Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Four days to go

- It's been three days now since my brother has has started saying 'I'll miss you.' He doesn't say it in a tear provoking way, but rather smilingly with a push, a hit, a pinch, a spank, or even a kick. He would keep asking why on earth I was chosen for a grant worth a fortune and what good the committee saw in me although I'm a good-for-nothing-else nerd. I had to disagree with him and tried to convince him with my other perosnal merits, saying that at least he should be grateful I exist because I was the reason why he was exempted from the army service (which he didn't want to do). He responded to this by carrying me in a way I couldn't move at all.

- I've been trying to focus on things I need to keep in mind. A bit overwhelming, but I believe things will be OK and I won't forget too many crucial things, such as taking my ticket.

- I went through my CD's. Wow.. years fly by. I found photos of my cousins and I two years ago. All feels like yesterday.

- I received an e-mail from an ex-student/friend who offered to meet me at the airport. She's saving my life but she doesn't know it, I guess.

- I took a nap this afternoon. When I woke up, boys from my street had hung Ramadan decorations: shiny strips of paper tied to long strong thread and hanging like zigzags between balconies. Only an hour ago, they turned on the 23 lamps (my mom's count) hanging in the middle of the street. It took my breath away. I have many special memories in Ramadan, whether good or bad, they're all special to me and have meanings.

- I'm starting to have butterflies in my stomach, but still know things are going to be alright.

- Reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. Interesting book and easy read. I could relate to her in many things but hope I won't have to spend a year travelling to four different countries in order to find my soul and get in touch with God. I hope I could do that traveling inside my room in New York City or in the eyes and faces of people I'll meet.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Six days to go

- Yesterday? Hmm , what about yesterday.. oh, yeah. I was planning to meet a friend of mine (meeting her today). My mom wanted to see her niece, who is actually only a few years younger than her (rather long to explain) and who lives in another city.
I wanted to actually just be a chauffeur to my parents but you know how difficult it is to say 'No, I don't want to come along' to your mother, especially if you're leaving in less than a week.

I parked the car and went in for around forty-five minutes. There was my cousin and her cousin, my uncle, my parents and myself. My cousin has a daughter my age which makes it obligatory not to use her first name without 'auntie'. Anyways, that's not the issue actually. She is 'pious' and defines herself as someone 'who knows God very well'! That means she's someone who prays on time, goes to small pilgrimage often, wakes up before dawn to catch the morning prayer, and read Quran often. I have to admit I've developed that habit of waiting to see if those who claim to be 'pious' will practice what they preach.

Thirty-five out of the forty-five-minute visit rotated around the husband of my deceased cousin, this cousin's sister. Without going into too much details, it was all backbiting this guy who was not there to defend himself.
In the car..
'Listen, mom. Are you happy about backbiting this guy? So she'd wake up by dawn and pray because 'she knows God well.' This is hypocrisy. It says in Quran we have to pray and I think in the same book it says backbiting is like eating the flesh of your brother and sister. If she's going to do this, there's no need bragging about how well she keeps her prayers.'
'Well, I think you're right. I ask God for forgiveness.'
'Well, I think you actually should. And please tell 'Auntie S to do the same.'

I went home and felt angry with myself for not stepping in to defend the guy and tell them all to shut up.

- Today I spent the morning running errands with my brother. It was a fun morning with him feeling 'high' without taking any drugs. I changed money into dollars and issued traveller's checks. It was amazing to see and hear the employees at American Express talk, joke and call each other names as if I was not a customer standing there. Well, professionalism is nothing but ironed shirts and matching ties.

- In the afternoon, I went to see my friend Yasmine. We've got closer lately although we don't meet up often. She's always been dear to my heart, though. I felt she sincerely cared for me and was excited for my coming up journey.
'I never thought about the veil issue since last time we talked about it,' she said. 'But you crossed my mind the other day when I say my veiled cousin wearing a veil that showed her hair and a pair of trousers that showed most of her calf. To me, at least you're someone who's true to herself rather than putting a piece of cloth on your head when you don't want to.'

