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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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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Rotation, Review, and Regards

It is the last day of 2012! Another full calendar year has passed us, the Earth has fully rotated around the sun, completing its orbit (from this point in the sky anyway, the calendar measurement of time is relative), and life goes on.

I’m a fan of lists – so here is my life in 2012, however self-indulging it may be. (Head to the bottom of the list if you want to read about my Christmas). Oh, and I put in pictures, so this post seems long but the reading is minimal (don’t be lazy).

January 2012: I begin my life as a college graduate by interning at AMIDEAST, working at the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite, and babysitting (always the babysitting!).

January 16, 2012: I turn 22 and get to celebrate with so many of my closest friends. 

A birthday with some excellent ladies!

A birthday with some excellent ladies!

February 14, 2012: Best Valentine’s so far because my diploma arrives in the mail.

Spring 2012: Puppies. Volunteering with puppies. The best! Baked a ton. Including for Pi Day. And Leap Day (Leap Day William!).

April 2012: My APO family got a bit bigger! Went to Foxfield. So many preppy drunk biddies. SO MANY.



Thankfully I like horses.

Thankfully I like horses.

May 2012: The long, long goodbye to DC, filled with adventures, picnics, selling stuff and embraces you wish would last forever. And graduation ceremony times!

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June 2012: One of the best trips I have ever taken, with some of the best people I’ve ever known: California Road Trip with Sydney and Alex (how I miss you so).

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Summer 2012: Unpacking, packing, unpacking, packing. Spending time with my family and friends and my pets. (Also got into a car crash but whatever).



On a boat in a lake in a park in SoCal with Mitchell.

On a boat in a lake in a park in SoCal with Mitchell.

Late August 2012: My family and I say goodbye to California and hit the road. Destination: Springfield, Massachusetts, my parents’ new home! Driving cross country with 3 pets is a HASSLE.

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Early September 2012: Visit Arthur, Deepika and Sydney for one last time in Boston and Long Island respectively. Relish the last days with my family.

September 11-12, 2012: Move to Cairo, Egypt for a new adventure.

September-October 2012: Take CELTA course to become certified in teaching English.

October 1, 2012: Will’s (my brother) 25th birthday! ALL DOWN HILL NOW.


Sphinx too.

Sphinx too.

October-December 2012: Crazy shenanigans in Egypt (see the rest of this blog, duh.)

November 2012: My APO family gets a bit bigger again (hello glittle!) and I have two Thanksgivings.

Family Name: Keefe No Shits Given. Represent.

Family Name: Keefe No Shits Given. Represent.

December 2012: Hired to be a Grade 6 teacher, job starts in January.

December 25, 2012: My dad’s 60th birthday! And Christmas. I spent Christmas with Melissa’s family. I went to their home in Heliopolis for evening tea and sweets. Melissa’s parents were there, and they gave me a beautiful silk scarf. Two AU alum came for tea as well and we all talked and talked and talked. The next morning (I spent the night), we had a big Egyptian style breakfast (with lots of adorable family bickering) with Melissa’s grandmother. Then her, her mom and I went to see The Hobbit. IT WAS SO GOOD. I got a big piece of homemade fruitcake (no really) to take home with me. A simple, quiet but wonderful Christmas. Thank you Mafouz’s!

Oh yes, forgot, Kate, Christine and I went to the Swiss Club Christmas bazaar. This is what happened.

Oh yes, forgot, Kate, Christine and I went to the Swiss Club Christmas bazaar. This is what happened.

Representing AU gorgeously.

Representing AU gorgeously.

Boxing Day Breakfast with the (adopted) family!

Boxing Day Breakfast with the (adopted) family!

December 27, 2012: My mom’s birthday! Happy birthday, miss you and love you!

And that, my friends, is 2012 in not-so-short. May 2013 be filled with the same type of love from family and friends I received this year! Here’s to tomorrow and every day thereafter.

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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!


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

But more importantly,


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

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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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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.



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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