Spring 1998
Vol 6 Issue 2


Technology and Change ... duh!

Some Thoughts on Change from Egypt

Creating Opportunities for Student Success

 Playing Out the Imagination's Wildest Scenarios...

Learn Today, Apply Tomorrow

Upcoming Events

Learning Styles

From Computer Bio Simulations...

Community College Assessment Library

The Forum


Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction

The Labyrinth... Sharing Information on Learning Technologies

Some Thoughts on Change from Egypt
John Lea Fimbers
Cairo, Egypt

Jon Lea Fimbres, former PVCC faculty member, currently Regional Educational Advising Coordinator of the Middle East and North Africa, and humble learner.

I have been struggling with the topic of "change" for several weeks. My frustration has puzzled me since for the past year and a half, I have lived in a state of constant change -- cultural, professional, personal, physical and/or spiritual. It seemed like the more I learned about change, the more aware I was about how little we know and how simplistic our models. In my quest to find a better way to express myself, I was reading an old (1973) ecology/natural history book, One Cosmic Instant: Man's Fleeting Supremacy by John A. Livingston. The title captured my attention because life in Egypt makes one very aware of time, change and impermanence. The first chapter says what I have learned about change:

We cannot change our biological inheritance, but we can and do change our cultures -- consciously. Conscious change of direction toward the environmental ethic will mean the practice of a kind of artificial selection -- choosing certain positive elements in our traditions and rejecting negative elements. The selective process will not be easy, for it will demand something that is foreign to us -- humility. It will demand willingness to see ourselves in the perspective of time of infinite duration and of events of unimaginable magnitude.

Livington's words describe three aspects of change that I have been living with for the past year and a half. The idea of conscious change requires the embracing of the positive traditions and letting go of the negative, developing humility as an essential life skill and the willingness to see ourselves as connected to something bigger than our day to day struggles summarize the lessons of my life in Egypt.

Although Egyptians will tell you they are a culture that doesn't like change, their country has gone through more changes in the last 50 years than the United States has from its inception. Since the late 40's, Egyptians have politically and culturally changed from a British controlled monarchy to a socialist political state to a capitalist agenda to the current climate of cautious entrepreneurship. During these times they have seen their educational systems, governmental infrastructures and livelihoods influenced by Western liberal values and Islamic traditionalist values. In order to cope with these rapid changes, the Egyptian people have had to constantly reevaluate their fundamental ideals and values. The challenges and complexities of saving what is a good cultural tradition and letting go of what is not working is evident in every day life. Seeing a covered Muslim woman answering a cellular, portable phone or watching an ancient donkey cart lumber through the chaotic stream of Cairo traffic while transporting trash are constant reminders of the struggles to balance the old and the new and the traditional and the progressive.

As a counselor trained in transitions and inter-cultural communications, I learned very quickly that humility was the most essential skill for dealing with change. Armed with the fast-food knowledge of the stages of transition, I felt prepared to deal with all of the exciting opportunities available to me in living overseas. The tidy steps of culture shock -- honeymoon, frustration, denial, anger, numbness, anger, and acceptance -- could more accurately be pictured either as a chaotic ride or a natural metamorphosis that may or may not include all, some, or none of these phases. They may be experienced in one year, one week, or one hour. The best analogy has been the lessons of driving in Cairo. Out of the seeming chaos and anarchy of the Cairo traffic, comes a set of unwritten guidelines: "honk to let others know of your presence," "watch out for others as you would have them watch out for you," and "trust that the flow of traffic will take you where you want to go eventually or deliver you to some exciting new destination." Never think that you have mastered driving in Cairo, always travel with the humility of a beginner.

The last insight into change -- the willingness to see ourselves connected to something bigger than our day to day struggles is a constant part of life in Egypt and the Middle East. Whether it is living in a "waiting zone" while super powers debate whether to wage war or not or listening to the five-times-a-day muezzin call to prayer, my life is filled with reminders of how we are all part of a vast universe that only allows me a tiny glimpse. One cannot listen to the 5000+ years of Egyptian history on a starlit night in Karnak Temple, Luxor and not be reminded of how impermanent our paradigms of living have been. Ironically, the very thing the Egyptians are sometimes criticized for is also one of their greatest coping strengths. Egyptians are sometimes known for their own version of "IBM." It has nothing to do with the big conglomerate that makes computers. Inshallah, (God-willing), Bukra (Tomorrow) and Malesh (There's nothing you can do about it, so why worry) can be very valuable guiding principles for change. While some of my expatriate American colleagues are caught up in whining and complaining about the mini-details of their day to day lives, such as the availability of designer brands at local stores, the cost of golf club memberships, and the inconvenience of learning a new language, the Egyptian people react daily with the quiet dignity of the "IBM" philosophy to regroup after the terrible set-back of the Luxor tragedy, to adjust to the challenges of learning three to four languages to compete in an international setting and to continue to walk the delicate line between Western capitalist, progressive values and the traditional values that have sustained them for dynasties.

My concluding thoughts have to do with the mystery of it all. With the humility that I have lived with since the day I arrived in Cairo. I would never presume that these ideas are any more than temporary thoughts on a complex and exciting process. Before I left Maricopa, I had the pleasure of co-teaching a series of lectures on storytelling with Karen Kabrich and myth with John Nelson. These lectures were reminders that our stories are constantly evolving and unfolding. Everyday I am reminded of the words of the poem "Oceans" by Hernandez:

My boat struck something deep, nothing happened. Silence, wind, sounds. Nothing happened or perhaps everything happened. And I am sitting in the middle of my new life.

Ma Salaama (In Peace)