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Final Musings

Posted by: Samantha Tropper | July 31, 2011 | 2 Comments |

I started this blog with a pre-trip post called “Musings.”  It seems only fitting that I come full-circle and close the same way.

After 46 hours of canceled flights, overnight stays in foreign countries, and multiple other problems beyond belief, it is good to be home.  But all that time got me reflecting on this experience.  This is my final blog post, and I hope it is read by future DukeEngagers to inspire them and give them an idea of the DE Cairo experience and all that it means.  Part of this will be in Arabic, to further recognize the significance of this program and how it has affected me.

طننتُ أنّ ممكن سأكتب جزء من ال”بلوغ” الآخر باللغة العربية.  أريد أن أكتب بالعامية لاني تعلمتُ كثير عن العامية خلال هذه الرحلة و لكن ايضاً أريد أنّ الناس الذين يقرأون هذه الرسالة يمكنهم أن يفهمون كل الكالمات و لذلك سأحاول أن أكتب كل بالفصحى.  إذا بعض من المفردات و القواعد خطى, أنا آسفة.
أريد أن أقول شكراً إلى الناس الذين هم فعلوا هذه الرحلة ممكن. هي تجربة ممتاز و أمن أنّها ستغيّر حياتي.  تعلمتُ كثيلر عن اللغة العربية و الثقافة في مصر و الثقافة في الفاهرة و الاطفال الشوارع و الناس في “المؤسسات غير الحكومة” و العمل في البلاد أخرة.
يمكنني أن أستخدم هذه المعلومات في مستقبل لاني أريد أن أعمل مع المؤسسات مثل “الرسالة” أو “أنا المصري” ربما بعد التخرّج من جامية دوك, إن شاء الله. أريد ايضاً ممكن أن أعمل مع الحكومة, مع الشرق الأوسط, في مجموعة عن المشاكل في العالم مثل الاطفال الشوارع و كيف يمكننا أن نساعدهم.
أربد أت أقول شكراً ايضاً إلى الناس الذين هم كانوا معي خلال الرحلة.  كلهم ساعدواي اي وقت عندما كان عندي مشكلة مع عملنا.  وأنا أعرف أننا كان عندنا مشاكل بيننا و أنا آسفة لكل المشاكل التي الناس كان عندهم معي و أتمنّى أننا يمكننا دائماً نكون أصدقاء في المستقبل, خصةً عندما أرجع إلى دوك في ربيع.
شكراً لتقرأ و شكراً لهذه الرحلة جيد جداً.


Thanks for reading my still-in-the-learning-stage Arabic!

Now for Part 2:

It wasn’t until I started craving macaroni & cheese with about two weeks left in the trip that I realized all the things I take for granted in America.  There are things I do daily or weekly that seem so natural to me.  But in other cultures, they may just not be included in daily life for natives.  However, I also realized all the things I have done in the past two months that have more of a lasting effect and have been more meaningful than mac & cheese has ever been.  So I made a list of the things I haven’t done and the more important things that I have done in the past two months spent in Cairo:

Things I haven’t done in the past two months:

•    Eaten macaroni and cheese
•    Driven a car
•    Used a microwave
•    Drunk tap water
•    Worn a seatbelt
•    Gone a day without getting a new mosquito bite
•    Had to worry about the weather when choosing clothing
•    Seen an umbrella
•    Worn a jacket
•    Watched television
•    Seen a vending machine
•    Used a crosswalk
•    Had ice cubes in my drink
•    Read an American newspaper or news website
•    Inhaled fresh, and I mean truly fresh, air

Things I have done in the last two months:

•    Taught two kids to write their names for the first time in their lives.
•    Visited one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World.  Twice.
•    Made important connections with Egyptian professors, judges, and other authorities.
•    Formed what will be lasting relationships with numerous Egyptian students my age.
•    Been told I look Egyptian about 4758101825760392896 times.
•    Had a flight delayed, canceled, or been otherwise detained/questioned at every airport I’ve been to.
•    Acquired a vast new vocabulary and understanding of grammar in the Egyptian dialect of Arabic (‘Aamiya).
•    Taken over 1,100 pictures.
•    Taught English listening, writing, speaking, grammar, and punctuation skills to between 10 and 15 Egyptian young professionals.
•    Inspired a cooperation between two prominent Egyptian NGOs.
•    Donated books, clothing, shoes, and toiletries to different people in need.
•    Maintained relationships with people in America whom I care about greatly with the use of Skype and other Internet resources for daily communication.
•    Gotten food poisoning.
•    Collected 6 separate boarding passes.
•    Seen a real Egyptian mummy.
•    Collected a cornucopia of memories about people, places, and events that I will never forget.

