I consider myself exceptionally lucky when it comes to doing my job during the quarantine.
While not ideal for the types of classes I teach, the transition to online instruction was a smooth one because I was reasonably well-prepared for the shift. This had been up in the air for two months before the decision was made, and all faculty members were obliged to take a course with the Center for Learning and Teaching on how to use Zoom, record lectures, and navigate synchronous and asynchronous teaching.
I was relieved that my students were still able to ask questions and answer mine throughout the Zoom calls. There had been room for us to talk to each other and for the students to ask questions as usual. Although it still wasn’t ideal, it wasn’t the disaster I had been fearing. I actually plan to integrate some aspects of being online into my teaching once things go back to normal.
The greatest challenge with moving online, however, was that the field trips to historic monuments in Cairo, which constitute a large part of my classes, had been canceled. We used to visit museums, areas in Islamic Cairo, and the Egyptian National Library and Archives, which had just reopened only to be closed again. That is where my years as a photographer came in handy. I used my repertoire of photographs in my slides. It wasn’t the same, of course, but it was the best substitute. It made things more interactive.
During the day, when I’m teaching, preparing lessons or doing research, I go up to a room on the top floor of my apartment building — my own library. Although I had been using this room for years, it became especially important while staying home full time.
With my two young children staying home full time too, my wife and I had to try to balance work during the day while keeping our kids occupied. This is not something unique; it’s a challenge parents around the world have been faced with. I must admit that I am enjoying the amount of time we’re able to spend together. When I am in my room upstairs, the kids are with their nanny or playing with other children. Then in the late afternoon, we run around playing tag or hide-and-seek. It’s a way to entertain my kids and for me to stay active. The closure of all the sports centers was a sore loss, as I like keeping fit. When the tennis courts I used to play in reopened, I quickly went back to them, abandoning the wall in my garden that had been my tennis partner for the past few months.
I miss traveling, going out, playing sports, visiting places in Cairo with my students and taking part in regular activities outside of the house, but I’m thankful to be living in a community surrounded by colleagues, friends and family. We have potlucks in the garden every Thursday, which is a great way for the adults to socialize while the kids play with each other. I understand that things might get worse, and we may no longer be able to see each other, but for the moment, it’s been nice to have this space, these people, and not be confined to one apartment. It’s great to have a sense of community.
By Yakin Ouederni, as told by Bernard O’Kane, professor of Islamic art and architecture