copy Excellent Adventures in Egypt

Enter here to share Joni's adventures living and working in Cairo courtesy of the U.S. Fulbright cultural exchange program. Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and test of our civilization. - Mahatma Ghandi

9/09/2004

Today I sat in on a student's defense of her masters' dissertation. It was conducted in Arabic, of course, which gave me a strange sense of deja vu - had I somehow been transported back to Denver to an EPA Senior Leadership Team meeting? (In-joke for those of us who know, love and endure the Agency.) There was much formality to the occasion: lapis blue drapes drawn across the windows, gold draping bunched around the reviewers' table, flowers banked against the dais. The student was dressed in an elegant tangerine pantsuit, her gold, lime and tangerine higab tied very fashionably to frame her face with its rimless glasses and to cluster in soft folds beneath her chin. She and all the reviewers wore academic robes over their everyday clothes. Unlike US defenses, which are conducted behind closed doors, this one was open for anyone to attend, and her family was out in force - grandparents, parents, sisters, brothers, little girls running around excitedly in starched pink pinafores. It was obviously a VERY BIG occasion. The whole event was videotaped (I would be mortified!), with frequent pans to catch the expressions of people in the audience. The exchanges between the student (whose name I don't know) and the two older gentlemen were soft-spoken and very respectful. However, the dynamic changed when the department chair, Dr. Ghada Aly Hammond took the mike. Dr. Ghada pressed the student on her clarity of thought, evidentiary support for her conclusions, her grammar and her writing style. (I could figure that out, even in Arabic.) Maybe it was the student-teacher relationship, the fact that both were women, or maybe it was Dr. Ghada's US education, but she really put the young woman through her paces. After the degree was awarded, we were invited upstairs to a celebration party. There were heavy platters of cakes, and trays with both sweet and savory middle eastern tapas. To my astonishment, only the faculty members were there - instead of joining together in one big gathering, it appeared that family and friends members waited for the faculty to be finished before indulging in the treats. Student Lounge, waiting for the dissertation defense. The young man is a masters' student who is considering ecotourism as his thesis topic. Posted by Hello

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