Archive for September, 2010

Do You Remember Me?

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Today when I went to a rooftop cafe at one of the hotels in Zamalek, an Egyptian girl came up to me warmly exclaiming, “Hey! Do you remember me?” After a second I recognized her; she was the Egyptian girl that I had met in the Chicago airport on the way here. We had spent hours in JFK together since our flight was delayed. I was surprised to see her again. We greeted each other with the double cheek kiss. After chatting for a bit, she made sure I had her number and made me promise to call her sometime to hang out before she went back to her table. It is amazing how friendly and social the people are over here. The physical greetings that they use reinforce this sense of welcome and/or camaraderie.

Egyptians meet and greet people differently than Americans. When I first meet someone, they extend their hand to me and we shake. However, this shake does not involve a firm grip, but rather a limp hand. This felt very weird to me the first few times and I had to loosen my hold on their hand. This handshake seems kind of impersonal and uninterested. I’m not sure why they do it like this. I prefer the second encounter with that person, which is much warmer. The next time I see someone one of two things normally occurs. If I’m meeting with a female, we will usually do a cheek touch/kiss to both cheeks. This is very warm and welcoming. If I’m meeting with a male or sometimes a female then we will slap our hands together, like a casual, non-celebratory high five. I like this best since it’s fun and it feels like we’re buddies on some sort of team.

I think these greetings are some things that I will miss when I return to the states since they give off such a feeling of closeness and acceptance, even when I do not know people well.

The Signs are Everywhere

Friday, September 17th, 2010

One of the first things that surprised me when I arrived to Egypt was the large amount of stores, advertisements, and labels that were in English, or even better, English words spelled in the Arabic script. For example there is a clothing store in Zamalek called “For You” with the name in both English and in the Arabic script. It looks like ” فور يو”, but is pronounced only slightly different than the English as “Foor You”. I prefer the shops that have both English and Arabic names that are slightly different since they are more intriguing. There is a store labled as”Electric Shop” in English but the Arabic is “بيت النور”. This literally translates into “House of the Light”.

Along the expressways and sidewalks, there are ads for razors, clothes, food, appliances, and more all  in English.

As I would read these English signs, I would always wonder why they would name and advertise themselves in English. Given the low literacy rate in Egypt and that only the wealthy know English well, the advertisers are obviously targeting a narrow and well-off demographic. This did not seem like such a good idea to me at first, because they are excluding a whole bunch of potential consumers. However, now that I think of it more, it makes sense. English gives the brand or company more prestige, which means that it would probably be more expensive to begin. Only people that are wealthy enough to know English would be able to afford the product. In addition, the people that cannot understand English can still recognize the product and  buy the product in the store if they so desire. They may not be able to understand the packaging, but if it is something simple, everyday object they do not really need read anything to begin with.

Yesterday in my Third World Development class, we discussed this issue for a few minutes. The professor confirmed by beliefs that the companies are trying to attract customers that know English. However, there is a slight contradiction to this. One of my Egyptian classmates told us that when she went to buy an album yesterday for a popular Egyptian singer, all of the album work was all in English and when it did use Arabic words, they were transliterated into the Roman script. She was very shocked at this since the people most likely to buy and listen to the album are Arabic and probably do not know English. This is really unfortunate because a large number of the singers fans will be unable to appreciate their favorite music. We also got around to talking about the significance of the use of English and how it reinforces a belief that the native Egyptian/Arabic culture is somehow inferior to American/English culture. However, one thing that Egyptians are proud of is that they have never adopted the language of any colonizers, like the Ottoman Turks, French, and British, but have stuck with Arabic. At one point in Tahrir Square there were many business that had French signs. There were a groups of conservative Egyptians that saw this language as a threat to their culture and oppressive so they burned numerous French-named shops, whether or not they were owned by French or other Arabs. I was shocked when I heard this, though I shouldn’t have been. Language is tightly intertwined with identity.It can be used as a tool of oppression or empowerment, manipulating people’s perceptions of their self-worth.