I realized while making this list that (maybe besides the mac & cheese) I didn’t miss the things I hadn’t done while I was actually in Cairo.  I didn’t even notice them missing from my life while I was there.  That is how unimportant these daily things are in the long run of life.  The work we did with the NGOs and other experiences are infinitely more important and will affect my life immensely.  This trip was a milestone in my life.  I learned so much about so many things, including my own nature.  This new knowledge is invaluable to me and would not have been acquired if not for DukeEngage.  Thank you to all the people who made this trip possible and to everyone I encountered while in Cairo, including the other DukeEngagers, with whom I hope to remain good friends.  Thank you to everyone who appreciates the work all of us did these past two months.  While it was all hard work and I was stressed and tired sometimes, it was all worth it to see people change for the better because of our time and effort.  Cairo, what a city!  What an experience!

Over and out, DukeEngage.  Thanks for everything.

under: Post-DE, Uncategorized, Week 9
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Thanks to a mess of scheduling issues, I had the privilege of leaving just over twenty-four hours before the rest of the group. This means that, in addition to having a whole night of sleep in America over everyone else right now, I also got to slip out quietly without much fuss. I used the quiet car ride to the airport to try and capture as many final visual snapshots of Egypt as I could. On the way in, I remember focusing on the gaudy mini-mansions, state-commissioned carved murals and towering military and ministry buildings. The bustle and flash of the highway and architecture caught me. On the way back, however, I suppose I was accustomed to all the false Pharonic grandeur, so I focused more on the human sights: the driver of miniature sedan loaded with Army enlistees laughing to show his tea-greying teeth; a man sitting on the roof of a three-story building frame, smoking as he finished a bowl of fuul; the long, low and empty gardens of Heliopolus, watered by a man and his tiny, leaky can. It’s amazing what you notice on car rides when you can’t use your smartphone.

Still, though, the best sight of the morning came two hours before we even left.I’m not sure if our other blog readers have heard, but our apartment is actually inside one of the taller buildings in downtown Cairo. A brief walk through a few creepy unlit stairwells and over some random detritus brings you to the roof. The view is spectacular, even if the roof itself is a mess of broken satallite dishes and lost knickers. Its up there that we would always sneak off to when the stress of good company became a bit much. Its where Sam would go when she couldn’t sleep; its where Sabrina (Wahid) went after the events of my last blog post; its where John would probably go if he ever was unable to watch internet television. So, when I was up at 0430 waiting for my laundry to dry and realized it was nearly sunrise, I recognized my duty to head up and pay last respects to the view. It seemed important to be able to catch, at least once, the moment the sun cracked the horizon. I’m honestly not sure if I caught it this last time, either. See, the air in Cairo is filthy. There’s enough pollution floating around some nights to hide the silhouette of Moqattama. So, I wasn’t able to find the exact location of the sun for all the thick, nasty smog threatening to swallow the morning up. Yet, it was still a beautiful sunrise. Like, truly, wrenchingly, beautiful. And that just like Egypt, really– she’s heavy handed in everything she does, including her visual metaphors.


under: Week 9

Thank you, Ana el-Masry

Posted by: Samantha Tropper | July 26, 2011 | No Comment |

Today was our last day at Ana el-Masry, the primary NGO we’ve been working with that rehabilitates streetchildren.  I told myself this morning that I wouldn’t cry, that I would hold it together in front of the kids, for their sake.  Even though I began crying when we were saying goodbye to the staff, I pulled it together by the time we went out to see the kids again.  But as soon as I saw the looks on the faces of the kids who understood that we wouldn’t be back, I felt like I would lose it.  By the time I saw the tears running down Abdallah’s, Samah’s, and Seif’s faces, I did lose it.  Out rushed my own tears, which I think made some of the other kids begin to understand but also helped those who already did understand to realize how bad all of us feel about having to leave them.

Amidst all these waterworks, I got to thinking.  I thought about the effect I hope we had, how attached we’ve all grown to these kids and vice versa, and how much we’ve all learned from each other.  I appreciate everything I’ve gotten from this experience and I know the kids and the staff there appreciate our time and efforts as well.  But all I could focus on were those tears on the kids’ faces.  I wonder how many times people have left them in the past, how many times people have given up on them, how many times they’ve grown attached to things that are taken away so abruptly.

