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.

 

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!

 

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.

Egyptian Culture: Food

Ah, what to say about Egyptians and their food.

First, just to get the diplomacy out of the way: Egyptians have food. There is indeed food here in Egypt that people do eat. Some of it is even delicious, and some of it would actually make you want to slice the taste buds off your tongue one by one.

What could be that bad, you ask? I’m prepared to tell you. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with “Egyptian cuisine”.

One important rule we have learned in our short time here – one that applies not just to food, but also to our new life in general – is that one must never have any expectations. That’s because, with expectations, even if someone hasn’t just served you pizza made with ketchup or a Caesar salad dressed with mayonnaise with extra mayo on the side, you’re still likely to be disappointed in the end.

The second important rule we’ve learned is that one should never trust a restaurant that makes any claims about the ethnicity of its food. Yes, the Syrian restaurant on the Corniche is believably Syrian, and I’ll trust you if you purport to be an Egyptian restaurant. But if you have the words “AMERICAN CAFÉ” in big letters on the front of your building, why then would you serve burgers made of kofta? If you’re an Italian place, why does my spaghetti Bolognese have BBQ sauce in it? No thanks, I’ll pass.

So, as you can tell, we don’t get on well with most of the restaurants around us. There are at least two in our neighborhood alone that we’ve sworn off completely, and we try to stay away from anything that calls itself a “cafe”. Most of our worst experiences (the ones you read about in the previous two paragraphs) were had in “cafes”. (I have to admit that I was in rehearsal while Bethany was having the “worst meal [she’s] ever had in Egypt”, so I can’t really describe it. Maybe she can.)

It isn’t all bad though; there are some restaurants we’ve actually enjoyed. Since we live on the Mediterranean, we have had some luck with seafood restaurants. And there’s China House, which just barely compensates for its mediocre Chinese food by having the best views in Alexandria.

IMG_3062I definitely wouldn’t want to sound like I’m whining, so there are a few Egyptian foods that we do like. Egypt has taken shawerma from the Syrians, and because we come from a small town about as far away from the Middle East as you can get, it’s new to us. Personally, I could eat shawerma until I explode, and then I would get some more. Bethany isn’t quite as hooked on it, but she likes it enough to have found a favorite (Gad, ubiquitous until you’re actually looking for one.)

They have this thing called feteer, a dish I was introduced to when the flutist in the orchestra ordered one for me during one of our breaks. I’m afraid I will never be able to recreate this, as it involved speaking to someone over the phone. (Seriously, why can’t I just know Arabic already?). It’s basically phyllo dough filled with stuff, so imagine a puff pastry calzone. So good.

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Feteer.

And there’s fattah. We’re not entirely sure what goes in this one. There’s rice, and plain yogurt, and sometimes meat. And maybe some kind of cracker thing on the bottom? It’s bowl food, served in a bowl.

Then there’s the Egyptian foods you eat not necessarily because you like them, but because they’re just..there. Kofta (little ground beef wieners), felafel, . Foul (pronounced “fool”) is just beans. Special beans, I’ll grant, but they go crazy over it here. I don’t see its appeal. I haven’t tried koshary yet, but some people like it. From what I understand, it’s essentially chili served over macaroni and maybe other noodles and maybe other stuff. Like I said, I haven’t had it yet.

What else do Egyptians like? One word: Sugar. Excuse me, I mean “SUGAR!!!” They have a serious thing for dessert here. Not necessarily good dessert, but as long as it’s made of sugar, I don’t think they really care. It’s incomprehensible how much sugar they eat. I’m struggling to describe it accurately, so I just won’t.

We’re looking forward to a couple upcoming trips out of Egypt, mainly for the food. I’m sure we’ll talk about it.

I’ll leave you with this image of a crab bathing in some soup.

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Spring break #1

This year, I am very lucky to have two spring breaks. Both of them will be extremely exciting.

For the first one, my parents came to visit! All the way to Egypt! In the two weeks here, I think they saw more of Egypt than I have in 6 months.  Maybe I’ll catch up one day.

Rather than upload a hundred photos here, I think I’ll tell you the basics, then send you over to Facebook to see the pictures.

In Alexandria, we showed my parents our neighborhood, school, and the market. Then we took them to the touristy places, some of which we hadn’t been to. We saw Fort Qaitbey, the Alexandria Library, Kom al Shoqafa Catacombs, Pompeii’s pillar, and the Alexandria museum.  We took them to all the best restaurants and cooked a bit for them as well.

Then we left early Sunday morning for our desert camping trip. In the desert, we saw millions of different types of rocks, incredible sand dunes, the stars, Crystal mountain, a few springs, lizards, desert foxes, amazing scenery, and NO people for two straight days.  The guides cooked delicious food and tea and did all the work of setting up camp, making a fire, washing dishes, etc.

The only thing I would say about it is that you should definitely stay the night in the hotel at the oasis. Otherwise you will not get to shower for four days.  I can’t remember why I said we wanted to camp out all three nights, but my hair felt sooo disgusting when we finally reached Cairo. Otherwise these guys are amazing and I can’t tell you how incredible this trip was.

