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Surprised

First, a bit of silliness:

Some friends and I watched the Superbowl last night. In and of itself not crazy. But when you factor in a) we’re in Cairo and b) the time difference means the game started at 1:30am. I have never hated a power outage so much in my life. Regardless, the game was really good, even if my Niners lost (WHAT THE EFF HAPPENED NINERS). Although we didn’t get any of the commercials, just lots of golf commercials. But this all means I didn’t get home until 7am this morning. Thank goodness I have the week off.

Now on to the real news:

In June (or maybe early July), I’m leaving Cairo. When my contract for this teaching job ends, I’ll be heading back to the US.

This decision was not easily reached. And, to be honest, it feels like I have been lit on fire and burned to a crisp. It is painful to say that my time here will end sooner than I believed. But it also feels like I’m breaking off this old layer of skin, and despite it being raw, it is a good feeling. It is a relief to actually have made the decision.

For so long, what amounts to a quarter of my life really, I have always been driven by the goal of pursuing a career in the Middle East, or involving the Middle East. The Middle East would be central in whatever life I created for myself.

Over the past few months, and it may be that it started before I even came to Cairo, my priorities have changed. The Middle East is still a deep part of who I am and I will always be interested, intrigued, and an advocate for the people of the Middle East and North Africa.

But now? Now I feel that it is not 1. Middle East 2. International Development (and the various fields within that), but 1. International Development (2. Middle East). That means that if my life does not lead me back to the Middle East anytime soon, in terms of career, or whatever, I am okay with that. I do not exactly know where I want to go in the ‘international development’ field, but I know what I am interested in. And I keep seeing jobs that I’m qualified for and I want to apply for. And most of them don’t have anything to do with the Middle East.

Why did I come to this conclusion? Why the change? I’m not sure. What seems to make sense to me right now is that I kept looking at my future from a ‘Middle East’ perspective. Everything in my brain focused around the idea of, “How will this help me achieve a career I want in the Middle East?” And now that has become such a narrow focus for me. I am interested and intrigued and passionate about so many things (international development, sustainable development, social media, cultural diplomacy, citizen diplomacy, international education…), the fact that I was restricting myself by thinking only in terms of whether it would help my Middle East dreams or not seems…not foolish, because I think it is a valid dream, even if it isn’t one I want anymore, but perhaps unsuited to who I want to become.

I do not regret coming to Cairo. And I am excited for the 5 months I have left here. And I plan to use it to the best of my abilities. I plan to see what I can of Egypt, push myself with Arabic, and have experiences that I will remember forever. But, more than anything, I am so excited for the opportunities open to me on returning to the US. Who knows where I’ll live, who knows what job I’ll get, but I feel like that path is where my happiness lies.

As I have discussed with some of my friends, my choosing to go back (and I don’t think I do it or myself justice by saying ‘going back’…I’m moving forward) feels a bit like a failure on my part. A failure in the eyes of others. I had planned to stay in Cairo (or the Middle East) for at least a few years, perhaps longer. Become fluent in Arabic. Get a job in development related to the Middle East. I won’t be doing any of those things. At least not right now. And I need to convince myself, and only myself (because hey, if you think I failed or wimped out or whatever, I have some choice Arabic phrases for you to hear), that it is okay that I am not accomplishing those goals. It truly is. Because life is a constantly changing thing. And I am not a failure. Holy smoke, I picked up and moved to Cairo, Egypt on my own (at the age of 22) during a time when the country doesn’t know which way is up. The game has changed and the old objectives don’t apply anymore. It would be foolhardy to stay here when I have more opportunities somewhere else. It would be stupid to play the game the same way when it isn’t the same board. My strategy has changed. And Cairo was a big part of making me realize it.

So I am thankful to Cairo. I am thankful for the wonderful moments and the awful moments that have happened and have yet to come here. It is all a part of my new dreams. And even though Cairo doesn’t factor as the primary location for my future, it is definitely leaving an unforgettable mark in the here and now.

I am so excited for what a few months from now hold for me. Even if I have no idea what that may be. Or where it may be.

(P.S. People. I will be moving back to the US. Start sniffing out jobs for me. I am willing to move to anywhere in the US, really. New adventures in new towns.)

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Cat in Cairo on Camera Jan 28 2013

Well look at that, a VIDEO update. May try again, may not, but we’ll consider this a test run.

Nevertheless, I am safe and sound here in Cairo. Fear not! My parents raised me right: don’t get arrested, don’t get pregnant, don’t max out your credit cards. So far, so good.

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January 28, 2013 · 10:30 pm

Lessons from Teaching 1

For all the teachers out there who truly want to be teachers as their job: you are all saints. 

I have finished my first (half) week of being a Grade 6 teacher and I already know this is going to be one of the hardest things I have ever done, if not the hardest.

On Tuesday, I pulled myself out bed at 5:30 to catch the bus at 6:40. The bus was late, the traffic awful, so we did not get to school until 8 exactly. The first bell for school rings at 7:45, at which point students line up in the school yard by class and there is this whole rigmarole morning routine and then everyone goes up to class at 7:55. So my first day, the students are already sitting in class waiting for me. Which wouldn’t have been that big an issue, except…I wasn’t given any of the books beforehand. So I literally have nothing to teach the students because I have no material, no idea what they’ve learned, nothing. It was hectic.