Abdallah asked us about a week ago how long we would be there.  When given the answer, “a little while longer,” he responded with, “so that means you’re leaving soon right?”  I wonder how used to people leaving him this boy is.  How often has it happened?  Then I realized how little I actually know about him.  While I feel like I’ve gotten close to him in the past two months, I also know very little about his past.  I know the kids have had a huge effect on us, a positive one, and while I like to think we had the same on them, I really don’t know how they’re feeling, but it makes me wonder.  If this is how it feels for me (I write as I have tears running down my face), then how must it feel for them?  I came here by choice, knowing from the beginning that it would end in two short months, but they were not told until this week that we are leaving.  I have a family and another life to return to in America while they will stay at Ana el-Masry for years to come.  It is by no means a bad place to be, but nevertheless, it is different from my situation on many levels.

I guess I can only hope that we had a positive effect on their lives and their education, but it hurts that in all likelihood, most if not all of us DukeEngagers will not see them again or really know how their lives end up.  But thinking about this, I realize how selfish I am to hope that we made a difference and that we helped them when I can’t even explain in words how much they have helped me and how much of an effect they have had on my life.  I learned so much from them about art, music, Egypt, life for Egyptians, life in general, Arabic, nonverbal communication, educational techniques, and so much more.  I really can’t believe we have to leave them.  I don’t think it’s even totally hit me yet, but I still feel incredible sadness.  I’ve said before that this is a city that will test you.  But DukeEngage in general will test you and your abilities and your willpower.  But I am determined to get through this and to keep in touch with the staff there so I can get updates on the children who have gained a special place in my heart, despite how cheesy that sounds.  I will not forget this, I will not forget them, and I am determined to do as much as possible to see them again.

under: Uncategorized, Week 9
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Posted by: Madeline Barrow | July 26, 2011 | 1 Comment |

While I want to talk about my experience in Cairo, in a way I don’t know where to begin. Our group does keep contact with friends and family back home, but our time spent together at Ana Al-Masry is something that can’t be shared through pictures, words or videos. How do you tell your friends and family about distinct personality of each of the children? How do you express how it felt to teach Abdullah to read music? Or to see Hamdy’s face light up when he hears the tune to Waving Flag?

A few weeks ago, Hamdy, one of the older boys at Ana Al-Masry returned to his family. Although the end result of Ana Al-Masry is meant to be reintegration into their homes, it is hard not feeling sad that you won’t be working with them anymore. I had been postponing my reflection on Hamdy’s departure until I thought there was a time when it would be appropriate. Today, though, I was faced with leaving every child there. Except, this time, they aren’t returning to their families, rather, 11 new members of their Ana Al-Masry family, are leaving them.

We’ve often discussed the ethics of volunteer work in such situations. Specific to DukeEngage Cairo, we asked ourselves what damage we may have done to the psyche of the children by staying just long enough to start forming bonds, and then leaving, without a definite promise of returning in the near future. As we said goodbye, Abdullah (I was going to describe him as an “incredibly bright boy” but that is such an understatement), asked me if we would be back in a month. How could I explain to him my future plans? How could I tell him how excited I am to be participating in an intensive Russian program when that means giving up a year which could be spent getting better in Arabic so that I could come back to Ana Al-Masry as soon as possible, and actually speak fluidly with the children there? I teared up, and took about 2 minutes before I could say anything along the lines of “No, not in a month, but next year, hopefully, there will be another group, not the same people, but the same program, same university, coming back!” As if that is any consolation whatsoever! He waited patiently as a stumbled through Arabic trying to explain but blubbering during the process, realizing that there is nothing I can say as an answer that could weaken the blow that we are, in a way, abandoning them (even if this summer has motivated all of us to continue with civic engagement in the future, maybe even back to Ana Al-Masry). In German there is a phrase Man sieht sich immer zweimal im Leben– which is used to say “we will meet again in the future”.  But, with these children, it is almost a crime to promise something so big if you are not sure you can keep it (who knows what conditions will be like, even, for future DukeEngage Cairo participants?)

The dearest staff, our superheroes this summer, left us with words of consolation: You have found your way into our hearts, and so even though you are leaving, you will be here with us in everything that we do.

I came into the program expecting to work with children with disabilities at Kayan and investing remaining time in learning Arabic. I arrived with an aversion to jam-hands and the general chaos that comes with Kindergarten-aged children, and I will depart with a love (or perhaps “undying devotion” is a more apt description of how I feel towards them) of the children at Ana Al-Masry.  I will leave Cairo, with half of my heart and all of my thoughts at Ana Al-Masry, with a drive to eradicate the problems which make such organizations necessary, and with a dedication to returning in the near future.

under: Uncategorized

We Are Famous!

