The MOOC MBA

OK so it’s not quite a MOOC MBA but its all about using resources from top tier schools and with the no pay no certs deal, it seems you can learn anything you want at your own pace. Here are the first couple of pages of Jeff Schmidt’s 21 page piece. Have a read, it could be very beneficial, not to mention save you an absolute bomb! The only personal who would really have any kind of gripe, would be those who already have an elite education! They’ll tell you “It’s not the same!” But who cares!

http://poetsandquants.com/2013/12/17/the-mooc-revolution-how-to-earn-an-elite-mba-for-free/

The MOOC Revolution: How To Earn An Elite MBA For Free

by Jeff Schmitt on December 17, 2013

online EDUCATIONSo you want an MBA? But you can’t afford to take two years off and invest upwards of a quarter of a million on tuition, books, living expenses, and lost wages?
Boy, do I have a proposition for you!

Now, it’s a little unconventional. And it’ll require a load of self-discipline on your part. When it’s over, you’ll have an Ivy League education on your resume. And it won’t cost you a cent!

Sound too good to be true? Maybe it is. But I got your attention. And that’s one of the first things you learn in a foundational marketing class. And one of the world’s best business schools—Wharton—offers one of those for free through a MOOC.

A MOOC, you say? Isn’t that a slur? Maybe in Jersey. These days, MOOCs are considered by many academics to be the future of education. MOOCs — an acronym for massive open online courses—are courses that can be accessed globally over the internet. Thanks to their flexibility, students covet them.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MOOCs


It can be hard to pinpoint exactly what a MOOC is. To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart, you ‘know it when you see it.’  Most MOOCs rely on set start and end dates, though a few are self-paced. They can be scaled to accommodate tens-of-thousands…or just a select community. Occasionally, students can earn grades and college credits through MOOCs. Most times, they’ll just receive a certificate of completion.

Tests can be proctored, but many MOOCs rely on the honor system. Textbooks are often optional (though some courses come with eBooks and downloadable software). Although professors deliver content through videos and PowerPoints in MOOCs, many engage with students on message boards in real time (and even keep office hours for their online students). Although MOOCs are grounded in distance education, many students form regionally-based online communities to facilitate peer support.

Still, there is one characteristic that marks all MOOCs: They are available to anyone. And that’s why they’re becoming a booming business. Sure, many MOOCs are free. But they’re also drawing millions of students. That’s why platforms like CourseraedX, and Udacity are partnering with schools to house content. For example, edX started as a consortium between Harvard and MIT – and has since added the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Texas to its membership (along with recently joining forces with Google). Coursera was launched by Stanford professors and offers undergraduate and graduate courses from programs ranging from Wharton to Stanford.

BUILDING YOUR OWN MBA CURRICULUM FOR FREE OUT OF MOOCs


And that begs the question: With so much content available for free, do students even need to enroll in college anymore? MOOCs have democratized education globally (provided you have an internet connection). Could students conceivably treat education like a build-your-own IKEA furniture?

Take business school education. For decades, entrepreneurs have counseled professionals to find a mentor and earn your MBA in the ‘school of hard knocks.’ Sounds tempting, but knowledge is power. And it’s very costly to make those same fundamental mistakes in launching a business. So ask yourself these questions: 1) What if these would-be MBA candidates could review course catalogs and identify foundational courses and electives that would fill their knowledge gaps? 2) What if they could use this research to construct a learning plan that would build their knowledge, step-by-step, like a normal curriculum? 3) And what if they could locate these courses on MOOC platforms like Coursera and edX?

It’s a tempting proposition. Imagine taking two MOOCs every eight weeks. You could theoretically finish your MBA in the same time it takes to complete a traditional program. Now, ask yourself these two key questions: 1) Is the right content available? 2) Does it come from a reputable source? The answer is both questions is “Absolutely.” You can find much of the content covered in an MBA curriculum online at little to no cost.
And even David Wilson, the outgoing chief executive of the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT test, says it may well be possible. “The next MBA degree may not be a degree but a portfolio of certificates,” says Wilson. “The market will determine the worth of it.”

A COMPLETE CORE MBA CURRICULUM IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR FREE FROM ELITE SCHOOLS


Just take a look at this list of core MBA courses (along with the available MOOCs that cover this content):

  • Corporate Finance (Ross / Intro To Finance or Wharton / Intro to Corporate Finance)
  • Financial Accounting (Wharton / An Introduction To Financial Accounting)
  • Economics  (Caltech / Principles of Economics With Calculus)
  • Business Strategy (Darden / Foundations of Business Strategy)
  • Statistical Analysis (Princeton / Statistics I)
  • Marketing Principles (Wharton / An Introduction To Marketing)
  • Organizational Theory and Behavior (Stanford / Organizational Analysis)
  • Operations Management (Wharton / An Introduction To Operations Management)

In other words, you can now take the foundational MBA curriculum from the leading institutions for free. And that doesn’t count all dozens of elective courses available in areas like finance, marketing, and sustainability (far more electives, in fact, than would be available in a pricey Executive MBA program). So is this worth considering?
Let’s take a look at the advantages (besides not paying tuition). Face it: No one cares where you earned a degree once you get your foot in the door and prove yourself. Completing your MBA requirements via MOOCs shows employers that you’re a disciplined, forward-thinking first adopter who has the self-control to be trusted to work on your own. With MOOC drop-out rates hovering around 90%, your approach also demonstrates that you possess the grit to survive difficult circumstances.

