A year in Egypt,

May 20, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

in hindsight, goes by pretty quickly. This should surprise nobody.

I went to Cairo with Jade, SF, Carolyn and Jahd and we spent a couple days chilling out and sleeping in. I had a great last meal at Taboula’s, my favorite restaurant in Egypt (it’s Lebanese food). The next day Jade and I got up at the crack of dawn and headed to the airport. After a quick breakfast sandwich I peaced-out. The trip was surprisingly simple despite the fact that there could have been two huge complications. The volcanic ash over Europe is still messing up air travel. I found out after I got home that Heathrow actually opened WHILE my plane from Egypt was in the air…? The other almost-obstacle was the BA cabin staff union strike that began the night I got home. Go socialists! …now that you don’t mess up MY status quo! Teehee…

Since being home, I’ve settled in pretty well. The weather in Westborough is remarkably cold and rainy, and we’ve been using the (new) wood stove. I’ve seen some friends, went out for a beer with Mario a couple nights ago, and mostly took advantage of my two days of downtime before the next thing. Now I’m in NC for a family reunion / memorial “not-service” for my grandfather. Relatives should be trickling in today and tomorrow and so far its been great being with my sister, mother, uncle, and grandmother.

At this juncture I’d like to close my blog “A Year in Egypt” at https://abesjunioryear.wordpress.com, since my junior year is decisively over. (weird). However, I’m thrilled to announce that the adventures and rantings and introspection shall continue, as I’m headed to the Sultanate of Oman in just under three weeks. I had a blog at the end of freshman year of college, which was mostly about all the papers and finals I had to finish and jobs I had to find before I could start summer. Lame. So I deleted all the entries and revamped it and now it’s the new blog. WordPress.com tells me that I’ve generated a decent flow of traffic to “abesjunioryear” so I’m hoping to divert you readers to this new project and not lose steam, because I have no discipline if I think nobody is reading. I’ll be blogging about my CLS Muscat adventures and, as I mature some, I’d like to continue it as a regular blog where I can pontificate and say things like “listen to THIS absurd pundit talk about something he doesn’t understand! This is why he’s wrong…” and inevitably vent about my over-scheduled senior fall semester and hopefully all the cool stuff I learn in my last year in college. At any rate, Volume 2 is at the convenient URL http://abekatz.wordpress.com

Thanks for tuning in occasionally, and if you feel inclined I’d always love to hear from any of you about anything at all. How’s that for vague invitation?



May 13, 2010 at 7:24 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Listening to Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” on repeat is an emo and self-destructive decision at this juncture…

Tests and papers are done, and with them studying abroad. We had a beautiful haflat al-muahib (Talent show / final banquet). Naguib and I sang an Egyptian song about going away but always being close, which I thought was appropriate for the relationships we’d made this year / term in particular. I am very grateful for the professors and of course the dream team administration.

After the party we – all the Egyptian and American students – went to Silsila. I raved with Iman about how wonderful Middlebury is and how much fun we’re going to have. I have to focus on the things coming up in the more distant future because frankly the leaving sucks a lot. Afterwards the Americans went to Mermaid and we danced the evening away. A few of us guys stayed up way late have a heart-to-heart in the post-language-pledge English we enjoyed. Scott woke me up at 7am to say his goodbye and took off into the future. Since Tony’s departure during the talent show, we’ve entered a 3-day departure fest and it’s hard and not fun. They drop like flies. This is a group of people I never imagined could exist, for their brilliant minds and senses of humor and capacities for compassion and stories and ambitions. I’ve never felt so engaged and challenged and rewarded so uniformly in degree and variably in kind by relationships like these. And that makes it hard to leave.

I packed up almost all my room today – no more photos on the walls or flags from the curtain rod. All that’s really left is the clothing, which I won’t wash out of principle. That’s the basement of my childhood house’s job, and the elves’ who work there… On an unrelated note, I love and appreciate my mother a lot.

Today I went to the synagogue with SF, Steve, and Kremer and then the Jewish Cemetery. I wish I could say it’s woefully neglected, but it’s much worse. Defaced and smashed and overgrown and I don’t know why “they” haven’t plowed it and built something there instead. (because “they” have no money.) We had great talks about Israel and Jews and the future of geopolitics in the shade of a palm and by a broken headstone. Felt right, in a bittersweet way.

