Monday, December 21, 2009

Visit to Fes

This month was meant to see a bit more traveling than it has so far, but an earthquake interfered at certain points. My extremely high-energy fellow PhD candidate and friend, Bozena, here in Rabat had set up a wonderful meeting of women activists in Marrakech this past Thursday. In preparation for the 5.45 AM train departure, I turned in at 10 PM to get as much sleep as I could. Alas at 2.30 or so, I awoke to what I thought was my neighbors doing laundry (you’ll recall the monstrous loudness of Moroccan washing machines). I couldn’t fall back to sleep, and the noise didn’t cease for a while. At 4.30 when alarm sounded, I sent a regretful text to my friend letting her know I was in no state to travel 5 hours AND face a full day of appointments. It was a shame, as she had an amazing time. But the good news is that the contact is in Rabat this week, or so I believe, so I shall endeavor to contact her. Anyhow, the sound that awoke me was in fact an earthquake. My roommate mocks me for thinking that an earthquake and a Moroccan washing machine sound the same.

Anyhow, Bozena left Morocco yesterday, as well as another friend, my dear, little, self-named Puppsimaeuschen Tina. Tiny Tina’s flight home departed from Fes yesterday via Ryan Air. So at noonish we departed from Rabat-Agdal station for a scheduled arrival at 14.45, all of which occurred very punctually. En route, somewhere before Meknes, a passing train in very close proximity frightened me, and the rest of the train car. Now this isn’t unusual for me, because frankly a train passing at full speed in parallel usually startles me to pieces. But this time, somehow, something hit the window directly next to me (and my precious head and other parts) and cracked it into an intricate web of thankfully still connected shards. We pulled the shade down to keep the glass from falling in on us if it were to break apart. The women across the aisle insisted that someone threw a rock at the train, but I am not so sure.

Anyhow, arriving at Fes was unremarkable, including the super persistent, aggressive taxi hacks waiting outside the station. To one particularly aggressive chap I finally said ‘on n’a pas besoin d’aide,’ (we don’t need any help), to which he demanded in French, “why are you so racist?” Let it be known that for this gentleman, refusing unsolicited, unwanted help is racist. Good to know. As Tina and I crossed the street, he circled back over to me and babbled some nonsense about Moroccans not eating tourists, and that I need not be afraid. What a freak.

Eventually, with the help of a few slightly clueless (but not too clueless) Fessies, we found the special navette (shuttle) that delivers people to Fes Saissi Airport, which may be the only airport in the world that doesn’t have any food. The ‘cafeteria’ had tuna sandwiches and almost nothing else, which was unhelpful since Tina already had a tuna sandwich prepared by her host mother that she had been avoiding eating since we’d left Rabat. So I ordered a couple of pains aux raisins and a diet coke (I should have had water but I try to avoid drinking anything that’ll make my body ‘function’ properly while traveling away from home). Tina checked in and we said our goodbyes. The real fun was about to begin for me. I brought my book, Feminisme au Maroc, to pass time en route back home. Since it’s an important part of my lit review for my dissertation, I have been marking it up with notes whenever I am forced to read away from my computer. After leaving Tina, I sauntered over to the bus stop, where I stood under the dark sky debating whether I should play snake or read. I decided on snake since my phone was fully charged, and played for a few minutes before a man came over to inform me that I had better take his taxi since the bus wouldn’t come until 19.00 (It was just before 18.00 at this point). I assured him that I didn’t mind waiting (20Dh for bus vs. 120DH for taxi=waiting wins). A bit later, he pulled up in his private, distinctly un-taxi, car and again entreated, “mademoiselle, c’est moi de toute a l’heure” (miss, it’s me from a few minutes ago). This guy really did expect me, a solitary traveler, to board his private car and go off into the darkness with him. Perhaps more annoying was my compulsion to offer yet ANOTHER ‘non, merci’ to get this jerk off my back. Cripes. Eventually the navette did arrive at around 18.15, but the very helpful gentlemen aboard informed me that it wouldn’t even leave the airport till after 19.00, so as to coincide with the arriving flight from Frankfurt. Well that was singularly bad news, considering that my already purchased train ticket for 18.50 would go to waste AND there wouldn’t be another train to Rabat till after 1 AM.

I reflected on my options—get a room at the Hotel Ibis next to the train station, try out CTM to see if any buses were leaving that night, or catch the 1 AM train. The idea of staying at Ibis was starting to appeal to me as I considered the comfortable bed, the in-room heater and the en-suite bathroom.

The gentlemen in the navette offered many suggestions, including trying to catch the local bus 16 to the strain station, which makes many stops, unlike the navette that shuttles nonstop between each destination. At 18.23 bus 16 pulls up and I made a run for it. The nice gentlemen yelled an amiable ‘bislama’ and off I went, making it onto the vessel just in time. I paid the 3.40 Dh and calculated the likelihood of arriving in time to catch my train, in consideration of the fact that a non-stop journey from the airport to the train station is usually 20 minutes. With only 25 minutes to catch my train, it felt increasingly unlikely that I would arrive in time. But alas, miraculously I managed to sprint from the bus stop in front of the train station, avoid slipping on the ridiculously and incomprehensibly slippery (even when not wet) floor of the station hall, stairs and underground corridor, and board the train just after 19.00. I stood for a while in the packed hallway of the train about an hour till eventually I was offered a seat. Somehow I survived the obnoxious music screeching from the cell phones of a couple different young men (Brian Adams, Avril Lavigne and other terrible stuff), and the child who wouldn’t sit still, and arrived back in Agdal famished. My roommate had lovely Thai food and chicken soup waiting, and I was relieved to have made it home. Ah traveling!

My 3rd international television broadcasting experience

Somehow I've made it once again onto international news. My first ever appearance was on Al Jazeera English the night of the US presidential elections (November 2008). Or rather the morning of. I had a class until 7pm, and I then waited for my friend to finish with his class. At around 10 pm the media was finally announcing VA, which then lead to the overall declaration of Obama's victory. Together my friend and I drove across the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel in persistent rain to little Phoebus VA (or rather Hampton). When I got to Phoebus, a friendly woman did my make-up and I waited with my pals till they were ready. Sometime after 3 AM Al Jazeera English was finally ready for our little live bit at the pub, whose name I've forgotten. Anyhow, since it was broadcast live, and Al Jazeera English doesn't play in the US, there was no way for me to see it until I got the DVD in the mail from the folks that put the piece together. You can read an interesting piece here on Al Jazeera English's election coverage.

The second time was this past summer (27 July 2009) when I made it onto footage shot by BBC Arabic when I was in the audience of a press conference for the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights in el-Manial in Cairo.

