Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May 11, 2011

Been back home for a few days now, amazing how slow the transition has been. I am glad classes don’t start for a few days – allows for both preparation and recovery. In summary, time in Egypt was too short, time at home is too short, life is too short. Too many things to do and see. Just not ready for a rocking chair. Endless thanks to friends and family for their support. Most of all thanks to Maria, without whom none of this would have been possible. Till the next time, next trip, next blog.
Thank you for putting up with my babbling.


May 6, 2011

Well, here it is the day before departure. Yom El Juma (the day of prayer) is also a good day to protest following the noon prayer. And so it was--not a good day to go to Tahrir Square but a really great time to go poking around the old parts of the city. Shops are open, everyone gone protesting, no heavy pedestrian traffic down the passages which have seen hundreds perhaps thousands of years of people coming and going. I got to see this first hand thanks to Ibrahim and Hanna, new friends, they and their family were a delight and I am much better for knowing them. At Hanna’s suggestion we went on tour of the old section of Cairo, visiting places like the place of Sultan Ghori, and surrounding buildings and areas of ages past. A wonderfully refreshing time. Lunch with the entire family brought closure to our time together. I shall always be in debt to Ibrahim, Hanna and all the others who made my stay in Egypt most memorable.

The final meal in Egypt was spent just like the first: with Drs. Frahim, Ibrahim, and Mohammad. All of whom made me a part of the faculty at Suez Canal University. My thanks to each of them, to the entire Faculty and to each of my students. I was very fortunate in that rather than having 150 students I really had 150 Arabic instructors. My thanks for all you have learned and for all you have taught me.

May 4, 2011

As advertised, the cab ride to the Ministry of Education was totally uneventful. Meeting was the idea of Noha Labib who is actually the Academic Programs Manager for Microsoft and is, without question, one of the most knowledgeable, energetic and focused educators with whom I have had the privilege of association. I cannot imagine anyone who would not be caught up in her enthusiasm. So there we were having tea with the shakers and movers of Egyptian education. It was a thoroughly productive and lengthy session. People with vision are beginning to emerge and it is truly an exciting time in Egypt.

After the meeting I sort of roamed around the old downtown area doing more looking than shopping. While wondering wherever I actually stumbled upon a familiar place. The Café Riche. Jose Llanes and I were introduced to this place by Dr. Ali Sweezi, a fine arts professor at Suez Canal University. The Café is a watering hole for the fine arts folks and has been such for a long long time. While there I noted a bearded, long haired American debating philosophical thought with a young woman whose ethnicity was a complete mystery (since we were close to the downtown campus of the American University Cairo, I assumed they were from there). On a lighter note, there was a table of French people and one man insisted on complaining about some sort of food problem. It struck me as humorous that someone who might willingly eat snails and patties of frog grass would complain about food. That was the end of a delightful day.

Tomorrow is Friday. A day of prayer and rest. Saturday depart for the land of the round door knob. In many ways this trip has been all too short, in other ways all too long. On balance I am grateful for the experience, grateful to those who made it possible. If the opportunity arises in the future, would I do this again? You bet I would.

May 3, 2011

Last lecture today. Prepared exam questions, finished one of two after-action reports for Suez University. Now back in Cairo, well fed but tired. Have a scheduled meeting with the Vice Minister of Education and the Vice Minister of Technology tomorrow. It has been a long time since I have had an exit interview at the national level. If we have lunch, I hope it comes with a table cloth.

Note: I asked Badr to take down the directions in Arabic so I could just hand them to a cab driver. Well one of the hotel guys drives a cab on his days off (like tomorrow) and another one of the guys (good bi-lingual speaker) needs a ride, same area, same time. Now I have cab on call, with escort and the prospect of a delightful time. Ya gotta love it.

May 2, 2011

Lots going on. Let me start with a couple of nights ago. Long ride, got in from Suez later than usual. The hotel guys (Rafiq, Ibrahim, and Badr) invited me to join them for dinner. They prepared a special treat that I had never had before-- they called if “mackarona”. Honestly, it was an excellent pasta and would have been good in any language. I suggested some “gibna” (that is Arabic for cheese – please note I am getting sooooo relaxed with the language here). Gibna, min fudluck. Any way after the gibna/cheese thing I suggested catsup. That did not go over very well. Rafiq suggested I either finish eating or take a ride in a black cab. I immediately resumed eating, cleaning everything on my plate including the hard-boiled bayd. This was enjoyable but the true night of Culinary Delight was yet to come.

