Monday, September 24, 2012

Challenges, Protests and Games (oh my!)

A difficult post tempered with hilarious pictures…

On my time away from Sunflower Abroad:

Listening intently during game night.
So much has happened since I have last written. Actually, looking at the bigger picture, very little has happened. I have no real journeys or adventures to share. There were no pyramids or camels in my all-Egypt-all-the-time experience. I did not venture into a new part of the city or have a breathtaking cultural excursion. In fact, I realized the not-so-beneficial aspect of having 24/7 access to my classroom. And I enjoyed my walk to and from a little bit less.

A week and a half ago the secondary music teacher decided to leave AIS-West to return to the states. Two weeks into the school year, this sudden departure put us in quite a pickle. Music classes are not the easiest for a substitute because they are so specialized, and these particular music classes were even more specific to the music computer lab. Other discipline, scheduling and space challenges made it a particularly exigent four periods a day. I found myself in my classroom that Friday (the first day of our weekend) planning for each secondary music class, hurried, stressed and flustered, barely given the time to digest that my teaching partner was gone. I tried to make plans for a non-music secondary sub while also coming to the realization that my strength is truly in the elementary classroom. I spent 15 hours over the weekend planning for both the substitute and myself. I think I finally took a breath when KG1 (4-year-old kindergartners) walked into my classroom on Sunday. “This is what I know,” I thought, relieved. And I was happy, even when it was difficult, as long as I was teaching my own students.
Angela holds the current Taboo record with six words.

But my plan time was swept-up with computer issues in the music lab and checking in with the substitute. I am so thankful for her. She handled the unusual placement with extraordinary poise and talent. For this week, she went above and beyond, creating her own plans and working hard to run the classes without my help. Because of that, I am able to help the director with recruitment of a new secondary teacher, participating in interviews and conversations, trying desperately to find the best match.

The general feeling of the entire night.
My respite during these two weeks was literally fun and games. I joined the staff volleyball team and started swimming a kilometer-in-the-water for exercise. Though the activity improved my mood and decreased my anxiety, I still found myself lying awake at night, worried about things I could not control and wallowing in the things I could or should do the next day. I felt as if I lived in a dichotomy, where living in Egypt was doing such great things for me physically, improving my overall health; but another part of me felt as if I was swimming across the pool and with each stroke, I was getting less of a breath than the last. Never did I consider going home, though, nor did I question my decision to come here. I was still sure that I was definitely in the right place.

So I pushed through, and with the help of my extremely supportive principal, the shoulders of a few friends and one amazing substitute teacher, my workload was more manageable this past weekend and I only went into work for one day. Though that feeling is not gone, and the overwhelming aspects of work seem to increase by the week, I have confidence that I can make this work. I am happy when I am teaching, and that is so important.

If I could only get one word correct...

On the protests at the American Embassy:

“I’m fine, Mom.” I said, sighing like a teenager over the phone to my mother. “If I didn’t watch or read the news, I wouldn’t even know the protests are happening.”

"That was the worst round yet." After I got only one word. :-(
The protests are centralized, dying down and in Cairo, and fairly non-violent. The school is very protective and I have every certainty that I will be kept safe. When the embassy sends out an alert to stay away from a certain part of the city, I do. I am in a suburb, very far away from any of the “action” and since I’ve been spending all my time at school, I’m even further removed.

Gene Siskel, the late film critic, once said, “There are no movies that shouldn’t be made, just some that shouldn’t be seen.” The movie that some Egyptians are protesting challenges this quote while also proving its point.

I am staying out of Egyptian politics but I am very much aware of how my Americanness is perceived in this region. And I will say this: most of my fear and frustration is attributed to an idiotic American who made a terrible film. Though I do not condone the violent response of very few people, I do believe that Muslims have a right to be angry and offended. Was their offense directed at the responsible party? No, not especially. The American Government is not responsible for the film, but that is very hard for some Egyptians to understand. However, Cairo is a friendly, safe, welcoming place where I have never once felt in danger and I will not allow the American media to make it sound like Egypt is a country full of extremists. Furthermore, Islam is an admirable religion full of dedication, sacrifice and humility. In my opinion, many “Christians” could learn a lot from the people here, as I already have.

On the game night:

Throughout the blog, you’ve seen pictures from a game night Susan and I hosted this past weekend. We played “Taboo” and “Boutros Boutros-Ghali” (sometimes called, “Celebrity”) and I laughed harder than I have in a long time. Afterwards, we took taxis into Mohandessin, a funky neighborhood on the outskirts of Cairo, to celebrate a friend’s birthday at a somewhat exclusive, techno-crazy club with imported liquor. A good time was had by all.

Yum, yum. Beth's arm.
The people with whom I work are funny, amazing and inspiring teachers that make the difficult times worth it. So between them and my kindergartners, I’m pretty sure I’ll be just fine.

The gorgeous ladies of AIS-West (at least some of them).
Thursday, I leave for the beach. Wait and see how this Kansas girl reacts when she gets around “big water”!

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