Posted by: mingles | July 16, 2011 | 1 Comment |

Or rather Professor Lo is. The following is an article published on Monday (11 July), in one of Egypt’s leading national newspapers, Al-Jumhuriyyah (The Republic). Titled “A New Experience for an American Civic Engagement Program in Egypt,”  it focuses largely on Professor Lo and his new book, but also contains a brief description of our activities here in Cairo:

A New Experience for an American Civic Engagement Program in Egypt
By Samir Al-Jamal, Vice Editor-in-Chief
Translated by Cosette Wong

Professor Mbaye Bashir Lo underscored this year’s incredibly different experience for participants of a Duke University program he leads in Egypt every year. This year’s delegation of students came to Egypt, clearly excited to learn more about the ongoing Egyptian Revolution. Their program, which began on May 29 and will continue for nearly nine weeks until July 29, reflects this excitement and engages Egyptian society on many levels. It includes development in a school for street children in 6 October City—the students teach art, music, sports and English classes—as well as working with the following organizations: the renowned Ar-Resala in Mohandeseen; Al-Kiyan, an organization that cares for children with disabilities; and Sakkakini, a church with a large Christian community from Southern Sudan.

Professor Mbaye, who was born in Senegal, received his Bachelor’s degree in Arabic Literature at the International University of Africa in Khartoum, Sudan. He has a Master’s degree from the Khartoum International Institute of Arabic Language and a higher level Master’s degree in History from Cleveland University. He has delved into many issues of language and religion in African literature and recently had an Arabic book published in Cairo: “America, Islam and Sudan: Readings in the Darkness of Modern Political Thought.”

One of the most important parts of the book is an analysis of the American Constitution, in large part written by James Madison, author of over a third of the Federalist Papers, which elucidated the workings of the proposed Constitution. This constitution was issued on December 17, 1787, at the heels of a conference convened in Philadelphia. 17 amendments have been added to it since its inception, including the Bill of Rights, written by Madison in 1791. It sufficed to assemble the 13 colonies and convince their residents, people from different sects with many different opinions and goals, to coexist under a united system.

Some of the essays of prominent American writers make up the Federalist Papers. The most important among them assert that political differences and differences in belief are necessary for a diverse political life. Though the reasons underlying sectarianism cannot be eradicated, it is possible to limit its repercussions by respecting differences and agreeing on certain indisputable givens: for example, every person may practice any religion, but America has no official religion, and the law governs all.

Professor Mbaye also observed that Egypt has always captivated Americans, especially those who study Arabic. Still, Duke University’s decision to allow this year’s program to continue following the Egyptian Revolution is unrivaled. This reflects its prestigious commitment; the university is ranked ninth in the United States (U.S. News and World Report, 2011 edition of Best Colleges) and every year many apply to Duke but only a few are accepted after a rigorous application process.

When asked about Egypt’s current circumstances, Professor Lo said Egypt had presented the world with an unprecedented revolution. He believes Egypt, a moderate and tolerant country, will recover and renew, and that the current difficult circumstances are only natural and normal.


under: Week 7
Tags: , , ,

Hazem Mohamed Elshafee

Posted by: Blake Hament | July 13, 2011 | No Comment |

Hazem Mohamed Elshafee is one of about twenty Egyptian adults who come to the Al-Kayan community center in Cairo twice a week for English classes that I teach with several other DukeEngagers. He was born in Kaluobia the biggest city near Sinduon, the village where he grew up. Very interested in learning and tradition from an early age, he enjoyed village life immensely. Hazem’s eyes glow when he reminisces about village tea brewed over a wood fire, far superior to the city tea here in Cairo. As a child he fondly remembers wandering the family farm with homemade slingshots. Sinduon is a large enough village that Hazem was able to attend schools close to home through secondary school. He frequently returns to the village to visit family, celebrate high holidays, and check up on the family farm.

Hazem left the village to attend 6 October University where he studied Mechotronic Engineering, a combination of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. He now works for the Cairo Metro as a maintenance engineer. After one of our first classes together he walked with us to El-Demerdesh metro station. I turned away to buy a metro ticket, and when I looked back Hazem had deftly removed the covering of one the defunct mechanized turnstiles. Within a minute he had run a complete diagnostic and with a few adjustments to the whizzing belts and circuits, the turnstile was functioning once again.