And now the third! My friend Nora Fakim, a journalist with the Iranian agency Press TV, had me do a bit for her piece available here. I come on at exactly 1:00 into the piece. Nevermind my misspelled name and not-quite-right credentials. I'll let it speak for itself. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

La Vie Quotidienne au Maroc

There are so many reasons to love life in Morocco. On the other hand, those of us spoiled with the upbringing of a highly developed country encounter many and frequent annoyances that complicate what formerly were banalities in life. There are more feral cats than Moroccans roaming every space with their fucked up little faces, scratched and furless from brawls over trash-sleeping privileges. Paying the electric bill requires a visit to the office that lasts at least an hour. The Moroccan washing machine, if one is so privileged, is practically medieval. It has two drums. One must be filled with water from a host that extends from a spigot on the wall to an aperture on the machine. Except when the hose develops a hole or won’t secure properly to the washing machine hole, then you have to do it manually. You can’t walk away because the stupid hose will fly out and spray water everywhere. There are 2 settings—drain, agitate, and super agitate. After you have filled the drum with water, requisite soap, and your clothes (which will never be the same again), you choose your agitation cycle. When it finishes, you must then turn a dial so the water drains. To rinse, you fill the drum again, turn the dial to agitate without adding soap of course, and then turn the dial to drain when it’s finished. There are always so many frigging suds that I usually rinse twice, too lazy and too stingy with my time to go beyond that. The second drum is the centrifuge. It’s the devil. You have to arrange the clothes just so in order to avoid the earthquake that results if you’re careless. Horrific.

Heating water for bathing or cooking is also a dangerous affair for the careless. In my apartment we are blessed with 2 separate hookups—one for the shower and one for the range. Other homes have only one, which means the butane vessel might more likely empty in the middle of your shower than while you warm up your supper if you're unlucky. Even though there is a vice at both ends of the hose (hopefully) preventing the escape of deadly gas, it is prudent to close the valve when not in use. And hot water at the faucet or washing machine? None of that. At least not in my apartment. We are tree huggers against our wills with our conservation of energy by washing dishes, clothes, and our hands in cold water.


Having just enjoyed an avocado, tomato and canned meat sandwich, I no longer have the wherewithal to complain. Morocco has amazing, seasonal produce, most of it local. I had some Larache raspberries last week and strawberries from nearby. I have two delightful and perfect pears in the kitchen and the usual tasty apple. After the success in the medina (see below) with the pie-making accouterments, I found and purchased an 8 pound pumpkin half, whole cloves (you can buy spices a la carte, what an amazing, wonderful idea), buttermilk and other ingredients. The result was 2 adequate pumpkin pies. There is enough pumpkin left for pie throughout the holiday, I just need to figure the crust out. I’ve got a crust recipe from my friend Emilie’s mom on standby, and she assures me that she made it here in Morocco with total success.

Also to be loved is that one can find anything one needs in the medina. My nokia cell that I bought new in Jordan in 2007 still works like a champ and holds a charge longer than any phone I’ve ever seen. The downside is that after much use by me and friends who I’ve lent it to since I bought it, the numbers on the original keypad had completely rubbed away. Since I don’t text at home, and am thus no expert at limping through the keypad without numbers, not having the letters—both Roman but especially Arabic—was an annoyance. So on the same evening that I determined to buy 2 pie plates and a rolling pin, I also hoped to find a new shell for my phone. Prepared to bargain and ready for success I finally found a plastic knock-off shell suitable for my particular model. I drove the salesman from 30 down to 22 Dh, which is not a tremendous achievement, but slightly gratifying nonetheless, considering that even generic phone parts cost nearly 10 times that retail at home.

In addition to other lovely peculiarities of Morocco, it finally occurred to me that the guy I heard from the street a few times each day shouting "بيع" (transliterated "by3") might not be the simpleton I imagined, roaming the streets and yelling things. Indeed there are many fellows who ride around on bikes, shouting "selling," who will buy your 2nd hand items or sell you mint leaves or whatever else he might have on his bike cart. It is one of my favorite sounds of Morocco, and I am convinced there must be a training program, because all of the by3 sellers sound exactly alike.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Part 2: At long last I have returned to finish the story!

After walking in the rain the required 7 or so minutes across the border, weaving between approaching vehicles and border entrepreneurs enticing passersby with last chance purchases, I arrive finally at the gate that will release me back into Morocco. But alas I was not allowed to pass because I hadn’t gotten my passport stamped. After asking several bureaucrats (all the while it is STILL raining) I make my way across several lines of slow moving automobile traffic and back, still not finding the elusive window. Eventually after wandering around for nearly an hour and without the help of a single border guard (NOT one of them could direct me to the ‘putain de guichet’

like this, but in the rain and without the hats...

to get the form and the stamp), I finally was able to obtain the customs form at the drive-up window, but I couldn’t convince them to service me since I was on foot. After completing the form, and trying futilely to keep it dry, I join the nebulous mass of people that characterizes all bureaucratic transactions in Morocco. In a refreshing twist, the bureaucrat refused to acknowledge a woman who jammed her arm past mine under the narrow window aperture. He took my passport and wet customs form, stamped as necessary, and off I went finally to emerge back into Morocco.

But alas the adventure was only beginning. Ever still in the rain, by this point I was soaked through my hoodie, cardigan and shirt down through to my padded bra. At the entrance where the grand taxi had deposited me a few hours earlier, there was total chaos and no Tetouan-bound vehicle in sight. After scoffing at a ridiculous offer of transport for 200 Dh (I paid 15 Dh to get there), I stood amidst the hordes without a plan or a clue. Before entering Spain I had switched my phone off to avoid fees should I receive any calls or texts. So standing bewildered and stranded in the rain I searched through my thoroughly wet bag filled with 2 wet books and my grocery purchases for my phone. It occurred to me that I might call Alaina, have her commission a grand taxi and come fetch me. However tragedy struck when I couldn’t turn my phone on because I had forgotten it requires a security code. It’s such an incredibly, infuriatingly reliable piece of archaic Norwegian technology that I never switch it off and am thus unhabituated to entering the code. There I was, wet and utterly screwed—I had no phone numbers and no notion how to get back to Tetouan. Happy Thanksgiving.

