Tag Archives: development

Snotting Colors

Post-color festival. Other people didn’t look so zombie like.

Get into a cab. Make your way out of the city. Creep through traffic, past dust colored high rises and the artificial billboards that appear like fungus sprouting out of urban decay. Countless anonymous storefronts whizz by. Mosques, churches, and government buildings hunch near the highway.

Soon you’re in the new part of Cairo, the one only rich people can afford to reach—a land built on the pretext of endless land and resources, a place made for cars and conspicuous consumption. Welcome to “My City,” a satellite community where one apartment costs a king’s ransom. This “city” sprouted up from the desert when someone watered the sands. There is grass here, and fountains. Though many of the hundreds of apartment buildings lie vacant or unfinished, you can here the whispered dream of escapism.

Wind your way through the eerily verdant complex. Find the sporting club. Get your ticket. Go through the outer gates. Push your way through masses of girls in the 2 stall bathroom to change your clothes. Enter the inner gates. Get two packets of powdered neon paint. Forget everything.

You’re on a green lawn now that buzzes with hundreds of wealthy Cairene youth, all in various stages of succumbing to neon colors. Cairo is somewhere else, along with its social problems. Now is the time to enjoy the mild autumn weather and frolic and dance around on a live green canvas writhing with youth coating themselves in a thick layer of imagination.

As you become your neon self, your old life seems so earth toned, so depressing. Why not stay here forever, where people can afford to buy bottled water at twice its normal price just to mix it with paint and spray it at people? The dj’s beats make the air pulsate and there are moments you think you might dissolve into the ether along with the paint splattered masses around you.

But then you realize that you’re starving, and the only place to eat at this freaking festival is one sandwich shack that sells exorbitantly overpriced, mediocre fare. You’re at the mercy of your hosts, and you must try to forget your own hunger until they are hungry. The mixed paint in the water bottles starts looking like delicious neon food. “Where am I?” you wonder, as you absentmindedly go for a taste.

It’s disgusting. You try it a second time but you definitely don’t do it again after that. Soon your initial wonder at this event is replaced by seething rage at the injustice of it all. “THIS MUST BE STOPPED. EQUALITY! FOOD FOR ALL!” you think as the music continues in spite of your internal objections.

Finally, hosts get hungry and it turns out they brought some sandwiches out in the car.  After inhaling one, the injustice of it all seems more bearable. You go back and enjoy your time, and then eventually leave the land of color on a long journey home, back to a world of grey covered in night.

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Urgent: Volunteer for Emergency Coloring Needs

We colored a lot of fish

This is a job description for the specialized kind of volunteer work friend and I have performed this and last week in preparation for the opening of the Childhood Development Center.  After inaugurating the center, there will hopefully be a horde of free labor that can do all our coloring for us, but until then, we work ourselves to the bone.

Wanted: Volunteer interested in Early Childhood Education

Location: Post-Revolutionary Cairo

Job Description:

The volunteer’s only responsibility will be to color, cut, paste, and laminate a variety of shapes and images. Nothing else will be required. Images to be colored range from little fish, flowers, and farm animals, to potato heads, shoes (sneakers), and teddy bears. Occasionally, the volunteer will be given the chance to offer input in other affairs, but this is completely optional.


Ability to use a wide variety of coloring utensils, such as colored pencils, crayons, and markers (thin tipped). The volunteer MUST be able to determine the appropriate utensil for each project according to time constraints and taste, respectively.

Passion for cutting and pasting precision, as well as a significant amount of cutting and pasting experience.

An appropriate—not extreme–attention to detail, namely the ability to distinguish between different shades of colors (NO COLOR BLIND)

Ability to focus for long periods of time on mindless tasks in a semi to completely silent atmosphere.

Unshakeable faith in the fact that every little bit makes a difference.

Self-deluded that children aged 2-6 will notice the effort an adult human poured into coloring dozens of little fish, etc.

Well developed sitting still abilities, spatial awareness to avoid elbowing people.

Bachelor’s degree in International Relations, Foreign Service, or related field.

Ability to wait patiently to start eating even if everyone is present and the food is sitting right in front of you and you are starving.