Hazem is always bright and engaged. He’s very excited about improving his English, and it’s apparent that he invests himself fully in everything he chooses to undertake. He’s a jokester and he always has a giddy laugh brewing just under the surface.

Like most Egyptians, he has mixed feelings about the Revolution. Mubarak had been in power for almost his entire life until the Revolution, and Hazem is part of the generation (those now in their 20’s and 30’s) most negatively affected by the failures of the old regime. So the idea of change and Mubarak’s departure are exciting prospects for him. Nevertheless, he is uncertain of the Revolution’s future as of July 9. The protests now feel more like festivals, with families and lovers strolling leisurely through the square as vendors sell sweets and t-shirts. He wants to see Egyptians developing and executing plans for a better future while simultaneously protesting for democracy and restitution. He sees some Egyptians using the protests as an alternative to more practical means of improving their situations; they wake up, grab a blanket, and head to Tahrir, rather than going out to find work. Nevertheless he recognizes that many of these protestors are without any alternative recourse.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Hazem as both his teacher and his friend. We both like trading stories about our native cultures and experiences in our very different homes. Yet all things considered, I watch him moving through life day-to-day as I would expect any of my American friends to if they were operating with and in the same cultural and historical background and context. Hazem thinks that the internet should be restricted in some ways, and he would be uncomfortable wearing shorts in public, but ultimately he is motivated by his love of God, family, and country. He dreams about a better future as an individual and for Egypt collectively, and he pursues those dreams with optimistic ambition. I admire his determination, extraordinary work ethic, and above all his propensity for laughter and celebration of the simple parts of the human experience that make our seemingly mundane lives extraordinary.

under: Week 6

For the children

Posted by: Emily Bates | July 12, 2011 | No Comment |

It’s been a remarkably long time since I contributed to the blogging world, a symptom I like to pass off on little sleep and odd eating patterns. If I am completely honest with myself, however, I avoid blogging like the plague not because I am too busy for it but because I don’t really know what to say or where to begin. But here I am again, so bear with me as I gather my thoughts.

Our time in Cairo has flown by. Now we have a few weeks left, and I have mixed emotions about the grand return. Recently I was asked about my expectations before coming on this trip and how those have changed since our arrival. Looking back I realize I had very little expectations in comparison to how I feel about returning to America after our time in Egypt is done. Frankly, I am afraid—more afraid of getting home and falling back into complacency than staying in Cairo amidst renewed protests and tension. I feel mind-blown by the wealth of information I have amassed about myself over the past six weeks.

There have been several occasions over the course of this trip where I wondered if we bit off a bit more than we could chew in coming to Egypt at this point in time. Yet, somehow, despite a whole host of concerns I would address toward DukeEngage for future trips, I applaud their determination to let us continue. Because there really is something to be said for taking an individual (namely someone who has never traveled overseas) and throwing him or her into a completely alien environment. Add on top of that a laundry list of challenges—religion, economics, street children, harassment, racism, group dynamics, guilt, service—and you’ve got yourself the exact result that the DukeEngage program was looking for to begin with, a way in which that individual can see what he or she is made of. As for me, Cairo has afforded me a new lens through which I see others and filter events; I’ve been given a new prescription. Rather than learning about these issues from books or in the classroom or watching CNN, I saw it firsthand. In terms of mobilizing my desire to do more in the future, that has made all the difference.

It’s about expanding the comfort zone, as our professor pointed out to us at one reflection dinner.  No greater challenge has presented itself thus far, pushing me to my limits, than our work at Ana al-Masry. Not only learning how to manage rowdy children or working under the unforgiving Egyptian sun, my primary struggle has been in finding and building off of a space within the institution that will yield sustainable results and leave a path for those who will take over when we leave.

One of the greatest rewards of this trip has been the time spent with the children at Ana al-Masry, watching them learn to trust us. Yet, hearing about their struggles, seeing fresh cuts and bruises on their faces every morning, wondering who they will grow up to become has been both depressing and heartening, much like living on an emotional roller coaster. I’ve experienced times to cry and times to laugh. Lately, I have given in to laughter more than tears because I know the potential I see within these kids won’t die away when we leave. I see futures for them as bright as any other child’s around the world.


under: Week 6

This is a long post; I had no idea it would be this long, so apologies in advance.

