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I was recently invited to make a guest appearance in a High School Social Studies & Politics class in Vermont by the teacher who follows my twitter feed and reads my blog. I was deeply humbled by the invite and by the fact that the teacher had gone beyond the call of duty to ask someone from the Middle East to answer student’s questions.

I liked the idea a lot from an educator’s perspective. What better way to build bridges and to shatter false images and misconceptions painted by the media than by exposing students to someone who is Egyptian and actually lives there?

A trip to Vermont would have been ideal but out of the question at the beginning of the academic year, so thanks to modern technology, I could be in two places at once with the help of Skype. After  a couple of test runs and agreeing on a day and time that suited both time zones, the questions which the students wanted to ask were sent to me in advance so that I could mull over how I would answer them and what I would say. As well as checking information and sources to make sure the information that I was discussing was indeed factual.

As the day approached my nerves were on edge as well as boiling over with excitement. I was nervous because I was stepping out of my comfort zone and talking to a group of young strangers thousands of miles away and I felt a bit like a diplomat representing my country. I posted the event in my group on facebook so that my readers would know. I was quite flattered by all the words of encouragement from friends and acquaintences who sent me words of encouragment and told me how proud they were of me for doing this.

The day of the interview I was invited to my sister’s in-laws for brunch. I was terrified that I would not make it home in time for 3pm, so I took my laptop and all my research with me just in case, (and it was a good thing I did too). I have to thank my brother-in-law and his family for allowing me to take up a corner of their sitting room while they session took place. I am very grateful.

Friday 28th of September at 3P.M Cairo local time the Skype video call began …                                                                                                                                          (I can’t remember all of my answers verbatim, but I will do my best to recall my responses as best I can)

The teacher that I had been communicating with was present along with another Social Studies teacher, the Principle of the school and the students        (talk about nerve-racking!!).  For 45 minutes I was asked questions and discussed Egypt and the region.

The first question I was asked was ‘Why did you agree to Skype with us?’

My answer was simple, Why not? How else are we going to build bridges and destroy misconceptions if we don’t learn from one another?

The second question was ‘Would there be any repercussions for speaking with us?”

No, not in my case, I’m not a political blogger and I don’t write anything negative about the government, the president or religion so I have not been red flagged.

What is the current political situation in Egypt?

Well, we finally have a president! Part of the parliament has been dissolved, the president tried to overrule the decision and allow them to be reinstated but he was over ruled again by the Supreme Court, so we don’t really know what’s going to happen with them.  Then there’s the writing of the new constitution.

Can women run for public office in Egypt?

Yes, they can. We had a woman named Bothaina who was in the presidential elections but, she didn’t get enough votes to carry her through. We also have other women in parliament.

 

What was it like for you during the Arab Spring?

(Never a simple answer and I couldn’t help but let out a big sigh)

Having lived in Saudi Arabia and remembering the signs of what happened during the Gulf War, I knew something was going to happen. I started to read and follow many of the revolutionaries on twitter. I prepared myself for the worst, made sure I had provisions in the house and on the 28th of January I asked a Canadian friend and colleague of mine to come and stay with me because she didn’t know what was happening and didn’t speak the language. There isn’t a word in the dictionary to describe what we experience. We had no clue what was going to happen from one minute to the other. There were riot police and then the police were dissolved. Saturday 13000 prisoners were released from prison taking the ammunition that was in the stations and that’s when chaos broke loose. Boys your age and younger were out in the streets armed with whatever they could find, planks of wood, kitchen knives, candle stick holders, Molotov cocktail bombs to defend their neighborhood and their homes from petit thieves and dangerous criminals who were heavily armed. It was a terrifying experience. Things have calmed down a lot since then, but even months afterwards you always looked over your shoulder.

How do Egyptian people view the United States? Is there a difference between how they view the government and the American People?

Egyptian’s don’t hate Americans. They don’t dislike foreigners. We need foreigners to come to Egypt for our tourism. Tourism is our source of money (I had meant to say income, but the word escaped me). We just don’t like your foreign policy.

(I am sure many will disagree with me on this point, but that is how I perceive things to be)

There were many questions that followed these but I cannot remember their chronological order or how I answered them.