Everyone who’s left ate dinner at Mohamed Ahmed. Nehad and Lizz swung by and gave us chocolate (and Lizz ate our cheese) and then they whisked away before the waterworks could begin. We went to the citadel to watch the sunset afterwards. It was such an obviously symbolic moment, but I’d left my camera in the dorm. There’s a scene in the study-abroad-canon film “L’Auberge Espagnole” where, at the end of a year in Barcelona, the characters celebrate in their usual dive and the protagonist says by to his friends, not forgetting the bartender, and walks away. I was happy to see Yasl at Mohamed Ahmed. For the consistent readers of my blog, you may remember me mentioning this waiter early on. In that chapter, he had remembered my name and greeted me enthusiastically and I sort of became a Regular in that moment. So when I said goodbye to him today, there was cheek-kissing and hugging.

Asir Mecca, farewells, a bar, and more farewells followed. It’s emotionally damaging, these freaking farewells. Can’t wait to get the hell out of here and lose these emotional callouses! I’ll finish packing tomorrow, eat brunch with some Egyptian friends, and kill some time. Saturday I go to Cairo with a handful of friends, spend the night and all day Sunday there communing, and then leave from the hotel for at 5ish am on Monday the 17th, back to the inevitable Cairo International Airport.

Better than Dahab?

May 8, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Remember all those times I ranted and raved about how Dahab is of inestimable value and probably one of the most perfect places in the universe? That’s probably not true, first of all, but I received a dose of relativity this weekend with the program trip to Marsa Matruh, a “summering” beach town on the Mediterranean about 4 hours west of Alexandria. Even if a place can rival Dahab, it’d be hard pressed to rival the experience and company that defined Dahab in the first place, and beaches of Marsa Matruh delivered. First of all, Egyptians think that it’s winter right now, so they won’t “summer” in Marsa Matruh until June, when it’ll be more crazily crowded than Cairo. But in early May, the beaches and hotels are completely empty. Literally.

We got in late and had a beautiful dinner of dani (lamb). Afterwards a handful of us jumped the wall on the corniche and waded a little. The sand was magically, more like flour than sand. And even in the light from the streetlights the water was perfectly clear – its bottom was also like flour. Our hotel was actually a collection of apartments, so I shacked up with Kremer, Scott, and Chris. SF, Jade, and Emily joined us for some popcorn and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and we all turned in around 3:00am. The next morning we had an early start to Agiba (which translates as “wonder” or “miracle” Beach). The colors of the Mediterranean at this longitude are like what you see in “Sandals” brochures or on Lost and Castaway, but never what you’d ever find in nature. Except in Marsa Matruh. Agiba Beach had a small stretch of white sand and then a wrapping cliff-face with caves and Mars-colored boulders ripe for the scrambling-over. The waves against the rocks weren’t so violent that we refrained from dropping into the pool-like water to make it to the next boulder, but it was certainly a tumultuous trip. After a few hours at Agiba we relocated to a more conventional perfect beach, sand like flour. About half the students left us for an extra two nights at Marina, halfway to Alexandria, but the remainder of us had a blast with chicken fights, soccer, frisbee, Marco Polo (Ibn… Batuta!), sand castles, drip castles, and burying Kremer. And getting nice and crispy red. Whoops.

Marsa Matruh would be a hell hole in the “warm months.” We concluded its appeal relied entirely on the fact that we were LITERALLY the only party present. Curse the perfect sand and water if every two feet there’s another umbrella and beach chairs and obnoxious music playing from cheap boomboxes. The other best aspect of the trip was that it was so heavily subsidized by the program it was practically free. Woot!

