Tuesday, March 17, 2009


A man holds a sack, its edges rolled. Next to him, boys scoop kernels of corn into piles and sweep those piles into their hands. They drop them into the sack. Corn and dust and sand and cigarette butts. Tires, slowed by other tires, pass those small brown hands. Somehow, this corn spilled. It probably fell from a truck. In a city of many spilled things, this corn is gathered.

The boys are on the outer curve of this bridge, and our bus hugs the inner curve. A segment of railing is missing from the inner curve of the ramp. Below us, traffic merges. A row of shops and battered buildings presses against a median, on which a toddler stands. In front of a garage, a man sleeps on a chair with unsteady legs. Adolescents in grease-splattered T-shirts heave tires and plunge themselves elbow-deep into the guts of cars and trucks. When the pollution eases, the Giza pyramids are visible from here.

When I was small, my father would warn me against entering the corncrib – there was the possibility of snakes and mice, but, more importantly, a slippery pile of corn could suffocate, cover, kill anyone, especially a small child. Corn was as potent as sand. From afar, it seemed uniform. Close up, you could see its pink-tinted, disfigured kernels.


One of the university students climbs to the highest walkway on campus. He puts his hands behind his ears and closes his eyes and delivers the call to prayer.

There is a photograph of him in the student newspaper. He does this every day because the new campus is perhaps the only place in Cairo where you cannot hear the muezzin’s calls. Many students express admiration for what he is doing; a few find it disturbing. He mentions in the newspaper article that he disapproves of certain aspects of the university, such as the way males and females feel they are allowed to interact or the fact that courses such as philosophy are required.

In a makeshift mosque on the new campus, someone keeps hanging signs that say such things as “Lower your gaze before women” and “Why aren’t you veiled?”.

I remember that student, the one who stands in the photograph with his palms cupped behind his ears and his eyes squeezed shut. I was his teacher during my first semester in Egypt. Each time I returned an essay, he caught the pages with two fingers placed as far from my fingers as they could get.

He recoiled from me. I cannot allow for a softer verb than that.



travel junkie said...

i am sorry for your loss and can't imagine how difficult it most be to be away at your family at a time like this.

Happy Birthday!

i've just came across your blog and look forward to going back through your posts. i'm a canadian living in toronto and had the opportunity/pleasure to visit egypt in 2007 after years of dreaming about it. i'm very interested in finding out how i could potentially live/work in egypt for a year. perhaps maybe teaching. reading about your life/experiences there will be a way of seeing things from a locals perspective.

do you mind if i ask how you found your job in egypt?

American_in_Cairo said...

Hi, Travel Junkie. We found the job listing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, I think.