Paper, exacto knife, and scissor edges

Strange thoughts that come as a result of a coloring induced mental state somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness

Stickiness of the glue on ones’ hands

The overwhelming desire to sleep at all times

Hunger and/or thirst that will not be immediately satisfied or quenched


Improve fine motor and staying-awake-against-your-will skills

Remember why you never really liked coloring in the first place

Impress people when you tell them you volunteer (conditional upon amount of details given)

Sporadic free lunches and coffee

Scenic walk from the metro station along a dusty, sandy street lined with slimy puddles in Ain Shams

To Apply:

Apply in person. Bring transcript from a western University as well as a coloring sample from the past 2 years. Be prepared to discuss what communal, silent coloring means to you and how it deepens your relationship with children.

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Why Can’t We Bite Ankle Biters Back?

Not an actual photo from the nursery

Here I will attempt to speak of something unspeakable, to describe something indescribable, to eff something ineffable. I saw into the depths of horror itself two days ago, and only now have mustered the courage to force it into words.  That may have been too dramatic. Judge for yourselves:

Out of our copious amount of free time and the goodwill of our hearts, my friend and I decided to hunt for volunteer work in this city. A month after baiting our line and casting out, we had a catch!  On Tuesday, August 23rd, we visited a volunteer site where we learned we are going to use our political science, diplomacy, and academic research skills in a preschool whose twenty kids range from 6 months to 8 years old. An impossible task? Not yet. Our coordinator described the preschool as a nursery where the kids get a good education so they can be ready for government-run schools. A screaming den of anti-learning would have been closer to the mark.

“Is this hell?”

This was my first thought when we entered the preschool. Our goal for the day was to see how it was and identify areas for improvement. After observing it, however, it’s hard to imagine how it could get worse, barring natural, biological, or extraterrestrial disaster.

One ankle biter was stomping around the back of the classroom and uttering sounds like a maniac. Another child was asleep on his desk. The big eyed girl next to me, maybe four years old, was wearing a scandalous shirt that revealed half her chest and spent most of her time staring at me or at the pictures I drew for her in my notebook. Barely contained in their chairs, the rest of the children were squirming like my dog does when my family makes it wear sweaters. It was a picture of loosely controlled chaos.

“Oh God, no.”

Unfortunately, we had arrived just in time for English class. The instructor, Madonna, tepidly manned the front of the classroom, clearly holding back the fear of losing complete control over the children and alternatively sweet talking or threatening them. She thrust forward a red card and shouted, “Whatiszeecolor?” Or in English “What color is this?” And the children yelled, “Ahmarred!” Or in English “Red!” This traumatizing process was repeated for all the colors and other various words.

In a flash of unwitting innovation, all colors became compound Arabic-English words. Ahmar means red in Arabic, and thus fire trucks are “ahmarred,” chocolate is “bonniebrowen,” and cotton candy is “bambibink.” At the end of the session, I finally understood that success was measured not by possible ability to communicate with English speakers, but by the volume  and speed with which one could shout the compound Arabic/English color.

“When will this end?”

I had shivers when I imagined how many times they’d performed this exercise, and I nearly vomited when I contemplated the idea it would never end. Though the poor pronunciation of the teacher and the clear lack of learning on the part of the pupils were both painful, the shouting was the most egregious offence. Unlike most “inside voice” classrooms I’ve attended, Madonna would demand the students say the compound color as loud as possible, until some of them were literally screaming “AHMARRED!” while others continued to shriek, gurgle, or chitter in personal monologues or side conversations.

“Please rescue me.”

As pleasant as children’s laughter is, a child’s scream is what is scientifically described as “unbearable.” My patience was rapidly wearing. The kids, despite the satisfaction some of them got from yelling, were just as eager as I to be released from this prison. Furthermore, the idea the pupils would soon be given whistles as a reward for their good screaming behavior was equally nausea inducing.

I wished to flutter out the window and be a sheet hanging on the rows of clotheslines I could see from my cell, since they at least lacked the ability to hear or feel intense hopelessness. Finally, after lunch when the kids were all given sugary suckers for God knows what reason, play time came and we decided we had seen enough and made our escape, the sound of screaming children following us from behind the door. At the very least, it will be hard to make the place worse. At best, the children won’t learn anything but we will have fun and not want to be sheets.

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