Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Back to School

Here I am at AUC again, and currently I have a long break between classes so I figured I would hope online and write a blog entry!  There's some new stuff up at but I wanted to write something different here on a more dance/personal note.  It's been a crazy few weeks since I returned to Egypt, quite the rollercoaster of emotions, and has made me reassess what I want in my next six months of being here.

School is going okay, I'm figuring out what I want to do and which class I will drop as I want to hit the minimum credit hours to still be full time.  Let's just say my priorities lie outside AUC at this point.  People ask me about school all the time, are so curious what is up with being an American student at an Egyptian college.  The fact of the matter is though that AUC is the AMERICAN University in Cairo.  The curriculum is set up like a liberal arts college, not the usual standard here in Egypt, and the students who go here are not your average Egyptian by any means.  Usually in Egypt, your exit test scores for high school determine what faculty or department you will go into, what you will study in college, and thus what your life path will be.  The highest scorers go into medicine, engineering, and law, while the other faculties lie in various positions below that, art being one of the lowest priorities of the educaitonal system.

However, here at AUC there is the freedom to choose your major just like at an American college.  There's flexibility in the curriculum, a focus on core classes as well as specialization classes, and the departments are set up like any other American institution.  The difference?  The Egyptian kids that go here are filthy rich.  It didn't exactly hit me until I was in a Macroecon course last semester (in which I was one of two foreign students) and the professor mentioned while giving an example that, "all of you here are probably in the top 5% income bracket."  I glanced around, feeling weirded out because I am not wealthy person by US standards, and sort of looking to see if anyone else was shaking their heads like, "ha ha, yeah right."  No reaction, vague nodding.  I am sitting around amongst the richest kids in Egypt apparently, so then evidentially if you can afford to go to AUC, you can afford freedom of choice about your life path and career.

When the campus moved from Tahrir (smack-dab in the middle of downtown) out to Al-Rehab (smack dab in the middle of the desert, a 45 minute drive in non-Cairo traffic from downtown) I remember reading an article back at home while I was going through my study abroad application process.  The article discussed not the beautiful new campus, nor the expansion of the school, not even the new technology involved in designing the campus.  The article I read focused on the income gap in Egypt, and how by moving the school to such an isolated location the college was isolating itself from the real Egyptian populace.  Having just paid about 15 minutes ago over $300 for a bus pass for the semester, I can understand in a very concrete way what they mean. 1740LE is more than many people probably make in Cairo per month, or two months, or possibly even a year.  There is a lot of poverty here, and a lot of people living on practically nothing, so this amount simply to GET to school becomes insurmountable simply because of shifting the campus.

The other issue is symbolic.  Al-Rehab is a place that my middle-class Egyptian friends think of as "a slice of heaven" and my American friends squirm and feel uncomfortable about.  It's a cushy, palatial wonderland of unreality.  The villas with their gilded columns, the BMWs in the's not the Cairo I know.  It's green, because the water is always running, to the point where you will see artificial waterfalls and ponds at the tip of an fake oasis in the desert.  Yet, as soon as a patch goes unwatered for a few days, it starts to slowly go brown, a reminder that this place exists merely through the labor of people too poor to ever live there. It somehow looks so fake, such an man-made fantasy concocted of concrete, delusion, and a willingness to ignore the intense poverty a 30-minute drive away.

The facade is not finished yet though, and so we can all still see the dirty sweat and labor holding up those ridiculous fantastical creations.  Most of the people coming in and out of Al-Rehab right are workers, toiling all day on homes they will never have the slightest hope of moving into, and who spend their days watering or constructing.  Going in and out of AUC via the bus we see them on the side of the road every day, this strange community of hard workers in cheap jeans and jackets, waiting for the microbus or their friend in his beat up old car to drive up so they can cram in to an already overloaded car heading back to civilization.  It feels strange because we are not supposed to see these people, we are supposed to look at the final product and go "wow, this is beautiful! I want to buy a house here!"  Seeing these people ruins the fantasy, which I find good because I don't understand why these housing projects and developments are even happening.  Yes, Cairo needs room to expand--it's more than overcrowded, but what is needed is affordable housing for the middle and lower classes to get out of the city too, not just the rich.  At the moment though, it's the rich that get the option to leave Cairo, leave the real Egypt, and live in a fantasyland.

