Saturday, August 2, 2008

Welcome to Cairad: the blog!

Some of you may remember, I wrote a blog during the year I spent at the University of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I began that blog about three years ago by describing the difficulties in finding a map and the peculiarities of State Department shipping procedures, which seemed to be metaphors for the invisibility of the Democratic Republic of Congo, literal and otherwise.

As my wife Jenna and I prepare to depart for Egypt, where I will begin a full-time teaching position in the department of English and Comparative Literature at the American University in Cairo, my experience seems to be nearly the opposite. Everyone “knows” Egypt. Somehow.

Even more remarkably everyone knows the American University in Cairo. Before I even accepted the job offer, I learned of a Gettysburg College colleague who had recently returned from a Fulbright year at the American University in Cairo. Shortly thereafter, another Gettysburg colleague was offered a position there (declined). Then, another Gettysburg colleague was offered a position there (accepted). So, among a pretty small Gettysburg faculty of less than 200, there are two people leaving for AUC, one declined job offer, and one person you spent 2006-2007 there. This makes no mention of the faculty development grant that the college has (and which I just learned about) which for the past two years has sent a group of faculty to visit AUC for a couple of weeks.

However, the most remarkable connection comes thanks to my mom. A couple of years ago, the mother of one of my sister’s childhood friends from Havertown, Pennsylvania, moved into my mom’s apartment building. Over the years, they would greet each other in the elevator or lobby and exchange news about their kids. When my mom told her that I was moving to Cairo, she told my mom about one of her daughter’s best friends, who is Egyptian. My mom emailed her and, lo, she too is beginning a teaching position at the American University in Cairo. So, not only are two new members of the AUC faculty from Gettysburg College, but two grew up in Havertown. (There are about 40 new faculty members this year; the AUC faculty numbers 348 total.)

Three years ago, I remember the dark comedy I found in the US State Department’s shipping protocols (which, as a Fulbright Scholar, I followed). Now, for the AUC move, I am following the protocols of a NY-based shipping company that works in conjunction with AUC and the Egyptian government. Our things have already been picked up so I feel a little hesitant in commenting on the procedures until they have run their course, though I have good expectations. Through the process of packing and inventorying 19 boxes weighing approximately 730 pounds, I learned at least three things:
  1. How to compute cubic (or shipping) weight: It’s very important, but not that interesting. The cubic (or minimum) weight of a 12x12x18 box is about 21 pounds, as I recall. Say I have two boxes this size, one filled with books (actual weight 50 pounds) and the other filled with pillows (actual weight 5 pounds). I will be assessed 71 pounds for these two boxes. If, however, I combine pillows and books in the two boxes, making them weight 25 to 30 pounds each, I will only be assessed 55 pounds.
  2. The difference between consumables and durables: For tariff purposes, I had to categorize my belongings into these two categories. Some of it is obvious—deodorant is considered the former; clothing and books the latter. A few items are tricky. Tennis balls—consumable! Yarn (Jenna knits)—durable!
  3. I, like many people, tend to overestimate the value of my possessions: The inventory includes value estimates. I am shipping 500+ audio CDs and 300+ books which I valued at approximately $10 each. However since the insurance caps at $10,000, I was told (very politely) to reevaluate what my things are worth. Think garage sale value. So I kept reducing the value until I came in under the estimate.
On Monday, August 4, 2008, Jenna and I travel from Harrisburg to Detroit to Amsterdam to Cairo, arriving on Wednesday morning (after a 13-hour layover in Amsterdam). The next week or two will be a bit hectic but I am looking forward to rolling with the blog over the coming weeks, months, and years. I welcome your comments…


Ayse Papatya Bucak said...

I love when my friends do exciting things so that I don't have to. Go Fords!

NMK said...

I'm excited to keep up with this blog. Who's the other Gburg person?? Post lots of pictures!

irad said...

Thanks for your comments--I definitely need to get pictures up. The other Gburg person is in the Math department. I met her for the first time a couple of weeks before I left. She should be here later this month...