Last night Maysaa’s brother and his wife invited me to diner. By the way if you don’t know who Maysaa Barakat is, she and her family are wonderful friends of our family and she is an excellent Arabic teacher. Enough of that – back to dinner. Brother Asser and spouse (I think I have gotten worse with names. His wife’s name is not spouse) story line continues…. Picked me up and we went off into the dark of night and Cairo traffic. We arrived at the Automobile Club. Ha, you say, went to AAA? Not on your life. In the first place this is Egypt. So it would be the EAA! But I digress. We entered a building which once was the playground for the now long gone King Farouk. This former entertainment center for royalty has been transformed into one of the high end eateries in the city (and conservatively classed among the best worldwide). Salad was served in the Salad Room. It wasn’t really salad like “let-us” but rather 12 plates of the most wonderful appetizers one could imagine. All had names, all were exceptional, and I don’t have a clue what they were called. I do know that if I ever see anything like them again, I will claim it all for me. Fair warning. Remember I have been to a Bedouin wedding so I know how to eat with my hands. I wanted to impress my hosts with my cultural ability but after my second handful I noticed they weren’t using their hands – they were just staring at me. I think they were really impressed especially when I wiped my fingers on the back side of the table cloth so the stains wouldn’t show. Only a real international traveler knows these things. We seemed to have been quickly moved to the main course room and having established my internationalness, proceeded to dine with proper utensils and there were a lot of those.

In sum, the dining, conversation and pure enjoyment could only have been better if Maria were with us. By the way, I really did not do all the bad things. I just wanted to see Maria’s reaction after reading this.

Monday, May 2, 2011

May 1, 2011

Very quiet day today. Slept late had fuol and tamiea breakfast with the guys who work on the 6th floor of the hotel. One of them vaporizes and Schazam, he returns with food. I have no idea where he goes and being reasonably familiar with the neighborhood, I have never asked. Rafiq and I went to Khan El Khalily this afternoon. This is the old market area (I think just for tourists). I can’t imagine what everyday people would do with statues of Nefertiti (in varying sizes) or an endless supply of “I heart Egypt” t-shirts.

The great part about today was that I broke my self imposed “black cab rule.” Rafiq hailed the dreaded black cab and as I began to scream and cry, he pushed me into the back seat and off we went. I learned many things today. First of all, Rafiq speaks less English than I speak Arabic. Most of our conversations begin with incomprehensible mumbling and end with both of us laughing. We have a deeply bonded friendship. By the way, Rafiq is a very large person with all the attributes of a professional boxer. Most impressive is his language ability. The Arabic word for “No” is “La” a quiet, soft, gentle word. And so it is when Rafiq speaks. However, the second time “La” seems to come out in all capital letters and would be roughly translated as “not in your lifetime, pig breath.” Even the drivers of the black cabs were impressed with his linguistics and happily lowered the fares as a sign of respect. We had a great time being pursued by shop keepers for most of the afternoon. Had a quiet cup of coffee and/or tea in a local back street tea house with hubblie bubblies at each table. Ha – gotcha. They use some kind of sweet smelling stuff not the famous hubblie bubblie tobacco outlawed in most parts of the civilized world. Besides, all it was doing was making Rafiq cough. An enjoyable day with lots of work tomorrow.

Farewell from the streets of Cairo.

April 29, 2011

Life continues. Yesterday I joined Ibrahim and his family for a late lunch/early dinner which was thoroughly enjoyable. Amir is a friend of Essam Abouzeida and meeting the family lived up to all expectations.
We ate at a fish restaurant which is a branch of a restaurant in Port Sayeed. Extraordinary seafood. I have decided that there is no more fuol and tamayia on the street corner. No, Sir. From now it is only upscale dining for me. Like the restaurants that float on the Nile or the Fish restaurant which has a better sounding name in Arabic but I forget what it sounds like. Chili’s is good as well as Kentucky Fried Chicken which are closer. A whole new vista of culinary delights.

Today is Friday, the Moslem Day of Prayer (sort of like a Christian Sunday except there is more praying). Most shops are closed as is the school. Saturday is the second day of the weekend. Sunday is the Lord’s Day for Christians so I will observe Sunday. Monday is Labor Day (a national holiday – no school). Do the math. Four days off. Excellent time to read, write, prepare lesson plans and visit places or sleep. I really feel the need to bring back these cultural perspectives to share with all those I love and miss so much.

Warm regards till next blog time

PS. Will have internet on Tuesday.

April 28, 2011

Class went very well and the ride back to Cairo was uneventful, just another 120+kph zip down the road. The evening took on a whole new meaning when I joined Maysaa Barakat’s friends for dinner.

Usually someone picks me up and I can engage in a thought free journey to wherever. This time it was suggested that I take a cab and join them. No problem. Grabbing my Egyptian phrase book, I ran into the street and secured the first available car. I was really lucky. It was a Lada. Now the Lada is a Fiat made in Russia during the cold war. Mine was an original. It looked like it had been retrieved from a scrap yard within the past day or two. After identifying the destination and negotiating a price (since this was my first Cairo car I had nothing with which to compare prices, but negotiation seemed important at the time) anyway, I jumped in and off we went. The cab driver was very naturally resource conscientious. As we sped off into the night, he turned the head lights off. I am sure this saved a lot of electricity and made us safer. The other cars would not hit what they could not see and there we were cloaked in darkness, in 5 lanes of traffic on a 3 lane street. I will spare you the part about only going 30kph (it was either to save gas or because of the violent shaking [both me and the car] at speeds above 30.

