But I have again digressed. George was still in the 4th Virginia cavalry, and John was crazy to go. A friend of Jeanie’s came on a visit and offered to take John as his aid. He was colonel of a regiment, so finally our parents consented. John was a fine horseman and a good shot, so he was allowed to go. Colonel Bolton let him take a servant, George Nicholas, one of our dining room boys. There was great excitement in the family, white and black, when they left.
We lived along, anxious and hungrey*, getting news of the death of our friends at every battle and of great suffering among our soldiers. General Lee sent a request for food and everyone nobly responded. This left the whole section with a limited supply. We had nothing but meat and bread to give, so we lived on until spring. Then the fighting was concentrated around Richmond and Petersburg. We, my mother, Jeanie and I decided to go to Richmond, hearing that the cavalry would be ordered to the south side. We hoped to see our boys. We boarded with a Mrs. Wolfe on Franklin street. In a few days the cavalry passed through the city. It was a sad and solmen* procession of ragged, downcast, starving men who passed us by, horses lank and lean, scarcely able to march. Our hearts bled and tears overflowed as our dear “boys” went by. This was on Friday. We stayed a few days seeing friends. On Sunday my mother went to St. Pauls church, and I went to St James. Willie Worthing went with me. When we came out we noticed great excitement and horror depicted on every face and citizens rushing to and fro with pictures and valuables in their arms.
We hurried to our boarding house, and my mother had much to tell us. Jean was with us having also returned from church. The desolating news was that the enemy had captured Petersburg. This was a dark hour. Everyone left Richmond that could get away, the President and the Cabinet also. Of course there was no hope left for Richmond. There we were, forty miles from Dungeness, and no way to communicate. The canal, our only mode of transportation destroyed by Yankees, no telegraph. We were in despair. We packed our clothes with the assistance our maid Eliza gave us. She had gone to Richmond with us. We have our inherited silver with us so we fastened it under our hoop skirts. I was determined not to be captured by the Yankees and told my friends that I would walk home.
My soldier friends tried to get a conveyance, but it seemed impossible. All horses and mules were taken by the confederate government, taken while the owners were riding them. Once a friend of mine, Mrs. Julian Harrison was being borne to the grave and the hearse was stopped on the way to the cemetary and the horses taken. All was fearful.
Our landlady left us and all the boarders. We were left alone. She left us the little food she had and bade us goodbye with tears. Our friends came in to say goodbye and there we sat all night. About 3 o’clock, two friends, soldiers on furlough, knocked. We all three went to the door. It was Captain Edward Owen of Washington Artillery and Lt. Caskie Cabell. They came to say that they have taken two little dump coal carts from two boys at the point of their pistols. One had a lame horse and the other a blind mule. They asked if we would go.
My mother said if she could get two miles to a friend, Colonel Carrington, that she knew he would send us home. We doubted if the maimed and emaciated animals could get us there, but we started. I insisted on carrying our two trunks, so we unfastened the pieces of silver which we had worn all day, packed it in our trunks and started, Eliza decided she would stay in the city.
We got in the dirty carts, perched on our trunks. The gentlemen walked, urging the animals along. By this time the Yankees had entered the lower end of the city, set fires, and were bombarding. As we drove slowly and in silence, we heard glass in windows shatter around and could hear the tramp of the cavalry and the glaring flames. We hoped and prayed. The day began to break, and when we reached Colonel Carringtons they gave us a hearty welcome, as good a breakfast as they had and they gave us a road wagon, four horses, a driver, and a lunch basket of meat and bread. They started us on our journey to Dungeness, fory* miles, and as we drove along our driver showed great unwillingness to go, so our soldiers again drew their pistols.
As we went along we passed the patients from the hospitals and many others. The sick were so pale and hungry, that we decided to go hungry and gave our lunch to them. It was insufficient, of course.