I do not imagine that I can remit the complete desperation of the situation, but like any good Muslim would, I surrendered. I submitted—after all Muslim means one who submits—to the situation, bereft of a plan. Eventually I started asking people shyly if they were headed to Tetouan. None of them were remotely interested in assisting me, despite how pathetic and clueless I was. After watching 2 or 3 wild hordes overtake the few incoming Tetouan grand taxis, I noticed a woman over wrought with bags. I approached her and said, “You need help. I help you.” And I took some of her bags, of which was a large package of adult diapers. Oh the dignity. A young man, whose name I would learn is Radwan, had also come to her assistance, and I followed them without thinking and without a notion of how we would proceed, knowing only that they would provide. I heard the woman, whose name I’ve forgotten, say the Moroccan word for public bus. I agreed, assuming that she was suggesting we make our way for the next town over, Fnideq. So Radwan arranged a grand taxi to take us a few km away into town. We then walked the rest of the way (still in the rain) to the bus station, which is really too sophisticated a term for the location. There we waited still more, me with my own small bag and two of the woman’s bags (I hope the diapers were intact when she got home). When the bus for Tetouan approached, it was Bedlam! Radwan was the first of our troupe on board, and he dutifully saved seats for us. I managed to fight my way through, triumphing over the diminutive but nonetheless ruthless Moroccans, and boarded from the back door (that’s what she said). In no time the bus was excessively full, yet another miracle of flaunted but practical (contextually speaking) lack of safety standards. Radwan was a pleasant and well-mannered conversationalist and the woman generously offered me water, which I drank, from the communal bottle.

grand taxis next to Lovers Park in Tetouan

We reached Tetouan after about 90 minutes, but my duties didn’t end there. Radwan and I followed our 3rd companion into the Tetouan medina, handed over her wares, wished Eid Mubarak and parted. Radwan kindly accompanied me back to Alaina and Mary’s apartment with the inept directions I was able to offer in Arabic—they live next to a flower shop and you can see the mountains from the balcony.

It occurs to me as I write this that I owe him a thank you text, which I will dispatch shortly. On this Thanksgiving 2009, I am thankful for selfless reciprocity, vaccines, raincoats, and Spanish wine. I spent a pleasant, dry Thanksgiving with Alaina and Mary, enjoying my Thanksgiving shawarma and Spanish wine.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanksgiving in African Spain, Part I

As an American in Morocco I am obliged either to obtain residency through an arduous, non-descript process, or to leave before the end of three months. I held out for a while, gathering paperwork here and there. But eventually I gave in, realizing that leaving Morocco is less of a hassle than staying and navigating the bureaucracy. It is thus that I came to the brilliant idea last week to leave a day earlier than planned for the Eid el-Kebir celebration. Instead of departing on Thursday with my friend up to her family in Tangier, I decided to leave on Wednesday to Tetouan. My friend Alaina lives there—we studied beginning Arabic together in Jordan on the Critical Language Scholarship program in 2007.

On Tuesday 24 November I took a cab from my Arabic school to the CTM bus station, which is inconveniently located a ways from the city center, but convenient enough to where I study. I felt pretty good after my Arabic conversation with the taxi driver, but when I arrived to CTM I realized I had forgotten to bring enough cash for the ticket. Luckily when it was my turn I noticed a sign informing me that they were equipped to accept credit cards. Unluckily when it came my turn to pay, the handheld card swiper was out of receipt paper. In between I failed utterly to understand in Arabic a complication in the ticketing, eradicating the taxi conversation success. It took over an hour for someone to locate a ‘technicien’ (defined in French as a professional who has mastered one or several techniques—I’d like to know what the training program entails) to change the receipt tape in the machine. Buying the $20 bus ticket took almost 3 hours.

The next day I appeared at the bus station a bit over an hour before the scheduled 11 AM departure despite knowing the bus’d probably be late. Eventually a woman asked me the time, and after I answered her she began questioning me about my stay in Morocco. It all really felt like it was leading to a plea for money, especially because she told me almost immediately that her husband had slept with her best friend. There were also several interjections about her lack of money after the purchase of her expensive bus ticket. Since she informed me that she resided in Spain, I willingly gave her my contact information when she asked. It turned out to be a good decision, because just as I handed her my calling card, another woman sat between us and noticed the heading said “International Political Economy.” She joined and eventually hijacked the conversation, and I am expecting a call from her tomorrow to talk about some projects to work on together on economics and IPE in Morocco.

The bus ride from Rabat to Tetouan was uneventful. Alaina met me at the bus station and we spent a lovely, calm evening in her amazing apartment downtown with a fabulous view that she shares with a fellow English teacher. The next morning, Thanksgiving, I set off to find a grand taxi (shared ride to a specific destination) to Ceuta (Sebta in Arabic), one of the Spanish administered enclaves of Morocco. Getting there and across the border was a breeze. Not a single Spanish authority even bothered to look at my passport beyond a quick glance to establish that I wasn’t Moroccan. The no. 7 bus was waiting for me, and for €.70 I was schlepped to the city center. I wandered the city, taking copious amounts of photos and buying presents for myself like Spanish wine, nutmeg and a €22 sausage. It began to rain so I sidled into the Da Vinci Café on Calle Real for a chorizo and manchego bocadillo. That little grilled sausage and cheese sandwich was tremendously delicious. I finished it off with a café con leche, which I savored while staring at a very unhappy little boy who would have rather been anywhere else. There was a short pause in the rain allowing me to reach the bus back to the border in relative comfort.

The real adventure began in no man’s land between Spain and Morocco. TO BE CONTINUED...

Monday, November 9, 2009

“imagine yourself a dirt-poor (male) peasant 50 years ago…”

I first read Malthus in my 2nd year graduate class on population and development with the wonderful professor, Dr. Yang. Malthus and his poor-people blaming ways made such an impression that I even worked him into the lectures I gave when I taught Intro to International Politics the following year. So I was tickled to find not one but two Economist articles referencing Malthus this past week. The first, while interesting, didn’t move me but informed me (and unnerved me with baby photo and its creepy eyes). The second, though, not only moved me (quite literally, as I was answering nature’s call while I read it), it also inspired me to post this blog.

The article, titled “Go forth and multiply a lot less,” drolly discusses men’s incentives for having smaller families as their socioeconomic status increases from peasant-level to middle class. While the articles primary point, that falling fertility rates lead to a larger, more political active (and effective) middle class, misses an important implication for women everywhere: what does this mean in terms of women having a say in their own fertility? Eventually the article does indicate that a man’s wife might become unwilling to bear so many children. But that assumes that all pregnancies are intentional and wanted…and that his wife had a choice anyhow. Clearly, though, the article suggests indirectly that women’s lack of control of their fertility is a given, and thus explores the issue through the prism of men’s incentives for offspring. Indeed bipedal incubators might only get a reprieve if they have the good fortune to bring in a salary. By avoiding a direct acknowledgment of the general lack agency that women have in their fertility in developing countries, the article misses a great opportunity to discuss an interesting aspect of development—economic and otherwise. The example of Iran, with its superlative literacy and education levels, is deceptive, considering that women may not even choose how they dress in public. Thus assuming that Iranian women have access and agency in terms of family planning may not be the whole story. There may be unknown factors behind Iran’s decreasing fertility rate.

The Economist’s take is interesting but predictable. A more interesting question might be, how might control over their own fertility empower women to hasten all forms of development, instead of waiting on development to lead to her empowerment? Why in the media must women remain subjects of the (positive and negative) consequences of development, instead of active, empowered components in the greater process? The article’s mention of family planning and access to it completes the avoidance of the issue of whether access to birth control or even just information is useful in cases where male partners are uncooperative.

