TOOLED LEATHER: SO HOT RIGHT NOW

Now you know! I say this because I recently purchased such a purse in Tunis (maybe I’ll post pictures, someday!) and I think we all know how well-dressed I am.

Also I am only posting this because it’s the Biannual Annie Questions Her Life Trajectory Week. In layman’s terms, that would be finals season, folks.

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“SETTLEMENT” REACHED

AUC Students will know this already, but yesterday students received an email from the provost, subject line: “Resolution of the labor issues”. Text is as follows:

To the AUC community:

I am delighted to confirm what is obvious to anyone who has been on the New Cairo campus today, that the university has reached a settlement with our housekeeping staff.  Representatives of the administration, the Syndicate, the affected workers, faculty and students met last night and, after nearly seven hours of negotiation, reached a compromise on all of the outstanding issues.

We know that the events of the past few days were very difficult for our staff, as well as those who advocated so admirably on their behalf, and we appreciate the spirit of commitment and collegiality that was maintained throughout the process of negotiation.

As we move forward, we will be developing mechanisms to ensure that this spirit is not lost and that we continue to consult as widely as possible as we review staff and management salaries, working conditions, and indeed, the many other issues of that concern members of the AUC community.

In the meantime, let me simply say that I am proud to be associated with an institution that exhibits the forbearance, inventiveness, and dedication which have characterized AUC over the last few days.

Thank you,

Lisa Anderson

Here’s the problem, though. It’s not resolved, as confirmed by another email widely forwarded amongst faculty:

Dear Colleagues,

As you all know, AUC “housekeeping” workers started a job-action on Wednesday 28 October demanding better pay and work-conditions. AUC community,  especially students, have shown impressive solidarity and support of the workers’ action and their demands.  More than 3000 members of AUC community signed a petition supporting the demands in less than 48 hours.  AUC workers and students have also shown extra-ordinary commitment towards their university, trying to limit media involvement and scandalization, refraining from personal attacks on individual members of the administration, and standing firmly against any attempts of littering or vandalism.  Despite the fact that many of the workers received direct threats and bribes from their supervisors -to go back to work- the workers held their position until the scheduled meeting with administration on Sunday 31 October.

AUC administration came to the table with a refusal of ALL five demands!

They continued to adhere to their original plan of reviewing salaries in March 2011, with no commitment to a minimum wage. They refused to provide a meal compensation IN ADDITION to the minimum wage and considered a 200 EGP -to be paid starting November 2010- as BOTH a salary increase and a meal compensation!!  They refused to make Saturday an official holiday -as with other members of the staff- or to even provide an over-time pay for working that day.  They refused to commit to an annual 10% increase.  And finally they refused to be held responsible for workers Social Security insurance during their years of service at AUC -when they were COMPASS hires.

Moreover, AUC administration came to the table with a firm position on ending the strike and clarifying that their will be clear repercussions for workers if they don’t. After 6 hours of negotiations, the workers finally managed to convince the administration to give them ONE Saturday off per month, a commitment to announce the expected salary increase in February (with no commitment to a minimum wage).

Those workers are going back to working under conditions more fitting with corvee labor than waged employment.  In brief, they have to be ON the buses heading to work 6:30 A.M. and leave campus 4:00 P.M. six days a week  Their contracts are 6 months to one-year maximum, with different clauses giving AUC administration the right to dismiss them at any moment, not renew their contracts with no justification, and to change regulations without consulting with them  There are no clear mechanisms to protect the workers from abuses by their supervisors, which prevail (especially towards female workers) and no recourse for harm or abuse of power.

The current work-conditions breaches principles pertaining to workers’ rights and the very essence of what AUC preaches and strives to represent.  In how it responded to the workers demands, AUC administration went against the basic principles of social-responsibility and providing a fair, respectable, equitable work environment.

At this point, we owe it to ourselves as responsible citizens, educators, and above all an integral part of AUC-community to send a clear message to the administration that this is UNACCEPTABLE.  We call on all faculty members, and AUC community at large to show their support for workers demands, and to send a clear pedagogical message to students to be responsible citizens.  We call on you to meet under the Administration Building on Wednesday, 3 November at 1:00 for a one-hour stand demanding the administration to listen to AUC community and change the current conditions of workers.

