Tuesday, 30 October 2012

First Principles Clarice ... Read Marcus Aurelius

Well, after the anti-climactic events of Eid, today's visit is brought to you by Thomas Harris and Meditations.  Despite the warnings of screaming livestock being slaughtered in the street and a bloodbath that would exceed the expectations for UFC pay per view (something) ... I really didn't notice that anything was happening that was out of the ordinary.  The only time that I realized something had happened that involved livestock was when I noticed my doorman selling a nicely cleaned lamb pelt to a local travelling merchant.  Oh, I did hear more mooing from the streets than normal, but none of the high-pitched wails followed by horror film pools of blood that I had expected.  So for me, there will be no more thoughts of fava beans and quid pro quo.

Well, I should be planning lessons; but, after a late night working at school, I needed a bit of down time.  Voila.  Ok, a slightly anticlimactic segue but it'll do the trick for now.  Overall, the classes went well today.  I had hoped for a lot more lesson planning time during my 5 day vacation, but exhaustion got the better of me. Somewhere around 6:30 last night I realized it was same stuff, different day - starting to plan 3 classes once the sun had set.
Never let the future disturb you.  You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.

So, the month of November has almost arrived.  During the obligatory late-work-night stroll from the school to the local store and back, I noticed the moon had turned a lovely reddish orange colour.  Although the size wasn't as large as the typical harvest moon in Ontario, the sight brought back memories of fall at home.  Strangely enough, it also conjured up thoughts of the opening of the 6th seal ... but given the impossibility of the sun ever turning to darkness here, those Revelations were short lived.
The universe is change.  Life is your perception of it.

The weather has gotten much cooler here.  Yes, everything is relative, especially in light of the daytime high of 12º that is being enjoyed in the Thorold area, but overnight temperatures of 19º are significantly cooler than the sweltering daytime highs of 42º that stressed my pores when I got here.  My cooling method of choice has changed from air conditioner to open window and, as I walked to the bus this morning, I realized that the weather had finally turned comfortable.  (later review ... I must have been tired - 'turned comfortable' is an odd grammatical construction)
Begin each day telling yourself:  Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will and selfishness - all of them due to the offenders' ignorance of what is good or evil.

So yes, my students returned today.  Ok, most of my students returned today.  As with all holidays and extended weekends, many students undergo a painful change from Epicurean joy to Stoic attendance.  Some students helped their personal transitions by staying at home (likely due to the lingering ill effects of late nights and just-in-time meals).  Other students showed up sporting an aura of "anywhere but where I am now."  But, to their credit, most of them returned to school with a relatively positive outlook.  I made sure that my lessons today were relatively short to accommodate the frequent "what did we do over the holiday," and "what were we doing before the holiday" lines of questions.  
Humans have come into being for the sake of each other, so either teach them, or learn to bear them.

Yes, I've decided that as part of my stress avoidance regime, my occasional grumpy teacher self is going to stay in my back pocket far more often.  Somewhere along the way to my break, I definitely started to lose my sense of humour.  Were my high volume discussions warranted ... yeah, but I can't say they reflect who I am,  nor are they part of my "who I want to be as a teacher" paradigm.  So today, I opted for the route of acceptance.  I recognize that tossing them a larger share of their learning responsibility will likely impair their success in my class.  I also recognize that they won't be terribly excited when my prophecies of difficulties come true.  But, until they recognize that my student-centred performances will help their grades more than their personal conversations, I feel too often that I'm fighting an uphill battle.  Ask the Danes ... this approach didn't work out to well for them in 1066 and, if nothing else, I try to remain a student of history. Hopefully, the brief hiccup that they enjoy/suffer will be short-lived ... otherwise, there will be some extremely stressed out students come finals.
Do what you will.  Even if you tear yourself apart, most people will continue doing the same things.

Well, time to get back to lesson planning.  It's really not as bad as Marcus portrays it.  And it could be worse ... I could've used quotations from Augustine's confessions.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

OMG, Our science teacher has twitter.

Well, there are reasons why my blog has been silent lately.  Oh, it's not that I haven't had the desire to write, but I've been faced with the overwhelming desire to sleep.  I found a wall, hit it and haven't been able to get up for a while.

There's a point in every new teachers' life when he or she takes stock of his or her situation and realizes that they're living in a utopia.  No, not the Thomas More version with gem filled rivers that's more akin to John Lenon's Imagine than reality, but the true meaning of the word... no place.  Once I started doing my marking on the bus ride, the pyramids vanished from my consciousness and I entered a world of sleep, teach, eat prep, sleep ... (repeat daily).  It's so easy to lose yourself through the process of ensuring that you have the best possible lessons for your students that you end up spending all your waking hours focused on teaching.

And I have to admit that the new teacher chasm is incredibly enticing.  Oh, there are occasional grumbles, but overall, my students are awesome.  At least once a week, there'll be a class that goes exactly according to plan.  I see the growth in my students' knowledge and skills, and end up with a covert ear-to-ear smile.  Oh, that's not something that I could communicate to them ... I'm not sure that anyone but parents and teachers could ever experience that vicarious joy.  But, there does come a time when you have to realize that only by finding some measure of balance in your life can you continue to experience those moments.  Well, it's a 5 day holiday, and tonight is my designated sleep and relax night.

I haven't taken any real time off in a while, so I decided at school to take a peek at my g-mail.  Lo and behold, Twitter sent me one of those "here are some people you might know" e-mails, and one of my students was listed there.  Either inspired by fatigue or a very mischievous pre-holiday mood, I couldn't resist taking a peek.  Before I continue, as a 21st century teacher, I do recognize the caveats and protocols involved in social media, so I know how to deal appropriately and openly with my students through this medium.  So I was creeping through some of their profiles (modern day term for covert viewing - sounds far more malevolent than it really is) and noticed a reference to me.  Well, I couldn't help myself, I had to reply.  I knew it had to happen, and as word spread through the Twitterverse that I actually had a twitter account, eventually, someone tweeted the title above.  To safeguard my students' privacy (and due to my lack of time), I don't intend to view their profiles very often ... but a little reminder to them of the internet's "you never know who's viewing your messages" reality can't hurt.

Well, I've probably missed a number of pass-on-able things but in the interest of sharing some of the joys of living in Egypt ...

The second feast (Eid) is the major one and lasts for 5 days.  I've been warned that Friday morning will be filled with the bleating of sheep and that travel by foot thereafter will make me feel like I've stumbled upon one of Dexter's crime scenes.

I saw traffic signals for the first time but I still don't understand how traffic flows so smoothly.