We had great joy as we neared home. We stopped and fed the horses, we had brought food for them, and some kin* persons gave our party something to eat. We arrived at home about dark. Oh, the perfect delight of all, white and black to see us. My father was going the next day in search of us, having heard from those who arrived before that Richmond had been captured. My Aunt Martha told us she had been cooking (I mean the servants had) for the travelers. When we got there, the yard and house were full. The poor tired things were glad to sleep anywhere. They had no where to go, many remained for weeks. They came every day. We were kept busy.
We could here* the fighting going on, but no news and we were so anxious about the boys and our army. On April 9th General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Grant. This sad news was brought to us by a straggler. We knew it was inevitable. Our soldiers, people and prisoners were starving and exhausted, dropping by the wayside as they marched. Where were our boys? We watched and prayed for them with anxious eyes. The house was full of soldiers wondering where they would go. At last, as we sat on the porch one afternoon, we saw two horsemen coming toward the house. They looked dejected and weary. As they came nearer, we recognized my brother John and his body servant George Nicholas. We hurried to meet John, and he literally fell in our arms, completely unnerved. George, the servant, said, “You see Mistus, I brought Marse John back like I promised you. I got him home by the hardest, Mistus, but I kept my word.”
Colonel Boston was shot in the last battle the day before. John was riding by his side in battle when he was shot and instantly killed, falling on John’s horse. It was a terrible shock. Fortunately George, my brother, was in the same battle and helped to bury him. He was buried in his uniform without a coffin. They marked his grave.
The next 9th of April the surrender was made at Appomattox Court House. John was detailed to convey the sad news of Col. Boston’s death to his family. His sister worte*, “I opened the door and there sat this soldier boy with his hear* on his arms, weeping. I asked him, “My dear boy, what is the matter?” “I have to tell you Colonel Boston is killed’. He was sore distressed. I almost forgot my grief in his.”
After delivering his message John thought he ought to go back to the army. George, his servant, spoke, “No sir, Marse John. You ain’t got nobody to report to. General Lee done surrendered. We’re going home to Mistus.”
So they came. We were all so glad George had so much sense. Then we all asked for my brother George. They said George did not surrender but left the day before after Colonel Boston was buried, for Lynchburg, hoping to join General Johnston. But when they arrived they saw the futility of it and retraced their steps. Dr. Fleming, Dr. Miclie and George came together. There was great rejoicing, though our hearts were very sad.
When I interviewed for this job back in January, they said, “This school teaches the children of Egypt’s future. Our students are the grandsons of presidents and the granddaughters of generals.”
Here they are!
I picked up right where I left off last year. Teaching teenagers is truly universal. My corny jokes translate perfectly and I have managed to adopt a solid new crop of amazing, funny, adorable, witty and wicked smart Juniors and Seniors. (You can spot the Seniors in their burgundy polos…and there’s nothing better to them than getting to shuck that school uniform for their last, best year.)
You’re looking at my Homeroom, my three Business Studies classes, and my one class of Freshmen history (see if you can spot the babies).
They all call me “Miss” and it’s a lot like hearing “Mom” 200,000 times a day
I am not exaggerating when I say I have four Nours, four Amirs, five Miriams, five Adhams, six Omars, and seven Youssefs. And…. are you ready for this?…. they all (girls and boys) have four names, some even have five. Birth name + (optional) middle name + father’s name + grandfather’s name + family name.
Take Ben’s names. If Ben were Egyptian, his name would be:
Benjamin (Fisher, optional) Robert William Quarles. His friends might call him Ben Robert but his school records might have Benjamin Fisher Robert or Benjamin William Quarles or Benjamin Robert Quarles or Benjamin Robert William, or he might decide all on his own that he wants to be called Ben William or Fish or Ben Robby and his poor teacher would have to create a flowchart on four different Excel spreadsheets to figure it all out.
It’s not acceptable here for the girls to do what American girls feel like they are expected to do, regarding hair and makeup and jewelry and such. The boys must be clean shaven every single day, but those curls are allowed to grow!…and they almost all – boys and girls – have thick, curly hair and dark, beautifullllllll eyes! Don’t let these pictures fool you…outside of school, they wear the same clothes and enjoy the same things American kids do. Trust me…I run into them at the mall on the weekends and I hardly recognize them sometimes.
