the kindness of strangers, 100k races, & visas

Well, I’ve finally contracted my first illness here in Cairo, and fortunately for me it’s a particularly vicious cold. As long as I’m not vomiting in front of a national monument or something, I’m okay with it. This week has been another long one, but with some nice highlights.

We made it through another week of school, and I’ve finally got my 6th graders into a routine. For the past few days, I’ve come in to silence as they diligently work on the Do Now. Be still my heart. The seventh graders, however, cannot seem to grasp the concept of a Do Now. Well into the third week of school, with three weeks worth of coming into class to a Do Now on the board, they still grapple with the idea of doing something and doing it now. I have clarified on numerous occasions the myriad steps involved with the Do Now, which appears to them like some sort of Gordian knot: unsolvable, perplexing. Here is what I have told them.

Step One: Write down the date. (It is written on the board in an easy format: September 29, 2011.)

Step Two: Copy down the Do Now question. (Also written in large letters on the board beneath the words ‘Do Now.’ On this date, the question was, “What is a graphic organizer?”)

Step Three: Write a one-two sentence response to the question. If you do not know the answer, think about it.

You would not believe the amount of questioning and squirming this process yields. “Miss, do I have to copy the question?” “Miss, should I write the answer?” “What should I do when I’m done writing the question?” “What’s the date?” “When am I supposed to do this? Now?” “What if I don’t know the answer?” “This is going to waste a lot of paper.”

I then ask fellow classmates to raise up their notebooks so all the environmentally conscious seventh graders can see that every Do Now comprises about four lines in the notebook, and when it is complete, students skip one line and write the next day’s Do Now beneath the previous day’s. This is not difficult. Many of the students use their rulers – they love rulers – to draw unnecessary but neat lines separating the Do Nows. I praise these kids while the others eat up my patience. After the third girl asked me if she should answer the question, I finally lost it and said, “No, you should just stare at it.” Sarcasm is also lost here in Egypt, but my 10th graders get it, thank God.

This is exactly how I feel in the classroom almost every day:

And this:

And almost always, this:

Aside from that, I love my 10th graders and my 6th graders, and I do love the grade 7 personalities. They just need to get their act together.

This week, I made a major faux-pas when I went to Vodaphone to put credit on my phone and left without checking my change. I always skim for counterfeit bills (NOTE: there are no $25 notes in Egypt!) but I didn’t count the change. When I got home, I realized he’d shorted me 100 LE, which is a little less than $20 US. Dismayed, I gathered my things to return to the store, preparing for some serious verbal sparring where I’d try to reclaim my lost funds. It was my fault, though, and I was prepared for defeat. We’ve gone to this Vodaphone guy since Day 1, and he’s the only guy that works in the store. Like most Egyptians, his name is Ahmed, and he is a nice man. I did not want to verbally berate Ahmed if he refused me my money, but being broke stoops you to some low levels. As I got my stuff together, Susannah came out of her room on the phone and handed it to me. It was Ahmed, calling to say that he’d shorted me 100 LE and he was so sorry.

I returned to the Vodaphone store and retrieved my lost money, assuring him that it was my fault, but so incredibly grateful that he’d actually called me to return my money. I always want to believe that people are inherently good, but the truth is, many people aren’t. I’ve heard stories of people leaving iPods or money in cabs and never seeing them again, and I’ve seen how people behave toward one another when it comes to items of value or money, so I’ve become somewhat jaded and embittered. I love when I meet people who are the exception to this, and I try to be one myself.

Rugby has been fantastic, and the highlight of some of my longer days. Our touch team lost its early match yesterday but won the second with two incredible tries that involved our faster runners sprinting the length of the pitch. Sick or not, I wore my voice down shouting on the sidelines with Valiha, who shouts much louder and more knowledgeably than I do.

Rugby was especially helpful this week, as payday loomed ahead. Like many events here in Egypt, payday was surrounded in a mist of “inshallahs,” meaning “God willing.” What it really means is “not a shot in hell.” To use the phrase correctly, you must pair it with something that has very little chance of occurring. For example:

Original Sentence: “You will get paid on Wednesday, inshallah.”

Translation: “You will not get paid on Wednesday, or any time this week.”

Original Sentence: “Inshallah, your cat will survive being hit by that truck.”

Translation: “Your cat is going to die.”

Luckily, we’ve become pros at “inshallah” since we arrived here, so when we were told that we were getting paid Wednesday “inshallah,” we knew it wasn’t going to happen. What we didn’t know was how much more complex and impossible getting paid was going to become.

Money arrived in our bank accounts the following day, but we are only able to retrieve the Egyptian portion of our payment if we walk to the bank and withdraw it. We cannot transfer money into our American bank accounts because we have no routing number. We cannot withdraw money from ATMs here because we don’t have pins. Why not, you ask? Oh, because they’re on the way. They’ll be here in 5-7 days…inshallah. Translation: You are not getting a pin. Once the pin fails to arrive by FedEx – why a pin number needs to be FedExed anywhere is beyond me – we are responsible for harassing the bank via telephone and requesting a tracking number, so we can see where the pin has gotten waylaid, like it’s stopped for a weekend in Dahab or something.

And to magnify the frustration, there’s the issue of work visas. Prior to the revolution, visa policies – residence, work – were pretty lax. But now that the country is unstable, they’re cracking down on tourist visas. So a 30 day visa isn’t going to cut it anymore.

No one did anything for us until a few of us made some noise. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, as they say. So on Thursday, we were taken to the Embassy to wait on work visas. At the Embassy, we played a game called ‘Spot the Computer,’ which we all lost. There was no computer in sight. The best way to describe the Embassy is to reference that scene in Beetlejuice when they’re in the waiting area in the afterlife. Take a number, sit and wait for the slow receptionists to call you up. We sat for an hour waiting in a hot room cooled by one fan in the corner while embassy workers processed our papers over coffee and snacks. Some just sat there, looking bored. We were told our passports would be ready at the end of the day.


For once, they were ready for us, and we excitedly scanned the pages for our work visas. Instead, we found temporary residence visas that expired anywhere from November 27 to December 3. In bold print, it states “Not permitted to work.” The workers from the school smiled at us happily, as if saying, “See? We told you we’d come through!”

So as I said, running 15 laps around the track was a welcome end to a long day. Finally, on another uplifting note, there’s a 100k run here in November called the Pharonic Run. You get into teams – from 1 person to however many – and split up the mileage amongst yourselves. Judson set me up with a team from his school, but they’ve got 8 people now so I decided to ask some rugby girls last night at Pauline’s party and recruited Sarah, Liddy, and Sofia. If we can get one more, we’re set for our own team. I was really thrilled at how easy it was to recruit people.

“Do you like to run? Yes? Want to join the team?”

Sarah and Sofia run at around my pace, as I’ve noticed from practices, and Sarah told me to ask Liddy. It would be hard to turn down, anyway. It begins at Fayoum and ends at the Sakara pyramid, and I’ve been told it gets cooler in November. One person starts running while the rest of us hang out in a van and meet the person at his/her stop (whether it’s after 3 miles or 6 or whatever) and then the next person gets out and runs. We’re getting picked up at 2am or something crazy like that, but it’s bound to be a fun day, and I’m beyond stoked for it.

And now to continue a super relaxing Saturday afternoon : )


Categories: Egypt

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