Kaddee’s Cairo Chronicles

May 30, 2009

Spinning – out of control

Filed under: Chaos — Kaddee @ 10:33 am

Most of you, who know me, know that I have a tendancy to be anal-hyphen-retentive about things.  I like to, at least give the appearance of, be in control.  Mostly this works well for me (and gozi – since HE benefits from my control issues).  In the run-up to departing Egypt, this is turning out to be a MAJOR hindrance to my mental health!!

The Scream

Yesterday the crew from the University came to begin our “pack-out”.  Leila, the overseer/boss, and her 3 minions were here from 9am to 4pm.  In that time, they packed 14 boxes with 430kg (YES, you read that correctly) of stuff.

This is in stark contrast to my packing of our stuff to come here.  It took me the better part of the summer to sort, pack, inventory and organize our 9 boxes to move to Egypt.  My inventory was a 7 page Excel spread sheet that itemized EVERYTHING, down to the number of pairs of socks, Immodium tablets and packets of Post-it notes.  I knew exactly which boxes contained which items, AND (this is one of my odd packing quirks) I had a visual memory of where within each box I could locate said items.

This type of order and control suited me in such an otherwise turbulent time.

I do not have that order or control now.  Our boxes are numbered and the inventory to leave states things like “Womens & Mens clothing”.  That is the ENTIRITY of the inventory for some boxes!!!!!! I don’t know which items are in which boxes.  Boxes of books just say “Books” – not which kinds (computer books, Biology texts, cook books etc.) – just “Books”.

Signs of the Times

And the problem is, that is not the end of it.  We will have a “final pack-out” just before we leave for the “last minute” items.  This includes the computers, the SCUBA gear, the last of our clothing! When we move here, we came directly from Seattle, with 4 checked bags.  On our way back, we are enjoying our trip – so we are taking minimal luggage, and visiting new and exotic destinations.

This means that ALL our clothing and the stuff we “carried on” to come here has to be shipped.  There are minor problems with this – batteries are not allowed in air freight.  What are we supposed to do with laptops?  Sonicare toothbrush? The batteries, themselves, are nearly equal to the replacement costs of some of the items, and other items it is impossible to remove the batteries.  I don’t know what/how to deal with all this.  I just keep reminding myself that it will all work out somehow – it always does.


May 25, 2009

Don’t drink the water

Filed under: What the...? — Kaddee @ 4:07 pm

I’m not referring to Cairo – the water here tastes like you are drinking from a swimming pool due to all the chlorine, but it is SAFE.

I’m talking about the multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art New Campus.  Just out on e-mail:

Water Quality Issue on AUC New Campus
As part of AUC’s routine monitoring and testing of its domestic water supply, a bacteria (protozoa) has been discovered in the water system, which needs to be removed.  This bacteria may present gastrointestinal type issues. Until testing determines that the bacteria has been removed, please do not drink the tap water on the New Cairo Campus. Boiled tap water may be safely used for purposes of making tea and coffee.
A team from facilities and operations, environmental health and safety, and our medical clinic are working together to effectively resolve this issue in as timely a fashion as possible. We will keep you posted on our progress in correcting this issue.
I should be (and to some extent AM) glad that they are monitoring the situation, however I find it unsettling that we are discovering significant HEALTH issues on an actively functioning and (may I remind you) BRAND NEW campus.  This is not an issue of old plumbing, which I would have expected on the downtown campus.

Also – as a biologist – I would FAIL, even a 100-level, student of  mine who called a BACTERIA a protozoan.

From Wikipedia (the wealth of all modern knowledge): (from Greek ?????? proton “first” and ??? zoa “animals”; singular protozoon) are microorganisms classified as unicellular eukaryotes.[1] While there is no exact definition of the term “protozoan”, most scientists use the word to refer to a unicellular heterotrophic protist, such as an amoeba or a ciliate.
So – what is in the water?  Don’t know, but I’m sticking with the bottled stuff.  At least there I’ll only find mold spores and regular, old, everyday DIRT.  The things that my  system is USED TO!!!

May 23, 2009

Authorization for Departure

Filed under: How it works — Kaddee @ 6:39 pm

No kidding – I have to be authorized by a bunch of bureaucrats and secretaries before I will be allowed to depart!  LOL

I have begun the long and tortuous process of collecting signatures on an “official” piece of paper.  We are in the 21st century, at a “state-of-the-art” campus and I am spending hours wandering around to offices to attempt to get people to sign a piece of paper!

