – the planning for this campus is IMPRESSIVE. Lots of things have been taken into account (like being in a desert! and the maintenance of landscaping). The buildings have been designed to be low impact and to shade each other, making use of airways and courtyards to keep the campus cooler. The entire campus is a pedestrian core with large gardens surrouonding the main academic areas. The plantings are all locally grown, indigenous plants, with the landscaping used to maintain moisture and cool the air surrounding the campus. The THEORY behind the new campus seems wonderfully comprehensive – my question is, how will theory compare to practice?
The campus is still a long Way Out There. Many parts have been designed. Some parts are in the process of being built, others are mere speculation. One of the speculations is faculty housing. Another speculation is public transit linking the new campus to downtown. Theory and practice…
September 15, 2006
After saying goodbye to our stuff on August 11th, we welcomed it to our new home on September 12th.
Nine containers – only moderately beaten up – with ALL OUR BELONGINGS, except one box of anti-diarrheal tablets, delivered to our apartment! When I got home from school, Jack had already unpacked almost everything. He had gone thru our inventory, checked that things were there and stacked stuff all over the house. The amusing thing was going thru what we had shipped. We were both left laughing/questioning, “Why did we bring THAT?” and “Why DIDN’T we bring ***?”. As I’d stated in a previous post (9 containers – 68,000 cubic inches), there are no guidelines to follow. There is no list of “What everyone needs when they move to Cairo”
So, having packed more-or-less blindly, our chosen items, for better or worse, are here. I’ve already begun making lists for those coming to visit – cuz there are just some things that I can’t get here (or are “imported” here, so won’t pay the price for here!).
September 14, 2006
Well, I’ve now taught a FULL WEEK of classes. Where do I begin?
First – I take a taxi to and from school every day. The ride takes from 10 to 25 minutes, depending on the time of day (and the route that the driver decides to take). I “learned” early that there is a specific place that is best to catch the taxi each way, so that the driver takes the “most expedient” route to my destination. This doesn’t always work – especially if the driver has NO IDEA where your stated destination is!
So, I’ve “learned” the Arabic word for LEFT, RIGHT and STRAIGHT AHEAD, oh and HERE IS GOOD (for getting out). Unfortunately, I can’t give explicit directions in Arabic, because I haven’t learned that much yet. This precipitates interesting situations where I give a one word direction to the cabbie, and he (they are ALL men) proceeds to ask me about a million questions in Arabic. I’ve learned what the question “Btetkalema arabi?” means and the answer is always “La’a” (Do you speak arabic? No.) Lately I’ve been getting cheeky and answering “Shwaya” (a little) but in reality, that is incorrect.
Even so, I’ve had to direct a number of cabbies to both AUC in downtown and the hostel, in Zamalek. Luckily, left-right-straight and let me out here seem to do the trick! Even with “commuting” by taxi on a daily basis, I’m still a bit jumpy about the “traffic guidelines” or lack thereof that one experiences daily. There are a number of areas on my commute where a street/lane merges with a larger street/lane. There are lines painted on the street, and yet, there are AT LEAST n+1 cars (where n=number of lanes) driving in that space. Often there are n+3 in the space. So on a 2 lane bridge, I’m in a car that is one of 5 across the space. One learns quickly that elbows NEVER hang out the windows, as they will be take off by the adjacent taxi!
The two labs that I am teaching began this week. One is a distribution class (non-majors getting a science credit) the other is a majors intro class. The level of students (both academic and interest) is markedly different between the two classes, as are the instructional materials provided for the students. This is a great and very interesting introduction to two classes that are offered. The “stuff” available in the lab is less extensive than I’ve used before, but the content covered is much the same. The biggest difference, for me, is the relative “weight” of the lab in a given course. For some courses, students can FAIL the lab portion and still pass the class. After all the work at Highline to make sure that students in “lab science” classes received the “lab” component, this was startling to me.
My mantra this semester, however, is “Watch and learn”. It is futile to go into a new situation and immediately begin changing things you don’t understand. So, for this semester, I am doing as has “always” been done. I am keeping notes of how it is done, and any thoughts/reactions to be shared with colleagues later. No use shaking the snow globe right away – gotta know what the scene looks like first.