STUDY WITH A NOBEL PRIZE WINNER AND OTHER SUPERSTAR PROFESSORS


And disregard that quaint notion that MOOCs are watered down curriculum. Leading institutions are using their teaching and research stars – not adjuncts or TAs – in their MOOCs. At Yale, Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller is conducting a MOOC on Financial Markets in February. Similarly, Columbia Professor Jeffrey Sachs, who moonlights as a Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, is holding a MOOC on Sustainability beginning in January.

online-mba

Why? First, the best teachers are usually the most innovative and passionate faculty members. And MOOCs are the new frontier in education. They bring together thousands of students from around the world – more students than professors might reach in years of teaching. And MOOCs are still in their infancy with plenty of room for growth. Who wouldn’t a forward-thinking professor not want to be part of such a ground-breaking educational trend? What’s more, institutions realize that MOOCs are a way to show their best face to the world. They are a vehicle to build brand and attract students to programs. As a result schools are taking extra pains to make sure these courses work. Bottom line: You will probably receive higher quality instruction on a MOOC than in a classroom environment. And that gives you another advantage over your brick-and-mortar peers.

And you can enjoy all of these benefits without quitting your job, losing two years of work experience, and shelling out six figures for tuition. In fact, you won’t even need to study for your GMAT, pony up for consultant, or face those daunting odds of getting into a top 10 business school. And you can start your MBA immediately from home, rather than uprooting your life and waiting for the fall. Plus, you’ll interact with students from around the world, mastering an educational medium conducive to life-long learning. Imagine adding a page to your resume, listing courses and completion dates alongside names like “Wharton” or “Stanford.” It stands out. And it suggests that you can succeed at the highest levels.

One more benefit: If you can’t find a MOOC for a particular area, you can always take a paid brick-and-mortar or online course at some institution (or enroll with Udemy, whose course prices range from $19-$500).

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I remember reading general articles about study foods during my exams,  high sugar foods and fluids were generally recommended. Mars bars were particularly popular in examination halls, too. This sorry piece sets things right:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z3xdq6f

BBC iWonder

Can food improve your exam performance?

Can eating right improve your exam grades?

When you’re faced with a pile of revision, feeding your body as well as your brain may be the last thing on your mind. But can you give yourself an advantage simply by eating certain foods? And does drinking plenty of water really increase your chances of getting good grades?

Whether you’re a student or the parent of a child sitting school exams, are there quick and easy food tips to help maintain those all-important energy levels and improve concentration and memory?

How important is drinking water?

One of the best ways to maximise your focus is to ensure you are hydrated. Even mild dehydration can lead to tiredness, headaches, reduced alertness and diminished concentration.

It’s a good idea to start the day with a big glass of water or a hot drink such as fruit tea. The European Food Safety Authority recommends women drink about 1.6 litres of fluid a day and men 2 litres. That’s eight to ten 200ml glasses. Water is ideal, but healthy drinks such as milk or fruit juice count. Tea and coffee count too, but are high in caffeine. It’s best to avoid fizzy and energy drinks, which are high in sugar, as they’ll lead to energy peaks and troughs. Take a bottle of water into the exam if you’re allowed to; a study of university students found that those who brought drinks, especially water, with them into the exam performed on average 5% better than those who didn’t.

Which foods will help you focus?

Eating a balanced diet can help you focus and avoid illness. No single food is nutritionally complete, so you need variety. Try not to skip meals or your blood-sugar level will drop. Click on the labels below for more information on a balanced diet.

Use the above impression of a plate as a guide to the proportions of vegetables, fruit, protein and whole grains that should comprise a healthy, balanced diet. These proportions are based on the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate.

What’s the best breakfast on exam days?

Research shows that those who eat breakfast tend to perform better in exams. For the best breakfast, include slow-release carbohydrates, such as whole rolled porridge oats, whole grain bread or low-sugar muesli, as they provide slow-release energy. Add a protein food, such as milk, yoghurt or eggs, to keep you feeling full for longer. On exam day aim to include a portion of a food rich in long-chain Omega-3 fats, such as smoked mackerel, as they are believed to have brain-boosting properties. See Where Next in step 8 for a collection of these breakfast recipes.

Exam day special: wholemeal toast with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon gives you a good portion of Omega-3 fats.

Which snacks should you choose?

When it comes to snacks on revision and exam days, should you eat crisps or popcorn? Cereal bars or nuts and seeds? Click on the labels below to find out.

Starter kit: Find your top recipes

Find simple, fuss-free recipes that work around your lifestyle; whether that’s a tight budget, fussy family or strict schedule.

What should you eat for a good night’s sleep?

How can sleep affect your grades?

Not getting enough sleep may negatively affect your memory and slow your responses. Experts believe memory neurons that are responsible for converting short-term memories into long-term ones work most effectively when we are asleep. There’s evidence that students who sleep for seven hours a night do on average 10% better than those who get less sleep. But what should you eat and drink at bedtime to promote sleep?

What should you eat before bedtime?

A heavy meal too close to bedtime can interfere with sleep, so try to have your last meal at least three hours before you go to bed. Then have a small snack such as a bowl of high-fibre cereal like porridge just before bedtime. If you need sweetener with cereal, go for dried fruit rather than sugar.

What should you drink at bedtime?

Avoid foods and drinks that contain caffeine, such as tea, coffee, cola and chocolate, for least four hours before going to bed. Be aware that some people who are very sensitive to caffeine can still feel the effect 12 hours later. A warm glass of milk can help you sleep better.

The Green Cross Code

Here’s the breakdown: Walk from pavement to pavement and hope that the cars miss.

Besides that, there isn’t much else to say except that I don’t know what the pavement is for because no one uses it anyway. Khaled’s amazing piece of advice, to walk on the road, wasn’t a joke after all! Jay-walking isn’t a crime here: Everyone seems to be an expert at it.

Normally that would make things more complicated but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone mowed down by oncoming traffic or a even a serious accident. Sure, there have been instances of small minor knocks from bumper to bumper which has resulted in drivers removing themselves from motors to inspect the damage in the middle of the road. They aren’t oblivious to the rest of the traffic, just nothing else matters enough at that point to be courteous to others.

Now that I’ve reassured you that it’s safe enough for a toddler to cross the street, let me hit you with the truth. Egypt would be the bane of every pedestrian if there were a survey conducted about road-crossing by those marketing geniuses around the world, Gallup. 

