Kaddee’s Cairo Chronicles

June 25, 2009

Can’t fully grok this

Filed under: How it works — Kaddee @ 3:21 pm

Our AUC car will be here to pick us up in about 3 hours.  This is nothing new or different – but it is.  THIS TIME we don’t have a return flight.  THIS TIME we aren’t coming back.

I am having a lot of difficulty with this, for many reasons.  I am not fully prepared to leave.  I don’t mean that I’m not packed, or anything like that, but I am not chomping at the proverbial bit to hop on a plane while doing the Happy Jig.  This feeling is rather new for me.  Just about everywhere I’ve ever left, I’ve done so with a clear conscience and narry a backward glance.  The only exception was Seattle because I knew I was going back there.  Leaving Cairo is not like leaving Hamilton, New York or Albany or even Ports-mouse, New Hampshire.  When I leave Cairo, as sappily melancholy as it sounds, I’ll be leaving part of me here.  That is new.  That is hard.

And somehow the people here have become intricately intertwined in our lives in a very short time.  We have friends in Seattle that I’ve known for 10 years that I don’t feel as tied to as some of our Cairo friends.  Is that “trench mentality” (as a friend recently put it)?  Is it part of being an ex-pat?  Is it just the way that things are in Egypt?  I am already missing some off the friends, and we haven’t left yet.  And some we didn’t get to see.  Perhaps we never will.

There is also a complete and utter cognitive disconnect with our imminent departure and its reality.  I’ve watched my 603kg in 19 boxes disappear.  I’ve sorted, shipped or sh*t-canned all my stuff – AGAIN.  I’ve gotten the signatures and given back the keys.  And yet it isn’t real.

Perhaps it is simply the exhaustion factor.  Perhaps it is three years living in Da-Nile (heh – Zamalek is an island!).  I don’t know, but it isn’t real.

June 23, 2009

Going, going…

Filed under: Chaos — Kaddee @ 10:42 am

The packing is finished.

The boxes have been taken away – to be air freighted to the US in time to meet us there.  The pick-up was at 5:30 this morning.  Nineteen boxes, 603 kilos – our life in Cairo.

We are out of our flat – paranoid fear of getting locked in again has pushed us to “couch surf” our last few days in Cairo.

Attempting to tie up the last few loose ends and then….


June 15, 2009

Finally free

Filed under: How it works — Kaddee @ 7:40 am

It is just before 8am on Monday, June 15th, and the doors of the Zamalek dorm are unlocked, finally.

People are coming and going in a nearly festive mood.  Outsiders are coming in and greeting some of the “inmates” as though they have just been rescued and released from the Somali pirates – happy to see each other alive.

The medical staff and ministry people are presiding over the entire scene with the air of the “saviours” who brought us out of the darkness of A(H1N1) to our “reintegration” with the outside world.

In my (not really very humble) estimation – this is a ridiculous farce.  There was NOTHING WRONG with ANY of the people who were locked-up in the dorm for a week.  NO ONE HAD THE VIRUS.  The infected individuals were taken to a hospital on Sunday and Monday last week.  There was no further testing of people in the dorm.  There were no instances of illness.  We were all given prophylactic Tamiflu.  And we were left in the dorm so that the public could see how efficiently and effectively THIS flu was being handled.

A complete fiasco.  Incarcerating us for  5 days BEYOND isolation of the infected and distribution of Tamiflu had NO BEARING on the spread of the virus.  Students, staff and faculty were restricted in their  ability to enter and leave the building, but Ministry staff, some guards and other “important” people came and went – usually without masks or any other protection from viral contamination.

I feel like I’ve been used for a huge public health side-show, that had nothing to do with REALLY improving public health.

It is done now – people will take credit for doing valient things to protect the public.  We are now allowed to move freely – personal freedoms recovered.  I suppose I should be happy – I’m simply relieved.

June 13, 2009


Filed under: What the...? — Kaddee @ 10:34 am


I thought I’d managed to make it thru all stages to “Acceptance” – I was wrong.

Maybe it is just cabin-fever.

Maybe it is PMS.

