Monday, June 28, 2010


Now that I am visiting the US, I have time to blog about Cairo. It is kind of a funny thing how living in Cairo can get in the way of blogging about Cairo.

In this case, about beer, actually.

In Cairo, you can order via telephone or internet almost anything for delivery and it is remarkably efficient. More so than anyplace I have been. If we want beer, we call a place called “Drinkie’s” (no I am not making this up or changing the names) and they deliver within 45 minutes for no extra charge. And you can request it cold. Also for no extra charge.

Other than Heineken, you have two Egyptian beer options—Stella (not the be confused with its Belgian namesake) and Saqqara. Both are lagers that I, as someone who does not drink very much, find quite satisfactory. Sometime last year, however, we found out about an Egyptian label called Luxor that has a hefeweizen, an unfiltered wheat beer, that is quite delicious.

A few months back, when I telephoned Drinkie’s for beer, I asked if they had Luxor. They said no, so I ordered Stella. Transaction done. A few minutes later, I got a telephone call.

Me: “Hello.”

Caller X: “Hello. Do you need beer?”

Me: [long pause] “No? Thank you.”

Caller X: “OK.”

End of conversation. Me left scratching my head.

My Stella order arrived shortly thereafter.

It took me a few minutes to figure out what probably happened. When I called and asked for Luxor, the dispatcher passed along my telephone number to someone else who does sell it. It is a beautiful example of the way that informal economic networks still infiltrate this highly efficient system.

More recently, the place we ordered Luxor from was closed (closed down, we later learned). We were desperately (ok—that is a dramatic overstatement) seeking Luxor, so the idea hit me. Why not call Drinkie’s again and ask for Luxor, and when they say they don’t have it, hang up and wait for the call from some mysterious beer distributor? I actually thought about doing it, but it seemed a bit too strange...though it might have made for a much better blog entry.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New home office

As I wrote last month, we moved up two floors in our same building. Moving into a flat with a very similar floor layout is a curious experience. The furniture is different and nicer, as are all of the other accouterments and details. It was a fun opportunity to reinvent things about the flat, including my work area. Anyway, there is a section of the living room, where I have a desk and books, and where R keeps some toys.

I was able to decorate the area using some of the Kuba textiles I collected during my two trips to Democratic Republic of Congo. With book cases.

The center is one of my favorites, though I don't know the artist (as I do for the other two).

When I sit at my desk, this is directly behind me. It is huge--about 10 feet long--but fits perfectly in this space.

And my desk.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

waiting at the bank

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the new bank policy eliminating a separate and unfair queue for faculty. I have gone to the bank twice since then and have had to wait significantly longer than I did in the past. Last week, I waited at least thirty minutes. Though I did not time it precisely, it was enough time for me to go to the bank, get a number, wait, go out to get something to drink, come back to the bank, wait some more, go to my office, work for a few minutes, and come back to the bank again. Today I waited about 15 minutes, all of it spent in the bank.

I am not sure if there is a problem with the longer waits. But I do know that if it is a problem for faculty, it is surely a problem for everyone else. The best solution seems to be more tellers available for everyone, not a separate faculty line. I guess what strikes me is that if there is a need—for more tellers, for example—the new system makes a solution more likely. By adding faculty voices to those of staff and students, the position for advocating, whatever, becomes much stronger.

Of course, I am talking about a line at a bank, which is terribly unimportant and certainly not worth the time you have spent reading about it. But, I like the idea that the elimination of the separate faculty line creates a new possibility for solidarity in a space where it was much less likely before.

Monday, June 14, 2010

World Cup

I was at the neighborhood market today and everyone who worked there wanted to talk to me about the World Cup. Folks at the market know that I am from the US, so this is a natural topic of conversation. The US tied their hardest match in an otherwise easy (relatively of course) group. And since the US historically has been so pathetic in football, it is the one sphere in which I sometimes root for the imperium.

I will be leaving for the US next week and my only regret is not being able to be in a football-mad country for the rest of the tournament. Even if, as in the case of Egypt, they themselves did not qualify. I guess to be in a country that not only cared, but was also playing would be ideal.

Part of this is self-interest because, like having a baby, football is ready-made conversation piece. It provides endless opportunities to practice my Arabic. The city is the water cooler, and everyone wants to talk about whatever matches were played the day before.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The supermarket and the pharmacy

I ran some errands last night. I went to the supermarket for lettuce and bread. Two heads of romaine and a baguette for 5.60 Egyptian Pounds (exactly one dollar). Next stop: the pharmacy. I got some pain syrup medication for R and Vitamin D drops. The bill was 7.25 EGP. I was home in 10 or 15 minutes, and my pockets were slightly more than $2 US lighter.

Medicine is inexpensive because it is subsidized by the government. Bread is actually also subsidized by the government. But not baguettes. (I could have gotten much more bread for a lot less money had I wanted.)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The U in the NY Times

I am not sure if folks saw this article about the university that appeared in the New York Times last month. It is the kind of thing I would have posted on the blog back when it was published if I were keeping current with the blog. (Slacker that I am, I did post it on fb.)