They are so endearing in so many ways. The differences between my American kids and these Egyptian kids is often striking. But taken as a whole, their global similarities remain the number one reason I still do this job. I love them so much already!
Friends, I have a cold. In Egypt. Like, what in the world?
The Good News: All of this medicine cost me $3.80 and it was delivered to my front door about five minutes after I ordered it over the phone. The packaging is not childproof (yessss!!) and the potency is high. Coolest thing is that ibuprofen comes in orange flavored BC Powder style.
The Bad News: This is what I have to maneuver. I don’t know – for sure – what is what, so my best bet is just to take a little bit of everything, go to bed and hope for the best, right?
Ben, Please bring our NyQuil shooters when you come.
I haven’t had WiFi or cable since I got to Egypt. (Anyone who says those are luxuries and not necessities needs to come here and sit in an empty apartment, stranded, with no car, for a few weekends.)
I click-clacked in my fancy shoes right in to my school this morning and asked as nicely as I could manage for someone to get my (*^%#) WiFi working. The IT guy got some emails from the hi-ups and found himself driving me -himself – to pick up my router. We were waiting in line, he’s quite huffy, and he has made it perfectly clear to me that he has been terribly inconvenienced. I didn’t care, but I stayed quiet, kept myself close by and let him do his job.
Well I guess I was standing too close to him in the line because he turned around, pointed his finger toward the nearest chair and said, “Sit.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Time froze for me as well. I needed to hit rewind in my mind so I could verify what I’d just heard. And in fact, the finger remained pointed towards the chair and he and I sort of just stared at each other, in another dimension of awareness, me figuring him out and, more importantly, him figuring me out.
Every conjugation of the F-word I’ve ever catalogued in my life came to mind, and then my hip met my right hand while my left hand flopped around and didn’t know what to do with itself.
I almost lost my religion right there in the Store, but I decided not to risk my WiFi.
But I crossed my legs and that one top leg started bouncing with ferocity, and my side-eye coupled with my subdued “Mister, you have f***ed up” chuckles sent him a clear message that he’d just used up his one pass with me. I stayed calm by insisting to myself that he simply didn’t know the words for “Please have a seat.”
The installation was complicated and kept him very late, but for the rest of the evening he was absolutely delightful.
And now I have cable and internet, because we must pick our battles.
One of the first things people asked me when they learned that I was moving abroad to teach school was “Why would you leave the comforts of the United States to teach in a third world country?”
The answer is simple: America doesn’t pay its teachers enough for what we do, and many foreign countries do.
Let me preface this entire post by making it clear that I teach in a prestigious private school, not a public school. (I heard a rumor that tuition is $1000 a month.) The school has 2,000 students, grades K-12.
This is a picture of my 6-period day, here. First period is always Homeroom and I have been blessed with Seniors. This is the class where I check dress code, l deliver and collect important paperwork, we do the morning informative stuff and I bond socially with and mentor a very tight-knit group of college-bound kids. This is also the class where, on most days, half the kids are gone somewhere to prepare for special events, like any SGA or NHS club would. They do not get to enjoy these kinds of extra-curriculars as actual classes.
The remaining 5 periods of the day are all academic. I teach 5 classes, but no more than 4 on the same day. During my off-periods, I might be the substitute-on-call for teachers who are out and if that ever happens, I am expected to execute the day’s plans for that class, or at a minimum, keep the period as productive as possible. There is no pool of substitute babysitters.
Once every two weeks during one of my off-periods, I meet with my Department Head and* my Principal, to discuss whatever needs discussing.
I also serve a 20-minute duty during the daily breaks, but I don’t have to do this more than three times a week, and sometimes it’s just 2.
Any time not spent subbing-in or on duty, I am allowed to spend planning, and it is a refreshingly adequate amount of time, as you can see by all the blank spots, especially since the school provides every teacher with a laptop to carry.
My classroom is not “mine” in the familiar sense because there is a Classical Arabic Class whose teachers rotate into other classrooms who have an off-period. When Arabic is being taught in my classroom, I spend my planning in the library usually, but sometimes I go to the teacher break room and spend time with the other teachers on break during that period. Even when this happens, we are all busy working. (Indeed, I prefer the library.)
