Posts Tagged ‘swine flu’

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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Recently in the Times– how a distinct lack of pigs is destroying Egypt’s sanitation:

“Belatedly, Egypt Spots Flaws in Wiping out Pigs”

To give you a little background, some time ago, Norman sent this video to me on one of Cairo’s more shocking quarters. The focus of the video sensationalizes the poor treatment of Copts– which represent an oppressed minority in an increasingly conservative country. In fact, many Copts have perceived the recent mass-slaughter of khanazeer as a blow to Coptic communities: an interesting suggestion, considering that most Copts I’ve met detest pork just as much as most Muslims.

On the zabaleen (literally, the Garbage People), courtesy of an unnamed British exposé:

Zabaleen Part 1

Zabaleen Part 2

Zabaleen Part 3

Photo by Shawn Baldwin for the New York Times

Photo by Shawn Baldwin for the New York Times

I’m not quite certain where I stand on the matter. On one hand, I can’t make an great claims for the status of the Copts in Egypt– or the treatment of Christians at large, for that matter. My own personal experience with the Copts has been a disapproving one; they’ve struck me as insular and defensive– almost racist in their suspicion and distrust of their Muslim counterparts. Yet, conversely, I’ve met others– like Emad– whose best friends are Muslims.

Allow me to share one such experience with you. I’ve bought my groceries from Mahmoud on the corner for some time now: he is a Muslim– along with all the other Bashas that sit there nightly. Some time two years ago, I began also buying what Mahmoud didn’t have at one of the shops down the street, whose owner was a Copt. After noticing this, Hany (the owner) began to bother me about buying all my groceries from him– because “he was a Christian.” His point was that Muslims were just using me for my money, and that they really hated Christians– all Christians, not just the Orthodox. I’ve had a number of experiences like this, where Copts use it’s-because-I’m-Christian as the cause of all their troubles.

This may very well be true for all I know. But the problems of most Copts as I’ve encountered them are pretty much the same as everyone else: saving money and getting married. When you have something to blame, it might be easier to get more embittered by it. The result is a rather insular community that is not very welcoming to outsiders; at one point I was called a heretic by a Coptic monk at Abu Mina.

For the zabaleen, I’m uncertain. Doubtless, their plight is the result of widespread ignorance– either regarding the swine flu or Christianity. The trouble is determining which is the prevailing factor.

And sadly, it might be both.

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So far, I’ve been teaching about two hours a day; today was double that– new conversation class in Sidi Bishr of about five (really good, enthusiastic) students that really only need a few tweaks of pronunciation and more subject-specific vocabulary (Unlike my Libyan students, they have an excellent command of “to be”). Today was spent on contractions, which was relatively straightforward and they caught on pretty quickly, though they puzzled somewhat over my explanation of “ain’t”; I never thought I’d be teaching incorrect grammar (forgive me, Mr. Balkcom) for the sake of conversational “authenticity.” Alas.

This hour-and-a-half class was followed by a desperate taxi-dash to Rushdi (the expat district) where I was greeted by a sour-faced young receptionist who made sure I knew what I was getting into: “Medical conversation, ya Mister Mike.” Yes. I understood the first fifteen times you repeated it.

I had everything set: names of biological systems, a complete anatomy translated, a number of various diseases. From what Muhammad Adawy led me to believe, this was a group of students from the College of Pharmacy that needed diagnostic skills in English: i.e., “Where does it hurt?” or “Is it a shooting pain?”

Not so. This took about fifteen frustrating minutes, when the most vocal of the girls spoke up and said they had studied medical English for four years. Great. There goes my lesson for today (and eternity).

The rest of class time consisted of a musical education– thank GOD I brought my laptop with me (whim– and whew!). We began with the first verse of Enrique Iglesias’ “Bailamos,” followed by “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” by Celine Dion. At that point, I was really hating myself for even having those songs on my computer, so I switched up to a little Elvis: “Blue Suede Shoes,” which, (remarkably) they loved. I was pleased.

I managed to shock them, though, by imitating the King’s infamous gyrations, adding that he was the Abdel Halim Hafiz of American culture. The girls giggled. It’s odd doing those comparisons in reverse: Abdel Halim Hafiz is usually described to me as the “Elvis of Egypt.”

Biggest hit of the day was “Beauty and the Beast,” though– and I thank God for musicals; sweeping instrumentals, vocal fireworks…essentially, an Umm Kalthoum-type of music, which nearly everyone in Egypt loves. I’ve often theorized that the reason that Celine Dion is such a hit is that her style echoes classical Arabic songs– repetition of lyrics, high instrumentation, and an emphasis on showmanship. I really am developing a respect for teachers (more than I had previously); students are wicked demanding.

Front page of Al-Ahram today: 55 swine flu cases traced back to an “outbreak” (?) at the Sporting Club (I live almost next to the Sporting Club. Khalid attends the Sporting Club daily). They’re shutting it down. Actually, even university classes have been postponed a week due to swine flu.

‘Oudhu bi’Llah min as-shaytan ir-ragime.

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