It is tempting fate to say that things are calm, but it’s fair to say that so far, things are calm. Teaching proceeds normally, and my students seem to be getting into the rhythm of the classes (and doing the work, by and large). It gives me pleasure to prepare for class since the material is interesting to me, and I get to reread some favorite texts.
On Friday the 24th, both of us awoke with a strong sense of being homesick. It came out of the blue, maybe because Fridays here make us particularly aware of being Other in this culture. It’s the big day for midday prayers, and the imam’s sermons are blasted from the towers of minarets. Since we live between two mosques, we get stereo sermons; since we don’t understand what is being said but can hear the characteristic strident tone, it’s intimidating. For all we know, the imams could be saying “let’s kill Americans” or they could be saying “let’s embrace peace and love.” If I go to the gym on Friday and my walk there coincides with prayers, I have to walk on the far side of the street from the mosque. I was asked, very politely, to do so by a security guard; don’t know if it’s because there are lots of praying men all around the mosque and it would be rude to go near them, or if it would be rude because I am a female and non-Muslim. But one thing I am sure of: I am Other.
|News photo of men and boys praying on Friday outside a crowded mosque|
I’m working on photos of another thing I notice here that cracks me up. Lots of cars, particularly taxis, have stickers plastered across their back windows that depict the international glyphs for things like WiFi, restaurant (crossed fork and knife), WC, DVD, airport, and other things I feel confident your average taxi does not have on board. Another frequently seen sticker is one of the torso of a muscular young man in a tee shirt with the words “X Men” on the shirt. Possibly the silliest is one I see is mostly on trucks, a cowboy hat with the words “Cowboy Up!” In the U.S., stickers on your car invariably relate to your life, whether it’s where you park, where your kids went to school, if you love diving, or support a political candidate. Here, the stickers are decoration and clearly their popularity spreads virally.
|Do you think the taxi really offers food service?|
|Where do the stickers go--back of the cart or the horse's behind?|
We hired a new housekeeper, Nagat, who is an elegant woman who reads and writes English, wears Chanel N.5, has traveled to the U.S. and Europe (skied in Taos!), and comes three times a week. On two of the three days, she arrives with her daughters Jahane and Suhir, and the three of them move furniture, roll up rugs, and generally scrub the place within an inch of its life. Our flat smells great! On her third day, Nagat comes alone and does ironing, some of the lighter cleaning, linens, and so forth. I feel like we have upgraded to a five star hotel staff. Nagat also cooks well, and when I mentioned that I did not like cheese, she asked whether I like a béchamel sauce. Wow. Same salary as Kiki, who does not read or write at all, and whose work was intermittent at best. I thank the university’s faculty services coordinator, who keeps a list of housekeepers recommended by AUC employees.
Nagat’s Chanel N.5 reminds me of a change living here has made. Egyptian women who are educated preen. I wear lots more eyeliner here because everyone else does, and, frankly, it’s fun outlining top and bottom with black or green. I also have begun having my eyebrows dyed brown, a change from their invisible blond, and wear more lipstick here. How curious it is in a culture in which patriarchy rules that liberation finds voice in makeup? My students are just as aware of the contradictions as I am, and I enjoy talking with them about being a feminist in lots of eyeliner. I suspect my eyeliner consumption will diminish once I return to CT.
We took a few hours on Saturday to fly the coop to a local arts center founded by architect and arts advocate Ramses Wissa. The Wissa center, on the road to Saqqara, is a lovely complex built in traditional adobe materials and the forms of housing of a much earlier Egypt. Wissa created the complex to offer young people a place to learn to weave and create, learn a trade, and creative expression rather than hanging out on the streets. It’s grown over the years and has become quite the atelier for tapestry-makers. I wish I could say I liked the regnant aesthetic of Wissa’s arts, but I don’t. Although there are glorious traditions of weaving and decoration here, the typical Wissa tapestry is a bad marriage between folk art and impressionistic imagery. I did score a couple of nice coffee mugs, and we had fun hanging out with colleagues and friends.
|Wissa arts center|
|Adobe roof of Wissa arts center|
|Tapestry maker at his loom|
|Detail of his tapestry. Not my taste at all.....|
Lots of meetings on campus this week, and the week will end with a potluck dinner party here with some friends from the university. Time for me to go off to the gym for a core class with the aptly-named Butcher!
|Even cauliflower can be beautiful.|