Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Giving Mubarak the Middle Finger

I thought about the title for this posting while walking to the supermarket the other morning. It is certainly a different Egypt than the one we had left. I suppose you could say “what a difference a revolution makes” or something along those lines. Has the fall of Mubarak made a difference? I suppose if you count the spirit and the productivity of the people. I don’t profess to be an Egyptian history expert or even a novice…maybe I would fit in better with the beginner group. Based on simple observation I will definitely state without a doubt that the country has come out of hibernation.

We have been waking up to the sounds of pounding along with various street noises and not the typical produce vendors or street traffic, but the sounds of productivity. The people are getting busy as in taking ownership of their country. I know it is something we take for granted in the west as most of us pay taxes to keep our streets tidy and have officials maintain some sort of order in our towns and cities. The only thing missing from this equation is that there is no real sense of order, there is a limited government, no checks and balances; just people taking pride in something that they can truly call theirs after quite a long time. And this goes further back than Mubarak as one co-worker stated “more than 60 years, since Nasser!”

We have seen buildings disappear overnight as new construction is rampant. Three story apartments now have five floors. Piles of trash along the streets are gone. Young people are painting curbs and covering up graffiti on the walls. Ordinary citizens are taking place of absent traffic police and doing their best to move cars along. Yes, things are different.

I can say much of the new construction and building is the result of opportunity. Currently there is no process to purchase building permits or I should say no one to pay a bribe to. So in this ideal state of anarchy people are bypassing rules and regulations and making things happen on their own. Is society falling apart in the absence of government and authority? No, not really. Is there chaos in the streets? None that I’m aware of. Have people been more respectful and civil? Maybe, it seems that way. I can’t help but to recall the Tao Te Ching where Lao Tzu proposes that with an unobtrusive government people are civil and decent.

Chapter 57 form the Tao Te Ching (Alan Watts, Gia-fu Feng, and Jane English)

Rule a nation with justice.
Wage war with surprise moves.
Become master of the universe without striving.
How do I know that this is so?
Because of this!

The more laws and restrictions there are,
The poorer people become.
The sharper men's weapons,
The more trouble in the land.
The more ingenious and clever men are,
The more strange things happen.
The more rules and regulations,
The more thieves and robbers.

Therefore the sage says:
     I take no action and people are reformed.
     I enjoy peace and people become honest.
     I do nothing and people become rich.
     I have no desires and people return to the good and simple life.  

I’m not suggesting that everything is wine and roses. Right now life is uncertain and it can change at a moments notice but for now things seems to be heading in a positive direction. As each day passes people are settling back into their routines with hopes and dreams of a brighter future.     

What can I say? I never pass up a good photo op. Having a picture taken with military hardware is all the rage these days. My students tell me that newlyweds are showing up to tanks in their wedding dress and suits.

When we left there was an old villa here...Now you see it now you don't.

Protest leftovers...It looks like some sort of vehicle was pushed through the bench and set on fire. The window leaning against the wall has gov't decals and bullet hole(?) marks

Detail of the window.

On Friday morning I took a walk along the Corniche from our school to downtown (6-7 km) to get a feel for how things are changing. People were supposed to gather again after midday prayers to celebrate the one week anniversary of Mubarak stepping down. I saw several people making their way to the celebration and many stopping off at one of the flag vendors along the way to pick up some merch.


We all do.

Wrapping oneself in a flag is in vogue.

Add caption

Even the cement blocks that keep the city from flooding were showing discontent.

Many hours before the celebration. Back home we call it a tailgate party.

At Disney you take a picture with Mickey, in Egypt you with a tank.

In giving back to our community, about 100 students, teachers, workers, board members, alumni, showed up to school on Saturday to help clean up the neighborhood around the school.

Like i mentioned early on, buildings are coming down...the man above is doing it one sledge hammer swing at a time.

The truck that takes it away.
One of the clean-up teams.

More trash pick up.