Unfortunately I slept oddly on the busride home, and then headed the soccer ball at our last weekly soccer game yesterday and exploded the cervical region of my spinal cord. Yesterday and today I’ve been nursing it and all but ODing on acetominophen. I also have a cold, so when I sneeze it feels like whiplash. It’s all improved, alhamdilulah, and I should be fine tomorrow or the day after at any rate. Tomorrow is the first day of our last week – finals! I have my Amiyyah final on Tuesday and my Fosha and Amiyyah finals on Wednesday. Wednesday night is our year-end banquet and talent show. I’m singing a song by Amr Diab with Naguib and a translated “Put Your Lights On” with Sabry. And eating a lot fo free!

Mostly, these days I want to be on the plane from Heathrow to Boston. Or just never leave. But the “one week left!” feeling is such an in between place, and man do I hate in between places. It goes without saying I’ve had one of those “times of my life” in Egypt and if I weren’t rushing into this Omani adventure so soon I’d get really bored and nostalgic for Alex really quickly, living in Westborough. But I’m run out of academic focus here, and cultural acclamation juice, and I’m really missing the Westboroughians and Middleburians I can see this summer, not to mention the family. And on this side, a week-long goodbye to my Egyptian friends, who feel a little like family, and to my American friends, who are some of the most fun and inspiring people I’ve encountered, feels like pulling a bandaid off very slowly.

So as I said, I get really happy when I imagine myself emotionally calloused on my pampered BA flight. Free movies. Alcohol? The Parents and a Honda at Logan? Somehow it seems better than the most water colored beach reality I could imagine.

Another year!

May 2, 2010 at 9:53 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Last night Scott and I rushed out to a Drinkies, bought some Heinekens and cracked them open in a dark back alley off the corniche at 12am May 2nd. It was the best birthday midnight ever!

What happened this week? Last Monday night a ton of us went to another Wust al-Belad concert at the Library of Alexandria patio, part of the Library’s spring concert series. It’s always a little bit of experiment going to Arabic-language events (plays, concerts, lectures) because one can’t be sure he’s understanding everything. But they sang the 4 songs of theirs that I know, best of all “Magnoun” (“Crazy”) which addresses world peace etc. Our hearts bleed, as Jahd pigeonholes me. 😉

I joined the amiyyah classes at their teacher Sara’s apartment for our second movie night. Our first was a month or so ago and documented an old Egyptian woman finding extended family in Israel AND Palestine and how these cross-cutting relationships impacted her friends and family in Egypt who de facto oppose Israel. Super fantastic interesting film. This time the movie was “Four Women in Egypt” and did that – four elderly women related their experiences and opinions of Nasser and the “revolution” (I put it in quotes because some Egyptian scholars argue the peaceful nature of Naguib’s coup shouldn’t be considered a revolution, nor should Nasser’s assumption of the throne government). Their opinions ranged HUGELY and it was hard to believe they were best friends – they’d been very politically active, imprisoned etc. One eventually chose Islamism and hearing her rant reinforced my strong distrust of religion’s role in politics. Another, also Muslim, related a conversation with her son when he asked what “God” was. She said, “Some people say God created everything there is. Some people say God is inside you. When you want to, you decide.” She spoke out very strongly against her Islamist friend. She was my favorite, for obvious reasons. Most peculiar about these women was they all criticized Nasser pretty unforgivingly while simultaneously acknowledging his redeeming qualities and what made them love him. They even claim to still love him! Very fun and nuanced discussions between them. And Sara gives us Snickers…

Friday was the second America – Egypt soccer game (I was in Israel for the first one) and we lost. The circumstances of the game provided a nice cultural discussion between Kremer, Scott, and me on the one hand and Nehad on the other. The game was originally scheduled to be played at the field at the men’s dorms, and the “mudeer” (supervisor) permitted the girls to come and watch but not play. When this became known, blood boiled and we simply said we won’t play if the girls aren’t allowed to play. So Nehad and Khaled found another place for the game and everyone got to play, and in fact the few hours of injustice riled up some of the girls, compelling them to play when they otherwise wouldn’t have. It was the most fun soccer match I’ve had in Egypt! We had a great discussion with Nehad. Kremer’s, Scott’s, and my points varied slightly but as far as I was concerned I wasn’t looking (necessarily) to protest an Egyptian societal norm (gender discrimination) at this particular juncture, but rather an American program’s violation of its and our American values (of utter nondiscrimination), through its complacency with a contradictory Egyptian norm. Great discussion about negotiating cultural differences and cultural relativism and where it ends – Scott, Kremer and I ate lunch together on Thursday and continued arguing for about two hours.

