Category Archives: Daily Life

Lessons from Teaching 3

As of 8 days ago, I’ve been in Cairo for 5 months.

And as of 16 days ago, I finally (or publicly) made the decision to leave Cairo this summer.

Originally, about a week ago, I had this long, detailed post going into my reasons behind why I am choosing to leave and the various responses I’ve gotten to my decision. But I deleted it.

I am happy with my decision. I know that the future is uncertain for me – I don’t have a job lined up, or even a country lined up (I’ve applied to jobs in some other countries already) – but I don’t feel afraid. I am happy with my choice, and that is enough.

Tomorrow I head off to the beach, to Ain Sokhna with friends. I’m excited to get out of Cairo for a few days.

The new quarter at my school has started, and while it is certainly no walk in the park (more like a walk in a pitch-black forest and I keep bumping into trees and shrubs, saying mild obscenities and then veering off in another direction), it is getting easier. Namely, my students are not as incredibly awful as they were the first few weeks I was their teacher. I think they’ve resigned themselves to the fact that the old teacher is not coming back and they’re stuck with me, so it is better to try and appease me than try and fight me (mostly). They are still rambunctious, disrespectful and lazy, but it isn’t like we’re pulling each others’ teeth anymore.

What I’ve learned in the past two weeks:

1. Be confident in who you are. Even if you are bumping around in that forest, say, “Meant to do that.”
2. Think like a student. What kept you engaged when you were in school? Children haven’t changed that much, what applied then applies now.
3. Tomorrow is always a new day. Don’t let the craziness of one day drag you down for the rest of the week. It isn’t worth it.
4. Be your quirky self. Don’t compromise your position as a teacher, but be yourself (relates to number one). Even if your students think you’re kooky, you’ll feel better being who you are.
5. Be organized. Makes life so much easier.

These past few weeks have been good to me, in many ways. I have gone out with friends frequently, made new friends, started a new tutoring job, and had time to think about my life. There have been some dark moments as well, ones that make me think on life all the more.

All in all, I am content with where life is at. Could it be better? Sure. But I am living with no regrets. And it is a glorious way to live.


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Birthdays and Such

A few exciting things from the past week (outside of teaching):

January 12 marked four months of living in Cairo! Still can’t believe I’m here.

January 16, I turned 23! Two and a third decades on this planet, whoa. It was a pretty tame birthday, in many respects. My students sang me Happy Birthday and we had a potluck at lunch at work, although mostly everyone forgot about it and so only a few people brought dishes, but it was still nice. I do like the people I work with, by and large. They can be a bit standoffish at times (namely the ones close to my age and that live near me. What’s up with that?), but most of the women are lovely.

That evening a friend was hosting a homemade Punjabi dinner, so one of the Matts and I went to that. It was good meeting new people, chatting with friends, and of course eating delicious food. They also sang Happy Birthday to me.

My flatmates also, in a case of self-motivated kindness, bought a toaster oven for the apartment (which I’d been saying I’d get). So, hooray, for soon I will be making baked potatoes and grilled cheeses and other things including but not limited to toast in that sucker.

Thursday evening was a party at a friend’s place who is leaving Cairo, so it was goodbye party for her, another fellow, as well as Matt’s birthday party (his birthday was Friday). It was an excellent party, although when it was about 2:45 and someone mentioned to me, “In a few more hours the sun will be up!” I realized I see the sun rise 5 days a week. Did not need to greet it again, so left tout suite.

Friday evening, Kate, Christine, Ryan and Melissa and I went to dinner and drinks at L’Aubergine. It was delicious on both counts. However, I was lame, and knew I had a ton of lesson planning to do for Saturday, so had to cut the night short. Being an adult sucks.

Saturday I Skyped with Sarah, my old roommate hi Sarah I know you’re reading this let’s Skype again soon please. and my parents, which is always nice. I also went to a demo class for Bollywood dancing! I’ve signed up for 5 sessions on Saturdays now, so in a month, I will have some sweet Bollywood dance moves to break out as needed.

So while the previous post was not exactly joyful, hey, at least my weekend was excellent.

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New Year, New Career

A Happy (belated) New Year to you all!

(And a Merry Christmas to everyone celebrating today!)

How has my first week in 2013 been? Pretty great.