When standing on one side of the road, the street seems like something out of a cartoon sketch, you know the one: Coyote and Roadrunner. Cars spring into the vicinity only when you tread on the tarmac, they appear from nowhere. Tip-toe, Bunny hop or crawl, drivers will sense you out and charge at you like a rampant bull snarling towards a matador. Strangely, even though you’re not goading the car or driver, the fact that you want to share the road with them, vexes them immensely (Meep Meep.)The method of crossing the road has evolved no doubt, just as tempers have raised- it’s a game of Chicken. Facing your fear of getting run over needs to be combated or you’ll never get across.

So why did the chicken cross the road?!

There is enough space in the road for two lanes, so needless to say that there are three rows of cars. Once you’ve successfully negotiated the first row, you need to weave through the second and the third in the same way. Make like a break dancer, dodging between cars as they slide and scrape against any offending backside that may be protruding a little too far south. On other occasions if a driver comes too close, he’ll shout at you blaming you for crossing the road and not that he’s a plonker-himself. Ignore them, I don’t- I curse at them, but my advice is to just ignore them.

A driver will not slow down or stop, the sudden burst of speed that occurs when they see a pedestrian is in the hope that the walker will retract their feet out of the path. Sometimes, you need to stop, think and listen, though the listening part is redundant. Hands are surgically attached to car horns which have a variety of tones more diverse than a cell phone ringer. The classical ‘meep-meep’ doesn’t work then! It’s frightening stuff when you have to stop in the middle of the road and put your trust in the oncoming driver, fortunately it’s worked thus far and all my limbs are intact.

There is another trick, pressing all your fingers together the same way you would if you shoved your hand into a sock puppet. Think Italians who obsessively plead innocence, gesticulating famously with their hands the same way- in Arabia it means patience. Cross the road and do that little action, moving the hand back and forth beside you and some cars will miraculously draw to a snail’s pace- the odd one doesn’t listen: they have psycho eyes. It only half-works, oh and never try it in front of a bus.

In conclusion, you can liken crossing the road to a dance. There’s the break dance method, where you’re popping your body to squeeze into a narrow gap between two cars. The moonwalk is when sliding or shuffling your feet until a car comes too close so you’ll grab your crotch and scream. The ethnic south Indian dance full of circling motions with the hands (like the hand in a sock!) while scuttling in front of traffic. And then there’s Jamiraquai, two steps forward and three steps back, (they may be Paula Abdul’s lyrics, but JK dances to that effect).

In every case, to get across you need to grab a partner and move to the beat.

Gridlock!

Gridlock!

Oh wait, there is a major exception to the rule, it’s the one road that you would only cross with a death wish, I’m not talking about Charles Bronson’s B movies (I’m doing ‘b’ movies a discredit there). Now forget what I intimated before about accidents and fatalities on Egypt’s roads, I was joking: There are actually 8000 reported incidents a year. I’m pretty sure that there are more accidents on this particular road than any other in Cairo, it’s a notorious winding, bumpy and congested stretch of tarmac.  The road is called the Autostrad, and cars whizz along at break-neck speed into around Cairo. The only other place they travel without due process of speed restriction is on the Ring Road, which is something of an M25 around Cairo: it forms a ring around Cairo… apparently. The difference is that there aren’t so many pedestrians crossing the ring road, the Autostrad is within city limits.

There’s no beat to run to here, you just have to make do like Benny Hill.

The Environment: Take a Deep Breath (Ad Nauseum)

Londoners love their city; it’s one of the great capitals of the world and is fast becoming a strong competitor to New York as the world’s most cosmopolitan city. Personally I think it has already surpassed the Big Apple insofar as London being the melting pot. Having had said that there are some serious downfalls, for one we aren’t that environmentally conscious; although we may think longer and harder than a pompous few who consider themselves unbound by Geneva conventions.

Vastly populated with a strength-in-depth of willing workers, the rush hour prompts an immense amount of smoke and litter. Despite admirable attempts to curb high-volume traffic in the business hub of the capital, it transpires that the poor air quality has simply shifted abundantly around the outskirts of zone one, a bit like a doughnut. That doesn’t mean it’s completely devoid of traffic and pollution, the local services just increase their efforts to clear litter in tourist traps and love piling havoc on drivers. Technically, here is where I should impress upon you guys with my abundant knowledge of transport policies, strategies and their consequences, but this is meant to be a light read. So feel free to remove that frown and begin to smile yet again, after all it takes fewer muscles to smile than frown.

Hold that frown while I get this out the way: A quick word about zone 1 just to ensure that you’re well-informed. London is made up of a few travel zones on the TfL Tube map, consider it something of a Monopoly board, the deeper you go into the centre the greater the significance, at least in terms of money, business and entertainment. Oxford Circus for example is a shopping haven for would be day trippers, Canary Wharf and Liverpool Street are Money central for the nouveau yuppies and with the ultra-cool chic Old Spitalfields market a stones throw away the hip-crowd can gallivant and drown their worries in a pint. There are other areas such as the tourist delights: Tower of London, Pall Mall and the Houses of Parliament all fall within prime location. Clubs, pubs, bars, theatres and grand cinemas with red carpets are stationed in Leicester Square. The list goes on.

High litter, escalating carbon emissions, anti-ozone gases and smoke all pollute the London sky and earth. The River Thames is a murky looking passage of water which is losing its greatness, it’s also filthy and putrid in parts. Sewage builds up around plants in the Docklands and the odour is especially repugnant near the old sugar factory. Let’s be frank, the air is horrid and you can see it in the sky in all its asphyxiating glory in the summer when it is mixed in with all the pollen. All in all, it’s a far cry from the Highlands, Cotswold or Lake District and the big surprise is that you manage to survive with every cycle of inhalation.

I recall looking out of my fifth floor classroom window some years ago when I was still at school, I was squinting hard searching for my house in the distance, five hundred yards north. That shouldn’t be difficult to find, but amongst all the cloud before it all I could see was no further than the end of the street, half the distance of my house. I scoured the skyline in hope to find the towering library (now a listed building I add proudly) on the High Road to no avail.