The article declares that slowing fertility makes it “easier for women to work,” because bearing, raising and tending children is not work, nor is maintaining a household or catering to spouses and other household members. Again, a predictable perspective that perpetuates the devaluation of women’s work that within households. She doesn’t get to choose how many children she has, AND she doesn’t get any prestige or value added to her efforts unless they draw a paycheck. Since when do writings on economy only include quantifiable movement in currency?

In closing, I suggest a re-write to the concluding sentences:

Original: The bad news is that the girls who will give birth to the coming, larger generations have already been born. The good news is that they will want far fewer children than their mothers or grandmothers did.

Better in the world according to Melodee: The bad news is that the girls who will give birth to the coming, larger generations have already been born. The good news is that they might be able to choose the number of children they have, unlike their mothers or grandmothers did.

Here comes the rain again…

Today was only the 2nd time in my life that it rained on me in Morocco. Certainly in the last 6 weeks it has rained while I was in Morocco, but today I got rained on. Naturally my umbrella was in my room and not in my bag, but that didn’t disturb me because I was too amused by the memory of the first time it rained on me in Morocco. It was late May 2007—my first time in Africa. I was studying a geography field course with Dr. Gander (an unnecessary pseudonym, but I’ll use it because it’s clever and amuses me). The geography course took me and a dozen other ODU students from Casablanca north to Rabat, onward to Meknes and all around the 3 massifs of the Atlas mountains (Middle, High and Anti), dipping into the stereotypically silky, golden folds of the Sahara near Erfoud, down to the less visited Tafraoute, back up the Atlantic coast to dreamy Essouaira and northward. We skipped Agadir because Dr. Gander INSISTED that it was too new, having been rebuilt after the 1976 earthquake. Anyhow, toward the end of our trip, in our last big city visit—Marrakesh—it rained. And despite the thorough packing list provided, umbrella wasn’t on it. That didn’t mean that Dr. Gander, at least, wasn’t prepared. Oh she was, and how! As we walked from the Koutoubia Mosque toward the Oliviers and reflecting pool (complete with palm tree-shaped cell phone towers), Dr. Gander donned the most epic, outdated and fabulous rain jacket the 21st century has ever seen (and might wish to forget). The chintzy, plastic debacle was trimmed in black at the neck and wrists, but the most wonderful part was the multicolor outdated map of the Eurasian continent on the back—complete with USSR, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and myriad other countries that do and don’t exist anymore.

That first trip to Morocco has had a tremendous impact on my research and ambitions in general. The memories are traumatic and pleasant—Dr. Gander, for example, worked harder trying to win my soul for Jesus than any credulous Muslim ever challenged my non-belief. She also tried to make me debark from the standing bus to gather orange slices I’d flung out the window, despite our guide insisting they’d feed the goats (he was the one who suggested I toss them anyhow). And finally, and most traumatically, she gave me my first graduate school B+. On the other hand, I am in Morocco now for the 3rd time. My interest has only increased since that initial trip, and I am happier here than almost any other place I’ve lived outside of my homeland (and perhaps including it.) So Dr. Gander, thank you. She came to Morocco just for me 2.5 years ago, and it has made my life.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fun with scribbly, part 1.


form IV

the root is ل--ق-ي


It literally means to discard or fling, but you can use it as in...

1. to pose a question أُلْقي سؤال

"إن كل ما تقدم بمجمله يلقي السؤال أمام النظام العربي وأمام الواقع الفلسطيني"
[All of this poses the question to the Arab system and to the Palestinian reality]

2. to lay eggs

فهناك دجاج يلقي بأشياء غير البيض

'for there is a chicken laying things that weren't eggs'
[this is a totally real sentence from]

3. lend your ear to someone

القى السمع اليه

4. strike fear into one's heart

الله يلقى الرعب فى قلوبهم
God strikes fear into their hearts.

And others depending on the preposition--Just ask Hans Wehr!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The unbearable lightness of being fat.

Oh lamentations! I am dutifully working on my dissertation prospectus and lo I come upon an article in the archives of the Moroccan daily newspaper le Matin called, “Surcharge pondérale,” meaning overweight. As an obese person such articles always pique my interest—not because like the thin people of the world I live in fear of getting fat but because I represent that which disgusts so many people—actually being fat. Anyhow instead of continuing with a useful endeavor, like manifesting linkages between grassroots activism among illiterate women and democratic transition in Arab states, I skimmed through the article until I got to the requisite section on the risks of obesity—we’re an unhealthy, unproductive lot who’re a drain on society—did you know? But the risk section instead told me something I wasn’t expecting. “La personne obèse souffre du rejet des autres et est donc victime de solitude, notamment affective”—according to Le Matin "the obese person suffers from the rejection of others and is thus a victim of solitude, especially emotional." Someone ought to tell my friends that I am supposed to be an isolated, loveless, lonely pariah before the universe implodes on itself.

To be fair I am fully aware that the daily life of a morbidly obese person is different from the life of a thin person. I take up more space on the bus seat, have fewer options when it comes to fashion, and can’t see a doctor without receiving a lecture about my presumed lifestyle of excess despite having no obvious health problems (normal blood pressure and cholesterol, etc.). But the fact that I am also 6 feet (1m82) tall poses many of the same quotidian inconveniences—minus the health lecture. Yes I realize that longevity is more likely if I lose weight, but I can’t resist being annoyed at the aesthetic revulsion of becoming overweight that exists among so many people. There are worse things in life to be, including stupid, morally bankrupt, and hateful.

Friday, October 23, 2009

رسالتي الدكتوراه

أهتم بمشاركة سياسية النساء في العالم العربي خاصةً النساء الأميات وأنشطتهن السياسية.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Plainte à Monsieur l'Ambassadeur

Today is the first day that something Barack Obama did has made me sad. I attended the monthly meeting of the American International Women’s Association (AIWA) of Rabat to hear the new US Ambassador to Morocco give a talk. Before I even made it to the meeting, I was very disturbed by scuttlebutt about Ambassador Kaplan’s credentials. I would universally assume that high ranking appointed diplomats have no knowledge of Arabic. But here in Morocco, I am appalled and deeply disappointed that the new Ambassador can’t even speak French. My immediate reaction is what the f***? Let’s ignore the foppish hair cut and the artless admission of little prior knowledge of Morocco. What the hell President Obama?!? They’re clearly a likeable couple but how does being a lawyer and activist prepare one to be an Ambassador? I suppose I can assume that since it’s the junior diplomats that do the real work, credentials are less important in appointees, but still. I am ashamed on behalf of the US. Why can’t a great nation appoint at LEAST a French speaker? Ugh.

Perhaps I might temper my disgust by reminding myself of one sentiment expressed in the MN Daily: though Mr. Kaplan may “not yet understand all the intricacies of the U.S. –Moroccan relationship…[he and his wife] present a double dose of professionalism, stamina, and exceptional potential…(in addition to their deep pockets and solid connections)…” You can listen to Ambassador Kaplan here and here.