While answering the questions I didn’t notice how fast the time had passed and when the bell rang I couldn’t believe a class period had flown by. I wasn’t sure what the student’s impression of the video call was. It was hard for me to see their faces and to know if they found it engaging or not. Once the student left the class I spoke with both teachers for a little while longer. I won’t know the verdict on the experience until next week, but I did get an email from the class teacher the following day. It read;
“Hi Irish!

A number of students have come to me and said they enjoyed speaking with you and wondering if they would be able to do it again. That’s a good sign. Our principal who left three quarters of the way through was very impressed with you and happy that you too took the time to speak with our students. He actually said he got chills up his spine a couple of times when you were speaking. Again that is a good sign. Thanks so much for taking the time to do what you did. It’s a great learning experience for myself and my students. Hopefully we can find some other ways we can break down some of the misconceptions of both Egyptians and Americans with our students. If there is anything you can think of or anyway we can bring students together through this source of media please let me know. “

An even further update on how the skype talk went;

” You have received many positive comments and none negative. Greg who you talked with after the class felt that you had a great persona on camera. I agree with him on that and its not easy to do on skype.

I spoke to one student’s mother who said her son came home and talked  about the class’s conversation with you. He said he really liked it.  This is from a student who usually doesn’t appear to interested in  class.
The students commented on your English and how good it was.. They wondered if it would be hard to understand you. They all said they would like to do it again.

I hope you would be willing. As I told you I think if they get more comfortable with you and you them it would be interesting to see where the conversation leads just in regards to daily life in Egypt and the United States. Perhaps the average person’s goals, dreams, hopes for the future etc, so that they see people are not really that different regardless of what country they live in.

I asked them if they felt you had answered their questions and they felt you had done a good job of that. I heard them laugh a number of times during your talk due to the expression on your face in regards to a question or answer. This indicates that they picked up on your facial expressions and body language. I believe they felt that you were much like them instead of this perception they may of you. “

Primary School Students in Alexandria-Photo by Thom Harwell

Primary School Students in Alexandria-Photo by Thom Harwell

The entry below is hypothetical; it is something I have been mulling over in my mind for quite some time. Being an educator I have found that one of the many joys of teaching is being able to pass on knowledge to the future generations. I have dreams and hopes that one day the Egyptian people will climb back up to the top and impress us with their capabilities once again and achieve great things.
For decades we have been experiencing a brain drain. Families who have had the means have immigrated to foreign countries to seek a better life and education for the children. The education system I regret to say, presently is not nurturing our nation’s future. With classrooms that hold between 30-70 students in a single class, how on earth can the system expect teachers to be able to reach or teach students? It isn’t a wonder that there is an abundance of private tuition that goes on!
If Egypt is to change, the education system and its curriculum has to be one of its focal points.
If I was given the opportunity to be Minister of Education, I would make a lot of changes, which  would also probably put a price tag on my head and move me to the top of many people’s HIT LISTS, but somebody has to step up to the plate and take charge.
Egyptians at one point in history were the leaders in Science and Mathematics, the Pharaohs were living proof of that. Over decades our position among the leading educated nations has slipped to the lower end of the spectrum which is very upsetting.

 
The public school system, (by public I mean government run schools) is lacking in so many areas that it is very difficult to find a starting point. Below are a few areas that I have been thinking about, but before I do that, let me paint a visual picture of what a ‘Government School’ is like; the following paragraph you are about to read is an excerpt from my Masters Comprehensive Exam Essay;

 
“For me to describe the ‘high quality education’ that I envision for schools in Egypt In the 21st century I need to give a brief description of what public/government run schools are like presently.”

