So I’ve been watching the Olympics all this week. In addition to all the usual things that the Olympics give us to contemplate (dazzling feats of athleticism, awe-inspiring opening ceremonies, which team isn’t operating solely on it’s own steam but resorting to various devious forms of enhancement and the SHOCK when this is brought to light), I’ve also been thinking about the idea of being the very best in the world at a particular feat.
In scholarship, being the best in the world is the sort of thing that preys on one’s mind a bit. Or at least, being the only one in the world: off the top of my head, I can think of two other academics who have written articles on my specific subject. (Contemporary Egyptian social dance, and what this reveals about the cultural and social mores of Egypt.) Broaden the field a little bit (say, include professional as well as social dancers) and we’re looking at a grand total of about twenty-five people or so. However, being the only person who studies something doesn’t really make you the best: where a Shakespeare scholar would really need to dig deep to provide a truly original and useful contribution to the field, pretty much everything I have to say is original (useful? Let’s leave that question for another day.) I’m starting to come around to the idea that competition is a great motivator for improving, though I wasn’t so much into sports as a kid (or now, except when I’m not the one doing the sporting.) After all, winning is easy when you submitted the only entry.
I’ve also been thinking about the Olympic-sized effort it’s been so far to get ready for my eight months of fieldwork in Cairo. I’ll be leaving for my fieldwork in the first week of September. I go to graduate school in England, where I’ve been working in a dorm for the past year. I had to move out of my apartment at the end of July, but my fellowship at the American University in Cairo doesn’t start until September (plus, Cairo in August? No thanks!) I decided to come home for a visit at my parents’ place, so I stuck most of my stuff in storage, told the storage people to mail one box to Egypt after about a month, and packed the rest of my worldly possessions in what feels like the world’s largest suitcase. Instead of going straight home, I traveled to another city in England about five hours from where I live (and the TRAIN BROKE DOWN on the way so I had to get the giant suitcase off the one train and on to the replacement train), hung out there for a little while, then flew to Dublin for a couple of days, finally when I arrived in Florida it turned out some old friends of my parents were on the other side of the state for a convention, so we went to see them… after more than a week, I got to sleep in my own bed again (except while I was away my parents moved house, so it was in a different room than the one I left six months ago at Christmas.)
Lucky for me, my window in the new house faces the intracostal waterway, so when I get up every morning to call the bank, the Egyptian embassy, the insurance company, the shipping company, my department in my university in England or the new department at the university in Cairo, I get to see dolphins and pelicans. It really is a beautiful view.
If, at this point, you find yourself in any way confused by what I have just said, let me reassure you that you are not alone. I feel truly fortunate to travel so much, see so many different parts of the world and have truly unique experiences. But it sure takes a lot of sticky notes to get everything ready before the actual traveling part begins. (And some really, really supportive parents.)
For now, I’m going to stop there. Welcome to my blog. I hope you come back to enjoy the continuing chronicles of my search for knowledge, sometimes across the globe, sometimes in the same room.