Ugh. I might aspire to those same qualities (or even embody them-scribbly requires stamina for sure) but I’m far too fond of mentioning my first experience with dysentery to anyone who will listen. I have done my best to exhaust all possible nepotism available to me…but without the deep pockets and connections, I actually have to learn Arabic to get anywhere important in Arabia.

Whoever authored this graffito in Rabat’s Les Orangers neighborhood will be displeased with this article about Ambassador Kaplan. (Anticlimax--I can't get any photos to upload at the moment).

Otherwise, my new alarm clock makes me happy beyond measure and terrifies me with its shrieking Arabic devotion--instead of buzzing it reminds of prayer time!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Clean clothes without holes

This weekend marks the end of my first normal, work week in Rabat. In terms of adjustment and jet lag, I feel pretty normal, and have gotten into a routine fairly quickly. While I have only partially mastered the bus system (I can get home from school, but can’t manage to find where to catch the bus to school because of the confusion of the tramway invading the center of Sharia Omam al-Muttahida (United Nations Avenue)) there remain other adventures—good ones mostly. The maid came again and spared me the banal task of doing my own laundry. She also prepared some zaalouk, chicken with preserved lemon and olives and another dish with red bell peppers. On Friday I dared to lunch at a little restaurant around the corner from my house and ordered the Friday couscous. The meal from the maid and the Friday couscous are my only sources of vegetables, as I have been too lazy and indifferent to buy any myself to prepare, and the lures of merguez sandwiches and cumin-y cheeseburgers with fries which constitute my usual dinner are hard to resist. The only time I found merguez in North America was in Montreal during the American Thanksgiving of 2005. I became fond of the delightful Moroccan sausage when I lived in Issy-les-Moulineaux in late 2004 when I first had it at a little grillade nearby.

In non-food related news, I am fond of my Arabic class at Qalam wa Lawh. The other students are extremely good, which both shames me and motivates me to giddy-up. One of my classmates is Maltese, which reminds of the fact that an Arabic teacher I know authored a Maltese dictionary, in addition to having an MBA. My weekdays begin with Arabic class from 8.30 to 1. I then eat lunch at home before I bus to ADFM to work from 3 to 6 usually. I walk home, taking in the city, and spend the evening relaxing from interacting all day in foreign languages. Mornings are all in Arabic and afternoons are in hybrid French and Moroccan. By the time I get home from ADFM, my head is pretty much done in, and I am not sure if I am ambitious or clever enough to keep it up AND get to dissertating. On that note, it’s funding application time once again, and writing proposals does lend itself to dissertation work. So I will give myself the month of October to negotiate how I spend my time, which will necessarily include dissertation work IF I am serious about a year of research in Egypt after this delightful Boren year ends.

I have also been accepted to present at a conference in Bristol in January, which will hopefully include visits to friends I’ve been missing for a while. I must now get more serious about finishing my essay for tomorrow and reviewing grammar and vocabulary.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What is a Ph.D. (aka PhD or Doctorate)?

Based on my specific education with the Graduate Program in International Studies at Old Dominion University, I have adapted the following information from various sources to inform my intimates about how I've been spending (and will be spending) my life these days.

Usually based on at least 3 years graduate study and a dissertation; the highest degree awarded for graduate study beyond the bachelor's or master's degree to candidates who have demonstrated their academic ability in oral and written examinations and through original research presented in the form of a dissertation.

Latin Philosophiae Doctor

1. Abbreviation of Doctor of Philosophy, a terminal research degree.
2. The highest of academic degrees conferred by a college or university.

Comprehensive examination

Ph.D. students must pass a written and an oral comprehensive examination prior to beginning their dissertation. The written examination transpires over two days and lasts six hours per day. The oral exam lasts approximately two hours. The Ph.D. comprehensive examinations may not be scheduled before students have completed all core, methodology, and language requirements, nor may the Ph.D. comprehensive examination be scheduled prior to the last semester in which regular course work is taken. Ph.D. examinations are scheduled twice a year, at the beginning of the Fall and Spring semesters. If Ph. D. students fail the written comprehensive examination on the first attempt, they may retake the written comprehensive examination only once, no earlier than one semester later. Note: Ph.D. students can only advance to the oral part of the comprehensive examination after passing the written portion.


A dissertation (also called thesis or disquisition) is a document that presents the author's research and findings and is submitted in support of candidature for a degree or professional qualification. In some United States doctoral programs, the term "dissertation" can refer to the major part of the student's total time spent (along with two or three years of classes), and may take years of full-time work to complete. At most universities, dissertation is the term for the required submission for the doctorate and thesis refers only to the master's degree requirement. The completion of a book-length project of independent research is the sine qua non of the Ph.D. program. The Ph.D. dissertation is also a significant and important life achievement that will serve as the defining product of your doctoral career. Preparing a doctoral dissertation is a complex and demanding process which may at times seem quite overwhelming. By definition a dissertation project is an effort at independent and individual work, so there can be considerable variation in how the process works for different students. Nonetheless, there are some basic procedures and minimum standards that apply to all dissertation writers. These guidelines were developed to help clarify that common process.

Dissertation Defense

In North America, the dissertation defense or oral defense is the final examination for doctoral candidates. The examining committee normally consists of the dissertation committee, usually a given number of professors mainly from the student's university plus his or her primary supervisor, an external examiner (someone not otherwise connected to the university), and a chair person. Each committee member will have been given a completed copy of the dissertation prior to the defense, and will come prepared to ask questions about the thesis itself and the subject matter. Doctoral defenses are open to the public. The typical format will see the candidate giving a short (20-40 minute) presentation of his or her research, followed by one to two hours of questions.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The dudest picture of Moh VI ever.

Friday I woke leisurely, keeping an eye on my email for messages from my internship and prospective language school. After receiving a message with great directions to ADFM, along with a lunch invitation, I prepared myself for the day. The taxi ride was a dream (I even got change back without asking!!) and I found rue Ibn Mokla without any problems. I got a tour of the office from my new boss and lunched with the staff. Afterward I fulfilled my first duty of helping to prepare for the press conference on the liberalization of the communal land law. The beneficiaries, the women of Soulaliyates, were invited to attend the press conference and ask questions. You can read about here (it is only available in French). I decided to walk home, which was delightful and uncomplicated. Saturday I was able to move into my room in the apartment and even did a little grocery shopping where I picked up my beloved yoghurt with cereals in it and mortadelle aux olives. Today the perfect loveliness continued as I rejoined dear Hind, who taught me the Moroccan words for pillows, shower curtain, toothbrush and other useful darija.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I am an illiterate adult, according to motivational literature

Arrival in imperial Rabat

After traversing the Atlantic yesterday, I arrived in Rabat with the whole day ahead of me. Unfortunately, I was too delirious to seize the daylight, but I did buy shampoo and Oulmès (Moroccan fizzy water) after lunching with my two new roommates at Salés Sucrés. I woke up today with ease at 7.40 AM (oh that waking at that hour were always so easy) and spent much of the morning trolling the internet for information. I have also acquired a sim card for my well traveled Jordanian Nokia.

