I get my glory in the desert rain

2 May

The day has finally come. I have finished my undergraduate degree. I moved out of Louisville this morning, and I’m currently chalaxing in Northern Kentucky with the fam. So what’s the next big step in my life? Well, I really am not sure. I decided to suspend my Peace Corps application for the time being as I’m not certain that it is the path I want to take for the next two years. What will I be doing a year from now? I really have no idea. I’d like eventually do a volunteer project abroad similar to the Peace Corps before moving on to graduate school.

As I was unpacking tonight, I found the graphic memoir I made last spring for an Honors seminar. Warning: I am not an artist. But I really like how this turned out so I thought I would post it here. That’s the cover you see at the beginning of the post. You can click each panel to get the mega monster view to view all the details. Enjoy.

It’s cold out there!

19 Nov

It’s been like a year since I last blogged. This is a tragedy. Not a tragedy in the sense that the Titanic sinking was a tragedy, but more of a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull tragedy. This blog can be so much more, you know? I’m sure my expansive audience is constantly left with a bitter taste in their mouths every time they visit here (multiple times a week I’m sure) and there are no updates. Well then, let your thirst be satiated!

So I’ve taken up cooking. I grew up consuming my mom’s delicious meals, but whatever the heck went on in the kitchen that resulted in nom-nom-licious grub seemed more magical than anything so I was clueless to cooking unless it involved a toaster (I can’t really admit to being proficient with the microwave since I once set a bag of popcorn on fire). Then I moved into a college dorm and had a steady diet of Wendys, Papa Johns and Subway for two years. Sadly those are two culinary years that I will never get back. But they instilled in me a desire to rise above mediocrity in food consumption. Well that, and when I got back from Egypt I had to get my fuul fix somehow so I made my own.

And I’ve also been growing more interested in organic farming (haha!! get it?!?). It turns out that quality tasting ingredients makes better meals. Who knew? I got to write a column for the online UofL newspaper thing so you can read all about my farming adventure here. But to sum things up: it was awesome! And now my future plans will hopefully involve a Peace Corps assignment doing sustainable agriculture over the next two years. I’m in the middle of the application process, and I should find out if and where I’m going in the summer.

Agriculture is quite the departure from what my initial future plans were when I was kid. About ten years ago I was certain that I was going to be a shortstop for the Reds or the reincarnation of Aragorn. Apparently you need to actually play baseball to join the MLB and Middle Earth doesn’t really exist, which is a shame because I would really love to try some Lembas bread. Although recipes do exist, but I doubt the Earth version fills you up after only like one bite.

It’s a possibility that I’ll end up in South America for the next two years, which is a region that I have always wanted to go to. Of course, I have to switch gears from arabic learning back to spanish learning. This semester I’m taking an arabic class (the last of my undergraduate career) and an online spanish class. This is resulting in some bizarre conversations in arabic when I’m thinking of three or four spanish words before remembering the arabic equivalent. Have you ever tried applying an arabic conjugation to a spanish verb? It’s not pretty.

I’m also planning a month long Europe trip with my dear compadre in arms, Steve (better known as author of the Idoru blog). Which means I will have been on four continents after one year of graduation. It’s not really my goal but a neat milestone none the less.

I would love to stay and keep rambling on for a couple more paragraphs, but I’ve got a Harry Potter premiere to catch! Peace.

Into the Woods!

31 Dec

Daniel Boone National Forest

When I was in Cairo I had a strange realization that I haven’t really explored the wilderness of Kentucky. I went to some places in my brief boy scout days, but those memories have largely been repressed, and I don’t remember where I went. To correct this shortcoming, I have decided to make a list of places to visit and activities to do in Kentucky for 2010. Since I have 1.5 years left at the University of Louisville, this may be my last year living full-time in Kentucky for awhile, and I need to take advantage. Without further ado, here is the list (subject to further additions/revisions).

Mammoth Cave: Wild Cave Tour – A 5.5 mile route through Mammoth Cave. The physical challenges:

Heights that involve free-climbing cave walls; lengthy crawls through areas as tight as 9 inches high; walking in a crouched position; hand and knee crawls over jagged rocks and dirt; crawling through wet areas; twisting into and out of tight crawlway openings

The park has some backcountry camping spots available, which would be cool to stay at. I also plan on checking out the ‘Big Woods’, one of the last areas of old growth forest in Kentucky.