There was something strange on the bus' windshield today.  It might have been vanishing stone chips ... or some kind of water.  I believe it is called something like ... rain.  I blinked and it was done.

Breakfast on the road is $0.15.  In areas of bumper-to-bumper traffic, people wander along the highway selling bread, date buns and other breakfast options.  They're yummy.

Prices vary depending on location and mother tongue.  I stopped visiting my local convenience store as they charge 1 LE more per item than the kiosk that is a 3 minute walk away.  The kiosk doesn't adjust prices based on nationality but my local store does.  My $5 purchase at the local convenience store ends up costing $4 at the local supermarket.  Of course, they never did deliver it, but I'm sure it'll happen sometime and once they know where I live ... can the ultimate in laziness (calling in my grocery order for delivery) be far away?

Miscellaneous prices:

  • Gasoline:  $0.30 / litre
  • Fantastic Mexican meal that is too large for 1 sitting:  $9 with tip
  • Mars bars:  $0.60 
  • 1.5 Litre bottle of water:  $0.50
  • Yoghurt cups:  $0.30 each
  • Pepsi:  $0.75 / litre or $1.20 for 2 litres
Finally, the best part of today was my chance to make some of the Heritage employees smile.  The janitor who cleans my room and never stops working.  The security guard on our floor always says hi to me from halfway down the hall whenever he spots me.  I recognize that I couldn't do my job without them and they've done everything they can to make me feel welcome at Heritage.  So, to celebrate Eid, I passed them along a small gift.  Two dinners for me is the same as 5 days' salary for them - a small price to pay for the kindness they've showed me so far.

Well, time to leave the keyboard for a while and relax.  Sleep is not far away (I barely avoided it on the bus ride home).  Oh, it's a working holiday, which may not seem too exciting until you consider that the 40 to 50 hours I spend planning now will result in a month's worth of night's off in November.  Or ... I might even head out and enjoy myself ... naw, that still seems way too far fetched.

Friday, 28 September 2012

It's Trigonometry ... There's Nothing Obscene about Trig

Well, the routine has been set.  There are times when it results in far less sleep than I would like (and enough illness that I haven't been around much lately), but my teaching life has become somewhat predictable.

What's wrong with this?
Overall, Heritage did a fairly good job of preparing us to deal with our students.  We learned many of the do's and don't's of living in Egyptian society ... and they have helped a ton.  Not that I would ever refer to my students using an animal reference, but there are colloquial phrases that might have been uttered ... and these are seen as grave insults in Egyptian culture.

Similarly, never show the soles of your shoes to someone as it implies that they are worth what's stuck to the bottom of them.  Given the collection of refuse on the streets, I can see how this might be extremely offensive.  But ... what could possibly be wrong with trigonometry?  Seriously?

The unit circle is our friend too.
Well, for those who haven't heard about my teaching style, it's rare that I will resort to the pedagogy that I enjoyed as a high school student.  I have an intense dislike of drill work so my students will rarely get a list of 50 repetitious questions to do the next day.  I'm also not a huge fan of rote memorization of formulae - if it can be developed, discovered or learned in any other way, I'll always encourage my students in that direction.  Add my liberal arts background, and I'll throw anything I can at my students from any discipline I can think of to ensure that they find a different way of seeing things.

Well, in trigonometry, there are a group of "special" triangles.  Usually, these angles (30º, 45º, 60º) are taught as another set of rote formulae.  So when I learned about the trigonometry hand, I was immediately a huge fan.

My version's better
Without going into extensive details, point your baby finger horizontally, point your thumb vertically, and your fingers will naturally point towards 30, 45 and 60 degrees.  Even more exciting, if you fold over the finger of the angle you want to work with, by counting the fingers above and below that finger, you can find the sine and cosine.  Many of you may not be terribly excited, but I can assure you that the math and physics teachers out there are gushing with excitement once they learn this

So I'm in front of my class, showing them this for the first time, and I fold over the 30º finger and ask them what the sine and cosine are of 30º.  Since one of the girls in my class missed a significant amount of school, I folded over my 45º finger and asked her what that meant.  Well, she became very silent and looked down.  A few of the guys in the class started to giggle a bit ... and I knew that something was amiss.  Well, picture the middle finger's connotations in North American society, and add some parental nuances ... Once I realized what I had done ... I was slightly mortified and couldn't apologize enough.

Aside from these very rare moments, I'm having a great time with my classes.  Oh, they have good days and bad days, but overall, they're an awesome group.  The hour bus ride to and from school has become my marking time and I'm hoping that I can finally start the habit of getting most of my lessons planned for the week on the weekend.  I finally learned the lesson that 4.5 hours sleep only does you for so long.  It took a week of stomach issues transitioning into a week of cold/flu issues for me to learn the lesson, but I did actually get some rest time towards the end of last week, so life is at least a lot more rested.  I also purchased a new course to help learn colloquial Arabic ... and this one doesn't seem to require an Arabic teacher.  Plus, I try to find a way to learn a word or phrase per day from one of my classes.

Well, paperwork is caught up so it's time for a quick nap before I start prepping my classes for next week.  12 smartboard presentations, 12 accompanying worksheets, some pencasts, and a few quizzes ... and I'm ready for the week.  Although I have a snowball's chance of completing all that tomorrow, I'm finally healthy enough that I can knock off half of that on a Saturday.  It's going to be a great week :)

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Like the Most Popular Youtube Video

No, this isn't a delightful moment with Buttermilk and her friends ... its me that has gone viral.  Or I'm finally facing the digestive adjustments necessary to get used to Egyptian food.  Either way, I feel like crap

I've known for a while that the candle was being burnt at both ends.  Between:
  1. Getting my major apartment issues dealt with (and losing 4 hours a night doing so)
  2. Getting some of the b-level apartment items purchased
  3. The typical day to day stress of a new teacher compounded by
  4. The typical day to day stress of teaching courses with which I'm not familiar
  5. My questionably-nutritious asap meal choices
My body finally screamed enough.  One nice thing about being a teacher - I'm typically healthy for 3 - 80 minute blocks per day.  The moment I'm in front of my students, my focus shifts to them and my health issues tend to vanish.

