July 22, 2008
Today was my last day of teaching; the time definitely flew by. The class was called “project day” which basically translates into “use up everything Miss Julie brought with her.” We started with decorating picture frames filled with a picture of the class. These kid have a major obsession with those foam shapes with adhesive backs. Man, those frames were the gaudiest things ever, but they had a good time making them.
I also had sparkly pom poms and wiggly eyes, both of which were very foreign concepts to them. I figured the eyes seemed a little odd so I went into pretty extensive detail, drawing an example face on the board and putting the eyes where they belong and even going so far as to squinting them into my own eye sockets. You’d think they’d have figured it out just fine from those examples but at least 10 of the 16 kids had wiggly eyes randomly dispersed across their project. Sometimes it’s amazing the things that they can’t deal with. They’re such smart kids, but every so often they hit a brick wall and just can’t seem to get past it. They’ll understand complex games and American-specific vocabulary, but they can’t figure out what to do with wiggly eyes. I guess I went on and on there, but it’s really a strange situation.
Then we made the little American people that my mom devised and sent to me. Again, they thought these were the coolest things ever. They loved the pipe cleaners that we used to form the bodies and appreciated the flag fabric we used for the dresses even if all of the little people ended up being girls (I could not deal with forming pants and shirts for the boys, so they were all given the only option of making girls).
Moving on; I’ve neglected this blog lately, so I’ll rewind to some of the things I skipped over.
I decided a couple of weeks ago that the whole “quiet down” thing just wasn’t quite cutting it because most of the time noise was not the only problem. These kids are incredibly mobile; they stand up and walk up to me for everything. Often, they’ll be walking toward me while simultaneously raising their hand. It’s not that they don’t understand the phenomenon of raising hands, they just feel that their problem is much more urgent and that the inefficiency of solving this problem on my own time just won’t do. Anyway, I decided a good solution to this would be to teach them “chill out.” Lame, yes, but you’d be amazed how well this worked. I will admit, though, that I altered the definition a little bit.
Chill out: to be sitting, quietly, and NOT shouting “Miss Julie! Miss Julie!”; NOT walking around the room
I love this phrase now. Even the kids started using it when one of their fellow students was meandering about the room and yelling my name. Their accents often sounded more like “Chill ow-et” which was even more endearing.
Another funny moment was during my lesson of body parts. It seemed juvenile and I assumed they wouldn’t be crazy about it, but by far it was their favorite lesson of all. We played Simon Says (big hit) and cut out heads, bodies, and legs, reassembled them into amusing people with awkwardly shaped parts, and then labeled them. I also had them cut out big heads from the magazines I brought with me and label those as well. When I asked them what an eyebrow was called I got more than one answer of “eye hair,” which made me chuckle.
I made treat bags for them today with a little note, some candy, and that sort of thing; they were very excited about the American flag bags that I put them in. I couldn’t ask for a more patriotic class, and they’re not even Americans. I love it that they love the flag and the Statue of Liberty. I made them cds with American music on them as well, which perplexed them. I’m not sure if they just hadn’t seen a burned cd before? But that doesn’t make any sense because in Egypt pirating is a major problem. Who knows but hopefully they eventually figure it out. I even bought some Hannah Montana for them because they love her so much.
It was a kind of sad day, which was only to be expected. I'm proud of what we've all accomplished together. True, they may not be able to talk about philosophy in English (not yet at least) but they know what an eyebrow is and they can say "Pennsylvania" and "The Statue of Liberty." Again, it's all about the small victories.
So, now, what to do with myself with 5 more days in Cairo? I’m trying to keep myself busy without spending money (this is difficult). Yesterday we went back to Khan el Khaleli and stocked up on the last of touristy items. We definitely got our fill of the harassment dished out by shop owners. We usually go to the side that Cairenes go to, but this time after we stopped by our favorite scarf shop there, we headed over to the tourist side (shudder). It’s a necessary experience to really feel like you’ve seen Cairo, I guess, but this side of the market is so incredibly overwhelming that it’s almost unpleasant. “Give me one hour I will make happy forever.” “Everything in shop is free!” “Oh beautiful, I have everything you want.” I make it sound better than it was.