Anyway...I have a lot of personal thoughts. I agree with the argument that the liberal arts are a good thing, and the university is providing a valuable service by introducing this kind of education in a place where it is unfamiliar. And I agree with the characterization of the students as generally open-minded and willing to be challenged in new ways by this style of education.

The description of it makes the university sound like a missionary institution, which is where I start to get uncomfortable. Partly because, as some of you know, I spend a lot of time researching missionaries. Partly, perhaps, because the university was founded, as the article acknowledges, by actual missionaries.

But I think my primary point of dissatisfaction with the article is its implication that Egyptian students are not bringing anything to the table other than bad habits. This, I believe, is patently false. I teach a number of M.A. students who did their undergraduate degrees at national universities, including the one named in the article, and feel that they arrive with a rich range of literacies and, as a group, adapt quite well to work in our department.

Specifically, our Egyptian students at all levels come trained in a tradition of multilingualism, which is foreign in the US. Their multilingualism includes multiple Arabics and English, and oftentimes French and German. As a teacher of literature from the US, I find these skills, which are part of my students’ educational background, to be valuable and unique. This might seem kind of obvious, but I don't think we can take it for granted.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


When I tell people that R was born in Egypt, they ask, “So does that make her an Egyptian (or dual) citizen?” The short answer is no. Citizenship in Egypt is determined by the nationality of the father; therefore, I would have to be an Egyptian citizen for her to claim Egyptian citizenship.

In the United States, however, citizenship can be either patrilineal or matrilineal for a child born abroad to a citizen parent, as is our case. For R, it was a relatively straightforward process since both of her parents are US-born citizens and there are no complicating factors like unmarried parents, one non-citizen parent, missing documents, multiple passports, long-term residence abroad, etc.

This was only an issue because hers was the birth of a US citizen abroad. When someone is born in the US, their parents’ citizenship (at least as I understand it) is less an issue because citizenship is determined by their place of birth. I have Egyptian friends and students who are US citizens because they were born, for example, while their parents were doing a medical residency in the US. (And in many of these cases, they have siblings, a few years older or younger, born elsewhere who is not a US citizen.) I don’t know the citizenship laws of many places, but this law is particularly American and is, in many instances, the source of the question I get asked. Usually, though not exclusively, it is Americans who ask about her citizenship. Based on our country’s laws, we may reasonably presume that one’s birthplace always grants citizenship.

While this is clearly not the case, why does the US do it? The answer has its roots, as do many questions of US policy, in slavery. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the US granted to citizenship “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” including former slaves. A law that based citizenship on parentage would have continued to disfranchise African Americans (and instead the courts and legislatures had to find alternative ways to effectively do that). The Constitution was amended in the wake of the Civil War in order to guarantee citizenship to the descendants of slaves in perpetuity. This history makes this law sacred.

It also means that anyone born in the US is guaranteed to be a citizen of some place. This might seem obvious, but it is not. In Egypt, for example, Palestinians who were born here typically can not become Egyptian citizens (and don’t have citizenship or a passport). Imagine a population, all born in the US over the course of several generations, who are not eligible for citizenship.

Actually there were huge exceptions to the 14th amendment. Native Americans were excluded from the 14th amendment based on their tribal citizenship until at least 1924 when the parameters for citizenship were made territorial rather than juridical. And of course, there have been decades of de facto exclusion from many of the rights conferred by citizenship on African Americans, Native Americans, and others.

While there is a lot of debate in the US about immigration, I have not heard much discussion of the important constitutional reasons why the US, given its particular history, grants citizenship in the way that it does. I have been thinking about all of this in connection to the hateful immigration law in Arizona. The expansion of citizenship in the 14th amendment gave the 13th (abolition) meaning and the 15th (franchise) a foundation. I have not heard the Tea Party arguing for the repeal of the 14th amendment yet, but I think people need to recognize that this history of expanding opportunities for citizenship is worthy of celebration, and look for more opportunities to enfranchise all people who reside in the US.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bank queues (and democracy)

As of today, there is no special line for faculty at the bank branch on campus. At banks in Cairo, you take a number (like a deli counter) rather than having to wait in line. You arrive and tell them if you have a deposit/withdrawal or need to open/close an account or do some other category of business people do at banks. Up until yesterday, at the university branch, you had the additional option to go up and tell them you were faculty and end up in a separate, and presumably quicker, queue.

Last week in the faculty queue, I got stuck behind some complicated transactions and ended up waiting longer than if I would have if I were in the regular line. Getting to see folks arrive after me and leave before I was served probably serves me right. But 80% or 90% of the time the faculty line was quicker.

Nearly every time I went in the bank, I would take a “faculty” ticket even though I like to think of myself as a democratic person. On one particular occasion (when I was extremely rushed, or at least I claimed as much in an act of rationalization), I remember being embarrassed when I waited less than a minute to see a teller in a bank full of university staff members who clearly had been waiting for quite a while. It wasn’t right, but I did it anyway. Not that it counts for much, but I felt terrible, as it was happening and all day afterwards. Not that I want to make it, in and of itself, into a big deal...

I am glad that they have changed this unfair policy, even though I took advantage of it. I don’t mind waiting a bit longer at the bank. Plus I no longer have the option of doing something I don’t believe in. And I also don’t have to wonder why I knowingly did it.