Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Unexpected

Something unexpected happened the other day. No, I’m not pregnant, Mother. Not yet, anyways. I found this revelation to be pregnant with another variety of news- swine flu. If you wish to be politically correct, you may call it the H1N1 virus. I will stick to the Arabic translation of the malady, which is influenza al-khanazeer- flu of the pigs. Perhaps the reason why it is so feared in the Middle East, given that pork is a wholly vilified meat. Which is sad, because pork is a succulent, juicy, yummy…I digress.
Yes, the swine flu is the root of my current and future indolence. The Ministry of Education, in an attempt to curb outbreaks of swine in Egypt, took the iniative to bar any educational institution in Egypt from operating until October 4th. This includes my venerable and hallowed halls of learning, AUC. No, there have been no reported cases at AUC this fall, but, of course, what are a few fewer weeks of education for burgeoning young minds? To be honest, as residents of Egypt, we would never know if the swine flu had infected every last village and household of Egypt, as the government has an unfortunate tendency to keep information from the populace. I have heard rumors from “every hospital in Cairo is overwhelmed with swine flu patients” to “there have been few reported incidents” to “because Egypt never actually eradicated the bird flu, they fear that the two might mutate and form some worldwide epidemic.” Meh. All I can do is sit in my happy little flat in Maadi and bemoan my unexpected vacation.
What?!? Laura, protesting vacation? Well, yes. For one, money is usually required to jet off to exotic locales. Money which is sadly absent from my bank account. Two, immediacy of the announcement did not allow me ANY time to plan. Third, I will now have to make up the missed lessons on my free days from campus. Sarah and I are trying to wrangle some free beach lodging out of a friend who has a chalet on the North Coast (i.e. the Med). Enshalla.
I started writing this desultory little missive as dawn pierced the pall of Cairo’s pollution with a hint of orange, and the acrid scent of burning garbage wafted through the streets, merely contributing, of course, to that pollution. Now, the garbage collectors have extinguished their nightly fires, and only the occasional, smouldering dumpster remains. Eid Mubarek. Happy Eid! Yes, Ramadan is, alhamdulilah, done done done. For my debaucherous Western ways, this means that I can eat and drink in public again and, more importantly, the bars and clubs in Cairo will, once again, open. As the Dixie Chicks rather aptly put it, “some days you gotta dance.”
You will learn more about my life at AUC (if it ever returns) in future blogs, but I was sitting in my office on Wednesday, blearily reading my textbook for Applied Linguistics when, through my open door, an abrupt increase in the chatter of voices incited mild curiosity. To be fair, an ant crawling in the hallway would probably have been sufficient distraction. Regardless, I arose, peeked around the doorframe and saw all of my professors and a number of my peers standing around, discussing swine flu and school closing in loud voices. “Tom, what’s happening?” I asked the director of my program, the Intensive English Program. I have never seen Tom look unharried; indeed, he seems to rush through the halls of AUC in a state of perpetual mild panic. Given the disorganization of AUC, however, this is not very surprising.
“I think school’s cancelled for the next two weeks.” “Whoa, what?” and the administrator for my Fellowship, Maida, bopped out of her office, 5 feet of charmingly accented English and pink accessories. “Yes, it is true,” she affirmed. “So this means, what?” I asked Tom, who, for once, did not seem to be in a hurry to return to his office and certain mayhem. Sometimes avoidance of looming disaster is best. “Do we have to make up the days we lost?” “I don’t know,” he said in a tired voice, “classes on Saturdays, Tuesdays. We do have to make up the time, of course, this is an American university.”
Tom eventually left to confront the barrage of confusion from students and staff. I called Sarah. “Hey, guess what? School’s cancelled until October 4th.” My Fellowship requires that I teach a class to incoming freshmen every day. I was priviledged enough to received the 8:30 am teaching slot, meaning I leave Maadi on the 7:30 bus, meaning sleep is a pleasant fantasy most days. I taught Wednesday morning, blissfully mindless of the impending suspension of school. Unfortunately, it also meant my 15 bright-eyed and 17 year-old Egyptian students had no warning, either. I couldn’t show them how to do their next internet assignment or how to draft an outline or write a citations page. I e-mailed them all, of course, and most have responded back…”Ms. Laura, I have received your e-mail , This my topic, swine flu. Best…”
But I am finding it is very difficult to teach a class about oral presentations and listening comprehension when my only method of communication is via typed words on a computer. We shall see. From a remarked dearth of any free time, to an unwanted plethora of it…that balance I was trying to seek is slow in coming. Well, I am off to shower (Cairo’s hot and induces a somewhat appalling amount sweat) and then wring out my laundry (my machine, though ‘automatic’ in theory, doesn’t actually drain, meaning I open the door to a deluge of water, which I squeegee down the drain, and then squeeze out my clothes) and then visit the castle that Sarah is currently inhabiting. Yes, the two floor flat she is house-sitting (it’s occupants have the means to jet away when school is cancelled) contains a grand staircase, iron trellises, marble floors, carved wall niches for cherub-like statues, indoor (and outdoor) balconies, enough space to comfortably host the U.N. general assembly, and an air of the generally outlandish that characterizes the wealthy of Maadi. The building has a moat. Adieu for now, my dears!

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