Maybe it is the fact that this “quarantine” is a joke – as the students are congregating in large groups, the dorm sponsored a “dance party” the other night where everyone was invited to get together for snacks and soda on the roof terrace, and there has been no “re-testing” of any of the residents to see if this extended incarceration is even NECESSARY.

Or maybe it is the complete idiocy of this entire event.  The students who precipitated this lockdown – 2 on Sunday the 7th and 5 more on Monday the 8th – have been hospitalized, treated  AND RELEASED while the rest of us rot in quarantine.  So the infected individuals are out on the street, able to move about freely, and those who ALL tested negative are still locked up.  WTF.

June 11, 2009

Quarantine doesn’t suck so bad…

Filed under: Friends — Kaddee @ 10:03 am

if you have friends like ours.

We have been locked up for 3 days, and our insane, wonderful friends have made it bearable.  We have been the recipients of numerous, generous care packages.

We have received movies, books, homemade chocolate chip cookies, NewYorker and Gourmet magazines, wine, Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit, and even knitting supplies (yarn & needles) for entire projects.  Yup – all in care packages.

Friends have gone to the grocery store for us and dropped by essentials like bread, milk and toilet paper – the types of things one doesn’t usually ask someone else to buy for them.

Our friends have stood outside the building, waved, blown kisses, offered spice cakes complete with files and even motorbikes for pulling a Steve McQueen to get out of here.

Last night was the most creative and fun idea yet – friends had dropped off a Trivial Pursuit game, and challenged us to a game via  Skype!  So 5 of us played – 2 in quarantine in Zamalek, 3 hanging out in Garden City.  After about 2 and a 1/2 hours we were no where near finishing, but we were all laughing and having a great time.  Who’d have thought that a video Skype connection could be so much fun (legally)?? Apparently our excellent friends!

Our friends are amazing.  We are getting calls, texts and e-mails every day to make sure we are ok.  People have been amazingly generous of their time and supplies to make sure that we are comfortable and entertained.

Our friends are amazing.

June 9, 2009

Lockdown Limbo

Filed under: NSTIW — Kaddee @ 12:54 pm

Yes – we are still locked in.  Every time we ask about WHEN we will know what is going on for the quarantine, we get a vague – “We don’t know”, “Mumkin in one hour”, “Soon, insha’allah“.

Of course, if you READ and have looked at any of a dozen articles published by the international news agencies, you will find very specific timelines:

No-one here will say it is for 7 days – but we JUST got the  news that 5 more students (all from one summer program) tested positive.  So it looks like we will be hanging out here for a while longer.  Perhaps even the full 7 days — so much for a relaxing week on the beach before departure.


June 8, 2009

More on TRAPPED!!!

Filed under: NSTIW — Kaddee @ 4:28 pm

No, that is not moron although I wonder….

So… Since our first post at about 9:30 this  morning, there have been many ups and downs.  Mostly downs – total, in the dumps, downs.  As I said in the previous post, we “did experiments”.  We went downstairs and attempted to get out of the building.  We were definitively denied.

We spent a couple of hours in the flat.  There is nothing that makes you want to get out more than being told you can’t.  We’ve spent ENTIRE happy weekends never leaving the flat or the building – but my stress mounts exponentially now that I CANNOT leave whenever I want.

The University/Minsitry guys had said that a doctor would be coming back around 10:30am to finish collecting samples from all the people that were smart enough not to answer the door att 3am.  Yes, those knocks were the Minsitry doctors.

We were just contemplating if it would be worse for our attempts to get out if we DID have the swabs done (with, of course, the chance that they could come back positive) or DID NOT get the swabs done (how likely is it that they have kept good enough records to KNOW who has been tested and who hasn’t) when the phone rang.  It was the Ministry officials – “Miss, you must come downstairs IMMEDIATELY to have a test done.  This is VERY IMPORTANT.”

Ok, apparently they HAVE kept records…. That was quite a surprise.  We went and got throat swabbed.  Most of the others were also smart enough to NOT answer the door at 3am.  Many of the Egyptians didn’t understand…

We’ve now been locked in – and conscious of our containment – for about 8 hours.  I am cranky and miffed and a bit concerned.  Mostly cranky and miffed, because I’m not convinced that what they are doing is really going to help AT ALL.