 
“The land and building on which the schools are built on are not only structurally depressing to look at but to be in. The exterior walls of the school are colorless and lifeless. They look more like prison blocks than they do institutions for learning. The classrooms are small, poorly lit, desks are crammed in tightly next to one another to form as many rows as possible. There is a huge worn out chalkboard at the front of the room where the teacher stands and regurgitates and spoon feeds lessons. Students from as low as 30-70 in a classroom is best described as a can of sardines. The play area is a small patch of land with sand. I won’t even go in to describing the washroom facilities because I will only make you queasy. The sounds that ring out and across the school are mainly the voices of teachers shouting their lessons, banging their desk, children reciting and repeating phrases and scolding. “
This is not learning… this is programming. If the founding Theorists of Education could see the state of these schools, they would probably be turning in their graves. I don’t know how we as a nation have allowed or permitted education to be put on a back burner and for our countries future to be taught under these conditions.
For the school system to improve we need to improve not only the conditions of the learning institutions but we need to rectify teaching methods, because they are stuck in a time warp. Teachers need to teach not only for the present time but for the future.  Educators need to be re-educated themselves, sending them all back to school probably isn’t going to be feasible and will be very expensive, so an alternate way to go about doing this would be by asking teachers who have gained their Teaching Certificates or Masters in Education to volunteer their time to show teachers different methods and techniques for teaching phonemic awareness, reading, math fundamentals, writing, free thinking as well as how to plan a lesson. These courses would cost the teachers nothing and it would be in the form of ongoing professional development that in addition to asking teaching professionals, we would also extend the invitation to professors to lecture them in theory and practices as well as child psychology.
While the teachers are being re-educated I would have the employees of the Ministry of Education evaluate the current curriculum and together decide what areas need to be amended, changed or dropped all together. Part of the revamping of the curriculum will include hands on learning. Let’s face it, there is so much you can learn from a text-book and not everyone can absorb what the teacher is lecturing about.  According to Howard Gardener there multiple Intelligences, (http://www.infed.org/thinkers/gardner.htm ), in summary means there are several ways people learn and we as a nation need to understand and accept that. Knowledge of the world and its people is something students need to be exposed to. We fear what we do not understand, the more we understand, the less fear we have of the outside world. I would also insist that trades men from the rural areas demonstrate and show students their trade and teach them some of the skills. This would be a stepping stone to start building pride in professions as well as a sense of community.

I don’t expect that with the wave of my pointer all shall be fixed and there won’t be any problems. A lot of damage has been done and a lot of rectifying will be met with resistance. I don’t expect everything to be fully implemented for at least 5-10 years, but changes would be underway before the start of the academic year of 2012, if I had my way, that is.
How to put money back in to the schools and the school system?
I have no idea what the government’s budget is for education or if there are any funds for that matter, so I am going to presume that we have NONE.  To find funding for this enormous project is far from being easy. One idea that does come to mind would be to re-invest a percentage of the sales of the needed textbooks and uniforms back in to the schools as well as having a percentage of our salaries taxed to be reinvested in to the education system. By this we would be making sure the classrooms would be in a condition that is safe and a comfortable learning environment.  We would also be able to reduce the number of students in classrooms and increase teachers’ salaries. Each classroom would have the proper lighting, ventilation and furniture and eventually resources. The bathroom facilities would be sanitary and the playground a place where students can enjoy running around and playing at recess.

 
I would also look for private and public donations by setting up an account for people to donate money to help improve the education system. I’m sure along the road my team and I would find other ways and means of finding funds.
I know that I am probably going to be shot for having suggested that we pay a tax where the money goes towards the education system, but if we profess to love this country as much as we do, shouldn’t we reinvest in it and by doing so through the education so that the future generations of Egypt, lead this country out of the third world country bracket but towards the 21st century and a better nation?
Education is the weapon to fighting ignorance and I hate to be the one to admit it or to point it out, but there is a lot of it here. For Egypt to make a 180 degree turn in the right direction, we need to educate the people of this nation, re instill the self-worth and pride in who they are. If we accomplish that, trust me their voices will grow strong along with their spirits. We need to start from ground zero, from those who are less fortunate than most and work our way up. Think of it as rebuilding our heritage.

On a final note, from what I have been reading on twitter, there is a movement called #tweetback that is working towards raising money for a slum on development projects, aside from regular donor packages, they are adding a twitter campaign component. The recipients of the donations are Ezbet Kheiralla. I know that they are also working towards improving the conditions of some of the schools in that area, if you would like to contribute;
“#tweetback  donations: CIB Bank, Semiramis Branch, acct number 2240000220-SWIFT CIBEEGCX 002, under name Peace and Plenty.
As relayed to me by @TravellerW-Mohamed El Dahshan on twitter.

The eve of December 27th, my mother was aimlessly checking her facebook news feed when she noticed that many of the people on her list had statuses pertaining to the historical schools of Alexandria. She called me over to read what had been written and to our shock, the Egyptian Minister of Education had changed the schools in to ‘experimental’ schools and he had also changed both school names. Current and former students of the school were furious that such a decision had been made. To make matters even more distasteful, the governing staff of the school didn’t inform the parents ahead of time that such a change was being made. The student’s found out after they had saluted the Egyptian flag and in their morning lines were told that the school was now called ‘Madrasat El Mustakbal ElTagrubeya’, which roughly translates to ‘Future Experimental School’. To add to the students shock, they told them that they were no longer permitted to say ‘Good Morning’ in English but the equivalent greeting in Arabic.

