Saturday, February 28, 2009

Student fashion

Last week in class, I looked at one side of the room and noticed that eight students, males and females, in a row were all wearing Converse Chuck Taylor All Star’s on their feet. Mostly high tops, some low. A few different colors, mostly white. The last observation was to me one of the most striking because they were clean, which is really hard to manage in Cairo or the desert. I am not sure if they replace them regularly or have some other strategy or if their cleanliness is a sort of social status symbol—like long fingernails were at some point.

Students wear these shoes all the time. They are enormously popular. I am not sure how much they cost—though I guess about 300LE ($55US), which is probably what they cost at the malls of america today. Back in junior high school when I used to ride my bike to John’s sneakers, they were $10 a pair for “irregulars.” John’s was a small sneaker store with all of the shoes in clear plastic bags on shelves organized by size. The size was written on ink pen on the heels of the shoes. Help yourself to try them on. When you entered, John would look at your feet—to make sure that you were wearing the same thing when you left.

John used to get new shoes in every Wednesday and I used to ride over to see what they had that was new. You never knew when a pair of green low tops would come in, but you did know that when they did, they would not stay on the shelves long.

I have a pair of the Converse here—navy blue high tops with baby blue trim that I bought before I moved here. I had no clue they were so stylish. But I can’t keep them clean.

Monday, February 23, 2009

We're fine

Just wanted to let you know that we are fine and nowhere near the explosion that happened yesterday in Cairo in the square between the Al-Hussein Mosque and the Khan al-Khalil market. I suspect it is getting some coverage in the US so I wanted to tell folks that, thankfully, it has not endangered us in any way.

I definitely owe anyone reading some more interesting blog posts...not sure how long I can keep you entertained with silent whirling dervish films...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Whirling Dervish

I have definitely been a slack blogger this past week. Lots of business and deadlines. Most of it not interesting enough to blog about, though I do want to talk about teaching a little bit. Soon.

One sad note: In my African Literature class, we are scheduled to begin Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North this week. Salih just died in London at the age of 80. (Here is BBC News obituary.) But I am glad my students will be able to experience his classic novel (most of them for the first time).

So instead of bringing only excuses and sad news, I wanted to make up for my neglect by hitting you hard with some video from the Nile dinner cruise that we took aboard the Golden Pharaoh last night. These things are very popular here; the job organized this one. Here are some short clips (sorry, there is no sound) of the whirling dervish who performed on the moving ship.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Welcome to the Neighborhood

The neighborhood where we live has a significant diplomatic community, and a number of embassies are located here. Most larger countries' embassies are located downtown or in Zamalek (though Japan's embassy is in Maadi, but not nearby). Some smaller countries are in the neighborhood. I pass by Guatemala and Burkina Faso on occasion. A brand new sign just went up at the apartment building next door; an embassy has taken up residence (presumably in a single apartment). And there is the flag. Any guesses?

The Republic of Macedonia!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I just received an email from the dean, that Philip has just been released and is at home with his family. There is information on the site.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Monday, February 9, 2009

Free Philip Rizk

An AUC graduate student in Middle East Studies and Gaza activist has been kidnapped by Egyptian State Security. He was detained following a pro-Gaza rally in lower Egypt on Friday night, and his whereabouts are unknown. Philip is a filmmaker whose I met last year at a screening of a film he made on nonviolent Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation. It was an excellent documentary made by a very committed activist. The case has been drawing international attention, including a recent story on the BBC, and there are demonstrations planned worldwide. It is getting a lot of coverage on Egyptian and Middle East blogs. I encourage everyone to follow the case and figure out a way to get involved. There is a Facebook group set up. Also you can write letters to Amnesty International, which has, I believe, gotten involved in the case. Here are a few places where you can find more information:

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Why the Muslim World Can't Hear Obama

Alaa al Aswany has an article in this morning's New York Times, about the new US President's relationship to the Middle East. Aswany, who I saw speak and met back in December, is the best-selling novelist in the Arab world. The Yacoubian Building is probably the best-selling novel in Egyptian history, and has singularly reshaped Egyptian publishing by creating a new market for popular fiction here. The film version of the novel had the biggest budget and biggest gross in Egyptian history. He is also an increasingly outspoken opposition figure in Egyptian politics, who frequently speaks out against the President.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Soundtrack to My Day

Tomorrow is the official inauguration of the new campus. That means many of the trustees, donors, and other important people will be there, highlighted by Her Excellency, the President’s wife and an alum. That means that during the past week there has, finally, been fast and furious work on campus in preparation, with careful attention to fixing broken tiles, landscaping, and signage. For the last of these, they have been adding plaques like, the “SO and SO, Class of 1985, Fountain.” Due to the distinguished visitor, the campus will be completely locked down (some speculate the Prez himself may be there). Only one bus. Admission by invitation only. No students allowed (because they would protest). Faculty not allowed to enter our own offices. Cellphones disallowed and signals scrambled. Really intense security.

Yesterday I was trying to teach and my classrooms overlook one of the main campus courtyards. On a typical day, as long as the windows are closed, there is not a problem with the noise. Yesterday was not typical. They were doing a sound check for the weekend’s events. It was unbelievably loud. Loud enough to make me need to stop class for a few minutes. Fortunately, the noise was intermittent. Still, I thought I would share the soundtrack to my day.

  • 10:30am: Discussing an essay by Iraqi poet Sa’di Yusuf to Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ la Vida Loca.”
  • 12:30pm: Discussing Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s “Decolonising the Mind” to a really dramatic orchestral processional. The music came on as one of my students was about to say something, so I told her, before she began, that her comment was guaranteed to sound brilliant with that accompaniment.
  • 2:30pm: Discussing Royall Tyler’s The Algerine Captive to a microphone check. One of my students started to freestyle about late 18th century US literature...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Notes from the first week

Last semester, one of my students sent me an email asking about how he should quote profanity in his essay. In his understanding of academic writing, he felt it was unprofessional to use bad words, even when quoting another source. I told him that academic prose must, above all, be faithful to its source. If he felt irreconcilably uncomfortable, there are alternatives I suggested, such as paraphrase. He could describe the language, rather than cite it directly. In the end, I encouraged him to quote his source’s language, profanity and all.

I have the same student this semester. Yesterday he told me that he was embarrassed to be seen walking around campus with Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, a book required for my class. I did not request a particular edition from the bookstore (not that I would have noticed anyway), and the Penguin Classic they ordered has a Ramon Casas painting, “Antes del Bano,” that features a woman getting undressed. He was, I think, half-kidding. I thought I would share the offending image.

My American literature class had a Beavis and Butthead moment. One of my students, reading from Royall Tyler’s The Algerine Captive, mispronounced “Updike,” the first name of the novel’s protagonist, neglecting the concluding vowel. Lots of “he-he” laughs that lasted about 15 seconds, or about 12 to 14 seconds too long. After we got over that, the rest of the discussion was quite good.

Other class discussions about writings by Radwa Ashour and Wole Soyinka were quite good as well.

The most frustrating thing that happened this week regards Blackboard, the online course site. Last month, I received an email from the system administrator asking whether or not I needed to keep any of my fall courses online. I replied yes that I needed one course, which I was repeating. Last week, I noticed that none of my courses were available. So I wrote another email asking for access to my fall files. No response for a couple of days (which in fairness included the weekend). In the meantime, I spent a good bit of time building my course sites for this term. Finally I got a response that they uploaded my fall files to my spring course. And in doing so, they deleted all of the work that I had done for this semester! So I had to delete almost all of the files they posted and re-do an hour’s worth of work from scratch. Argh.