The Egyptians loyalty to their language differentiates them from places like Algeria and Morocco where French is very prevalent and some people only speak it to put on airs. I have noticed that when possible, Egyptians will speak Arabic. All the students that I have met here so far speak English wonderfully and many have an extensive and complex vocabulary. Even though they can easily hold conversations in English, they will speak in Arabic amongst themselves. I found this a bit surprising since I will often attempt to speak Spanish with my Spanish-speaking friends for fun or practice.

However, when Egyptians know English and are speaking to Americans they speak English. This is frustrating for me and others trying to develop Arabic language skills. One of my American friends here was complaining to her Egyptian cousin about this. She told him that whenever she tries to speak in Arabic to people here they respond to her in English even when she could understand the Arabic reply. He told her that even if people know you can understand Arabic, they will want to speak with you in English in order to show off their  knowledge and, more importantly, to boost their status in our eyes.

The use and perception of English is mixed. English is a symbol of prestige, to be desired, but at the same time this prestige results in the diminished worth of Arabic. While people use English to show-off, advertise prestigious goods, or seek better economic opportunities, when it comes to friends, family, and daily life Arabic is the language to use.

Insights into New Campus

Friday, September 17th, 2010

In response to a comment about the inspiration for the AUC’s campus, comparing AUC’s new campus to the city of Cairo, as well as analyzing UMW in a similar fashion, I bring you the following.

AUC Campus Inspiration

The new campus reflects a modern, artistic twist on traditional Islamic and Arabic designs. I think that the architects wanted to use traditional Arabic features in order to celebrate their artistic and cultural heritage. At the same time, all the buildings are very extravagant and modern, showing how Egyptians can be prosperous in the present without needing to give up their pride in the past.

The AUC new campus is unlike the rest of Cairo. Traditional features, which were once common in old medinas (cities) are rarely found in the Cairene neighborhoods outside of mosques, villas, or fancy Egyptian restaurants. It is rare to find a neighborhood that has arabesque inspired buildings with courtyard, arches, and balconies displaying intricate geometrical designs. Normal buildings are plain concrete blocks that care more about housing a large amount of people in an area than aesthetics. However, it is a shame that traditional features have been abandoned since not only were they beautiful, but were well suited to the desert environment. Apparently, many of the Arabic features displayed on campus serve practical purposes of keeping the students cool despite the hot desert sun. According to the architect of the AUC library, Stephen Johnson,”Traditional Arabic mashrabiya [wooden window screens]for privacy and sun-protection, malkafs [wind catchers] on roofs to capture prevailing winds and circulate fresh air into buildings, and shukshaykhas [vented domes] to remove hot air appeared in modern expression at the new campus, too”. Very clever. Also, all the walls are stone at least three feet thick, keeping the buildings insulated and helping the university save energy on AC.

Mashrabiya

There are older parts of Cairo that have a similar layout to New Campus. The seemingly haphazard floor plans for the academic buildings resemble to older areas of Cairo. For example, Khan al-Khalili ( a souq or marketplace in Islamic Cairo), is made up of  a tangle of alleys dotted with courtyards. Getting lost is quite easy.  Similarly, New Campus is not populated by buildings that are single, self-contained blocks with one straight corridor running down its length, but instead buildings are a compilation of several courtyard conjoined with one another, sometimes at weird angles.

However, this layout is quite different than modern Cairo. Cairo is a massive city and all the areas that I know, Zamalek and Downtown, display a lot of European influence. Zamalek is home to many European-style palaces alongside plain apartment/business buildings. Meanwhile, downtown Cairo has a stronger European flair. It  has widened boulevards and streets that were constructed in the late 19th century at the request of Ismail the Magnificent, who wanted the area to resemble Europe, Paris in particular.The buildings themselves look as though they have been transplanted from France ages ago and have been given some time to weather. There are no buildings on new campus that have even the slightest hint of Parisian flair to them. In addition, the Parisian influence has resulted in the use of roundabouts in the downtown.

European Influence Downtown

I think a mixture of roundabouts and a natural growth of the city from its old medina layout has affected the overall street layout of the city. Cairo has some orderly grid-like sections, but they tend to spiral out from various points like spider webs. American cities in comparison are much to simple. They follow a boring, though practical, grid-like framework. If you compare the street maps of Cairo with that of Fredericksburg (Below), you can see what I’m talking about.

