August 3, 2009

A Little Perspective, Thanks to Egypt


I just spent a few days in Egypt, primarily in and around Cairo. These few days have given me some precious perspective on many aspects of my life, but especially as it relates to recent employment and financial events back at SSU.

Thanks to a satellite internet connection, I can read the latest news back home and how most everyone is freaking out about the crisis state of public higher education. Some of my colleagues are appalled because most of us at SSU are being furloughed two days per month with a related 10% loss in pay. We get to keep our jobs, and 90% of our salary, as well our health, vision and dental benefits, and our retirement package. Over the net I read the words 'pain' and 'suffering' being written a lot in reference to this unprecedented hardship.

Thanks to Egypt, at the moment I can keep this all in perspective. Here are a few reasons why.

In Egypt, someone in my 'high income position' would make about $600/month. So my less than 10% cut is actually more than what a full professor in Egypt would make in an entire year (with no benefits or retirement package, by the way).

Back home, well over 50% of young adults have some college education from a subsidized public higher education system (thank you American tax payers). Here in Egypt 30% of the adult population is illiterate and students are only entitled to subsidized public education through grade nine. We would also all be shocked to see the state of these K - 9 public schools (as well as the salaries of the teachers).

Back home, we're offering 'cash for clunkers' and the government is giving a subsidy to folks who purchased gas guzzling cars so they can now buy a new, slightly more efficient vehicle. (Hey, I know, it's good for the environment --- and oh yea, the auto industry.) Here the air quality in downtown Cairo is often more than 100 fold higher than acceptable world standards, with more old, funky, exhaust belching cars hitting the congested roadways every day. Nobody is helping you pay for a nicer car. Most people can't afford any car.

Back home the economic crisis means folks aren't eating out as much. Here, many people spend much of their day trying to find work so that they might be able to eat tomorrow.

Thanks to Egypt, for me, 'pain and suffering' are relative terms. Those of us back home needing a little perspective might want to take a quick trip to most any developing country around the world, and witness their pain and suffering. You'll have to see it first hand, because the people on the streets only know it to be this way, so they're not likely to be complaining about it in the press.

I really don't mean to minimize or trivialize the economic situation at my campus or in my country as a whole. We do have our problems, and we will all have to adjust. But in this moment, I think my Egypt-colored perspective is an unexpected blessing. Instead of worrying about my so-called pain, hardship and suffering back home, thanks to this experience with Semester at Sea my heart and mind are instead more appropriately focused on the phrase "there but for the grace of God go I."

Posted by rohwedde at August 3, 2009 10:16 AM