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.
  • 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).