This was in the halcyon days of chisel and hammer, long before the internet. I felt devastated, as one would have felt equally proud when searching for their house on Google Earth and telling the person sitting beside you with an invisible, subconscious nudge, “that’s my house!” If that doesn’t work you’d sit there with a smug expression and exaggerate the craning of your neck towards the pleasantries before you. Now, you can rotate that neck but it will defeat the objective, the only purpose of this exercise is to achieve acknowledgement of the person sitting beside you. Finally, said person would realise what you’re doing and give you an accepting nod of approval, as only us men know how to do. I should add on this side point, another sub-point: This nod of the head is for anyone ranked from best friend to arch foe, full of manliness.

I digressed, my subsequent action after being so crestfallen was to begin a campaign against smog complete with total adolescent fervour. The campaign survived no longer than a day, in fact I don’t recall it ever going past a principle or a moral obligation in my head. The reason for this failed campaign of Al Gore type standards (I’m referring to his presidential campaign), was because I looked out the window again the following day and saw something new in the skyline, a church steeple decorating the view looking lovely and white. Being roughly a kilometre away it became the new benchmark. Still, I couldn’t see my house, thank goodness for Google Earth. (NB. There is a grey area as to how my campaign lasted for a fleeting moment and nothing longer, so for the sake of the record we’ll say I was obstructed by the establishment.)

Look, I understand that I have just told you about something that you are probably fully aware of, but that is not the issue here, this was merely a precursor to the rest of the story. In any case, this isn’t about the English capital because under the following circumstances, I would never have thought that London air was so damn fresh in my life!

You know that time when you feel that you’re becoming ill, the air seems thick and hardly penetrates your lungs. When your eyes are half shut as though hay fever is about to hit you full throttle? Well, every single day in Cairo is just like that. Step out into the street and take a full swig of air out here in the Egyptian capital and you feel an urge to run back home to fill up a canister of the London-stuff to breathe from. You’d be happy to lug the canister everywhere with a huge strain on your back, even though you may end up looking like a modern day Rocketman.

If somehow though, we can cope in London, they can definitely cope out here in Cairo. And it’s not because of the love of the city; most people prefer their villages that are a few hours travel from the Egyptian capital. They cope because the money is here; there is no specifically allocated business, tourist or entertainment area because the city wasn’t built to serve those specific purposes. What you will find instead are small pockets of industry all over Cairo in every district. Actually, that’s not altogether true; I lived in Madinat Nasr, a small residential city within new Cairo. You see, much like London, the original parameters of the city had to be extended to accommodate the incredible demand. There are many gated cities being built, usually for the modern class and upwards, Madinat Nasr was of that ilk nearly 30 years ago. Times have changed, whereas it used to be a small residential development in the sand in the 1980’s, it has now become a bustling town. Beyond that, the areas of interest for tourists usually attract workers and market traders. Of course all this excess travel and industry doesn’t help the immediate environment or the ozone layer but the more immediate survival is much more paramount than the impending doom.

Most Arab countries were predominantly desert, some have been transformed by irrigation. Cairo being a very populous place has expanded and the further it stretches the more noticeable the desert becomes. With the desert comes sand and with people comes other heathen things like sewage, disease, litter, etc. There aren’t too many cities in the world that can compete with this one in terms of residents so you can imagine the carnage. Public services just can’t cope with the huge numbers in terms of welfare and health both of which are significantly disproportionate. There is a lot of poverty in this city, groups of marauding children sniff glue to endure the other hardships they suffer and they resort to begging and theft to feed themselves.

The old cars maraud that the streets would embarrass the tarmac in most European countries except possibly Eastern Europe, because that’s where most of them are from. Amongst these overpriced antiquities, there are taxis which chug along like Alex Higgins at the peak of his less-sober days. Smoke visibly spews from the pipe in the rear if not any other exit it can find. If you were to sit inside a taxi, the petrol fumes and smoke would overpower you immediately with nausea, compounded only by the incessant smoking of the driver besides you. Opening the window is of little benefit because most of the other cars and vans are spitting smoke at you. Your only real remedy is to hold your breath and take a gulp of air every twenty seconds. It would help your cause a little more if there was something filtering the air, like a hanky. Alternatively you can settle to breathe through your shirt, the downside is that you’ll look like a total idiot. Keep in mind that this isn’t Far East Asia, masks are only used in surgery and not to filter polluted air in the street.

The cars themselves go through little mechanical repair and would quite easily fail European legistlatory checks, it’s a good thing they aren’t bound by them. Mechanics knock a spanner against the bonnet and that suffices a decent repair job. Petrol is ridiculously cheaper than several hundred miles North of Alexandria, but on a cost-of-living ratio it is still very high. Nevertheless, an un-economically run car can swig a few pints before needed a refill of this depleting fuel.

There are trolley bins tactically located around residential areas to encourage people to throw their unwanted items into it. They are nowhere near as effective or abundant as those in London but nevertheless they are there. However, the route to the bin itself it commonly populated with litter itself, why use the bin when you can help the littered path proliferate? In some other cases you may find littered points in random places along the street releasing unpleasant odours into your nose. Fortunately, the litter is cleaned almost every day or if not, un-fortunately it’s burned releasing smoke alongside noxious vapours into the air. The idea is that getting rid of the pungent odour is fine, even if you burn plastic, metal and whatever else lay in the vicinity.

Water is used excessively and then some people have the gall to say that there are serious water shortages in Cairo. Cars are cleaned almost every day, some aren’t even utilised yet sparklingly clean, even the Ladas and Yugos. Seriously, why would you clean a Yugo? It looks better dirty! It’s no wonder some people don’t mind body odour, because if you have a clean car you’ve already kept up with the Joneses, or Hussains or whatever. Of all the intoxicating things, an armpit in your face in a packed bus is the worst, especially when their vehicle has had more showers than the driver.