For those of you who are not from Alexandria, you might not be able to comprehend the loss that these people are experiencing, so let me give you a little background on the schools. The English Girls College opened 76 years ago, in October 1935 by a man named Sir Henry Edward Barker. The 20 acres of land on which the school was built on was donated by the Alexandrian Governorate. The school was a girl’s school. Students from K.G to High School attended. The facilities of the school were un like any other in the region. The Headmistress had her own quarters, which was a villa attached to the school, the school also had a dorm are for borders. One of the most famous borders was the current ‘Queen Sophia of Spain.’ I have done a search on Google to find out more information about E.B.S but I wasn’t successful.

When the news of the fate of both schools spread through the city like a wild-fire, protests in front of the Alexandria Governors building and outside the school began. Students boycotted school and dressed in black refusing to go in. The Niece of Egypt’s former President, Gamal Abdel Nasser a former EGCian herself announced on her facebook status that she was going to appear on television to voice her opinion about the wrongful decision that was taken.

Others member of the alumni are trying to get in touch with former classmates and graduates to raise awareness and to raise funds, in the hopes of keeping the schools names to preserve the history and preserve what the institution stood for, as well as trying to rebuild it to the way it used to be. The question that is looming in many people’s minds at the moment is ‘WHY was such a rash decision made?” I do not know for certain, but the rumor at the moment is, is that the board of trustees or members of the board of governors we steeling funds from the school, which landed both the schools in severe debt.

“Various school Trusts were therefore set up as charities to use the income to promote and maintain the teaching of the English language and culture in the Middle East, especially in Alexandria. In 1972, the Victoria College and English Girls School Trusts amalgamated into the Alexandria Schools Trust, and were joined in 1980 by the British Boys School Trust.

http://baheyeldin.com/places/egypt/e-g-c/e-g-c-english-girls-college-or-el-nasr-chatby-college.html

As you can imagine  a combined trust fund must have held quite a substantial amount of money.

I suppose if the rumor is true, it would explain the drop in standard and maintenance of the structures, but I don’t think changing the school in to an experimental one and its name is a way to improve the situation. I would have thought changing the board of governors, getting better teachers and contacting the alumni to help raise funds would have been a more logical and acceptable solution, but that’s just my opinion.

I wasn’t an EGCian, but in the years that I have lived in Alexandria, I have met a great number of the schools former teachers and Alumni and when I hear them re tell stories of their teaching experience or youth as a student their and see what ‘ladies of society and intellect’ the school produced, as an Alexandrian I am saddened by the thought that a Minister of Education would so easily want to wash away an important piece of our cities heritage and a legacy that had been built to educate.

The final blow and update that I have read in one of the E.G.C facebook groups is that the teachers have now been replaced. The question weighing on every ones mind now is, which school will be next to receive the devastating news?

Will it be Victoria College (aka Victory College), where King Hussein of Jordan and Omar Sherif Attended or will in be St. Marc the renowned French boys school?

Links referring to EGC and the protests against the Ministers decision are below;

1- EGC – Yehia GABR presents the EGC, Alexandria – the finest school in the world

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4x4v9XCi2w

2- video clips about the protests

http://www.masry-now.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1115%3A-qq-q-qq&catid=51&Itemid=162 3- ‘we are not experimental’ (E.B.S – E.G.C) facebook group http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=lf#!/pages/ahna-msh-tjrybyh-EBS-EGC/171491752889818?v=wall

Have you ever had a childhood dream of wanting to do or become something?
I had many career ambitions when I was a little girl, I wanted to be a WWF wrestler because I was a Tom boy and I liked the idea of being to lift someone high above my head and throwing them (very lady like!), It then changed to wanting to join the Navy Seals because I really liked their combat boots and defense tactics (but mainly for the boots), then I wanted to be a teacher for the deaf after seeing a movie where people taught children to sign, from there I decided that I would much prefer to be a lawyer so that I could argue my point all day long and get paid for it and then I wanted to be a child psychologist because they charged a lot of money by the hour while helping disturbed children. I didn’t join the World Wrestling Federation or the Navy Seals to my father’s relief. I ended up being an Elementary School teacher and a Writer, neither of which were on my dream job list as a child. I can’t complain, I really enjoy what I do and I do it well, (I’m not trying to blow my own trumpet).