So unfortunately, there aren't too many exciting updates for this week.  As I've been sleeping a ton (multiple 3 hour naps per day are commonplace), I've just a couple point form items of interest to share:
  • Egyptians don't really have last names.  Their names consist of a first name and a string of patronyms.  Given that names such as Ahmed and Youssef tend to be popular, most of them end up with nicknames that may or may not have any discernible connection to their legal name.  One of my students chose Bonty as he liked Bounty chocolate bars ... and the name stuck.
  • Egyptian traffic never ceases to amaze me.  One day last week, we encountered some significant traffic issues on the highway.  Cars would turn around and drive the other way on our side of the highway.  Some cars drove over the 4"-6" high concrete divider / sidewalk to turn around.  And at least one elected to drive down the middle of that concrete divider (with about 2" to spare on either side of his tires).
  • Egyptians really are thrilled when westerners pick up a bit of their language.  When I said hi to someone washing a car as I walked during the morning to our bus pick-up, he replied "good morning" in Arabic.  When I replied "good morning to you.  how's it going" he broke out into a huge smile.
  • Egyptian handshakes tend to be critical.  When you meet someone or complete a purchase, you give handshake #1 - the typical business handshake.  Once they get to know you better - the handshake is preceded by an emphatic slap (think horizontal high-5).
  • It's tough to justify washing shirts when the laundry price is 5 LE ($.83) each.  As soon as I fully develop my Egyptian sensibilities, I'll be calling to get my laundry picked up.
  • Otlob.com is a fantastic organization when you're feeling under the weather.  Log on to their website, choose a restaurant, choose your dinner of choice and for $1 it will be delivered to your house within an hour.
  • I can call my pharmacist next door and describe my symptoms.  They will have the prescription medication delivered to my door.  If the general stomach antibiotic that I purchased doesn't do the trick (I am feeling slightly better), I may pursue that option.
Finally, for those of you who might be concerned about the current protests surrounding a poorly made US film ... please don't worry.  The majority of the protests are occurring the US embassy at Tahrir Square - 9 subway stops away.  Also, Egyptians desperately want to see the return of Western tourism $s so the people are surprisingly protective of us.  Even though the protests are becoming slightly decentralized at the government's request, I've yet to see any protests at mosques this far south.  As with many events, the papers are misrepresenting the amount of violence in Egypt (check the location of the photo - it is likely from a protest in another country) as the reality is not sensational enough for mainstream media.  This is not to say that I don't keep my wits about me ... but there is nothing to worry about.  I've become known by many of the doormen and storekeepers in my area ... so I always have people that can vouch for me.  Plus, I do know the important phrases (I'm from Canada, I'm a teacher) so were I to get into an uncomfortable situation, I always have someone to turn to in my neightbourhood.

Friday, 7 September 2012

How Permanent is Temporary When the City is So Significantly Transformed at Night

One of the local minarets
Well, my apartment repairs are finally done.  The door will always open when I have key in hand, the washing machine no longer kidnaps my clothes for hours upon end, and the three piece bathroom is once again a functional three piece bathroom.  Oh, that main bathroom is still decorated in 1970s baroque avocado fixtures and it will never allow me to forget Canadian winters, as the ongoing gentle plaster snowfall will never end, but it's significantly better than it was previously.  Gradually, I'll try to integrate additional use of the more modern and aesthetically pleasing beige half bathroom ... but for now, the power of ritual can keep its hold on me.

I find myself facing questions about time.  Oh, it's no longer a sunset / sunrise issue - the sun does rise about 90 minutes earlier here so I had to adapt to adding that time to the clock - but it's a question of permanency / lack thereof that I'm struggling with.  Initially, most of my purchases were driven by finances and necessity:
"you picked a fine time to leave me" ... Lucille's wedding shop
(sample internal dialogue)

  • Do I have towels?  No
  • Are towels necessary?  Yes
  • Can I afford those nice towels?  I'm really not sure
  • Can I find something cheap to help me make do?  Yes
  • Ok, buy some Carrefour towels.

Somewhere along the way, I received my first pay.  Since, I tend to lean toward the thrifty and cautious end of the financial spectrum at the best of times, that first payday didn't add too much comfort.  I'm only starting to get a feel for what my budget is for necessities and, given my recent door experiences, how much I should set aside for emergencies.
Revolution Graffiti - ubiquitous and always in English

Quick aside - I recognize the irony of keeping my emergency funds in my apartment

Well, I find myself in need of a changed mindset.  Despite some atypical expenses last week, I got a fairly good feel for what a week's finances means in Egyptian  Pounds.  So I'm at the store yesterday (Spinneys - the Egyptian version of Walmart) and I'm once again looking at household appliances:  rice cookers, kettles, cookware, etc...  For some reason, I found myself purchase averse for a different reason that I felt previously.  There really is no sense of permanency in my life right now.  As I'm working for a private school, there's no guarantee that I'll still be working there next week.  At the same time, I'm enjoying Egypt enough that I could easily see myself staying here for at least another contract period.  So when you're living in a place without a fixed time frame ... how do you deal with household goods?

One of the few times that WTF is written by a happy author
Looking back at my recent purchases, I've had no problem purchasing portable packables.  I found cotton shirts that I loved (and may end up back at that store again today) and happily paid the 600 LE to get them.  But, I'm having a tough time with purchasing the items that would be nice to have ... those "luxuries" that I don't really need.  So, do I invest in the rice cooker that might end up given away quickly, or do I avoid purchasing one today and wonder three months from now why I didn't do so earlier.  I imagine that this is just a product of comfort.  Given my apartment frustrations, it has yet to fully feel like home; I haven't really moved very far beyond the initial settling in period.  Add to my 3+ hours per day of emergency dealings a further 2+ hours of day-to-day chores ... and I rarely start my classroom prep before 9pm.  Given that I'm spending more than 1 hour per night per class ... and I'm up at 5:30 every morning to catch the bus to work, I'd be burning the third end if candles had more than two.  Likely things will feel more permanent shortly; but for now, I still feel in many ways that I've only been here a couple of days and still haven't really found a place to call home.

Because we love you ... M  A  A  D  I
These photos were all taken during one of my many strolls of the neighbourhood.  I'm sure it has everything to do with the climate, but Cairo undergoes a complete transformation when the sun sets.  People emerge from their homes, and the streets light up.  And no, it's not just the typical store neon sign or otherwise lighting, The minarets turn on their green lights - I learned that not all green lights signify mosques but all mosques will have green lights at night.  Trees are lit up with LED or incandescent bulbs, and the whole atmosphere of Cairo changes.  It's the rare block that doesn't contain some kind of decorative lighting somewhere.
Along with the people, the strays come out too

You still can't escape the incessant blaring of horns from the traffic waltz; but there seems to be a slightly friendlier undertone to the cacophony.  I'm told that there actually is a significant amount of order in the seemingly chaotic traffic flow ... perhaps I'll understand it someday.  The streets are filled with pedestrians at night and the street vendors park their pack animals and carts along the roadside to sell whatever they've harvested that day.  Also, on a more frequent basis, you can find me, wandering the streets, learning the neighbourhood, and wishing that I had a tripod and a camera that could do the sights justice.  I'm glad that I'm getting used to the nighttime streets now - by December the sun rises when we're on the bus to work and sets during the trip home.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

I was going to pack my sense of humour but there was a 2 bag limit

I would have got away with it too, if it wasn't ...
Usually, I can find the right euphemism along with a positive spin to minimize frustrations.  When I can’t find those tools in my back pocket, expressing myself through a liberal use of double negatives usually helps to moderate my level of angst.  Tonight, my tank was empty and I barely avoided screaming some form of profanity at the top of my lungs.  Although I would be using a different language, the thoughts of trying to educate my neighbours on the meaning of Fuddle Duddle and the associated explanations of Trudeaumania wouldn’t help moderate my urge to yell “jinkies.”

