Still in Egypt

We’re still here. That’s not really news, but it will be news for some of you that we will continue to still be in Egypt for one more year. Seriously, Bethany’s blog about Greece was way more fun, but I suppose it’s only fair that I have to write this one. I’m afraid this isn’t going to be one of those cool, picture-y blogs that you’re used to, but for the few of you who like to keep up with what’s happening in our lives, it might be worth a read.

In short, we’ll be here for one more year because we were unable to find Bethany a good job outside of Egypt. We looked, believe me, but almost entirely unsuccessfully. Okay, there, now you can go back to whatever you were doing before if you’d like. Or you can read the significantly longer explanation below: Continue reading

Flexiblity

I know I wrote about yoga in the last blog, but this is about a different kind of flexibility.

It’s about that unique kind of flexibility you gain from teaching and living abroad, especially in a developing country. I can’t even count how many times our plans have changed in the last two years. It seems as though every single plan we made didn’t actually happen.

This has been a valuable experience for both of us, learning to just let life happen. Go with the flow (this is sounding more and more yoga like). Both of us were raised in families love to plan things, yet our plan changes daily so we can’t exactly organise anything.

I know this is all very vague so I’ll give you some specifics.

I supposed you could say the first year in Egypt went according to our plan, but this second one has been insane. We originally came to Egypt with the idea that we will be here for two years without going home. Both of my younger sisters were getting married during summer, so we went home (probably the best change of plans ever!). Then we came back to a school that was shut down by the government so I switched schools. Then in November our money was devalued, throwing our travel plans out the window. By January I’d had 0 interviews for next year and by February we had decided it wouldn’t be the worst thing to stay in Egypt for another year. Now I’ve had a few interviews as well as a job offer but we still have not made a commitment to leave Egypt.

So here’s the current thinking. We would rather stay in Egypt a third year than move to another difficult country or a difficult school. Only if an IB school with good reviews offers me a position will we be moving out of Egypt.

 

Christmas in Alexandria

Last year we went to Hurghada for Christmas and spent our time enjoying the Red Sea. This year, we’ll be staying at home. Christmas in Egypt is very weird to me. Because most of the population is Muslim, most Egyptians don’t actually celebrate Christmas. However, you can find cheesy Christmas decorations for sale in every market and toy store. It’s as if they like the idea of it, but don’t actually do it. Then there’s our normal Christmas on Dec. 25th, and the Coptic Christmas on January 7th. However, many Egyptians seem to think that Christmas and New Years is the same thing. Perhaps it’s a nice thing in the middle to celebrate? Maybe someone can explain it to me…

At least this means we can enjoy our main Christmas traditions, decorating a real tree with lots of lights and eating certain foods. Our first tree was a palm tree, true Egyptian style.

15355776_10155272165325400_357986429991628504_nWe went to visit our local plant guy and caught him bringing some little juniper bushes inside. One example of the incredible friendly Egyptian types, he sold us a tree and pot with dirt for less than $5. We bought some white lights and silver ornaments and I made some small snowflakes. So far, Leo has only knocked it over once.


The baking part got more challenging this year. The usual cream cheese braids that are a family tradition had to made without cream cheese. I had been thinking about Banket, a Dutch almond flavored pastry, and decided to make something almond flavored to put in the middle of the braid. I found a recipe that didn’t require almond paste, but failed to read the reviews. So I made the almond filling and realized it wasn’t sweet at all.  I ended up experimenting with various sweeteners and it was still good stuff.

We were able to find ricotta cheese to make the traditional Christmas Eve lasagna and eat it before rehearsal.

My favorite cookies are the white Christmas crinkles which I haven had for two years now. A white chocolate cookie coated with sugar, drizzled with dark chocolate and sprinkled with candy cane pieces. Alas candy canes do not exist here.

But I did make cream puffs and was surprisingly successful.

Besides there’s more to Christmas than just eating.

The Miss

It’s official! School is out! I don’t think I’ve done much blogging about school besides my first impressions. So here’s a (hopefully) short summary.

First of all the title of this blog…All (female) teachers are referred to as “The Miss”. The Miss of Arabic, The Miss said you can’t do that, “Miss! Miss! Miss! Miss! MISS! MISS VANCE!”.  I generally like to wait until they use my actual name.

I had students eager to learn and students who tried to get me fired.  Students who loved me and wrote that I was her role model and students who told me that he didn’t respect me at all. Students who thanked me for teaching her and students who (in the end) got himself expelled from the school (really all the negative parts were from one particular student).

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Some vibrant spring flowers

I don’t know if I’ve written before that we (Ronnie and I) feel like Egypt is making us angry people.  But really it’s just a loud culture.  I really don’t like raising my voice, but it’s so much a part of the culture here that you don’t really get noticed if you don’t do it.  Especially as a teacher.  So  maybe I need to figure out how to be loud without being angry?  Ronnie kept track of how many times I cried last year (6), I kept track of how many times I completely lost my cool and screamed at the kids (4).

The International Baccalaureate (IB) system is much more my style.  It allows you to teach the kids in a more natural way. It’s hard to explain besides it’s a lot like homeschooling. You have a topic that you’re supposed to learn about and a few objectives to reach, but the ways of reaching those objectives are numerous (field trips, visitors, blogs, books, family, etc) Then at the end, they do some sort of final project to show their learning. My class was incredibly creative and we had a lot of fun creating all sorts of things. I can only sit and smile when I see friends on Facebook complaining about the SBAC.