In fact, the entire week can be described as hectic. I am in a new job, with no real training, expected to successfully teach and manage a dozen or so prepubescent students.

I am a bit in over my head. At least, right now I am.

But here is what I’ve learned so far:

1. Be strict. Set up rules and consequences. Which I have. Stick to your guns. Which I will. It isn’t my job to be friends with the students.

2. Always have a lesson plan. ALWAYS. Which was really hard when I didn’t have the books, but tomorrow I’m planning out the lessons for the next 2 weeks (it is going to be a long day tomorrow).

3. Be confident. Or just look it.

But most important for me, I think, is to realize everything has a system. All I need to do is figure out the system. That, strangely and not so strangely, is the most comforting thought to me. As Sydney said to me, “You are one of the best bullshitters I know.” It’s true, I probably am. Which, yes, probably not the best accolade to receive (she also said I’m very intelligent so there you go), but what that means is I figure out a system, then I figure out how to manipulate it to suit my needs. The reason I’m so successful with ‘bullshit’ is because I do view so much life systematically. More often than not, things and people and such follow a set framework of movements and actions. Once I figure it out, I figure out the weak points and exploit them. That probably makes me a morally questionable person, but it also means I can have a lot of confidence with not a lot to back it up.

It’s what I’m counting on.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD

Although you wouldn’t know it walking the streets of Cairo.

For most of this country (including the 10% of the population that is Coptic Christian – they celebrate Christmas January 7), today is just another Tuesday. In the expat areas around town, you can find people taking part in holiday cheer, I’m sure.

I don’t live in those parts of town, so today is just another day for everyone around me.

Thankfully, I am spending tonight and tomorrow with Melissa’s family for some holiday cheer. Which I desperately need.

Being abroad (just not being home, really) for the holidays is difficult. More difficult than my emotions would have imagined. My friends are few here (and most of them went home for the holidays) and my family is obviously non-existent here. But I know I am not the only person abroad when the holidays come around.

Thousands of people around the world are in the same boat as me. Some are missing Christmas, some missed Hanukkah, some missed Eid – people everywhere miss the holidays that bring family and friends together, regardless of what religion they follow or what culture they are a part of that makes celebrating certain holidays integral.

Even though I feel very alone, I know I’m not alone in this feeling. It is oddly nice to be comforted by this shared sense of longing around the world. Kinda depressing, but nice. Besides, I know I am loved by my friends and family, even if we couldn’t all be together this year. Such is the life I chose!

Regardless,

Merry Christmas, everyone! (Or Season’s Greetings if you prefer!) 

But more importantly,

HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD! 60 YEARS OF BEING AWESOME, HERE’S TO MANY MORE! 

(That’s right my dad was born Christmas Day.)

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The Promise of Home

To everyone who reads this blog of mine, I have a favor to ask of you. Consider it a Christmas gift, if you want, or just the chance to do some good. Help out my friend Lesley who is participating in the Sahara Marathon: http://www.justgiving.com/Lesley-Forsythe.

Let me give you some background.

On the far western edges of the Sahara, lives a people without a country. More accurately, lives a people with a country that has for years been ‘claimed’ by someone else. Western Sahara is essentially the last colony is Africa, invaded by the Moroccan government in 1975. Not that the country was in the Sahrawis’ (the people of Western Sahara) control then either. No, Morocco took the country over from Spain, who had their claws in it since the turn of the 20th century. Which means the people of Western Sahara, the tribes that have used the land for centuries, haven’t been in control of their own home for more than a century. Not that the Sahrawis have been silent. No, they put up resistance. They still do. Some still live in Western Sahara, along the coast, where thousands of Moroccans too have settled.

For the past three decades, most Sahrawis live out their lives in refugee camps outside Tindouf, in the vast Sahara deserts of Algeria.

Only miles from their country.

WesternSaharaMap

 

The refugee camps of Tindouf are not the abysmal horror stories you hear about for those fleeing from Somali, Sudan, Syria. They have food, and water, and shelter. These refugee camps are well established.

But they are still refugee camps. For many it is the only home they have even known. They do not even know what the towns of their mothers, fathers, grandparents are like because they have never seen them. They can’t, either.

I choose to live outside of my home country. I choose to make a life in a land different. They do not have the choice. To return home is not to return to their land, but to a land illegally owned by others. The UN has said multiple times that Morocco (and Mauritania) have no legal rights to the Western Sahara. That Spain, which essentially just abandoned the Western Sahara (and thus still has theoretical administrative control of the area), was supposed to have given a referendum on Western Sahara’s independence decades ago. That Morocco was supposed to do the same. That the Sahrawi people and those who live in the Western Sahara were and are supposed to be given the option to become autonomous, to become integrated or to become independent.

That referendum has never been held. Despite repeated promises. And that isn’t to say that the Sahrawis are without blemish. No, there has been armed conflict and atrocities committed on both sides. But mostly? Mostly this is a case of people who should have the opportunity to choose their destiny. And most just want to return home.

