I’m getting ready to hop on a bus to the Black and White Desert, but before I take off- a quick post!
Yesterday, I had my last class from 3-5:30 PM. About 15 minutes into class, we heard loud yelling and chanting coming from the main walkway outside of our classroom. It seemed to be getting louder and louder, and didn’t stop for the rest of the class. On our 15 minute break during class, most of us ran to the window and poked our heads out to see what was going on. It was a strike!
I had heard rumors about problems within the campus, so it was obvious that things had come to a head. Apparently, the lowest tier of workers here at AUC (the janitors, cleaning and maintenance workers) have been unhappy since the beginning of this year. Most of them used to work for a third-party company, but were offered a “better deal” to end their contracts and come work exclusively for AUC. Unfortunately, that “better deal” hasn’t quite been followed through on yet. The workers ended up being paid a measly wage (only about $200 a month to work full-time), and have faced issues on top of that. The food that they are provided for lunch or dinner is small, unhealthy, and often unclean. Their paychecks were also misprinted this month, which resulted in some workers being paid only 400 pounds instead of the 1000-1200 pounds they were supposed to earn. Needless to say, this resulted in chaos.
A huge mob of people- workers in their tan uniforms, students, and faculty alike- stormed campus on Wednesday and sat outside of the Administration building for hours. They chanted in Arabic (something along the lines of “We don’t want it!” in regards to the lunch provisions, and “1, 2, we want to get paid!”), and also passed around examples of the terrible food they’ve been served for lunch. Eventually, they were able to face a few administrators. It was a huge, impressive ordeal. The workers sat on the ground in tight lines, listening whenever somebody spoke, and cheering, booing (or hissing, more commonly here), or chanting in response. All this time, I was attempting to focus in class. We could barely hear the professor over the roar of the crowd, and keeping my attention on the material at hand was no easier. During the short break in the middle of class, most of us ran to the balcony and watched the strike unfold. An older man who also happened to be watching attempted to explain the situation to us, and translated their chants. By the time I left class around 6 PM (almost three hours later), I would say the crowd had grown to about 100-150 people.
Today, Thursday, was no less eventful. I walked to class at 8 AM, and there was already a group of workers and students sitting outside of the same building. By the time I passed by an hour later to return to my dorm, the crowd had begun to grow and become vocal. The effects of the strike were obvious throughout campus- many of my friends have had classes canceled in support of this movement, or merely because it’s too hard to maneuver around the buildings. The AUC campus is also completely trashed. With no cleaning crew working, it looks like a completely different university. Most of the Egyptian students don’t throw away their own trash, so all of the tables and seating areas are covered in McDonald’s bags, partially eaten food, papers, and grime. It’s also really windy on campus (thanks, desert surroundings!) which means that this trash gets blown all across campus, and collects in hallways, corners, and my personal favorite, all of the fountains. It’s absolutely disgusting, but does go to show how much of an impact these “low-level” workers have on AUC. After only two days of no cleaning service, the campus is a wreck, which further threatens the credibility of the university as well as the morale of the students and faculty.
Each time I had to go to class today (with today being my busiest day, of course) I had to push my way through the crowd striking. Around noon, people filled up almost the entire courtyard outside of the Administration building. The worker men and women sat together on one side of the courtyard, dressed in button-up dress shirts and nice hijabs. I actually spotted my own cleaning lady sitting in the crowd- she’s one of the nicest women I’ve met here, and always greets me with a huge smile whenever I run into her. Today was no different. After catching my eye, she beamed and waved as if we were old friends. In the middle and right sides of the courtyard, students and other supporters had formed a mob complete with posters, speakers, and a megaphone. At this point, there were probably a few hundred people there, not including the students and faculty who were gawking from the sidelines. Oh- and by late Wednesday afternoon, the university had planted security officers around the borders of the strike area, who were still there when I left class at 6 PM today. Apparently, there have also been a few medical cases as well. I’ve heard of five or six people fainting in the midst of the activities.
So, that’s been the big topic around campus this week. Many students have been joking that the “real” AUC is revealing itself, and I kind of agree. Without “low-level” workers around to clean up, it’s really obvious that the local students do almost nothing to maintain the beauty of this campus. I’ve never had a problem with the cleaning staff, and I am proud to see them standing up for themselves in what appears to be a respectable way. They listen when members of either side of the issue speak, have not reacted violently, and have been persistent in their fight. I can’t wait to see how this turns out…but also hope that it’s resolved soon. This trash thing is really starting to get gross.
Check out these articles on the strikes so far! They’re not overly informative, or particularly well-written, but they do it justice: