Thursday, February 9, 2012

February 9th, more of the new normal

Boy, do we not live in Kansas! Shortly after classes began, unrest and changes took hold. The University cancelled classes Sunday the 5th for a memorial to a young man killed in Port Said, an AUC student who was to have graduated this month; and now classes are cancelled this Sunday, the 11th, so students and staff can participate in a country-wide general strike. I remember February 11th last year: Harris and I were in Chicago for a weekend, and I was in the bathtub when CNN announced that Mubarek was stepping down. I’d been keeping track of news in Egypt particularly because I was waiting to hear about whether I won the Fulbright. So this general strike, coinciding with the 11th, should not come as a big surprise. It just means I have to re-write my course syllabi again, and probably not for the last time.

On campus yesterday, students were rallying and hollering away in Arabic (that’s when my ignorance of the language is frustrating). It seems like part of their education during these turbulent times is participating in social change rather than parsing poetry or learning formulas. On one hand, they are missing things that may be important, but on the other hand, they are living history. How can they not be part of it? It’s been interesting to see how my queries to them regarding whether to hold class Sunday the 12th are shaking out. Some would like to come but plan on joining demonstrations; others are staying home by order of their parents. If you know me, you probably know I am pretty organized and not terribly flexible, but teaching at AUC is teaching me the latter!

AUC protest; posters depict AUC student killed in Port Said last week

FYI, this is a paragraph from the alerts we get from State regularly:
This emergency message is to alert U.S. citizens that on Saturday, February 11 several labor and political groups have announced a call for a general strike throughout Egypt in recognition of the one year anniversary of former President Mubarak stepping down.  It is reported that a number of labor organizations have committed to participate along with revolutionary youth parties.  At least one major political group has stated publicly that it will not participate in the strike.  While the overall impact of the strike cannot be predicted, the possibility exists that some businesses will be closed and greater traffic congestion likely.  We have been informed that the airport will remain open and is expected to function normally.  U.S. citizens are advised to avoid the downtown areas of Cairo and other large cities, as well as any large gatherings or protests that could emerge. 

And yes, we are always ready to depart in a hurry, a bag packed, passports and money at the ready. I think of it as insurance, there so you don’t need it.

Sarah and Mark Mineart’s adopted cat, Eliza Who Does Little, came with a story. Sarah told me that street cats in Cairo are not just abandoned but often badly abused. Eliza came to Sarah with scratches on her nose, and worse yet, bled from her rectum. Street cats are used by thuggish boys for sex, if you can imagine, as well as torture—evidently, it’s common for kids to loop a rope around a cat’s neck and swing it like a lariat. It’s the kind of behavior that one might expect from the young Jeffrey Dahmer, and gives some insight into the contradictions of this culture, in which family is held dear yet life often seems cheap. I had a similar reaction when I went into a nearby shop that sells parrots. The shelves were filled with cramped cages with six cockatiels to a cage; the African Grays had plucked their own feathers out; and the only food for the birds were seeds and filthy water (seeds alone for parrots is akin to feeding a child only butter). No matter how bad my need for a feather fix is, I can’t go in there again. If I do, I know I will give the owner, a nearly blind old fellow, all my money and have to find homes for 100 birds.

Eliza close-up; note her scarred nose

Note Eliza's position near food bowls; could that be a message?

Harris and I went back to the Khan on Tuesday with Emad for a return to Atlas Silks for the third adjustment to my chemises (my opinion of their tailor isn’t high, to say the least). But it was really an excuse to spend time together. The highlight of the afternoon was a visit to Al Fishaway cafĂ©, lots of tea with mint, and apple sheesha for me. The boys had a chance to yak and yuk, I got pleasantly stoned on nicotine (a vice I will not bring back to the States), and between fending off vendors of everything from tissue packs to scarabs to scarves and sunglasses, we had a great time together. The Khan is one of Cairo’s oldest Islamic sections, and architectural gems like this beautiful entryway are tucked throughout its alleys.

Interior of Al Fishaway cafe with Harris

Emad's doggie pal is also Harris's

The Boyz at Al Fishaway

Working on my sheesha with Harris

Gorgeous medieval entryway, Khan al Khalili

So things are okay so far, in a state of flux but we are safe. Don’t look for us on CNN. I’ll write more after the general strike.

Some cars in Ma'adi have reserved parking....

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