Cairo, Egypt

Fredericksburg, VA

UMW’s campus reflects this orderly American layout. Most of the buildings are simple rectangles with a corridor running down its length. The only variations to this are the rotundas inside of Trinkle and Jepson, but the hall ways of these buildings follow the same idea of the rest of the buildings. The buildings on UMW’s campus are Jeffersonian. UMW is similar to AUC in that its architecture reflects its heritage. Jefferson was a famous Virginian and he represents a commitment to higher learning and knowledge. AUC’s buildings also reflect a commitment to higher learning. For example, “Near the entrance to the campus, architects built a dome modeled after the Great Mosque in Cordoba, Spain. The dome symbolizes the height of intellectual and mathematical achievement in Islamic civilization.”  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story…). UMW’s buildings are also have a similar architectural style to the older buildings in Fredericksburg that go back to the days of the Revolutionary War with red-bricks and front porches.

UMW’s buildings are also have a similar architectural style to the older buildings in Fredericksburg that go back to the days of the Revolutionary War with red-bricks and front porches.

Hello…

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

My name is Justine and I am a photo addict. It has been one day since my last fix…Every time I get in front of an action, scene, or person that I find poetic or interesting or truthful, I cannot help but pick up either of my cameras and snap a photograph. And yes, I have more than one camera…I have it bad. For me, hearing the click of the shutter is like the climactic point of an adult film.

I’m addicted.

On a serious note, I took over 250 pictures in the allotted three days that I spent in Luxor and Aswan. Hence why I have come to the conclusion that I am a photo junkie. Not a pleasant term, but there it is nonetheless.

****************************************************************************************************************

The funny thing is, all those photos basically look the same unless you are an Ancient Egyptian fanatic as myself or you were actually there. The trip was filled with temple after temple after temple. We were rushed through every single place we went and were yelled at for taking pictures while we were supposed to be listening to the tour guide. Touring ancient sites seems to be the only time when Egyptians actually pay attention to the time. After two days of running around, the sites were beginning to run together and I couldn’t tell the difference between the Philae Temple and Kom Ombo.

Now the trip started in Aswan where we boarded a cruise ship. The rooms were nice enough, but my favorite part was the pool on the upper deck. Savannah and I would lie on the deck every chance we got. However, our love of sun tanning while cruising down the Nile was soon ruined when the workers would randomly come upstairs just to stare at us. It got to the point where we would throw our towels over ourselves when a crew member came upstairs — they usually walked right back down when they noticed the show was cancelled.

While in Aswan, we went to a little Nubian village. Here we were led into an old school madrasa (ironic phrasing since madrasa means school). We sat in benches placed in an out cove of the building and listened to the teacher speak about the basics of their language. After our little lesson we went to the top of the school where we were met with this gorgeous view of the small village and the Nile. After more picture time, we all went down to have tea and/or hibiscus drink. This was the moment where they brought out a baby crocodile for al of us to hold and take pictures…I definitely took advantage of that!!

Our first night in Aswan, we went to the local souq (market) where we could practice our haggling skills. I ended up spending around 212 egyptian pounds which roughly translates into 37 dollars. With this I was able to buy a silver necklace with a charm, two pashmina scarves, and a pair of harem pants…not too shabby if I dare say. We slept in the ship while it was docked in Aswan. The next morning Savannah and I went out to buy water somewhere that didn’t cost 12 pounds. On the way there we were harassed everywhere we stepped. Someone even ran up to me and touched my hair. This is where I almost lost my calm and had to refrain from hitting someone. But at least we got water for only 3 pounds.

