Vol 6 Issue 2
IN THIS ISSUE...
Technology and Change
Thoughts on Change from Egypt
Opportunities for Student Success
Out the Imagination's Wildest Scenarios...
Today, Apply Tomorrow
Computer Bio Simulations...
College Assessment Library
Center for Learning and Instruction
Some Thoughts on Change from Egypt
John Lea Fimbers
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)