Luckily for us, they are allowing deliveries (like ~200 Pizza Hut mini-pizzas, supplied by Student Housing), so if this drags on, as it seems it will, at least we can eat.


Filed under: NSTIW — Kaddee @ 9:26 am

Last night, at 3:30am, there was a knock on the door to our flat.  A few minutes later, another knock.   Insomnia has been my constant companion, especially around that time, for the last few weeks, so I noticed the knock, but I CERTAINLY was not going to answer it at that ungodly time!

This morning, I  got up and was checking my AUC mail, when I found this in my Inbox:

Please be advised that overnight the Egyptian Ministry of Health confirmed positive H1N1 test results for two AUC students. These two students have been hospitalized and are receiving the necessary medical treatment. A third student was also hospitalized as a cautionary measure because she had  a high fever, which is symptomatic of this flu.
These students are all residents of the Zamalek dormitory and as a result the dormitory has been quarantined for 24 hours. The Ministry of Health has obtained samples from all residents of the dormitory and those results are expected later today.
AUC’s medical clinic is working closely with the Egyptian Miistry of Health to effectively manage this testing process and to provide the necessary care for all of our students.
This is all of the information available.at this time; as we receive further information, it will be shared immediately with the AUC community.

Imagine my surprise – I LIVE IN THE ZAMALEK DORM!!!  Upstairs from the students, but we share all the same common areas, elevators etc.  We were never tested!!!  How can you lock us in quarantine when we  haven’t been tested, let alone informed.

HMMMM – perhaps that was the middle-of-the-night knock on the door?  But who, in their right mind, would expect people to answer the door at 3:30am??  (I have lived here long enough to realize that, YES, it would be perfectly within the realm of possibility for the Egyptian authorities to expect people to answer the door at 3:30am – and within the Egyptian cultural mindset to do exactly that!)  Especially when there was no announcement or information about this prior to the e-mail this morning.  WTF????

We did experiments… we got dressed, after receiving the e-mail, and went downstairs to go get some errands done.  We were greeted by a phalanx of guards in front of a LOCKED front door.  We cannot leave.

Ministry doctors are supposed to be back soon to swab all those they didn’t get in the first round.  Insha’allah, the quarantine will be lifted by this evening some time.  If so, we are probably going to stay with a friend so that we can head off to Sinai, as planned, tomorrow.

Only here – welcome in Egypt

Remember….this is an adventure.


June 5, 2009

Obama in Cairo

Filed under: Being There — Kaddee @ 9:47 am

Unless you’ve been under a rock lately, you know that President Obama spoke in Cairo yesterday.  It was an historic and yet uneventful day for those of us who live here.

My reflections on all this:

  • IMNSHO – his speech was quite good.   His oratory skills, ability to exude compassion and understanding, and general “public-speaking-manner” is exceptional.  He managed to use balanced reference to the Qu’ran and the Bible.  He appealed to people’s sense of “what is RIGHT”.  He emphasized our similarities and downplayed our differences.  Well done.
  • In talking with Egyptians, after the speech, they seemed to gush about Obama with exaltedness that equaled the bile they used toward GWB.  In the eyes of the Egyptians that I know, Obama has become the “saviour” of the world.  And yet the global reactions to the speech are mixed.
  • Cairo was UNCANNILY quiet yesterday.  For anyone who lives here, or has visited, the streets of Cairo are rarely clear and quiet.  For most of the day yesterday, the traffic, the noise, the general buzz, was diminished.  (An aside for those who live here – we had an acquaintance who made it from Mohandiseen to the airport in 10 to 15 minutes!!!  OMG)
  • Cairo (at least the parts where Obama was going) was sanitized for this event.  Streets were cleaned, repainted and beggars banished.  The minibus stop next to Sultan Hassan mosque was MOVED for the day!!!  Beged - they moved the stop so that “there wouldn’t be a lot of local and poor people congregating” near where Obama would visit.
  • I found it interesting that, even with many of the major thoroughfares being closed or heavily restricted, Mubarak made sure that Obama was not DRIVEN anywhere in the city, if it could be avoided.  Fat, grey, military helicopters took him to each destination – especially when it involved crossing the city, like going from Cairo U to Giza.  I saw the phalanx fly over our building as the left the Giza plateau!  Woot, my brush with greatness!  LOL!

