Man the Ramparts

22 October, 2009

Sorry for the lack of updates lately. After a whirlwind (some might say frenzy) of activity, things are winding down with our certificate program. We spent the entire last week doing teaching practice sessions, in which we were tasked with developing the content and materials for a series of hour-long lessons. Generally, we would start work around 9 am, prep our lessons until around 3, then teach, observe and head home around 9pm. Without boring everyone with a lot of mundane details, I’ll just summarize some more of the interesting points:

1. During an advanced conversation class, I had some students present on what they thought were issues of global importance. One group picked drug policy, and had to articulate the problem and present a solution. During the Q&A period, one member of the other group basically started a drug legalization debate. I never expected that from a group of fairly devout Muslim students, but I must say it made for a rather excellent debate.

2. I thought I was going to have to break up a fistfight between two of my students over a game in which students raced to the board to write down words.

3. I taught a kid named Flopatere.

4. Again, I taught a kid named Flopatere.

Set will undoubtedly chime in with her own observations at some point soon, but I think we’re both glad to put the certificate course behind us and work on finding jobs and really starting our Arabic training in earnest.

Despite the teaching, we’ve had time to explore Alexandria a bit more. Last weekend, we visited the famed Library of Alexandria and spent the day wandering about the city. There are few words that can describe how enormous and awesome this place is- I’ve long held that libraries are humanity’s single greatest accomplishment (just think of all those ideas and knowledge available, free for anyone), but this was something else. I had a hard time controlling my drool flow when the guide told us about the open reading area that could accomodate up to 2,000 people, the specially designed noiseproof windows, or the space for 8 million books available on the library’s many floors.

Especially cool were the various exhibits sprinkled throughout the building. I especially enjoyed the one about Alexandria’s history- there’s a painting that depicts Napoleon invading the city, replete with the general standing calmly amidst artillery explosions and dozens of dying men. However, a caption next to the painting explained that the actual conquest of Alexandria involved the death of less than 50 people, and, as far as urban combat goes, the entire campaign seems to have been a rather sundry affair.

On the lower level next to the Planetarium is an entire exhibit dedicated to Nasser. This was really interesting- they had all kinds of his personal effects (including philosophical musings that he thoughtfully transcribed into English as well as Arabic) and documents he signed as Egypt’s president. The exhibit closes on a somber note- the last thing you see is a display case with the uniform he wore the day he was shot, torn and stained with his blood.

As if the Nasser memorial wasn’t a somber enough reminder of life’s precarious nature, we got stuck in traffic for a half hour because someone got killed while trying to cross the Corniche. Again. This marks the fifth dead person myself and my classmates have encountered in the 4 weeks we’ve been here. The worst part about this one was that they died less than 200 feet from a safe, underground crosswalk. I can’t speculate as to why someone would choose to dart across 8 lanes of free flowing, frenetic traffic, but were it me, I’d take inconvenienced over dead any day of the week, thanks.

Anyhow, back to happier things.

After our trip to the library, we went to Quatbay- an enormous castle/fortress perched on a narrow isthmus that extends out into the sea. There was a big international festival going on, so we stopped by and spent a few hours scampering about the ramparts and finding shade as we watched traditional Arab dancers. It was a pretty cool experience, and the enormity and picturesque setting of the fortress made it that much more… authentic, for lack of a better word. All I could think of was that if I was 4 years old, I’d be swordfighting against invisible pirates/skeletons/other assorted villains with a souvenir plastic scimitar my folks would have bought to keep me occupied- it was that cool and picturesque.

Tomorrow, we start our full-on Arabic training. I’m very excited to start it, but I wish some of our newly certified friends who left yesterday were still around. Hope you guys are doing well, wherever you may be!

Ps bonus points to whoever gets the title of this entry.

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2 Responses to “Man the Ramparts”

  1. laura nisbet said

    …um, does the title have anything to do with your fantasy of fighting off the bad guys with your imaginary scimitar at the fortress?

  2. Katie said

    I’m going to need some details about these traditional Arab dancers, por favor!

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