The Sheltowee Trace : A national recreation trail winding through the Daniel Boone National Forest, Big South Fork and a few other parks in Kentucky and Tennessee. It is 282 miles long, but I don’t plan on doing the whole thing. I foresee two multi-day backpacking trips of around 50 miles a piece.

Red River Gorge : I’d like to spend a weekend here. Dispersed camping is allowed in the forest around the gorge area (no camping in the rockshelters though since you might damage the archaeological work), plus there’s a lot of trails in the area.

There are a lot of kayaking and canoeing opportunities in the Daniel Boone forest. I’m not sure on which section I want to do yet, but the Upper Cumberland River section looks like a good weekend trip (Class I-II). If you’re feeling especially bold, you can continue onto the Lower Cumberland, which is Class III.

That’s the list for right now. Give me your suggestions in the comments!

Picture by sisselg on flickr

Football Madness

30 Nov

After winning the first match against Algeria, Cairenes took to the streets.

It’s that time of the season. World Cup qualifying matches! And so on November 14th, Algeria found itself playing in Cairo against Egypt to decide who would be representing their group in the World Cup. From what I understand, this match was kind of like the last regular season game for both teams. In order for Egypt to advance to the World Cup, they had to win 3-0. To force a playoff in Sudan, they needed to win 2-0. Any less and Algeria was World Cup-bound.

Tensions ran high leading up to the match, to say the least. Apparently, a few decades ago some Algerian player gouged out the then Egyptian’s team doctor on the pitch after Algeria lost. The day before the match, Algerians accused an Egyptian mob of throwing stones and injuring several players as their bus left the Cairo airport. The Egyptian press, which had nicely whipped Egyptians into a frenzy about the game in the months before the match, claimed that Algerians faked the attack on the bus. It was getting strange already.

I was heading to Maadi, a sort of upper class part of town where all the expats live, to watch it with a friend in a coffeeshop. I left Zamalek a couple hours early in case of delays, and so I could pick up dinner along the way. Along the way, I walked past the Algerian embassy, where demonstrations were already beginning, and numerous mini parades of Egyptians. Most cars, businesses and homes had Egyptian flags displayed. I walked downtown, got onto the metro and headed to Maadi.

Upon arrival in Maadi, I stopped at Lucille’s for the first time. Lucille’s is an American style diner that I had heard great things about, and since I hadn’t eaten a good American meal in awhile, I decided to stop in. This was a fantastic decision. For one, they have the best coffee I have had in Cairo. And second? Cornbread. Wow. It was so delicious. They had a south of the border selection (and I missed some good Mexican more than I missed a good cheeseburger), and so I also devoured some enchiladas, a basket of chips and salsa and Mexican rice. Completely satisfied, I met my friend and headed to the coffeeshop.

We somehow snagged a seat pretty close to the television and ordered tea and shisha. Soon the place was completely packed and the employees found drums and flags and everyone was involved in a rousing chant of “Misr, Misr, Misr!” (Egypt, Egypt, Egypt). The game started, and Egypt scored almost immediately. Excitement ensued. The place went wild, chairs were knocked over and more chanting started. Egypt only needed one more goal to force the playoff, but at this pace, it didn’t even look necessary. The game stretched on, but no more goals materialized. As the game approached the end, I began to fear my trip back to Zamalek. A loss in Cairo wouldn’t be pretty. Then, in the 5th minute of extra time (I think there was 1 minute left before the end of the game), Egypt got a shot on the goal. Miss! Another shot. Miss! And someone kicked it back into the box, and another shot and…

The world kind of just exploded into a mass of red, black and noise. I have never witnessed anything like that in my life. The screaming (of the joy variety) went on for several minutes. The guy next to the tv actually stood up, embraced it and began kissing the screen. The game ended, 2-0 Egypt, and everyone took to the streets. People were on top of cars, yelling Misr!, the sound of blaring horns filled the air, and of course there was fire. I was kind of awestruck by all this. After all, if Egypt was this excited after winning a match to force a game to decide to go to the world cup, what would happen if say, they won the world cup? I can’t even imagine. Here’s a brief video I took as we walked around on the streets.

