Posts Tagged ‘GREs’

Dear GRE Services…

You’re sneaky little bastards, you know that, GREs? Hell, I bet you scored high marks on your own exam. You set up the most complicated, long-winded messages on your phone services to scare away questions. Actually, I don’t think there are customer representatives. There’s just the Matrix. A huge supercomputer with the voice of a ribbon-girl blonde cheerleader in a power suit that tells me to press 1 to continute. That’s really what the Matrix is, and you’ve trapped all college graduates in it to suck all their electrical impulses and dollar bills out of their orifices. After all, it’s not like I paid 51 grand a year for my education at this point. But kudos to you for figuring out another way to scam us!

Nevermind that you can’t tell that I’ve read Dante’s Divine Comedy in nine different translations, can make an incredible spaghetti sauce from scratch, or once trained for a marathon. Nevermind that my scores don’t speak to my social graces, charm, or cocktail party conversation. Nevermind that I’ve traveled through the Western Desert or am writing a novel. What matters are numbers, GREs, and you understand that with impeccable aplomb (aren’t you proud I used that word?) Numbers tell the truth. Numbers don’t lie. Except about someone’s intelligence when they’re a bad test taker. But that’s life, isn’t it? And you’re all about life. Especially in anaologies: life is written all over those. Here’s one for you:

GREs: real life :: unnecessary, impractical Renaissance-revival statuettes crafted of horseshit: _______

Bah, but people forget that you aren’t really about testing uselessly: you teach recent undergraduates valuable, practical life skills! Like spending an inordinate amount of money– and you teach us that pretty well. That baseline of $180 does it really well. And that $20 to send your scores to another school– my God, that’s like private tutoring in how to waste money. And for the overachievers (there are always some– how ever did you know?) who can’t wait to get their scores back, you tell them to calm down. Wait. Be patient. Or pay $12 to hear your scores on the phone when they’re been sent out and you won’t let them access them online.

And thanks, by the way, for the preparation booklet you sent me. Thanks for not sending it the DAY BEFORE THE EXAM (I checked the postmark).

You are a soulless, godless, unethical organization, ETS. Pontius Pilate at least washed his hands. GREs are your Rosemary’s Baby. Yes, you are Roman Polanski in this metaphor. At least he had the decency to produce art and run away. But no: you remain. And what do you produce? Pain. You produce pain. You are vampirically sucking out money I could use on food, ETS. But you’re doing it for our own good, you say? Because grad schools need you around to provide a level-planed standard of evaluation? Do you know what that makes you? You’re the Edward fucking Cullen of the academic system, sparkly in the sunlight of application reviews, but useless in Life.

That makes you the Diet Coke of the academy. Tasteless, useless to even dissolve teeth in. Useless to wash blood off the highway with. You would like that, too.

What am I saying, though? I’m sorry. You do have some good personal qualities, too. Like offering me a pencil to use during the exam (though it didn’t have an eraser. Beggars can’t be choosers, though).  You also have testing centers internationally, where you offer the traditional paper test to us over in the third-world; giving us children and friends of less privileged nations the advantage of no air-conditioning, thereby pitting the obviously advantaged students in the sweltering rooms of the Giza district in Cairo against the comfortably cold, less physically capable students of the United States. Genius, GREs; absolutely genius. Even with the testing environment, you test us!

And at least, at the end of the day, I had the satisfaction  of bubbling in every single letter of my name on the answer sheet in that preparatory thirty minutes.

That’s what I went to college to do, anyway.


I’m worn out by the fighting, the anger. I waited twenty minutes on the phone to get my scores because they hadn’t arrive yet.

Everyone across admissions departments admits that this is an outdated method of assessing potential graduates. When the hell are American universities phasing them out, then?

I just want to go to grad school…


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A proper rant

I’m convinced that graduate school applications were designed specifically to weed out all the people who were “just thinking” of applyin to grad school. I’m reminded of the painful and idiotic process that undergraduate applications were, and working as a Senior Fellow for the Admissions Office last year hasn’t really restored my faith in anything. Sure, the process is a “human one”; your application gets read twice at Middlebury College. People discuss it. They argue for you; they argue against you. And tons of extremely qualified applicants get turned down everyday, NOT because they’re unqualified, or that we don’t want them, but we’re a small, liberal-arts school with a limited number of spaces.

I’m sure that grad school is a rarefied form of this process: after all, Midd’s got 500 spots — most programs I’m applying to have funding for 12. This time, however, you’re expected to be somewhat qualified for the things that you want to do. After all, you have a degree.