My Father on the other hand, did fulfill his childhood dream of understanding how aero planes functioned and how to fly them. After studying and obtaining a degree in Mechanical Engineering like his Mother wanted, he furthered his studies in Aerodynamics and Fluid Mechanics and even went a step further and obtained his flying license as a commercial pilot. The only thing he didn’t get to do was fly for an airline. He had applied to work for one, but the head of the airline at the time said the only way he would ever fly for that company was if he paid him 10,000 pounds. My father being a man of integrity refused to cough up the money. He wanted to earn his job the right way.

Over the years my Dad taught ground school at a flying school in Montreal, lectured in Saudi Arabia and taught his students Engineering, how to build wind tunnels, aerodynamics and even took them for a ride in a plane as their pilot. His students always learned a lot from him; perhaps it’s because he’s so passionate about aircrafts and is like an excited little boy playing with a toy. If there is a movie, program or a news report related to airplanes, he will focus all his attention on what is being said.

Last year, my Dad taught ground school at one of the flying Academies in Amman, Jordan.  I went to visit him during the Easter break and on Friday we went to Carrefour to have lunch together, to my amazement a big group of his students go there every Friday too and they all sit together, have lunch and talk about flying. As I ate and observed I could tell that these young men had great respect for their teacher and felt at ease in his company. They were really upset that he didn’t stay on a second year and put their allowance together to buy him a model airplane as a farewell gift.
His colleagues were sad to see him go as well. They have kept in touch and have recommended him to other flying academies in the region.

Their recommendations didn’t go unheard, because now, My Dad is a consultant for two of the Flying Academies in Amman, Jordan and a Student recruiter for the flying schools in Amman and one in Montreal, Canada. I don’t think they could have asked for a better representative, because he has the passion for flying and can answer almost any question related to planes and engines. I’m not saying that because he’s my Dad, I’m saying it on the basis of being a teacher myself. I know what it takes to get students to be interested in a subject and to love it as much as you do.

As a kid my Dad would take my Mum, sister and I to they flying club in Montreal, and we would go up in a small four seated, propeller jet engine. He would teach my sister and I how to use the controls and fly the plane. I was useless! My parents had trained me ever since I was a baby to fall asleep on planes, (especially during long Trans Atlantic flights) so just minutes after getting clearance from the tower, and taking off. I would be fast asleep. My younger sister was a natural! Much to my father’s delight!
When my Dad is up in the sky in a plane, he is in his element. It’s almost as though he was meant to be up there.

If you have dreamed of being a pilot or going in to the field of aviation and you live in Egypt. Check out Captain Nabil El Abdin’s web page on facebook. Get in touch with him and he can tell you how to apply to the flying Academies in Jordan or in Montreal, Canada.

It’s never too late to fulfill your childhood dream.

I went to London for the first time in my life! I know…it’s taken 32 years, but I got there eventually. It wasn’t what I had expected. I had such a gloomy image of London in my mind, where the food was bland and lacked taste! I have to say that it definitely exceeded my expectations!

I had hoped to be able to go sight-seeing with my Mum, but unfortunately she wasn’t well enough to walk around the city. So, I didn’t waste any time! Armed with my cap, camera and map I made mental routes in my head to get to the places that I wanted to go and visit.

The first thing on my agenda was to go to a park and enjoy the foliage and open space.
To walk around and enjoy nature and not have to constantly be on high alert expecting to be harassed or followed by men was such a treat. Unless you have lived in Egypt or the Middle East,you will not understand how liberating it was to be able to sit in a park and listen to the birds chirping away to one another, ducks and swans swimming in a lake, children running around, pet owners taking their dogs out for a walk in the park and being able to hear your own thoughts!! Another bonus to the park was people minding their own business, no one watching you, people spoke in low voices AND they threw their rubbish away! What made the experience even better was that the weather was perfect, it wasn’t too hot or too cold and hardly any rain at all! BLISS!

I made sure that every route I took went through the park, so that I could satisfy my craving before I had to come back to Egypt.
People in Europe and the West have NO idea how lucky they are to have parks that are well maintained and respected by their locals. I wish the few that we have were as well looked after.