- I arrived home and thought about passing by my neighbour to tell her I was travelling soon. I knew she'd be sad to see me leave. I've spent most of my childhood with her two daughter. She didn't look happy so I decided to tell her later. She was cleaning her apartment and looked really tired. There was no one there to help her.
'You know, girl, when I was young, no one gave me good advice. I'm telling you now. Don't have too many kids. One is like two like three like a hundred. You keep carrying their burden till the day you die and no one will actually come and help. Now I thought I'll be happy once the three of them get married. Now they come to visit with their spouses and kids and it's like started all over again. When would I ever get to rest?'
'Auntie, you don't have to. Tell them you're tired. They love you and will understand even if they can't help.'
'I know they would but I'm just tired.'

- I went upstairs. Happy to see my family smile at me.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Eight days to go

- Nothing much today. I had a dentist appointment. I wanted to make sure no major issues will come up as soon as I land. It always happens to me, especially when I don't have dental insurance. I've always gone to this dentist. Let's say he's one of the people I completely trust with my health. He was working and I, as usual, manage to get my message across. I gestured 'book' with my hands and he understood I was asking about the book he once told me he was planning to get published.
'Oh, the book? A couple of friends in the national security police took a look and told me it won't get published and would definitely get me into trouble.'
A year ago, he told me that his book was titled 'Egypt: where and where to' and I remember giving him that look to which he replied, 'I know'.

- I went to a shopping street in Heliopolis. I need a purse. I know, I have what you might think is too many, but I really use one or two of them. I'm giving the rest away. Hopefully it will make that girl happy and ease the peer pressure at university. I've been there.

- One thing I'll never cease to enjoy is taking rides with my brother. He's such a cool company and a great driver. Plus, he always treats me to something for the ride; cappuccino and cookies, ice-cream, a slice of cake, a 7-up can, chewing gum, juice, .. anything ,.. just anything he'd bring will make me smile or even laugh the moment he leaves the shop till her reaches the car. I'll miss that for two years. Maybe more??!

- I haven't bought the gifts for my cousin and his wife, an ex-student, and three friends. I haven't gone through the books I need to take with me. I haven't given time for the things I'll remember last minute. I haven't given time to the family good-bye tour I'll have to make! I haven't bought the medicine I might need there. In Egypt, You can walk into a pharmacy and say 'I need vitamin tablets, a 500 mg anti-biotic, a flu medicine, a bottle of cough syrup, and a deodorant' and you'll get all of them easier than you'd get a loaf of bread at the supermarket. I know it's not the case in the US!

Oh, when am I going to start doing all this? Probably while the airplane is being checked for take-off. Don't worry, I'm good at deadlines. That's how I got the scholarship.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Nine days to go

- Went out for a lunch invitation at an Egyptian colleague's house. By house I mean a duplex. She's got a beautiful place in a quiet neighbourhood.
It was all females except her husband. He's a ... a ... hmmm.. nice? no .. quiet? .. not sure .. old? not too old, he's only 52. After a couple of minutes of awkward silence, a conversation somehow started by him asking each one of us what her sign was. Well, excuse me, but this is really one of my least favorite subjects. So, let's say I switched off, although tried to show some interest out of politeness. I just don't see the point of analyzing people based on their signs to know how to deal with them or to decide not to deal with them.

Anyways! So he's 52 and she's 35. Seventeen years of difference? They both said they don't feel it and I do believe them because she's happy. The interesting part was that they met, got engaged and got married in 21 days. Yes, three weeks to make that decision when she was 31 years old. She admits it was crazy, but good crazy. 'It was meant to be,' she said.

So, after lunch, we sat in the living room as the husband went into the TV room to watch football. That makes it:
me and the hostess, (you already know about us),
an engaged 27-year-old girl who was on the phone for most of the gathering (fighting with her fiance or with the tailor),
a 35-year-old girl who thinks men are all "b&^%$#@*" (I insisted she had an issue with Egyptian men and told her she should come to the US where I'll try get her an American, she agreed),
a divorced woman who thinks her marriage failure is her responsibility as well (wrong choice and rushed marriage), and
a 31-year-old British girl who was trying hard to catch up with the loud laughter and gossip of Egyptian women.
In the background there was the maid in the kitchen, enjoying our conversation.

