Down in Africa..

It's hard to believe that I've already been in Egypt longer than I was in Morocco. How different my experiences have been! I know I definitely feel like my learning has been delayed, both culturally and academically. I have yet to get up close and personal with the pyramids or the Sphinx, though I've ridden Arabian stallions alongside them at sunrise, and I haven't travelled to see the obelisks, the Valley of the Kings, or even made it to the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square yet. A large part of that is because I don't technically live in Cairo. I live in the middle of a desert outside of Cairo, in a wasteland called New Cairo, which, in five years, will be just as bustling as Zamalek, Tahrir, Maadi, and the Heliopolis, but for now is filled with the skeletons of houses yet to be completed and a whole lot of sand. Then there is the shimmering oasis that is the AUC compound, safely tucked away in the middle of nowhere, in a suburb of New Cairo called Katameya, a virtual Shangri La barricaded behind walls and fences, kept completely unto itself.
I've been meaning to describe AUC in depth for some time now, but it is really pretty difficult to put into words the feat of engineering and hubris that is New Campus. I have likened it more than once to a resort, not a university. First of all, it rises out of the desert sand, looming like a small city in the vast emptiness. Once inside the compound –after clearing multiple checkpoints, mind you- the concrete assaults your senses, which realize that here is a huge concrete and marble structure, built on sand, in a place where no structure at all has any business being built.
One main walkway courses through the campus, flanked on either side by looming, architecturally avant garde office buildings and classrooms. Bisecting this walkway are various fountains, man-made rivers, and burbling geysers. The fountains are innumerable on campus, wasting water left and right, but I have to admit that on days when the fountains aren't on or aren't working, the heat is oppressive and the campus just feels so unbearably, unnaturally dry. The walkway is jagged cobblestone lined with slick –too slick- marble, proof that the government was literally desperate to spend money on things as senseless as marble sidewalks.
The buildings are labyrinthine in design; there's a trick to understanding how they're laid out, and once you get it, it's not completely impossible to get to class on time…but these things take time and diligent study. There are balconies and terraces everywhere. The thing that is amazing is the way the design of the buildings brings the outside in. Many times I have been walking down a hallway, looked up, and realized there was no roof…I was technically outside, in a school building. There are random fountains and courtyards scattered throughout every building, and this has a very calming effect, which is necessary in dealing with the bureaucracy which runs AUC. The indoors and outdoors are integrated seamlessly, giving this monstrous marvel of architectural engineering an feel. I didn’t even know that was possible.
The "quad" is a huge concrete courtyard filled with fountains and lined with food kiosks and classrooms. There are shady umbrellas and leisurely looking wickers chairs scattered everywhere, and several smaller, sunken courtyards with fountain moats surrounding them, with small concrete bridges connecting them to the larger quad area. There are also several staircases which lead to nowhere, placed in the quad just to serve as a sitting structure—we do leisure very well in Egypt.
Now there are definitely difficulties that come with building a compound in the middle of the desert, as my friend Becky was so apt to point out. The water is fickle- sometimes there is none. When there is water, it's rarely hot. Sometime's the toilets don't flush. You can't flush toilet paper, or they overflow. There are no power lines out here, so the whole operation is powered by generators, which go out frequently. Yesterday at 3:30pm the electricity went out and didn't come back on until around 9pm, plunging the school into four hours of darkness after the sun set at 5, leaving everyone in a frenzy of terror and excitement, and causing an overload in buses due to the mass exodus from the campus into Cairo.
Naturally in our little oasis we are cut off from "real life" in Egypt. This is frustrating for me on many levels, because I was looking forward to trying to assimilate into Egyptian culture. Living on campus exacerbates this problem. But I'm adjusting to my new reality. I'm adjusting to spoiled, immature, elitist Egyptian kids fresh out of high school interrupting teachers and speaking during lecture. I'm learning to control my anger at seeing water wasted unscrupulously. I'm even learning to forgive closed-minded statements about the place of women in society which literally set women's rights back hundreds of years. It is the strange day-to-day existence on the compound which gives me my only semblance of reality and stability, but also daily amazes me with its grandiosity and unnecessary amenities. Such is life in the Middle East, eh?
I'm going to Alexandria this weekend [insha'allah] so a good post is coming soon, promise!
Also, I'm on the AUC fencing team. I told you life is ridiculous here.
Take care, I miss you all!

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