Autor: brandon

~ 31/10/08

All indications were that Halloween is no big deal here.  I saw a few signs up for activities and heard about a few parties, but it sounded like it was mostly ex-pat family-type stuff.  I had just planned on staying in tonight to finish up grading mid-term exams (whee hoo!), but I ended up walking over to the grocery store to pick up a few things.  I noticed more people on the streets and a few kids in costumes walking around, but nothing too crazy.  My first indication that something was up was in the store, when some lady was yelling because they had no eggs to sell her.  I’ve never seen anything less than crates and crates of eggs stacked along the floors in one section of the store, and some guy told me they put them in the back and weren’t selling any more tonight.  Ok.  As I was checking out a whole crowd of people, employees and customers, came running into the store screaming, and I could here the pap-pap-pap of a dozen eggs smashing into the storefront.  So of course I went out to see what was going on.  I was only in the store for maybe 5 minutes, and suddenly the streets are filled with mobs of kids running around with handfulls of eggs and tomatoes and whatever might splat when they threw it.  Exciting!  I hung around for a bit to watch the commotion, and ran into one of my students.  He said the real action was up the street, so I let him lead the way.  Turns out Egyptian kids put Americans to shame with their Halloween shenanigans.  Eggs were flying everywhere.  And everyone was having a good time.  Cops were confiscating eggs, then turning around and tossing them right back.  My own bags were searched a half-dozen times, but I guess they weren’t too interested in my frozen corn and bottles of hot sauce, though I’m pretty sure my yogurt could have made for a fun toss.  Passing cars were a favorite target, and the only ones spared were those already covered in sticky yellow goo.  A short, skinny little Arabic Mr. T walked by and everyone laughed and yelled “Rocky III”.  Amazing!  My student disappeared and came back with eggs for all.  So of course I obliged and let mine fly alongside theirs into a distant crowd, the offensive meeting equally with groans of dismay on one side of the street and hoots of delight on the other.  I made it out unscathed.

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Autor: brandon

~ 26/10/08

During one of our new-faculty orientation sessions it was stressed that our three primary duties here are Teaching, Research, and Service.  At the moment (and for the foreseeable future) my research prospects are rather grim.  I suppose not much can be expected on the faculty end when, over one month into the semester, the student lab facilities have only been barely cobbled together, though I admit I expected more.  Teaching is keeping me plenty busy, but I decided I ought to start to doing more to account for my time and presence here.  So a couple of weeks ago I joined the Bus Transportation Advisory Committee.  Since I am a daily rider, the bus service is something of concern to me, as it is to many of my colleagues and most of my students.  This experience is serving well as my painful introduction to bureaucracy in action, and I am beginning to understand why Che left the comforts of post-revolution Cuba for the Congo.  It is harder to make the trains run on time!

With the move to the new campus, the university had to figure out some way to transport all the students, faculty, and staff out to the middle of the desert.  This is no simple feat, and one that still requires much refinement.  Of course the whole thing was handed off to some private contractor.  The most disturbing thing I have learned is that the drivers, the people we are entrusting with our lives twice daily, are paid less than the custodians on campus.  Rate of pay is outside the scope of our committee, and indeed it seems outside the scope of anyone in the university now, thanks to contractual provisions previously agreed upon.  One accomplishment that I am proud of has been the removal of all jump seats (which fold down into the aisle) from the buses.  These were a huge safety issue, especially on the smaller transports.  They only added a maximum of 5 additional riders, but ultimately packed people in like sardines and eliminated anything resembling an exit on the bus.  Anyway, we addressed and fixed that problem.

In related news, I was in the student newspaper today:

A concern of Brandon Canfield, a member of the newly established bus transportation advisory committee in charge of addressing rising concerns such as passenger safety, route adjustments and schedules, is that AUC plays no role in hiring bus drivers.

‘Currently, the committee is drafting a revised procedural requirement that all drivers must abide by,’ he said. ‘However, it is unclear how this will be enforced and what, if any, penalties drivers may face for failing to comply.’

The committee has fielded a number of complaints about bus drivers speeding and making dangerous passes on the road.

This is what I make the papers for now?  I am getting too old.

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Autor: brandon

~ 25/10/08

My first Corvair spotted in Egypt!

1960 Corvair 500?
1960 Corvair 500?

Almost.  Actually it is the quintessential Egyptian taxi cab, a 60’s Fiat 1500.  I love these cars.  They look just like a squished up 1960 Corvair, right down to the backwards ball-cap extension over the rear windshield.  Truth be told, the template for Emily’s hottest-item Corvair cookies at last years Portland Corvair club Christmas auction were actually modelled on one of these.  Un-photoshopped versions below.