And why the GREs? Didn’t I get past standardized tests after high school? I avoided test-taking classes in college because I’m BAD at tests!

I don’t want to call myself a medievalist. I don’t want to call myself a modernist. I love theory. I love translation. I’m in Egypt for a damn reason. Can’t a guy just be interested in Shakespeare and skip a few centuries to the interwar period? Doesn’t that make me more interesting, Academy?

Bah, there’s hope yet. I just gotta buckle down. I just wish I didn’t have to box myself up into a resume, a letter of intent, a few recommendations, and a thirty-page writing sample. I’m more than that, UPenn. You deserve more than that, UChicago.

Back to the drawing board. Thanks for tuning in. You may return to your regularly scheduled programming now.


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24 October deserves another post, if late.

My birthday morning consisted of taking the GREs out in Dokki at 8:30, which proved to be a trying experience. An old wrinkled woman in hijab with the grumpiest American accent I’ve ever heard (kind of impressive) was Gestapo about putting your pencils down at the exact moment she called time. I barely finished the essays and the math sections I was at least five questions shy in. Vocab and reading was a cinch. It’s rather annoying to have to take these things, though. We’ll see if it warrants re-testing. I’m almost certain it will.

Caught the afternoon bus back to Alex, and met up with folks (Tom and Andrea came out for the weekend) at the Spitfire and proceeded to merrymake. A blur of cigarettes and Stellas and sparkling conversation. Discovered a German girl that can roll cigarettes like the real thing. I mean an absolute artist.

Nothing really to say, except quite the night, which ended in the traditional McDonald’s pig-out at 2 in the morning on the Corniche.

I love this city.

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John and I pulled into the Bulaq district of Cairo in a mashru3a around 11, and after finding a room for him (I would be staying with Tom and Andrea), we made our way down Talaat Harb Street and found the speakeasyish hole-in-the-wall known as the Stella Cafeteria, where its Thursday night patrons packed the place shoulder to shoulder. Glasses were raised, memories and experiences were exchanged, and salted cucumbers were nibbled on. Among the surprises were the presence of Claire from TAFL days past and Naya from Midd; it seems that everyone is heading back to Egypt for lack of job prospects back home. One must do what one must, I suppose.

We stayed out at Bourse a little longer afterwards, smoking what amounts to one of the best hookahs I’ve ever tasted (a cocktail of fig, grape, and mint), though it saw us home around 4ish — not the best plan for our excursion on Friday, but accepted that we’d be getting little sleep as-is. Stumbled back to Bab al-Luq, said my goodnights, and fell asleep on the heavenly mattress in Tom and Andrea’s guest room.

We woke up at five. I took a cold shower, and Tom and I met up with John at Midan Tahrir, where we hailed down the rare cabs that passed by (barely any traffic by the museum). Four cabs later, we found a driver who vaguely had an idea about a Camel Market Street, but not of a camel market itself. After a few minutes of arguing, he said that he would find it, no problem, but how much would we pay? I said seventy. Strangely, he accepted right off the bat. We got in, and the adventure began.

Halfway to Giza, the driver started asking questions. Sa’id was a small, swarthy man that resembled a short cross between Jack Sparrow and Quevedo (round, thick black glasses) in a striped polo. It became apparent he had no idea where he was going. He started hailing down other cabs to slow down and asked them, stopping at corners, asking where to find Sudan Street or Camel Market Street, either one — neither of which is anywhere near Birqash, where the current government camel market is held. No one knew. We ended up near the site of the old one, in Imbaba, an hour later, by some rickety railroad ties and a lot of sheep. Garbage everywhere, more than is usual for Cairo; most of it burning. Acrid smells everywhere rising up from the ditches.

Roads become worse and we start into the countryside, and eventually, of the dozens of people we hailed down asking where to go, the cab driver asks an old man on an ancient bicycle with two milk cans astride the seat like saddlebags:

Driver: Can you tell me where Camel Souk Street is?
Man: Not here. That’s in Imbaba.
Driver: Thank you.
Man: (turns and look at us) Yes. But there is a camel market in Birqash. Right?

I could have hit him. The entire time we were in the cab he kept insisting that we foreigners were out of our minds and that there wasn’t anything called Birqash and what did we know? I could have killed him. The old man pointed the way after debating it with fat man in a galabiyya that came to see what was going on. We were off.