We talked about, well, men, of course, marriage, relationships, and people at work. There wasn't a lot of dirty talk in there, since we were not best friends. Just slight allusions with everyone laughing out loud every now and then.

- I keep thinking about the trillion things I'd like to do in NYC. I just don't know where to start. I also hope that the Egyptian educational system hasn't left too terrible of an effect on me that I end up spending more than 85% of my stay there working or studying. I honestly think I've spent enough time of my life looking at coursebooks and it's about time I started doing more of the things I've never done. I know, I know ... I'm on a scholarship, but that's how I feel now. What's wrong with a B?! Does it always have to be an A??!! I think a B plus more personal experience is worth the A. Don't you think so too?

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Ten days to go

Went to the pool in the swimming morning. What? I mean I went to the swimming pool in the morning. Apart from the LOUD music in the background, it is a cool place to spend the weekend at. I got up at 9.30 a.m., started thinking about you. I picked my friend up at 10.30, grabbed coffee and sandwiches from a regular place, and drove off to a Cairo suburb. I had to go to university to collect some money and then to the bank inside to close my bank account.

I got changed and plunged into the water. Wish you were there to take pictures of me, although it sometimes irritated me, but not a lot, I've come to realise. My friend had magazines with her, Cosmo and More. I read about men's fertility, food cravings, women's sexuality, and saw a photo of Julia Roberts, 41, in her bikinis showing her after pregnancy and delivery abs. It's interesting to see her self-confidence. I sincerely hope she's as happy as she said she was in this article. Why did she tell me about the colleague who had a 'little' crush on me. That wasn't wise.

Is it the right thing to do to move on? I think it is. Why is it so difficult to let go? Is it the past we had or the hope for some future? Well, I think it's expected I feel depleted now. I also think it's only fair to let your partner know how you feel and what you want to do. But honestly, I do not know what I want to do now. I have no idea what the new me would be like. I have no clue what to expect in New York. Why is so hard to believe me, to believe that I'm under a lot of pressure, leaving in ten days to a whole new world. I'm not overreacting. I'm trying hard to leave home with the smallest weight on my shoulders. I know I might be wasting a chance, but that's life I guess, things don't always happen the way we want them to. He had all the time he needed to get 'ready', now doesn't see the point of me saying I'm not 'ready', and actually thinks I'm being 'stupid', one of the many things people never said about me.

I wish we could start all over again.

I'm thirty now. Too old to stay with your family any longer, and yet too late for them to hear me say 'Sorry, guys, I can't live with you any more because I need to find myself, that person that you and society have been trying to shape .' Your parents are old enough to need you and now you decide to go. Well, it's one life after all, isn't it? You need to make a choice sometimes. It's a shame when you're not so young any more to allow yourself to make as many mistakes as you want. A friend of mine once told me he wanted his sister to start dating early so that she makes mistakes while she was still young. I never got his point as much as I do now.

I changed my e-mail password to something suitable for the mood of moving to NYC.

My friends are already making fun of the accent I haven't even started recognising. One of them said 'I'll come meet you and we'll have kwofee in Noo Yoik.'

On the drive back to Cairo, traffic was a bit heavy. My friend and I talked about how hard it is to be in a relationship and try to accept to live with someone after you've experienced being on your own for so long. The sound of my brother's fingers frantically playing a computer games irritates me. How would you put up with many things like that in a partner? How is he going to put up with mine?
'Don't they get bored?' I asked.
'I guess they do,' she said. 'But I guess it starts to get really boring the moment they think everything is OK and nothing needs working on. That's when the relationship dies. And still they can live together and give it a try before getting married.'
'See, that's not always an option for every couple.'
We went on talking about why people get married, why others never do, and whether it's a person's right to say, after years of marriage, 'I'm sorry honey, I just met this person and have found true love. I have to go.' She said she was cheated on by a boyfriend and I said I was scared it'd happen to me one day. We talked about having children. My friend would adopt if she doesn't have kids by the age of 35.

