Tag Archives: life

Mountains and Deserts

I fail, once again, at posting. Apologies! So you get a two-in-one deal here: my trip to Mt. Sinai AND my trip to the Black and White Desert! And in a separate post, my mom’s visit to Egypt for the first two weeks of April.

A few weekends ago (okay so almost two months ago) I decided I wanted to spend 21 hours in a bus, breaking it up with climbing Mt. Sinai, supposedly the mountain where Moses got the Ten Commandments.

I did it through a tour group, which was all Egyptians and me. They all thought I was the crazy foreign girl, which is fine, I am. The drive to Sinai (which is a peninsular region in Eastern Egypt. Big deal, wars fought over it, borders Israel and the Gaza Strip, right next to Jordan and Saudi Arabic, Suez Canal is there, anyway) IS SO LONG. 10 hours on the way there. We left from Heliopolis an hour later than expected, and somehow or another, that meant instead of getting to Mt. Sinai at 1 in the morning, we got there at 4 in the morning. Part of it is to do with that fact that every three hours or so we had to stop the bus and soldiers at checkpoints would come and check everyone’s ID/passport.

Since we were climbing Mt. Sinai in order to watch the sunrise from the top, and we got there at 4 and it’s a 3 and a half hour hike and sunrise is around 5:30….yeah. Did not make the sunrise. Saw it from about halfway up the mountain. It was still incredibly beautiful, and hey, we only had to do half the hike in the dark. The hike was a bit strenuous, but it was really just a lot of walking uphill, not anything too serious. The kicker though is that the last part of the hike is 750 steps, the final part of 3,000+ steps called the Steps of Repentance (or something like that), the other way to get up the mountain. We made it to the top, and took in the gorgeous view, which included Mt. St. Catherine’s, the tallest mountain in Egypt.

I’m too lazy to upload photos (also internet is being spotty), so I’ve made my Facebook album of photos public – go browse through those, starting with this one.

We eventually mustered ourselves to go back down the mountain – which I practically flew down, I was tired and hungry. We had lunch at a hotel restaurant, then got back on the road around 2pm. It took us 11 hours to get back. ELEVEN. I cringe just remembering it. And at a certain point in the middle of the night, a checkpoint made all of us get off the bus with our bags to check to see if we had narcotics on us. Except they didn’t check my bag, just looked at me and motioned me back on the bus. Life in Egypt.

We get back to Heliopolis around 11:30 and hooray, one of the guys on the trip gives me a ride back to my flat on the other side of town.

The end.
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On to the White Desert!

A few weeks ago, a group of friends and I, plus a group of other people we rounded up, so 15 total, took a one-night trek into the White Desert. Once again, too lazy to upload photos here, but album is public on Facebook and you should check it out.

The White Desert is so named because of chalk-limestone formations created back when the whole area was a shallow sea (think 500,000+ years ago). It’s quite an alien landscape, and indescribably beautiful.

A small caravan of two mini-buses picked up our group in Zamalek on an early Friday morning, driving us out to the desert. It took about 5 hours, through bleak landscape (most of the desert in Egypt is flat, rocky, and boring). We arrived in Bawiti, the oasis town on the edge of the Black Desert, and stopped at the International Hot Springs Hotel, through which we had arranged our desert safari. It is owned by a German and Japanese couple, who are awesome and the husband (Peter) is hilarious and very attentive. We had a lunch at the hotel, then loaded up into 4 SUVs with our guides, and our cooler full of alcohol in the back of one. We drove off into the desert, ready for adventures. Our first stop was Crystal Mountain, which is not much of a mountain and is not really made of crystal, but of calcite. However, it was quite interesting and fun to clamber about (once again check out the album on Facebook). We then drove off further into the White Desert, stopping at interesting chalk formations on our way to our campsite. As the sun began to set, we reached our site, and while our guides set up the Bedouin-style camp, we scampered about, exploring the landscape. Eventually, dinner was served, and it was DELICIOUS. Soup, vegetables, chicken, rice…so good. We ate with all the heavens laid out above us and only a few lamps and a fire to light our meals. Once we finished dinner, my friends and I grabbed beers and wandered off into the dark to sit, listen to music, chat, and occasionally just fall into silence when the overwhelming sense of humility from being in such a place quieted our minds and tongues. We had opted to not have a full tent for us built, but only walls supported by the SUVs, so that our final blanket was a ceiling of stars. To roll over and wake up in the night with that above you is comforting and terrifying. I could definitely get used to it.

I woke up early in the morning, and found Megan and Mugant had gotten up with the sunrise (I was a bit late for that, but I see it 5 times a week anyway thanks to my job). We decided the best way (by we I mean solely Mugant, he’s very inconsiderate) to wake everyone else up was to play music very loudly. Eventually, a lovely breakfast was served, we scampered a bit more as the guides packed up, and we headed on to the Black Desert. The Black Desert is primarily igneous (formed from lava or magma) mountains that formed a few million years ago in a large crevice in the earth. We reached one mountain, and while some climbed up to the very top, I stayed only halfway up and danced. After our mountain, we once more piled back in the SUVs and drove back to the hotel. We cleaned up a bit, thanked our guides and Peter, piled back into the mini-buses and headed back to Cairo.

It was a quick weekend trip, with quite a bit of travel, but the destination was worth it.

 

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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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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.

PEONS.

PEONS.

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).

SMUTTY DOG.

SMUTTY DOG.

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.

October 2012: FINALLY SEE THE DAMN PYRAMIDS.

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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