This morning, I found this advice, which I will try to follow:

In learning Arabic: “Our goal cannot be to sound Moroccan, but it can be to sound "neutral foreign".”

Thus my mantra is “neutral foreign” instead of “specific foreign.” In addition, the same text conveyed this useful tidbit:
“In Morocco there are also books made for illiterate adults, which is exactly what we are.”

Today was a wonderful day in every way. My new friend, Hind, allowed me to tag along on her errands. We dined at Dar Naji just outside the Kasbah. On her recommendation we had salad Zaaloukwith bread and Chicken Rfissa Medhoussa (trid au poulet). She took hers with white meat and I with dark. You can take a look at both the process of preparing the dish here and the delicious finished product here. The hosting institution of my internship expects me tomorrow, and I begin my Arabic and Moroccan classes on Monday!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Back to Africa

I returned home from Cairo on 8 August 2009. Although I ought to have been thinking about my PhD written comprehensive exams that were to take place just 6 days later, I was already scheming about how to return to the Victorious City. Written comps finished, I enjoyed some idleness in Norfolk and elsewhere while I suffered the agonizing month between writing my exams and defending them. On 16 September I passed my oral defense and can now enjoy the title of ABD—all but dissertation—a title of little importance to most Anglophones, but one that I am nonetheless reveling in until I can upgrade to Ph.D. I arrive in Rabat on Wednesday 23 September, where I will reside for a year at least.

I did punctuate the idleness between trips to Super Saharan Africa (thank you Alex for your enthusiasm) with A) reading about Morocco’s many delights, B) planning a trip to Kenya next spring and C) happening upon validation in mainstream media sources.

First the Morocco books:
1. Morocco (Eyewitness Travel Guides) by DK Publishing (ISBN 9780756605094)

2. Living in Morocco by Barbara Stoeltie and Angelika Taschen (ISBN 9783822813836)

3. Flavors of Morocco: Delicious Recipes from North Africa by Ghillie Basan and Peter Cassidy (ISBN 9781845976064)

4. Living in Morocco: Design from Casablanca to Marrakesh by Landt Dennis and Lisl Dennis (ISBN 9780500282649)

5. Culture Shock! Morocco: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette by Orin Hargraves (ISBN 0761425020)

6. Fodor's Morocco, 4th Edition (Fodor's Gold Guides) by Fodor's (ISBN 9781400008049)

7. Made in Morocco by Julie Le Clerc and John Bougen (ISBN 9780143019428)

Second--In the mainstream media, women in development has gotten some great attention here and here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

BBC News got me on camera!

bottom row, 3rd video from right--you can see me!

Sharlina and I are in live footage from BBC Arabic's footage of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights' press conference on 27 July 2009 in el-Manial in Cairo.

UPDATE: the video is no longer available--the screen shot is the only remaining evidence.

Al Jazeera and Egypt On TV were also present but I have been unable to find their footage.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A catalog of travels and latitudes

Here is an ongoing list of places I've visited. It occurred to me in Luxor that I didn't know how far southerly I have traveled. So here is a list of places with latitudes. I am less interested in longitude since its assignment is arbitrary.

Place Date
Pusan, South Korea January 2002
35° 05' N
Los Angeles, CA, USA March 2005
34° 03′ N
Gulfport, MS, USA October 2008
30.36° N
Petra, Jordan July 2007
30° 20' N
Tafraout, Morocco May 2007
29° 43' N
Orlando, FL, USA February 1995
28.51° N
Luxor, Egypt July 2009
25° 40' N

View Melodee's Travels in a larger map

Updates to old posts and a new post of lists!

Check out some older posts for new photos added.

Also, this post will serve as an ongoing list of books in scribbly (Arabic) that I have collected for my dissertation.
  • حالة حقوق الانسان في مصر التقرير السنوي لعام ٢٠٠٨ (The situation of human rights in Egypt Annual report 2008—629 pages)

Human rights, temples and more human rights.

After a wonderful visit to the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights and a fantastic 4 days in Luxor, I am back in Cairo dealing with erratic Internet, spewing air conditioner condensation falling on my head and habitually late classmates.

Firstly my roommate Sharlina and I had the extreme pleasure of visiting the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights on Tuesday 21 July. Not only were the staff members we met incredibly welcoming and open, but they also sent us off with bags full of books in Arabic, including a great pamphlet called “Citizenship” that the organization itself published. I look forward to integrating the experience and the texts in my dissertation research. The visit was so profitable that I was can almost forget that I was spit on by a taxi driver AGAIN. Oh Egypt. The lovely day culminated in koshary, which like all things in Egypt, had a negotiable price. Savvy Sharlina had the good sense to get advice on how much it should cost and thus we arrived prepared to haggle. It was a delightful 90¢ meal accompanied by tap water which didn't phase my (now) iron constitution.

On Wednesday 22 July the CLS group flew to Luxor early in the morning and checked into the Winter Palace Hotel, which sounds far more luxurious than it is.. We visited the Luxor Museum, the Tombs of the Nobles, the Ramseum, the Luxor Temple, Hatshepsut's Temple, Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Dendara, Karnak, the Temple of Ramses III in Medinet Habu and the Colossus of Memnon. The Temple of Dendara and the Ramseum were my favorite sites, although the Temple of Ramses III had the most interesting wall art. Tomorrow Sharlina and I are attending the press conference hosted by the International Federation for Human Rights and World Organization Against Torture for the release of the report of the joint initiative, “The observatory for the protection of human rights defenders.” Speakers include the Special Rapporteur of the African Union on Human Rights Defenders (Reine Alapini Gansou), Secretary General of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (Mr. Hafez Abu Seada Abu Se'da), a Board Member of World Organization against Torture (Georges Assaf) and Hugo Gabbero, Human Rights Defenders desk with the International Federation for Human Rights.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ehky Ya Shahrazad ( احكي يا شهرزاد --Tell me oh Scheherazade)

Last week I saw Ehky Ya Shahrazad ( احكي يا شهرزاد --Tell me oh Scheherazade) (Starring Mona Zaki ) – easily the best contemporary Egyptian movie I have seen. Hebba, the main character, is a talk show host who must choose between keeping her ratings high and jeopardizing her 2nd husband's journalism career. She represents the privileged, according to a review of the film. Despite her earnest efforts to depoliticize her show, personal stories emerge that shock and stimulate the Egyptian audience more than her overtly political shows ever did. In turn, media executives heighten the pressure they are exerting on Hebba's husband. Fearing reprisal (in the form of a denied promotion) Hebba's husband pursues gentle and violent methods to persuade her to sacrifice her career for his.

