I apologize for not writing lately! We haven’t done much “culturally” since Dahab, and school has started for real now that Ramadan is over. My “short” day keeps me away from Zamalek, where I live, for just under twelve hours (the bus to school departs at 7 am and I get dropped off at 6:30 pm, but there’s a walk on either end). And just to remind you, school is over an hour away, so there is little sense in going home during my 5 hour break. So I go to the gym, eat lunch, and try not to fall asleep anywhere too embarrassing (I fell asleep outside the humanities building today. Awkward.)
Would you like to hear about my classes? They are, for the most part, incredible. I’ve also included a photos of campus throughout the post.
The book for my Ancient Egypt class was written by famed Egyptologist and History Channel favorite Salima Ikram, who also teaches at AUC. The coolest part is that the book is dedicated to my favorite author, Elizabeth Peters, who is apparently good friends with the professor! I freaked out. Elizabeth Peters’ influence is one of the foremost reasons I am in Egypt. Life coming full circle at its best!
I am also taking an Art and Architecture of Cairo class, for which there are eight field trips. The first, to the Nilometer and the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, is tomorrow. This is obviously great because, though I will attempt to hit as many “hot” spots as I can while I’m here, I would never have thought of either of the aforementioned sites. I still don’t really know what they look like.
I’m also taking Arabic. It freaks me out. I worry I’m going to drown in the scribbly. But my teacher is beautiful and reminds me of Sofia Loren.
My class on “The Orient in Western Imagination” is last. The teacher is an Iraqi feminist with a British accent. An older woman, she doesn’t wear a hijab, but cute skirts and low heals.
I actually can’t decide whether I like the class or not, though. We’ve only met once, because it meets once a week and the first week didn’t work out because of Ramadan. In the beginning, when we were discussing Aeschylus’ The Persians, I was interested. I like Aeschylus, and I like the Persians. But my overdeveloped classics background forced me to make note of several factual inaccuracies that may or may not be pushing an agenda.
First, she stated that “Greece” was just as powerful as the Persian Empire when the two began fighting. Not even close to true. “Greece” as we know it was actually a hodge-podge collection of city-states, certainly more developed than many parts of the world but not nearly as powerful and unified as the Persian Empire, which had by that time taken over a sizeable chunk of the world. She compared “Greece’s” victory over Persia to the United States defeating the USSR during the Cold War, when it was really more like the colonies defeating the British Empire. I’m not sure, but I think it’s because the theme of the class is “powerful west conquers the east because they’re evil villains who just want to stomp on the little guy” (or something like that), and it doesn’t go along with the theme to have Greece, the symbolic west, be an underdog.
She proceeded to say in a dismissive manner — and I’m pretty sure she waved her hand in contemptuous fashion — “9/11, you all know 9/11? The idea was that Muslims attacked the World Trade Center…” The idea was? I don’t even know what that means. Is she trying to imply that it wasn’t radicalized Muslims, or that it never really happened? It certainly could’ve been a misunderstanding, but her description definitely rubbed me the wrong way.
The books that we’re reading, particularly Edward Said’s Orientalism, perpetually bemoan the west and how it has depicted the east throughout history all the way back to Aeschylus’ time. I don’t really understand why it matters how anybody depicts anybody. If western painters romanticize the pyramids, is that really the worst thing in the world?
Said goes so far as to say that it doesn’t matter how much “eastern” history westerners learn or whether or not we learn the language, we’ll never understand it. So what’s the point? Isn’t that in itself kind of intolerant?
Author’s note: I wrote the post above in 2010, when I studied abroad at The American University in Cairo for a semester.