Ally's Google Reader


Contact me!

You can e mail me at ak4947a@american.edu.


Warning: This blog will now be used as a personal space, documenting the job hunt in Washington, DC in the fields of human rights advocacy and international conflict resolution. Instead of letting my frustrations out on roommates, long distance boyfriend, or the cats, I will simply blog about it, and hope that through a lighthearted look at the job hunt, I will find some semblance of peace.

Now that you've been warned, I have to vent.

There have been three particularly ludicrous events in my current job hunt, which began in full force in August 2010 and will continue indefinitely.

1. "Would you consider going to Kyrgyzstan?"
Not many people are privileged to be asked this question. My response, of course, yes! Why not? That sounds delightful. Then...silence...6 e mails and 4 phone calls later and I am no closer to going to Kyrgyzstan then I ever imagined myself to be a month and 6 days ago.

Perhaps it was my eagerness, my willingness to go to a country I know nothing of on the off chance of being provided air fare and housing. Perhaps it was the disorganization of one international NGO which actually had no positions in Kyrgyzstan. Either way, the month that has passed since I received an e mail asking that very odd and, at the time, hopeful question, implies that there is no position in Kyrgyzstan, paid or unpaid.

In retrospect, I should never have been interested in going to Kyrgyzstan.

2. "You are overqualified."
That's right. My $80,000US of debt and over education, as well as dedication to continued employment throughout said education is actually hurting my ability to find a full time position. This one particularly stings as the organization and position were ideal, with at least a glimmer of promotion in the future. C'est la vie.

In retrospect, I should never have been so interested and knowledgeable about the organization's mission.

3. "I'm sorry, this is embarrassing, I assumed she looked at your resume to see if you spoke Spanish"
No, you have the wrong First Name. I understand. It's confusing when you get so many applications, and the phone number is listed right there, and you want to call all of the people who have the same name in the hopes that you will reach the correct one. (This is the most recent absurdity and the motivation for this blog post.) It's not just that I went to an interview, leaving work, but also that I'm traveling on a bum leg, with one foot in a boot to keep the ligaments in my ankle from tearing any more than they already are. A pathetic figure, hobbling across campus, catching busses at the wrong stops and being scolded by patient bus drivers.

Two in retrospects: I should not have applied for a position that would have required a language proficiency that I don't have. And I should not be applying at disorganized organizations.

What is perhaps most frustrating about the job hunt, is the constant reminders of what I could be doing. I could have returned to Egypt months ago, and now be in the midst of one of the most exciting and potentially ground breaking times of middle east history (and that's saying something). I could be in Liberia, working with old friends on local projects, facilitating human rights advocacy workshops, like the old days. I could be advocating for gay Ugandans, Sudanese refugees, Ivorian displaced peoples. Instead, I sit at my semi-comfortable positions (3, I have 3 jobs), and wonder what the future holds, trying, vainly it seems, to apply wherever there is a glimmer. I'd quit, but...well...how does one quit trying to have a productive future?

"True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice."


Uncertainty and Desire

Around the beginning of September this year, I had what I affectionately called an epiphany. Technically, it wasn't much of an epiphany. It related to my use (abuse) of alcohol, lack of sleep and lack of fulfillment in various aspects of life, from work to romance. The epiphany was basically, "I quit." I quit dwelling on the negativity that was coming my way (either perceptually or verbally), quit filling my head with thoughts of disappointment and escapism, quit feeling completely dissatisfied without cause. I just quit. And it felt awesome. Quitting things that suck, such as those that were plaguing me, is amazing. I look forward to learning about more unpleasant things and quitting them.

While I have been traveling through the uncertainty of part time employment, graduation, and searching for a path into a future "career" of sorts, I have been grappling with understanding myself in relation to others and what I really want out of life.

I have a new spirit guide.* He is one of the many inspirations that have stumbled into my life over the years. He is Sufi, a faith I know little about but with every passing conversation we have, I become more interested in.

But yesterday morning, over a cup of coffee with the sweet smell of bark incense infiltrating American University's shiny new building, we talked about uncertainty. He rejects it, straight out. Life cannot be uncertain and whenever you feel uncertainty, he tells me, you must approach it knowing what you want and how you want the uncertainty to wash away. This is not to say that approaching uncertainty with certainty will always end in good results, but it is a step in the right direction.

And knowing what you want seems to be key to this process. I often feel that to ask for something from life is to risk losing what comes your way. More accurately, to with great expectations come great disappointments. My spirit guide is teaching me otherwise.

And it takes someone like him to get through to me. I have been privileged (a more faithful person would say blessed) to work closely with two of the most thoughtful and considerate people I have ever met. And while I am not wholly satisfied in my work, I am satisfied in knowing that the relationships between the people I work with are healthy and constructive. That's one thing to put on the list of wants. Other than that, I'm working it out still.

*In light of my distaste for naming the people in my life on a public blog, we will simply call him my spirit guide.
*Not my picture, but click on it and it will go to the Encyclopedia of the Middle East.


Perchance to Dream

The existential malaise of transitional life is setting in once again. But this time, without the excitement of foreign lands and far off places, new friends yet to be met, new quandaries yet to be pondered.