I imagine that these days of futility are just part of the settling / culture shock process; but for now, all I can do is remember that tomorrow is another day ... and with each new day I get a step closer to acceptance and a cozy place that I can call home.  Unfortunately, the path to acclimatization is sometimes paved with shattered expectations.

I’ll pick things up at the middle of the day.  I’d arrived home an hour and a half late from school (30 mins traffic delay, 60 mins the bus’ decision to depart later) and learned that I couldn’t arrange wifi again.  This time, the phone company was open; but due to the problems with my landline, I couldn’t get the process going.  Given that Egypt Telecom is only open 8 to 4 ... and I leave at 6:30 and get home at 4, I’m not sure when I can deal with my land line issues again.  Without a landline, there’s no way to get wifi ... and in the spirit of in sha’allah, who knows when the technician will actually show up.  After a brief shopping trip, I arrive home around 5:30 to discover that my USB internet is down again.  I would have spent longer than 2 hours trying to get my connection working, but the power went out for an extended period of time.  While I wandered around with my cell phone (as my only source of light), I realized that I hadn’t eaten since 7:30am and it was probably time for dinner.  I left my apartment, tried to get back in (while in the dark), and realized that my door would no longer open despite the keys being in my hand.  15 minutes of try to open, re-lock, try to re-open, relock ... frustration led to a call to our VP.  By about 9:30, he was able to arrange for someone to come over and get a locksmith to get me back into my apartment.  I’m now on lock number 3 and I’m hoping that my door issues are done for a while.

Well, to add insult to injury, I found a brief spurt of foolish optimism so I figured I’d call technical support to see if they could help with my USB internet issue.  He gave me a 5 minute process to complete and advised that he’d call back in 10 minutes.  After having waited an hour, I called back and got some text message replies in Arabic (without me being able to talk to anyone).  I’m guessing that the shift ended somewhere between 10:30 and 10:45 ... so Microsoft word is my blogging platform for the night (yes, this was backdated).

I'll be raiding neighbourhood gardens for this
Overall, I can only look back on one event from the latter part of this evening and find a modicum of hope.  I couldn’t do my lesson planning, nor could I do any of my other paperwork to prepare for my students first class on Wednesday (and yes, this means that my 6 hours spent at school instead of enjoying the holiday only allowed me to tread water).  During my moment of frustration when I finally realized I could not get into my apartment, I went down stairs and placed the call to my VP for help.  Once that call was done, and I started the waiting process for someone to look at my door.  Although we have significant difficulties communicating, the doorman must have read my facial expression and realized that I was surfing the continuum between frustration and futility.  While I sat on the steps, he brought me out a cup of hyacinth tea.  During these days when I’m a little too myopic to see that light at the end of the tunnel, these moments are the ones that will get me through it.  (addendum:  as I said to many people today, even when Egypt doesn't seem to love me, I still love the people here).

Friday, 31 August 2012

The wake-up catch-up

Every so often, I'll finish a blog leaving something unsaid.  Last night, I knew that my ramblings were getting a little lengthy, and the hour was getting late, so I figured I'd leave out this part of last night's conversation.  Unfortunately, I woke up after far too short a night's sleep and my mind went back to one of the questions the manager asked me last night.

"What do Canadians think of Egypt?"

I started by confirming my impressions of Egypt to date.  The people are incredibly helpful and so far I'm thrilled to be here.  I love the history here and the museum was incredible.  At this point he stopped me and asked me to redirect my thoughts towards my impressions before I got here both of Egypt and the Middle East.

With apologies to my grade 9 geography teacher
I would anticipate that most people's immediate thoughts would gravitate towards the following:
  • Geographic features:  Nile, Desert, sand, Suez
  • Cities:  Cairo, Alexandria
  • Exports:  Oil
  • Monuments:  Great pyramids, Sphinx
  • Historic Figures:  Cleopatra, Tutankhamen, Ramses
  • Movies:  Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Taylor
  • Zahi Hawass:  (gets his own category)
  • Politics:  The Revolution
  • Artifacts:  Hieroglyphics, mummies, Rosetta Stone
Middle East?

Given that our conversation was more philosophical than superficial, I didn't share these initial thoughts; but I realized that in my mind, Egypt was a country without a category.  It came as quite a surprise to me ... and I'm glad that my Liberal Arts training helped develop my "where did this thought come from and what am I going to do with it" skills so that I could communicate this concept with some hastily constructed justifications.  When I read the BBC, it still feels strange to be clicking on the Middle East when I'm looking for articles about Egypt.  Iran and Iraq ... definitely part of the Middle East.  But Egypt ... it feels like a country of its own.  I know that Egypt is part of Africa, but I think of Africa as those parts south of the Sahara.  Overall, the best description I could come up with is an Arabic Athens.  Egypt has that Mediterranean feel to it in my mind and that separates it from the other African and Middle Eastern countries.  But, there's a little too much sand to place it totally within the Mediterranean category.

We have always treated Egypt as a source of awe and amazement (which is probably why the revolution seemed to come as such a shock).  I remember when the Tutankhamen artifacts came to the Royal Ontario Museum; the tour spawned a two-year Egyptian art pop-culture fad.  I can't think of a movie based in Ancient Egyptian History that wasn't a success:  Cleopatra (and upcoming remake), Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Mummy.  Until recently, any press that I can remember has always been sympathetic to Egypt.  Unfortunately, the best description of how Canadians feel about Egypt escaped my mind at the time - when I told people that I was moving to Egypt, the vast majority of people either wanted to visit Egypt or knew someone who had been and loved it.  And with a sly grin, I now get to say, "I'm here."