This is the first Egyptian movie I've seen that addresses abortion. In addition, the theme of injustice and violence against women is approached from more than the traditional 2-dimensional angle of women as victims of patriarchy. Each of the three stories approaches a different socio-economic level—working class, middle class and upper class. In addition, there are multiple layered thematic dyads—public and private oppression, intellectual and political oppression, and social and sexual oppression.

We experience the story of a woman who served a full 15 year sentence for murdering a man who betrayed her and her 2 sisters. Another story exposes a government minister's professional scheme to extort still fertile spinsters from wealthy families out of money by impregnating them during the engagement and insisting he is sterile, thus damaging their honor. Yet another story reveals a chic woman who clerks in a ritzy cosmetic store, but dons a head scarf and monochrome abaya before heading to her poor neighborhood on the metro.

I liked the film not because it was better than others, but because of the frankness of each story and the reduction in melodrama that too frequently accompanies many Egyptian films (especially comedies—so much shouting and crying!). A critique of the film in Arabic provided a fun new Arabic phrase that I will index for frequent future use: بصورة دعتنى إلى الملل—it was inviting me to be bored. In addition, an interview with both the lead actress, the writer ( وحيد حامد –Wahid Hamid) and the director ( يسرى نصر الله –Yousry Nasrallah).

Also, I would like to post a tribute to Dr. MTH for his insights about traveling and language learning. For his benefit and mine I will continue broadly extrapolating political/economic theories from small personal incidents like tripping on the sidewalk.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

News from my favorite Arab/Sahel/African country

After the coup last August, there have finally been elections in Mauritania. Once regarded by Freedom House as the only example of genuine democracy in Africa, hopes were dashed when the military once again took over. Read more here, here, here, here, and here and watch video here. I hope to conduct research in Mauritania on illiterate women and civil society and even more that the fragile democracy can re-emerge.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Surgical masks won't protect you from H1N1 or spitting cab drivers

Since my last post I have successfully deciphered the Cairene public bus system, won a shouting match with a cab driver and been informed that I am damned. Life is always busy in Cairo!

Last Wednesday one of my Arabic teachers doubted the sincerity of one of my sentences. In the process of learning a particular grammar construction, I authored a sentence declaring that I began studying Arabic out of respect for Islam and Muslims. My teacher informed me that it was a fine sentence but untrue, as people without religion are incapable of respecting Islam. The resulting exchange was unpleasant, and I avoided seeing him again after that, which was not challenging since we have a new teacher dedicated to skills! He's far less scary than we imagined, with a sense of humor that involved a boy dying from thirst in the desert because he used the wrong vowel ending on his verb, thus preventing his father from learning of his son's thirst. The lesson also featured some awesome stick men wearing kefiyas.

Thursday I made it to the airport on a public bus for the low price of 2 Egyptian pounds. This mode not only spared me the agony of negotiating a taxi price, but it was far cheaper than any rate I might have scored. Success! At least that is until Friday when a shouting match with a fellow who insisted that a ride from downtown to Khan el-Khalili should cost 70 pounds. I won (in that he left with 10 pounds) but he spit on me before conceding. Delightful! My friends visiting from the States enjoyed the show, as did the observers in the busy thoroughfare. One of them even offered an accented "he's an asshole" before trying his own scam on us. Ah, Egypt.
After calming down from the confrontation, I tasted some delicious street juice called doum palm fruit (ثمرة دوم) and finally had a sweet prickly pear ( تين شوكي ).
Saturday last afforded a stifling visit to several church/synagogue/mosque structures in the Mar Gerges area of Cairo sometimes erroneously called Coptic Cairo. The day ended with a delightful felucca ride near Maadi. Sunday after classed we enjoyed a private screening of a new Egyptian film called Basra, hosted by the director himself, Ahmed Rashwan.
And finally today the CLS group were the grateful visitors to the US Embassy in Cairo, where we were received by the Ambassador herself and some diplomats. A true cinephile, I couldn't resist another movie-again at the Nile Renaissance. Starring Mona Zaki, Ehky Ya Shahrazad ( احكى يا شهرذاد --Tell me oh Scheherazade) is easily the best contemporary Egyptian movie I have seen. But since it's well after 1 am, that post will have to wait till tomorrow.

Beni Suef in US news

A friend and fellow classmate directed me to this article about the Center in Beni Suef we visited last month. It's informative if inaccurate. For example, it is Dr. (not Mr.) Hassanein’s center.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sidewalks, failed states and violence against women

In the shadow of my 3rd consecutive Independence Day in the Arab world, I still haven't decided how I feel about Cairo and Egypt. Last week a pregnant Egyptian woman was murdered in Germany with her child and spouse present. Racism, poverty, complicity and all types of depravity continue to plague and degrade the lives of women, in Egypt and elsewhere.

The failure of the Egyptian state manifests itself in mundane ways such as the lack of maintenance of city sidewalks.
The more I travel in MENA, the more I realize how different each state/city/community is both within and across borders. On the other hand, terrible, cracked, dangerous, craggy, pocked sidewalks, if one has been paved at all, are a constant from Morocco to Syria to Jordan to Egypt and likely beyond. In my rush to make it to Hardee's before the 3am closing time after Istiqlal (Independence) Day activities, I tripped and skinned my arm and hand in a way that looks more gruesome that it actually is. Thus, even though I enjoyed the taxi ride home from the movies tonight in large part because the driver verbally abused a man in a pink shirt for walking in the street instead of on the sidewalk, I found myself able to sympathize for the pink shirt man. And I learned the word for sidewalk ( رصيف ).

Other failures of the state are more heinous and detrimental. Trash disposal and collection across the developing world are problematic due to underfunding and lack of oversight and planning. In Egypt there are designated communities whose residence undertake the responsibility of removing residential trash. Once collected, it fills the narrow, winding streets and the crevices of vacant, abandoned street front spaces in the communities where the collectors live. It is the men of the garbage collector communities who gather the refuse and the women who separate it and in the case of The Association for the protection of the Environment (APE) are able to create products from some of the waste. APE's work is amazing, but a visit to the facility reveals the clichéd pattern of women working and men overseeing. APE's current director happens to be a woman, which is refreshing, but the pattern otherwise is woefully familiar in the few grassroots development schemes I have witnessed in Cairo, including Fathet Kheir.