After the match Friday we grilled up burgers at the men’s dining hall / kitchen. It was beautiful. The staff there was very insistent about “how to do it” but our entire point was that we wanted to do it OUR way, American-style, not Kofta-in-the-shape-of-a-patty, so it was a huge exercise in patience and a little compromise to preserve the American dream of beef, rolled into burger patties with some garlic and onion and ketchup (there wasn’t any Worcestershire sauce around [probably in the Middle East]), a slice of heavily processed and individually packaged cheese, a crispy bun, some watermelon, some chips… We did triumph in the end, but I was a little annoyed. We appreciate the staff’s enthusiasm to share their ideas, but when they say, for instance, “you have to put salt and vinegar on the onions before you use them” and we say “no, thanks, but we think it’s better just fresh up on the burger” and they say “No, you have to” and we say “it’s cool, we do it this way all the time back at home so we’re just gonna try it this way” and they say “You’re Wrong,” all my hippie convictions get swept under the rug and I become the closest I ever get to tattooing an American flag on my chest and listening to Kenny Chesney and condoning Americanization of the backwards, hamburger-ruining natives. I do like Kofta. It’s just simply not a hamburger. And be a little more patient and accommodating of our revolutionary burger convictions, Medina al-Gamayiah kitchen staff, particularly after you agree to host an American Barbeque Day. Thanks.

Can you tell I’m getting itchy for New England these days? Public consumption of alcohol with Scott last night felt good on more than one front…

I’m a little under the weather. A beast has taken up residence in my throat and manifests itself through green vomit in my ears and a accursed sodomization of my voice. I only had Fosha today, so I went back to the dorms and took a nap. Tonight, Jade and Scott planned some sort of event for SF and me, as we celebrate the end of my 21st birthday and the beginning of her’s at midnight. I plan on kindly disregarding the Throat Beast and focusing solely on the liver, making sure it’s working for its keep. (Don’t worry mom). Jade got me this beautiful cotton button-down for my summer adventures in Oman, where the temperature and cultural norms are at direct odds. I’m instructed to “clean up” for tonight (which remains a mystery, but I will blog about what I remember), so adding this nice shirt to the cotton pants I bought a couple weeks ago, I’m what Sabry calls “Fafy” – originally understood as “wimpy” but more recently discovered to have classist implications. Those who are rich and don’t have to struggle for a living, and who wear cotton “bro” outfits, for example, qualify as “fafy” in Egyptian colloquial, regardless of their cajones. Whatever man, these clothes are SEXY.

A new leaf in Cairo

April 25, 2010 at 6:01 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

We’re on a long weekend! The result is that a lot of students in smaller groups simultaneously decided to go to Cairo, just like we did last semester, and the result was an experience so fun one could call it “rectifying,” given Cairo’s history of being a smothering pain in the ass.

Eight of us rode an evening train down and got into the African House Hostel for my fourth stay there. We spent the night in the Greek Club with a few drinks and it was lovely. The next day we split up a little bit, and a handful of us started off by visiting a synagogue not too far away from the hotel. Emily’s congregation in the US has some sort of connection to an Egyptian Jewish woman who was kind enough to meet us there and wave us past some red tape and tell us stories. She was not muhagiba, as can be expected, and dressed in these bright colors with a big ol’ necklace and dangly earrings- could have been any older woman from B’nai Shalom. But she was an Arabic-speaker. There should have been more of these Jews. In the midst of her story-telling she said “This is my pride!” and pulled out her government-issued personal ID card, which had “يهودية” (“Yehudia”) written next to “Religion.” That was the first card I’ve seen like that, and one of (according to her) about 30 in all of Egypt. Which is to say there are about 30 *registered* Jewish citizens in Egypt.