This is not my usual tone.

I've been reading blogs at work.

But, lacking a goal on the horizon, I look for work, any work, that keeps me occupied, from doctoral studies applications to GIS studies of conflict, sudoku on the train to poetic rambles of people who hardly know me (or once did).

An academic? definitely, but do academics find any place in reality or are we doomed to mentally wander without leaving the comfort and confines of the arm chair?

I went to North Carolina last weekend, for a festival of sorts. The food was terrific, the music was smooth and polished with the grit of folk, and the hippies were plentiful. I still have the glow stick I was handed upon arrival stuffed in my purse. The glow has faded but it serves as a reminder of who I am, where I come from and what I love about life. The festival was a community, strangers to me but merely friends I hadn't met (to be as cliched as possible). It was sleepless nights and lazy days and over too quickly but it reminded me of the joy of living in the middle of nowhere and the hope that while I spend my time thinking of what I can do that will both be beneficial to me and others, I also can't lose touch with my roots.

The middle of nowhere is a good place to start and to hold on to.


Web work (and back in the USA)

It has been too long, you're right.

I have had little interest in blogging since I returned to the US in December. While some interesting new details have come up in my life and experiences, they just weren't blog worthy. Of course, by that standard, most of my time in Egypt wasn't blog worthy either, but I digress.

I have realized that the technical skills I've picked up along the way should help me with something, and have decided to spend much of my time at the office learning Dreamweaver.* I have a website that is somehow linked to this blog (at least now). Right now, its awful. As is the site I created for DEN-L last summer. I'm a bit ashamed of that, it was a fairly simple task that I have yet to complete for an organization that I hold in the utmost respect.

This shout into the void is searching for ideas, web design tips, "marketing yourself" BS, and the rest.

I know a little to reflective for this blog, given the observational nature of so many of the posts. Luckily, I'm not a formalist by any means and thus it means very little to me that my blog doesn't have a defined theme.

*a legitimate pursuit since faculty, who I am born to serve, may need my assistance with Dreamweaver, were I ever good enough to assist them.


Bush. No good.

Today on the way to Alfa Market (the biggest grocery store in Cairo, that I’m aware of), my taxi driver decided to make small talk. Taxis in Egypt are great and also a constant source of stress.

1. Taxi drivers speak about as much English as I speak Arabic, as a general rule. Meaning that I can tell them to go straight, turn right or left, and where my destination is. I can tell them I’m American (today’s driver asked if I was Armenian). And we can discuss politics.

2. Taxi’s are, in fact, cars. Unlike Liberia, I cannot hail a motorbike and hop on the back for a speedy, death-defying journey. Instead, I wince and cringe as we maneuver, in a car that by all logic should no longer be moving, around people, cars, bicycles, motorcycles, and the occasional traffic circle.

3. There are no lanes in Egypt, they are simply guidelines.

4. Taxi drivers all smoke. Most men in Egypt smoke, probably upwards of 75%. So, as a friendly gesture, I usually offer my driver a cigarette, unless he beats me to it. It is very rare though for a driver to offer me a cigarette when I’m travelling alone. Most women, after all, don’t smoke. Or at least not in public.

5. As a how to guide: when paying for a taxi, one must immediately get out of the car upon stopping at the destination. Then lean in the front window and pass however much you deem appropriate to the driver. Generally, I go by the 5 pound minimum but sometimes the drive is very short and then less. However, if for some reason you think it’s wise to pay while still in the car, and are not fluent in Arabic, prepare of an argument upon your arrival. Even when I pay and walk away, I can hear the driver yelling animatedly in Arabic behind me. I would say I’m being cheap but if I let everyone charge whatever they liked, I’d be paying 50 pounds just to get some groceries. This is why it’s extremely important to know how much the drive should cost before arriving.

6. Oh and just like most of the world, taxis pick up multiple fares at once, as they like.

But today’s driver decided that I was a particularly interesting fare and called a friend to introduce me. He was talking on the phone, asking me questions and repeating them into the phone (in Arabic, of course). This is when we started talking politics. He explained to me that the Bush’s and Clinton were no good. He liked Reagan, oddly enough. I was going to ask about Mubarak but decided that while we can have a reciprocal discussion of American politics in broken English, that it may be difficult to get a solid “good” or “no good” answer about Egyptian leadership. (I regret not asking).

My return trip was eventful in a different way. I was walking, trying to hail a cab, which is just not done here (you stand and wait, I’m too impatient and like to walk, so a few cabs missed me as they passed). One finally stops, right before the bridge to get me back downtown (which is a decidedly nasty walk because of the sun, the exhaust, and the leers). He first stops for one woman. No, not going where she’s going. Then two children, about 8 and 9 respectfully, obviously brother and sister. He cruises past to me. Then, immediately hits the gas and is off. There a little ways down the road, three men in pure white galibeyas (the traditional dress of men in Egypt, particularly religious men, but just about everyone where’s them, it goes to the floor, has the little slit at the neckline in the front, looks like a big robe) and what appear to be Saudi head wraps (the red and white pattern, long, loose, tied around the head) are his fares. Wealth and piety definitely win.
The kids and I managed to get a cab that had one woman already in it. The boy, graciously and chivalrously sat in the front. I believe this custom must have to do with protecting women by not letting them sit in front, where they could fly out a windshield (airbags and seatbelts are rare in taxis). It’s also a little like separate-but-equal, particularly among strangers.