I haven't told my grandma I'm leaving. I think she'll pray for me and not cry. I think I would.

It's 1.08 a.m. Still thinking ... about you and the whole thing. You see what I mean?

Tuesday, 11 August 2009


Receiving a phone call from a number you don't know at 10.45 pm on your mobile phone as an Egyptian female is something that a family like mine is not used to. However, they stopped expecting me to say who was phoning 'late' after a small to-do that once took place.

- Hello?
- Hi. Did you post an e-mail selling some books?
- Yes.
- I wanted to ask about 'Fe-mail'. Is it good?
Voice not clear.
- It's in a great condition. Like new.
- I mean is it good as a book?
- I did enjoy it. It's written by an Egyptian called Amy telling her experience as an Egyptian female. I found it interesting.
- How much are you selling it for?
- I think LE 15, bought for LE 50.
- Do you speak Arabic?
- I do.
- Ana Amy.
- What do you mean? You're Amy Mowafi?
- Yes, my friends forwarded me your number from the e-mail you sent out. They're teasing me because you're selling my book.
- Well, it's good to receive your call. Tell your friends I've read the book and enjoyed it but I can't take all my books while travelling.
- I will. It's just funny .... (voice not clear. I could only recognize her laughter)
- Well, Amy. I'm so happy you phoned. I could relate to many things in your book. You've got style as well. Keep up the good work.

In the book, she talks about her life. She was once married when very young and she got divorced. The book ends as she meets a nice guy. I remembered all this when she hung up. I wanted to know how it went with Mr Romantic who took her on a trip to Morocco.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Stop it!

Hmmm.. it's hot in here. Turn a/c on. No, my brother has a cold. Pfff.. OK. Sleep a bit more then. No, no, you're not thinking that now. Sleeeep!

Oh, good morning. It's still hot. Alright. Off bed. Let's have a good day. What shall I wear today? No, you're not thinking about it any more. Stop it! It's either you say what you want on the spot or you shut the hell up later..., forever! If you're too nice, fine, stay the same till one day you become 'nice' only without 'too'.

A week ago, I spent two days eating things that are not the least related to each other. My stomach decided to punish me and gave me a sore spot on my lip. To get rid of it, a friend of mine suggested a home remedy recipe.
"Warm half a cup milk and add half a spoon of yeast to it, stir," she said. "Drink it on empty stomach. It should wash your it. I always drink this every morning. It's great for your skin, specially your face." Because I've heard the same advice from two different sources, my mom and my future sister-in-law, I decided to follow it. It's been three days now since I started this habit. The only good change I've noticed is that this half a cup fills me up in the morning. My mom says yeast is full of vitamin B. Let's hope it is... What's all this blabbering about? Why is that important anyway? Stop it!

I received a message from a colleague/friend. We're going to go for lunch or coffee after work. I texted to say I was on my way to work.

The office was busy. It's a non-teaching day, i.e. people are less busy and have more time to chat.

Back to my computer. Still in a bad mood. Can't get what you said off my head. Enter the grades into the system. It's funny how you see students' faces when you see their names. Thirsty. I went on the balcony to get some water.
'Hey, Dan.'
'Hey, how's everything? Have you sorted everything out for New York?' he said in his Yorkshire accent.
'Yes, all set.'
'You'll have a blast. I went their on holiday and I had a great time.'
'I just wish my stipend would allow me have some fun.'
'You can do it. Go with the locals. You know there are cheap stuff there as well. You can even get a message on the street. There is this authentic Chinese tents where you walk in and get a message just like you do in China.'
'Interesting.' I wondered how he manages to get China in every single conversation. He worked there for a while.