The next stop was the citadel, about the only big touristy / historically significant spot I hadn’t yet visited. We met up with a handful of other of our buddies who were staying with an AUC student. They were on a tour with a handful of AUC students so we sort of peripherally paid attention to their tour guide as we toured the numerous mosques inside the citadel. Masgid Mohamed Ali is the most beautiful mosque I’ve ever seen! Afterward we went to Masgid Ibn Tulun, the oldest mosque in Egypt from around 800 CE but, alas, second in all of Africa behind a mosque in Fez. The superlative will have to stay in just Egypt. But we climbed up the minaret and hung out for a while surveying Cairo, which was a little clearer than usual. We could even see the Pyramids of Giza, whose tops, last time I visited with Cam, were just barely visible if we were standing right next to them…

I went back to the hotel for a nap and then we all reconvened on a Yemeni restaurant and sat for over two hours chatting and laughing. It was a great evening!

The next day the group split up even more. Jade, Campion and I hired a taxi for the day and went to the pyramids at Saqqara and Dashhur and holy cow, they are so much better in every way than the Pyramids of Giza, not least of which is the near-complete absence of tourists and hecklers. We climbed up the pyramid at Dashhur and went in – its interior is a lot more impressive than those at Giza. It seems to be the same size, too. And it’s on a huge flat desert plain, with two other REALLY old pyramids on the horizon – Giza is a little hilly and the city crowds up literally to the wall around the “Tourist Compoun…” Overall, Dashhur is simply a more sublime place. The silver lining to the day is that our taxi driver, Waleed, was a really sweet guy whose ticket we paid for and had him come along with us! At the end of the day, when I paid him and baqsheeshed him, he shook my hand and gave it like a generally grateful squeeze. Finally, a business interaction with a taxi driver that reflects the truth that we are both human beings… The three of us speculated later that we’d given Waleed one of his better days on the job – he’d never seen these pyramids before, either! The word I used earlier, “rectifying,” is totally applicable to the context of “chronically evil taxi experiences in Cairo.”

The whole group, about 12 of us, reunited at the most beautiful oasis in the world, Lucille’s, for some burgers and coke and pie. We caught a 9pm train back to Alex. The most wonderful part of this tour in Cairo was how easily any two members of our traveling student conglomerate could sit and get along. Large groups of people are rarely so uniformly connected in their friendships and it made me all gushy inside to see – these are seriously great people and I feel SO lucky to have met them and gotten close with them.

Yesterday Jade, SF, Galen, and I were invited to Jade and Galen’s professor’s villa in King Mariut, about 30 minutes south of Alex. Nehad, Lizz and Khalid came with us and we had a GREAT time. The place was the equivalent, basically, of a present-day Newport Mansion… A beautiful pool, gardens, uniformly trimmed and chemicalled grass, four houses each owned by a family member, a pool house, trellising, what have you. GREAT food. We stayed from around 4 to midnight.

Today I’m heading to the mamoura beach with Sabry, Scott, Wahaba, and Chris. Should be a bromantic time. In other really good news, one of our best Egyptian friends Iman will be the Arabic TA at Middlebury next year! Also, me and 9 of my best friends scored “Porter House” in room draw, so I have literally the best housing situation imaginable. It was a gooood weekend.

Getting tired of writing blog post titles.

April 19, 2010 at 11:34 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

We’re in our last stretch between spring break and going home, so classes are “revving up” or something, but really life’s pretty regular. Here’s some stuff that I did recently.

My camera broke somehow. The “take the picture!” button fell off. So I left it (with LE 100) at a store for repair and they said two days. Two days later they said two days more. Two days later they said three days more, so I have a feeling the don’t really know what to do. Just realized this was even before the match, so it’s old news. Still have to take care of it. I registered for classes at Midd in the fall. They’re seminars “Political Islam” and “Terrorism,” advanced Arabic, and “Anthropology of human rights.” Also inquired into Arabic tutoring and Mecham researching for some interesting sources of income. We had our first weekly soccer game in a few weeks, where I run around and try to not touch the ball as often as I can and usually it’s pretty fun. That night Jade and I had a wonderful dinner at the much raved about Greek Club right on the water by the citadel. The steak was alright, and the beer was cheap! I spent the rest of the weekend doing some work and getting great moral support from Jade, SF, and Scott because of a loss in the family. Scott and I watched two Jason Bourne movies back to back. I talked with friends at home about reunion plans for my 3-week America tour. I practiced a song Naguib and I’ll be performing for the talent show.

