Gumbies, We Are!


Cramped houses that seem to be uninhabited for decades, pavements with surprise highs and lows, schools with American names, water dripping down at you when there is not a single strand of cloud in the sky, the never-to-cease traffic… as hectic as it sounds, Zamalek, Cairo feels home. I find peace in living at American University in Cairo (AUC) dorm, going to a nearby 2 Egyptian pound Falafel place, and once in a while taking a cab outside the small island we have started calling our “little comfort zone”. I am not sure if we miss the tranquility of our homes back in the US or our St. Olaf dorms that we like it so much here, but whatever it be, the noise, the hassle and all the heat has really grown on us and we definitely do not want to leave this place in next 10 days.

For me, Zamalek is invariably linked with 2 things- Dr. John Swanson and my room- both mutually exclusive. Let me start with Dr. John Swanson. He is our professor who we have had the privlige of taking class with just twice but he has definitely won hearts of almost everyone of us with massive amount of knowledge he possesses and his excellent public speaking skills. He has been living in Egypt for more than 3 decades now, which makes him well informed about Egyptian society and its complexities. He has lectured on a bunch of different topics related to Egypt, but the one I liked the most was about Islam. I realized how little I knew about the religion, and how rich its history is. The terms like Shii and Sunni, Sharia law, which almost had negative connotation for me now hold much more meaning. There is definitely a lot more to learn, but that lecture has raised a cuirosity in me. Dr. Swanson currently holds the position of assistant provost of International Programs at the AUC, which means he is a very busy man. So, he has not been able to invest a lot of his time for us because of an ongoing student strike at the AUC campus in New Cairo (around an hour drive from Zamalek) but we are looking forward to seeing him again soon.

About my room now. LOL. A gaffe, but a blessing at the same time. I have been placed in this super huge room, which is basically a hall with three big beds. I have joined them to make a master bed, and almost every night, all the guys (it’s just 5 of us) have a movie time, when we hang out and watch a horror or comedy. So, there is definitely some bros-bonding moments going on. Hah. Too bad the girls can’t join. Girl students are not allowed to visit the guys section of the dorm, and vice versa. There are “public safety” officers securing the premises strictly, and even if I have a valid reason to visit girls’ section, I would need to be escorted by one of the officers. Something out of the imaginary for us, but we have been very respectful of the dorm rules, and extremely sensitive about the Egyptian culture. It has made me think of how flexible we need to be, like “gumby”, as Paul, our group leader puts it.



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