Last evening the group had our weekly Duke-Cairo Platform at the African Arab Research Center. I thought it would be both apt and time-urgent to provide an update on the discussion we had last Sunday (time-urgent indeed), which I briefly mentioned in a previous post (July 3, the night tents burned in Tahrir Square).

For a little more background, the Duke-Cairo Platform is part of our intellectual enrichment here in Egypt. It is in my opinion an excellent initiative that has allowed Duke students to interact and converse with intellectuals and academics from all walks of Egyptian life. In our first four weeks, we have met with an Egyptian judge, professors and students from the American University in Cairo (AUC), leaders in the Muslim Brotherhood, and graduate students doing research in Egypt. Last week, the group was invited to the house of Dr. Barbara Ibrahim, the Director of the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement (http://www.aucegypt.edu/research/gerhart/Pages/default.aspx). Also present were center staff members Amy and Sherwet:

Several interesting points were raised. With regards to the primary work we’ve been doing in Cairo, working in NGOs and with impoverished communities, it was refreshing to hear the Gerhart Center’s definition of the term ‘civic engagement’, which is in relation to ‘philanthropy’ – civic engagement is essentially the support of community service work in ways that go beyond the mere provision of monetary resources. In some ways, this definition challenges my conception of ‘civic engagement’ as popularized in Duke-speak. At Duke, one tends to speak of ‘civic engagement’ as sustainable efforts in working with communities to address their organic needs, as opposed to ‘community service’ that often works in the short-term for communities. The differentiating line drawn by the Gerhart Center, in the ‘what (resources)’, instead of the ‘when’ and ‘how’, makes me wonder if defining the term is only a matter of semantics, and if it does have real impact on how organizations like the Duke Center for Civic Engagement and the Gerhart Center work.

On the popular topic of the Arab spring, and in light of street clashes last Tuesday night and Wednesday, Sherwet shared her view that the quality of protesters is different now, that there are a lot more ‘thugs’ who are violent for the sake of it, and are neither politically organized, nor have clear political goals. While I challenged Sherwet’s point, pointing to the legitimacy of the emotions (including anger and frustration) of all protesters, and the need for those who are more politically-minded to still engage and take the lead in organizing, I recognize the practical implications in Sherwet’s view. I think her opinion is especially relevant to a concern that has been in common discussion – the life-cycle of the revolution, and how to sustain the interests of all Egyptians in this movement for change.

The rest of this post consists largely of my self-indulgent musings, one can stop reading and that would be all for now.

During the evening discussion, the term ‘global citizenship’ popped up (I forgot the exact context, but it probably had to do with civic engagement on a global level). Shortly after the seated portion of the conversation, when we were all in different parts of the house chatting, someone from the group (I think it was Dr. Emily) asked me if I consider myself to be a global citizen. I replied with something resembling ‘ask not whether I’m a global citizen, but whether the world accepts me as its citizen.’

Michael immediately called me out for being a cop out, which was a fair assessment; I had wanted to sound intelligent by being trite and not dealing in depth with the question. In the couple of days that followed, however, I thought more about the ‘global citizen’ question, and realized that an answer similar to the one I had proposed could still be used, even if I was being more serious. ‘Global citizenship’ is not simply a matter of individual choice; personal and prevailing world conditions form the key determinant.

I can be a global citizen because:

  1. I am male, and am able to access the privileges men as a group enjoy and withhold from women. In many cities in the world, I’m able to walk about freely at night, dress as I please, and look people in eye and smile when I pass them on the streets. While these little details might seem unremarkable, they speak of the patriarchal structure of our societies – one that systematically denies even unremarkable aspects of everyday life to some while allowing them for others. As read in Allan G. Johnson’s The Gender Knot, this is what ‘Peggy McIntosh calls an “unearned advantage,” an entitlement that “none of us should have to earn.”’ In the specific case of Cairo, I can move through the streets freely, take the Metro even when the train is packed, and ride in a taxi alone with no fear of sexual harassment or assault.
  2. According to the Global Rich List (http://www.globalrichlist.com/), with my ‘annual income’ of USD $2000, I’m in the top 17.62% of the richest people in the world. And that is not counting the financial resources I’ve been given by my family, to study in a private US university with no financial aid, to travel, to not worry about eating out or buying an extra suit if I needed one.
  3. I am heterosexual-identified. In most parts of the world, I do not have to worry about showing affection for my lover in public; I will also not be denied the rights to marriage. And of course, I don’t have to worry about traveling to Uganda or South Africa.
  4. I have no physical disabilities. I neither worry about conquering ramp-less sidewalks in Cairo, nor that I would be disadvantaged when seeking work, and would be relegated to begging or selling packets of tissue paper in the streets.