The playoff took place on later that week. I stayed and watched it in the dorms that night, and there was  a rather large crowd gathered there. Algeria went up 1-0, and Egypt had countless opportunities but was unable to convert. The match ended, and I didn’t even realize it at first. There was just silence as people stood and silently left. Outside, the streets were also in stunned silence. I headed upstairs, did some homework and fell asleep thinking that was the end of the football madness.

The next day, Egyptian media (and people on sites such as Facebook) reported that Egyptian fans in Sudan had been attacked and killed by Algerians, and Egyptian businesses were burned down in Algeria, while attacking Egyptians with swords. These were all pretty much blown out of proportion, and Cairo rapidly became a very angry town. My roommate and I were walking back from some Ultimate and passed by the Algerian embassy around midnight in order to get to the dorms. The taxi driver actually dropped us off on one side of the island because he didn’t want to drive near the embassy. I’m not sure how many people were gathered there, but I would guess somewhere in the low thousands. It was not a happy gathering. They were mostly chanting something about attacking Algeria and standing there, so we quickly hustled by. We went by at midnight, and later read that the riot had turned ugly between midnight and 230 am. Rioters attacked the riot police with stones and firebombs, and the police responded.

Needless to say, Zamalek remained in lockdown mode for the next few days. It’s settled down now, but I really found the whole thing to be rather unnecessary and stupid. My friend Luke posted this article on my facebook wall, and I definitely agree that the political leadership seized on this opportunity to improve their waning reputations. Nick Rowlands had this tweet that pretty much sums up the riots:

Perfect 4 Egyptian gov: years of pent up anger & humiliation reg domestic issues channeled into violent, racist nationalism

 

And now, poetry!

29 Nov

This is a clip of Suheir Hammad, a Palestinian-American poet/actress, on Def Poetry. It’s her reaction to 9/11. Someone played it in my Palestinian seminar a few days ago, and I found it very moving. It might be as relevant as ever after Fort Hood.

To Feel the Humiliation

Today I have seen of war
all I want to see.

A row of men with blindfolded eyes
and surrendered hands
squat, backs hunched,
before a stone wall.

A young boy stays home
for five days, alone,
with the corpses of his family.

A man gestures, with loathing,
about how a soldier had defecated
on his bed. An old woman flails
her arms in despair, begging
the distant heavens.

To feel the humiliation
to touch the grief of each
I would have to become a monster
with many hearts.

– Sharif S. Elmusa, in Flawed Landscape

Although entirely relevant to the video, I wanted to mention Israel/Palestine. Israel/Palestine is not an issue easily avoided here. I had a conversation with an Egyptian at AUC who asked me why Americans support Israel completely, a position that confused him (and many throughout the Middle East). I think that the for many Americans, their image of Palestinians is of the terrorist, which is the only facet revealed by US media and spreads feelings of disgust/fear towards the West Bank and Gaza. We deny humanity to Palestinians. We do not try to expand our very narrow understanding of these people and make it all too easy to mark their suffering as irrelevant, their oppression as necessary for the safety of Israel, the United States and the ‘free world’.

This is not a characteristic that is limited to Americans or the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It seems humans are too quick to reduce the “other” to the status of evil and a threat. If we do not have the willingness or curiosity to understand the context of phenomena (for example, Islamic ‘terrorism’), empathy to understand the condition of others, and the ability to critique our own words and actions, then we will continue to march to war with our bombs, drone missiles and ‘collateral damage’, no problem will be solved and our world will remain divided and unequal.

In other news, I got back from Siwa today. I should have a full report up sometime this week. I hope everyone had a splendid Thanksgiving/Eid al Adha!

Lé Bidet

22 Nov

As an undergraduate in Cultural Anthropology, I feel that it is my scholastic duty, nay, my sacred duty, to boldly explore a new culture, especially in areas that may disgust my fellow Americans. And so I have lately been utilizing the bidet, in order to discover whether it truly offers a healthier and exciting alternative to toilet paper. My results? Fantastic! Although I must mention that the bidets at the AUC  are not separate from the toilet, as they traditionally are. They are similar to the one in the picture I have conveniently posted on this page.

