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.