So far I have managed-

  • Faculty Services – Miss Louise has to sign off that I have not taken (and kept) books from the Faculty Lounge Library – this one was the easiest, because I KNOW Louise and where her office is!
  • Main Library – this SEEMS straight forward, except no-one at the circulation desk seems to know who is authorized to sign the piece of paper.  Three separate people asked for my ID, checked that I had no overdue books or items on reserve or hold and agreed that I am “clear” but no-one would sign the paper!  Finally, one of the staff just signed a squiggle on the line and told me I could go.  The others looked  mortified at the gall of the signator!
  • International Phone Office – (no I am not kidding) I didn’t even know there WAS such a place, nor did I have any idea why I needed to go there.  I was informed that the office had to make sure that I had not made any international calls through the University switchboard!  WHAT?  Is that possible?  There’s a switchboard somewhere?
  • Chain Supply Office – I have ABSOLUTELY no idea what this office does – it used to be the Business Support office, not that that is any clearer to me.
  • Human Resources Office – they, apparently, need to make sure that I don’t owe the University Clinic any money for things not covered by my health plan.  I think the actual reason for the signature is so that they can try to sell you the insurance COBRA coverage.  Sigh.

I still have a number of signatures to get:

  • Housing has to come and make sure that I’m not taking home any of their rugs or lamps
  • The Dean of SSE and the Chair of Biology have to make sure that I’ve “completed my contractual obligations” to the University before I can be “authorized” to leave
  • Payroll (who won’t sign off until everyone else has, but you have to go thru many hoops with them BEFORE you can get everyone else’s signatures)

I am rather bemused at the MASSIVE headaches that must go on for me to LEAVE the institution.  It seems like harder work than getting there in the first place!

May 20, 2009

Another trip around the sun

Filed under: Friends — Kaddee @ 9:25 pm

I’ve just completed my third trip around the sun since moving to Cairo.  The first one marked a decade – the rest have been just as good.

We celebrated this one with our farewell “Third Tuesday” happy hour(s) at our flat.  We’ve been hosting this gathering for the majority of the three years here, and this was our final one.

It has been a great run – we had an incredible turnout of people for the “Mawlid” extravaganza and final happy hour at our place.  I will miss the people and the community greatly.  We have built a really good band of crazy friends here.  Leaving them makes me sad.

There will be things that I won’t miss – having to cover my shoulders and knees in PUBLIC, not being allowed to touch or kiss my hubby in public, CRAP WINE!!!!  But all-in-all, I wouldn’t trade this three years, the people I’ve met, the things I’ve seen, the joys and frustrations I’ve experienced, for ANYTHING in the world.  Certainly  not the “safety” and “normalcy” of staying in the States.

I’m not sure that my forays around the sun have made me any wiser, but they have certainly been FUN.  Looking forward to many more.

Thanks everyone!

May 16, 2009

Things we will miss

Filed under: Being There,Friends — Kaddee @ 5:42 pm

BCA booze cruises on the Nile.

An entire afternoon of cruising the Nile on a lovely yacht, buffet lunch and cash bar.  Life is really good.

We will miss the boys of the BCA especially – they have been a family-away-from-home for us.


A handful more pictures HERE.  (*Disclaimer: the web page contains a mix of photos from both Jack and me.  The photo above is Jack’s)

May 11, 2009

BackDraft: Zanzibar

Filed under: Travel — Kaddee @ 6:24 am

I have been horribly remiss in posting more about Zanzibar.  I manged to post FROM Zanzibar, and then only a SINGLE photo once I got home.  I apologize but am not sorry.  Things are quite hectic.

So…here goes.  We were in Zanzibar for about 10 days for Spring Break.  One word: SPECTACULAR!!!  Hot, hot, hot, humid, humid, humid.  Beautiful white-sugar-sand beaches, fresh fish every day, reading fiction and swimming in the Indian Ocean.  We spend 7 days on Kendwa Beach at the northern end of the island.

After a week of relaxation we headed to Stone Town and the Zanzibar Coffee House for a three-day stay.  (The photo at the bottom of the page is the room we stayed in – the Macchiato!)  We continued our slothful ways in Stone Town, doing little of the usual tourist stuff.  We DID, however, manage to break the high-gravity and book a trip to the Zanzibar Butterfly Center & Jozani Forest (southeast of Stone Town).

We spent half-a-day hiking in an old-growth forest of red mahogony and gum trees with (at least) 5 different types of palms and figs.  We saw blue monkeys WAY up in the trees, crab spiders too close for our comfort and Zanzabari Red Colobus Monkeys that wanted to play with us.  We also went to the mangrove forest on the West side of the island.

I really enjoyed taking pics of the plants, flowers and critters.

img_0272Zanzibar – Flora & Fauna

The beach, the sunsets, the doors were also great fun

Zanzibar – Views

May 9, 2009

Stress springs eternal

Filed under: How it works — Kaddee @ 12:12 pm

Especially at this time in the semester!

I *should* know better/have learned by now….and yet, in the inimitable words of my hubby, “I spend my life lurching from one crisis to the next.”

The end of the semester is always stressful.  Students are cranky and have already checked out for the summer.  Grading MUST be done quickly so that student grades can be submitted before summer deadlines.  Committees and departments are trying to wind up all their projects before everyone scatters for the summer.  And THIS year, I am attempting to tie up loose ends with the course I’ve been coordinating so that I can hand it over, get ready to participate in a panel discussion at an international colloquium and prepare to leave Cairo for good.  Needless to say there is a bit going on.