Unrelated update:  my kitchen window looks across a central air-shaft into the kitchen of my neighbors.  There are only two flats to a floor in my building, but I have yet to actually meet these neighbors.  In fact, I have only ever occasionally seen a single older woman through our kitchen windows, which are raised high enough to only reveal a head.  As I understand it, there are varying degrees in which the Muslim women here keep themselves covered from the prying eyes of the male populace.  The most common of which is their hair.  I am in my kitchen quite often, much to the obvious dismay of my neighbor.  On several occasions I have noticed her over there, and I presume she has noticed me as well, because the next time I look she suddenly has a scarf on her head.  I feel bad knowing that she feels she has to go to this trouble within the comforts and otherwise privacy of her home.  But there is nothing I can do about the design of the building.  Perhaps this has never been a problem before since the kitchen is predominantly the domain of the female here.  I am certain a man lives there too, yet for all my time spent in the kitchen I have not once spotted him across the way.  Anyway, I just went in to check on my dinner and saw that curtains have been conspicuously installed.  Okely dokely, neighborino.  Malish.

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Autor: brandon

~ 24/10/08

It’s raining!  Or at least it was.  Briefly.

So I was at my computer grading homework assignments when I heard the crash of my mystery flower plant toppling over.  The winds here pick up often, so this wasn’t the first time the plant fell over, but when I turned to look I saw that my entire skyline had disappeared into a blanket of yellow haze – my first Saharan sandstorm!  I went out to my balcony to snap a few pictures and realized I was getting wet.  Rain!  No better excuse has yet presented itself to take a break from working.  I grabbed my hoody and took to the streets with my camera.

At this point my photo tour was cut short.  There are two types of police on the streets here.  Those dressed in white are the traffic cops, and are usually not packing.  Those in black are the real police, and they are usually carrying some sort of assault rifle and/or sidearm.  The lesson I learned today is that if I want to take pictures I need to be quick and keep moving.  Standing on the corner for 5 minutes waiting for the perfect shot of a passing Vespa with a beautiful minaret in the background of the palm tree-filled roundabout is not a good idea (even though the odds were definitely in my favor that within another 5 I would have had my shot).  A black shirt police truck rolled up and the cop inside immediately demanded my camera, which I admit may have looked a little strange with a giant wide-angle lense screwed on.  This, of course, was something I was not going to do willingly, for fear of never seeing it again.  So I played my foreigner card and pretended I didn’t understand.  When he got out of the truck I immediately flipped the camera around to show him the pictures I had been taking of my building.  I said “I live here” and pointed to the camera and to my building (which was unfortunately to my back from where I had been standing and pointing my camera).  Eventually he got back in the truck and all I really understood him to say was “It is forbidden.”  “Ok, malish, malish” (sorry, sorry) was my reply as I high-tailed back up to my flat.  the end.

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Autor: brandon

~ 21/10/08

“I do not understand,” Bishop Morehouse said. “It seems to me that all things of the mind are metaphysical. That most exact and convincing of all sciences, mathematics, is sheerly metaphysical. Each and every thought-process of the scientific reasoner is metaphysical. Surely you will agree with me?”

“As you say, you do not understand,” Ernest replied. “The metaphysician reasons deductively out of his own subjectivity. The scientist reasons inductively from the facts of experience. The metaphysician reasons from theory to facts, the scientist from facts to theory. The metaphysician explains the universe by himself, the scientist explains himself by the universe.”

“Thank God we are not scientists,” Dr. Hammerfield murmured complacently.

– Jack London, The Iron Heel

I am teaching three classes this semester.  One of those is General Chemistry.  That class is pretty easy and straightforward (not much has changed in chemistry, at least in the realm covered in an introductory course, in nearly a century).  The other two are different sections of the same course, Scientific Thinking.  This is a core curriculum course that every student is required to take to graduate from AUC.  The point of the course, as I understand it, is to give the students a clear understanding of just what this thing called science really is.  We start with an introduction to the scientific method, and then give a brief overview of the history of cosmology, highlighting the idea of paradigm shifts (i.e. geocentrism -> heliocentrism, etc.).  Thats where we are currently at.  From here we will discuss questions of life and ethics.  I like the class a lot, but am looking forward to next semester when I will be more prepared with my own material.  For better or worse, the instructors are allowed quite a lot of independence in designing their courses.  For example, I just learned that while I have been teaching Newtonian physics and General Relativity, another instructor has been teaching Erich Fromm!  Granted, his is the class I would probably prefer to be taking, but it is hard for me to accept that they are listed as the same course.  Either way, I enjoy teaching my sections.  I wish I could arrange for certain family members to be here when I touch on such topics as “what is a scientific theory?” and “much like the gravity, evolution is also a theory.”