September 8, 2006
This is our first weekend, since arriving, when there were not “scheduled” things to be done. My first (partial) week of school is over, and Life in Cairo begins for real. We slept late, read some information about Islamic Cairo and decided to “look around” in some of the shopping areas and the Khan al Khalili – the famous souq of Cairo.
We began in downtown, just as prayer was finishing for midday (or so). I was in awe of the lines of men up-and-down some streets, all praying and moving in unison (I think Jack has a photo of the men on his blog). It gave me goosebumps to see the power of faith. We spent a couple of hours walking around in downtown, window shopping and attempting to get a mental map of the area. By 4, we were both STARVING, so had lunch at Felfella restaurant, an Egyptian place that is near the university. We had a yummy lunch of stuffed vine leaves, ?shakshouka? (onions, peppers, tomatoes, ground meat and an egg), and Kebab&Kofta. MMMMMMMMMMM It was delicious and got us ready to experience the Khan.
The taxi to the Khan was a bit pricey, but we got to the bazaar and plunged in.
It was packed, hot, only occasionally was there flat walking, there were hawkers everywhere – it was AMAZING. We got UNBELIEVABLY lost in the bowels of the food and metal working areas of the bazaar. It was apparent that we were in areas that are not frequented by tourists. The alleys got very tight and very difficult to pass. I got a little claustrophobic and uneasy for a bit, until we got back out into more open spaces.
Jack was a star at the Khan. Everyone wanted to talk to “Cowboy” or “Hulk Hogan” or “Ali Baba” (we’re guessing it was the beard that got him this one!). One guy followed us for a LONG way, asking Jack, “Where is your horse???” We got ideas of things that we will go back for, but today we bought nothing. This was a scouting mission, and a successful one at that. We retired into a taxi to head home for a beer – total bliss.
September 6, 2006
I have class at 3pm. I have 3 handouts to give the class. One is one page – I got that copied and ready – No problem. One is 2 pages – I’d like that back-to-back. Saves paper. The photocopier is in the secretary’s very cramped office.
She “works at her own pace” and noone multitasks. To double side photocopy, one photocopies one side and then HAND FEEDS EACH SHEET to get it to print on the other side. To get 40 copies for my class is a nightmare, and the secretary gets freaked out if anyone is in her office for too long. The third handout, well……….nevermind!
I left for class with 2 handouts copied, and the third….I had a few copies and told the students to “Look on with the person next to you” OY – I never figured I’d be so unprepared for a class
Yes, anal-retentive is ALWAYS hyphenated!
When I got back from class, I decided to be smarter (we need smarter frogs) for the Wednesday class. I got all the handouts (1 page + 2 pages + 3 pages) and put them together into a “packet”. I asked the secretary to send it to the copy center – 39 copies for Wednesday at 1pm. I crossed my fingers and called it a day.
Jack met me at the door of our apartment with a mango juice and vodka – I love that man!!!
September 3, 2006
We were “warned” by a former faculty member that To Do lists were different in Cairo. One makes the list, just the same as in the States, however, in Cairo, one designates a time to stop for the day, does as much of the list as possible up to that time, and then stops. The list is RARELY finished!
I had a list today as I went to school for my first “real” day. Orientation is over. Students are back on campus. Faculty are back. Classes begin in 2 days. My list had about 7 items on it – I accomplished 2! Getting on to my office computer and getting the programs loaded that I wanted turned out to be more time consuming than I’d imagined. However, I now have administrative access to my computer! I have Firefox and have banished IE and RealPlayer to the bowels of the Program list.
The trip to the bank was a disaster! About 15 to 20 minutes in line to be told that “There is no money yet for the new faculty” I was told “Monday or Tuesday, insh’allah” Welcome to Cairo.
Actually getting to other buildings and offices didn’t even come CLOSE to happening. Although I did get to the Faculty Lounge for lunch. Other than that there was a lot of social interaction with members of my department as we met and running from one office to another trying to find common items. (Apparently there are only 3 pair of scissors in Egypt, I couldn’t find a pair to save my sanity!)
By tomorrow (the day before classes begin) I should know my teaching schedule! Oh joy – I’ll have a day to make syllabi and try to figure out what I’m going to be doing in classes I’ve never taught. I seems that I’ll be teaching a general education class called “Scientific Thinking” and perhaps some labs for the general biology class for non-majors and/or labs for the science curriculum biology class. My classes may begin as early as 8am or end as late as 6pm. I’ll know, bukra, inhs’allah.