Most people aren’t aware of this issue. Most people in Morocco are barely aware of it. And those that are don’t talk about it, because talking about independence for the Sahrawi people is considered being a traitor against the Moroccan crown. Most people who will read this post probably know little about it. I am talking about people with a country that doesn’t formally exist.

The Sahara Marathon is an organization dedicated to raising awareness on the Sahrawi plight through sport. Now in its 13th year, the Sahara Marathon is exactly as it sounds: a marathon run through the Sahara. Through the desert. Through sand dunes and rocks and the sun and the sky. The additional twist is that all participants live with the refugees during the race. Part of the costs of entry for the race go directly to the refugees. It is one of my bucket list items to one day participate in the marathon (or at least the 10k). Right now, that isn’t a possibility for me. But I told my friend Lesley about it, and she is doing it. This year. Here’s a message from her to you:

Hi everyone,

My name is Lesley and I’m a teacher in Cairo. I’m not a professional runner, in fact far from it – I’m 40 this week and haven’t run for about 25 years. However, putting on a pair of running shoes and taking part in a marathon across the desert is still easier than what they have to do everyday to survive. And when it’s all over I can still return to my nice apartment in Cairo.

I will do everything I can to help those people and every dollar that is donated just makes me heart leap for joy and think yes, I can run a marathon. in the desert. without a road. after 25 years and a lot of cigarettes (yep, I’ve been a heavy smoker most of my adult life).

Many people are amazed by what I am planning to do. I am amazed by what hardships most people face on a daily basis. I might struggle …. but it will be temporary. These people struggle everyday so let’s try and help them to be more self-sufficient by supporting the Sahara Marathon and http://www.sandblast-arts.org/.

This week, America suffered a terrible tragedy in Connecticut. Let’s counteract those bad actions by doing good. I’d like to keep my faith in humanity and am convinced that most people are good. I hope you agree.

Thanks to Catherine for bringing this marathon to my attention and thanks a million in advance for your support, you’re wonderful.

By donating to http://www.justgiving.com/Lesley-Forsythe, you’ll be giving to the Sandblast Arts foundation, which is dedicated to providing means of self-reliance for the Sahrawi people through the arts. They fund workshops on music, dance, theater, jewelry making and more.

By donating to them, you are saying 30 years in a refugee camp is unjustifiable. You are saying people deserve the right to choose their future.

By donating to Lesley, you are really donating to me. Because if I had the means, I would be doing the exact same thing right now. Lesley is raising all the costs for the actual marathon on her own – donating to Sandblast is just extra to help the community more. She has already been given a large stack of children’s books (for English language learners) to give to the refugee children. She is doing what she can for the community, and I hope you donate to her cause. To their cause. To my cause.

Tis the season for goodwill towards men. Do some good.

 

 

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A Quarter of a Year

Three months seems like a long time. A quarter of a year seems like an even longer time, though they are the same.

But neither is that long. Not really. In the grand scheme of things (even in the grand scheme of just my life), it isn’t that long.

It feels like forever. It feels like a day.

I still cannot believe that I live in Cairo. Not just in the sense of, ‘Oh I can’t believe I’m here!’ I mean that my brain still hasn’t become accustomed to Catherine you live in Cairo, Egypt. This is your home. A part of me is still processing this as a huge lark, some adventure that has an end date in mind. Some part of me is just going through the motions of a daily life. And another part of me is consistently going HOLY CRAP YOU LIVE IN CAIRO WHAAAATTTTTTTTTTTT. That part of me is exhausting to be around all the time, so I suppose the others are there to balance it all out. Regardless, I still do not feel like this city is my city. Perhaps I never will, but hopefully it will be more a part of me as time progresses. This city is hard to figure out. It can easily embrace you one day and shove you out of a moving vehicle the next. Cruel mistress, this city. You love it anyway. You hate it anyway. On a day-to-day basis, you try to find a spot between those two emotions and create a life.

And what life I am creating now? This past week I’ve been at the ‘orientation’ for my new job. It is…intense. Not the orientation, but just realizing what I’ve gotten myself into. Let’s be clear: all the teacher training I have ever had is a one month certification course in teaching English as a foreign language to adults. My new job is teaching English, math, science and social science to 6th graders. Huge discrepancy, I’d say. Not that I am worried I can’t do it in the basic sense: teaching the material. Pretty sure I can do that. But it is everything else that comes with being a teacher that I am worried about. Teaching methodology. Classroom management. Dealing with parents. Dealing with creating exams, curriculum, lesson plans, grading, field trips – all the things outside of the basic idea of I make students understand certain bits of information. I have 3 weeks until I start my job officially. I am spending that time (merry Christmas to me) giving myself a crash course in what it means to be a teacher and how to do it. People get BAs and Masters degrees in this. I’m doing it with neither, so the amount I can hope to prepare is minimal compared to everything they’ve done. But I’ll learn on the job.

I’ll have to. I’ve signed the contract: no matter what, I’m in Cairo until June. Here’s to at least three-quarters of a year in Cairo!

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