The skyline is pretty balanced, buildings don’t tend to go much higher than 10 storeys; I guess that’s the extent of the town planning. Cairo isn’t that much of an uneven place either, meaning that it isn’t very hilly. Looking across from a high vantage point on a sunny day will allow you to see only a limited distance, nowhere near as far as the local library from my old classroom window. Does that mean London is cleaner? Not necessarily, but I can really feel the difference and even see it when I blow my nose; the remnants of dusty Cairo on my tissue.

Overall, the green issue isn’t the most important because the majority of people suffer from poverty and cannot afford to address it. Those who can, I speculate, there is an aura of complacency amongst most of them and they are willing to follow bad habits. Another speculative suggestion is that people don’t really know the impact of waste or lack of environmental concern, what is required in that regard is education. Egyptians and resident foreigners alike contribute to poor air and low environmental standards and it doesn’t look likely to be fixed any time soon.

The Lugha (Language)

Just because I put the section on language so far down the chain of contents doesn’t mean that it’s any less important. This isn’t a hierarchy of my travel ambitions though it is somewhat ironic that it comes right after the food section. Insofar as I’m concerned, considering that knowledge is food for the brain, the order works pretty well and it’s essential stuff. And so: the reason I came to Egypt was to learn…

My arrangements were to go and meet my teacher after a couple of days; I would be taken by one of the other students who lived in the flat. All of them were studying with the same teacher so I had my choice of person to follow to class. There was no chance of it turning into the playground facade of picking out your football team from the line up. I was just eager to get started and after two days indoors I was glad to get out; it would be the start of my outdoor experience of Cairo. More importantly, I’d break free of the indoor chill and thaw out.

I went with Khaled, a young Bangladeshi man of slight build from Luton, who lived not too far from my cousin, in fact. His Cairo advice was good, from the most pertinent pieces of advice came: This is the pavement, so walk on the road. It really was that blunt, just delivered with a spritely voice and big smile. Prior to Khaled’s lesson I met the teacher, Ahmad AbdelKarim, Said’s brother, who had an identical smile; just as prominent and resounding. Meeting my teacher was a pleasant affair, we discussed an arrangement that would accommodate his schedule and that was that really. I left to go back to the flat and Khaled began his lesson. It was on this trip back that I had the brief “Bakidi Bins??” episode I mentioned earlier.

A few days later, I began studying with him. My classes commenced in the early part of the day, I was his first student so I guess I was pleased that both he and I would have fresh minds, additionally I would have brought my crusty eyes too. The problem was that I found it difficult to wake up in the morning, fortunately though that never factored much during my classes.

The monotony of the schedule isn’t really that important so I won’t bore you with the details. After a short duration I concluded that I couldn’t afford to remain with my teacher long term so I detached myself of any obligation and found a new teacher. In reality I had been looking for a particular teacher since my arrival, I had been given such a glowing reference that I decided that he had to be the one to teach me.

Embarrassingly, after Said took me to the flat when I first arrived and I had taken my seat in the pink Venus Flytrap, I mentioned a little something I shouldn’t have. I have foot in mouth disease, if I haven’t mentioned that already I probably will later, it just splutters out. My wife has it too, and I’m not sure who caught it from whom. So Said, having had waited for me for four hours, having had brought me to the flat, having had introduced me to the flatmates, I told Said that I was looking forward to taking lessons from Ahmad AbdelKarim Showki (someone other than his brother).

I got a blank stare from him and the others. I’m such a tool.

Despite the fact that a teacher by that name doesn’t actually exist, I genuinely thought that my teacher was going to be Ahmad Showki. I didn’t know it was someone else at that point because the person who had made the arrangements for me hadn’t told me the final plan. It was a misunderstanding. This is how I convince my wife that she is higher up the foot-in-mouth league than me.

I left Said’s brother after two weeks, which made me look like an even bigger jerk.

Forget that now: After numerous enquiries Rehan helped me pinpoint the teacher I had been searching for. I was finally given a telephone number and on calling it we arranged yet another meeting to discuss my programme arrangements. A taxi drive and midday prayers later, I met him outside the mosque. I had no idea what he looked like apart from an Arab guy who probably had a beard; looking for a needle in a haystack Rehan and I stood outside bewildered.

It’s possible that there was a large illuminated neon sign flashing above our heads, but if it was there I don’t know why I couldn’t see it. Aside from that, I don’t know how he could have recognised us amongst all the other rambunctious Egyptians and Daghestanis, we were chameleons, masters of disguise. Obviously he had developed a sixth sense over his years of experience, he walked right up to us and said “hello!” We walked to the language centre and while we were there we agreed on a time to start class, it was in the morning again but this time slightly later that with my previous teacher. He began at teaching at 6am, which I considered an absurd time for me to begin so I plumped for 8am- give him time to warm up.

Rehan and I both left having had set our tasks to stone and began making our way back to the flat. Now the school isn’t that far, it isn’t that near either but you can walk in twenty minutes. I think one of the blessings of not driving is that you never give up on the glorious nature of a good walk. Rehan couldn’t hack the walk for no more than 30 seconds and he hailed a taxi and shot off down the road still negotiating a price with the taxi driver. It’s good to walk, you see other things and places of interest … BUT that didn’t happen here because there’s nothing really interesting to see in Madinat Nasr, at least I became familiar with my surroundings.

I took my walk every morning, I equated it to good exercise before I trained my mind. Arabic isn’t that easy but it’s thorough and in very detailed in meaning, a new script, a new tongue and I was happy. You’re not allowed to copy the syllabus books, copyright laws are just as prevalent here as in the West but everyone flaunts it because of lack of availability of books. Mainly because they don’t give it a shit, though. I built up a small photocopied library of books on Arabic in Arabic, it wasn’t meant to be an immediate help but something that I could aspire towards and build up to. A few children’s books were added to help improve my reading but even they were a little difficult at first.

