Urbanization’s Concrete Form
The electricity went out twice last night (Thursday). Again. We found our apartments furnished, besides the normal furniture, with rechargeable LED lights that put out a ton of watts, or so it feels. Both Jeanette and I have flashlights (my headlamp is readily recognizable by many college peers, as I’ve worn it around my dorm at night so as to not disturb my roommate). Ben and Brannon gave us grief for our phones, which have flashlights embedded in them, but those flashlights have come in mighty handy, now five times. Plus all the times when there’s no light on our floor and we must unlock the door. Yet I don’t complain. I have a couple hunches as to the reason behind the electric outages, and I don’t mind them – darkness makes sleep far more appealing!
Like many places that boast over a couple million inhabitants in a relatively small area, Alexandria had better be called an urban metropolis, attracting newcomers demanding fair access to the same utilities, including a place to stay. I’m from a country where the ideal place to stay is a house, but I currently reside in a city where the ideal is an apartment. I remember in Turkey being interested in the number of high-rise apartment buildings that seemed really out of place in Ankara. Looking back, I remember Istanbul as a city of historical-seeming high-rise apartments, but they were short compared to the new buildings in Ankara. Our host supper in Ankara was in an apartment building (sorry, but the translation binaa’ shaqat – شقة بناء – keeps floating through my head), reflecting the new trend of sophisticates moving to apartments rather than houses. It makes sense when you look at the situation through an sustainability-oriented lens: pack as many people into a small space on the Earth’s crust as air is free, sharing utilities (sort of, we’ll get there hopefully) and living with a far less impact (ideally) than those residing in a house. However, I leave out the issue of trash – that’s another blog post in of itself.
So, Alexandria is in something like the middle of a construction boom, in the area of apartments. (Cairo featured a number of seemingly vacant apartment buildings, but also had construction.) Not so much in the housing construction business here, I’m afraid. The construction process has been interesting to watch, on the number of building projects that litter my walk to the tram, and to hear about, Moutaz giving a short lecture on the topic during orientation. There’s little enforcement in the way of OSHA standards, but what’s new in a developing country. What’s scary for the new inhabitants is that there’s been little enforcement in building materials’ structural integrity; by which I mean until the recent past, the police/oversight enforcers didn’t check on the width of supporting beams’ concrete. There have been some new high-rises that collapsed after construction, though I don’t have numbers to give you. Understandably, the police are cracking down on this. (And, my building was built with the necessary check-ups – no worries!)
I think this project is nearing completion. Even on Fridays (when everyone else is off) I see workers walking around on top. If you look closely, you can see their minute forms. Also note the many balcony spaces – many new constructions seem to be bristling with balconies.
This project is still very short compared to the buildings around it. I do not understand (mish faahma) the reasoning behind the smaller ‘nub’ at the top – does this mean the apartments will stop at that height? We’ll find out!
And, buildings are constructed with concrete, not US Steel I-beams, raised by tall iconic cranes and couched in place until completion by a bubble of steel scaffolding. Au contraire! By observation, buildings are built almost the same way the Romans (yes, those ancient Latins) would’ve built, except instead of just concrete and brick, reinforcement rod is placed extensively among the concrete. The projects are cordoned off from streets, just like in the States for safety, but that safety bubble extends to the street (if that far – maybe 1.5 m), while sand used to make concrete seeps from under the safety signage. Scaffolding is made of wood bound by rope; yet it seems incredibly stable for seemingly old wood. The safety signage is usually placed just under the farthest-out tip of scaffolding tie, with some wood sticking further out. Beware, passersby! Instead of using ladders or cranes to hoist people to working height, I witnessed three men using a pulley system and fraying rope to lift a basket with a man inside to the level he required. I cannot speak for the rest of the construction workers, however.
Note: there are construction of villas going on that I pass en route to the tram, featuring painting, wiring, concrete pouring and molding, etc, but I do not know if such projects extend past the wealthy district in which our apartments reside. But these villas (for they should be called as such) seem sumptuous from the outside!