This looks like the cart that secretly delivers cases of "teacher beverages" in potato chip boxes during Ramadan.

The cleaning crew.

It is Spirit Week! Yesterday was National Pride Day.

Hania taking face painting to the next level.

When I snapped this shot, the owner of this building approached me and asked why I took a photo of his building. I responded by telling him I wanted to document the process of it being torn down then rebuilt. He will be adding 2-3 more floors for his family (parents, siblings). It is common practice for entire families (and I mean entire families) to live in one building.

Gone! Lets Get Gone, Real Gone For A change

Newly painted curbs and no trash.

A mural in progress.

Peace Out!

Sunday, February 13, 2011


The following was written the evening following Mubarak's final president's address to the Egyptian people. The people's reaction was desperate as a sense of defeat filled the air. I couldn't believe Mubarak's speech, I'm guessing most people couldn't. Hours later things dramatically changed as did our situation about returning back to Alex. Currently, we are at Chicago's O'Hare with our co-workers waiting to board the plane back home via Amman, Jordan. Hello chaos, we've missed you.    


Bad new keeps coming down the pike. President Mubarak refuses to step down as Ana and I sat in close proximity of our laptop streaming Al Jazeera. A good 90 minutes went by only to hear more of his nonsense. The reminder of our day was roses in comparison to what the people in Egypt will face in months or years to come. I can only offer moral support and sympathy as Egypt isn’t our country when all is said and done. Sigh. I don’t need to tell you that there is no easy or quick solution.

Our night ended with a drive down to the historic Mayan Theater on Broadway to catch the last showing of The Illusionist. The Mayan holds a special place in my heart and is packed full of memories. The trip down Speer Blvd captures the essence of Denver…it is my history, my childhood, my teenage years. I think of visiting my grandpa and relatives who lived near 8th and Santa Fe, the Aztlan Theater and Dust Bowl for punk shows during the 80’s, and the Mayan-my exposure to foreign films that ushered me into an entirely different world and way of thinking.

The Illusionist written by the French filmmaker and actor Jacques Tati was perhaps indirectly related to his film Mon Oncle as it is referenced during the movie. The script for The Illusionist never saw the light of day until recently. The controversy surrounding it was said that it was written to reconcile Tati's relationship to his estranged daughter. For those of you unfamiliar with Mon Oncle; the late 50's film has minimal dialogue with subtle humor and heavy on the visuals of a simple man’s struggle with modernization. In short, it is a cleaver and profound glimpse into the future.

On the way back from the theatre we drove past one of the first schools I interviewed at 15 plus years ago. The position was for an Art/Home Economics teacher and being that I lacked certification and experience in the latter subject, the job went to a more qualified candidate. Talk about a non-existent curriculum these days…you might as well throw woodshop into the mix with Art on deck. If you are over the age of forty, you have some sort of a frame of reference for what I’m talking about. Art in several school districts across America has already been downgraded to a non-essential in an attempt phase out creativity and problem solving skills for future generations.

Ana and I recently gave a talk at my former middle school and her high school in San Diego to a couple of classes about the current situation in Egypt. We were attempting to shine some light on the matter telling students not to believe everything you see in the media and that Egyptians are good people as are most Muslims. The bottom line is from all of our travels; most people around the world are inherently good and just want to live their lives free. No epiphany here.

I learned that the person who took over my position is no longer with the district due to budget cuts. In fact the teacher is now a substitute. It would be easy to blame the principal for this shortsighted decision, but really it wasn’t his fault as he was most likely strong-armed into cutting art in place of preparing students for non-critical thinking skills akin to working in cubicles. Good scores on standardized tests are good for schools and for real estate. Like Egypt, quality isn’t important; it’s the illusion of how something looks.

The illusionist is a story of an older magician and a young girl who becomes enamored with him. She follows him around to his various gigs in Western Europe until she falls in love with a younger man. At the end of the film he sets his rabbit in the hat free and leaves a note for the girl stating that "magicians don't exist."