On the student front – I’m nearly apoplectic about my students right now.  They have been working on a semester long paper, in installments, that is due TOMORROW.  They received their marked last installment last week for incorporation into the final draft.  Half of the class has not even looked at the mark-ups yet!  Two of the students FAILED the installment and have to COMPLETELY rewrite.  They seem to have simply gone on break early.

Some friends and colleagues try to remind me that I am not personally responsible for the students’ grades – they make decisions and their grades reflect their priorities.  I know that, but I also really want them to succeed.   Contrary to popular (student) opinion, I (and professors, in general) do not gain any pleasure by submitting low or failing grades!

On the department front – I’ve been working on getting an assessment plan outlined.  Just a “small project before I leave”.  The department has been reticent to obstinant about the entire process.  “We did that in 2004!!!  Why are we revisiting this??”  I HAVE managed to get a student exit survey in place, but any form of legitimate programmatic assessment at the course level is being actively blocked.  Oh well – Malesh

On the colloquium front – I’m actually excited and glad to be doing this, just not NOW.  Some colleagues and I will be presenting at the international “Building the Scientific Mind” colloquium here in Cairo this coming week.  We will be discussing the changes that we have been making in the course that I coordinate.  It is a good networking and CV building experience, and I think we’ll actually learn a lot and have fun!  But I’m in prep-phase right now, which is decidedly NOT fun.

Last and CERTAINLY not least is the “moving BACK half-way around the world” front – this was a royal PITA the first time.  We have less stuff now – all the furniture belongs to AUC, we have no vehicles, few(er) books etc, but we STILL have to sort, sell, pack, ship and otherwise DEAL with all the stuff!

Jack is in Excel/webpage hell right now – trying to sort, categorize, photograph and post all our “For Sale” stuff.

I’m in paperwork hell.  I am dealing with AUC and all the forms, attachments, scheduling and other logistics.  Considering that AUC sends, at least some, faculty home EVERY SEMESTER and has been doing so for 90 years, the process could sure use some updating and streamlining.  (And perhaps a straight-forward set of instructions!!??)  [sigh]

I shouldn’t be surprised by the process, as the process to come over was EVEN LESS well-defined.  Ahh malesh, ed donia kiddah.

May 2, 2009

Mafeesh Pork!

Filed under: How it works,What the...? — Kaddee @ 9:46 am

In an unprecedented (and almost definitely ill-advised) move, the Egyptian government decided that the way to prevent swine flu in the country was to kill all the pigs.  I am simultaneously stunned and not about this knee-jerk over-reaction.

These actions demonstrate a distinct lack of:

  1. Understanding of the virus and its epidemiology
    1. There have been NO CASES of swine flu in Egypt.  Unlike bird flu, this one is not present in the country.  (Some say, it is  not here YET!!  So let’s kill all the pigs before it gets here!)
    2. This flu is NOT the flu that pigs get!  It is a chimera of human, pig and bird.  It is similar to pig flu, but IS NOT THE SAME.

    Michael Shaw, the CDC’s associate director for laboratory science states, “Everybody’s calling it swine flu, but the better term is swine-like. It’s like viruses we have seen in pigs — it’s not something we know was in pigs. It doesn’t really have any close relative.”

  2. Understanding of the longer term effects of eradicating the pig population in Egypt
    1. Pigs here are the main organic waste recyclers.  Pigs are kept by the zabaleen (garbage collectors) and are fed the organic wastes – kitchen scraps, fruit rinds and pits etc.
      1. For those who are wondering – most of the zabaleen are Christian, and therefore do not abide by the Islamic ban on pigs and pork.  They raise the pigs on the organic wastes, and then sell the pork products to restaurants etc.  Many Coptic-run restaurants in Cairo serve pork.
    2. Eradication of the pig means that the disposal of garbage will also be decreased or eliminated.  Obviously, the health risks of growing piles of garbage have not been taken into account.  (Remember the garbage strike in Naples about a year ago??)
    3. The sale of pork is also a mainstay of the zabaleen economy.  Interestingly, since the slaughter of the pigs began on Wednesday (April 29), the SALE of pork products in the usual places has ALSO been eliminated.  A critical thinking individual would wonder WHY?????  The virus cannot be passed via eating pork products.

We encountered this unfortunate reality yesterday at Maison Thomas – our 2nd favorite pizza place (1st favorite for delivery).  I attempted to order the Croque Monsieur for lunch yesterday and was told, “No ham – international bans.”  Whatever that means.

The conspiracy theorists in Egypt are saying that this is the working of the Brotherhood to eliminate all the pigs in Egypt, and insure that pigs will never be raised in the country again.  Others are saying that this is a Zionist plot and that the flu has been engineered.

I don’t think it is all that sinister.  I think it is the two most commonly mixed ingredients of bad decision making: ignorance and fear.

For me, it simply means no more pork products until we leave Egypt.  <sigh>