Tag Archives: education

What My Doodles Say About You

Note the random bunny

Dear Arabic teacher,

You’ve probably noticed that I spend an inordinate amount of time in your class doodling. This doodling occurs either during discussion, while we’re watching something, or while you’re talking. It does not occur while I am talking.

My doodles are usually a hodge podge of abstract shapes composed of curved lines, straight lines, circles, triangles, and dots that are inspired by natural matter. I also occasionally draw words spelled out in big pattern-filled block letters, or fields of teddy bear heads, with the odd rabbit, lion, fox, or raccoon head thrown in there. On a handful of occasions, I’ve resorted to drawing grotesque human heads as well as what might have been horse heads. These phenomena will be explained shortly.

Now that we’ve discussed the types and nature of the doodles, I would like to tell you more about what these mean in relation to your class and more specifically, my presence in said class. The mere fact I am doodling does not mean I am not paying attention. Indeed, drawing little designs on the side of my paper often helps me focus. That being said, this is probably not what’s happening in your class.

Depending on my hunger and current level of lack of sleep, my doodles might mean that I am barely listening to what’s going on and, if called on, will flail until the class rescues me out of embarrassment. On other days, I am completely aware of what is going on and just waiting the opportune moment to astonish the class with my insight. On yet other days, the discussion itself might be laughably ridiculous in either scope or tone and all I want to do is yell, “You clowns! Look at yourselves!” But instead I’ll boldly continue doodling.

A good rule of thumb is that the more complex the doodle, the less attention I am paying in your class. A simple teddy bear head may mean I just needed some cheering up and so quickly drew a friendly friend on my paper to lift my spirits. However, experimentation with different kinds of teddy bear faces, animal faces, or especially human faces means I’ve floating in another realm altogether and am not paying attention in the slightest.

So, is this a problem? Does my doodling constitute a threat to my progress as an Arabic student? Well, yes and no. The doodling itself is not the issue, but is only a symptom of a wider phenomenon that I would like to call “not caring.” Should the doodling be eradicated, it would likely be replaced with staring out of windows, and/or tearing up little pieces of paper. So what is the solution? As I stated earlier, I do not doodle when I’m talking, an action that requires my full attention. If there were some way for me to remain talking the entire class, or at least 75 percent of the class with the rest of the time being spent in preparation to speak, I think we would see a radical reduction in the frequency and quality of the doodles, something that would hopefully indicate a parallel increase in the rate of my Arabic learning.

I’m free on the weekends to talk about your teaching strategy centered on catering to my completely reasonable needs. Please get in touch with my secretary.



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We are a Bunch of Nerds

the resident nerds of tahrir

Next semester, we students of CASA have the opportunity to take courses that are not solely focused on language and have academic content as well. Moreover, we get the chance to suggest courses ourselves. Since we are all a bunch of nerds, there has been a flowering of emails suggesting all kinds of courses that we could take…subjects you couldn’t even imagine, like a course focused on the fantastic animals described in pre -17th century Arabic travel literature.  This is the stuff of nerd paradise.

I have decided to hop onto the feverish academic bandwagon and offer a few course titles myself, so without further ado, may I present to you

CASA Spring 2010: Course Suggestions

1. Inequality Manifest: Spoiled American Students and Their Experience in Egypt

2. Pant Usage in Post-Colonial Egypt and the Tailoring of a Transformation

3. Applied Poetics: Arabic Poetry’s Place(s) in Your Daily Life

4. Advanced Reality Grasping: Calling a Spade a Spade

5. The Effect of Unicornic rule on Imaginary Arabic Literature

6. Fountains on the AUC Tahrir Campus: Why?

7. American Arabic Students and the Contemporary Blog Post

8. Cairo: Fragrant and Musical, or Stinky and Noisy?

9. Hadith and Blogging: What the Prophet Said

10. Intermediate Time Machine Installation and Usage

11. Arabic Grammar Nerds: Their Function as a Social Phenomenon

12. CASA Students: the Relationship between an Unhappy Home Life and the Rate of Expatriation

13. Improvisation: Telling People Why You Study Arabic

14. Arabic: What Do the Squiggly Lines Mean?

15. 15th Century Egyptian Embalming Techniques: a Practicum

16. Advanced Media: Building Effective Emotional Barriers to Bad News

17. Your Parents and Medieval Islamic History: How to Make Them Care

18. The Healing Qualities and Mystical Powers of Advanced Arabic Rhetoric

19. Vowels: Accessory, Amenity, or Need?

20. Horseback Riding, Power Lifting, and Calligraphy

21. Pharoanic Hygienic Standards: a Practicum

22. The Futility of Love: Arabic Literature Expressing Hopelessness and Loss

23. Arabic Media: How to Fold Newspapers into Planes and Hats

I, along with the rest of CASA,  look forward to an academically enriching semester and one that will no doubt be extremely useful in all our personal, professional, and facebook  lives.