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Beach day by the Mediterranean

Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims, started at the beginning of June. For those who are as clueless as I was, the people fast during the day and aren’t allowed to put anything in their mouths.  At 7ish in the evening, they wait for the call to prayer which signals Iftar, or the breaking of the fast. Then they stay up all night to eat more before the sun rises again and they’re back to fasting. This starts around grade 3.  So for the past three weeks, many students just decided not to come to school, and the ones who did come complained that they were too tired, and hungry, and thirsty to do anything.  It was frustrating and seemed like a waste of time. I taught them some games, made some crafts out of recycled paper, listened to music with them, but really did not accomplish anything during this time.  I had one students on the last day of school.

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Streamers to decorate for Ramadan

As with every job and school, there’s a mix of both positive and negative things, but there’s one huge thing that’s different at the end of this year. And that is the fact I’m not left wondering if teaching is the right thing for me. I’ve found my groove and I’m happy to stick with it!

 

Diet

Here’s another interesting thing about moving across the world that you don’t really think about, your diet. You’ve had the blog about the Egyptian food here so you know what that’s like, but our home cooking has changed too.

I learned how to cook based off of a type of meat. Say you have some ground beef, so you could make tacos, tamale pie, stroganoff, or hamburgers depending on what you feel like. Then you’d add in the appropriate vegetables and sides to make a meal.

The problem with Egypt is that you never know about the meat. One of the grocery stores nearby has a meat counter with beef, lamb, turkey, and chicken.  However, we just got home from shopping there where I had to swerve around a shopping cart with cow parts sticking out of it. In the middle of the store. I should have taken a picture. Also, one of the ads we’ve received from this store has a picture of a chicken that’s greenish blue.  We’ve bought beef from them once and it was impossibly chewy.  The ground beef has chunks of…stuff in it.  So we pretty much stick to the chicken which must be frozen or eaten that same day.

The freshest meat in Egypt is the seafood.  The market by the school has plenty of fresh shrimp, crabs, and fish of all kinds…there was even a live turtle one day.  So you pick the vendor with the most ice to buy your dinner.

The other safe meat option is ordering from a place online.  They deliver from Cairo, but it’s a bit pricey.  We’ve gotten some delicious salmon, tuna, and beef steaks from there. But I’m also convinced that the beef just tastes different here.

And then there’s the pork store where almost everything is already cured so you can’t really go wrong there.

Aaanyway. All that was to point out that I can no longer plan my meals around meat.  So we turn to vegetables.  My goal is to eat vegetarian at least once a week.

I learned to steam vegetables and eat them.  No seasonings or salt or butter or anything. This is fine, but it gets old.  Especially when you’re trying to make a meal out of it.  So one of our recent purchases was The Vegetarian Option. I found it in a bookstore in Cairo and it seemed to be good, edible vegetarian stuff.  No weird tofu, fake meat, things we’d never find in Egypt type stuff. So far we’ve only made one thing, but it was delicious so I’m planning to make more.

It’s still very much a work in progress, but I’ll keep you updated on how our vegetarian adventures are going. I’m finding it harder than I thought. Of course I’d be happy to eat potatoes every day, but I’m not the only one who eats around here.

Gender roles

Here’s another interesting cultural tidbit about Egypt.

Men are almost exclusively involved in women’s beauty products and processes. I went to get my hair cut for the second time and, for the second time, it was cut by a man who looked like a biker. Tattoos, slicked back hair, kinda short, wearing leather, you get the point. Perhaps this is to make up for the fact that he does women’s hair for a living. Also men and women have separate salons…it’s very awkward for me to sit in a men’s salon and vice versa.

Makeup counters frequently have men behind them and lets not forget the piles of bras out on the street, also sold by a man. Personal trainers at the gym are mostly huge buff men.

My most recent theory is that since men can have more than one wife, they don’t get jealous.  Who cares if my wife is out getting beautified by some other man? I’ve got two more to keep me happy.

Of course I have no idea, but it’s something that seems very odd to me having men so involved in what many people consider something quite personal.

Staring

There was a time in my life about 10 years ago when I avoided contact with other people at all costs. I walked through the halls of my high school staring at the floor. Something happened (I don’t remember what) and I realized there was nothing to hide from. I started looking up at people in the hallways as I slowly learned how to socialize. It was a painful process that I was horrible at. 

After college, I moved back to my hometown, got married and realized that all the people I grew up with were gone on their own adventures. Again, we (Ronnie helped quite a bit) slowly began to make friends again as we became a part of the music community. 

Jump to September 2015. We moved to a place where I stick out like a sore thumb and everyone stares. It’s incredibly uncomfortable and I have been tempted to make faces at them and stare back. Instead, I avoid them. I can’t communicate with them and even if I could, I would have a hard time trusting what they said. So, once again, I go through public avoiding contact with people at all costs. 

If only I had more time to learn Arabic properly. That might help a bit. It’s quite exhausting spending your time avoiding people. And it’s extra miserable when your husband is gone for two weeks. I’ve even considered dying my hair darker to see if it would help me to blend in…Don’t worry though. I haven’t considered wearing a head scarf.