This is a house, that is a castle. Only kidding! They weren’t that simple.

The teaching method isn’t that different to Pavlov’s dog, but I’ve gone past the learn and be rewarded stage that I had become accustomed to at the mosque in London. It was common to read a page and get rewarded with a sweet, or sweetie as it was called when I was seven. On the other hand if you fail to conform you become the recipient of a classic clip around the ear. I never used to get a sweet because I never ever finished the page, I felt kind of cheated because at the beginning of every class I started at the top of the page; it took me seven years to get a sweet, that one was because I was the only one not naughty enough to deserve a caning. This is probably the reason I couldn’t read Quran properly until my trip to Egypt, Alhamdulillah.

Now, a quarter of a century later and a few thousand miles away from the Masjid, I finish a page and smile with a ton of self satisfaction until my teacher steals the smugness from my face with a pinch, punch and twist of my arm. “Rubbish!” He adds. The physical torture doesn’t inspire me but he tells me that the mistake is recorded because of the consequence. Even if I tell him that I’m older than him, it doesn’t matter to him because it’s only a year and a few days difference. It was more than a little irritating, so when a later teacher tried to carry out the same procedure, I looked at him and said, “don’t do that again.” That was that.

Pavlov’s dog is wasted on me.

Though I paid him, it was a discounted amount that we arranged between us. He’s not much of a businessman and I tell him that he needs to acquire a steel-manner when it comes to business and not a big heart. As an idealist, he’s an educator who believes in passing on his skills, training new potential teachers and spreading the good language: Unfortunately more often than not his protégés are not of his ilk. Teaching has become a cut-throat business and many teachers vie for new students to teach and not all of them are good: You’ll hear the gossip of which teacher is great or mediocre, when you meet them they’ll push all the pitches of an egotistical, narcissistic salesman. Fair play to that, it’s a job that pays the bills.

My teacher, his name was Ahmad Showki (Sho-i’e) which could be fortunate or unfortunate. You see, Ahmad Showki, may he rest in peace, was a man of erudition, a famous poet. Therefore, it’s not a name easily forgotten, so if I was to tell anyone my teachers name, I’d have to follow it up with, “no, not the poet” despite being the theme of Robin Williams’ literature class of ’89.

Oh Captain, my captain.

You didn’t get that joke?

Dead Poets Society!! Jokes aren’t as funny when they need explaining.

He’s more of a friend now than a teacher and that was the reason I realised I had to leave his classes, we spent more time talking than studying, though it was extremely helpful for my proficiency in speaking.  Uhm, I didn’t leave though.

Grammar and vocabulary are obviously essential and it’s really a question of revising rules and words until they’re firmly stuck in your head. Phonetics are difficult for those who are unaccustomed with the language but a little familiarity helps and I don’t think my efforts in classical Arabic are that bad. I can do a few mean accents: Geordie, Scouse, Yorkshire… Sounding like a native is an incredible achievement but Egyptian colloquial is a new prospect, mastering classical is a little like speaking to a native  in Latin or Olde English.

When I moved, a twenty-minute walk became a forty-five gallop; I couldn’t cope with the distance to his school that but that’s a story for later. Anyway, the problem with walking everyday is that you inhale more than just air.

Ahmad Showki is one exceptional teacher, and though this isn’t a resume for his talents, but as a graduate of the esteemed Al-Azhar University in the faculty of Arabic, he utilised his skills by teaching foreign students as soon as he graduated. Those skills have developed and he’s something of a Arabic Language philanthropist, though private classes aren’t free, he (and Ustad Abdul Aziz) opened up a school for locals to expand their knowledge of Arabic.

There is a story of the formulation of language that is prevalent in the Arab world. It is alleged that the written word of the modern Arabic alphabet was created by virtue of an impending event that needed to be conveyed. The people couldn’t write, so in order to create an alphabet they used the names of their kings, Abbajada & Hawwaz. 

The Grub (Fast Food Chains)

Being a fast food junkie, I savour any fried meal. Chips instead of a baked potato, burgers instead of grilled steak, doughnuts instead of a fruit salad, all that and a high metabolism means that I haven’t see the after effects (yet). Add to that the fact that I’m Muslim, so if I eat meat it has to be meat that is slaughtered by virtue of Islamic ritual, I don’t touch pork and I don’t drink alcohol. Layman’s lesson over. I am also in full acknowledgment that had it not been for these dietary requirements that I’m delighted with, I would be going to McDonalds, Carls Jr. or Kentucky Fried Chicken instead of the local Turkish Kebab joint.

Fortunately for me, the meat in Egypt is halal, pork is officially unavailable (not clarified) across the country bar Sharm el Sheikh and alcohol is only available at a few vendors. All this means that I don’t have to read the label or ingredients while shoving a packet of jellied sweets into my mouth. Better still, it means that I can walk into a McDonalds and say, “Big Mac Please,” and follow it swiftly by devouring the burger before the employee can say, “I’m love it.” I dare not correct him; once I tried to purchase Baked Beans, the only progress I made when asking the attendant for a tin was for him to inadequately repeat the words, “Bakidi binz? bakidi binz?” I didn’t hang around to find out if he actually had any.

Returning to my fast food infatuation. Within a day at the apartment, I was already asking about the big chains, namely the Golden Arches and the Colonel and who could blame me, I was looking forward to this from the moment I purchased my ticket. To my displeasure no one was willing to show me how to get there, so I had to make do with a Chicken Shawarma: it was okay but it definitely wasn’t a big, fat, juicy burger. My ignorance was more a matter of anticipation rather than experience of Egyptian culinary delights. Impatience would eventually get the better of me so I scouted the building for a dining buddy.

There’s a thing you need to know about young Muslim guys, one of their favourite past times is eating. Put a drum stick in front of him and you’ll be lucky to see the bone come back, put a curry and you’ll be lucky to see the plate come back. Some tend to store it in the middle portion of their body, ready for hibernation, especially since they don’t get many chances to burn off the high grease content of the food they like to eat. Not that I would totally condemn a high fat, high cholesterol diet either.*

* NB. I wrote this in 2006-7: My 2012 self completely condemns (regrets) a high cholesterol, gut bulging, butt-hugging diet.