Once back on the boat, we set sail for Kom Ombo where we would tour the temple for an hour then head back to the boat. The rest of the day was spent on the cruise ship while we sailed down the Nile towards Edfu. With all the free time, the majority of the students (including myself and Savannah) were either in the pool or on the lounge chairs. Savannah went downstairs for some reason and I got up to look out into the passing scenery. While leaning against the rail, I was approached by the bartender who held a tray with a single drink on it. He started speaking Arabic which I did not understand because he was speaking way too fast and my skills aren’t that high yet. Eventually he began to speak Aranglish (a mixture of Arabic and English) and I was able to understand the “woman at the bar” and “free” and “come with me.” I assume he was saying that the couple at the bar was trying to buy me a drink and he wanted me to come and speak with them. I denied the drink several times (he was very stubborn) and went to where more people were sitting. That night we had a little dance party with little competitions. At this time, the couple previously mentioned arrived in the dance room. The woman, who was dressed in this extremely slutty dress that showed everything she had to offer, would then try to join our group without realizing that we were a group playing games and she was being a nuisance. Savannah is intrigued with them so she decides to strike up a conversation. They tell her some story about how they are on their honeymoon and met six months ago. The man was from Saudi Arabia and the woman was from Morocco. Thy had no rings on either. The assumption from our RA was that she was really a prostitute and he her patron. Apparently, she was not enough or our prostitution theory was wrong and they were really into human trafficking or something to that extent because they told Savannah their room number and that they were waiting. I am SO glad I denied that drink, who knew what could have happened. (Thank you movies for making me paranoid about everything.)

Around 6 in the morning we got up to take a tour of the Edfu Temple – the second largest temple in Egypt. After about 45 minutes of touring, we headed back to the boat and were on our way to Luxor. Up until this point I was thoroughly enjoying my trip so far; however, Luxor was a big disappointment. Now this is not the city’s fault, but the tour’s fault. We went to see the Valley of the Kings which was horrid for the following reasons: 1) you were not allowed to even bring your camera into the valley 2) the tomb of King Tut was a large extra fee and the tomb of Ramses II was closed 3) the sellers there would refuse to leave you alone while they shoved their items into your face. It was an interesting site, but I honestly don’t recommend it. After that, we went to a small factory which specialized in alabaster. We saw the process the men went through in forming the objects and went inside to buy items we fancied. I was thrown off at first because the prices were in US dollars and they seemed unusually high. But I was able to talk the guy down for two items. I went to get my items wrapped and was handed two separate bags; this did not seem strange since two separate men wrapped my items. However, when I boarded the bus the guy came up and said that someone received an extra item and it was believed to be me. I opened my bags and what do you know, there are three items there. After deciding that re-opening the wrappings and figuring out which is which was not worth the effort I was able to keep all three as a gift.

After that our bus had to make a decision: either continue to Hatshepsut Temple and miss lunch as well as the Luxor Temple or choose lunch and go to Luxor Temple later that night. At this point, it has been 9 hours since we have eaten and we are all starving. Not to mention our RAs told us not to miss Luxor Temple. So we headed back to the ship and had lunch and a little free time before we headed to Luxor Temple. Honestly, at this time the temple did not look like anything special. It looked just like every other temple I saw that weekend.

Overall the trip was great. I only had a few complaints which revolved around limited food supplies and annoying people on the street and such. As well as not really seeing anything while in Luxor which is full of so many ancient sites.

****************************************************************************************************************

Yesterday I went sand boarding. Now I have never participated in anything even close to such a thing. Skiing, Snow boarding, Surfing…all elude me. yet I got the smart idea of trying to slide down a giant sand dune on nothing but a small board that resembles a snowboard – the difference being that a snowboard actually has a mold to hold your feet in while a sand board only has little straps you slide you feet under. After several times of falling on my butt, I finally got the hang of it went down the hill…a little bit. I refused to go all the way down because the climb is like death. And lets face it, I am a lazy person. After a few hours of climbing up and sliding down, we have lunch and head home. I arrive to my dorm covered in every possible way with sand and a bruised bottom. Happiness is.

In Which I Indulge My Inner Nostalgic

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Not really sure what I intend to accomplish with this post, but I’m feeling nostalgic, and I’d rather put off some homework a while longer, so it’s getting written. A year ago today us AIFS kids finally made it to Salzburg and started building our lives in our new city. From my vantage point today, it seems ridiculous that there was ever a time I wasn’t friends with the people I bonded with, that grocery shopping was difficult, that riding the bus was a challenge, or that going to O’Malley’s wasn’t just what everyone did almost every night. Yet there was that time, and I can remember distinctly looking up to the Salzburg fortress on our first walk into the city that jetlagged Sunday night of our arrival and wondering how anyone could ever feel at home in a city built around an ancient castle, a city so different from the circa-1980s suburbs so many of us grew up in. Now I know. You feel at home when you memorize the bus map and schedule. When you have close friends and can walk around town and run into people you know. When you have favorite foods, places, and traditions. It didn’t take as long as one would think, and it hasn’t faded much over the past couple of months.

