Photo update!

30 September, 2009

As promised, I’m going to post some of my pictures. Hopefully, the captions will go with them.

Edit: Looks like WordPress forcefully cropped the photos, so they may come out a little weird in gallery view. Click for a bigger version that shows the full frame.  I’ll work on fixing this later.

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Duelling…Mullahs?

30 September, 2009

The sound of competing muezzin calling out the adhlan resonates off the walls of the city. It is a haunting, yet strangely beautiful sound…

The Honeymoon… Continues!

28 September, 2009

Set exaggerates. The cockroach wasn’t that big. You’d think after a summer in NOLA and two years in NYC she would be used to- actually, no, roaches are something one should never have to get used to.

We are done with our second day of courses here. The lessons are fairly interesting: by far, the most difficult/engaging lessons are the ones on grammar and phonology. As a native speaker of English, I never appreciated how complex the language is until I started to learn how to teach it to others.

The teaching practice feels a bit mundane and elementary, though. Perhaps it’s because Ive worked with kids for most of my working life. Whatever the case, Im looking forward to our actual teaching practice in two weeks.

Egypt, however, continues to fascinate at every turn. I’m glad to be staying in El Agami as opposed to some expat neighborhood in Cairo or Alexandria, as it feels like we are getting a much more authentic experience. Barely anyone speaks English here (save for the friendly old couple who run the produce stand by our place, thankfully) so we are more compelled to speak Arabic (poorly.) People are genuinely friendly and don’t seem to begrudge us for being foreigners.

One thing that has struck me is how varied the styles of dress are. Most of the men our age wear Western-style t-shirts or collared shirts, whereas the older men wear full length tunics. The women’s dress is even more diverse- some women wear a simple black or white veil that covers their hair, while others opt to wear ornately patterned coverings that are color coordinated to match their outfits. Some women wear long, black gowns that cover them from head to toe, and more than a few wear gloves and full veils that obscure all but their eyes. I would say at least 98% of the women wear a covering of some kind, but the few that don’t appear to not be harassed.

Sitting in a cafe, I can look around and see multigenerational families representing all of these styles.

Note: right now there’s a soccer game going on. The locals are honking their horns, cheering and lighting off fireworks in the street. Let no one say that Egyptians don’t know how to party.

Postscript: a few hours after I wrote this, Mustafa (our little neighbor who speaks English better than I do) informed me that Egypt lost in the last minute of the game.

I’ve taken a lot of photos that Ill be uploading as soon as I get a chance!

The honeymoon is over?

28 September, 2009

(I wrote this last night!)

Yeah, I saw my first cockroach in my apartment. It was bigger than all the cockroaches I’d ever seen in my NYC apartment. I found it crawling on my door right after I came back home for the night. I was bigger than a blackberry pearl and it had legs that made it look like it could jump off the wall and into my face at any moment. A girl in the program was telling me earlier about how a cockroach fell on her head while she was washing her face once. I’m buying Raid ™ asap.

Today was our first day of classes. Our group of 15 was split into 2 groups and I got put in a class with Kenny and 5 other students / teachers in training. In our class we have the Aussie (specifically from Tazmania, aka Kenny’s roommate), two Brits, one South Carolinian and a Canadian. We had 4 classes today which started around 10 and ended at 5. This was probably the longest day of classes that I’ve had since my senior year of college when I had class from 1030 in the morning until 9 at night. Oof.

I have to admit that I was slightly delirious from sleep deprivation for most of the day due to my horrific jet lag which allowed me one hour of sleep throughout the whole night. I usually don’t get jet lag, I feel like I’m pretty adept at adjusting my sleep schedule, but somehow, last night, no matter what I did I couldn’t sleep. Strangely enough, I wasn’t the only one awake. Egyptians have a strange habit of going to sleep around three in the morning on any given day. From my window I could hear mirth and merriment going on all night… or morning, however you want to put it. Around 4:30 the first call to prayer of the day was broadcasted into the darkness, followed by another one around 5:30. The afternoon calls to prayers re definitely more robust, from what I’ve heard at least.  I like to imagine that no matter how devoted to anything you are, submitting to god, or submitting a paper, any normal human will be sleepy in the pre-dawn hours.

Whatever the case, the four classes were pretty fun. Our first class was on grammar and phonology. We went over parts of speech and all that jazz that none of us had really touched upon since 4th grade English class. We talked a bit about the methodology of teaching language and there was definitely mention of Democracy Now’s favorite guest speaker, Mr. Don’t-forget-I-was-a-linguist-first Chomsky.