These days I feel under-stimulated, which is a mixed blessing. I’d shifted into overdrive while I was teaching English and now that I have an extra 10 hours every week I find myself filling them with movies (watched the commentary to Anchorman last night…) and not studying Arabic so much. I’m ready to be done with studying in Egypt, but not ready to leave. So that’s the paradox. I’m really looking forward to study in Oman as a way to re-focus for almost another semester of immersion and start kicking butt again. But mostly these days I just want to slack and lounge around. Or I have really weird urges, like last night all I wanted to do was to bake a cake. So instead I watched the commentary to Anchorman…

Wednesday evening Scott, SF, Jade, Galen, Clara, Campion and I are headed to Cairo for a crazy weekend. I’m still figuring out how much of the touristy stuff I’ll do with them and how much I’ll do anything else that can keep me far the hell away from the pyramids of Giza. Also I’ll try to meet up with an old high school acquaintance studying at AUC… I’m excited to see a couple more historically significant things, hell even the Saqara step pyramid (“oldest man-made stone monument in the world”), but really I’m stoked to find some new restaurants and bars. Pretty sure I’ve exhausted the Alexandria “going out” scene.

I’d mentioned that I’m not ready to leave Egypt, but I am really ready to be home for a little while. I’m certainly not counting down but I’m not in denial either – I’m almost back in America.

Odemna Shahr

April 13, 2010 at 4:44 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

“Odemna Shahr…” That looks like the name of an eastern sorcerer of antiquity. It really means “we have a month left.”

And a couple days ago I had a little bit of a nervous break down. I made a last minute decision to go to the Zamalek – Hars alHadud (two Egyptian football clubs) match at the stadium in Alexandria with Naguib, Sabry, Jeremy, one of our dorm supervisors and his cousin. The ticket was LE 10 and I love live soccer so it wasn’t much of a decision! However I ended up napping on the microbus ride there and when we got off it was lines of inane security that made the entry process to the match I went to in Cairo all those months ago look like a picnic. I get REALLY angry when I’m reminded that I live in an authoritarianism and nobody around me seems to care. There were about twenty policemen horse-back brandishing sticks (from real clubs to literally tree branches) and waving them at the shabab (dudes) who were all trying to cram their way into the stadium. There were additionally hundreds of riot-squad equipped (shields and helmets and clubs) policemen dispersed generously. I was frisked four times a few paces apart, and still entered the stadium with a knife (the Allen-memorial Swiss army knife on my key chain). Jeremy was made to surrender his chapstick.

When we made it to our seats I was REALLY unhappy. I hadn’t felt overwhelmed like this since like October and thought it was something you just sort of go through and get over. Apparently cultural shock can be more deeply rooted than I thought. I sulked, further peeved by all the cigarette smoke, sequined jeans, and gelled hair cascading down to the soccer field in front of me. I became bitter. I entertained myself for a while counting all the females I could find (there were four), and carefully excluding the two non-muhagiba who, walking in front of the stands, elicited a HUGE uproar from the shabab. I doubled over in my chair and went to sleep. When I sleep in really unnatural circumstances, I know I’m in a funk. Three hours later the match started. It was an alright match, and when shabab are given something to do they become a little less soul-crushingly obnoxious.

I should mention that every section in the stadium was completely surrounded by ranks of the riot-squad. The entire experience was literally framed in political apathy on the part of the constituency and subjugation on the part of the incumbent, a tradition I thought I’d grown accustomed to but I guess I simply hadn’t seen in a while in force.

Returning home we rode a bus that was so packed there were boys holding onto the door frame and spilling into the street. I persisted in my crankiness.

In other news I learned from CLS that I’ll be living in Muscat, Oman from June 12th – August 14th after an orientation in Washington, DC on June 10th. This is VERY exciting to me! The only problem is that during my crisis at the football match I despaired at the prospect of another 9 weeks in the Middle East. It was a weak moment – I’m now only stoked, once more. I’ll be home on May 17th and over-socializing and eating Kraft macaroni and cheese and rootbeer and beer beer and hiking and swimming until I have to leave again 3 weeks later. Right on.