All in all, though, Cairo really didn’t seem to notice Obama.  Another major political figure passing through the City Victorious.  It has happened for 4000?, 5000?, or more years – another politician is just another politician.

June 2, 2009

Don’t eat the food

Filed under: NSTIW — Kaddee @ 4:45 pm

I’m not talking about ALL Egyptian  food, or even all street food in Cairo.  I am actually referring to a recent Institution dinner that I attended.

Here’s the story:

There has been a tradition at AUC for many years in regards to the departing faculty each semester.  The administration hosts a dinner in honor of those leaving, says nice things about them, gives them a going-away gift and generally makes sure that everyone leaves with a good and rosy memory of their time here – no matter the reason(s) for leaving.

I think this is a very nice thing.  I’ve known many a departing faculty who spoke wistfully about the BBQ in the garden at the Provost’s villa, strings or an oud playing lightly in the background, laughter, wine, spouses, colleagues and Cairo.

There have been many changes at AUC in the years that I have been here, and apparently the dinner at the villa with spouse and friends is a thing of the past.

I was sure it would not be exactly the same as it had been.  We have a new Provost with her own style and ideas, and her villa is in Rehab as opposed to Maadi.  But I didn’t think it would be too different.

Our dinner was held last evening.  Grades were due by Sunday (the day before yesterday), so most faculty are khalas with this semester and are not commuting to the New Campus if they can help it.  Our dinner was ON the New Campus, meaning that the half of the departing faculty that do NOT live in Rehab had nearly 2 hours of round trip commuting to get to the dinner.  Major Bummer.

BREATHE – it will be a nice, relaxing time with colleagues and spouses, a time to say goodbye etc.  UHHH, no.  The dinner was ONLY for the faculty – spouses were not invited.  This seems odd for a campus who is, at least, saying that they want to promote better balance between work and home for the faculty.  This is yet another AUC event that separates me from my non-AUC spouse.

BREATHE – it will be a nice dinner and event.  Well, it was hosted in the faculty cafeteria on campus!  Wahlahi.  This is a nice faculty cafeteria, however this is where many of us eat from the hot buffet most days in between our classes and labs.  It is not really a place that I think of to “take an honored guest”.

So…I was not really excited about attending this event – but many of my friends/colleagues who were also departing would be there, and it might be the last time I would see them (either for a LONG time or EVER).

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’d had a kinda rough morning, because I’d had a long night on Sunday with my friend BS, laughing,drinking wine and celebrating the end of the semester.  But by the time I had to leave for the bus, I was feeling fine.  No traces of the “night before”.

We all gathered at the faculty cafeteria.  Nice words were said.  We got a nice going away gift – no plaque or plate, as is a common custom around here.  We got framed Sufic calligraphy of our names.  Very cool.

Our dinner was a buffet, catered by the food service outfit that feeds us lunch every day.  Egyptian and Lebanese mezzas, kofta and kebab, and shish tawook.  SIGH.

Within about 1/2 an hour, my stomach was churning and I was feeling DISTINCTLY not well.  My friend and colleague, TV, offered to let me sit in her office and chat until my bus came.  In that short amount of time, whatever it was that I ate decided that it didn’t like me, and my stomach decided the same!

I had hoped that my “GI evacuation” on campus would be enough, but no!  I had to ask the bus driver to pull over, not once, but twice, on the elevated highway that runs through the middle of Cairo, so that I could vomit on the highway!  How lovely.  (This does lead me to wonder – if this had happened in the States, would the driver of an urban commuter bus have pulled over on the highway to let me out, wait for me, and then make sure I got home safely??)  Another friend/colleague, PS, who was on the bus with me, helped carry my stuff back to my building, and made sure I got home without incident.  I spent another 45 minutes or so wrapped around the toilet at home before I collapsed into bed for 12 hours of recovery.

I kinda wish I could blame it on the night before, but this had every indication of MASSIVE food poisoning.  Luckily I have heard about no-one else who got sick.  I was the lucky one.  Seems Cairo got one last shot in before I go.

But with the whole event, my general dismay about it and reticence about going, this just seemed to add injury to insult.