We also had a class on teaching methodology, another one on activities (role playing, games, whatnot) you can use to engage the students. We spent a significant amount of time coming up with ridiculous skits and made a whole lotta noise. Lemme tell you, Kenny can let out a pretty impressive high pitched Flander’s-esque scream.  Our final class of the day was about how to use black/white boards and other ways to effectively display information to your students in and out of the classroom. The first thing we did in that class was make our own website (I’m not putting up the url, it’s not even worth it) that we could possibly use in the future if we want a website corresponding to our lesson plans. Apparently the computers at the school are incredibly slow so this task took a lot longer than the teacher anticipated. Due to the elongated time span of the computer session, she had to rush us through the rest of the day’s plan with the fury of a thousand confused tigers.

I slept in the van on the ride home, but I somehow mustered enough energy to go for an afternoon swim at the beach. Even at dusk, the water was so warm, definitely a far cry from the Jersey shore.

(after I wrote that I dozed off, I don’t think there was much more to the day anyway)

UPDATE: I have internet in my room! Kenny killed a cockroach in the hallway of the school! We ordered falafel sandwiches for lunch today and it came to a grand total of two Egyptian pounds (5.68 pounds  = 1 dollar)!  I miss eating raw vegetables! We might go to Luxor this weekend! THERE ARE SO MANY STRAY CATS!

More to come soon! Leave us adoring comments!

Oh and here are some pictures of fun things!

Day 2

26 September, 2009

I’m writing this on my iPod (again) because I foolishly left my converter kit in California. I’m getting one tomorrow, but my laptop currently rests on my bed, charging with Sets converter.

Set did a great job of capturing the chaos and wonder of our first day, so I have little to add. Today began late- I woke up at noon to the Muezzin (Muslim call to prayer) and threw some clothes on. My Australian roommate Lachlan was nowhere to be found, so I walked up the street to the main area and waited for Set. I had a piecemeal conversation with equal parts Arabic and English with Ibrahim, our compound’s watchman. The way he passes the day is by chainsmoking (I counted 4 in 15 minutes) and shooing away the hordes of stray cats that roam about our neighborhood.

Set and Lachlan showed up, so we set out in search of groceries. Here, our paltry Arabic skills grew by leaps and bounds. I managed to pay the correct amount for some staples- namely bread and jam- by speaking entirely in Arabic. As an added bonus, I don’t think I was overcharged a single piestra! First priority is going to be learning all the numbers in both written and spoken form so I don’t seem like such a tourist next time.

After a lunch of pita and foul medammes, the three of us got our passes to Paradise Beach. This is the private beach that seems to cater to foreigners and the wealthy, but there was one large obstacle- finding it. One thing we have strived not to do is be “Ugly Americans”- after all, it’s not our country and there’s an entirely different legal and social set of values. So, with Set being unveiled and lacking a Burquini (google it) we were a bit nervous and confused upon looking at the few male swimmers and the veiled women on the beaches.

Fortunately, the private beach’s security guard waved us over. We were immediately beset upon by his helper, who took our bags and set up three chairs for us, then inexplicably moved us to another three chairs 20 yards away. A one LE gift for baksheesh, and it was time to swim!

The Mediterrenean is a beautiful, blue sea that looks like it was ripped from a postcard. The water was warm as a bathtub and clear enough that you could see your feet drawing clouds of sand as you shuffled your feet along the bottom and still have a foot of visibility. We lingered on the water for an hour, and got cleaned up for our first trip into Alexandria.

(Note- while we will be taking classes in Alexandria, we are staying in El Agamy, a suburb about 20 minutes outside of Alex. The best parallel I can draw is that El Agamy is to Alexandria as Pasadena is to Los Angeles)

Set touched on it, but driving in Egypt is like living through the chase scenes in “The Bourne Identity.” Lane markers are ignored, and brights and horns replace left and right turn signals. Many drivers don’t even drive with their lights on at night. Yet in spite of this, I have yet to feel unsafe, or even see evidence of a single car accident. Every car seems to move expertly through the traffic, and I think a chaos theoretician would be able to write a hell of a paper on Egyptian traffic patterns.

We arrived at our school a short time later. It’s located off a small sidestreet near the Stanley Bridge, and is composed of an office and several classrooms. We received a brief orientation and had a small dinner, then drove back to El Agamy.

Upon return, Set and I grabbed our cameras and set out on the Bitash (main road). We spent about an hour wandering up and down the streets taking photos and having short conversations with some people we met. Worried about being invasive of peoples privacy as we took photos, we were pleasantly surprised when two old men smoking shisha outside a building smiled and posed for us.

