Welcome to Egypt! It’s a phrase foreigners hear often on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. When UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine Professor Mary Christopher arrived in Egypt as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar in November 2010, she had no way of knowing her welcome would be transformed by the tumultuous popular uprising of the Arab Spring.
A veterinary pathologist, Christopher immersed herself in teaching and advising, working with universities and ministries to develop resources in animal and public health and helping to enhance the international competitiveness of Egypt’s scientists in writing and publication.
As Egypt’s 2011 revolution unfurled, Christopher found herself in the midst of a demonstration, roamed Tahrir Square in the calm between protests, and experienced the eerie vacuum of a communication blackout, before finally securing a flight out of the country. Her advice in a revolution: “Carry plenty of cash, have a plan B, and embrace uncertainty!” Welcome to Egypt!
After a two-month hiatus in Greece, Christopher returned to Egypt to complete her grant period. “Although the revolution scuttled some activities, the Fulbright offered ample flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances, and new opportunities quickly took their place.”
Christopher also made the most of the revolution to explore Egypt’s culture, geography, and ancient history. The dearth of tourists meant crowd-free travel to the heights of Mount Sinai, the Red Sea at Hurghada, and the pyramid fields and tombs of Dahshur and Saqqara.
Just as bonds are forged deeply during moments of crisis, the revolution strengthened the connections made between Christopher and her Egyptian colleagues and students. “The revolution stimulated discussions about oppression and democracy—people felt free to share opinions and ideas they might not otherwise have voiced.”
For Christopher, the revolution emphasized the social and political forces that affect people’s lives, whether they are peasants raising ducks and cattle, academics trying to conduct research, or students learning to be veterinarians.
“One goal of a Fulbright is to enable you to view and understand your work in a new environment. The revolution added a unique and indelible context to this understanding.”
Christopher has documented her experiences in a photo exhibit, “A Fulbright in Egypt: Continuity amid Change,” on display in Gladys Valley Hall at the School of Veterinary Medicine through June 2014. Her photographs tell a compelling story of her journey and capture the beauty and chaos of Egypt at this critical and convulsive juncture in its history.
Her images also focus attention on the animals of Egypt, and their intimate connections with people.
“The Fulbright enriched and transformed my world-view of the many ways in which animals, science, and medicine intersect with culture, politics, and religion, shaping a deeper understanding of the unique opportunities and challenges that face veterinary medicine in Egypt.”