Mubarak, if you love your people as you say you do, please step aside. America, if you want your country to be creative and competitive with the rest of the world, invest in education and stop cutting essential programs.                

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The weeks events in Egypt

This is going to be a hard piece to write as the situation in Alexandria and other parts of Egypt mainly Cairo are still fluid and tense and any hope of resolution remains in the distant future. Ana and I are deeply saddened by the situation because we love where we work, our peers and students, the community, and Alex. Below I will attempt a summary of the events, reflections, and our experience up to our evacuation.

As you are aware the catalyst for the pro-democracy movement was directly influenced by the recent events in Tunisia including the act of self-immolation (people who set themselves on fire as an act of protest). At least a dozen copycats throughout Egypt sacrificing themselves setting the momentum for the ensuing weeks. However social networking websites Facebook and Twitter were the major players during the first wave of protest commencing on January 25, Egypt’s National Police Holiday also dubbed “Day of Wrath”. The overall goal of this non-leader movement is for President Mubarak to step down after 30 years of being in power. 

The police are widely known for corruption and brutality. We have heard numerous accounts of people going to jail for pity acts such as not being able to pay a simple fine/bribe, unlawful building, and political opposition. Even the police outside our school took bribes so people could park their cars along our school’s wall. We have been in a couple of situations where our driver was shaken down. You feel bad when you witness these kinds of acts because you can’t do or say anything without the fear of repercussion. In short, the people have a solid case for hating the police.

Wednesday, January 26-Protests continued defying President Mubarak’s anti-government protest ban as the police continued clashing with demonstrators. In our neighborhood things were clam as most of the action was far away from the school. The situation remained tense as I headed out to Doha, Qatar for a professional development conference and was under the false illusion that the situation was going to calm down. But with the manner in which the police reacted towards the protesters and the sacrifices people had made in standing up to the power structure there wasn’t going to be any backing down. A collective conscious was made to move forward. 

Thursday, January 27-Spent a good part of the day glued to the TV anxiously following the events. Campaign reformer and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mohamed ElBaradei was due to return back to Cairo to support the protest. The media regarded this as a huge deal in adding a spark for Friday. I called Ana and everything seemed calm. Several of my students were posting messages on FB stating that Twitter was gone and that FB would be next. Messages were desperately being passed around calling for support of Friday’s demonstration. Strangely school was open in the calm before the storm. 

Friday, January 28-Intenet and mobile phone service in Egypt is cut off. I meet up with three of my colleagues on the way to our conference. We were worried about the day to come. The three are locals and had a firsthand understanding of the events about to unfold. The sentiment was that the shit was going to hit the fan after Friday’s afternoon prayer. At this time I would like to mention that in response to the Coptic Church bombing on December 31 the Muslim community was saddened and showed their support by acting as human shields to protect the Copts during Christmas. In return members from the Coptic community volunteered to surround and protect the Muslims during Friday’s prayer. The protests turned violent in Cairo, Suez, and Alexandria as opportunists and criminals seized the moment to destroy their cities and country. Citizens on the bottom rung socially and economically literally have no future in Egypt’s classist society  and thus have nothing to lose. Looting and violence is widespread. The police jump ship. Army troops and tanks arrive to cheering crowds. While the police are hated, the military is loved. Curfew 7am-7pm

Saturday, January 29-Internet and cell phones still down, I do reach the school via landline. Ana and the rest of the country feel uneasy and scared. Several of us that are due to fly home are uncertain if we are able to get back in. Sat night is hell on the residents back on campus as there are no police or military. It is simply anarchy. No one knows what is happening. The mosque across the street makes an announcement on the loudspeaker, some of the teachers can make out the word Schutz  (the name of our school and community) and minutes later 100’s of men with knives, homemade weapons (think knife taped to stick, sticks with nails), clubs, and guns gather around and in front of the school. The workers on campus and the residents gather empty beer and wine bottles and siphon gasoline out of cars to make Molotov cocktails. PE equipment such as baseball bats, weightlifting bars, and golf clubs are distributed. Constant gunshots were fired, as voices grew louder. The concern was that the people outside were waging an attack. The reality was that the mosque asked people to come out and defend the neighborhood and school. That was exactly what they did. There was no threat to the school. It was a sleepless night for all. The military tells people to defend their homes and property in short “kill the criminals, there is no jail for them” Curfew is 8am-4pm.