About a half hour later, Amr called and he talked to the cab driver. Half hour after that there we were at the La Pasha, a world class restaurant on the Nile. Me and the Lada among all those chauffeured Mercedes Benz(s). I learned at dinner that the cab driver did not know where the La Pasha was so he was taking me to his favorite fish restaurant. While dining one of the people at our table pointed out that the Egyptian VP was seated at a table across the room. I was so impressed that I planned to stop by and see if he arrived by Lada. It is always good to establish something in common with new friends. Anyway, dessert came and I forgot to say “Hi”. Trip back was by a new metered cab (I dreaded the thought of a high end expensive taxi). When I got back to the hotel, I discovered that the trip was 4 times less than the Lada. I tore out the “Taxi” pages from my Egyptian phrase book and threw them away. Meal was great, company extraordinary, and life goes on.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

April 26, 2011

Spent Easter with General Barak (Maysaa’s father) and friends at Obari, just outside Cairo. Easter is a national holiday in Egypt and Moslems and Christians spend time with respective families. Or they spend time in traffic just trying to join their respective families. It was nice to be outside the city.

Food there was excellent(as always). When I first arrived I had to select food by color: Green, Light Green and Dark Green or Brown, Light Brown or Dark Brown. That was because I did not know the Arabic names for the things I was eating. Now that is all changing. I am learning the Arabic names. For instance I was served a light green vegetable pronounced “let-us”. It was served with sliced tomatoes (I haven’t learned the name yet but I recognized the taste). When I return home I hope we can find “let-us”. It is really good.

That’s all for now. Class prep, writing, students and other academic things will rapidly consume the day.

ma’is salaama

April 23, 2011

Yesterday the Ibrahim family and I made a trip to the Sinai. Just a five minute ferry ride across the Canal and there we were: crossing the Bar Lev Line. Things on the east bank are still undeveloped. We climbed in the back of an old small pickup (Dr. Ibrahim, Mrs. Ibrahim, three sons and a daughter) and took off in the direction of nothing. P.S. the first truck broke down within two miles; we were picked by another truck and continued.

Bar Lev was a line of defense established by Israel on the East bank of the Canal. It was a fortified line sufficient to stop a ground assault by Egypt. At the start of the war, the Egyptians launched one of the greatest engineering feats in military history. They used water cannons to hydraulically open a path through the line and then sent in equipment, soldiers and supplies and the war was on. We toured the old Israeli positions and I was impressed with the emptiness of the place. A few olive trees and vast openness. Nowhere to stay, nowhere to run. A very reflective day.

April 22, 2011

Fascinating day in Ismailia. Toured a private High School and met with a group of English majors. All seniors and very proficient. Their questions were honest, difficult, and reflected their concerns. For instance: Why doesn’t America make Israel give Palestine back to the Palestinians’ the land the Israelis stole? When will the US make Gaddafi step down? Did you vote for Obama? Now that our revolution is over, what do you recommend as our next step?

Just the kinds of questions I wanted to deal with at 10:00 in the morning (or any other time). I reminded them I was from the College of Education not Political Science. They said “Oh, OK”. First round mine.

Second round. The Egyptian education system needs to be changed – What changes should we make? How can I study in America? We need to have a teacher fired – how can we do this? (Note: by this time I was looking for a window from which I could unceremoniously jump from or at least tell them I was really German and did not understand English or Arabic). Truth is that when I stopped crying, we were able to engage in a wonderfully meaningful dialogue.

These students were exceptionally well informed, respectful but not intimidated. They are genuinely seeking answers to both simple and complex questions. If these students represent the youth of Egypt, I think the future is in good hands.

April 21, 2011

I am really beginning to enjoy “non-teaching” days. Spent some time with Mohammed in Suez City. His wife and children stayed with her parents. About 6:00pm Mohammed asked if I would like to go to a wedding and off we went. About 30 minutes outside Suez, Mohammed turned off the road, in the dark and proceeded to drive toward some far off fires. I did not have a clue.

As we approached I could make out several large tents, some open on all sides and some closed (I found out later the closed tents were for the women). Any way these things were huge and the men were sitting on rugs spread on the sand. A few of the younger men were in western clothing but the vast majority were wearing gallabayas (the long night shirt looking apparel, common in Egypt and elsewhere). This was a scene straight out of National Geographic. The men wore turbans and were seated on the ground and seemed to be age grouped. Our arrival was met by everyone in the tent. It must have taken 30 minutes just to Salaam each person there. A large metal tray (about three feet in diameter) was brought in and placed on the ground in front of us. It contained an 8 inch high pile of brown rice with chunks of lamb and goat piled on top. Dinner had begun. The goal was to select a piece of meat, tear it apart and consume the smaller pieces. Then scoop up large mouthfuls of rice with the spoon provided. Here we were, somewhere in the sand, eating dinner in a Bedouin Wedding camp. The neat part is that they were all related to Mohammad, one big nomadic family. The hospitality of the Egyptian people is legend. The hospitality of the Bedouin is extraordinary. We ate for about 2 hours, drank a gallon of tea and began our goodbyes. Mohammed is highly respected. I don’t think many Bedouin earn PhDs. As we drove off in the night, past large herds of goats and sheep, I could not help thinking that during the whole evening, I never did see a camel……… or a woman.

In the morning it is off to Ismailia.