Well, for now I'm preparing to return to my battle with the greedy washing machine.  I'm hoping that they're able to repair it on Monday as the contests of wills when I'm trying to open the door is getting tiresome.  As school starts in three days, it's definitely time to get my prep done and lessons prepped.  And depending on how my day goes, tonight may end up being one of my geeky tourist moments as I've yet to take any photos of Cairo at night.

Finding some semblance of comfort

The school feels vaguely movie-like - at times I'm Clueless

After a little over a week of trips to and from here, I'm starting to feel a little more grounded.  Oh, I still have my Alicia Silverstone moments while there, but I'm feeling vastly better than I did 10 days ago.  My classroom is coming together, and along with an extra day of work time (Sunday wouldn't have felt like Labour Day anyways), I'll be at the point where I can say enough.

Yup, palm trees in the courtyard.
Getting ready for class has been a relatively all-consuming endeavour for the past week.  A large part of my workload has been developing and arranging all of those things that I never anticipated would need to be considered.  What's my late policy?  How will I deal with classroom management issues?  I assure you that this isn't going to devolve into one of those "teachers are underpaid because nobody knows all the things we do..." soapbox sessions, but I never really realized how much goes on behind the scenes.  Even having done my three practica during teachers' college didn't really prepare me for this.  But, given that today was payday, I shan't dwell on the negatives for too long.

6th of October City
During the trip home today, I was looking out of the window and realized that surprisingly enough, Cairo is starting to feel like home.  Oh, it's a little bit lonely at times, and my list of valuable phrases has only increased from about 5 to 15, but I'm at that point where sights are starting to seem familiar.  I'm no longer shocked by the pedestrians that cross the highway in the morning; although they are helped by the speed bumps in the highway (Giza's way of trying to encourage drivers to maintain a speed of 60 km/h), I still don't see myself trying that crossing anytime soon.  I've actually started to internalize the sensations felt during the drive so I can slip in and out of consciousness on the way home and wake up when we exit the highway at Maadi.  I'm even starting to recognize some of the strays in my neighbourhood.

In case anyone is considering visiting me, my current list of valuable words/phrases is:
Sah-baht  al  Care ... Good morning                             Mah-sah  al  Care      ... good evening
beh-kom  dah       ... How much is this                          Mah-ah-sah-lah-mah ... goodbye
Lao  Sah-maht      ... Please                                          Fa- heem                  ... I understand
Mish  Fa-heem     ... I don't understand                         Shh-mel                    ... left
Share-ah  meh-teen  Cam-sa - sab-bah-een ... Road 275
Yeah-mean           ... Right                                            ah  lah  tool               ... straight ahead
Yell-ah                  ... Let's go (thank you True Lies)     in shah-al-lah            ... "if god wills it"

As I'm sure you can imagine, I rely heavily on Mish fa-heem right now.  I'm sure there will be others that I thoroughly enjoy, but in shah-al-lah has to be my favourite.  Although there are theological overtones of fatalistic beliefs ... that isn't the true meaning in practical use.  The first usage is ... I've got a two o'clock appointment and I'm running behind and traffic is hell ... I will arrive there in shah-al-lah (ie  at some unknown later time).  When I return to Canada, and Shannon asks me when I want to go to Red Lobster, I will definitely employ the second usage.  Given that underwater cockroaches (lobster, shrimp) are my least favourite meal, in this case it means something like "if god wills it, I'll go there but don't expect that I will unless fate compels me."  In effect, it's a very polite euphemism for never.

Just a couple of quick vignettes from tonight and I'm done.  I decided that I'd walk to a new wireless store to get my data topped up, and couldn't find where it was located.  Oh, I'd drawn myself a sketch of my route ... but street signs don't exist here (that I've seen), and I soon realized that I was within a couple of blocks but couldn't find the store.  After walking up and down what I believed to be road 216, I knew that it was time to ask for directions.  So I wandered in to the closest grocery store and was thrilled to find that they had my favourite pop.  If I haven't mentioned it, most of the pop over here is either Coke, Pepsi or fruit based ... and my favourite has to be Schweppes Gold Pineapple pop.  Well, I asked the cashier and he wasn't too sure.  The moment that I pulled my map out to try to figure out where I was, someone else in the store came over and tried to help me.  When he couldn't, he walked out to the street and found someone who knew where the store was and made sure that I knew where I was going.  Although I didn't understand the directions, as he kept saying "momen", I wandered where he was pointing, and found the store beside a coffee shop named "Mo'Men."  When I say the service is excellent here, I mean it.  The moment you're lost or confused, people always go out of their way to help.

My second event during my walk tonight occurred at my favourite stationery store, Samir and Ali.  I'm sure it's a standard practice, but once you find somewhere that you feel comfortable (when you're not familiar with the area), you automatically head to that store or location no matter what.  There's a pharmacist right beside my building, but I always walk 10 minutes to the Grand Mall despite the limited selection because he understood my drawing of bandaids.  Similarly, I buy my water from one store (by Grand Mall) and my bread from another store (especially since I just found marmalade there) - even though both stores sell both items.  Well, I was at Samir and Ali tonight getting some school supplies and happened to run into one of the managers there.  When he found out that I was a teacher, he invited me in to his office and we chatted for about 30 minutes about politics, religion ... and he translated some additional phrases for me.  (Please note that I would never broach one of these subjects myself, but was happy to discuss them once he started the conversation).  During our chat on religion, he confirmed that the reason why he was helping me was that it was part of his faith.  And given the number of people that have helped me out and gone above and beyond what I could have expected, I realize that his behaviour is typical - people really do walk their talk in Egypt.  It's definitely a refreshing change from the West where many many people only seem to dust off their faith around Easter and Christmas.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Problem based learning (or experience is a harsh teacher)

So, I was having a fairly good day today.  I found an optometrist that would fix my glasses for free (I have been wearing my back-up pair).  That same optometrist helped me find a barbeque lighter so that I can actually use my stove.  Found the recommended emergency stomach medication, found alarm clocks at a good price and even located a couple of promising clothing stores.  Wow, things were looking up for me today.  Sadly, I tried to stretch my luck a bit too far.

On the way home, I met our doorman in the hallway and figured that I'd ask him to borrow a screwdriver to repair my shower curtain rod.  Although the mathematician in me appreciated the opportunities to consider triangles in more than one plane, the shower rod functions far better when it's parallel to the ground and not threatening to fall out of the wall at any moment.  I was thrilled to realize that he understood my need for a screwdriver and he even popped upstairs to help me fix it.  Unfortunately, when he needed to return downstairs to find some shims to fix it, I followed him into the hallway and the door closed behind me.