We ended up with a major creeper in tow for the first time and we could NOT shake him for the longest time. The crowd is so dense that it’s hard to get away from someone. This guy was the worst person I’ve come in contact with in Cairo--that I can say with confidence. He didn’t touch us, but made continual references to things that I’d rather not hear from a stranger who is following me in a market. It got so bad that I actually elbowed him to get him away and when that didn’t deter him I began cutting him off as much as I could. Eventually, after we stopped at a cart with a large man who seemed pretty nice, he left. It was an incredibly angering and upsetting moment for me. We were completely unable to do anything about this guy and no one was paying enough attention to help us. We figured it out, though, and now we know what to do if that happens again.
I was just very surprised that he just wouldn’t leave us alone. It takes a lot for me to resort to a physical action, so you have to realize just how upset and uncomfortable with the situation I was.
Anyway, we ended up with a lot of great tourist stuff in the end of it all.
I’m preparing to make my way to Mt. Sinai in a few days and am very excited to see another part of Moses’ story. Christine, one of the volunteers from Alexandria, is going to come with me; I’m really looking forward to traveling with her! We plan to hike the mountain overnight and arrive the peak at sunrise. It promises to be an amazing experience. Then we’re heading back to Dahab (a smaller beach town) for snorkeling and a camel trek to a neighboring mountain. Then we’ll head to Jordan to see Petra and hopefully the Dead Sea. After a couple of days there we’re heading in our own directions—hers back to Cairo and mine to Israel where I’ll be staying with one of my great friends from school’s great friends. I love Orah (my friend from school and sorority) and she’s so wonderful to have asked her friend if I could stay with her.
I’ll feel much more comfortable knowing that I have a connection in Israel rather than just showing up alone. Although, I feel like Egypt is more dangerous than Israel. I could be wrong about that, but Israel and the US share more of a cultural and physical exchange than that with Egypt.
Anyway, it’s hard to believe that my time here is almost over. I’m not big on major reflections and would much rather rely on the recitation of events to reflect, but I realize that this trip has changed a lot for me. As I said once before, I think I really have chosen a career path that best suits me, although I’m not sure if a life abroad is in my future. I’ve learned that I love this culture and that the Middle East, however quirky it may seem at times to this particular American, is a new interest for me. I often had a hard time finding a connection to this place--a place that most of my classmates in the Elliott School called an obsession--but I now realize that I share (some) of the same interest. It only took an opportunity for me to interact with the people here to figure out that I can connect to this culture; the people here have made all the difference for me.
To end with a lighter note, there’s a little grocery store down the street that I’m pretty sure that I’ve talked about before. Anyway, a set of twins (grown men) an older man and a few boys all work in this little convenience store of sorts. I go in there quite a bit because their water and pop are reasonably priced as are the grocery items like eggs etc. Anyway, every time I go in there one of the twins asks me—always—“Speak English?” to which I answer, “La, bess Arabee.” You would think that I cracked a dirty joke from hysterical laughter that results from that one line of, “No, only Arabic.” They’re so funny that they find something so small so amusing. They teach me little snippets of Arabic when I go in, usually just the things sitting around the counter, but it’s all a part of the banter in which Egyptians constantly take part—this back and forth joking manner.
That’s one thing that I adore about this culture—the conversation style and that no one cares that my Arabic is minimal. As long as I attempt some Arabic, people are impressed, amazed even. It’s such a setting of encouragement. I now understand this supposed concept of “cultural exchange” which before I figured was a figment of the educational world to be used as a way to encourage students to study abroad. If you interact, though, you exchange. I had no idea people would be so receptive to my interests in learning Arabic and teaching English. I’m actually at a point of dreading going to Russia for study abroad; I know the Russians won’t appreciate my attempts at the language as much as Egyptians do.