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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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A Word Problem: Sleep, Hopelessness, or Success

206.26 words…and it’s all in Arabic.

A word problem:

It is 11:50 pm, and an Arabic student has 206.25 words that she must learn for a test that begins the next day at 8:30 am. In order to pass the test, the Arabic student must go through the entire list of words at least three times, weeding out one third of the words each time. In the first round of reviewing, she has gone through 33.33333% of the words in 3 hours.

Currently, she is at 60% wakefulness. This percentage drops by 8% for every 30 minutes of studying.  If at any point her wakefulness drops below 30%, she will need to take a 20 minute coffee break, followed by a nap of desperation and then a slapping fit upon awaking. This will take one hour, and will raise her wakefulness to 70%, but after recommencing her work, she will move at a pace that is 23% less efficient than her original speed. Furthermore, her wakefulness will deteriorate at a new rate of 16% per every 30 minutes of studying.

One minute in every 6 is lost to facebook and email checking. Every 4 hours there is something new on one of these sites, resulting in the loss of an additional 4 minutes. The student must also write one email, which will cost 24 minutes as and result in a 30% decrease in concentration. The equation for calculating efficiency is e=chilz, with c=concentration, h=hunger levels, i=interest level, l=location, and z=zoo location. The email will be written when wakefulness hits 43%, but will also raise wakefulness levels to 55%.

Her current level of hopelessness is at 20%, but this rises exponentially as she continues studying, at a rate of x to the (1.3h). If her hopelessness ever reaches 80%, she will instantly go to sleep. If she sees her bat friend, it will result in a temporary boost of wakefulness and a decrease of hopelessness levels at a flat rate of 5 and 8 percent, respectively.

Will the student finish studying? If so, how many hours of sleep will she get if she wakes up at 7 o’clock in order to enjoy the new brand of granola her roommate bought?

If not, will she be overcome by hopelessness or sleepiness? If she had to complete at least 80% of the original amount of work in order to make an A on the test, with each ten percentage points below that corresponding to a lower letter grade, what will she make on the test?

What are ways she could avoid having this happen to her again, if the words were given to her over the past two weeks at a rate of 20 words per day, and if she is has 7 hours of free time every day?

Choose the answer that is most correct:

a. What was the question again?

b. Get back to work.

c. Really, you should stop blogging and study for your test.

d. Why are you still blogging?

e. All of the above

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Volunteering: The Ladies Love Us

Guess who the foreigners are.

Friend and I have gotten into the vicious habit of volunteering at a church here in a lower-income area of Cairo. Our current project is setting up an early childhood development center, something friend and I aid primarily through an abundance of good wishes due to our utter lack of qualifications.

Why do we donate our semi-valuable time? Though it’s mostly for the Arabic practice, there is also a small part of us that wants to “help people.” There’s something to be said for the furry, balmy feeling you get when you delude yourself into thinking you’ve made life on this earth a little more bearable for someone. While this morally indulgent feeling is great, it’s simply not enough. I need something spicier, so this is how I make the most of my volunteering experience:

Step One: Hunger Monger

Since I know our five hours of volunteering (probably) won’t include treats, I eat a tiny breakfast. Thus, without fail, I begin starving roughly 30 minutes after arriving at the volunteer site. The awful rumbles coming from my stomach provide a great backdrop to the children and cat screeches coming from in and around the church. Volunteering is even more interesting as I become a hunger zombie and spend my last kilojoules of energy planning out exactly what I’m going to eat when I get home.

Step Two: Sleepy Time

I never get an appropriate amount of sleep the night before involving myself in charitable work. This is a trick I learned during Ramadan, when I would regularly stay up until 4 am and then leave to volunteer at 8:20 am. Living life was so much more meaningful and full of nausea while running on less than 4 hours of sleep! While at the church, I would gaze into the distance with glazed eyes and wonder when I could leave and be reunited with my bedding and a bowl of ramen noodles. The feeling that nothing was real added an special depth to our projects.

Step Three: Ham it Up

The ladies love us, and by the ladies I mean all the females at the church, regardless of age or relation to puberty. They be smiling at us, giving us those eyes, coming to say hi to us…. Though it doesn’t take much additional work, I try to look as clueless and non-Egyptian as possible in order to create an even bigger spectacle and stir up more interest. Wacky faces and disturbingly broad grins seem to work well.

Step Four: Keepin’ it Real

In Egypt, there’s something called the “foreigners’ complex,” which means that anything involving foreigners is automatically considered better than something made from scratch in Egypt. Thus, when I wake up in the morning, I wrap up in my big ol’ American flag I keep beside my bed, throw on a cowboy hat, and grab a 64 oz. soft drink cup before heading out the door. There will be no question as to where my nationality lies.

And that, my friends, is how you volunteer.

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