The school sends a bus around to our houses each day, all over the city, to gather up all the teachers who don’t or can’t drive, so I am never, ever late to school, and I never stay too late either.
We all come in through the front entrance of the school each day and sign in with an electronic name badge. If this doesn’t happen, five different people will be looking for you within the hour. If you lose your magnetic name badge, you can get a replacement but it will cost you a $2.75 donation to charity.
During the two daily 20-minute breaks, there are a few “yards” I can visit, which sell smoothies and ala carte items. A smoothie costs me 80 cents.
Like I said, my classroom is not nested and homey like I am used to. We are not provided boxes full of office supplies and I haven’t seen a DVD player since I left America. There’s no TV and my classroom furniture leaves me aching for the luxuries of Room 54. There is no carpet in this entire country I don’t think, which makes for a loud day, especially with 9th graders. Did I mention I teach two classes of 9th graders? It’s a first in my career. They’re adorable but, like I said, they are loud.
Anyway, the creature comforts are in short supply here, even at a prestigious school. When I come home for Christmas I will stock up on Whiteout, jumbo paperclips, Expo markers, good pens, and the notepads my department head back home always got for me. I was living in office supplies heaven back home and totally took it for granted.
But we have 8 copy machines. Some are color.
We stay an hour late every Monday for staff meetings. We have two Planning Days every semester, a week off in October, 2 1/2 weeks at Christmas and lots of random holidays (4 this semester, including Thanksgiving. THANKSGIVING! In Egypt!)
I have four bosses, in a highly enforced chain of command. My Department Head handles 99% of my problems, and he was the one who first made it a priority to enable me to call home and talk to Ben for the first time in two weeks after I first arrived, after my emotional breakdown in his classroom one day. The higher ups make sure the DHs are caring for their underlings. He moved planets around for me, much like my old Department Heads would’ve done.
Then there is the Head of Seniors, so I answer to her in matters relevant to that area. She knows them all and knows their families, so she usually has answers to my bizarre questions about the kids in my class. She’s like a guidance counselor I guess you could say, but she also teaches classes, just like I do.
My American School Principal is just that, and she handles parents. And handles them well, I might add.
Fridays and Saturdays are my weekend, so I work every Sunday. Yes, it’s weird.
The Boss, the woman who owns the school, is a highly respected icon of education in international school circles. Quick story about her. She makes it a point to provide Christian events and mark Christian holidays at this Egyptian school in the middle of a mostly-Muslim nation, because a small percentage of the students are Christian and a large portion of the teachers are as well. An example: “The Christmas Story” will be performed by the drama program at Christmas…. Baby Jesus and Silent Night and the whole shebang. Here, in Egypt! One year, a parent complained about this and her reaction was to encourage them to find another school if they didn’t like the way she did things at hers. My kind of woman. And my kind of boss.
For every foreigner she employs, she also gives a job to 9 Egyptians. This place is crawling with worker bees.
A Christmas Story… in school. In a Muslim country. Get your head around that. I will be beside myself with emotion after five months of being here, two weeks before I come home to enjoy Christmas with my family, in my country, I cry just writing about it. Why is this so hard in America?
We are discouraged from talking about our salaries publicly, because there are sometimes huge discrepancies in this system, for various reasons. I make much more than I made back home in the US, so you can figure out what ‘much’ probably is. All tax free.
75% is sent back to our US bank account and 25% is given to us to keep, in Egyptian pounds, which is more than enough to live on here. My rent is $8000 LE (Egyptian pounds) and its roughly $450 USD. Cable is $6 USD, Wifi is $83 USD for 100GB, Power is $27 USD, and I give the bawab (Houseman) $250 LE ($14 USD) to pay for water, maintain the grounds, take out my garbage and to be a handyman. (He even waters my plants. I came home last week with indoor trees that were not indoor trees at all and he scolded me in Arabic like husbands all over the world do when we’ve wasted our money, so he went back later that night and bartered for me to get the right trees. Then he repotted them all and brought them inside for me. A man around the house. Ahhhh.)
