Whether it’s real politik, fear of losing a job, or emotional exhaustion, the general strike called to begin February 11th and go through the 18th seems not to have affected much in our lives. I had a boring week of no teaching; instead, I went to the gym, we had a couple of dinners with our buddies Sarah and Mark, I read a bunch of books, watched an entire season of “Downton Abbey,” and did work preparing for classes to come. Students took their protesting seriously, however.
|AUC students protesting military rule; the poster is of the student killed in Port Said|
BTW, on a clear day, I can see the Pyramids from one of the machines at the gym (one that mimics skating). Kind of cool to gaze on the remaining wonder of the ancient world while sweating to the oldies.
Sarah has been volunteering a few days a week with two organizations helping refugees from the Sudan. There are about 75,000 refugees in Cairo, most with little prospect of a job or education. One of the organizations helps provide daycare for kids so their mothers can work (usually as a housekeeper); the other provides a broader range of services. FYI, here are their websites:
Sarah sent me this photo of some of the kids she is working with. Puts things in perspective. My worst gripe about the strike was boredom, whereas not working is life or death for many.
|Some of Sarah's Sudanese kids|
Harris and I went to the town of Ismailia Thursday through Saturday for a conference sponsored by the Binational Fulbright Commission in Egypt. It was organized to showcase the work the student grantees are doing, mostly young people just out of college or working on graduate degrees. The student grantees were genuinely impressive, working hard on topics ranging from Arabic poetry and calligraphy, to public health issues like obesity and hepatitis C, to refugees and the mish-mash of housing for the very poor that comprises the “informal cities.”
|Fulbright students presenting their work|
|Gang of Fulbrighters and staff in Ismailia|
Did you know that Egypt has the highest percentage of population with hepatitis C of any country in the world at 14.8%? By contrast, it’s about 2% in the U.S., and the next country below Egypt is around 5%. The student working on how it’s transmitted here believes that an major inoculation effort during the 1950s and 1960s to combat schistosomiasis, a blood fluke common in Nile water, was responsible for transmitting the disease so widely since kids were lined up in schools and injected one after the next from the same glass syringes, over a series of nine injections. She is investigating how it’s transmitted from mother to child, and noted that people have all kinds of wild theories as to its transmission, from fertilizer to swimming pools. Not surprisingly, the extraordinary number of Egyptians infected with this fatal disease that causes liver cancer or failure does not provide the government with bragging rights. Sadly, keeping it quiet and not working with world health organizations serves to keep the percentage so high.
|View from our balcony of the canal|
|Ismailia roadside vendor|
|News photo of an Egyptian checkpoint|
Because of its strategic importance, security in Ismailia is very high. Our bus had to pass a checkpoint manned with soldiers and tanks (Harris wisely stayed my hand from photographing them). We had a police escort everywhere we went in the city, and were strongly urged not to to leave the hotel the one night we had free. At the Canal Authority, we were given a tour and lecture by their PR man, Mr. Khalil, whose speaking manner reminded me of an authoritarian general, as did his profoundly nationalist history of the canal. Our boat tour of the canal was cancelled owing to terrible cold windy weather (the Authority had to close the canal for a day), but we did go to the clubhouse for Canal Authority people and watched tankers go by as we ate a surprisingly good lunch the next day when the Canal reopened.
|Bad weather hits the canal|
|Note the "Welcome to Egypt" sign on the far bank|
|Not only is there a shooting club for Canal Authority personnel, but click on the photo to look at the logo|
Returning to our flat brought a surprise. Our housekeeper, Kiki, had left the place turned upside down, probably thinking we were gone for a longer trip, and she clearly had at least one outsider with her while she had been here. Since I had spoken with her explicitly about not bringing in outsiders without asking me in advance, she is now fired. You can imagine how unsettling it is to have someone with keys to your house who flouts your clear house rules. I’m shopping for a new housekeeper and have two with sterling credentials whom I will interview this week.
It was a relief to return to the classroom and get back to business and structure, especially now that “Downton Abbey” is over for the season. I was back in the classroom today and campus is normal.
|AUC, back to normal|
Harris is looking forward to a presentation he’ll give in March on John Keats’s poem “To Autumn” for the AUC literature club. He’s also giving a university-wide presentation in April on his latest research on early rock and roll, a public presentation of an article forthcoming in the journal “Popular Music and Society” (unfortunate acronym). Plus he is just about finished with the article-turned-book-length manuscript on poetic theory. I, instead, write this blog and articles for a scuba newsletter, but the May Fulbright meeting at which I present my work from this year means I have to put my Deep Thoughts in a row. Especially after hearing what the students are doing. Your tax dollars at work, folks.
PS: the things you see on the roads here sometimes crack me up. Why ride when you can snooze? And the former Mubarek Police Academy is now just Police Academy, without Steve Gutenberg or Leslie Neilson.
|A soft ride|
|Where's "Police Academy 3"?|
|Egypt has been invaded by As Seen on TV: Big Mouth Billy Bass|