Well, I learned very quickly that I hadn't needed to obsess so much about my door not being locked when it was closed because I couldn't open it from the hallway when it was unlocked.  So there I was, outside my door with very little money in my wallet, no ID, no cell phone and no keys.  Given that all of my contact information was on my cell phone, I had no way to contact anyone.  For the first time, I experienced a huge dose of 'what can I do panic.'  After some time trying to discuss things with my doorman (who doesn`t speak English), we found someone who directed him to someone else who would try to break into my apartment.  I wasn't comfortable with the process, but I was getting desperate.  After waiting a half hour, the fellow arrived and within 10 minutes realized that he couldn`t break into the apartment.  Silver linings were appreciated today.

The second hour of being locked out of my apartment saw the start of my wanderings.  I had some vague ideas of where a couple of people lived in my area ... but I learned quickly that I couldn't figure out which buildings they lived in.  I wasn`t quite at the point of desperation, but it was coming soon.  I had a feeling that I knew where one person lived but they were a 15 minute cab ride away and I wasn`t quite ready to risk a trip there when I wasn`t certain that he would be home.

Hour three gave me a huge reminder of why I truly enjoy living in Cairo.  As I had nowhere else to turn, I wandered down to the local pharmacist as he speaks fairly good English.  I was a little worried when the afternoon pharmacist wasn`t there and the night pharmacist`s English wasn`t as good.  At that moment, a customer asked me why on earth I would be looking for a locksmith in a pharmacy.  Once I explained my situation to him, the customer translated my situation to the pharmacist ... who knew of a locksmith in the area.  So, my journey to the appropriately named Freedom Fish Market started.  Within an hour, I had found the locksmith, they had given me a ride home and my lock cylinder was replaced.

Well, teachers` college taught us to be reflective so ... here goes

  • Lesson 1:  Always have a spare key or two.  I now have three keys to my front door - one for my key ring, one for my wallet (as I always have it), and one that I will place with someone for safe keeping just in case.
  • Lesson 2:  Carry your cellphone everywhere - even within your apartment.  As someone that isn't used to carrying one, I never realized how valuable it was until I was lost without the ability to contact anyone I knew.
  • Lesson 3:  Keep back-up contact information on hand.  I had been intending to place some contact information in my wallet for the past week - it`s now been done.  
  • Lesson 4:  Take a deep breath.  Had I sat back and considered my options more fully, I would have likely found the locksmith (that was only 3 blocks away).  Now that my mind is a bit clearer, I can remember all the times that I`ve found someone willing to help me (even when I didn`t require it) and likely could`ve found someone to direct me a lot sooner.  In addition, the initial attempt resulted in additional damage to the door.
So, after a long day, it`s time for bed.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Mistaken Assumptions and Pleasant Surprises

Well, it's time for one of those look back and laugh kind of posts.  I've been here a week, and still find myself more dazed and confused than confident.  I'm fairly certain that I'll get more up-to-speed on how life is over here, but for now, I figured that I'd best leave a touchstone for the anxiety / negotiation part of culture shock.  For as much as I'm loving many of the things here, I'm starting to feel some of the set-up anxieties that will usher me in to stage 2 of culture shock sometime soon.

Here are just a few of the differences that I never expected:
Sunlight:  I figured that the sun would rise at about the same time everywhere.  Well, tomorrow the sun rises at 5:27 and sets at 18:27 in Cairo vs 6:30 sunrise and 20:07 sunset in Thorold.  I'm not sure that the sun ever rises at 5:30 in Ontario.

Financial Transactions:  I'm used to a world where everybody takes credit cards and debit cards.  Even though I was aware that Egyptian society was far more cash-based, I have yet to find a shop that accepted anything but money.  I'm taking my debit and credit cards out of my wallet as they're rarely any use.

Pricing:  No price in Egypt is fixed.  I figured that upon visiting one of the Souqs ... of course it would be barter based.  But cab prices, store prices ... pretty much anything but food prices are negotiable.  If you don't like the price, you ask them to lower it.  If you still don't like the price ... you leave.  (please note that I have yet to master this skill).

Change:  Nobody has change.  And if they do have change, they rarely admit it.  If your cab ride comes to 5 LE, and you only have a 20 LE note ... you're lucky if you get away with only a 5 LE tip.  And, if you want to see the unhappy side of a storekeeper - hand them a 100 LE note for a 10 LE purchase.  Usually, you want to eliminate your small bills and coins ... here, you hoard them.

Language Barrier:  Yes, I admit it.  Despite realizing that this was an Arabic country, I had the unconscious belief that "of course everybody speaks English if there's an English sign out front.  I will be learning Arabic as soon as possible (to avoid my current frustrations at not even being able to say good morning comfortably), but I have learned that there's nothing more important than a piece of paper and a pen.  I've been able to draw things a number times to make myself understood.

Sanitation:  I've posted about this before, but I'm amazed at the amount of garbage that is left lying around.  I've seen city workers cleaning it up from time to time, but there are some sections of the city that seem to never receive a clean-up.

Animals:  I've never seen so many feral dogs and cats.

Politeness:  I knew that Egyptians appreciated the visits of westerners, but I had no idea the extent to which they would go out of their way to help you.  Staff hold the doors for you at fast food restaurants.  People often stop you to say hello and are thrilled to learn that you're from Canada.

Taxis and Deliveries:
Everybody takes taxis everywhere and everything gets delivered.  I'm still trying to do almost everything by foot ... and I'm running into problems because of it.  Aside from the blisters (drew band-aids yesterday), I'm going to have to realize that to get groceries and the other items I need, I'm going to have to shell out the 5 LE for a cab ride more often.  It's not the money that makes me reluctant ... it just seems so lazy to call up someone to deliver a fast-food dinner or to hop into a cab to avoid a 10 minute walk.

Toilets:  Yup, there's a different flushing mechanism over here.  No little handles that torque downwards here as toilets are flushed by pushing in a button.

Overall, I'm going to have to start "doing in Rome."  The main reason why I haven't got enough groceries is that I haven't yet found somewhere close where I'm comfortable getting them (along with a lighter for my stove).  Even though there is a store about 5 doors down from me, I'm uncomfortable shopping there as they speak next to no English and the prices aren't fixed.  As foolish as it is, and as much as I thoroughly enjoy the local Egyptian fast food restaurant Arzak (falafel and kofta tonight), I need to stop fighting it and just grab a cab and get the groceries.
The other thing I need to do is learn a bit more Arabic asap.  I had hoped to wait for the Arabic staff to return to school (as they're more than happy to instruct the newer teachers); but, my current vocabulary isn't cutting it.  I'd hoped that google translate would do the trick ... but Egyptian Arabic is not the same Arabic used in google translate (there goes my idea of typing in what I want to say and clicking the sound button when the electrical bill collector comes to my door in 2 weeks).  Currently, I have about 10 words at my disposal ... and there are too many situations where my words and gestures / drawings aren't cutting it.

