when we thought that the summer was over, the temperature is getting
over 40 degrees again. The fans have gone back on again at night
and we eagerly await the coming of October where the temperature
will get down to something a bit more bearable.
Friday I went to Suez on the North coast (yes, the same Suez that's
given it's name to the canal). This has been a long-standing commitment
after I met the Head Teacher of the S School at another conference
near Cairo. Actually, in typical Egyptian fashion he used some
underhand tactics to get me there, namely emotional blackmail-
and being the real softy I gave in!
had previously explained that I was short of time because I'm
finishing off some computer work for a company in London but reasons
like this rarely work in Egyptian culture- deadlines and work
schedules have little importance here.
met him along with my translator at the main train station in
the mid afternoon, there we hired a car and driver to take us
to Suez. The journey there was incredibly hot. With the windows
up it was like a greenhouse inside, but with them up there was
a 70 mph blast of air at 40 degrees. I opted for the latter option
and arrived a couple of hours later covered in sandy dust from
the desert and feeling dried up like a prune.
arriving I discovered that the meeting didn't start for another
couple of hours, and even then I wasn't due to speak until an
hour after that. I was a bit disappointed because I had tried
to explain previously about only coming for the minimum amount
of time in order to get back to continue with other work. I think
that this was just seen as an excuse for not staying so it was
promptly ignored. He tried to convince me to stay overnight but
I explained that I had another meeting the next morning at 10am.
"No problem", he said, "We can put you in a car at 5am and you
can sleep on the way there". I explained further that I had to
actually prepare for the meeting, and besides there was still
the other work that had to be done. Rejecting hospitality like
this can be a real minefield in this culture and I came very close
to offending him. We eventually agreed that the next time I came
I would stay much longer and bring Alison and the children along
too- only then he agreed that I could go later that evening!
this long discussion he told the car driver to come back at 12
O'clock at night to take me back to Cairo. It was said quietly
in Arabic in the hope that I didn't understand. I interrupted
and explained again that I must get back soon in order to do some
other work and prepare for a meeting in the morning. Eventually
we arranged for the transport to take me back at 9:30pm when the
meeting finished. I didn't know at the time that the meeting was
actually to finish at 8pm so he was able to keep me there for
another one and a half hours!
concluded that life would be made much easier by thinking like
an Egyptian but I still have a long way to go- I just can't ignore
deadlines and preparation for meetings . . .
actual meeting went quite well. It was a special one-off event,
there were about 120 children present. I was originally told that
there would be one speaking slot but after I arrived I was informed
that I now had two points in the program where I was to speak.
This kind of thing has happened many times before so I had already
gone prepared with an extra sheet of sketchboard paper just in
case . . .
first slot went really well, I explained the meaning of the cross
and 12 children made a first-time commitment. My translator is
very good at getting the response at the end so I usually just
leave it to her.
speaking slots I went downstairs. The upper room where I had been
speaking was the highest room in the building. This is a problem
because the sun heats the ceiling and it was very hot and stuffy
on the stage area. By the end of the first talk there was not
a single dry spot on my shirt (yes, REALLY) . Several times during
the talk I had to wipe my brow because of the sweat getting into
my eyes! On the lower floor I spent the time sitting in front
of a fan and drinking lots of water- I knew that I was in danger
of dehydration because my joints were starting to ache (one of
the first signs).
the time the second speaking slot came along I think that the
children had come to the end of their attention span- three hours
is a long time, even for Egyptian children who can sit down and
concentrate for much longer than English children. There was a
lot that I had planned for this final slot but in the end I cut
it short because the children were too restless.
we waited for the transport back to Cairo at street level. By
then it had become a pleasantly cool evening. We sat with the
head teacher outside the shop he owns. Several children came to
speak to us then I remembered that I had some modelling balloons
in my bag. I made a couple of balloon animals for some of the
young children present, then the whole street seemed to fill with
both adults and children to watch what was happening, along with
people on the overlooking balconies. Egyptians love this kind
of impromptu entertainment and it proves an ideal opportunity
to do some low-key teaching. I'd like to do more of this kind
of talking but I have to tread very carefully when it is done
out in the open.
transport arrived and took us back to Cairo- the journey back
was much cooler since it was at night. I arrived back shortly
after 11:30pm and didn't particularly feel like preparing for
the meeting the next day, so I followed the Egyptian way of doing
things and didn't bother . . . a resounding success in cultural
adaptation at last!
the weather is bearable for you in England,
Alison, Hannah and Esther
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