Back to work. Starting to feel nervous about the goodbyes. I have to go tomorrow to the traffic department, and get an international license application. Not that I plan to drive there, but just in case.

'Will you be around for a while?'
'No, Caroline. I'm off in half an hour or so. Do you need anything?'
'No, I just thought I should give you this in case I come back from lunch and don't see you. I'm terrible at goodbyes, so I'll see you later, maybe?'
'Me, too.' We kissed and she handed me a card.

Dear N., my neighbour and friend for many years. (the card had a picture of two camel riders in the desert and had a note that this is how Scotland may have looked liked 250 million years ago)
Hope you have a wonderful time in NYC - I know you're going to love it. Do pass on my best wishes to Brad should your paths cross_tell him there's a spare room awaiting him in Cairo if he ever gets fed up with that witch Angelina. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for you on CSI NooYoik - I insist you try to get some exstras' work while you're there (pass on my best to Gary Sinise too: Mac Taylor - wot a hunk!)
Lots of love, x
Keep in touch. Caroline.

The same card has Carline's boyfriend words as well. He's, .. was, my line manager.

Have a whale of a time in the Big Apple. Sad to see you go but reckon you'll love it and end up staying there for years 'n years. Ant x.

See, this is what I'm talking about. I hate goodbyes. I went with my friend to the shopping mall. I needed .. nothing much really. I just needed to be out. I left work without saying any more goodbyes. I sent a thank you e-mail to all staff. A colleague is arranging a farewell party at her place on Friday. So that should be enough of getting emotional.

Stop it. We've discussed it enough.

I need to send my photo to school to get me ID issued by the time I arrive. I also need to buy a cardigan for the new dress.

At Beano's Cafe. My friend was feeling a bit down as well. I asked her what was wrong and she said 'Nothing, today at work Iman and Rob were back from holidays. They look so fresh. I'm really knackered.'
'You're off soon, starting your new career as a nurse. Only three more weeks of being a teacher and that's it.'
'I know. I just feel lonely when I see couples. Plus, Iman always looks glamorous and I'm actually feeling ugly these days.'
'Will you stop it? Why would you say that? You are NOT ugly. Choose a handsome guy and I'll go ask him if he'd like to have coffee with you.' She laughed out loud. 'You see, you can laugh. That's not ugly. Plus, if Iman is glamorous, that's good for her. It should not affect you.'
'I know,' she sighed. If only she knew why I've ordered a three-layer pancake at 3 p.m.. If only she knew that the stupid $%^^U*% who made her feel ugly and killed her self-esteem was not worth it. If only I could say all what I wanted yesterday! Stop it!

Hang on. I'm starting to feel that hanging out with her so often is making me blue. There's something about her voice, her loneliness, and her facial expressions that's really sad and it's starting to get to me. I'm not going to go on comforting and reassuring her about herself. Plus, she apologizes too many times for things she didn't even do. She kept saying sorry the other day once we were out of the movies. We'd watched 'the hangover' and she took responsibility for the bad choice although it was both of us choosing. She was guilty she suggested it and it was full of 'bad language' I might not like!!
'I'm an adult, you know?' I said. 'And please stop saying sorry for things you didn't do because I really don't know how to reply to that.' I too should stop saying sorry often. I've seen people who say it less to be happier than those who say it more often. So, stop it!

Saturday, 8 August 2009

My Presentation

My students thought, that me, as a teacher, should be giving a presentation at the end of the course just as they were going to. Being a democratic teacher, I agreed.

'OK, then. My presentation is after the break so don't be late,' I said.

During the break I prepared the presentation.

'OK, everyone. Before I start my presentation, I want you to promise do what I'll ask you to do.' I said.
'We need to know first,' one student said.
'No, you don't. You simply need to trust me,' I replied. 'I promise I won't ask you to sing or dance. Is that OK?'
They looked at each other waiting for someone to say OK. No one did.
'OK, unanimous agreement,' I said.
They all laughed and started to get exited.

