Yalla Masr. Mish bekya hena.

1 February, 2010


“Yalla”  = Let’s go! Also heard as “Yalla bey-na!”

Masr = Egypt

Mish Bekya Hena = There are several guys that go around our neighborhood with pushcarts yelling “BEKYA. BEKYA. BEKYA.” What do they want? They want your junk. Don’t ask me what they do with it. I’m just waiting for a contemporary trash art museum to open one day with an ornate display of Egyptian rubbish. Mish hena means “not here,” so Mish Bekya Hena = There is no trash here.


I definitely don’t have anything as elaborate as Kenny’s thesis paper on how life at Quds made us go insane, but I thought I’d drop in and say hello. Hello!

This past month has been pretty insane. We moved from Agami to the Amideast villa and will soon be moving to another apartment in the Roushdy / Kafr Abdo-ish neighborhood. Basically, we’re gonna be staying in the same neighborhood as amideast, which will be good for us since we’ll just be able to prance over to work 15 minutes before class starts and not worry about taking any kind of transportation.

What can I say about Quds that Kenny hasn’t already mentioned? Not much, really. I think he summed it up pretty well. I like to think I tried to keep a positive attitude about things while I was there. I’m generally an optimistic person who likes to find the humor in things, but it would definitely be a struggle sometimes when we got yelled at by cab drivers every morning and had to entertain a bunch of children who cared only about getting perfect scores and not about learning.

While I was at Quds, I mostly taught 3rd graders. The class was always referred to by the administration as being problematic because of the extremely variegated English levels of the students. During the famed parent-teacher spectacle, I had parents coming up to me demanding I give more homework because their child’s English was deteriorating and other parents who told me to give less homework because they felt that everything was too difficult for both the student and the parents. The Egyptian education system lacks the ability to give proper attention to students with any sort of learning disabilities. I don’t really have much experience interacting with special needs children so this was a bit of a daunting task. Several of my students had some very obvious emotional and learning disabilities which the administration simply referred to as “cases,” essentially gave up hope on them and just threw them in the class with their age group. I had one student who had been kicked out of a French private school in the area because she was diagnosed with dyslexia. This girl was incredibly bright and it just kind of depressed me to know that they had just give up on her and now at this school, they were taking her parents money, not giving her the attention she needs and calling her a “case” like she’s sub-human or something. Ugh.

I gave one quiz to my students. It was the biggest disaster ever. The quiz took two days for the students to finish (it wasn’t that hard, they just spend 80% of the time whining) and I pretty much spoonfed the answers to them on both days.  Half of my class scored over 95% and the other half scored under 60%. One girl got a perfect score. The day that I gave the results back, ALL of the students started hysterically crying, even the ones that got A+s. I spent the next hour and a half going from student to student saying “Why are you crying? You got an A+” to which the students would just either sulk or say something uber dramatic (and hopefully untrue) like “my parents beat me if I dont get full marks.” One student, who got a 60%, had left half of his quiz blank and started clutching onto me, begging to know why he didn’t get a good grade. I told him that he didn’t even try to answer any of the questions on the readings, even though I knew that he was there for those classes. He told me that he didn’t pay attention because he didn’t like the story. “WHAT CAN WE DO, MISS SET? WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING.” Seriously? I eventually told him that he could take home his exam and fill in the answers for a better grade and when he brought back his exam, it was obviously filled out by an adult. Sigh.

My students were racist and sexist, but maybe that’s just the nature of 3rd graders. Every time I’d do an activity or have students share a book and a boy and a girl were put together, the students (usually just the boys) would be in a foul mood for the rest of their attention span. There was a story that I taught at the end of my time at Quds about a girl whose family is from Ghana and she learns about the Adinkra cloth, a traditional Ghanaian cloth, drinks mocha (Fun fact: Mocha the drink is named after a city in Yemen) and has super happy fun time with her family. I had the students look through the pictures in the book to get a general idea of what we were going to read. Several of the boys immediately protested. “Miss, I don’t like this story.” I asked them how they could say that before even reading the story to which the students replied “I don’t like reading about girls” and “I don’t like her because she’s black.” Later in the class, I found two students passing a note back and forth to each other. I told them that there was no note passing in the class and took the piece of paper away from them. I looked at it later and found that one of the students (the girl who got a perfect score on the quiz), wrote “you are a black and bad boy. Yes / No.” I still have that note. Maybe one day I will scan it for internet amusement.

I’m so happy not to be working there anymore.

Amideast, on the other hand, has been a pretty awesome experience. Kenny and I just finished our first term here and we’re both working on filling out the final paper work as I write this. I taught a level 6, level 11 and a mid level conversation class. I’ve had some awesome conversations with my students and was glad to hear from our boss that nobody had complained about either me or Kenny to the customer service, which is apparently rare for first term teachers. Huray!

Well, I should get back to work, because in a few hours, Kenny, a couple of friends and I are going to head out to the Sinai for a short vacation by the sea! We’re going to Nuweiba, a fairly undeveloped, but very relaxing coastal town where we will stay in a bungalow, wake up to the sounds of waves, go frolicking under a full moon, read a good book or two and decompress after the most ridiculous month ever. When we come back, we’ll start a new term, move into our new apartment, start taking private Arabic lessons, cook awesome food in our big kitchen and take over the world. Yay!

UPDATE: Just in case you’re not up to date with Egyptian football, Egypt won the Africa Cup of nations last night. Kenny got some awesome pictures of the street celebrations. I was in amideast giving finals. Maybe one day I’ll write an entry about how the world stops turning when Egypt plays a football match. Since I’m not much of a sports fan, I feel especially estranged from this feeling. How would your college professor respond if you went up to her and said “Professor, the Raiders are playing today. You have to let me do my oral presentation next week, you don’t understand I AM RAIDER NATION!” Think about it. JUST THINK. JUST DO IT. SPORTS! RAR!


2 Responses to “Yalla Masr. Mish bekya hena.”

  1. laura nisbet said

    Enjoy your trip Set!! You guys deserve it!

  2. Yasmin said

    I came across your blog while I was reading about teaching English overseas. Well I’m Canadian, and I’ve lived in Egypt for 7 years, I went to high school there and about 3 years of college. Egypt does kind of grow on you after awhile, I mean after 7 years, I love it.

    Reading your blog and everything you guys have been through, I laughed really hard not because of the trouble you had to go through but how true it is. An outside reader would only dream of this nightmare, I, my friends can relate to the crazy students because I went to school with them! I can relate to what you’re going through with their racist, obnoxious and humorous ways.

    I’m actually looking for teaching jobs overseas, but trust me, Egypt won’t be one of them. I love it, but only for vacations. Thank you for posting all of this, I am now a follower!

    Hope you guys enjoy the rest of your stay 🙂

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