A Travellerspoint blog

An unexpectedly cold winter

overcast 14 °C
View The move to Egypt on lucid's travel map.

How I gloated when I said goodbye to my friends in Taiwan, telling them I was about to move to the land of eternal sunshine. While I sat shivering in the midst of summer in England last year, my dad complained that he was overheating because the temperature had hit 74F (23C). As I went to retrieve the fleece blanket off my bed, I thought about walking round my new apartment in Egypt wearing shorts and a T-shirt while the hot sun beat on the sandy roads outside.

Of course when I arrived in Egypt last August my experience was all that I had imagined. It was hot (but not unbearable) and sunny every day. The only uncomfortable part of being in Egypt was having to wear modest clothes in order to avoid unwanted attention form the locals. As hot as I was wearing a T-shirt that covered my shoulders and trousers below the knee, I wouldn't have felt right in shorts and a spaghetti strap top. It's funny how your perspective changes when you're no longer a UK tourist fresh off the boat in the foreign country.

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Well that was 6 months ago and now it's winter in Egypt. I came back from a very cold Christmas in England to a grey and chilly Al Rehab. I had expected Egypt to be a hot country all year round but temperatures have been regularly getting down to 8 or 9 degrees Celsius recently. As I sit here in a T-shirt, Hoody, Trousers and warm socks in my living room, the sky is covered in clouds and the temperature will probably struggle to hit 16C today. I'm not complaining, I'm just surprised and perhaps also relieved that this country doesn't offer fantastic weather all year round. It certainly makes the thought of leaving the place eventually easier to bear. Ironically enough, Taipei is 5 degrees hotter today than Cairo, but of course there it's raining! :)

So what is going on in Al Rehab during winter?

The pools at the sports club are closed, everyone is walking / driving around in thick winter coats, the food court restaurants have screens round their outside areas to shelter customers from the wind, and children seem to stay in doors more after school. That is except for the days when Egypt are about to play in the African Cup! Then the grassy areas between apartment buildings become a serious football training zone with all the local children joining in to play.

Burn's Night

The Caledonian Society at my school organised a late Burn's Night Supper last weekend for about 30 people, hosted at the principal's villa. Normally a celebration held in Scotland, this year there were a number of people invited with a connection to Scotland or Ireland. I'm not a Scot and I don't really remember the Burn's Night suppers I had while at University. But having lived in Scotland for 9 years it did bring back some memories of songs and poems I struggled to understand let alone teach to the local Scottish kids at my school in West Dunbartonshire. It was a nice atmosphere, being around teachers from my school in Egypt, listening to amusing speeches and renditions in old Scots dialect, eating Scottish food and seeing various members of staff drunk on Ballantines Whiskey.

Chinese Culture Week

This is the first year I won't have spent Chinese New Year in Taiwan for 3 years. While living in Taiwan I saw the move from year of the pig, to rat to ox and I feel a bit strange that I won't get to see the wood carvings, and tacky decorations for the year of the tiger, especially since it's the coolest animal in the Chinese zodiac. Strangely enough, there is going to be a Chinese Culture Week in Al Rehab starting tonight, at a location less than 5 minutes walk from my apartment, so I 'm looking forward to drinking some good tea and reminding myself why I'm considering a move to China after leaving Egypt.

Posted by lucid 08:34 Archived in Egypt Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

A night at the Cairo Opera House

Tosca by Puccini

semi-overcast 22 °C
View The move to Egypt on lucid's travel map.

My first trip to the opera came courtesy of my student's mother, who works for the Cairo Opera House. I have always liked the idea of being a fan of opera, since it implies a certain amount of culture, wealth and a good musical ear. I didn't really know if I fit in to any of these categories but I was pretty excited about going anyway. The Opera House is in Zamalek, in downtown Cairo and takes (on a good traffic day) about an hour to drive there from Al Rehab. We now have a regular taxi driver, recommended by my school, who charges fixed prices and will collect us from wherever we are dropped off with an hour's notice. Due to the hectic Cairo traffic, our taxi driver waited for us for nearly 4 hours and the round trip fare was only 145LE.