'I'm going to hand you a piece of paper. You need to work with your partner to complete it. You have seven adjectives and you need to mark your choice on a scale from 1 to 10, like we did with that activity yesterday. You have to talk t your friend until you agree on the exact point on the scale. I'm not going to take those sheets or ask you what your ratings were. Ready?'

I think my teacher is:

1) smart
0 _____________________________ 10

2) fashionable
0 _____________________________ 10

3) arrogant
0 _____________________________ 10

4) funny
0 _____________________________ 10

5) ambitious
0 _____________________________ 10

6) irritable
0 _____________________________ 10

7) patient
0 _____________________________ 10

They started to work together and glance at me every now and then. I didn't hear what they were saying at all.

'Alright everyone. Are you done?' I asked.

Nods, smiles, and nervous yes's.

'How would you feel if you were in my place out here while 16 people are contemplating what they thought about you?'

Horrible, bad, awful, terrible, nervous, and uncomfortable were some of the adjectives they said.

'That's how people feel when they are being judged. PLZ, don't judge people. It's a waste of your time and theirs. It makes them feel bad for no reason.'


'Do you think I care about what you thought of me? I do care, but not to the extent that would make me feel nervous while you're rating me. Don't EVER let what people think of you get to you. Appreciate other's advice and only take that coming from people you know for sure care for you. Now we're going to watch a short video and I'd like you take notes as usual.'

Some eyes smiled and some eyes looked confused. That's when I realized it must have been a strong dose. I didn't mean it to be like that. I always saw in them a lot of potential, hopes and dreams most of which will be killed by society's attempts to make all 16 students act and behave in the same way, 'the' only way accepted here.

Friday, 7 August 2009

How to hit a donkey

I had one of my best 'conversation courses' ever. Oh, I'm an English teacher, by the way.

It was a nice group of students, all under thirty, i.e. active and enthusiastic, rather than the mid-thirty ones who usually come to class dead tired after spending their day in a middle-management job day.

On the last day, students were all required to give a two-min presentation.

Ok, everyone. The topic for the presentation this term is 'How to...'. You can choose aaaanything you want: How to be come an astrologist, How to polish your shoes, How to spot a liar, How to make lasagna.. just anything. You'll be under the time limit of two minutes and you'll need to pay attention to what we've talked about before: accuracy, fluency, vocabulary, pronunciation, and presentation skills.

Next class: Presentations:

How to ..

- give a presentation

- be positive

- set goals

- recognize swine flu

- to be a good teacher

- keep your good friends

- spot a liar

- avoid hitting your kids

- hit a donkey

"Hi Everyone! The title of my presentation is "How to hit a donkey". Once upon a time, there was a farmer who had a donkey on his piece of land. One morning, the farmer woke up to find the donkey eating from his land.

'Donkey, why are you eating from my land? Don't do that again'

Next day, the donkey was doing the same thing.

'No, no, donkey. Listen. You take this area of the land and eat as much as you want from it, but don't come near my area.'

Same thing happens the next day.

'Oh, my God. Please people come and help me. This donkey has been eating from my land and I don't know what to do'

Everyone in the village came to see the donkey that wouldn't stop eating from the poor farmer's land.

'Listen, donkey, everyone is really upset with you now. I'll tell you what. You take the bigger piece of land and leave me the smaller one.'

But the donkey just didn't stop eating and the farmer and the villagers were all going crazy. Suddenly, a young boy came with a stick and shooed the donkey away and problem was solved. Everyone was surprised as well as ashamed.

'How could a little boy solve the problem that easily?' thought the villagers. 'And 'WE', big people, turned out to be stupid and ignorant!'

On that same day, the villagers killed both the farmer and the little boy, and let the donkey eat whatever it wanted, for there was no way they would be wrong!"

Silence for two seconds and everyone in class was laughing and clapping for Alaa, a young female fresh graduate. She was laughing contagiously all throughout the presentation.

It was interesting to hear the hysterical laughter drop silent for two seconds before everyone starting laughing again after realizing what she was talking about. I wish people who should reflect for two seconds would just do that.