Category Archives: Work

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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Lessons from Teaching 2

I’m now into my third week of teaching. Simple sentence, loaded meaning.

Today (apart from a bird crapping on me – people say it’s good luck but it’s happened to me twice here. First time a woman punched me in the head the same day and today…well, read on) was a hard day for me.

After lunch break, I’m sitting in class wondering, “Where the hell are my students?” Normally they have Arabic at this point, but we’ve switched up the schedule (which happens every weeks, sometimes two or three times a week, much to my confusion) so that I have all my regular sessions plus half the Arabic sessions in preparation for the students’ quarter exams next week. In any case, Ms. May (Grade 4 teacher and elementary department head) asks where my class is, I respond I don’t know, we find them downstairs telling us Dr. Laura (the principal) asked to meet with all of them. I’m thinking, “What the what did my class do?” Then Dr. Laura says I’m a part of the meeting as well. Oh shit. 

Apparently, my students have been complaining about me. All of them. That they can’t understand what I’m teaching, they don’t know what is going on, etc etc. Dr. Laura (bless her) told them that I am not Ms. Asmaa (their previous teacher), I will not teach like Ms. Asmaa, and that they need to get used to it. Dr. Laura then asked them to voice their concerns over specific things they are not understanding in class. Which they told me, and part of it is I very much need to grade my language, the same issue I had during the CELTA. Dr. Laura then told me, with the class still in the room, that they can’t understand things very quickly so I have to repeat things constantly and I shouldn’t try to be creative in my teaching (read: give individual work or group work too often…super creative?) because Egyptian students simply can’t cope with that. Part of me thought, “Well thank you for the advice, it will help me as I move forward.” The other part thought, You just called the kids stupid to a certain degree to their faces. Damn.

Anyway, so we go back to class. I tell the students we can review anything they want and feel they don’t understand. We start to go over English. They start talking and not paying attention. Which is the point where I sit down, say “You say you don’t understand. No wonder, because you don’t listen. Why should I waste my breath when you aren’t even interested in learning? Enjoy failing your quarter exams.” Then I just stopped talking. Everyone got upset with me (well then stop being disrespectful and listen). I started teaching again. Then they started talking again. So I just sat down for the rest of class. Didn’t teach. Told them I am giving them the opportunity to understand. They aren’t taking it. At this point, not my fault. The ones who were listening kept asking, “Why are you punishing us for others’ behavior?” I told them I’m here to teach a class, not tutor individuals.

In other words, a difficult day.

So in round two of lessons from teaching, here is what I have learned:
1. Slow down. Grade your language. Take responsibility for your students’ understanding.
2. But only until a certain point. Hold them responsible too.
3. Don’t reach for the stars, at least not in Egypt.

But I am going to try and remain positive. I have to, because self-pity gets me nowhere and is just incredibly draining.

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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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Being Busy (But Not Quite Yet)

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I have a new job! 

I am to be the Grade 6 teacher at Thebes American College here in Cairo. What does that mean? It means a dozen preteen students will be taught English, math, science and social science by me. Yes, I will be a proper teacher. I will be called “Miss Catherine”. Stranger things have happened, yes?

But if I told my 16 year old self, “Hey. In 6 years, you’re going to be a 6th grade teacher in Cairo, Egypt” my 16 year old self would have probably wondered what the heck I was talking about (since I’m pretty sure I wanted to be a production designer for films at that point).

Life! It is change itself!

The day I quit my job at the nursery I had the interview. I thought it went well, particularly because I said I love science and apparently most American teachers don’t. (How can you not love science? IT’S SCIENCE!) However, they said they’d get back to me. So I went to Alexandria thinking, “Well, I probably didn’t get it.” But lo-and-behold!

While the job doesn’t pay the most (I’ve already negotiated my contract), the benefits are outstanding. I will get a work permit, a bank account, tons of paid holiday, dental and health care coverage, free transportation out to the school (it’s a trek) and other goodies. In addition, while I will be on school grounds from 8-2:15 Sunday-Thursday, I will only be teaching 3-4 hours at most per day. It’s an integrated school, meaning half the day is English, half Arabic. So while the students are doing their Arabic parts of the day, I’ll be doing lesson prep for my classes. What that comes down to is very little time outside of school will be devoted to school. Meaning more time for me to work on my Arabic! Hoorah!

