Teaching in Egypt: A Possible Flashback to the Cold War Era

I have to disrupt my little “Shar in Egypt” series to post a brief update about a memorable teaching experience I had today. Let me preface this by saying I am not hurt or in danger.

I was giving a vocabulary test to my seventh graders during eighth period when it happened. My patience was already wearing thin because a test that should’ve taken five minutes was taking twenty-five, and the students who had finished it with efficiency were looking bored.

The miraculous silence was suddenly pierced by a staccato voice on some microphone outside. Now, the call to prayer usually sounds twice during the school day, but I knew for a fact this was not the call to prayer. I didn’t think anything of it – and how could I really, when the announcement was being broadcast in Arabic – until my students’ heads raised in unison and each face shared the same look of terror.

“Miss!” cried one horrified looking child in the back. “There is a plane!”

Suddenly, the rest of them couldn’t contain themselves and began shouting, drowning out the rest of the announcement and each other.

“A plane is coming!”

“Bomb!”

“Bomb! There are bombs on the plane!”

Torn between confusion and the possibility of death, I attempted to quiet them and finally succeeded in allowing one student to speak.

“Miss, it said that a plane is going to fly over us that has bombs in it!”

I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do in this type of situation. It’s difficult to be logical when you have no idea what the announcement just said and your students look genuinely panicked. My immediate response was to stand unmoving at the front of the classroom with a look of incredulity on my face.

“What?” I asked dumbly.

“We’re not joking,” pleaded one girl, calling out over the sounds of two of her classmates dragging their desks away from the window.

“Okay, relax,” I continued unsuccessfully. “Don’t you think if it were a threat that someone would come and notify us?”

“But we’re right by the windows! Not everyone could hear the announcement!” she cried.

This was a fairly valid argument. Still, glancing out the window into the hallway, I didn’t see anyone coming to warn us and I wasn’t exactly sure what to do. I looked back at the class, uncertain.

One student had crawled underneath his desk and another was getting ready to do the same. The sight of this made me want to burst out laughing, but instead I asked one of my more mature students to go down the hall and find out exactly what the announcement said. I instructed the other student to get back to his seat and managed to maintain a shaky quiet again until the girl returned with a disgusted look on her face.

“Ms. _____ said it was a joke.”

This was not the answer I was expecting, and I, too, shared her disgust.

“A joke?”

“Miss, it’s not a joke!” called out the frightened student in the back, who looked ready to cry.

“They’re just saying that so we don’t get scared,” a perceptive student added. I’m not sure how I managed to get them back on track, but I did. As I stood there, I felt a mixture of fear and frustration. It didn’t seem logical to broadcast that kind of information to a school, and it was incredibly frustrating to be left out of the loop. Kids are known to exaggerate; they hear choice words and react to them, ignoring much of the rest of a message. But still, despite sending a distressed student out for information, no one bothered to stop by and fill me in.

Five minutes later, a low plane flew overhead and a few students instinctively jumped away from the window while some called out, “The plane!” I stood rooted to the spot, still pretty scared, unconvincingly assuring them that planes fly over the school all the time. (They do, though.)

When the bell rang, I spoke with the girl I’d sent out of the room.

“What exactly did that announcement say?” I asked her.

“It said that a plane was flying over us that was carrying bombs,” she said. “I don’t know why anyone would joke about that.” I agreed.

I’m still not sure why the message was even relayed. What would be the point of alerting us if we were about to be bombed? Why would it be necessary to explain that a plane flying over us had bombs on board? I like to think I’m observant enough to know if I’m being bombed.

No one mentioned the announcement between the time it happened and the time I boarded the bus, leading me to believe it really was some sort of mild alert that the kids misconstrued but really, I sometimes think I’d prefer copier jams to this stuff.

Categories: Egypt

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