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The Cairo Opera house is a large and modern building, built by the Japanese to replace the former opera house, which burned down 40 years ago. We struggled to find the way into the Main Hall area because there was no grandiose entrance like I was expecting. There is a dress code (more for men than women) of a shirt, tie and jacket but I did see many 'foreigners' (i.e. Europeans) at the end of the opera exchanging ties for their passports, so the Opera House does try to accommodate the patrons who didn't read the back of their tickets.

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The Opera House has a regular rotation of operas, with a mixture of local and overseas performances. I went to see Puccini's Tosca. I had read the Wikipedia synopsis but struggled a little to get into the story. Luckily I was able to make frequent reference to the synopsis in the program on the night. I enjoyed the whole experience of being in the perfectly-sized pink opera house. I was sitting only 3 rows back from the orchestra pit, level with the stage. While the clarity and volume of the orchestra was perfect, some of the performers (including the female lead) were too quiet and didn't have the strength of voice to be heard over the accompanying music. The lead male (playing Mario) had a really pleasant and good voice but 'Tosca' (played by some aging, unattractive and overweight Egyptian woman) could not produce any power during the subtle and low notes and had too much vibrato in the higher notes. I realised this more so after researching different versions of the opera on Youtube.

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My overall feeling by the end of 'Tosca' was that I was still a little out of touch with the genre of opera but I did enjoy it nonetheless.

It has only been 4 days since I went to the opera but since then I have had an insatiable need to listen to songs from Tosca. Although I have to add that the versions I love are performed by much more impressive singers than the Cairo Opera Company. Next time I attend an opera at the Cairo Opera House I hope to be one of the informed listeners, who knows when the famous solos are coming, and when to applaud!

Posted by lucid 07:15 Archived in Egypt Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

A warm November morning

29 °C
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One thing that can be said for the part of Al Rehab where I live, is that the atmosphere is peaceful. There is the occasional very noisy truck, motorbike delivery man or child screaming from one of the balconies above, but for the most part it is nice and calm. I've been on my own today and have had a chance to reflect on things a little. As I opened the shutters to another sunny day in Egypt I felt like it was the first day of summer in the UK.

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The birds were singing, the trees and bushes were blowing gently in the breeze and the sun shone through the window, casting a swirling iron shadow across the room. I tried to clean the windows today to make the view clearer but realised that it's only possible to clean one side and that the outside will always be covered in sand. It's easy to forget how quickly this city would be reclaimed by the desert, if the sprinklers stopped working and the trucks didn't spray water on the roads to minimise dust. Despite feeling like I'm in a UK summer I realised that it's actually the 7th November today, only a month and a half until Christmas! I absolutely love the weather out here! It's predictably good and even the colder days have a pleasant freshness in the air. I went for a walk round my block to take some photos of the flowers, birds and a section of pathway we now call 'cat alley' because it's the favourite meeting place for the local cats and kittens. I'm not sure if the photos do it justice but I think it's lovely where I live.

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Posted by lucid 04:24 Archived in Egypt Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Probably the best teaching job in the world!

Well at least in my world!

28 °C
View The move to Egypt & The Big Trip & Weekend in Hong Kong & Boracay & Taiwan on lucid's travel map.

After a two year break from primary teaching I was a little nervous to take on what I considered to be a stressful and overbearing job in an environment where I didn't entirely fit in. That's what teaching represented while I still lived in Scotland, thanks to my demoralising probationary year experience. I felt like I was useless at teaching and didn't hold the necessary telepathic skills to work out what the management wanted from me.