This is a turning-point for the AUC to be the place we can be proud of.  The workers’ action have given us the chance to come together as one community supporting equity, justice, and fairness, and faculty members should be at the lead.

Please circulate this to ALL Faculty members you can access.
Rabab El-Mahdi, Political Science Department
Hani Al-Sayed, Law Department

There you have it. I mean, there’s nothing shocking about the fact that the regime- ahem, administration- tabled all the demands. Rabab El-Mahdi and Hani Al-Sayed have been incredibly proactive faculty members and I think it would be great to follow suit. Attend the meeting on November 3rd if you can.

AUC WORKERS’ STRIKE

This seems as good a venue as any to post the email that the AUC Community just received regarding the custodial worker’s strike at present. I just want to remind AUC students, faculty, and any journos that tomorrow (Monday) there will be a campus-wide strike by both faculty and students.

To the AUC community:

Over the past several months, the university has been reviewing and assessing our management and staff salaries to ensure equity among the staff and alignment with the market.  As a part of this process, Compass workers were offered the opportunity to become full-time AUC employees.  This move was designed to ensure that all employees would share the same benefits and privileges.

In addition to addressing the issue of Compass workers, the university will be adjusting salaries for all management and staff to assure that they are competitive and there is equity within the system.  Due to the financial implications of these changes, this is an ongoing process and the university is making the changes in stages.  The first adjustment was made in September, a second adjustment is scheduled for March, and there is also one scheduled for September 2011.

In moving Compass workers to full time employment, which took place in September, the university assured them that – if they chose to move to AUC – their salaries would not be negatively impacted by this move. Unfortunately, due to a clerical error, the cost of optional benefits was deducted from their paychecks, which reduced their pay significantly.  The university apologized for this error and moved quickly to make the necessary correction.

The effected employees were justifiably upset with the error and walked off their jobs in protest last Wednesday.  They were subsequently joined by other support staff who were not negatively impacted by this change.  Since last Wednesday, the university has continued talks with the elected representatives of AUC staff to address the dispute.  Those talks continue today.

Because most of these staff are members of the housekeeping unit, the regular cleaning of the university has not taken place.  I ask for all of your patience as we work to resolve this issue.  I remind you that deliberate acts of littering or, worse, vandalism are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Also, keep in mind that AUC operates 24-hours a day, seven days a week and many of our staff work regular hours during nights and weekends.  We are encouraging everyone to be respectful of the university property and to continue to maintain business as usual.  We expect everyone to be present for their job as required; anyone who does not come to work risks losing their job.

AUC will continue to address salary inequities systematically and will be as generous as possible, given our financial constraints.  We value our staff, as we do our students, faculty, and administrators, and we want AUC to be an institution with which they, like the rest of us, are proud to be associated.  In the meantime, we encourage all involved to return to work as we continue to discuss these issues with the affected staff and their elected representatives.

Thank you,

Lisa Anderson

 

“clerical errors”? “financial constraints”? My ass. I yearn for the day that AUC exercises actual discretion with its spending, because my tuition sure as hell doesn’t seem to be going to any workers.

Related:

Tabula Gaza’s Letter to President Arnold on the AUC Workers’ Strike

Sign the Petition: AUC Community for AUC Workers’ Demands

#AUCWorkers on Twitter

FAVORITE FIVE [ISTANBUL EDITION]

From time to time, I just want to inform my limited readership about some really awesome things! In this episode, you all can sit back and ask yourself what it is you are doing, wherever you are, and why you can’t be doing it in Turkey.

İSKENDER KEBAP

My mom informs me that I had my first iskender kebap when I was six and a half years old. I believe I also had chicken pox during that time. My dad informs me it was at a joint called Uludag in Ankara. In my brief time in Istanbul I’ve eaten this ish upwards of ten times. It’s composed of thinly sliced lamb (yes.), tomato sauce (yes!), served on top of stale bread (yes?), with a hefty side of delicious yoghurt (YES.). I realize this description does not do it justice. Eat it to believe it, I guess? It’s that particular blend of textures that really makes it melt in one’s mouth, and I should also note that in the real serious spots, they pour warm butter all over it (YES YES YES!) before you eat it. Thanks to a good friend of mine (Google) I figured out that a pretty decent spot is a mere ten-minutes walk from my present abode, so I went with my girl Anna, alias Yolanda Be Cool, and was anything but disappointed.