It looks like a pretty straight shot to the end, here. I’m preparing a couple things for our final talent show, all of which I’ll be able to attend this time since I’m not catching a midnight bus to Dahab with Ilanna and co. Although one does get nostalgic… Weekend after next I think I’m doing another Cairo trip, because I’ve just about recovered from the last time I went to Cairo (January).

End of spring break

April 10, 2010 at 4:30 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A week that moved very quickly. Tomorrow we go back to school for another month wa bas!

SF’s much better and back in the dorm. We celebrated with a lunch at China House on the roof of the Cecil Hotel. Not bad. The four of us and some dudes from another American program living in the dorms with us went to Mamoura for the third time yesterday, in further celebration of health. Mamoura is one of the eastern-most regions of Alex and is one long, sunny beach. It’s sort of become a tradition.

Some mundane updates:
1. I re-activated my facebook, with some modifications. Now I get notifications in my e-mail when there’s something worth seeing on facebook. I’m feeling good about not getting sucked into the vortex again.

2. I got an e-mail this morning from the CLS folks saying “We plan to announce your site placement early next week.” Yikhrab beitik.

3. I’m settling in my class plans for this fall. Looks like I won’t be taking three seminars, and the two I am taking (“Terrorism” and “Political Islam” or “African Government”) will be a huge enough load, I’m told. I’ve got an open slot and it’s great to be searching through the catalog not based on major or distribution requirements – just searching for whatever. I’m thinking seriously about Hebrew 101, and looking at some English lit classes or creative writing classes or stuff like that. Today’s task is to find the fourth course, after I do all the week’s homework I haven’t done yet.

Pretty boring update. I guess I’ll chat a little about emotions. It’s weird to have about 5 weeks left in Egypt. Sounds like not too short, but feels pretty short. Ok, enough about emotions.

April showers

April 4, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

… are metaphorical in Egypt. And not THAT bad. A couple days ago Jade and I decided to not travel to Aswan because SF was ridiculously sick, and in retrospect the decision to stay should have been much clearer earlier. So we stayed, and I visited the two in the girls’ dorm as often as I could, and we went to appointments, and spoke to doctors, and this morning got checked into the hospital. It’s lovely – I stayed for 12 hours and had to leave at 9pm because of very frustrating cultural norms. Despite the fact that we informed them I’m SF’s brother. I’d really wanted to spend the night.

So spring break will be in the hospital, with nights in Smouha. It’s very reminiscent of quarantine in all the good ways – spending long hours [playing Oblivion on Ben’s computer -> reading] or watching [Transformers with Doug -> season one of West Wing with SF] except add puppy piles in tiny hospital beds and the freedom to leave if I want to. But I don’t, really.

Other hot topics include ROOM DRAW 2010 for senior year. Of 850 lottery numbers I’m number 747, meaning 746 people will choose their housing situation before me. Not actually, though, because Mori made out with a better number so we’re going with that. I’ll also know my summer location sometime this week inshallah.

For some catch-up:
We had a FANTASTIC Passover seder last week. After all weekend cooking in Lizz’s apartment, SF started her plunge and was unable to make it to the seder itself. So I cut and pasted the haggadah her mother had scanned to us and printed out ten copies, and most of the Midd kids came with a good chunk of Flagship students. Leah and I led the seder in Arabic, which was fun for me especially because I had just studied Exodus in my Quranic studies class with Nehad so I was able to speak relatively smoothly about the story. We sang “Who Knows One?” and “Had gad ya” in English, of course, but everything else in Hebrew and then translated real-time into Arabic. Same7 hid the afikomen. We had great homemade matzah, matzah-ball soup, charoset, macaroons. Researcher Emma’s husband brought fantastic flourless chocolate cake. We had made flourless chocolate brownies that were not so fantastic… We actually forgot about the macaroon until everyone had left so they made an appearance at school the next day! Great success.