The bidet in action!

The American Bidet Company has a fine critique of the often negative American impression towards the Bidet, and their observation on toilet paper particularly resonated with me:

Toilet paper has been perfumed, decorated in color, sterilized and made antiseptic, but nevertheless, it is still dry paper and only a step better in evolutionary improvement than the pages of the mail order catalogue or the barbaric plantain leaf.

But then they take the argument against toilet paper and general ridicule of bidet-use a step farther:

However, upon graduating from infancy to the stage of self reliant childhood, they are permitted to revert to the medieval custom of wiping and dry toilet paper. American parents are solely responsible for depriving their children of the appropriate guidance and education on this subject. Perhaps this is the result of the Puritanical American culture and heritage handed down through the years.

Exactly! Our puritanical history and upbringing has caused widespread deterioration to our collective lavatory  habits and has rendered Americans nothing but savages. Barbaric plaintain leaf indeed. As an aside, I recommend that no one visit the American Bidet Company’s website. It may prove to be scaring, particularly the home page, and I am mostly convinced it’s a fake. But it makes for great comedy.

As some of you may know, I have a ‘traineeship’ with the the Desert Development Center at AUC this semester, and I have been part of a group examining how the school uses water. Part of this has involved testing the water pressure on toilets throughout campus. We needed to test toilets on different days and on different floors to see how the water pressure changes.

My partner was a girl and so we had to sneak into bathrooms, after making sure they weren’t in use of course, since a guy following a girl into a bathroom is… uh… frowned upon here, to say the least. We tried looking as official as possible though, clearly displaying our wrench, pressure gauge, data collecting tools, etc. A cleaning lady followed us in once and spent a few minutes furiously cleaning the vanity until we left, which seemed strange since it was already in pristine condition. Anyway, after checking the water pressure on the second or so toilet, we test flushed it to make sure we reconnected it correctly. I was standing a couple feet in front of the toilet and was blasted from the bidet, as apparently the pressure had built up during our test. I was drenched. The whole episode was somewhat similar to the picture above.

This all reminded me of earlier in the semester, when our group was studying the condition/layout of bathrooms in the Administration Building to see if there was any leaks and to make sure it all matched up with the building’s blueprint (Wow, I never realized how much work I’ve been doing in bathrooms this semester). We kept finding bathrooms that were simply devastated. We were informed by maintenance that the water had been shut off during the weekend and when it was turned back on, the built up pressure in some of the toilet’s bidets, which had not been turned off properly, had shot through the ceiling tiles and otherwise flooded the bathrooms. I really can’t properly describe it. Imagine the scene in the Matrix when Neo and Trinity shoot up the front hall of the building that Morpheus is being held captive in. It looked remarkably similar to that, as the ceiling tiles and other lavatory features were in pieces everywhere. In fact, I can’t stop laughing every time I imagine what it must have looked like when it happened.

Gandalf my friend, this will be a Friday to remember

15 Oct

To the courageous international (but largely American) student body toiling away in the heat of Cairo, Friday has ceased to be a concrete day. It can no longer be found wedged between Thursday and Saturday or as a distinct set of 24 splendid hours. No, Friday exists in the minds of hard working students here as an idea, a set of guidelines or a certain frame of mind one embraces whenever they finish that last test. Thursday is our last day of the week, but Monday is too for some of us, and a lot of us have classes on Sunday and Saturday. So really, there is no concept of a ‘weekend’ or a ‘school week’. Thus, when a girl burst onto the terrace this morning, where I was devouring a particularly delicious Egg McMuffin (they use real eggs here) before heading off to Arabic, and exclaimed “It’s FRIDAY!” (technically, it was Thursday), everyone let loose a wild hurrah!!! instead of laughing behind their instant coffees at some buffoon getting the days mixed up. Of course, for the international students lucky enough to only be attending AUC for pass/fail, the doctrine of Friday is more of a lifestyle, only suspended when one must show up to enough Arabic classes to avoid getting a Fail.