I still miss Salzburg everyday. I catch myself putting German radio on to fill the silence. I’m still hording a few bars of Milka chocolate and some bags of gummy bars. (For what occasion, I’m not sure) I have a slightly tattered Salzburg Red Bulls poster up on my wall. So, yes, I miss the place. But even more so I miss the people. I miss laughing until I cried over the silliest of things, and sharing the bizarre sense of achievement you get when you master even the smallest of tasks in a foreign country in a foreign language. I miss late night and early morning train/bus rides, and the sense that anything was possible because, no matter how insane the plans, someone was wiling to get on a train with you at 4 in the morning to god knows where.

Would I go back tomorrow? I would, but I know it wouldn’t be the same as it was a year ago, and that would be enough to make me hesitate. Salzburg, as any city, has changed I’m sure since I left it in December, and I’ve changed as well. I’ve re acclimated to life in the states where stores and cars are bigger, kebabs are not nearly so popular, and some of my best friends are scattered across the country instead of nearby where I want them to be. (Miss you guys terribly) But I know I’ll make it back to Salzburg day; I hope all of us will, together or separately. And when we once again find ourselves on the sidewalk in the middle of the city staring up at the massive Salzburg fortress, I hope it feels like coming home.

Odyssey and Exodus

Monday, September 13th, 2010

In both Exodus and the Odyssey, books written around the same time as each other depicting events from the late Bronze age, their authors claim to show the reader a true depiction of historical events. While the veracity of the events and the time when they are set, continues to be debated by scholars, both books give their readers a glimpse of what the culture of these two Middle Eastern groups were like and the expectations these groups were meant to live up to at the time of writing.
In Exodus the writer, or writers, set out the story of the Israelites and their exodus from Egypt to the promised land. While the eighteen chapters of Exodus deal primarily with laying the foundation of the story of Moses and the reasons for the Israelites leaving Egypt, the next twenty-two chapters, or a little over half of Exodus deals with the laws the Israelites and the consequences of breaking those laws. While the historical accuracy of this book, in terms of chronology, is not wholly reliable, Exodus does give the reader a better understanding of what was expected out of practicing Jews when the book was written as well as an example of what happens when those laws and expectations weren’t followed. Many of the laws described within these twenty-two chapters lay out the do’s and don’ts of every aspect of the Jewish life as well as extensive instructions for the building of the Ark of the Covenant and the tabernacle which would hold the ark (25.10 – 28. 43).
What is left of these last twenty-two chapters of Exodus can be divided into the social expectations of the time in which the book was written and an “historical” example of what can happen if those conventions are broken. While it can be expected that these laws were not followed to the word in the way that writers of Exodus would have wanted, it can be assumed that these parts of Exodus were written to reinforce the cultural expectations of the time. This can be seen in the amount of detail that is given over to each specific aspect of the laws, as well as the specificity found throughout Exodus. An example of this specificity can be found in one of the Ten Commandments wherein God states, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house.” (20.14) From there the commandment becomes even more specific stating exactly what the Jewish people cannot covet. Such specificity can be seen as a way of reinforcing what is expected of followers of Judaism and indicates that at the time of writing these expectations were not being met by many people within the community. This kind of specificity can found through out the next few chapters from who can be bought as a slave and how one should treat a slave (21.1-10) to what should be done if man is gored by an ox (21.28-37). However it is clear from what comes after the laws and the blueprint for the Ark of the Covenant and its tabernacle, that these rules were not being followed in the way that the communities would have liked. This can be assumed by the “historical” example within Exodus of what happens when any of these commandments are broken (32.25-28). While this example of what happens when the laws are broken is not as graphically detailed as the example found within the Odyssey is, the message is just as clear; breaking the cultural values of ones community never ends well.
A similar message can be found within the text of the Odyssey. While a large part of the last nine books of the Odyssey deal with revealing to various characters that Odysseus has returned to Ithaca another major theme found within those books are the cultural expectations of Greek society and more specifically the severe consequences of not meeting those expectations. In the twentieth book of the Odyssey Homer shows the importance of xenia, or hospitality, through Penelope’s questioning of her nurse. The importance of xenia is seen throughout books fourteen through twenty of the Odyssey, but of more importance is the consequences of over staying one’s welcome and manipulating the concept of xenia to an extreme. While the writers of Exodus focused on combating moral decline through specificity, it would seem Homer wishes to do the same thing by describing an extreme version of the consequences of such behavior. In books twenty-one and twenty-two of the Odyssey, Homer sets the reader up for the deaths of Penelope’s suitors by explaining how poor their behavior has been, thus explaining why they deserve to die in the manner they later do (21:256-269; 21:330-343). The consequences of such hubris is vividly depicted in book twenty-two of the Odyssey, but not before Odysseus explains why the suitors must perish (22:31-42). The violent deaths of the suitors can be as an extreme example of the consequences of breaking or manipulating the bonds of xenia. As with Exodus this example of what can happen when social expectations are broken can be interpreted as more of story to reinforce social expectations than as an historical event. Unlike with Exodus though, there is no specificity in what is expected of a person living within Greek society. Instead those expectations are meant to be generally known and therefore the purpose of the text is to show the consequence of not following those expectations.
In both the Odyssey and Exodus the importance of social expectations and the rules that dictate those expectations is paramount to the writers. While the authors claim to be writing true historical works, what remains is a glimpse of what was expected of the citizens who lived within each culture, whether it be to show respect to any and all that one meets in life or to follow to a letter the rules and regulations of ones religion. Despite decades of voyages and debates, the historical accuracy of both of these works is still questioned, but what is evident in reading these works are social expectations of Greek and Jewish society during the end of the time they were written.

