Sunday, October 30, 2005

Falling Down the Elevator Shaft of Technology

Tomorrow is the big day. Happy Halloween everyone.

This has been a very busy week work-wise. The big 150th Anniversary Celebration of the Synod of the Nile looms ahead of us on November 8th. Evangelicals (Presbyterians) from all over the world are coming to celebrate this momentous occasion. In order to commemorate this time, I was charged with helping to put together a book that told the History of the Synod of the Nile. The printer needs ten days to print it and bind it so Saturday was the big deadline for me.

Long before I got to The Synod, a very nice lady named Venes had been compiling information and typing up the book in Arabic in Microsoft Word. Microsoft Word is not the friendliest program when trying to print a book on an offset printer, but I thought it was no problem. I would just convert the Word document to a PDF, and then import it into my graphics application. Then I could spruce up the book, give it an appealing look with snazzy graphics and layouts, and then it would even be in a format that the offset printer could easily use.

Thursday, at the end of the day, I got the approval of the “final” version of the text. Now was the big moment. I would convert the Word document into a PDF, place high-resolution images into the layout and give it a nice design. I sat down in my apartment at Dawson Hall on Thursday night to do this, and ran into a problem. The Word document would not convert to a PDF. The only message I received from the program was “ERROR.” That certainly helps a lot! I tried the conversion over and over, each time removing something from the document to see if I could isolate the problem. No dice. I did this over and over for nearly four hours before I gave up. The key to setting this document up for print was not working and I was more than a little stressed.
I went to bed and had a very strange dream. I was falling down a large elevator shaft with three of my fellow volunteers. The dimly lit shaft was about 20 feet square, and had grungy pipes running down the length of the grungy walls. At regular intervals there were television screens rapidly flashing still images. If I stared in a single place as I fell, the effect was like film running through a movie projector. The images ran in sequence to create a movie. I can’t remember what the movie was now, but I think this dream deals directly with what I was stressed out about. First, I was falling down an elevator shaft, a sign of loss of control. It dealt with being in Egypt because my volunteer friends were with me, and the dirty elevator shaft was like a lot of places I’ve seen here. And the televisions represented technology; say the technology that I needed to finish this book.
Usually on Fridays I don’t work at the Synod because I teach English at the Coptic Cathedral, but my class had been cancelled, opening up the necessary time for me to wrap up the book. Early Friday morning I walked into work, dreading the moment that I would have to tell Emil and Venes that I had not been able to set up the document for print. When I told them, they saw how distraught I was over the matter and immediately told me that it looked great as it was. I looked down at the printout of the book, at the blurry, low-resolution images and the bland layout and thought this is awful. What are they thinking?!?

Later that afternoon we went to The Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS), a Non-Government Organization that happens to have a rather impressive print shop in the basement. They also have a top-of-the-line design department. Venes and I showed one of the designers, Mary, our Word document and she echoed exactly what I had been telling Emil and Venes all morning, that the quality of the images were not good enough to print with. Fortunately they said they could print from the Word document (how I don’t know, but I’m not holding my breath) and all I needed to do was replace the low-res images with high-res images. I spent the rest of the afternoon, and the rest of the night doing just that. I hadn’t counted on how difficult it would be. Arabic is read from right to left which brought about new challenges I hadn’t thought about before. I finally finished around 11:00PM, ending a 13-hour workday. The next day I passed off the Word document and a printout of the book to the design department at CEOSS. I expect the book won’t be pretty, but we’ll see how it comes out.

Something we were told at our orientation was that we might encounter people who had lower expectations of work than that of the average American. That’s not a bad thing necessarily. I learned that I definitely had higher expectations of how this project would turn out than Emil and Venes did, and I was unnecessarily beating myself up over it. Oh well. The project is out of my hands now.

Friday, October 21st was Teri’s birthday. To celebrate, Teri and I went to Garden City, which is a neighborhood next to the Nile, to walk around and enjoy the color green. There are many more trees and plants there than anywhere else in Cairo that I have seen. Then we walked along the Nile on the Corniche, the place where young Egyptian couples go to spend time together. We copped out again and finished the night with dinner at an American restaurant: Chili’s.

Ramadan will be ending this coming week. Since Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar, they don’t decide exactly when it will end until practically the day of. As Ramadan winds down, the partying in the neighborhood has been getting louder and louder each night. Last night I heard the thump, thump, thump of dance music through my bedroom window for hours. Again, I’m ready for Ramadan to end.


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