New Year’s Eve, I met up with a friend-I-hadn’t-met-yet (we knew each other online), Jennie, and we went to the American embassy for their New Year’s Eve party. It sounds exciting; it wasn’t. Copious amounts of security, awful music, and a guy-girl ratio of 7:1. Not at all fun. However, we made it to midnight, loudly and obnoxiously sang Auld Lang Syne (when I say we, I literally mean only Jennie and I), drank our champagne toasts and then ran for the hills. The hills being the flat Jennie lives in currently. She works for the British Council apart from studying here (she’s still in university) and currently lives with her boss until she finds her own place. It is one of the nicest apartments I have ever been in. Ever. Simply gorgeous. Jennie and I watched The Little Mermaid (yeah we’re the cool kids) and then I headed home. Let me tell you, walking around in a short dress (not even that short it hit my knees) at 2am by yourself in Cairo is not an experience I want to have again anytime soon.

My friend Nora, who is Egyptian, was so kind as to buy me masa harina and sriracha sauce and send them to me when her dad came to visit his family. This means I made homemade corn tortillas – which were then fried into tortilla chips and made pico de gallo to go with it. Glorious. And that sriracha sauce has been going on everything. EVERYTHING. Rooster sauce, I love you so.

Thursday evening, I met up with my old bosses from AMIDEAST. They are here for the first summit of all the education abroad departments for AMIDEAST (it’s a very big deal). Luckily, they had some free time before the summit started. We all went out to Korean BBQ and caught up. I can’t believe I haven’t seen them since May! One of the first things they said was, “YOU CUT YOUR HAIR!” I did, way back in August, but they wouldn’t have known so it was quite funny, since it was old news for me but new information for them. It was however incredibly wonderful for me to catch up with them, and made me miss the AMIDEAST office quite a lot. And miss home. And DC. But made me happy I am here in Cairo too! It was a good night.

Jennie also started up a philosophy book club, and we just had the first meeting on Friday. Our topic was existentialism (although we didn’t discuss much of that) and politics (discussed a lot of that) based on Sartre’s play Dirty Hands. We had 8 people for the first meeting, which was a good turn out. Everyone brought snacks (I brought the homemade chips and salsa – huge hit, made it later for my flatmates, also huge hit) and we had a nice two hour discussion. As it wound down, Jennie asked if I wanted to go see Les Misérables in two hours. I said yes, why not. And then three of the other book group participants came with! Which was wonderful. The film was quite good, although holy smokes so much close-up framing. I have never paid so much attention to people’s teeth in a film in my life.

However, the biggest news is: TOMORROW I START MY NEW JOB! AAAAHHHHHH! I would be insane to say I’m not freaking out, but to be honest, I’m trying not to think about it too much. Obviously I am thinking about it quite a bit so I’m fluctuating between “I got this” and “What the hell am I doing”. Crazy mix of emotions.

Wish me luck for tomorrow!

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On the Need for Order

Idle hands are the devil’s playground. The Puritans certainly thought that, and perhaps for some individuals, it’s true. You have nothing to do, so you and trouble have a play date. Well, your rebel without a cause self can go off in a corner and sulk.

For me, idle hands are the self’s deterioration. In other words, when I’m inactive my soul suffers.

I am someone who tends to buck against the system, to find ways to bend the rules, to push the boundaries and make a life outside of expectations and norms.

One of the requirements of a life like that is you need norms and boundaries to push against. Right now, I am without boundaries. While I wait for my job to start in January, I am free to do as I please. I can make whatever choices I want, do as I want, live as I want. Within the confines of my budget (which is minuscule) and the cultural norms of the place I currently reside, of course, but by and large I can do whatever for the next two weeks. It is driving me batty. Loco. Nutty. Loony. And I don’t just mean the general stir crazy either, I mean the type of unhingedness that pushes me into a slump. The doldrums. Malaise. Ennui. I am stagnate and have little to shake the waters.

With so much free time (aka all my time), the creative outlets I normally use to bring joy into my life begin to lose meaning because they are not creative outlets anymore, but simply things I am doing. I need a schedule, a set path for my day-to-day life in order to make the moments when I do have the freedom to choose what I do have purpose and a freshness about them.

Without this, I question everything. About my life, my choices, my future, my personality, my capabilities as a human being – you name it, whatever confidence I have in my decisions gets thrown under the bus when I am left sitting idle for too long.