I cannot be a global citizen because:

  1. I’m not white, and as a result have restricted mobility in the United States and the Western world. I can be mistaken for a delivery boy simply by carrying a bag of takeout from Grace’s back to my dorm (true story from last semester). And while it is common these days to reduce ‘racism’ to the ignorant and hurtful actions of individuals, or ‘rednecks’, once one starts answering the questions of who has access to education and healthcare, who populates (and does not populate) the world’s prisons (of which prisoners in the United States form a huge chunk), and who makes up the lower strata of economic realities, it is (in my opinion) not hard to see a world social order that is still white-centered, white-dominated, and white-identified. (For white-identification, see a post from my friend Bhumi’s blog, about a boy in Sierra Leone who wants to be white like Michael Jackson.)

All in all, the odds of me being able to consider myself a global citizen are pretty good. I wonder whose odds are better?

under: Week 5
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A Tangent

Posted by: Sabrina Darwiche | July 10, 2011 | No Comment |

Let’s get real for a second. I’m not the biggest fan of blogging. I would categorize my feelings towards blogging as somewhere between can’t-stand-it-for-the-life-of-me and hatred. Now let me clarify. I don’t strongly dislike all blogging. Actually, if you haven’t noticed yet, most of the posts on this blog are pretty amazing. I just hate blogging on my part. Nothing takes the fun out of a Friday night like the mere idea of having to write a blog post. This first paragraph took a ridiculous hour and a half to write because I decided that Facebook stalking and folding my clothes would be a more entertaining use of my time.

I guess my strong dislike for blogging stems from the same source as my disdain for taking pictures of  my time in Cairo—I feel like I’m too busy living it to bother recording it. I don’t want a camera to stand between me and reality. Too often people traveling abroad become fixated on capturing every moment of their trip. I understand the reasoning. It’s a fear of forgetting every trip to the souq, every dinner overlooking the Nile, every magical experience that each moment brings. Yet, can someone really experience the moment if they are too busy worrying about getting a great picture with the correct angle and just the right lighting?

It’s the same thing with blogging for me. Time spent writing (or in my case not writing) could be time spent enjoying Cairo, something that’s especially hard given how constantly busy we usually are.

I know that there are merits to blogging. One often brought up is the role it plays in processing and general “thinking”. However, reflection with this group of DukeEngagers is never a problem. Many late, albeit enlightening, nights in hookah bars can attest to that. This group of individuals has caused me to examine myself and the issues that surround me in completely new and informative ways, and I am forever indebted to them because of that.

Therefore we move on to the next advantage of blogging: informing the general reading population of whatever the heck I’m up to. That was actually the reason that I started writing this blog post in the first place. However, my mother can confirm the fact that I have a hard enough time updating her via a 140 character text message, let alone a whole blog post. I just can’t bring myself to do it. Sometimes it’s because I’m too busy, other times I’m too tired, and most of the time I just don’t want to do it. However, I know that there are a lot of friends and family reading this out there so I would also like to take a second to thank them for their time and to apologize for the fact that I don’t love blogging. Yet, since this post has been all about taking tangents and I have all of your attention I might as well as give you a super abbreviated updated.

The ‘March of a Million’ was held a few days ago and demonstrations are still going on in Tahrir Square. I don’t think the number of people in the square ever hit a million, but I’m pretty sure there were a couple of hundreds of thousands. There were at least a sufficient number of people to make enough noise for us to hear from our building (as per DukeEngage policy and general common sense we experienced the protests from the comfort of our apartment). The impression I’m getting is that the event has been peaceful and the greatest threat has been the scorching Egyptian heat.

In other news we have reached the letter “E” with the nursery students at Ana al-Masry, which may not sound that exciting, but I find it to be a personal accomplishment. Things have been moving much faster with the older children and while we still have our hard days, I think we’re finally starting to get the hang of this teaching thing.

On a more personal note, I recently managed to get hit by (an extremely slow moving) car and have my foot run over. Any of you who know me know that this has been my number one fear during my stay here, forget the ongoing revolution and political instability. Well that fear was realized a few days ago, and let me tell you, it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. The only injury I have to report is a severely bruised ego. The poor driver who hit me was probably more traumatized by the event than I was.  However, I will be taking extra care when I cross the street in the future, even if the traffic is at a standstill.