YOLANDA BE COOL VS DCUP – WE NO SPEAK AMERICANO

I heard this jam almost upon immediate arrival. When I was basking in resort-ville down on the Aegean, I was like, “Man, what is this dumb jam?” While we were walking around Kadıköy last night, Anna and I were like, “No, seriously, what IS this jam?” Anna had the cojones to ask a record store clerk, who was displeased that we did not buy the TOP DANCE HITS CD he was proffering. Thank heavens she did. Breakout Summer Dance Jam of 2K10. Also, I think it’s making fun of Americans, which is maybe why it hasn’t caught on in the U S of A yet. Apparently we aren’t really into foreigners right now. (Zing!)

EFES PILSEN

Efes is such a reasonably priced, reasonably delicious Pilsner. It’s an excellent summer beverage, too. It’s great whether you knock down a few from the corner store while you’re sitting on the Bosphorus, or whether you’re stuffing your face with eight varieties of mezze. I actually see no reason not to place it in my top five beers, though this is no mopey winter brew. You need to drink this thing on the beach, or on an al-fresco patio (of which there are millions to choose from in Istanbul. I’m a lucky gal!).

FERRY RIDES

Of course all the guidebooks and visitors insist that you ride the ferry, and I’m not going to nay-say that for a minute. Istanbul public transit is a marvel unto itself (Cairo ought to take note), in that, within this one large metropolitan space, there are at least five forms of public transit that operate quite cheaply and efficiently. My runner-up in the transit awards would go to the dolmuş, that speedy little microbus that manages to be so much more efficient than, say, its Egyptian counterparts, but this whole ferry thing so clearly takes the cake. At any time, no matter the crowd, you’ve got a sea-breeze, and çay to drink if you want it, and it’s always cheap and always beautiful. I know that at some point I’ll relocate to Istanbul permanently, and I’ve been wondering on my daily ferry-rides if I could ever possibly get sick of it. (I’m also residing on the Asian side, and I did that in no small part due to the anticipated ferry-rides.)

ISTANBUL LIGHT

I feel like this is a good continuation of that gushy ferry talk, mostly because at any time of day you look out over the Bosphorus and see the way the light hits these hills. Somehow Istanbul’s landscape is rife with this chiaroscuro, which is really crazy to see in an urban setting because I’ve only ever seen such a beautiful light contrast when I’ve been, like, driving through winding Arizona canyons at sunset, or in Vermont on a sunny October day. This thing literally happens from sunrise to sunset, and I thought it was an Istanbul thing until I went to some pretty ugly cities and still saw this effect. I don’t know. I can’t really adequately describe it, or the way it makes me feel. It’s just something to marvel at; the way that light and that sun and clouds and hills and buildings and minarets manages to have this effect. It manages to invoke this weird nostalgia, and it’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt.

SOME THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO KNOW

Yell-o, Blog-o-sphere.

This is just a housekeeping piece to tell you some things I am doing.

1) I am presently en route to ISTANBUL, TURKEY, where I will be conducting research for my Masters thesis, though it seems highly probable that instead of doing research I’ll get fat due to the delicious foodstuffs that I intend to consume. If you’re in the region hollar atcha grrl.

2) I am tumbling over here and it feels more in tune with my ADHD sensibilities. Feel free to RSS it, or whateva.

3) I finally saw Precious and would like everyone to do the same.

4) I am reading Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and enjoy it a great deal.

5) I was just in Amreeka (all-too-briefly!) and went out of my way to wear booty shorts At All Times.

Love & Kisses to y’all.

FAVORITE FIVE [VERNAL EQUINOX EDITION]

From time to time, I just want to inform my limited readership about some really awesome things! In this episode, you all can celebrate the unseasonable cold (warmer in Boston this past weekend! QUE??). It’s almost like you’re here with me (except you’re not, and there’s a you-shaped hole in my heart)!

KUNST GALLERY & CAFE [DOWNTOWN]

There are a million reasons to adore this space, especially when you live in the world’s most difficult place to focus. What differentiates KUNST from other downtown Western-style “cafes” is its quiet atmosphere (a coffee place that’s conducive to studying? Cairo’s NEVER seen that. SERIOUSLY.) and its (wait for it) DELICIOUS coffee. I can say with little hesitation that this is the best American-style coffee I’ve had in Cairo that hasn’t been brewed in my own household (that’s not testament to my big ego. It’s testament to how awful coffee is here). Also? Free wi-fi. It makes the heart ache a little less for beloved hometown fixtures (e.g. Allston Cafe).