What this all means is that I am depressed right now and questioning my decision to come to Cairo. After thinking about it for a bit, I’ve come to the conclusion it is because I am currently thinking too damn much because I have too much free time and not enough daily purpose so that I don’t have to think about my reasons for being here, I am just living them.

I need something to do. My brain is starting to disagree with me on everything. I think various parts of my body are acting out in protest. I’m falling to pieces here for no good reason!

But in a few weeks, inshallah, as I start my job (which doesn’t mean it’ll be smooth sailing from there since lord knows I am going to have a number of issues with being a teacher namely that I have very few qualifications and little experience what-the-hell-am-I-doingohlordihopethisisntonebigmistake NO SEE THERE I GO THINKING TOO MUCH NEED TO STOP.), I’ll be in a happier place because I’ll have a schedule and something to build my life around. Right now I have no way to construct a life since there aren’t any bits to put it together with.

End moment of panic/depression/anger. Well at least for you all I’m still stuck with these feelings for the next two weeks.

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Street Smarts

One of the reasons I picked moving to Cairo instead of another Middle Eastern city was Cairo was and is in the midst of reinventing itself.  Of hopefully becoming a city and a country dedicated to preserving people’s rights, regardless of age, religion, gender, or heritage. You know, the things we want for our children.

Egypt is such a fascinating country in part because it is so many things, so many people, all clustered along the ancient lifeblood that is the Nile. The problem is (and it happens in the US too), is that the voice of one group has a tendency to become so LOUD that other voices, ones that are more accepting and progressive, can get drowned out.

But hey, have a revolution once, you can have one again. A week of protests has been happening here in Cairo and throughout Egypt in response to Morsi’s declaration saying he can essentially do whatever the hell he wants (no, really) and no authority in Egypt can stop him. But wait! It is only a temporary measure, people, so it isn’t in any way like being a dictator. …You don’t see other nations with new presidents going, ‘Hey. No branch of the government can tell me to sit down and shut up. I do what I want.’ It’s ridiculous. Obviously, many, many people were upset by this, feeling it is both Morsi becoming Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood taking over Egypt. Protests everywhere!

So how to solve that problem? Oh, well, if the declaration is only in effect until a new constitution is passed…let’s just speed up that process and get it passed so everyone calms down. Because writing a constitution is such a simple matter. Thursday the assembly writing the constitution voted on each article and passed it. Everyone is happy now, right? No. The assembly was largely (as in pretty much everyone) Islamist. Most non-Islamist members had left the assembly in protest of their voices being superseded by the MB. The few women (in a country of 80 million only a handful of women were to help write the new constitution? Shameful.) on the assembly walked out in protest as well. Which means, right away, half of the Egyptian population was not represented. Add in the Christians, Coptics, secularists, moderate Muslims and others who walked out and you’ve got a good chunk of society missing from forming what will be the most important document in Egypt’s new history. Once again, protests.

But there are those who support Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Blindly, even. And today they are coming out in full force to show their support. While in Tahrir, anti-Morsi protesters continue their sit-in.

What does this all mean for me? It means I’m not hanging out downtown any time soon. It means going about town can be impeded by wondering how crazy it could get in the streets on any given day.

But it doesn’t mean I’m in danger. It means this country is loudly and vocally fighting to define itself after three decades of being defined by one man. It is exciting, it is frustrating on many levels, but it does not mean I am in danger. I am safe, I am well, and I am not planning on joining the protests any time soon. As much as I want Egypt and its people to realize their full potential (ladies, this means you. Men, this means you in regards to the ladies.), this isn’t my fight. Me going into the protests would just be me being a spectator. That’s not what these protests are for. It isn’t a tourist attraction. It is people who are recognizing their ability to speak up, and are willing to risk injury and worse to see it happen.

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In Such a Short Time

When I last updated, I was about to begin my job in a nursery.

Since then, I started the job and as of yesterday quit the job. Without going into too much detail, working in a nursery is not for me. Particularly when the pay is bad, the commute is long, and the owner/Egyptian staff are incredibly unpleasant. I came to Egypt to make a life I want to live. I don’t want to waste time in a place that consistently makes me miserable.

However, it means I’m currently unemployed (still). I am looking for jobs again, and hoping something better turns up. If not, I will soon begin working on building a tutoring schedule, where I teach students one-on-one (depending on how you work it, you can make just as much or more than an average English teacher here). I say I’m not too worried, but of course I am. No work = no money = homeward bound.

