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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lessons from Abroad

K. McCaffrey -- My friend Jonathan, a gov major at Cornell, is keeping a blog while studying abroad in Syria. One of the few American students studying in the area (and definitely the most sympathetic to our causes), his writing has given me excellent insight to life in the Middle East as of late:
[My] friend Khaled took me to collect his pay for an on-campus job. ...

Beware of anything governmental or non-private sector in the Arab world; I recall a time in Egypt when I spent two hours in the post office trying to send a package to the United States. In one particular room, there were about 6 desks arranged in a circle. I had to bring my package to each desk, waiting patiently for the coffee-drinking, cigarette-smoking employee at each station to finish his or her cellphone conversation, after which I would acquire the necessary signature and move onto the next station. It’s a recipe for exasperation.

In Khaled’s case here in Syria, he could almost get a second job and double his money in the time he spends drinking tea with the bureaucrats while awaiting a paycheck. Is this the difference between civilization and barbarism, this seemingly widespread bureaucratic inability to operate at greater than 50% functionality? Either that, or it’s the difference between Western toilets and squat toilets, the latter of which are prevalent here.

The blog is worth reading, unlike most student study abroad blogs. I apologize for the repetitive plug, but I think an active readership will prompt him to write more (and that is exactly what I want).

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  1. Tell your friend to add a simple RSS feed (the one I found was for comments, not content) and I'll read his blog, it looks interesting. I'm busy and have no idea what Google friend connect is, I'm not much interested in learning yet another web based content provider system, I have to juggle too many already.

  2. Kathleen -
    The Syrian government is probably monitoring his Internet traffic.

  3. I see a doctoral thesis lurking in here somewhere....