We didn’t get there for another hour. The countryside opened up into clean, bright greens coming out of the mist, silhouettes of giant date palms, and the cool, crisp air of morning. Something, Tom noted, felt cleaner. Rows and rows of cabbage, canals and reed huts. Old women cutting down weeds on the canal banks. Fallen sycamores on the banks with bright white blossoms that, as we got closer, revealed themselves to be sleeping egrets. It was idyllic.

We did pass our share of garbage. We pulled through half-finished villages and rotting bridges, hills of smoking waste, and rivers of green sludge. At one point we passed a wrecked minibus and car, totalled on the side of the road. A man with his head wrapped in a white cloth and in a green galabiyya sat perched cross-legged on the truck of the car, a rifle across his lap. He pointed toward the village of Birqash, and we bumped along.

Finally, we arrived.

Entrance to the market is a cool twenty pounds; the men at the gate were nice enough not to charge us for the cameras (everything is a money making enterprise here, it seems).P1012064_2

According to a number of drovers (seems to be the appropriate word), there are anywhere between four to seven thousand camels on any given day in the market; most come up from the Sudan and Somalia, where they’re held in quarantine for three days, before being put on trucks in Aswan and driven north to Birqash. Specific herds are marked with a series of symbols and numbers and colors to indicate their owners, and once in the market, drovers tie one on their front legs to the back leg of another camel to keep them from running, though they still manage to elude their owners with a sometimes surprising grace.

What does a good camel cost? What is a good camel, anyway?

Good camels, according to one man, are defined by their teeth; the prevailing mentality (as I asked a few random men) being that teeth are one of the only thing that you can’t change — big teeth indicate a big camel. Most of the beasts here are rather emaciated from their journey, and once bought, their new owners nurse them back to health. Aesthetics are not a part of the decision.

P1012056I should also point out the remarkable amount of cruelty that goes down in the market. Camels are beaten with cane poles by their drovers to stay in their circles and keep them in line. When a camel is brought up for auction, its cheeks are hit with the same poles so it will growl and reveal its teeth. Some have blood in their eyes. Not for the faint of heart.

Most of the “ships” (Exupery’s term) bought here are used for conventional purposes; no Orientalists mounting desert expeditions. The first remark out of anyone’s mouth as to their uses is simple: “For the butcher.” Camel is a relatively inexpensive, if chewy meat (imagine a buttery version of horse). However, most of the exchange is similar to real estate: drovers swapping bargains off one another, fixing them up, and re-selling them to others.

A bargain goes down. They were shouting at each other like no one's business.

A bargain goes down. They were shouting at each other like no one's business.

Not only have I never seen so many camels, but I’ve never seen so many galabiyyas. De rigeur, really.

Ride back was considerably shorter (driver actually knew where he was going). John and I grabbed a tamiyya, and all parties went back to bed, where we collapsed from joy and exhaustion both.

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Some time ago I figured out somehow that if I taught for five days a week, two classes a session, I would actually be doing pretty well for myself — unfortunately, teaching here doesn’t quite pay what it deserves, what with all the preparation that goes into every hour. Everyone kind of forgets that; every hour in the classroom has a corresponding hour of preparation.

Anyhow, I’m getting there: this week has me booked every day, at every level. I have a new large class in Sidi Bishr, with fifteen different students from college, master’s programs, and random walks of life. They’re shy types and I overestimated their abilities with their first class; I think this scared a few of them away. This also means that I’m going to have to fall back on the awful book that they keep insisting that I use (and so far I’ve gotten away with not using with my conversation classes). By awful, I mean awful: it doesn’t have any reinforcement, and the cartoon illustrations are terrible combination of the eighties at their worst and the racist caricatures of Little Black Sambo. All textbooks seem to take the form of photocopies, re-bound with the International British Academy cover on them.

I’ve started teaching at the branch out in Stanley, just past the big neo-Ottoman bridge and beach of Durrell fame, just around the corner from Costa Coffee. It’s actually a pretty nice place, though the classroom has literal pews, and echoes with every phrase I use. Though I’ve only had one class with this group (about seven students), I already feel like it’s my best one — perhaps that’s just because I finally figured out a structure. Much to my chagrin (and recalling that I hated this back in high school), I’ve started giving quizzes with the start of every class to make sure that not only do my students show up on time, but that they review last session’s lessons diligently. Moderate success so far: the medical students flipped out last time — including Mohammad Samir, who practically had a heart attack — but I’m confident that results will show in a few weeks.

Lately, I’ve been trying to study for the GRE, and failing miserably. Suddenly, I remember that I haven’t taken any math since high school — and it shows.

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