By moving AUC out into this strange new world, is the college deserting the real spirit of Egypt?  Is it placing itself firmly into the realm of the elite, to the exclusion of everyone else?  That doesn't seem like something an American college would strive for, in my opinion.

Planning Ahead
I have this scholarship now, which gives me the ability to do some traveling, so I think I will definitely see Luxor and Aswan now.  I wanted to before, but lacked the finances to say for sure it would happen.  That's great, so now I have to figure out whom I'm going to travel with, because it can be beyond exasperating to travel here alone as a foreign female.  I'm also hesitant to use a tour company, that may be the way to go.  On the other hand I could just go to Sharm and party for spring break, which is tempting.  Definitely I will be going to Alexandria soon--probably this month--because I hear it's great in the winter and it's only a quick trip away by bus or microbus.  I'm finding myself missing the white, sandy beaches there, and  I realize the first time I was too busy just enjoying my time to see much of what makes Alexandria famous and special.

It's definitely easy to think of beaches when the weather is this cold, I thought I would never say it, but I can't wait for the weather to get warmer again.  The problem is that most  buildings here (except of course AUC) don't have indoor central heat, so you basically spend your time in a concrete icebox.  Today is beautiful and sunny, thank god, so it's not so bad.  People are out there in jackets lounging on the unfurled grass put down last semester and carefully tended to, and others sun themselves on the plaza while eating the overpriced, fattening food that is offered here.

Well, after this point I actually had a great post drafted up about how Cairo is so beautiful and contradictory, and looks so different to me this time around, but blogspot ate it somehow.  Very sad, as that was actually a good piece of writing, but hopefully I will generate something again soon of that ilk.  It's rare I'm inspired to write in an artistic sense, so I'm sad the post got eaten by cyberspace before anyone could see it.

Dance Stuff
I need to start belly dancing more again, it's not doing it for me to just dabble right now and be a dilettante in other forms of dance, so I'm striving for a way to get all hard-core on it again.  I'm a racehorse when it comes to dance, if I don't get pushed and challenged to keep going and given things to learn I start to lose my mind.  I need to find a couple teachers I can really get into and access on a regular basis.  I need to get back on it really bad, because I'm doing all new technique work right now while neglecting things I already understand and need to work on like musical interpretation, combinations, over all performance.  I'm focusing so hard on isolating muscle groups and learning how to do the same moves in different ways that I'm starting to lose the bigger picture, and I'm freaked out that the next time I end up on stage I will be woefully underprepared.  It wouldn't scare me so much except that I was once upon a time quite seasoned and comfortable in front of an audience, so I feel like I've lost something.

I think I also need to diversify my teachers.  When I get into a teacher's style or way of teaching I tend to narrow my focus down to them and concentrate on mastering the style they want me to do, and the things they think I should be doing.  At this point in my career I should be looking to the bigger picture and fusing different elements from different teachers to create a style and technique that incorporates everything I have learned.  Also, in Egypt I need to start taking from everyone--as long as they're good!

1 comment:

  1. Spot on. I felt really bad seeing the AUC move from such an iconic, cultural downtown location to become just another private university built in the desert. It's not like the spoiled brats needed more isolation.

    As for El-Rehab, and every other new project outside Cairo, you're spot on again. The fact that a foreigner could see the truth on first glance, is a testimony to how sad it is. Cairo is EXTREMELY overly populated. However, thanks to corruption, these new lands outside Cairo are very expensive, and consequently, their projects to not solve the overpopulation problem. As a matter of fact, a lot of those homes are owned by rich Egyptians working in Gulf countries. And yes, they do feel very fake... albeit a LOT more relaxing than the ever so noisy "mainland" Cairo where finding a space to park everyday is an adventure of its own.