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

10/22/2004

Random Wordshots

I have been very busy this last week meeting with all kinds of people. I came down with a cold, which slowed me down for a few days, and got to share (at least vicariously) in the adventure of finding flats in Cairo through Jackie and Sunshine. Eman and I finally got to meet with the environmental contacts at USAID and with my friends Ekhlass and Serag at EEAA – meetings that had been re-scheduled several times. Both offices are located in Maadi, an upscale suburb between central Caior and Helwan favored by Americans, Europeans and the Masri well-to-do. It’s a district dominated by large villas with private gardens – picture the Denver Capitol Hill area of Boston’s Beacon Hill. AID is in a brand new glass and steel building-cum-fortress built to GSA’s post Oklahoma City security requirements; it sits in solitary splendor next to the giant telephone satellite terminal in eastern Maadi. EEAA is in a multi-story office building plonked down in the middle of a shopping plaza right next to the Corniche. Interesting contrasts, as always. We got lots of help and information from people at both agencies, and are now busily chasing down contacts to get specific info. our research “database” and case study development. Of course, chasing people down is not easy when they won’t answer the phone (see “Ramadan kareem”). Ekhlass showed me how to light the oven and Sunshine brought along a bag of chocolate chips, so I’ve been trying out recipes on my Egyptian and American taste testers. Baking is an amusing challenge since my recipes are in US measurements and the implements here are in metric, and the oven has no temperature marks at all (no numbers or gas marks). So it’s “all measurements approximate” and a swift prayer to the kitchen gods. So far so good: the chocolate chip cookies are a big hit with everyone (no surprise – chocolate is a universal addiction as far as I can tell), McVitey’s digestive biscuits make a great crust for key lime pie, and my grandmother’s coconut-date-nut cookies go down a treat after iftahr. Of course, for Egyptians nothing competes with kornifa as an after-iftahr treat…kornifa is a baked concoction that’s kind of like eating Karo syrup with crunch. Matt arrives next week, followed in short order by our friend Alison Tormey from London so we’ll be off touristing over the weekends. In anticipation of our travels, I’ve been accumulating single pound notes - one goes through these like water and they are rarer than gold in the hinterlands. On Tuesday I wandered up and down Talaat Harb Street downtown dropping into banks to see how many singles I could talk them out of (10 here, 20 there, 45 from a very friendly bank). My wanderings coincided with the very busy last hour of business for the banks. People were carrying in – and taking out – reams of bills. There were briefcases, grocery bags and gym bags full of bills, coming in and out of the banks. I saw one man take away a hay-baled size box of rubber-banded 20 pund notes. The tellers have little machines that riffle through the piles of fuloos, counting piles of bills in an instant and sorting them into packages of 100, 1000 or more. These little machines were going no-stop, everywhere I went. You’d think that Egypt would join the rest of the world economy and convert to plastic and electronic transfers – so much easier and saves such a lot of time. But that kind of system rests on trust in governmental institutions that is totally lacking here – I think that people like the comfort of cold, hard (worn-out and dirty!) cash that they can control themselves. Last Saturday I visited Menoufia University in the Delta with Dr. Ahmed el-Kholei, a professor there in the Department of Architecture and Planning. He is interested in establishing a teaching and research relationship with the College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) at CU, and he trotted me around to meet with all the powers that be to sell the idea on his end. Fortunately, I didn’t have to say much – just smile and look tangible. I like his ideas and hope that we can make the relationship happen. For those of you interested in education, here’s what we’re exploring… The Egyptian government has mandated that Egyptian universities move to a semester/credit hour system (instead of the antiquated high-school like format they now use). The Menafia Architecture/Planning Department is jumping on the idea, and taking this opportunity to update the curriculum with environmental, economic and sustainability concepts. El Kholei, whose graduate work was at U. Illinois - Champaign, is also concerned that the US is not issuing visas to graduate students from the Middle East, so he wants to take steps to upgrade their program to US standards so there is a quality alternative in the region. The idea is for CAP & Menafia to collaborate initially on “egyptianizing” some selected CAP courses. This would involve joint work on course materials (possibly sending an Egyptian grad. student to CAP), followed by a CAP professor visiting Menafia to teach each course while modeling how to teach for young Menafia professors/instructors. We’ve talked about including “guest lecture” slots for experts (US and Egypt/ME) and about whether we could build a distance learning component into this kind of exchange. Menafia would also build library and technology resources as part of this project. Over the long term, Menafia would also like to develop long term graduate teaching and research exchanges. They have some seed money to partially fund graduate students interested in doing field work here, and they have some interesting people on faculty that might be good folks to visit CU. The Universality President (I really did meet all the “powers that be!”) expressed interest in working towards a joint undergraduate program in future. Menafia is the most highly educated governate in Egypt and turns out a lot of the “powers” in civilian and military life – quite a contrast with the “get-along” atmosphere in Helwan. There is a world bank grant program available here in Egypt now that could be used to fund at least the first stages of such an exchange, and Ahmed and I will be talking on Sunday with Ann Radwan, the Fulbright director here, about funding possibilities in FB, USAID and other State Department programs. Cross your fingers and say your prayers! One final wordshot: Last week I finally got to see the Giza pyramids up close. (I have been very good and working very hard – the only touristy things I’ve done so far are the visit to the Egyptian Museum and this week’s evening anderings in old Islamic Cairo.) The only problem is that I hadn’t planned to see the pyramids up close! I was due to meet Eman at her house in Giza (near the south end of Cairo University for those of you with Cairo maps) and hopped in a taxi to make the trek. To my astonishment, the taxi driver got off on the ring road and proceeded to go along the highway to the Giza plateau. I remonstrated with him – this was miles out of our way – but to no avail. and I’m sure he knew exactly what he was doing. He is the first driver in all the many cabs I’ve hopped in Cairo who turned on his meter, and I think he thought he’d take the foreigner for a little extra ride to up the fare. I was fuming by the time we reached Eman’s street, 15 minutes late (fortunately I had allowed double the time needed for the journey, not knowing if traffic would be bad). What a journey! At least it was lovely to see Khufu and Khafre still standing in the glory…

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