Most awkard cultural experience so far...

Walking into a brothel.

Sparks asked me what my most awkward experience in Egypt was thus far and I had to think of something to share with the world.

What happened was:
In the usual ex-pat style, we all met up for sheesha near my place, had coffee, tea, etc, and then decided that what we really wanted was felfela, which serves ful and falafal for really good prices. There were four Americans and one Brit. We got our food, ate standing at little tables in felfela, and start walking back towards our place when we hear raucous music coming from a bar with a red door. The sign above the door said Carol restuarant. As we walked by a man slipped in the door and we saw what must have been a good time.

Collectively, we paused. Let's see.

Rafiki and I took the first steps. We were greeted upon entrance by a man at the bar, leering with a big smile on his face, a man singing some sort of karaoke, a woman dancing, and another man clapping. That was it, but it seemed extraordinarily crowded. The room was smokey and the lighting was all red. It was a shot gun of tables with dancing space at the back and the bar at the front. Ramadan had never entered this place. The woman dancing immediately grabbed Rafiki to encourage him to dance. He declined and upon exchanging glances we all backed out of the bar with little grace. I immediately assumed brothel because:

a. I like to think the worst of situations
b. The lights were red
c. there was dancing and drinking going on during Ramadan, performed by Egyptians (not ex pats).
d. Women never grab men here

I have since asked my broker friends who have told me that yes, that place is for prostitution. And may have had some prior experience there as they also implied that they would really take your money if you go there.

So not entirely relevant to Egyptian culture, but most definitely awkward experience thus far.


Alex Photos

The ocean, the sunrise, the citadel, the beach and Alex at night...


Rose colored glasses

I am an eternal optimist. I've been labeled an idealist, a nut, and just plain wrong but I can't help being optimistic about my general surroundings.

So now I'm in Egypt. And Egypt is not an easy place to be optimistic. For one thing, nothing is done quickly. Everything that is done quickly is done in rapid fire Arabic. But as a friend of mine has begun to say (mocking me for my TIA comment), TIE, This Is Egypt. And then there's the crude things said on the street. But whatever.

Cairo is just, different from anywhere else I've ever been...but at the same time, sort of like Cleveland in its monotony.

Alexandria, however, is beautiful. Me and a posse of 6 other Americans, one Greek and one French went on a journey last weekend. I have learned not to travel in groups of 9, I get frustrated, and feel a little embarrassed to be that transparently out of place. Not that I would fit in if it was just me. Maybe if I covered my head, but right now, I'm a sore thumb. I have short hair and show off my arms (short sleeves at the most) and my ankles (roll up the pants, it's hot out) let alone my neck which is totally visible given the lack of hair covering it. Either way, though, even if I wouldn't blend in on my own, a group of 9 foreigners...no one wants to run into that...

"Cause, everybody hates a tourist" - William Shatner, Common People (the Pixies wrote the song, but Shatners version is hysterical)

The water in the mediterranean is crystal clear. We saw a 3 year old driving a four wheeler. A man was carrying a gun with a dead bird in his hand. I didn't get burned, no one did, the sun wasn't in the burning kind of mood.

Went to the Library of Alexandria (or Alex as the locals call it). That was cool. Even if it's not the same, the principle is still there.

Thinking of hitchhiking through Europe if I get this grant done (no class till October 3). Any suggestions?


Forgetting to Write

This is an open letter of apology to all the people that I've told I would contact and then didn't because I forgot.


I know this doesn't make up for the fact that I still haven't contacted you. But the first step is admitting you have a problem, right?


Now that I have semi reliable internet access I don't know what to blog about

There is something seductive about the desert. To me, it feels the same as the ocean, when you look out and all you see is that one thing. But with sand instead of water. And frozen waves. Cheezy, I know. We went last night, me and a gaggle of Americans, all of whom have become my close friends since my arrival, and M* one of the brokers. I wish I could spend more time with my brokers than with the Americans. I need to go back to the office for internet. It's not that I don't like the Americans. Obviously I think they're great, but I feel like I'm missing out on a place where I can't hang out with the locals. (See the second picture for an example) At least on a semi regular basis. But I don't know. Maybe I'm just feeling anxious because I spent all of my time in Liberia with Liberians and now I can't find any Egyptians to talk to. My curiosity is stifled.

I've also been wandering around the city a lot. Learning some new words every day but it's hard when I have so much ground to cover. I know most of the numbers in Arabic but very few nouns and a few greetings, usual words, etc. I'm best at ordering sheesha but even buying things at the market or store is a challenge. Mostly because I don't want to use English so I just point when I don't know the words. And reading is a whole other monster. I have to make flash cards and sticky notes to help me remember. I'm doing much better at Arabic than Kpelleh though.

*Who I still might interview.