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

10/08/2004

Of lectures and copy angels

My first lecture at Helwan was last Monday, when I did a presentation on environmental impacts of transportation to second year students in the Tourism Development track. I wasn't sure what to expect from these students. I knewthat I needed to keep things very basic, both because of the language barrier and due to the sad fact that most of these students have had little or no exposure to environmental concepts. (Helwan Tourism has no environmental courses whatsoever in its curriculum - a pity, given that they are preparing people for careers in tourism planning as well as hotel development/management.) In the end, I found the interaction with this group of 200 students to be a lot like interacting with students at CU: about 1/3 of the class was actively engaged, asking questions and making comments; another third drifted in and out; while the remainder would clearly have preferred to be somewhere else. At least no one went to sleep. Lecture slots at Helwan are two hours, which is grueling for both the presenter and the presented upon. They meet for class once a week. During Ramadan lecture times drop to an hour, since work of any kind pretty much stops in the afternoons (hear the sound of blood sugar crashing in the afternoons all over the Muslim world). Students don't seem to do much in the way of background reading; lectures are their principal source of information. (I put together a reading pack for the students' use but it's not at all clear to me if the materials will be made available to them.) Eman and I plan to follow up with another lecture after Ramadan (late November) on Caribbean and Nile cruises, including a research problem for them to work on. The engaged 1/3 seemed to be pleased with the idea of undertaking a research exercise. Speaking of the reading pack: I visited Helwan a few days before the lecture to meet with Dr. Mona (the professor teaching this transportation class) and to make copies of the reading materials. I made my way to the copy center where I was told that the machine was broken and directed to the coffee shop. The coffee shop people looked at me like I was magnuun (crazy) and sent me back to the copy center. En route I pleaded for help to a gaggle of students perched on a concrete wall between these two esteemed establishments. This group of lovely young ladies stepped up to help me navigate the copier shoals. Turns out the "coffee shop" is located in a club next door which also includes a coffee house. The club allows the to use both - for a fee, naturally. Posted by Hello En route to the club the ladies stopped on the sidewalk and had a hurried consultation in Arabic. "They will charge you" (gesturing to indicate my agnaby - foreigner - status) "a lot of money. They will charge us less. Give us the papers." And off they went, the copy angels, leaving me parked out of sight on the sidewalk with two of the ladies. We made conversation in broken Arabic/English until the copy angels returned, proffering the pile of paper. "It's seven pounds and a half (about $1.25)," said Evon triumphantly. (She's in the white blouse, second from the right). Egyptians are a most ingenious people, using creative strategies everyday just to survive. If only that creativity could be unleashed and directed in ways that would improve the formal economy as well as the informal one!

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