Speaking with one of the other staff members, he indicated that within two weeks, all of these set-up issues will be things of the past.  For now, I'm back in the position where my to do list keeps growing ... and nothing is coming off of it.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Pharoah's revenge - the blog version

Well, usually I won't post quite as often in one day, but I just heard my first "InshaAllah" regarding tonight's cocktail party.  In practical use, this means something between "I'll try to guess at the time, but don't expect 100% accuracy" and "yeah right, like that's gonna happen anytime soon."  I'm anticipating the former, which should give me enough time to get a few pics of the outdoor world posted.  Oh, and "Pharaoh's Revenge" refers to the standard digestive adjustment that westerners experience upon their arrival in Cairo due to the different bacteria in the food.  Surprisingly (likely due to the excess quantity of Imodium that I brought), my system adjusted immediately.  Of course, given the occasional refrigeration issues that occur over here, I anticipate that I'll welcome my excess supply sometime soon.  Sadly, I had to laugh when I read the packaging:  "store between 15º and 30º."  Ummm ... I am way too cheap to run my air conditioner that often and it's rarely below 30º in here on a consistent basis.

When my mother asked what I first sensed about Cairo that was different than the west, she was quite surprised when I mentioned that Cairo sounded different.  I did notice that the landscape tended towards beige as opposed to green but that wasn't a lasting memory.  And despite the warnings of air pollution, unless it's one of those extremely humid days, it's rare that things smell different.  The major difference is the sounds that you hear.  Definitely, top of the list are the calls to prayer.  As previously mentioned (and at times based on the position of the sun and lengths of shadows), a voice is heard to sing out in Arabic.  This occurs within malls, and around every mosque ... and can be heard for a 3 block radius.  Also, the barking of feral dogs along with the essential beepings of horns ring out frequently.

Really, it is proper etiquette

So looking back at my apartment, you'll see my garbage.  Apartments are typically run by a bowab (or doorman) who among other things, picks up your trash on a daily basis.  Although mine only speaks Arabic, I plan to learn enough to get to know him ASAP.  If you need anything done, he'll look after it.  If you have any questions, he'll find the answer.  From what I understand, his salary is paid monthly by the tenants.  The amount is unofficial and is paid 'voluntarily' by the tenants.  I'll find out how much the donation is in a couple of weeks when rent is due.

I may think of my balcony as dangerous, but it doesn't hold a candle to the elevators.  Step in, close the door, and watch as the concrete (and doors for other floors) move by.  On the 5th floor, I don't have too many other options (as I usually return home rather exhausted from a 30+ minute walk) so I've learned to adapt quickly.  Since I can't always get the main floor door to close properly, and the elevators stop on every other floor, my usual approach is to take the right hand elevator, get off on the 6th floor and walk down.  If my foot doesn't offer enough scale, you could probably fit 4 cases of pop side-by-side on the floor and that's it.  To add to the comfort inspired by my elevator, there is a box without a cover with a bunch of wires hanging out of it beside the elevator door on my floor.

I do live on a very comfortable street.  Maadi is one of the few areas of Cairo known for having a lot of trees and gardens.  I have to admit that it's extremely nice to have a shaded area immediately outside my building's door to help adjust to the temperature.  We have a number of feral cats in the area (I tried to get pictures of a couple of them under the covered car ... lighting wouldn't work).

And yes, at times the landscape is beautiful.  At least 1/3 of the trees are in bloom right now.

Unfortunately, to go along with the the beauty, there is also a lot of garbage.  Sidewalks are frequently cluttered with garbage, broken glass, sand ... or just don't exist.

This gym isn't just good ...
Found the library today too

Appliance Adventures and Internal Images

Dona Super Market - where prices vary day by day
Off the top, I do have every intention of cooking regularly in the near future.  Given our nightly sojourns to western-style restaurants (our orientation leaders' preferences), I've been happily living on a huge meal per day.  I would like to say that it's my attempt to observe Ramadan ... but there are a few other issues at play. I haven't yet found any large grocery stores in the area closer than شارع 9 (sharra tissa or road 9) which is a 20 minute walk away.  There is a limited selection at my local store (which I just happened to spy yesterday on the way to the Grand Mall), but my bargaining skills require further development before I become a regular customer here.

If only I knew what you wanted yesterday
So, having completed my shopping trip yesterday, I figured it was time to enjoy the fruits of my labour.  I had pasta or rice waiting for me along with my left-over chicken fajitas from the night before.  I figured I could just wash a plate, a pot and some cutlery and look out culinary world (ok, perhaps desperation bachelor sustenance).  Bravely, I approached the stove, turned on the gas and pressed the little button on the left hand side and ... no spark / no flame.  Well, there was a combination lighter / bottle opener hanging on the wall so I figured I'd give that a try ... no spark / no flame.  I could use the two emergency wood matches I found in a bottom drawer, but I'll save those for a moment of ultimate desperation and continue my fasting lifestyle for another day or two.  At least I got the majority of my dishes washed today.  I've already added a sink stopper to my to buy list as the plastic lid I used as a substitute resulted in me using far more Fairy dish soap than I wanted.  In the interrim, I have found Arzak el Qawther to satisfy all of my dinner needs.  I can't wait to try their Kushari tonight on the way home.  Egyptian fast food really is a dream come true - last night's beef Shawarma was fantastic.

Don't let the floral cover fool you
To add to my day off bravery, I attempted laundry.  After all, how tough could it be to operate something as friendly sounding as an "Extra Super 800 ES 180" washing machine.  Well, I quickly learned that the Extra 800 referred to the mg of acetaminophen required to cope with the frustration of trying to use it.  Part of the joys of figuring this out was the 60 second delay between turning it on and having it actually do something.  So I'd try a setting, wait for 30 seconds, and then try something else.  Also, please note those "buttons" underneath the detergent holder ... within 15 minutes I figured out that those were just images of what the washer might be doing if it got to that number on the far right dial.  Given the age of the washer, my 15 minutes of internet searches resulted in nothing.  Somewhere along the way, I realized that the water needed to be turned on at the back.  Oh, and the two cups of laundry soap recommended by the detergent manufacturer is about 3x what is required - imagine my excitement when I saw foam galore during my first load.  And the final joy ... the door handle doesn't seem to work.  Pull the door handle and nothing happens.  At least I remembered the screwdriver that had previously resided in the basket on top of the washing machine which allowed me to actually open the doors.  Well, the whites are white, and the darks are dark ... and after 7 hours they're starting to get dry.