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Teaching in Taiwan gave me a new set of issues with management. However, I learned that other people's incompetence is often the root of my problems, because I seem to be transparent in my recognition of useless people. During my second year in Taiwan I really started to feel that I had information, skills and experience that made me pretty good at doing the best by my kids. I managed to get all of my work done over my lunch breaks and a bit of time after school, my kids were learning and things ran relatively smoothly from week to week and month to month. I liked teaching the baby class. They were tiring but cute and I think I'll always miss our daily 'cuddle time'. I have memories of Max giggling, Sean pinching all the way up my arm with his fingers and Ryan drying the dribble off his mouth with a tissue before giving me a kiss on the cheek. It was nice to work in a country where it's OK to care about your students and be able to show it.

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The one thing I did lack in my job as nursery teacher was mental stimulation. I tried to make more out of my job than was there just to keep my brain active. The kids were just too young to have a conversation of more than 3 words with and my Chinese co worker (who I loved to work with) did not have much English either. I didn't understand how teachers had stayed at the school for as many as seven years, doing the same thing year in year out. So when it came to planning the next move abroad, I only considered International Schools as an option. I knew that the overseas package was good, and fantastic compared to that of an ESL teacher but I was also looking forward to taking on the challenge of Primary teaching again.

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Now I'm three weeks into teaching at an International school in Egypt and I'm not only enjoying the job but I feel like I'm thriving at the school. It's been so easy to fit in and all of the teachers are welcoming, friendly and helpful. There is a completely different atmosphere at this school compared to the ones I taught at in Scotland (and I have around 12 to compare it to!). It's not to say that there isn't moaning and aspects that are logistically frustrating but I just like being there and my class is full of enthusiastic, well behaved and nice 9 year old kids! Planning is done collaboratively and everyone helps each other out. It's a long school day (7.30am - 3.30pm) but I have quite a few free periods each day which means that I teach for about the same amount of hours as I would in the UK but I manage to get most of my work done in the school day. No-one stays past about 4.30pm and most leave shortly after the school bell at 3.30pm so there's no guilt about having a life outside of work!

So my feeling after living here for 2 months and teaching the kids for 3 weeks is that this is probably the best teaching job I have ever had. I hope I continue on in such high spirits through the rest of the year!

Posted by lucid 09:16 Archived in Egypt Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

1st week at the zoo!

sunny 32 °C
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School started last Sunday and for the first two days the children were quiet and unassuming but I'm starting to see their personalities coming out gradually. I like most of them and especially like the 'naughty' boy so I may have a better route into dealing with any problems if they occur. Right now he's behaving as well as anyone else and it's only his track record that's the issue. The level of English is very good amongst most of the pupils but it's amusing listening to them explain complicated ideas with a restricted vocabulary. I have been quite surprised by the extent of their Arabic speaking in class though. I think I'm going to start punishing them pretty frequently for it.

School this week has been a bit hectic but not nearly as bad as I would have expected. I've been away from Primary teaching for a few years now but I've realised that it doesn't really matter who or what you teach because the basic organisational aspects are the same. Some days I have a pretty good timetable, with enough free periods to get things done but Thursday, the last day of my week is a bit of a killer, with only 1 free period out of 10! The early mornings are also hitting me hard. I'm up at 6.10am each day, get to school around 7am and leave at 4pm. I haven't needed to take marking home with me and I'm going to try to maintain that.

The government's fear of a swine flu epidemic kept us off school for a month and starting from this Saturday we're having to work 6 day weeks to make up some of the time until Christmas. All of my children have assured me that they will be in school on Saturday but we'll see how long they keep it up!

As expected, the long days at work leave little time to do anything in the evenings. Al Rehab seemed a little boring when we had lots of idle time but now I look forward to the opportunity to sit at the outside food court with a coffee, to chat to my friends, the other new teachers, whom I never see during the school day! I am happy here and I am grateful that school is only a pleasant, ten minute walk away, through the apartment buildings. The only thing I'm struggling with a little is the wave of discontent among other teachers. We all come here from different places and with different expectations but I've always tried to steer clear of people who moan for moanings sake. Right now I'm trying to avoid all negativity because I will be staying here for 2 years regardless of any gripes and I'm keen to be happy and stay positive. We''ll see if I'm still saying the same thing after a few months!

Posted by lucid 00:02 Archived in Egypt Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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