Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Saturday, June 25, 2011
These are heady times in Egypt. Its not often that a country of 80 million people gets to write a constitution, and they better be careful to produce a document representative of will of the Egyptian people. Otherwise, post-revolutionary Egypt could become politically deadlocked, or worse.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Note the DJ's ridiculous/awesome bird hat:
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Negotiating the contract was pretty funny. After our elderly landlord told us she would be our "mother in Egypt" and promised to bring food over to us periodically, we read over our two-page contract -- in Arabic. Fortunately, my roommates Mike and Chris have a much better command of both formal Arabic and Egyptian dialect, so they took charge. Some highlights:
- The Revolution Clause: We added a stipulation that we wouldn't be responsible for paying anything extra if we had to leave early, i.e. if there's another uprising and/or violence. Our "mother" wrote into the contract -- in colloquial Arabic: "If they have to leave early, ma feesh mushkila" -- no problem.
- $$$: Even though ATMS are ubiquitous in many neighborhoods of Cairo, Egypt is still a cash-based society and, as such, we paid everything entirely in cash. Credit isn't popular because I don't think banks are insured, and there's obviously uncertainty about the future coupled with tons of bureaucracy and a large degree of corruption.
- Wasta (connections/favoritism): It turns out our landlady is a cousin of presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Turns out she has the same last name. Maybe we can meet him; I have a feeling he won't be too busy after the elections this fall.
- Stop, drop, and roll: We asked Mom if she could buy us a fire extinguisher. "Ma feesh mushaakil [There are no problems] in my apartment!" she replied. "If there's a fire, just knock on my brother's door next door -- he knows some important people in the fire department, and they'll come quickly." Needless to say, we're buying a fire extinguisher on our own this weekend.
- Grape leaves: After bring us koshary last week, she promised to cook us grape leaves the other day. Unfortunately, she has yet to deliver.
Despite our lack of grape leaves, we're pretty set otherwise. Going against everything I know and have heard about Egypt, almost every single thing that was wrong with the apartment when we moved in was fixed within 48 hours. Maybe the revolution had an even greater impact on Egyptians than I thought…
Saturday, June 11, 2011
Before the revolution…
Essawy: This will be my first battle with a lion, yes. I have fought other animals, mainly dogs. On separate occasions, I have fought three of the most ferocious dog breeds.
Q: You punch dogs?
Essawy: I punch and kick them.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
The CASA program officially kicked off earlier this week, and it’s already the weekend. The workweek in Egypt runs from Sunday to Thursday, and T.G.I.T.!
Sunday and Monday consisted of orientation, which included a completely useless security and health presentation that focused primarily on fire safety and how we shouldn’t swim in the Nile – and contained almost no mention of what to do in case of protests or riots or whatnot. Of course, there are never any protests or disturbances or revolutions or whatever in Egypt – unheard of! – so, mish mushkila (no problem).
We also paid a visit to AUC Fantasyland, otherwise known as the university’s American-style new campus out in the desert. We swam in an Olympic-sized pool, read signs with perfect English scrawled upon them, and saw the offspring of the upper crust of Egyptian society wear their Abercrombie and as they enjoyed the luxurious trappings available at any nice American college. It takes an hour or two to get there, depending on traffic, and the bus costs about $3.50 each way, so I don’t think I’ll be going often to New Cairo, the suburb that plays home to the campus. That’s not why I’m here anyway. (For more, check out my friend Mike’s great post on the topic.)
This summer, all the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) students are enrolled in two classes: Modern Standard Arabic and Egyptian colloquial, both with a focus on Egyptian culture and society. And we have TONS of homework every day. Just like in Jordan, I feel like I’m at the bottom of the class in terms of previous knowledge. Amman turned out alright, though, so I’m confident this will work out, too. Also: We have "club day" on Sunday instead of classes, and I'm in the journalism club, of course.
Lots of exciting stuff going on this weekend. Look for more posts, and check out my photos on Facebook!
Sunday, June 5, 2011
It’s not often that one gets to live where a revolution just took place (and is arguably ongoing), and it’s even rarer to go about one’s daily business right next to that uprising’s epicenter. But that’s just where the American University in Cairo (AUC) is located—literally bordering Tahrir Square—and I’ve been spending my days taking it all in, talking to Egyptians in my limited Egyptian colloquial Arabic and hoping to better understand how the “New Egypt” is faring.
“Raise your head up,” reads some graffiti by the entrance to the AUC campus.
Most Egyptians appear to share the notion that the majority of the country suffered under Mubarak and that it’s good that he stepped down from power. Mubarak’s name has quickly disappeared from a host of places around Cairo, including his eponymous Metro station, which has since been renamed Martyrs Station. Even the few upper-class people with whom I’ve come into contact say they’re happy Mubarak is gone, even though they conceivably benefited from the previous regime.
Beyond agreement over Mubarak’s exit, though, I get the sense there’s very little unity in thought with respect to how the country should proceed. It’s possible people like to talk about the past because that narrative is so black and white while current times are so unclear. The larger issue, it seems, however, is that corruption still exists, the economy is still bad, people are still out of work, and the personal security situation has gotten somewhat worse, with so-called “thugs” on the prowl (the “thugs” thing might be a bit trumped up, though). So people are beginning to realize that despite the very visible court trials of some former officials—and Mubarak’s upcoming trial—the revolution has yet to conclude.
A photo exhibit at AUC documents events that occurred at the university’s doorstep only four months ago.
Signs of the original 18 days of protests are everywhere, as are hints of ongoing political tension and demonstrations. From posters in the Metro station commemorating those who died in the revolution, to graffiti outside the walls of AUC, it’s thrilling to see how Egypt is reeling from both its newfound freedoms and emerging internal and external tensions. Perhaps most promisingly for the economy, Egyptian companies and entrepreneurs alike have responded robustly, with ads praising the Egyptian people and apparel commemorating January 25.
And every young person I’ve met so far says they were in Tahrir during those 18 days—that is, except for one new friend who was in the army in Alexandria who called the revolution a very tough time to be in his position.
On first look, then, the initial tide that united Egypt in revolt does not appear to have totally receded. But post-January 25 Egypt seems like it’s certainly a very tough place to be a citizen.
A man peruses martyrs posters in the Tahrir Square Metro station.