Otherwise, I'm quite happy with the apartment.  I'm not sure how I'm going to use bedroom #2 and the half bathroom, but I can't complain about the space.  In no specific order ...

Above:  Between the number of wires hanging around, the proximity of the building next door and my acrophobia ... the clothes might dry faster out here but it's never going to happen on this 1.5 m x 6 m balcony.

Right:  The entrance way to my apartment.  It doesn't quite feel like home yet, but it's going to be an easy sight to get used to

The part of the L-shaped living room that I don't use (yet).  The couch may be more comfy and the dining table is right behind ... and likely I'll be enjoying this part more in the future (since the air conditioner is just to the left).

This is my usual sitting area.  I'm not quite sure why I gravitated to this spot (likely it has something to do with the TV being on the left and my Wii getting attached to it sometime in the future.

Finally, my main bedroom.  The entrance to the balcony of despair can be seen on the left.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Monumental currency and the joys of supply & demand taxi pricing

A history student's dream - money and monuments
So day two involved grocery shopping.  Given that none of us are fully ready for the undefined pricing offered at the local stores (and associated haggling), we headed up to the Carrefour City Centre to do our shopping (think Walmart with staff speaking some combination of the following languages:  Arabic, English, French, German).  The first thing I noticed was the variations in taxi prices.  To get to the City Centre, it costs about 20LE (about $3.50).  Once my shopping was done, it cost 35LE ($6.00) to get back home.  Given my lack of alternate means of getting home (with 1000LE worth of groceries and supplies).  I've heard of prices as high as 50LE for the same trip so I figured if the taxi driver was ok with helping me get the groceries into my elevator, I'd be ok with the price.  I should mention now that the money is bilingual.  The English side has images from Egyptian History and the Arabic side has pictures of Islamic buildings (I'm guessing Mosques).

And riding in a car in Egypt is a magical experience.  You're never quite sure how you get to your destination in one piece given the speed of driving and the lack of discernible rules.  There are no stoplights and the dotted lines signifying different lanes tend to be optional.  At night, headlights aren't often used and it can be tough to spot the vehicles coming your way.  Overall, the conventions seem to be:
The Arabic side of the same bills

  1. 3 to 4 beeps of the horn seems to advise other drivers that you're doing something that they might not expect (passing close by and in their blind spot or preparing to cut them off).  (during the night, flickering of the lights is used in conjunction with the horn).
  2. 1 to 2 beeps of the horn seems to be a general sign of I'm not sure that I like what the other car is doing (drifting into your lane, slowing down)
  3. 1 long beep of the horn tends to signify frustration with someone stopping quickly or doing something that completely impedes the progress of the car behind.
  4. And the last resort is always yelling "yalla" or some other request to hurry up.
Despite the multiple travel warnings of the dangers crossing the street, it hasn't been too bad so far.  I tend to be a bit more patient than the Cairenes, who tend to just walk out when they see a break in traffic with the expectations that people will avoid hitting them, which may contribute to my lack of difficulties.  The key seems to be walk when you have a decent space, maintain the same speed (so the drivers can anticipate your location) and don't stop or back up under any circumstances.  Given the difficulties that I've seen from others in our group of new recruits, I'm guessing that my Toronto childhood taught me a valuable (and previously latent) skill.

Food shop #1 - getting some of the staples ready
In case you're wondering what 1080 LE ($185) gets you at a slightly higher priced store, my shopping cart was overflowing with essentials and house set-up items.  Off the top of my head, some of the prices were (divide by 6 to approximate dollars):
  • Battery charger:  200 LE
  • Clothes drying rack:  90 LE
  • 12 x 1.5 litre Evian bottles:  170LE (supposedly a scandalous price due to recent shortages - I'll take $2.50 a bottle given the recent heat)
  • Towel:  35 LE
  • Sheets:  56 LE
  • 24 cans Fanta Apple pop:  51LE
  • 1.5 litre bottle of Pepsi:  3.85 LE
With the other 400 LE I got almost all of the initial necessities (laundry detergent, assorted cleaning products, dish soap, plug converter, food staples, spices & oil/vinegar).

Well, I'm hearing the mid-afternoon call to prayer (look to the top right with all the speakers).  This tells me that it's almost 3:55 (ie almost the time when the length of an item's shadow is equal to the length of the shadow at noon plus the height of the item).  I'm still playing a bit of blog catch-up as I have both photos from indoors (along with the challenges of figuring out what's necessary) and photos of the outdoors (10 steps from beauty to squalor).

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Arrival

It's definitely time to dust off this blog and get it up and going again.  After two years of preparation and a slightly hectic summer of job hunting, I'm about 2 weeks away from finally being a teacher.  Overall, it's been a whirlwind month (has it really been that long?) between first learning about the possibility of a job in Egypt and today.

Week one involved dealing with administrivia galore.  It seemed that whenever I tried to complete one task (getting certified in Manitoba), another few tasks were added to my to do list.  I found that I was so focused on what I needed to do (will my police check arrive in time) that I never really sat down to realize what was happening.

Week two was my week of waiting.  I started planning for the courses that I would be teaching and amassing any resources I could find to get myself ready.  Things started getting crossed off of my to do list and best of all, I was no longer adding to it.

My third week was the shopping week.  Things such as luggage, teaching equipment, power converters (etc) were acquired and it finally started to dawn on me what I was up to.  Despite having advised everyone how thrilled I was to be blending math, science and history in such an amazing way (teach two and live close to the third), it didn't really start to feel like reality until this week.

Finally, week four happened along with the typical last-minute crises that always crop up despite the best laid plans.  As my dealings with my student loan have always been slightly confusing and frustrating, my arrangements for repayment were par for the course.  I went through the typical packing crisis of what to take and how will I fit it all in such a small place (thank goodness my wife was able to keep a cool head during the process).

Well, I've arrived.  Sounds slightly anti-climactic doesn't it.  During my flight over (somewhere between watching the "Hunger Games" and "Shakespeare in Love", the full magnitude of what had been going on hit me.  At least my "what the hell am I thinking" moment of reservation occurred somewhere in the air over Newfoundland ... and it was too late to reconsider.  By the time I arrived in Frankfurt, I was tired enough that any concerns and worries had faded from my mind.  During the flight to Cairo, even the large population of crying children couldn't keep me from fading in and out of consciousness throughout the entire flight.

Well, time to get back to my kitchen clean-up.  Tonight will be our first touristy-trip part of orientation and I can't wait.