Another desire that had to be satisfied was going to Art Galleries and Museums! I was so starved for culture that I went to three museums  in one day! I walked through Kensington Gardens, to Albert Hall and continued on towards the Science Museum. As I walked from one exhibit to another I was over come with a wave of mixed emotions. I was so excited to be there and to learn as I intently read the signs and listened to the explanations but I couldn’t help but feel very deprived. I would give anything to be able to take my students in Cairo to a museum like that. They would benefit so much from them. Getting information from a text-book is great but when you are in a place where what you are learning about is in 3D and visible to you, it can make a HUGE difference. Another benefit is for the students is to be able to experience and take part in the experiments that they have there.
From there I went to the Natural History Museum and I have to admit that I was BLOWN away!!! It was fantastic!! I am pretty sure that I went to every single exhibit that they had! I loved everything about that place! It’s a great place to take children to learn about Volcanic Eruptions and different species of animals. Once I had felt that I had seen everything that I wanted to see, I went across the street to the Victoria and Albert museum. By this time I was pretty tired, I had done a lot of walking, stair climbing, reading and picture-taking but I trudged onwards!

The Victoria and Albert Museum wasn’t what I had expected it to be. I thought it would be about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert but it wasn’t. It was more of an Art museum, which suited me fine, but there was SO MUCH to see!!
I wasn’t too excited at first but once I went from one room to another and saw the sculptures, paintings, furniture, traditional costumes from around the world, I was hooked and needed to see more!
I have to admit that I was exhausted and I toyed with the idea of walking to Buckingham Palace from there but I didn’t have enough steam to make it there. I hadn’t eaten or drank anything since 9am that morning and I was exhausted but I decided to go and see Harrods. I wanted to see what the fuss was about.

Well…, I wasn’t very impressed to tell you the truth. I live in North Africa and I have lived in the Middle East and when I walked in to the renowned building I felt nauseous. It was SWARMING with overly doused cologne smelling ARABS!!!!  It was as though the place was infested with them! It didn’t matter what floor you were one, they were everywhere! I didn’t spend very long there as you might have guessed. Don’t misunderstand me, I have nothing against the Arabs, I just can’t deal with too many of them in a confined space smelling of Gucci, Aramani, Hilfiger and other scents at the same time! It turns my stomach! . From there I walked my weary feet back to the Hotel and spent the rest of the night downloading my 400 something photo’s on to my memory stick and showing my Mom the adventure I had been on that day.

While I was in London I had hoped that HRH Queen Elizabeth II would have at least asked me over for tea, but she mustn’t have gotten the message that I was in town, so I decided to walk over to Buckingham Palace and pay her a visit. Well, apparently a few hundred other people had the same idea, because I couldn’t get close enough to the gate! I had gotten there half way through the changing of the guard ceremony! I think her Majesty must have only just seen Mama Mia, because the band only played ABBA!

My colleague and friend Nora, (aka Falafel and Chips) was able to find me amidst the crowd. We used our Giraffe technique to take pictures of the changing of the guard, (standing on the tips of your toes, reaching ours arms high above our heads and aiming in the direction the music was coming from). Once the crowd dispersed we made our way to Westminster Abby and Big Ben. We didn’t linger there for long. We decided to take the tube and make our way to the Tower of London. (I had never been on the tube before either!)

* If you are going to go to London, YOU WILL NEED an Oyster card. It’s a prepaid pass that you can purchase at the tube station. I recommend you get it for all the zones! It saves standing in line to buy a ticket and when you’re almost out of credit, you just top it up with more money!

I had been watching the show the Tudors here in Egypt before going on Holiday and had previously taught some ‘English’ history so I wanted to go to a place that I had heard so much about. I have to admit that the entrance fee is worth EVERY penny!! I thoroughly enjoyed going around with one of the Beef Eaters and learning about some of the most famous events that took place there! It was fascinating to learn what went on in one place! So Much History!! We spent the entire afternoon there walking in and out of buildings, up and down winding stair cases and going from one exhibit to another!
I really enjoyed having Nora there.

I didn’t go to a single night club while I was there. The thought just didn’t appeal to me and who was I going to go with? All of the people I know who live in London, were either away or far to busy to meet up with me! So, I just kept myself entertained!

My Mum had hoped that I might run in to my future husband there…but NO SUCH LUCK! I have to admit the men in the UK are aesthetically pleasing to the eye!