Here are some random photos from my balcony and around the hood:

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Autor: brandon

~ 13/10/08

As far back as I can remember, I have always loved grocery shopping.  To this day I know many friends are loathe to go the store with me because I can never just pick up what I am there for; I can’t help browsing, which is funny because I am very picky and probably won’t eat 90% of whats being sold.  So I have been to just about every market and grocery store within walking distance of my flat here, exploring the shelves.  I was surprised to find how many familiar products and brands are available.  Kraft Macaroni&Cheese is readily available almost everywhere (though thanks to a traumatizing childhood worm incident, I stay clear of the stuff), as are apparently all of the other 53-ish varieties of Heinz I’ve always wondered about.  One thing I have not seen is the San Francisco Treat ding ding.  For whatever reason, Rice*a*Roni Spanish Rice has been a staple on my menu for at least the last decade.  I love the stuff, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.  It is one of the few varieties not to contain dehydrated animal fat.  I have never been to Spain, so I have no idea what resemblance it has to anything there.  If the Mexican Rice variety is any indication, then I assume no one in Spain has ever eaten anything remotely like my beloved R*a*R Spanish Rice.  Anyway, you can’t get it here.  So I present, in absentia, Supposed-San Francisco-Style Spanish Rice, Egyptian Style:

1 tomato; diced

1 bell-like pepper; diced

1 yellow onion; chopped

2 mystery chili peppers; sliced

1/2 head of garlic; demolished

1 cup Egyptian rice (short grain)

1/2 cup vermicelli

1/4 tsp black pepper; unfortunately pre-ground

1 tsp salt; you’d better believe it

1 tsp coriander; expertly ground in the palm

1/4 tsp cumin

1 tsp cayenne chili powder; imported

1 tsp New Mexico hot chili powder; imported

1/2 tsp Egyptian chili powder; why even bother?

3 Tbsp butter; local and unnaturally yellow French imported (white and fatty)

2 slices Egyptian flat bread; toasted, on the side

1/2 bunch cilantro; chopped for garnish


saute the lot until toasted.  add 1 3/4 cup water.  bring to boil.  cover.  simmer on low heat, 20-25 minutes.

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Autor: brandon

~ 12/10/08

First of all, congratulations to Meredith and Andrew, who got married yesterday.  I truly regret missing what sounded like a beautiful time.

On Saturday I went on a bus tour of Cairo.  We sort of circumnavigated the greater Cairo area, which was nice because we went out to sites and cities which I had heard of, but probably would not otherwise have visited on my own.  Overall it was a somewhat depressing, but highly informative tour.  Cairo is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and it is full of millions upon millions of desperately poor people.  I thought I understood something about class divisions, but truly I did not.  We went up on top of the desert plateau, near the cliffs which had recently collapsed onto the people living below.  The view was breathtaking.  If you look closely at the pictures, you can make out the pyramids in the background through the smog.  We went out past some of the last remaining fertile agricultural areas that once made up the bulk of the land along the Nile River.  These are disappearing as the people search for new (safe) space to build their quasi-legal domiciles.  We learned about the un/official policy here that whether legally or illegally built, once a residence is established it is observed.  Such was the case of the shanties built dangerously close to the base of an unstable cliff face, and such is the case of the crude apartments shooting up where crops used to grow.  And what should the government do?  Throw the people back back out in the street?  Pen them to the interior of the city while everyone else flees to the expanding outer edges?

I will spare you the rant on state investment and putting people to work, and on where the real wealth of nations comes from, that briefly appeared here.  Instead, enjoy the following pictures I snapped!

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Autor: brandon

~ 09/10/08

Learning French for Kids
Learning French for Kids

I saw this while walking by a bookstore the other day in Cairo.  I don’t recall the kids in South Park speaking French, but I imagine Kenny can jump from his native English to fluent French and Arabic without any problems.  Around the corner was a book in Arabic with the faces of Hitler, bin Laden, and Bill Gates on the cover.  I’m not entirely sure what that was about.

Can’t wait to have my own personal translator here to fill me on all that I am clearly missing in the written Arabic word.

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Autor: brandon

~ 08/10/08

Portrait of a Thirsty Cat, Outside

Portrait of a Thirsty Cat, Outside

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Autor: brandon

~ 06/10/08

So I’ve got my connection back and I know people are eager for some more Egypt-related news.  At the moment I’m trying to get ahead caught up with school work.  I promise a tour of my neighborhood soon, but in the meantime here are some pics I snapped of a cool car I spotted on my way to the internet cafe a while back.

Aside from thousands upon thousands of Fiats and Vespas, there aren’t too many automobiles of interest here.  Aside from one T-bird, this is the only classic car I’ve seen, though I don’t recognize it.

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