In other events:

  • Melissa and I had a Halloween sleepover where we ate candy, made the worst Rice Krispie Treats ever (Egypt’s fault not ours), and watched movies.
  • A random crazy woman punched me in the head on my walk home one day.
  • A random guy masturbated in front of me and I smacked him in the back of head.
  • I dropped my keys down an elevator shaft and retrieved them with a fishing pole.
  • My roommate and I have rearranged our flat, getting rid of furniture (putting it in storage), getting rid of random junk (why the hell was there a bag of concrete in our apartment) and are soon planning on having it painted.
  • I have a cold (caused by working in the nursery I’m sure) which has led to a persistent hacking cough.
  • Tomorrow I’m going to Alexandria for the night with a few friends. I’m excited to get out of Cairo – I haven’t left the city since I’ve been here.
  • The 12th marked my two month anniversary of being in Cairo.
  • The 8th marked my parents’ 26th anniversary (love you both).

And that about does it. I could have done more detail, but hey, when you haven’t posted in a few weeks and your internet is slow as molasses anyway, sparse is better.

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Job Hunts and Crazy Stunts

It has been one crazy week. And you’re getting one crazy long post for it.

Last Saturday, I met up with Kate and Christine (the AUC interns) in Zamalek and we went to a breast cancer awareness fundraiser that was a 5 hour Zumba marathon. Zumba is a dance/aerobic exercise program that is incredibly fun but man is it a workout. About 700 women were at the event, which was wonderful, and quirky because a number of women were still covered or wearing jeans and heels and Kate, Christine and I are thinking, “Who the heck are you trying to impress?” as we are in our sweaty clothes dancing our butts off (almost quite literally). We only made it through two and a half hours before we realized we just didn’t have the stamina for 5 hours of dancing. But it was great fun, and hey, for a good cause.

(Taken by Kate, thanks lady)Christine and I: Hot, sweaty, and dancing for the cure.

Sunday I started my job hunt in earnest. I replied to four advertisements…and had four interviews set-up by the end of Monday. Ridiculously easy, surprisingly easy, and a relief for me – even though people told me, “You’re a native speaker, you won’t have a problem finding a job.” No, it is still worrisome until you actually start having interviews.

And getting job offers. Every single place I interviewed at offered me a job. But let’s talk about the experiences in detail:

1. Monday I interviewed at a nursery in Maadi (the expat neighborhood 7 miles outside downtown Cairo). I took the metro, which comprised of me walking 25 minutes to the metro station nearest me (and walking here is a bit different that in the States – you’re lucky to find sidewalks for more than 20 yards), catching the metro, switching lines, getting off, getting incredibly lost 3 times, and eventually the owner coming to find me and lead me to the nursery. She was a pleasant woman, and said I would be in charge of 5-15 1.5-3 year old kids. Which is a bit insane. However, she offered too little for me to consider the offer.

1.5. Between my first interview and my second (in Heliopolis, a planned suburb on the complete other side of town from Maadi), I had about 6 hours to kill. So I contacted Sharon, an AU alumna another AU alum got me in contact with. Bill (another AU alum) and Sharon live in the American compound in Maadi – Bill is a foreign service officer at the American Embassy. Sharon currently is a stay-at-home mom, with their 3 year old son Andrew to look after. I went to her flat in the compound, and let me tell you, it is odd. Not the flat, it’s very nice, but the compound. Americans everywhere. EVERYWHERE! In fact, Maadi was a bit odd. For those familiar with DC, it was like an Egyptian version of Glover Park/Wisconsin Ave. Just make it a bit dirty/louder and you’ve got Road 9 of Maadi. Lots of shops and restaurants and everyone just hanging. Odd. But Sharon was lovely, Andrew was adorable. Sharon and I talked about AU, living in Cairo and just general things while Andrew watched a Tigger movie and bounced along with Tigger. It was wonderful and I am excited to meet up with Sharon again sometime soon.

2. My second interview Monday was in Heliopolis in the early evening. I got off the metro, called the guy who I was supposed to meet up with, had him talk to the taxi driver – who got more and more frustrated. Since I had no idea where I was going, I just figured I’d sit back and eventually it would all sort itself out (the very essence of inshallah). At this point it started raining. Yes, raining. In Cairo! It only lasted for a few minutes, but hey, I live in a country that is 90% desert. Ten minutes of rain is a big deal. Eventually, I get to the language school. I’m told to give a teaching demonstration, which I do and I thought I failed at miserably, but apparently not, since I was offered the job. It’s part-time, works on my schedule, and I can add classes as needed. It’s very tempting, but I’m hoping I can do better.