The other 75% comes back home and into an account I opened with Ben, to make college expenses convenient. We are about to see how responsible he is with money, aren’t we?
I do not have health insurance. What is offered at the school is through BUPA, which is international health insurance. It is honored everywhere in the world except for the United States. How about that? The good news is that an X-ray is $10 and a teeth cleaning is less than that. As such, I will continue to go without coverage, but will have to sell my soul to BCBS once again when Ben starts college at FAU. (Botox is $75 over here, ladies)
I miss driving. I miss Publix. And I miss Walgreens. I miss PegLegs oysters and Paradise American cheeseburgers. I miss my parents and my kid, so much. But taking all the good with all the bad, when I get home from work everyday, I’m not beat down like a dog and I don’t hate my job or the people running my school district, which is a new and refreshing feeling. I hope this information gives you the answers to some of your questions about my decision to come here. I think I did the right thing, and I am very happy, all things considered.
Miss you all!
It has taken me a few weeks now to figure out how I feel about seeing the Pyramids at Giza for the first time. It was quite a profound experience, in both a personal and a professional way, but the day was clouded with sadness over the realities of seeing the grimiest parts of a truly poor and destitute city from way too up close.
I joined a group of coworkers for a day trip to one of the most iconic of the Wonders of the Ancient World, anticipating many of the things a history teacher might anticipate: wonder, awe, dazzle, transfixion… What I did not anticipate was the failing health of the camels that are paraded to and fro all day long in the stifling heat, or the starving dogs lying in packs under every spare patch of shade that can be found, or the desperation of the vendors, begging for what equates to just change by American standards, certainly trying to provide for their families by selling pure junk. I couldn’t even enjoy myself because the parts of that scenery that don’t show up in pictures still remain within arms reach. All you have to do is turn around and face the other way, and there they are.
I picked up the important parts of the tour…how the individual rocks that built the pyramids were brought in one by one from Aswan, 80 miles away. This is a tremendous feat considering the size of just one rock. I would not have believed it unless I saw it with my own eyes. Also remarkable was the precision with which each rock was cut. I saw a corner piece with 8 different angles, all cut from one single gigantic rock, and it fit – to the millimeter – into the angles of the rocks cut to sit next to, above and below it. Geometry that I cannot even get my brain around. We were told that compared to the heyday of the Egyptians, the grounds are a wasteland now, and they certainly appear so. This is an area that was once green with vegetation and veined with rivers and lakes. Now, it’s little more than a desert with a few spectacular landmarks dotting the barren horizon.
There’s more to see than the three main pyramids. Getting much less press are the other 100+ pyramids located nearby. Didn’t know that? I didn’t either, but I saw them. I also learned that of all the temples built by ancient civilizations, only the Egyptians gave their pyramids points at the top. All the other ones, especially the ones I am most familiar with in the Western Hemisphere, all have flat tops. That impressed me. The reason they had points? Well, this is the best part. There were once jewels placed at the tops of the pyramids and when the sun hit the apex at precisely the right (geometric) moment those gems cast a light that could be see from everywhere. How spectacular that must have looked, five.. thousand.. years.. ago…
I also found myself feeling more in touch with my humanity, as I remembered an old friend back home who is battling an illness. I missed my family even more than usual that day, because it felt strange not to have those most familiar to me nearby on what was a very special day. Mostly, I felt gratitude. You wouldn’t have believed this was possible if you’d known me ten years ago.
We are so small, even though we get to do pretty big things sometimes.
I woke up this morning and checked Twitter to see about this surprise hurricane heading straight for all the people and things I love most in the world. Instead, Twitter was all aflutter with news of a suicide bomber who set himself off in front of the US Embassy in Cairo.
I am far, far removed from this. I live almost an hour outside of the city, and in an area that isn’t as politically and religiously charged, so the conversation about these scary events was much different than you think.
