All / Originally Posted on Skirt

The Incredible Disappearing Department

When I get to Cairo, I’ll begin a research fellowship at the Institute of Gender and Women’s Studies (IGWS) at the American University in Cairo (AUC).  For those of you who aren’t familiar with academic jargon, basically this means that I’m not registered as a student there and I don’t have to attend classes, but I get to use their library, plus help obtaining a residence permit, and best of all I can badger the IGWS staff for help with my research project.  (I admit that every time I hear the word ‘fellow’ with reference to myself I’m tempted to paint on a mustache and start wearing pinstripe suits.  Just because.)

Unfortunately, the whole of AUC is currently moving from its previous location smack in the center of downtown Cairo waaaaaaay out to an area known as New Cairo that can currently be called the boonies with some accuracy.  They’re moving into a gorgeous purpose-built campus with state-of-the-art facilities.  It’s just that there’s nothing else out there yet.

Frustratingly I keep receiving conflicting information about where IGWS is going to be.  First I was told they were moving out to the new campus like everyone else.  Then I was told they were staying downtown, but in a different building.  Then I was told the office is staying downtown, and classes will be held there for the first month because of Ramadan, but eventually they’ll be moving out to the new campus like everybody else. 

Right now, they seem to be in some sort of parallel universe that prevents them from answering their e-mails or phone calls.  As far as I can tell from previous e-mails from the Institute director, they should all be back from vacation now and the new office should be open, wherever it is.  But I’ve tried every way I can think of to contact them, including calling AUC’s office in New York to see if they had any more concrete information.  Zilch. 

Finally it dawned on me to e-mail an IGWS student, thinking that somebody on the ground over there might have more current information (assuming that this person would actually e-mail me back.)  Though we’ve never met, the Institute director put me in touch with this person earlier in the year as someone who might be able to help navigate the confusing waters of obtaining housing in Cairo. 

The student indeed e-mail me back, indicating that she hadn’t heard from either the Institute director nor the Institute office administrator in several weeks either, despite repeated attempts to get through.  She suggested maybe they were both on vacation (though the out-of-office message I’d received a week earlier told me they should in fact all be in this week). 

Though neither of us were able to add any useful information to the muddle, it was a relief to find someone in the same boat.  Our boat may be spinning crazily on uncharted waters, but at least we can commiserate.  I suggested to her that whoever scheduled both the director and the administrator for vacation right before the new term starts, with Ramadan just around the corner (which entails special arrangements like night classes, difficult enough to administrate without all the administrative staff gone), during the middle of the largest campus move in the history of this institution, was not the brightest crayon in the box.  Someone floated the possibility that it was all a sort of test, to see which of the graduate students could figure out where classes were being held first.  Then we agreed we either had to view it as a grand adventure or some sort of experiment in chaos theory.

I still have no idea where I need to go in order to register as a Fellow when I arrive in Cairo.  If I need to get out to the new campus I’ve got no idea how to get there (don’t even get me started on the whole bus passes thing.  That’s a whole other entry…).  I don’t even have a reliable phone number to call for my department.  But I’m smiling, because at least I’m not the only one.