Posts Tagged ‘disaster’

First term at the new job is wrapping up: I’ve finished the requisite chapters in the book I’ve been teaching from in each class, and that gives me leave to “play” a little in the last classes. We’re still doing the boring-as-water-boiling review session (and they’ve got final presentations), but I do want to pause a moment from my earlier frustrations and give you a peek into the classroom.

For mid-term presentations, the students had to present on either their most difficult day or an emergency (that’s what the book says, boss). I’ve really been digging this autopilot thing, it’s quite nice, even though we often go off on tangents as I try to update the colloquial sections and inform them of new idioms. Anyhow, presentations:

Wael, a man of about fifty, presented on how a man high on hash T-boned the taxi that he, his pregnant wife, and his daughter were in somewhere outside of Green Plaza Mall, and how he couldn’t tell his wife that their daughter needed an 80 grand-surgery to fix her hips.

Mohamad Hafiz, who works for Al-Salaama Hospital in Azarita, told us how, when he was living in the middle of nowhere in Saudi Arabia with his parents at the tender, impressionable age of 10, saw a family of ghosts living downstairs and couldn’t sleep or eat for two weeks. Apparently, while watching television late one night, Mr. Hafiz saw one of the doors open and the lights flick on; in drifted a man in a white galabiyya and his children. They stood their and watched him watching TV. Then, they drifted out, the doors closed behind them, and the lights shut off. Years later, he said, his father and mother said they had a similar encounter. Spooky.

Hassan told us how, when he was sixteen, he got drunk and flipped his motorcycle over a car when he was riding with his gang — his MOTORCYCLE GANG. On the Corniche. His friend riding behind him apparently had to get a metal plate in his head.

Reem, who has three children (and looks fantastic, I might add), told us of how her last son was born prematurely due to her pregnancy too soon after her caesarean section, and had a kind of birth defect that shut off oxygen to his brain when he was breastfed. A month of struggles in the hospital, and he was okay afterwards. She said it was one of the happiest days of her life when she could take him home.

Mina apparently has a kind of nasal polyp fungus in her lungs that has prevented her from breathing properly as a child. When she underwent surgery, the doctor discovered it was much more widespread than initially anticipated, and that she might have to undergo a disfiguring surgery to remove more polyps from her sinus passages. He closed her up and prayed. When he had finished praying, he brought her out of anesthesia and sent to a specialist in Cairo, where she underwent fiber-optic surgery instead. No disfigurement — but gosh, the girl kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time she was telling the story.

At the end of the class, I was drained. So many stories. And the entire time, everyone was laughing! It was as if the dragon had been defeated (it had), and that the valley had been cross (it was), and there was nothing more to fear from the story itself. And while I my heart was breaking for them, they kept saying, “Why are you saying you are sorry? You didn’t do anything!” I suppose it is an odd expression.

Last night, same class: I decided (since so many of them are asking me anyway) to give them a musical education. I played them a sample of country music, punk, some jazz, some metal…and let them assess the state of Western music beyond Celine Dion.

The biggest hit? Andrew Bird.

No, I’m not kidding. Half the class was begging me, “What is this? This is beautiful! What is the song called? Do you know the lyrics? Who is he?”

I nearly cried with joy.


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Hear my oink of doom, Masr.

Hear my oink of doom, Masr.

I thought that sounded a little more dramatic.

11:30 PM and my official Middlebury source (Khalid) walks into my room and tells me that the men’s dormitories of Alexandria University have had their first confirmed case of swine flu. The student in question is a member of the Flagship Program (unnamed).

In response to this, the men’s dorms have been closed and its residents quarantined — including a number of students from the Middlebury (my ertswhile) program; Khalid tells me they’re working on getting food to them until it all blows over — the university is apparently arranging tests, and all classes for the Middlebury and Flagship programs have been canceled until further notice. Most universities throughout Egypt have been closed since Ramadan due to widespread fear of outbreaks; see the article on Bikya Masr here. Response to this is mixed; some say it’s warranted (not me), other say it’s a huge mismanagement of resources and that universities might have “prepared” (though I’m fuzzy as to how) for potential outbreaks during the summer holidays — in fact, many object to the weeks-long delay of classes past the end of Ramadan. Latest word is that classes in Alexandria are not scheduled to begin until sometime around the 12 of October.

This, fortunately, does not affect my penny-paying teaching job in Sidi Bishr (thank God), though it does throw monkey wrenches into finding a better teaching post at a more reputable school.

Swine Flu has attained the status of mythic panic-like threat in Egypt, as elsewhere; people are so tired of hearing about it that it becomes the source of endless mockery. Some I’ve talked to are convinced that it actually doesn’t exist. I’m also a fan of how seriously the officials at the airport took the “medical screening”: I waltzed by men in haz-med suits and breathing apparatuses, shrugging my shoulders. To say nothing of the recent pig slaughters (a misconception of swine flu’s origins).

Sporting (the club that I live almost next door to) has become the epicenter of the outbreaks of swine flu in Alex– with over 55 confirmed cases thus far. And with the way most gyms look in this country, I’m not entirely surprised.

Wishing you *two* healths (sahtayn!), dear readers. More as the story develops.

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Norman was wondering why this hasn’t happened to him yet:

Nick George handcuffed after discovery of Arabic flashcards in his carry-on.

I wondered the same.

Presently, I wonder if this is an isolated incident, or if it happens all the time. Indeed, I wonder.

If this were me:

“Excuse me, sir, would you please step this way?”
– Sure thing. I’m just going to call the ACLU first.


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Today is the day that they install internet in the flat; insha’Allah. I’ve heard that for about five days now, and to keep my tentacles in the real world I’ve been resorting to wireless at the Hilton-run cafe next to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina– which has food and drink in a town that fasts pretty seriously.

Newspaper articles abound with rumors of a food court to come (including a giant McDonald’s)– but, to quote Mike Mewshaw (who spoke to an expat on the subject), “Who cares? The place is a just a giant, expensive internet cafe anyway.”

I’m inclined to agree, though I would still say it’s unfortunate. The library isn’t of much use as a library per se; patrons aren’t allowed to bring laptops, other books, or food or drink into the main section, which cancels the place out as a workstation. There are a few museums inside– one for manuscripts and another for the history of the city, but Egypt’s general repository for all ancient source text is still overwhelmingly in Cairo– at the massive Dar al-Kutub (the arrogantly named, but appropriate, “realm of books”). This says nothing of the stacks, which are largely empty. The city has poured all its money into a beautifully nonfunctional piece of architecture, which serves only to draw Italian and German tourists on day trips from Cairo. As an academic (perhaps I should say an amateur one), I’ve found this particularly frustrating: all I’ve ever wanted to do there was bring a laptop and a dictionary into the library. Just…do research like a person.

Meanwhile, the university across the street looks as if it belonged in Beirut instead of Alex, the stucco rotting and the hallways filled with sand and dust. Windows broken and cigarette butts everywhere.

“Welcome in Egypt!”

Oh well.

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