This is a relatively new, and huge, apartment building near the Alexandria University Faculty of Medicine campus. As buildings constructed as wide as this are relatively rare, I wonder if this is the model construction will be moving to if enough ground surface area opens up. It looks more Western, don’t you think?
Last note on concrete: concrete cubes line the Corniche’s sea side, perhaps as a giant sea wall attempting to manage both the erosion due to wave action (the Corniche is immediately above the sea, and erosion would be catastrophic) and to prevent huge waves crashing over the Corniche in winter storms that I’ve heard about. There are areas along the Corniche that feature large versions of childhood toys, like these blocks, jumbled together and extending into the sea. I don’t get the purpose of these beyond breaking up wave lines, but they make great playgrounds, and I hid among one such set (this one) to watch the sunset by myself. Over at Montaza Palace, there are many more such jumbled blocks supporting the sea wall, and I hear that the original bridge to Pharos was built, and maintained and expanded, out of just these sorts of blocks.
Update on me: medically this week has been wacked – I began the week on Saturday with lots of sleep and potentially flu, left classes early on Sunday to sleep, and Monday feeling improved but exhausted after a long day. Tuesday was a definite upswing, even getting a chance to Skype my good friend Meg in the midst of a tough week for us both. By Wednesday, though, I felt so good I was ready for the weekend! Mind you, I’m still on ibuprofen daily and allergy meds (basically Zyrtec) twice a day. I’ve spent a lot of mental space and time communicating to family, friends, and with a couple of really helpful doctors that I know. Their support has been incredibly helpful in processing my next steps. I know that yesterday felt ok to be off ibuprofen – but after slacklining, I enjoyed the luxury today. I didn’t get my allergy meds in on time tonight, so I know that my body’s not ready to be anti-histimine free yet…I itch. But it was an accidental good check.
Academic: classes are definitely fun. I’m a tad bored in my Arabic classes, getting the concepts we’re discussing usually by the first hour, though we might spend the second hour on it as well. Time management is also an issue in my electives, but those I have no worries – I could use more time discussing our topics. Islamic Culture and History (hereafter I’m using the acronym ICH) is incredibly stimulating, synthesizing politics, history, societal/cultural nuances of both yesteryear and today, and bringing up a host of issues about society, religion (if there should be such a separate category), boundaries between everything, politics, powermongering, etc. Whew! Politics and Social Media (hereafter PSM) worked through some testimonies, highlighting their similarities and differences (that was fascinating, to see results of eyewitnesses’ emotions come through their stories), and searching through the stories to question the official story. My language partner meetings are fun, albeit tough, as I have no one but me to count on for the answer. I’m learning more than I realize through emphasis in class and in meetings. I wish I could actually carry on a conversation with native Egyptians outside the class beyond the initial greetings (like Ents, Egyptians don’t hurry their greetings and social connection points), but that’s ok.
Last point: Brannon, a outdoorsman missing his outdoors, finally ran the gauntlet of slacklining in the nearby British Gardens, which fronts the British Embassy (sidenote: when taxis drop us off there, we totally pass as British!). The first time he put it up, I went with for moral support, and to try it out myself. I’ve attempted slacklining a couple times at Luther, through Outdoor Rec, but have never been comfortable enough to spend the time to master the wiggling line. I have since walked two steps before falling off and mounted the line independently and fully once…though I immediately fell off from sheer astonishment. I love the focus necessary to slackline – it really empties the mind. And it’s a physical challenge too – I feel the stretch in my mounting leg and the ache of lazy obliques. My goal for the semester? Walk ten feet. And, as for the Egyptian reaction, we draw a crowd, Ben, Brannon, and I; Brannon uses that crowd as impetus to show off. Ben and I helped a couple of small children Wednesday night try it out themselves, and they loved it. Everyone wants to touch the line, see someone walk it, and marvel over the contraption. It’s really fun, though concentrating when I see people chatting about me is difficult. I can’t help but want to do it more, independently, and see myself working on slacklining at the edge of the forest on the far side of Baker Prairie at Luther. That will come, but until then, I will practice in Egypt!