So back to my original tangent—blogging. The last advantage to blogging usually advertised is probably the one that I find the most convincing. Blogging is an online journal, something I can look back on in twenty years when this trip has been reduced to fond, distant memories. It will help me bring my time in Cairo back into sharp focus. I realized the importance of this only a few days ago regarding picture taking. I know what you’re thinking, yes it was only a few minutes ago that I bashed photography for a paragraph’s worth of your time. Well, the thing is, I’ve recently found myself stealing my friends’ memory cards to get their pictures of the trip. Now this may just be the guilt talking because I didn’t have a memory card of my own to exchange with them, but a balance might exist between refusing to record any facet of my trip and going camera crazy. I suppose then, that this balance could also be applied to blogging.

This trip has been an absolutely, positively life-changing experience. My time here in Cairo has contained the highest highs of my life and the lowest lows. Each day has been a unique adventure, one that no photo or blog post will ever truly capture. I suppose that’s where a lot of my frustration with the idea of recording it comes from, but I know if I don’t I’ll regret it in the future. So I’m going to try really hard to change my attitude on the subject. Who knows, perhaps I’ll start taking pictures or writing blog posts more often…maybe.


under: Week 6

Worse things could happen…

Posted by: Jon D. Haff | July 9, 2011 | 2 Comments |

Everything we have one in Cairo so far seems like a blur now. Time has traveled so fast here, and now we are at the last three weeks, twenty-one days. Somehow we have survived thus far and have arrived at the last leg of our journey. After all of the incredible experiences (the good, the bad, and yes… the ugly), I can only wonder how much I have changed. But, I know I have changed somehow. Cairo has matured me in many ways.

As I sit here writing this in my favorite coffee shop along Aasra Ainee (the main street right next to the apartment), I feel I must write down my thoughts, at least as best I can. There are hundreds of thousands of people a few blocks down the street in a square (Tahrir) protesting their rights. And, there are millions of souls (around twenty million of them) surrounding me in this vast, cramped city of Cairo. I feel squelched. I have never been in a city this large for so long, and I am constantly aware of the fact that there are people everywhere in every nook and cranny. Even on a day like today when there are noticeably less people about I still feel cramped. An invisible fist grips me, and though I try to ignore it, I cannot shake this crushing feeling off. Maybe it’s because I come from a smaller town, a tiny private school (I had eighteen kids in my graduating class), and have lived in the same home in the same place for most of my life. But, I don’t think that is the problem. The problem is I know suffering surrounds me in this place. I see it on the crowded streets of cars, beggars, pedestrians, hagglers, and homeless children. I see it in the polluted air and overcrowded apartments, and in the eyes and faces of many I meet. And, I can’t do anything to fix it.

My Dad has always told me that “worse things could happen,” at least, ever since I can remember. I spill some milk, worse things could happen. I come home late, worse things could happen. I get in a car wreck, God forbid, and yet… worse things could happen. I have adopted my Dad’s saying to the utmost, and it has brought me much comfort in tough times. but, I am not sure if I can use this last line of defense here in Cairo. Usually, these four words disarm even the worst situations, making them miniscule in the grand scheme of things. But, here, it only brings bitter indifference.

For some in Cairo, the only worse thing that could happen is death. The worst things have already happened, and to a single mother of five young children who lives on the street, death may even seem a respite. Death can begin to appear to be a savior, an escape from this reality of suffering. And yet, these people keep on living, scrounging around to survive just the next day, let alone the next week. Their pride is broken, their human instinct to survive trumping any dignity that they hold so dear in the culture of Egypt and the whole Middle East. This is the reality that many in Cairo know. This is life.

I know that I cannot help everyone. But, even if I can help just a few, I know I am doing something worth while. If action truly speaks louder than words, than I need to be a man of action, for I have come to realize that “worse things could happen” is not always true. It has only worked thus far in my life because God has blessed me with more than I could ever deserve or fully appreciate. Now, I believe I have learned a little more about what I have, and how selfishly I have taken much of it for granted. The sheer magnitude of pain and suffering in Cairo has at least taught me that much, and I am forever grateful. I can only hope and pray that I will not ever take this life that I have been given for granted again.

In the end, I know that I need to and will come back Cairo someday, in sha Allah (God Willing). I have come to love this place, for it has taught me much about humanity, myself included. I know that I still have much to learn in this world, but I feel the fog of ignorance starting to thin in my mind, however slight this change may be. Cairo still has much more to teach me, and I am excited for the next (and last) three weeks here on this trip, and for the wealth of life lessons it will bring.

under: Week 6
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