Cairo was next on the agenda. We stayed at the Armed Forces Hotel in Zamalek.  Only a 4-star hotel this time, but I won’t go into detail.  The first day we didn’t do much in the morning, then in the afternoon we headed to Khan el Khalili market.  There, I think we all ended up spending more than we had intended, getting gifts for various people. It was much different than last time because the Egyptian market was also going on, and we ended up taking a wrong turn and got stuck in there for a while.

The second day, we had a guide take us to the pyramids (of course) and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Then, in true Egyptian fashion, we said goodbye to mom and dad while the van was stopped in the middle of the street and we scrambled out to safety on the side of the road.

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Anyway, if I were you, I’d skip all this and go straight to the pictures. They’re much more interesting…now that you’re done reading…

Next up? Rome at the end of April!!

 

Differences

I’m going to try really hard not to complain, but I make no guarantees.  Although this time it isn’t about Egypt…it’s about the good ol’ US of A.

I am trying really hard to find one thing that is the same here.It’s not easy.

There’s a different language (obviously), different measurements of length, height, weight, temperature, different currency, different expectations about time, different cultures, different time zone, different everything!

The only exception being time.  I thought they were going to use the 24 hour system because the principal sent all the schedule information that way, but maybe that’s just him.  It’s normal here.

So what am I not complaining about?  Yes. This is Egypt where certain things are a lot harder than necessary, but all of my co-workers (minus 1 other American) only had to adjust to the new language and culture stuff because everyone else in the world agrees on measurement systems. 

Of course this is no big deal for all the Americans who will never leave their sacred homes. I always thought the few people who went by the metric system were snobs, but now I realize that they are just being practical (global-minded to use my IB lingo).

I feel that America in general is very self-absorbed. The 9 and 10 year olds in my class are instructed in 3 different languages every week. In the US, you’re required to take one, maybe two years of a second language, but not until high school when it’s kind of too late. Even the Canadians are able to speak and understand some French.

Hey America! There are other people in the world besides yourselves!

I was pretty upset when I started student teaching that geography and foreign language skills had no mention in the cram-packed elementary curriculum.

Next week is my chapter in math about measurement.  Who wants to bet on how many times I say feet and inches instead of metres*, etc?

*Side note: Can anyone tell me why the textbook spells it metres, but it’s still perimeter?

Rant over.

 

 

Hurghada

I made it! All the way to Christmas (winter) break! The last few week of school were the usual challenging pre-break craziness.

The break started with an incredibly cheesy Christmas concert at the Alexandria Opera House. The first half of the concert was terrible pop songs that the singers chose, I imagine because they had no excuse to sing them otherwise. The second half of the concert was cheesy Christmas music, including two versions of Ave Maria (one that included what sounded like the call to prayer randomly interjected).  Let It Snow included snow falling from the ceiling and Santa Claus is Coming to Town included…well…Santa of course.  It was more of a talent show than a concert I would pay for, but it was an experience.

Early the next morning, we got on a bus and rode for 8 hours to Hurghada. The bus was quite empty which was nice for a change. Turns out that Hurghada is also quite empty.

Lacking extra money for the last few years, we were frugal in our hotel booking. Wanting to shower after sitting on the bus all day, I discovered no hot water. One trip down to the lobby got us three rolls of toilet paper and some soap (gotta love the language issues). A second trip got us hot water…for the most pathetic shower head that you had to hold because when it was hung on the wall it fell out onto your head. When I was finished, I couldn’t turn the water back off. We slept in the bed with a stained comforter and left the next morning after spending the evening booking a different hotel for the next five day.

The next adventure was booking a Dolphin/snorkeling/fishing excursion.  This was all very organized and pleasant with the overly excited guides who picked us up from our hotel to drive down to the boat. We got on the boat at 8 AM loaded up with masks, fins, wetsuits, etc.  An hour later we had chugged our way back up the coast to where our hotel is.  Then we headed out into the open water away from the coast.  It got rougher and rougher and pretty soon the boat was pitching and swaying like crazy.  I thought it was a bit strange that they had passed out “sea sick pills” before the trip, but all of sudden this made sense. Almost every other person on the boat was sick or on the verge of being sick. I quickly realized that sitting down was not a wise choice or I would have joined them.  I’m certain that if I was outside the cabin, I would have ended up in the water. This was all very exiting, but not really what anyone was expecting.

Eventually, we got to a laguna where we did our first snorkeling outing to take a break from the waves.  Of course, not many people were interested in this after being sick. We jumped in the balmy water and saw lots of cool fish and coral.  Amazing! Coming back out of the water into the wind was a different story. Much shivering occurred. While we were anchored there, lunch was served. Unfortunately, one woman and her daughter were so violently sick that the crew decided it would be best not to continue the trip out to see the dolphins. We continued on to tour around various reefs and islands before stopping at our next snorkeling place.  Really this took hours and got kind of boring. We jumped in again and saw more coral and fish. Then came the fishing part, really it was some fishing line and a lure tied onto a piece of wood. I didn’t participate because again, I had to conquer the task of becoming warm. This takes a lot of effort.

Very kindly, the crew offered to take us out again on Saturday for free because they like to guarantee a dolphin viewing for their customers. We have yet to decide for sure if we want to spend another 8 hours on a boat, but I really would love to see dolphins.

Picture blog to follow when we get home.