From my fifth floor apartment, I travelled in search of someone to join me eat, at 1am it’s generally hard to find anyone who would be willing to eat. Generally to consume food late on the day is considered unhealthy but I was living on London time a full two hours behind, which meant my body clock was at 11pm. Of course it’s still unhealthy but hey, fried chicken isn’t good for you either! Next door lived three young men; one eighteen from London, who tended to go walkabout around the town; the second, a nineteen year old from from Chicago and already married: he was perpetually on the phone to his wife so much so that the phone could have been surgically attached; the last guy was twenty-one and from sunny California. Narrowed down to one feasible choice I approached him to ask him about getting some food. For a second I thought I saw an are-you-crazy look, but I realised it was just his hostile demeanour that gave that impression. Up until that point, he hadn’t appeared to be the friendliest of characters and I had the distinct feeling that he didn’t want me there. Asking the question changed all that, he responded with a resounding “Hell Yeah!” in typical American style.

Perfect, now I had someone to get me some food, all I need to do was know what I wanted. Now between a Big Mac and Zinger Supreme, the amount of teasing your brain does is incredible and at the best of times I’m not very decisive. It was by astounding luck that Ahmed got fed up with me twiddling my thumbs and decided to order straight from the colonel. This was actually the start of a very good friendship; I didn’t sleep at night and Ahmed didn’t either so instead we ordered chicken every night. It worked for me, I got my fix.

Some time later, I moved to another apartment and our (my wife & I) delightful friend cooked us up a whole bucket of fried chicken. OOoooh my good God was it better than the fried chicken I had bought elsewhere, however seeing as Aziza is not accessible and the chicken outlets are, I satiate my whims by paying a small fortune for a tummy-ache instead. She can stay over again.

One thing is for sure though, eating KFC sure does make you feel sick, but I’m telling you it’s worth it every time.Not that I’m plugging that diet either. Obsession with fried chicken is not healthy on the mind, soul and body and endeavours that followed would have weakened the resolve of weaker men (I grunt). Generally the chicken took 6 hours to poison my stomach and the worst incident was when we had only one colonic irrigation facility available in our flat. We had a guest staying with us, it was 3am and they had decided it was a good time for a shower. ???!!

Apparently I was curled up on the floor crying in agony morphing wildly like an Autobot into various physical manifestations of pain; prostration, on all fours, rolling on the floor and leg-hip-limb-popping run in the hall, rather like a speed walker. For further elaboration please bear with me: Chinese Mandarin has 4 basic phonetic sounds, Michel Thomas’ (MT) method advocates signals to embellish each sound. The sounds are (1) Flatline, MT holds out his thumb quivering it a little; (2) Upward, pointing your index finger slowly upwards; (3) Dipping, lowering your voice and raising the tone, trough and peak, indicated by two split fingers mimicking the sound down then up and; (4) a sharp Down, represented by a sudden down motion of the index finger. In true MT method fashion, I effectively represented all four of these phonetic sounds with the word “Ooh” complete with finger motions  four years prior to ever deciding to learn Mandarin or more miraculously, stumbling across Michel Thomas.

(1) Oooooh: (2) oOOh: (3) OooOOOH: (4) O!

In any case, my wife asked me post incident, “No more KFC?

I responded, “Are you kidding?! I’m ordering again tomorrow!

Incidentally, I returned to the city during the revolution in 2011 and visited the same KFC outlet: I got sick. I realised that it wasn’t the meat but the water that these guys wash the meat in, it smelt putrid.

I can’t believe I’ve written a page basically about fried chicken.

Of course, two large chains from the American fast food industry aren’t all that’s available here, but I followed this diet with unrelenting fervour. Initially, it seemed as though the variety of street food out here was exceptionally linear: If you want a burger, they’ll give you a fried chicken sandwich, if you want Quizno’s Sub, you get a fried chicken sandwich, if you want a shawarma or a shish tawook, you’ll inevitably get variations of fried chicken, in a sandwich.

I was told, as I’ll explain later, that the flavours are bland and that I may need to bring a few spices to add a little traditional Asian flavour to the food. I didn’t do it but if I were to try, it would be a far cry from the chicken tikka masala I ordered: it was fried chicken in a very watery sauce, neither gravy nor curry. I learnt my lesson swiftly, from then on I decided to stick to the Colonel. Besides that, it would take away from the experience of titillating your taste buds with foreign cuisine (this side of Cane Rat).

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-19628943

The regime continued for six weeks, which coincided with the time that my wife appeared on the scene. Look, I know much of the above seems incredibly obtuse, I became much more cultured after my first six weeks. There is a lot of fried food that graces the Arab palette and despite savouring those tastes obligingly Arab street food is incomparable to many of the home cooked dishes that we tasted. Bouri, Koshari, Kobeba and Kabsa. Did I mention the desserts? …

Hygiene

Being slightly obsessive compulsive isn’t fun. That means that living in Egypt isn’t very easy because I’m a bit of a clean freak.

The morning after I arrived in Egypt, I was able to get a proper look at the flat and since my schedule was not due to be set for a few days, the inspection was thorough. As I dragged myself out of bed and shifted around the cold apartment the first most notable thing I would notice was the carpet. The apartment was a social joint, so other students would walk in and out like a bar with a revolving door. There were many large gatherings and dining sessions that took place and since there was no dining table big enough, everyone sat on the floor, scoffed at each other while thrusting their food into their mouths.As a result of these dinner parties, remnants of food surplus to someone’s mouth would fall to the floor and strike an immediate relationship with the carpet. The intensity of these numerous relationships of food and carpet were so heated that they eventually stuck to each other, ‘til death do them part.