3. Tuesday I had an all day interview in Maadi again, at another nursery that was semi-Montessori in style. I tagged along with a university student who is helping out currently at the place. I would be in charge of 15 1.5-3.5 year old kids, but since they are just learning to talk anyway, I wouldn’t have to create a lesson plan, just play games, sing songs, dance, be creative with them. I’d have assistants to take care of the nasty stuff (anything bathroom related really) and help if the kids get hysterical. The people working there were wonderful, very friendly and young – there was even an older Jamaican woman who has lived in the US for years who was awesome. Of the 4 places, I like this one the best, and depending on what happens this Monday, I will accept this offer.

4. Wednesday I had an interview in a neighborhood a bit north of downtown Cairo at a language school. Honestly, it came off as super sketchy. But they were so desperate! They want me to help create a curriculum and materials – which if they were paying a good salary, I would. But they’re asking for long hours, a lower salary than nursery number 2, and I will tell them no (I’m calling everyone this Monday to let them know my decision). They even called me multiple times later Wednesday to tell me they’ve upped the salary – won’t convince me.

There you go. Regardless of what job I take, I’ll have to pick up some private tutoring to supplement my salary (which is totally in cash by the way. Fun times!)

After my last interview Wednesday I caught the metro to the Opera at the southern tip of Zamalek and walked north to the neighborhood where the shopping is. The last time I did that walk was on one of my last days in Cairo almost two years ago, in the middle of a revolution. The streets were silent then. Not so now. Strange duality in my memories. I completed some errands (finally got a webcam!) and did a lot of things in Arabic, which was great.

Oh! And sometime this past week I went to the Netherlands-Flemish Institute and saw an old Egyptian film with Omar Sherif. Melodramatic, horrible acting – it was a hoot.

Thursday I got up early and headed to Heliopolis again, to meet up with Debbie and her sister Bonnie, two older American women who have lived in Cairo for 15 and 20 years, respectively. I was with them to work on getting my visa renewed (something I’ll have to do every 3 months here). Usually you get this done at the Mugamma, a bureaucratic beast of a building in Midan Tahrir. But you can also get it done in Heliopolis – if you live there (or have someone’s address, thanks Debbie). I have to go back this Wednesday to pick up my visa.

Friday I got up early and cleaned the falala out of the kitchen. It’s still not totally clean, and probably never will be, but I feel better. I’m tackling the bathroom next. Later, Melissa and I met up in Tahrir, where a big protest was going on (or as my cab driver said, “There are the problems there, miss.”) but it was fine. We went and got some food, then headed over to Darb 1718 (where I went to that film festival) for a concert. The opening act was an Egyptian singer named Abo who sung about the revolution and things, all in the Arabic. It was wonderful. Then the main act, Romano Bebop, a Czech gypsy band, played.

As Melissa pointed out, we’ve found the Mecca for hipsters in Cairo – and they brought their expat friends. Luckily, we were in our hipster disguises:

(Melissa wearing the ubiquitous plaid and I with a super ironic cat scarf)

We blended right in. But then I convinced Melissa to buck the system (that’s right hipsters, you’ve got a system):  we needed to DANCE.

Some French Gypsy Jazz

With music like that, you are MEANT to dance and no one was. So I pulled Melissa to the side and we started dancing. And eventually, EVENTUALLY, other people started dancing too. I love to dance, and when music is playing that you’re meant to dance to, I have to get up and do something! So, sorry hipsters, but I’m too cool to be cool like you. I don’t need to dance ironically, I just need to dance.

After the concert was over, Melissa and I caught the metro and started to have some fun, doing fist bumps and acting all thug. The women on the car thought it was hilarious.

Melissa had been talking about how living here makes you shy – you are so conscious of how everyone looks at you, how you dress, what you do, what you say. Life here makes you so aware of others around you. For the two of us, who normally show no fear (and by moving here we’ve sort of proved that), we feel stymied to certain extent. But I’m glad last night we could be quirky and goofy, even if just small amounts.

And that about does it for the week.

Oh, this morning I made pancakes. I don’t have any measuring cups (or really any baking type items) so I had to eyeball everything. The pancakes turned out great. VICTORY!


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