New Job

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Hey all!

I´m back to tell (some) about my new job.

So, after much renewed confusion (like you would not believe), I finally got confirmation that I was working at the school (Yet, they still were telling me different schools. aka – wednesday of the first two week training block, they told me one thing, confirmed it friday, and the next tuesday someone asked me why i hadn´t shown up at the other school. Lol).

It all got sorted out. So, I am teaching First Basic (kindergarten) at ISM: International Academy( http://www.ism.edu.ec/). We first had two weeks of ¨planning¨, which was actually two weeks of mostly seminars and a little planning. Most of the  seminars were interesting and informative. Problem was: they were all in Spanish. Which is fine, usually, onlynot when they´re talking at the speed of light on a microphone to over a hundred people. Then, it gets very hard to understand.

Also, bureaucracy continued. In ways I don´t want to describe on a public blog when I´m still working (for example, though, received my list of students the friday before classes started, the day before I meet the parents, and at 2pm (I theoretically leave at 2:30).

Also, this school is SUPER religious. I knew it would be religious but OMG. I have never been so afraid to not be caught praying correctly in my life. I think if I get fired for anything, it will be because someone discovers I´m not religious. Which is a problem, because I have to teach bible for a minimum of 15-30 minutes every day. Which is hard, because I simply don´t believe in it. So, religiously I´m feeling a little oppressed. I mean really, to quote – ¨we aren´t telling anyone that they have to be Catholic. Or even Christian, just that they have to have God in their heart. And if they don´t. they can´t really work here.¨I just about broke out into terrified tears. It´s very repressive. Normally, I have no problem not talking about religion (because I don´t), but constantly having prayers and services and devotionals and being forced to teach religion makes me constantly very nervous about doing the wrong thing.

Luckily, the people are awesome. In addition to the foreign teachers, most of the Equatorian teachers I´ve met are absolutely wonderful. They´re so kind and helpful – especially the english teachers teaching first basic with me. I have no kinder training so I´m feeling very over my head, but they´re extremely helpful and nice all the time. I´m learning a lot. And, the students overall have been great so far (we´ve had one week with them of adaptation). A few problems, like my master escape artist who keeps somehow escaping the preschool area to wander the rest of the school in search of his sister, but I´m learning to deal with them. Though, I do feel over my head. Especially with these two weeks of adaptation (we´ve done one, the second one starts tomorrow). It´s  just kind of a free for all two weeks to get the kids used to being at school. It´s unstructured, so I´m running out of ideas of what to do with them to keep them entertained (I need to get my hands on a CD player and music, or chaos is going to ensue without singing or dancing). So, any idea of how to entertain 21 five year olds would be most appreciated.