However the job doesn’t start until January. I’ll have a week’s orientation session sometime in December, but for the next 40 days or so I’m unemployed and the ‘chief loafer’ as my flatmate has dubbed me.

BUT WAIT, there’s more!

A few weeks ago, I emailed my old documentary professor and asked her about contacts in Cairo. She had mentioned to me previously she knew some people who were doing documentary work here. As it turns out, that project, 18 Days in Egypt, is winding down into its last phase. So my information was forwarded on to one of the people heavily involved in the project. She, along with the other creators of 18 Days, is starting a new project: Egypt Journalism Project, a citizen journalism program that trains the audience to become the storyteller. An average person can report the stories as they happen, go places full-fledged journalists can’t and report the stories the media organizations aren’t. It is a pretty inspiring idea and EJP wants to give these people the tools to get stories told, told well, and heard.

Long story short, I’ve been offered to be the director’s assistant for EJP. It isn’t as glamorous as it sounds! This is a small non-profit funded by grants at the very beginning of its existence. Carmel, the director, is the only one on the ground here, so I’ll be helping her in anyway I can, including getting supplies, arranging trainers – whatever is needed. The first session was last night, and we’ve a LONG way to go, but the possibilities for EJP are rampant. I’m excited to get to be a part of it.

So there you go. Soon I’ll be very busy, but not quite yet.


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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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Bukra (Tomorrow) Begins a New Chapter

To my East Coast friends and family: Hunker down and have a nice Frankenstorm! Break out the flashlights and candles as needed.

I am going to try and keep this post short, for a change.

I accepted a job at a nursery in Maadi. I think it may only be temporary, because hopefully openings in schools for the new semester should be getting posted soon (and someone will love me enough to say yes), plus I have some other tongs in the fire, so to speak. But in the meantime, the nursery will do. My first day is tomorrow. I hope things go well!

This past weekend was Eid al-Adha, one of the most important holidays in Islam. It revolves around the story (if it sounds familiar, it’s because Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all come from the same root – and all believe in the same god.) of Abrahim (Ibrahim in the Quran) willing to sacrifice his son Isaac (Ishmael) for God, but God intervenes and Abrahim sacrifices a goat or sheep instead. The traditional celebration here is to slaughter a sheep (or cow or goat) and have a big festival with your family. In other words, LOTS of dead animals in Cairo this past weekend. Streets ran red and all that.

It is also a big time to travel (Eid al-Adha is a bit like Christmas break) in the Middle East. A number of Cairenes head to the Red Sea during this time. One of Melissa’s friends, Jumi, who is studying in Amman, came to visit her here. On Thursday I met up them and some of Jumi’s friends and we went on a felucca (sailboat) ride in Maadi on the Nile. Nice and serene. We had dinner at a restaurant along the Nile as well. Friday I met up with Jumi and Melissa and we had Yemeni food, which was an experience (no idea what we were doing) but incredibly delicious and I’ll be back again. We then headed to Melissa’s family’s place in Heliopolis, a suburb of Cairo. Her family home is lovely: three flats in a 60 year old building. We took naps, had a dance party, then got food in Zamalek, back in town (after a fruitless walk for koshari). I stayed the night with Melissa and Jumi, and Saturday we made breakfast, headed to Al Azhar Park, yelled at guys who are assholes (a majority of the young men here are assholes – as in 90%), had juice, then walked to Khan el Khalili, the most famous souk (bazaar/marketplace) in Cairo. The last time I was there was January 25, 2011. Jumi and Melissa shopped, I eventually got separated from them and sat on a curb. Amazingly, I was not pestered once. We then met up with some friends of Jumi’s who are studying in Cairo (actually at AMIDEAST, so I’d met them before – which reminds me, another story, another time) and went to Naguib Mafouz Cafe. Naguib Mafouz is an incredibly famous Egyptian writer, the first to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature. But the restaurant is now a (very nice) tourist trap – and INCREDIBLY expensive. But it was good to sit at a table with 4 other Americans and chat.

And there’s the weekend!

Remind me I have to tell you about: Noam Chomsky, AMIDEAST visits, and apartment shenanigans.

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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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