Since I got back to Britain I’ve been back to my department a couple of times, but today was the first day that the building was actually full of people because of the conference we’re co-hosting, Britain and the Muslim World.
I’m involved in stewarding the conference, which basically involves sitting at the registration desk looking helpful. (Wearing a jacket with elbow patches helps.) This means I get to meet a lot of interesting people, both academics from various universities around the world and even a couple of well-known authors (Ghada Karmi and Ahdaf Soueif).
I also met quite a few students who have started their journey at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies (my department) in my extended absence. When I introduced myself, generally with, “Hello my name is Caitlin and I study Egyptian dance and globalization,” all of these people – every one of them – turned to me and said, “So you’re the one who’s doing belly dancing!”
This is sort of exciting, because it makes me feel like a minor celebrity, but it is also a little unnerving because it definitely makes me wonder what people have been saying about me in my absence!
By the way, today was also the first day I walked all the way to my department since I’ve been back. This is important because when you see a map of the Exeter campus for the first time, you think, “oh, it looks like everything’s all nice and close together!” What you then think after you’ve actually seen the Exeter campus is, “gee, maybe somebody should have drawn a circle around that bit and written ‘GIANT HILL JUST HERE.’”
I seem to have a knack for choosing campuses with hills: Simon’s Rock was basically a split-level campus with half the residences on top of a giant hill. Before my second year they decided to split the difference and build a new residence about halfway up, which subsided so substantially over the course of the ensuing terms that we joked it was going to slide down and ram into the other dorms on the bottom of the hill. Sarah Lawrence didn’t have a truly giant hill, but there was one really steep bit between the cafeteria and everything else. In winter we used to take the long way around, though I was often tempted to slide down.
My current campus has a particularly difficult gradient affectionately known as Caridac Hill. That wasn’t even the bit I was walking today and I still had to stop for a rest on my way up. It was a bit chilly when I left the house so I was wearing a scarf and gloves but by the time I got up to the Insitute I was practically sweating through my elbow-patch jacket, in addition to gasping like a very disoriented fish.
But truthfully, the campus is beautiful and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Soon enough I’ll be powering up it like a little mountain goat. (Okay, a really tall mountain goat.) I’m very happy to be back.