THE MARRIOTT BAKERY [ZAMALEK]

My mom was just in Cairo with me and at ten minutes to closing time on Egyptian Mothers’ Day (‘Eid al-Umm, bil Araby.) she waltzed in, ever the would-be Egyptian Madame, and demanded that she and her de facto offspring (me, Kelsy, Max) each purchase a treat. Perfect little custards and cheesecakes; significantly cheaper than anything else in that entire palatial complex. (did you know the original palace was built as a gift for Princess Eugenie by the Khedive Ismail? Now you do!) Just don’t eat your treats in the Garden Cafe; the waiters are Nazis about eating outside food there. Also, they charge 35LE for a Stella which is nothing but egregious.

VINTAGE GLASSES SHOPS [BAB EL-LUQ]

When I first moved to Egypt I was faced with the knowledge that biweekly trips to Urban Renewals had gone the way of the leggings-as-pant (a memo, by the way, that AUC’S undergraduate student body hasn’t yet received), which is good for me, I guess, since I am a self-diagnosed shop-a-holic. For my first three months I dreamt nightly about fictive items of clothing (red lace-up fleece-lined galoshes; $3 neon sunglasses from 1968) and grimaced daily at poly-blend turtlenecks. It turns out that my yearning was for naught, since there’s places like Wikalit al-Balah in Bulaq where you can find silk high-waisted trousers and old-school Benetton mini-dresses for a mere pittance. Fortunately for everyone involved, Egyptians love their glasses (so style!) and accordingly, you’ll find a lens shop on almost every block. Fortunately for us vintage-lovers, a lot of these places, notably in Bab el-Luq (arguably my favorite ‘hood in all of Cairo, in so many ways) carry vintage frames. Today, ever the impulse-shopper, I bolted into a glasses shop and picked up some glorious vintage sunglasses for 50LE a pop (that’s about $10). Check out my sick new look:

WELCOME TO MAY 1968, BABEH.

SHRIMP SANDWICHES [GARDEN CITY; BAB EL-LUQ]

It won’t be much longer before it gets too hot to eat seafood without risking miserable hours clutching the toilet, so get thee to a fish source while you can. A personal favorite? The fried shrimp sandwiches at el-Nil fish restaurant on Sharia Bustan in Bab el-Luq (also, the best calamari I’ve had in Cairo, and, again, insanely cheap compared to other, more mediocre places that serve it) run you around 12LE, which, although it’s like four times more felooz kateer than koshari, is a whole lot more delicious. I also enjoy the shrimp sandwiches near my house on Qasr el-Aini (the Garden City side). If you eat in you get delicious salads (bonus!).

PROTESTS [DOWNTOWN]

Given my ‘hood’s immediate proximity to Cabinet, Parliament, and many a Ministry, and given increased leniency to protesters (I need not remind you that I reside in a police state, at present), there have been a rash of workers’ protests, most of whom have been negatively affected by privatization (I know. SHOCKING.). Most recently are the Petrojet workers. Go fistbump them over on Maglis el-Shaab. They’ve started in the wake of the Amonsito workers’ recent departure, who, in turn, started up their protest on Qasr el-Aini mere days after our beloved Tanta protesters left the street I live on. I shan’t elaborate at present on the difference between protest here and in America (I guess what affects me the most is that here, a) it’s risky and b) it actually means something), but it would be a lie to say that it hasn’t really affected how I’ve been thinking about the Egyptian nation-state in the wake of the global neoliberal economy (in other words, I’m still a Marxist).

BONUS: This downloadable 12 volume Reference of Female Fronted Punk Rock 1977-1989. Helping me slosh through midterms like nothing else! This Holly & the Italians jam adequately sums up the way I miss America, especially Allston and Cambridge, right now. Lucky for me, there’s an ever-rotating list of favorites to help me cope with missing people and things and cats too much.

DOUBLE BONUS: I have two new cousins! David Frederick and Emily Halo (both surname Brown). Can’t wait to come back to ‘merica and meet these beautiful babes!