I hadn’t expected to do much shopping there, but I did. I did some clothes shopping but most of my luggage carried DVDs! I am a movie junkie and HMV just fueled my movie addiction! They have a great collection of films and they have AWESOME special offers! I bought DVDs from EVERY HMV store I went in to! Collectively my mother and I came back with almost 30 DVDs and 3 box sets!

I really enjoyed my 9 days in Lond and I was sad to have leave and return to Egypt. I wouldn’t mind going back to London to visit. I really enjoyed the freedom that I had there, it was very liberating. Another reason why I HAVE to go back is because there are a lot more places that I would like to go and visit. In some ways it reminded me of Montreal where there is a diversity of nationalities and languages spoken.

From standing on the balcony of my parents apartment building and watching from the window of my flat in Cairo, I have come to the conclusion that there is an ‘ART’ on how to cross the roads in Egypt and on top of that it is also of entertainment value if you are a voyeur

This summer I have had the pleasure of being in the United Kingdom for almost three weeks for my summer holiday and during my time there I have noticed many things that are very different to how things are done in Egypt.
One of the many things that caught my attention, (it wasn’t that hard to notice if I’m going to be completely honest) is how people are able to cross the roads safely!
I still can’t believe that the drivers in England would break for pedestrians and not speed up when they see someone crossing the road or when the traffic light turns red. They actually stop before the marked yellow line and at a zebra crossing and politely wait for you to cross the road safely to the other side. How Bizarre!
I have grown so accustomed to the chaos and reckless driving of Egyptians that I can’t help but be filled with anxiety when I come to cross any road any where. Even, when I come to a country where I know and I’m comforted in knowing that there are STRICT traffic laws, I can’t help but look at the drivers with distrust because I can’t get used to the fact that they really won’t attempt to run me over.

When I cross the streets here I use a technique I like to call ‘the owl’. As I’m sure you already know an owl’s neck can rotate almost a full 360 degrees. When you come to cross the road here, you have to be prepared for anything coming or going in any direction. Owl vision helps you see the traffic from all possible directions and be prepared for the unexpected. On many occasions you will find that a car may come in the opposite direction of where it shouldn’t be coming from or an anxious driver has forgotten where his breaks are and has pushed down on the gas pedal as you happen to be crossing. Some drivers will drive will even speed up while your foot is in mid-air between the curb and the road and you will swear blind that he or she was aiming for you.

You are probably wondering how to use this technique of mine. Let me tell you. Your head can only turn as far as your neck will allow. So, you have to rely on other senses not just sight. Your hearing is very valuable, because like a driver you have a blind spot, your ears make up for that by picking up the sound of the wheels on the tarmac roads and the revving of the car engines. Your eyes and ears give you a 3D CineMax experience. So, if you have your i-pod in your ears when you walk the streets to avoid hearing the buzz of the city or the harassing comments, pause the tunes when you come to cross the road. If you don’t you will put yourself in jeopardy and ruin the CineMax experience. (Honestly, I some times wish I could strap a camera to my head just to show people what it is I am trying to describe)

The Rules of crossing the road in Egypt are quite different. For people who have never been to Egypt this will probably be one of the biggest shocks you get when you first arrive. The best way to describe it is ‘taking your life in to your own hands’. If you are a risk taker or a dare-devil, you may get some enjoyment out of this but it won’t compare to sky diving.

Most people are familiar with the rules of crossing a road at a designated area better known as the zebra crossing, standing on the side-walk and looking both ways before crossing the road and wait for the light to turn red so that you can make it to the other side safely. Those you ‘may’ use here but that doesn’t mean it will always work and that the drivers and other pedestrians will abide by them. People in Egypt cross the road at any given time, even when the traffic is at its busiest and cars are rushing by at top speed. They will step off the side-walk and walk across the road without a side ways glance at the incoming traffic.  They will even stand in the middle of the road as the cars whizz by them as they rapidly and mentaly calculate the speed, distance of the vehicles approaching and the time they need to make it safely to the other side. They have it down to a fine art. Watching them makes my blood turn cold, but I have to admit that they do have balls of steel. Personally, I would much rather wait for a BIG gap in the traffic before trying to cross the road. So, please don’t attempt it!