“But Narrator,” some of my observant readers may point out, “if it is a Friday, why are you writing this blog post and not participating in the shenanigans that are no doubt reducing Zamalek to shambles around your room at this very moment?”.  This is an astute observation. However, since I missed a couple days of class this week while suffering from some food poisoning (which I have a sneaking suspicion was at the hands of the double layered veggie pizza pie I had earlier that afternoon), I have quite a backlog of papers/internship stuff/Arabic/etc that I really must get done over the next couple days. In the interests of procrastination and my mental health, I am writing this here blog post to avoid the mind-numbing effects of rentier economies on political development.

If I had made the bold decision to abandon my academic career’s ship this evening, you could really simplify all my options down to two simple choices:

1. Participate in the Egyptian version of a good evening: Drink tea (or Turkish coffee is you’re feeling especially daring), smoke shisha, play backgammon and watch football in a cafe along the Nile with some hilarious natives and students who are genuinely trying to learn the language.

2. Participate in the International (read: American student) version of a good evening: Rent a 100 person felucca, buy a ship-ton (harharhar…)  of alcohol and collectively thumb your noses at the Egyptian cultural stance against public intoxication. Also risk almost certain death in case the boat runs into a glacier or rogue Somali pirate ship and begins to sink. Even if you are somehow in any condition to swim to shore, you will surely contract several different strains of Schistosomiasis.

But I chose neither of these options. Instead, I recognized an unavoidable need for coffee and pudding in order to make any progress this evening, and so I went off to the grocery. Along the way I made an observation:

I previously thought that Egyptians were simply truly horrendous parallel parkers. Once, while waiting for my favorite falafel joint to finish moping the floor, or whatever the Egyptian version of moping should be called, I witnessed a car take a good ten minutes to navigate its way into a generously large spot, slamming into another car and backing up traffic for miles. But tonight I realized I am only half right. They also just don’t care about the condition of their cars as long as it leads to a good parking spot. I saw three parked cars in a row with more than a love tap going on between them. For the rest of the trek, every bumper I looked at was in less-than-pristine condition. Given my rather unfortunately poor record of keeping my car’s bumper at home in presentable condition, my father will surely be thrilled to just let me keep a damaged bumper in case any additional mailboxes or parked cars violently run into my car again.

Eventually, I made it to the grocery. I just now realized I forgot to buy a bunch of fieldwork notebooks, which is unfortunate, but at least I remembered to get my daily rations of bread, pudding, instant coffee and apples (still have a sizable stockpile of yogurt). A word on instant coffee:

There is really no “American” style coffee here. It is either Turkish or instant. And since Turkish is probably dangerous to drink in high quantities, I turn to instant for my caffeine needs. And believe me, I don’t think anyone turns to this stuff for their taste needs. The brand I get is Nescafe, and it must have an absurdly high caffeine content. The first night I drank it, I was still awake at 7 (and productive) in the morning. Normally, coffee will keep me somewhat awake but also in a zombie-like state. This does not. So I suppose this too might be dangerous in high quantities. But the Egyptians drink it a lot so what’s the worst that could happen? (Egyptians also drink the tap water a lot and this leads to the Ramses Runs, followed shortly by the spontaneous creation by mutant limbs and the generation of a radioactive field around one’s body.) But some chap really had their thinking cap on one day and came up with the brilliant idea of 3 in 1 instant coffee. This is a coffee, sugar and cream (or some chemical fraud prancing about pretending to be cream.. either way, fooled me) powder mixture in a little plastic packet. This actually tastes good. However, the list of ingredients is rather long and unappealing and carries the dubious distinction of being the first item I have seen here with corn syrup as an ingredient.

This is a picture of 3 in 1 coffee. Also featured is one of my new ultimate shoes (they're sweeet!), the strange deoderant dispensers here, apple juice and a sideways papyrus map of Egypt.

This is a picture of 3 in 1 coffee. Also featured is one of my new ultimate shoes (they're sweeet!), the strange deodorant dispensers here, apple juice and a sideways papyrus map of Egypt.

Does this post seem random and unorganized? That’s probably because A. It is, and B. I practically wrote it in my head on my way back to the dorms. But is there a topic or aspect of life in Cairo/Egypt that you want me to cover? Sound off in the comments!

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