Sunday, January 30-The four of us teachers board our flight back to Alex. In total there are less than 20 people on the plane. The flight attendant looks at us with pity because they know what we’re headed into insanity. One tells me that they are just dropping us off then flying right back. The city looked eerie and quiet as we flew over it. There was hardly a car on the street, a group of boys playing soccer in the mud did jump and wave at the plane prior to landing. Once on the ground, our principal-turned head of school and a driver met us. Outside the door was chaos of people trying to find a flight out. Tanks were parked in front of the airport. A group of people brought a looter to the army…since all the police stations and jails have been burned down most criminals were shot or beaten on the spot. We load the van and drove through the war zone. The people now run the streets with makeshift checkpoints trying to protect their neighborhoods. We see some army personnel scattered along the way and several acts of street justice. We arrived back to school after curfew. Ana and our friends say that the evening is much calmer even though we hear an occasional shot and constant murmur outside the walls. Several of us male teachers went outside the school to mingle and show support for the locals and spent hours chatting with them. They are good people! I think they appreciate our presence considering we are sort of a mystery to the working class neighborhood. We are definitely thankful and owe them. Our hope is we can buy a cow or a couple of sheep for a neighborhood cookout when we return. 

Monday, January 31-It is certain that several of us will be evacuating. Nacho, the head of school and a handful of others will stay back. Most people spent the day packing unsure if we will be gone short or long term. The plan is to keep on working through this via on-line. Several people were optimistic that everything was going to be back to normal within a week. Being aware of social unrest to this degree I suspect that we won’t be back for a while. The evening ends with more conversations with the locals. Ironically, the school has been trying to build a relationship with the local community and I think our interaction the past couple of nights has helped tremendously.  

Tuesday and Wednesday, February 1-2- The head of our school board works for the consulting firm Booz-Allen and chartered a flight for us  and their employees. Two vans are filled with luggage and teachers leave campus as we go through a series of local checkpoints. We drove past burnt police stations and trucks, army tanks, and neighborhood watch groups. We meet up at City Center Mall with the other expats awaiting evacuation and were escorted to the airport by the Egyptian Navy. As we drove out of the looted mall’s parking lot we pass several beaten prisoners at the military checkpoint.

Dropping off the luggage and boarding the plane was very unconventional but it worked. The Czech Republic airline flew us into Prague where we had to get off the plane collect our luggage, go though customs then re-check in our bags, get boarding passes, go through security only to board the same airplane?! After our passports received enter and exit stamps we had a few minutes for a braut and beer. Next stop was Iceland for a quick refueling. We landed in Washington DC at 4am and were at the hotel by 5am. Our 2 flights back to San Diego were cancelled as they both had stops in Chicago. We rebooked tickets out of Baltimore and $120 cab ride later we were on a flight home. 

I will be posting more pix as we share with friends, please excuse the quality of the photos as most of the street ones were taken in a moving car. 

ps. We do hope to return soon, all the workers and the neighborhood really took care of us, it just made us feel more committed. We pray that our friends back there are safe and for things calm down and return to functioning soon. We love and miss you.  

A typical neighborhood watch group.

A citizen directing traffic

A local fave

Tex and Hab (A big thanks to Hab and his crew to really taking care of us)

Some of our workers

Tex and Pickell

A young man defending our school.


Looters keep out!

The sign in the background calls for Christian and Muslim unity. 

The tank just sort of went thru the parking lot of the mall.

A Mubarak poster with bullet holes. 

Boyz n the Hood