The next day I went back to Dorra Training Center, where I taught English, to correct the final exams my students had taken the night before while I was celebrating Passover. There were 8 students who took the exam. 25% of the class failed (grade under 50%). 25% of the class got As. The mean was a 69.5% and the median was about that, too. So when I think that 1/4 of my students failed, that is very depressing to me. When I think that the class average is about 70, where it’s theoretically supposed to be, I’m proud of the test I wrote. When I think that of the 8 students there were probably 4 VERY different levels of English among them, the class I taught was Dorra’s first English class and me its first English teacher, I’m not as depressed. But still a little let down. What did I take away? I love the activity of being in the classroom and teaching – it reminds me a lot of leading a cappella. I hate hour-commutes. I need support from the institution. I also need freedom from the institution, which I did have. I don’t want to teach any more until I learn a lot more, but it’s definitely a prospect for the future. I’m VERY glad to be down one responsibility.

New week!

March 28, 2010 at 5:51 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

We’ve just begun our last week before “spring break!” which officially starts Wednesday after class.

This weekend went by absurdly fast. I basically spent all day Thursday doing schoolwork. In the late afternoon I had my OPI (oral placement interview) with CLS on a landline in the TAFL center, which was more of a hassle than it should have been but I’m super grateful to Nehad for setting it all up, and re-setting it all up when it turned out not to work the first time. That evening I went with Jade, SF, and Galen to this restaurant “Coffee Roastery” with some Egyptian friends Jade met at a visit to her 1-1 professor’s house. They’re of a tabaqa igtima3ia mukhtelifa (different social class) than the students who live in the dorms with us, and they’re also slightly older and employed. It’s great to see a different slice of the Egyptian youth demographic. Tomorrow night we’re going to their apartment to hang out on the roof, because that’s allegedly a very fun place to be.

Friday began with the American female students coming to the male dorms for a home-cooked pancake breakfast with us and then watching an Arabic film in our lounge. At least, that’s what our impression was. I didn’t wake up because we’d been very excited about Jade and SF waking me up, so when they arrived and were ushered straight to the kitchen they found only two other women cooking, essentially FOR the men. So I got an annoyed call and jumped out of bed and ran to the kitchen, in the other building where we eat. We all ended up cooking and eating together as planned. The movie, though, was in a brightly lit room next to the dining room with horrible sound, and the time was about 11:00am. Not movie-time, in my opinion. And we were pretty annoyed the girls weren’t allowed into our lounge at all. So Jade, SF, and I took off after about 10 minutes of the movie. We made a quick detour up to my floor so they could see how we live (haram! don’t tell the administration.) and then walked around Ezbat Saad for a while, perusing the extensive market with its veggies and ducks and chickens and rabbits and crowds. Since it was Friday, there were large groups of men kneeling on broad mats in allies off the main stretch and a voice preaching something emphatically over loudspeakers throughout the neighborhood. I think it was actually my first time in Ezbat Saad on a Friday, when I’ve traditionally been asleep or on an adventure.

We chilled at a cafe next to Ezbat Saad and skyped Kristen and Matt from China! Lizz met us there and we went shopping for groceries and then to her apartment to start cooking for Passover. We made matzah (badass) and macaroons.

Saturday we reconvened at Lizz’s and stayed there the whole day. We made matzah balls, charoset, and pretty bad flourless brownies. We’re having the Seder on Tuesday. SF and I are going to censor the haggadah her mother scanned and e-mailed to her, because there’s apparently a lot of talk about destroying Egyptians in Pesach. And besides, if there wasn’t censorship, it really wouldn’t feel like an Egyptian event.

This is looking like a busy (f-ing) week. My last English class is tonight, and I’ll be bringing the final exams and leaving them with my boss. If everything goes to plan, my students will take it on Tuesday, while I’m at the Seder. Wednesday I’ll go back to the center hopefully for the last time and correct all the exams and sign their certificates, if they get more than 50% of the test correct. Wednesday night, I believe, SF, Jade, maybe Scott, and I are

Leaving (leaving)
On that midnight train to Aswan!
(Leaving on that midnight train to Aswan – woo woo!)

I nagged CLS a little and they say I should know my summer location within two weeks from yesterday.

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