Also, the school is really nice. It is in the middle of No Where in Calderon. Not the best place around it. It is so much in no where, it´s 40 minutes away by bus, and down a dirt road. Most roads in Ecuador are paved. The school is still adding a wing, so there´s dust, but otherwise it´s nice. It has a pool, soccer field, computer labs (theoretically with internet), a high tech admin building, fingerprint scanners for teachers, nice classrooms, and a cafeteria where they make food fresh every day. Seriously, lunch is comida tipica and the best school food i´ve ever tasted. It puts Seaco´s best nights to absolute shame. Of course, they use fresh ingredients and cook it right there, so it´s automatically better. It´s great. Also, my classroom is very nice compared with what I´d been told to expect. I have desks, chairs, supply cabinet, a tv and dvd player (unfortunately, their cords don´t reach the outlet, I´m still working on trying to get an extension cord). I´m just missing the CD player, but hopefully I´ll get that Monday. Granted, when I got the room, it was so dirty, it took me a day and a half just to clean it, and 3 and a half extra long (till 4/5) to decorate it. But cleaned up, it´´s really nice.

So, overall, I´m doing well. Extremely non stop busy and run down, but well. I´m surprised how much I am enjoying working with the youngins. Luckily, bureaucracy has seemed to smooth out (I finally got my schedule…a week into classes – no. joke.) ALso, it´s Ecuador, so teachers are much more relaxed and can be much more affectionate with students. Which really helps with them. Now, if only my facturas would be finished so I can hopefully get paid for the days in August…..

Wish me luck! I´ll have more stories next time.  :)

And fam, please give me another week before calling. I´m wiped. With soooo much to do.

Dear Americans,

Friday, September 10th, 2010

I’m sure all of you have heard about the Pastor from Florida, Terry Jones, who is planning on burning copies of the Qur’an. I hear that it is all over the news in the States and it is in the news here as well. Wednesday in class, two professors brought it up. One of them was warning us to stay away from places like Al-Azhar Mosque on the 11th since that is a large gathering place and a site where demonstrations in Cairo are most likely to occur. It will be extra busy anyways since the 11th is the second day of Eid al-Fitr, when Muslims are celebrating the end of Ramadan with their family and friends and will be frequenting mosques in larger numbers than usual.

I am personally not worried for my safety, since Egypt is a relatively stable country, but I find it ridiculous that some small church in Florida has the potential to put not only my well-being and safety at risk, but those of everyone else living, studying, or traveling abroad in places where a few could use this instance as an excuse to violently express their beliefs. Not once have I felt ill at ease for being an American here, though I will avoid areas that may be considered “unsafe” since I have no way to tell what people’s reaction here will be if the Qur’an burning goes through. I do expect people to feel sadness and anger. This is entirely understandable and I am united with them in these two emotions as well as frustration.

I am tired of America failing to live up to its ideal and values. Even though I am glad that President Obama, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and numerous other people from the government, religious organizations, students, and non-profits have all condemned the actions the Florida church is about to take, there are still too many people that believe the burning of a holy book is just act and in the demonization of Muslims. Pastor Jones justified his plan to the AP by saying, “How much do we back down? How many times do we back down?”… “Instead of us backing down, maybe it’s to time to stand up. Maybe it’s time to send a message to radical Islam that we will not tolerate their behavior.”

How does the burning of the Qur’an equate to “standing up” against radical Islam? It just represents a hatred and misunderstanding of the contents of the Qur’an and what it calls its followers to do. The Qur’an is not a symbol of radical Islam, but a holy book used by 1,571,198,000 people around the world (22.9% of the world population). By focusing his attack on the Qur’an and not on a symbol that is unique to radicals, he is alienating a huge community of the world that just wants to live in peace. If he really wanted to counter radical Islam, then the Pastor should do some research into why radical Islam has taken hold and how the Qur’an has been crudely twisted to support actions of terror and destruction by leaders discontented with the status quo. They have used religion to justify and fortify their ideological beliefs and political agendas. One of the best ways to confront radical Islam is to show support and compassion to the average Muslim and provide Muslim communities with the opportunities and resources necessary to create environments that do not inspire individuals to turn to extremism to find the solutions to their problems.