Inequality between men and women is certainly not the only dyad of uneven relationships. Nonetheless, it is the official policy of the Mubarak government to ignore and deny violence against women in Egypt, including (and especially) harassment. I went to the Renaissance Nile City Cinema specifically to see Amr Saad's movie. Amr Saad is neither particularly famous nor particularly talented. His appeal lies in the fact that he played Khalid, a character from the series of Arabic language textbooks called Al-Kitaab. Unsubstantiated rumor has it that he denies this work, which has made him famous among Anglophone students of Arabic. In addition, Yallabina was unduly vague with the description of the plot. All told, the movie دكان شحاته (Shehata's Produce) was both remarkable and predictable. The opening credits featured a stunning flashback sequence of headlines and sound bites; however, the film itself failed to live up to the amazing opener. Typically overacted and featuring the requisite misplaced/inappropriate slapstick, the main character Shehata (played by Saad) is loathsome in his weakness and passivity. The more disturbing aspects of the film featured a rape scene in which the victim's brother, her lifelong, best friend (and almost sister-in-law) and another community member hold her down while her beloved's brother rapes her as an official challenge to her chastity. In sum, while not a fantastic production, دكان شحاته is provocative and worth seeing, if only for the kitsch of Amr Saad.

Finally, to conclude this pregnant, bloated post, I visited the first church ever erected for Saint Simon the cobbler (Cave Churches of Samaan el Kharraz) and did not receive a satisfying answer to my query as to the reason behind the pallor of Jesus' and Mary's skin in the iconography. I am apparently extra argumentative in the Arab world.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

عيد الاستقلال السعيد or how to walk like an Egyptian

Bed bug bites. Yuck!

Since my last post I have traveled to the pyramids of Giza, visited 2 NGOs in Muqattam and seen St. Antony's Monastery

at the foot of Al-Qalzam Mountain.

Otherwise the chaos and adventure of bed bugs has subsided

(for now إن شاء الله )

and my roommate and I have moved from the Hotel President to the Hotel Longchamps to the Horus House Hotel in Zamalek, with an interlude at the 5 star Mövenpick Resort El Sokhna. After visiting the pyramids of Giza (including Khufu's boat) we had class Sunday and Monday. Tuesday we visited 2 organizations in Muqattam. The first is called فتحة خير (I am working on a translation and more information). Women volunteer their services to produce lovely textiles including table settings, aprons, fabric baskets and clothing in order to raise money for development projects. The second organization, called ألوان واوتار (Alwan wa Awtar Organisation--colors and strings) provides art therapy to children affected by the 1992 earthquake. Afterward we convened to take in a typically over acted Egyptian film at ARCE (featuring Papa John's pizza) called سهر الليلي (named after a famous Fairouz song) and the 3rd room move in Cairo. Wednesday included class time and ARCE boiled my and my roommate's belongings and our suitcases are still currently baking in the sun on a balcony that includes a view of the US Embassy. In the process of isolating any potential bed bugs, I bought a new outfit and was wearing it as I walked from AUC to ARCE Wednesday to fetched my belongings. 2 Egyptian women stopped me and asked me directions in Arabic, which was thrilling. My Egyptian clothes coupled with the plastic bag standing in for my back pack and my pal's Cairo purchased sunglasses did the trick.

Thursday at 7 AM we departed in the space bus for St. Antony's Monastery, and later for Ain Sokhna. After 2 delightful 5-star nights at the beach, I am back in Cairo at Horus House Hotel.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hotel President has bed bugs and other travails of travel in Egypt

I'll begin with my personal state and then backtrack to recent travels (and travails).
While I personally do not possess documentary evidence, my fellow travelers have been repulsed enough by the carnage wrought by the bedbugs to take pictures. I will try to obtain some. I am covered from finger tips to shoulders and from toes to hip in bed bug bites. It's miserable, ugly and unforgivably itchy. In the 110 degree heat of Beni Suef each little painful, poison infested mound throbbed with additional heat, bringing me to my first bout of tears this summer.

To make myself feel better I decided to buy things after we returned to civilization (in this case, Cairo). Here is a display of my treats:

Last Saturday 20 June we traveled to Memphis and Saqaara. The pyramids of Saqaara are visible from the Maadi neighborhood of Cairo, as seen here:
Sunday and Monday I had Arabic class at AUC's downtown campus. Tuesday was perhaps the best Arabic class I've ever had--we went to the mall. The advanced class (there are 15 of us) get to spend 1 day per week learning in context, so after we dumped off the beginning classes downtown, the space bus took us to a governorate just south of Giza called 6 October. We spent the morning at Nadim, a furniture making and restoration facility. We lunched and concluded our trip at Dandy Megamall. At Carrefour we had a scavenger hunt that was probably the most fun Arabic learning activity ever. Did you know there are more than 15 brands of sliced cheddar cheese for sale?

Wednesday and Thursday we spent in the desert 10 km south of Beni Suef at the Mediterranean Centre for Sustainable Development being hot and unproductive. Tomorrow is Friday, our free day. I intend to attend a movie or two, do some homework and brace myself for the heat I will encounter in Giza on Saturday.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Best view of Cairo

My first personal glimpse of the Pyramids of Giza.
This is a view from the south of Gezira, the island where I live. The southern half is Mohandiseen and the northern half is Zamalek, where I live.
Giza and the Nile all at once!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Arrival in Cairo!

I got to Cairo safely on Sunday afternoon and was so overcome with fatigue and allergies that I fell asleep on Monday at 6 pm and slept through till this morning. Tuesday we went to the American University in Cairo for our Arabic language orientation. My first impression of my teachers was that they seem overly intense. They thought it was completely unacceptable that the lot of us haven't read a library's worth of Arabic literature and poetry and consequently questioned our abilities to read at all by requiring one of us (not me luckily) to read the newspaper headline aloud. Savages. I'm terrified. The group of teachers furthermore assured us that Arabic is easy. Jerks. Anyway, I have had ridiculous allergies since Monday afternoon and was checked by a doctor who assured that I don't have H1N1 but I do have "allergy to the weather" in Cairo. Good thing I brought Zyrtec--I am congested, have a TB sounding cough and a runny nose. Festive!
The work week in Cairo is from Sunday to Thursday, so today (Friday) is our free day. The first 2 days of class were less daunting than that first day of orientation. Turns out that the really mean guy won't be teaching us till July, so that's a relief. My colloquial teacher is the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. Other than class I've been doing amazing things every day. Tuesday was the first day of the Refugee Film festival and I went after class and saw 2 films--
and Salt of this Sea and Giraffe in the Rain. Wednesday night I went to Khan el Khalili to see some Sufi whirling dervishes and filmed part of it. I'll upload it to Youtube.

Last night I went to see 3 tenors at the Cairo opera house. And today, my precious free day, I finally unpacked, made my first trip to the grocery near my residence and successfully negotiated the delivery of 4 boxes of water to our room for my roommate and me. Afterward my Cairo man protector, Blake, and I went to the Grand Hyatt Hotel. From the 40th floor panoramic view of Cairo I finally laid eyes on the Pyramids of Giza. Breathtaking. We then saw a movie called
"Omar wa Salma" that was far too loud and totally inscrutable.

I'll likely spend the rest of the day smoking lemon flavored sheesha and relaxing! We head off to Memphis tomorrow.