It’s the end of our first real day in Egypt, and I must say I’m enthralled and fascinated with the place. The people are inquisitive and friendly, and our meager (but slowly improving) Arabic is met with patience, not scorn. There exists a certain charm in the rubble-strewn ground, and a kind of electricity that seems to crackle out of the shops and conversations that surround us. I’m not under the illusion that every day will be as easy or fun as this, but as far as first days go in a place where few speak your language, one could certainly do immeasurably worse.

Tomorrow is our first day of teaching training. Photos and
More updates to come!

our first day!

26 September, 2009

I wrote this last night in my room where i don’t have wifi. I hear the call to prayer outside now.

_____________________________________

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting to see when I landed in Egypt for the first time, but a horizon of tan buildings and dirt piles probably would have been in the top three. I was surprised by my lack of initial astonishment. Sitting in the middle row just takes the fun out of everything. After a 11 hour long flight which consisted of mediocre salmon, my passed out neighbor’s light shining in my face, outside magazine (the photo issue, oooo), Harper’s index and 30 minutes of sleep, Kenny and I were anxious to get picked up and go to Alexandria! The immigration process was fast enough, some people have to wait 2 hours, but for us it took only 20 minutes. They gave us a survey to fill out asking us whether we have or have recently had a fever, diarrhea, sickness, headaches, blablabla. It seemed like a really roundabout way of asking someone if they have swine flu. Maybe once someone is asked how their health is, they’ll come to the realization that they are indeed sick with the h1n1 (aka hiney). Maybe not. Maybe they should do these checks before people get on the plane so there’s no need to quarantine the flu spreader as well as those who he or she may have coughed on. Just an idea.

We took turns taking naps at the international arrival, fighting off the advances of taxi drivers offering us rides for a good price. We told them we were already waiting for someone. “Well, if that doesn’t work out, come find me [toots.]” When the time came for the TEFL international van to come pick us up, we dragged our luggage over to the information booth, the predetermined meeting spot and waited, and waited and waited. “Something doesn’t feel right” Kenny decided to go look for a payphone to call the number of the contact in the program, only to find out that this airport terminal didn’t have payphones. He somehow uses his charm, wit and menial Arabic to find not one but two people that offered to let him use their mobiles to try and figure out this mess. It turned out that the driver was waiting for us at terminal 2, while we were sleepily stumbling around terminal 3. Totally not our fault, we were just told to go to the information desk.

Relieved that the problem was solved, we sat by our luggage and waited and waited AND WAITED AND WAITED until it was 40 minutes after the phone call and Kenny decided that he was going to terminal 2 to see what the problem was. At that moment, a frazzled looking middle aged Egyptian man hustles over to us, waves the “TEFL international” sign at us, drags my 25 kg suitcase at warp speed and beckons for us to follow. We ran past more cab drivers. “Good price!” “Laa Shurkan (Arabic for ‘no thank you’)!” “Taxi!” “NO (New Yorker for ‘get of my way’)!” The van was there, surrounded by other vans, and filled to the brim with other people in the program and their belongings. Thank you Mr. Muhammed Van Driver for not abandoning us, even though we still don’t quite understand why you took 40 minutes to travel across one terminal. Shukran.

The nationality of the other program members ranged from British, Irish, Australian, Canadian, American to oklahomeyan. We shared our life stories and why we decided to do the program. We talked about how little or how much Arabic we knew. We learned dirty phrases in Arabic and shared our token Korean phrases that we’ve picked up throughout life. Driving through Cairo was everything I hoped it would be but better. Everybody honks at twice the rate than in NYC and we kept spotting ridiculous riding situations such as: the motorcycle on the highway with the mother, father and baby; the pickup truck with 10 or so dudes banging on drums and cheering and someone driving a Yugo. Drivers rarely adhered to traffic lanes and pedestrians frequently cavorted between the cars. It was terrifying and hilarious.

Once we got to the final location, we were taken to our rooms and left to unpack for 45 minutes until we met up for dinner. This is probably the largest living space I’ve ever had in my life. It’s a two bedroom with a kitchen (with counter space!), a dining area (with a table!), a living room (with a tv!) and a huge deck (YES!). I have my own room with two beds (I hope no one else moves in), two windows (they’re never closing, because I’ll melt), lots of closet space and a night stand.