Times are changing in the U.S. and the world. The economy has been sluggish, Americans are worried about their decline in global power, and they are fearful that in a few decades the America they grew up with and love will have an entirely different face. These current times are not unique, as our history tells us. I was always surprised as a child when I learned about all the difficulties African American faced when fighting for their rights in the 60s, the discrimination that the Japanese faced and their internment during World War Two, and all the other civil rights movements that minorities had to trudge through in order to be considered “non-threatening” and allocated the respect they deserve as U.S. citizens. All these movements seemed needlessly painful, full of fear and hate. While I do not believe that Muslim Americans face nearly the same degree of discrimination as former minority groups and are fortunate in having the backing of the government, it is shameful that they should be confronting any sort of animosity from their fellow citizens. Situations regarding Muslims are blown entirely out of proportion, they are looked at suspiciously in the airports, and people wonder how the hijab can signify anything other than the restriction of women’s rights.

I hope that sooner rather than later we will be able to embrace diversity within and without our borders, not just idealize them. Speak up, take action, and make American ideals a reality.

Ma’a Salaam.

Peace.

AUC Campus

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Here are some pictures of AUC Campus. When I am there, I feel as though I am walking in an art museum. All the buildings are beautiful and unique.

AUC Library

(dis)Orientation Week

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Last week was Orientation Week at AUC, however, it was one of the most confusing experiences that I have had here so far.

When I first arrived to campus, I was struck by it’s sheer size. While it is probably about the same size as my home university, it seems much larger since it is literally solid stone with no grassy areas and is composed of immense buildings flowing into one another.

After my initial moments of being overwhelmed by its appearance, I set off to accomplish various tasks in buildings scattered throughout campus. This was very difficult. To begin with, most buildings are not labeled very clearly and if they do happen to have a name carved into it’s side it is not the name that people call it. For example, “Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud Hall” is called “HUSS” and will be printed in the orientation packet as this. This makes it impossible to locate most buildings on the campus maps. When a building is found on the map, that is when the real thinking begins. Why? Because the maps are all backwards. I found that out the hard way.

I was warned that the academic buildings are also confusing, so a fellow student and I set out find our classrooms. I am so glad that we did. While the classrooms are numbered, I question the distribution of those numbers. For the most part they follow numerical order, yet I have stumbled across a hall with room 1079 wedged between rooms 1009 and 1005.  In addition, one of my classrooms was not to be found. We went into a courtyard with all the rooms that were in the 60′s yet there was no 66. We looked at a map next, but the room wasn’t on it! My room did not exist. We asked an orientation leader and even he could not find it. Finally, a group of girls sighted it and called us over to a corridor that could only be accessed from outside of the building.

On top of the physical confusion created by the campus layout, there is a different administrative style to deal with. For example,  I signed up for a class registration appointment and when I arrived there I saw that signing up for an appointment in advance was useless. There was another sign-up sheet in the room on which the real schedule was run. Unfortunately, no one notified me or other students of this when we first arrived. We sat around, waiting for our names to be called before we realized the insignificance of our appointment cards.

However, we were lucky that there were actually people there. Earlier, another student was sent to discuss her Survival Arabic course enrollment in a different building, but no one was in the room or even the entire building for that matter. We discussed this absence with some orientation leaders and they blamed it on Ramadan. Everything here slows down because of Ramadan and its expected that people will be absent or running on a different schedule. We are constantly told to wait to do things until after the Eid (the final day of Ramadan). It’s very frustrating since we are told to get X,Y, and Z done and once we have finally figured out how to get there, we are told to come back later.

The first day was the most frustrating. As the week went on, I just accepted that this is how things would be. I just have to adjust myself to a slower sense of time and go with the flow.

Classes begin tomorrow. I am really excited since all my courses are interesting and I will get to meet more Egyptian students. I heard that both the bus schedule and the class times have been changed to accommodate Ramadan. Some people got an e-mail explaining this, others like myself, have not. I’ll figure it out on way or another.