I have also noticed that when the pedestrians walk across the road, they have no fear in their stride or in their eyes. They walk across the street like they own it and that the cars are the ones who are intruding on their domain.  That is a look that you do need to have down pat because the drivers here smell fear and if they think you are afraid they will not slow down, they will intimidate you by speeding up.
You need to make eye contact with the driver and stare them down so that they know that YOU ARE GOING TO CROSS THE ROAD AND THEY ARE GOING TO SLOW DOWN. Think of it as a kind of Wild West show down.

Another tactic is to stand near a local who is about to cross the road and move with them as they cross. It will guide you and teach you how to make it across to the other walk path safely.  Like everything you do in life, it takes practice!

I could spend all night trying to describe the scenes along with various methods of how to cross the road but the only way you will understand or believe me is to see it for yourself.

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This past Sunday I accompanied Grade 5 on a trip to the museum with their Social Studies teacher who has 20 years experience as an Egyptologist and Tour Guide. I had heard about how informative her trips are and that they were a lot of fun. I had been to the museum the previous year with my Grade 2 students and I hated every second of the trip. For a museum that big with some of the most fascinating antiquities that the world has ever seen, you would think it would be air-conditioned a child friendly.

In all honesty, (I know I’m going to get booed for this), I find it to be very cluttered and disorganized. The artifacts aren’t displayed as well as they could have been and not all the antiquities are described and those that have an explanation were done by that ancient machine, called a typewriter and the paper has yellowed with age. They haven’t been up dated in god knows how long. If I was to describe the museum, I would have to say an over priced warehouse for tourists. However, having said that, if you are in Egypt you have to go to the museum, to see the mummies (which is in an air-conditioned enclosure, Thank God! But, it costs a whopping 100LE for foreigners and 20 LE for Egyptians), The Tutankhamen exhibit (is partially air-conditioned, the room which holds the famous gold death mask along with other breath-taking items are in a small room. This room is very crowded).

 If I were you I would go there as soon as it opens at 9am, otherwise you will not get any pleasure out of the trip. If you are in Egypt between the months of May and October, then the earlier you go to the museum the better. It will be cool enough for you to tolerate from 11am on wards you will be in a furnace and will come out of the building drenched and stinking of perspiration. Make sure you have a bottle of water with you too, you will need it. You may want to have some tissues hand too, incase you need to tinkle.

When you go on vacation a camera is a must have! You would think that you would be allowed to take pictures in the museum….consider this a BIG heads up, the Cairo Museum does not permit ANY pictures taken inside the building. If you have a camera you have to turn it in, take a number and it will be taken and put in to holding until you come out and reclaim it.

On my most recent excursion to the museum with a pro, I found it to be really enjoyable! It makes such a difference when you go with someone who knows the place and all the ins and outs of the place. The Social Studies teacher had all the kids and accompanying teachers wear earphones that were on the same frequency as her microphone. It was GREAT! We could hear everything that was explained and pointed out to us. The noise of other tour groups was just background noise to us. The frequency of the packs are really good, I had to leave the students to find the newly opened Children’s Museum. I had to go out of the main museum and I could still hear the teacher. (I believe it costs 10LE per pack, I’m not 100% sure, and I’ll have to get back to you on that)

If you have your back to the entrance of the museum and walk to the right side of the building and turn right there and follow the signs you will find the children’s section below the building. I have to be totally honest, I wasn’t expecting much! I thought it would be a hogpog of things thrown together, but to my delight and surprise it is actually very well done and the set up is better than the main museum, (sad but true).
The explanations of things have been simplified and among the ancient artifacts are Lego replicas of some of the famous statues and portraits that we have seen on documentaries and in history books. If you have children or are planning to take your class to the museum on a school trip, then I highly recommend that you go in to the main building first before it gets too crowded and over heated and then make your way to the Children’s museum. (Entrance is free)

From dreading my trip next week with my class, I am actually excited about going there and teaching them about all the new things that I learned from the Social Studies Teacher. I will let you know how the trip goes.

A year ago a fellow and former colleague of mine interviewed me for a piece that she was doing about what it’s like being a teacher. I never saw the final result up until this moment, when I googled myself for fun (I’ve had a pretty slow day, the things I do to amuse myself!!! =) I thought I’d share the link with you.

http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&cid=1227019083108&pagename=Zone-English-Youth%2FYTELayout

They had asked for a picture of me, but when they found out that I wasn’t veiled they withdrew their request for a picture. (I found that to be amusing and a bit prejudice. Just because I’m unveiled doesn’t make me any less of a Muslim than they are!?)

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