Walking on the old carpet sent a chill up my spine, I looked to investigate the unprovoked attack on the underside of my foot. The chill escalated to a spasm, ketchup-crust-coated chicken is meant to go in one of two places, mouth or bin. Before I had a chance to absorb the calamity, I saw scattered pieces of food within a four-foot vicinity. Aghast, I reluctantly began picking up the pieces of food off the floor, escalating to a full-scale sweep of the place. I wasn’t one to take any chances so I pulled out the vacuum cleaner; at that point Rehan, one of my flat mates walked in.

“Oh,” he said, “you’re cleaning.”The tone in his voice was one of astonishment but it didn’t distract me from the job at hand. For some bizarre reason, we both peered at the vacuum cleaner and seeing it in front of me he exclaimed, “uhm, that doesn’t work. We tried to fix it but we don’t know what’s wrong with it.”  With that he walked off while I cursed at the useless contraption.

I didn’t believe him. Apparently I often hear the advice of other people but don’t actually listen, but it’s a grand claim made by most women about their partners, so ignore that. After a pause, it was obvious to me that the machine needed my expertise so the plug was thrust into the socket, sure enough it didn’t work beyond the low drone of a whirring motor. I scratched my head for a little while and set myself to task, upon opening the cover it revealed the dust bag. I touched it and it bellowed with particles of dirt to such an extent that had Aladdin’s Genie popped out and proclaimed something bizarre (dubbed mercurially by Robin Williams), I would not have been at all surprised. So I struck the dust before me fanning the thousand grains of filth away and in slightly more than a whisper of annoyance, I proclaimed my revelation, “The. Bag. Is. Full!

Not only was it full, it had been so tightly packed that the dust was forcing its way into the motor. Being in a place of scarce resources, there were obviously no spare dust bags so the old bag was emptied into the bin and slotted back into the cleaner. It was as though I had reconditioned a car engine when I turned it on, bursting into life with its monotone hum. Rehan popped out of his room to see what the noise was, he smiled and said in his thick Manchester accent, “you fixed it then, what was wrong with it?”

Aware that he hadn’t heard my previous announcement, I informed him in way that can only be described as a matter-of-fact that the bag packed tighter than a tube of toothpaste wedged under the buttocks of a fatty. The edges of my lips motioned remnants of sarcasm, slanting to the left Katie Holmes-like, whilst my eyebrows raised and chin dipped simultaneously. The conversation was fleeting and with that we turned away from each other whilst I pound the vacuum to the floor, taking the dirt to task. When I had finished that portion of the house, I mimicked Droopy the bloodhound and hunted out something else to clean. You know what? That makes me Maaaad!

The hair-infested mop in the bathroom never helped in cleaning the place: Cousin It, of Addams Family fame was at the end of the stick, shedding hair at an uncontrollable rate. I have a given rule, it’s no different to applying the five second rule whereby, any piece of food that touches the floor for less than five seconds is still considered permissible to eat because it hasn’t had adequate time to absorb the nastiness off the floor. Anything more than that and it’s consigned to the bin.

Here’s another one: When you give something to someone it becomes theirs unless you retract your generous decision with three seconds, I recall my brother tormenting me with that one and his brand new PC.

You can have it,”  he says, referring to the new Intel 386 desktop, packed with groundbreaking features such as 5 ¼” and 3 ½” floppy drives, a 40mb hard drive. I’m salivating right now, phwoar!

I extend my fingers as each second passes, knowing what he’s going to do.

One..” I say with supreme confidence.

Two..” With a slight quiver and eyes looking towards my brother in earnest.

Thr..”

No, it’s mine again.” He says.

What a wa**** (I don’t really mean that). I’d complain that the three seconds had already expired and now it was mine. I could be blue in the face and I’d even complain to my mum, distinctly aware that the only two people in the world that aren’t aware of the rule are my parents. It would still be futile complaining, but the attempt in seizing the computer from his grasp was necessary. Worse still, I’d be a sucker for the same trick a billion times. So, if for some strange reason you’re unaware of any such rule, you’d be asked, “what you don’t know the five second rule?”

Every living soul has these rules, the time frame may differ slightly and the specifics might differ, but they exist nonetheless. In England, a squatter can stay in a place for twenty years and finally claim the land as theirs, or something, you see how far this thing goes. It started off as a childish concept and was hosted by the world’s greatest diplomats. Yeah, so everyone knows the rule.

Digression is my nemesis and brevity is not my friend. Where was I? Ah, my given rule. My rule dictates that the most important and acceptable rooms in the house must be the Kitchen and Bathroom. Some may contest that this rule is universal but evidence suggests otherwise: It turns out that neither of these two particular rooms in the flat were anything reminiscent of clean. I couldn’t dwell on it and went on to clean both which came as a surprise to the tenants, as though cleaning was something alien and taboo. Everyone says that they can’t go for a number two in another man’s toilet, or there’s no loo like your own; that’s precisely the reason why it has to be clean. I decontaminated it with nuclear accuracy despite Cousin It spreading the hair everywhere, to overcome that I had to make a trip to the grocery store to purchased a new one: How do I say Mop head in Arabic? Like I said, I returned and cleaned up the now white tiled floor, which previously resembled a shag pile but the hair had disappeared now leaving it gleaming in the light.

The black tub was scrubbed to reveal its green enamel surface and it swooned over me compelling me to have a soak in the tub. Normally I would spare you the details of this particular cleanup operation, but I need to mention one thing: Have you ever seen the Chris Rock sketch about passing time at work, the one where he’s talking about cleaning shrimp? “Scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape.” Well, bring it up on YouTube, because that’s how I felt. Once I had finished it all I gave in to the bath Siren and jumped into a tub of semi-cold water, in spite of that small glitch I felt relieved. Improvisation is important in this country, I learnt that because there was no plug in the hole so I bunged it with a plastic lid that had once belonged to a crystal box, it turned out to be very sturdy.

Cleaning up and hard work makes you incredibly hungry.