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Posts Tagged ‘Middlebury’

It’s been a while, Ducks.

Rather than make apologies, though, I’ll just jump into the thick of it.

I’ve taken a summer job as the “Dorm Head” for the Middlebury College high school Arabic program, which has the lofty title of the Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy (MMLA). For those of you that have been through the Nine (now ten) Language Schools—in any species—it’s the same deal, only with high school students. Arabic 24/7, no cheating or you’re out. This kind of linguistic approach has its flaws on the high school level (my opinion), but it’s worked for me and my friends, so I’m a fan. It’s also a little nice to play hero-Orientalist to a group of high-schoolers for a few weeks. I’ve packed a ton of stuff from Egypt (movie posters from the 1940’s, TONS of Ramadan cloth, and a kilo of incense to start) to deck the dorms out, Nevadomski-style (something that was lacking terribly last year), and my calligraphy has improved significantly in the past year. I’m excited.

At present, I’m waiting on the shuttle to take me to our new site at Oberlin College, which won’t arrive until 3:30, so I’m taking advantage of the free wireless and the people watching.

To be honest, friends, I’m not sure where this blog is going. Over the past month, I’ve been mining the thing from front to back for material for the novel (which, unsurprisingly, will have a blogger-character. Oscar Wilde said that every first novelist’s book portrays the author as either Faust or Christ. Deep in the thick of it, I see why). I’ve been wanting to write on Gaza, but it’s been so overwhelmingly heartbreaking that I can’t quite sum up the energy to lambast the efforts on both sides, and so I either end up looking like I support Israel (I don’t) or Gaza (I don’t either). So I’ve given up. Is anyone still reading this thing, a month later? My initial inspiration for the opinion-side of this blog—the infamous “microcelebrity” Cairene blogger known Sandmonkey—has even flagged in his own efforts.

Can an Orientalist look at his own society as an Orientalist? An Occidentalist?

Probably. There’s always Stuff White People Like, but I’m inclined to think that’s more humor than serious academic thought. Not that I’m a seriously serious academic. This is a blog named after a duck, after all.

Last summer’s experience as an RA at MMLA (same old Arabic school) was quite a rich experience to say the least, and a shocking one sometimes. It was the first time I’ve been on the opposite side of the spectrum, and now I understand why it was so difficult. Whereas in Egypt I was a teacher of a culture I represented, here, I’m little more than an enthusiast (and sometime antagonist/critic). Isolated from most things Arabic (aside from what you bring with you), it becomes more and more difficult to bring that to students who have no idea what you’re talking about half the time. Case in point: many of the kids really knocked colloquial Arabic as a language (understandable, I suppose: you say things like “over shwaya” for overdone and “meeteeng” for meeting. It has so many loanwords it’s not funny to me anymore), and so they insist on cultivating their MSA, instead of laying a legitimate foundation for a diglossy—learning the very necessary fact that someone who says they “know” Arabic should, in reality, know not just one language (the classical variety), but two: the MSA-classical mix that appears in media and reading, and the colloquial variety that is only spoken and never written. The absurdity of sticking to the MSA variant is almost as ridiculous as meeting a person who said they only spoke English with Saxon vocabulary, because all the French, Latin, and Greek loanwords weren’t “English” enough.

This is just the student-teacher stuff. Don’t even get into the residential life drama that happens on a daily basis. You know what I’m talking about.

It should be an eventful summer.

A little postscriptum: when I got off the plane about half an hour ago, the signs to the bathroom were in four languages: one of which was solid, no-joke Arabic. It made me smile.

Salaams, friends.

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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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