THINGS THAT I AM EATING

While I’m in the process of reconsidering my role as an itinerant blogger (thusly expressed in a Christmas acrostic poem by my dad, Cliff), I think I’d like to talk to you all about one of my favorite things in the entire world.

Not clothing (though I have a lot to say about that!), EATING!! This one time (Bostonians will appreciate this, I think), I had only recently been to my beloved Allston staple Yo Ma and was waxing poetic to Joel and Luke about it. I think I was going on a rampage about Burmese tofu and chickpea flour and shallots and tamarind and FLAVOR and they both went off in hysterics about how I should be a food blogger. I don’t think I should be a food blogger, or any kind of blogger, because I don’t think I have the adequate descriptors (or discipline) to talk about food ALL the time, but let’s be honest. I THINK about food MOST of the time, and even though Egyptian cuisine is ubiquitous at best, bland at worst (and food poisoning at VERY worst, but I have an iron constitution, SO.), with the help of a few friends I’ve discovered some really amazing establishments that seriously boggle my mind and bring tears to my eyes (yes. delicious food is apt to make me cry. along with beautiful mosques and deaths of authors).

All these establishments are considered “holes in the wall”, I guess, but I feel like enough khowagat frequent them for them not to be totally Baladi. I also take some issue with claiming authenticity because it’s a really muddled and contentious thing to claim, so I’m not writing this to talk about how I’m oh-so-Anthony-Bourdain, but more to talk about some really delicious and insanely cheap food that I ate and loved.

POMODORO is this place on Tahrir Street (a little past Hurriya, and on the other side of Midan Falaky) where you hang around awkwardly until the waiter brings you plastic stools and rickety tables and you plop down on the sidewalk. Then you wait for about an hour (at this point you’re getting relatively hangry, because you were hungry an hour and a half ago). Then you are handed a MASSIVE platter of pasta COVERED in seafood (clams, squid, fish, et. al.) and a big ol’ crab on the side. It sounds super sketchy to get seafood (street seafood at that) in a city that is three hours from the ocean, but TRUST. This ish will BLOW YOUR MIND. It’s a) SPICY (such a rarety in the Cairo of Secrets!) b) FRESH (hence the hour it took to cook it. I bet they have a little pond in the back!) and most importantly c) MIND BOGGLINGLY DELICIOUS. Even my gourmet friends like Max agree. Then you’ll be really full and have to take a doggy bag home and only have paid approximately $3 for this meal that would have cost $30 in Amreeka. WIN.

Then there is this place off Talaat Harb, down a little alleyway with a lot of lady-friendly ahwas off Mohammed Bassiouny. Y’all turn the corner, and there’s this little kitchen set up (outside, natch.) and this young lady tells you what she’s serving today (standard Egyptian mom cuisine, so a lot of mashi and beans, et. al.) and you tell her what you want and her mom COOKS IT FOR YOU. RIGHT THERE. So you get this super sizzling fried chicken and kofta and fresh SALAD and amazing beans and potatoes, et. al. and again. Tears stream down your face because what you just placed in your mouth is so much more delicious and cheap than the overpriced excuse for Baba Ghanouj you ate at Estoril two nights ago. Again, you’ll pay less than $3. WIN.

And, I just went to a new place on Falaky (I forget the name, of course) that serves pigeon. Pigeon isn’t super meaty, but besides the pigeon (which is funny to say in Arabic because it sounds like BATHROOM. ha, ha.) your waiter (once he acknowledges you) inundates you with this chicken broth and amazing salad and tehine and PICKLES (good, half-sour pickles! not the gross, limp kind you get with your falafel). Then you get your pigeon, stuffed with delicious rice, head still on and all (yeah, not for the faint of heart, I guess) and you pig out and you are SO FULL. Oh, and with a Coke it’s like $7. WIN.

In addition to all that, I also am apparently a great judge of character because I’ve somehow got friends who are AWESOME cooks. Last week Max made calamari with chili peppers and wilted arugula and beet and carrot salad and drool drool drool. Last night my friend Sam made us Iraqi beans and livers with rice and eggplant salad and garlicky yogurt pasta and okay. I just realized that it’s kindof cruel to boast about all this delicious food so much. I guess just think of it as incentive to come visit me so I can take you to these places and we can have a snaccident together. Okay? Okay.