Shaima, the lady in charge of residence life here in the palace / factory of English teachers took us around the neighborhood, brought us to a brightly lit restaurant next to a bowling alley and asked us “do you want to eat some real Egyptian food?” yes plz. Mmm

We had a typical Egyptian dish called Kushari which consisted of macaroni, lentils, rice, fried onions, chick peas and tomato sauce with hot sauce and vinegar on the side. It was awesome and tasty and filling and I was ecstatic to finally eat after being done with international planes, trains and automobiles. We wanted rice pudding, but they were all out, so we went a few blocks down to the “cafeteria” to meet up with some other people from the program and eat puddin’!

If only cafeterias in america had all the perks of this one. Cotton candy machines, hookahs, fruit juices, RICE PUDDIN’, go karts, big screen tvs probably showing Turkish music videos, arcade games and chairs you want to melt into after a long day of traveling.

Tomorrow Kenny and I are going to wake up and go to the beach which is a 5 minute walk away from the apartment. There’s also a mall in the area, maybe I’ll wander over there to gawk at things and take pictures. In the afternoon we have orientation which will probably be followed by us frolicking around in the neighborhood. Sunday is when the certification program starts, bringing my extended summer vacation to a victorious end and starting a new chapter of my life called “Setters and Kenny take over Egypt with awesomeness and English”

________________________

UPDATE:

I’m at the computer lab now where they have wifi. There’s a little boy looking up lyrics to all american reject songs and it seems like it’s beautiful outside. If only kenny would wake up and get over here (he’s in the boys dorm, probably still passed out) so we could go to the beach. hmmmmm.

Here are some pictures from my first day!

1. the dudes on drums

2. the view from the back of the van

3. Kushari!

4. a shot from the arcade cafeteria.

Waiting

25 September, 2009

We landed in Cairo about an hour and a half ago. I’m seeing everything through a thin haze of sleep deprivation; I got maybe a half-hour of solid, continuous sleep during the entire 11 hour flight.

Arab businessmen laugh with their friends a few feet from where Im sitting. Set is passed out on a pair of travel pillows. The dress of the women ranges from what one would see on 5th Avenue to veils and gloves so dark you couldn’t see their eyes. The juxtaposition is stark, but everyone seems at ease with it. We keep getting hustled for taxis, and I’m getting used to saying “Laa, shokran.” (That’s “no thanks” for those of you who aren’t pretending to speak Arabic.)

About another hour and 45 minutes til we hit the road for Alexandria. Guess I’ll read the New Yorker (again.)

Edit: the music in the terminal is now a trance remix of the X-files theme song.

Wheels Up

24 September, 2009

I’m writing this on the small screen of my iPod. About 20 minutes ago, we were sitting in our seats, waiting in line to take off. Now, we are over the Atlantic, directly south of New Haven. As there’s no WiFi on the plane, Ill most likely post this when we land and I can leech a signal from somewhere.

In the previous days and weeks, Ive been asked a variant of what’s really the same question: Are you nervous? Are you excited? Has it really sunk in thAt you’re going to Egypt? And in all honesty, those answers were elusive. Of course I was excited, and it follows that the Siamese twin of excitement is fear. But, I never had that moment of dawning enormity about what it is that we are doing. There was no moment where it suddenly hit me, and that surprised me more than anything. I figured it would have been sudden and brutal, and started to entertain hypothetical thoughts about the realizations impact. Inpictured myself surfing and suddenly freaking out, or dropping a cup o coffee and a bagel as I opened a paper.

But it never came.

Not when I got my visa back in the mail, or when my arm was sore froM a battery of travel immunizations. Not when I got my Egyptian pounds and traveler’s checks from AMEX. Not even when we took our seats and the overhead TVs dramatically invoked Allah’s blessing for the flight- in Arabic.

Let’s see how I feel in about 12 hours, when we hit Cairo.

Just past Providence, RI. See ya later, USA!

It begins…

24 September, 2009

We’re sitting in the international terminal at JFK airport, waiting to board our flight to Cairo. 24 hours from now, we’ll be in Alexandria- jetlagged and bewildered, but ready to begin our adventures in Egypt!

Launching!

15 September, 2009

Hi there and welcome to Pyramid Scheming. Rather than rely on mass e-mails to communicate to our adoring friends and fans (now up to 3!) we’ll be using this to detail our adventures living and working in Egypt.

I’m currently writing this in Newport Beach, California, USA. We arrive in Cairo, Egypt the morning of 25 September, and get to Alexandria later in the day. The visas have been obtained, we’ve got our Egyptian pounds, and we’ve even got prescriptions for Tamiflu (hopefully, we won’t need that.)

We will update this blog as much as we can.  Expect photos and ribald commentary!

-K