The Egyptians who spoke to me about this remind me of us, when we are talking about a school shooter, or a white kid who shoots up a black church, or any act of violence that tends to be spoken by one person but generalized to an entire population. It’s embarrassing to them, and not the kind of thing they want the rest of the world to think about them. Every Egyptian I’ve ever met has been kind, peace-loving and gentle. To me, this country has been over-the-top welcoming. I am sad that they are painted by the brush of a crazy person, and it hasn’t been my experience at all that this area of the world is anything but harmonious.
I was informed more than once that since this guy’s bomb was a dud, he will be punished far worse than what a martyred death would have given him. You’ll see that the regular people who were around when this happened didn’t wait for police to arrive. I like it.
So as I move on past this big “first,” my worries continue to be for you guys. I hope your power comes back on soon. And most importantly, please check with Ben and my parents and make sure my 13 sentimental Rubbermaid bins were taken off the floor of their garage, please. ❤️
I made it to a real grocery store yesterday (think along the lines of Grocery Outlet, not Publix) with my sweet neighbor friend who speaks both English and Arabic. I bought $1000 LE with of groceries, that’s Egyptian pounds, and it’s about $50. In Publix it would’ve been $150 worth. This coffee pot you see also cost me $1000 LE so you can see the value they place on cheap American electronics.
When I made my first pot of java this morning, I discovered that my coffee can had already been opened, the milk has already started to sour just slightly (or maybe it just tastes funky to me, which is highly likely) and yes, I used the milky-colored tap water. I don’t even recognize my high-maintenance self anymore.
What would Carrie Bradshaw do, I asked myself? She woulda rolled those dice and made that first, delicious pot of coffee, too, just like I did.
(Author’s Note: I’ve come all the way around about the milk. I can’t read the Arabic labels so I think what I am buying is not just milk but full cream milk, which tastes very rich compared to the skim milk I drink back home. Make no mistake though, the milk tastes like the melted vanilla ice cream at the bottom of a bowl you’ve scraped bare, and I am a big fan!)
After my luxurious stint in the 5-Star Cairo Intercontinental Hotel, I have come back down to earth and have spent the last few (jarring) days in my new but very empty apartment with no internet and only Arabic telenovellas on tv. I don’t have a car and so Uber is the only way for me to go anywhere.
So. Here’s how it went this past week:
I summoned an Uber a few days ago, in the phone app. Easy enough. When he arrived he knew where I wanted to go so that was no problem either. But when I got there (to the store to buy groceries), I had to ask him to wait for me because I didn’t know my home address to tell another Uber how to get home. And off we went.
I entered my question into Google translate in English and then let him read it in Arabic as we sped down the highway at 60 mph with no seatbelts on. I switched the keyboard to Arabic and he typed in his response. I played in back to myself in English and then switched the keyboard back to English so I could type him back my response, and so on and so on. Which is why I have discovered that going out and about to try to buy anything is not for me if I can help it.
Incidentally, when I got to the grocery store, it’s all in Arabic so I left with ketchup flavored bagels (that I thought were sundried tomato flavored) and some olives.
Tonight, after crying all day at work yesterday, (ie hangry) my sweet neighbor showed me all the apps to have food delivered… and they literally deliver everythingggg.
After four days of eating olives and bread for dinner, tonight it was McDonalds. This was the best Big Mac I have ever eaten, enjoyed with the new men in my life, Saif and Faris, the neighbor boys, who put The Power Rangers movie on the tv for us – IN ENGLISH, PRAISE THE GOOD LORD – and I had the best night I’ve had in over a week. 🇺🇸
At 4:30 am this morning in the pitch black, I woke up to my very first Muslim Call to Prayer. It’s not what I would describe as ‘fascinating’ when it’s dark outside, I’ll just tell ya. It’s a little scary to be honest, the chanting is low and melodic, almost ominous. But I will never forget that exact moment when I realized what it was, the beauty of what he must be saying. And I just stayed still to listen to it for a minute.
Today was my first day of work at my new school. I spent the day like you did: arranging desks and cleaning. Then I heard to Call to Prayer again. This happens five times a day. Imagine a world in which all people prayed five times a day. So I looked out my window. (Although it’s very hot in Egypt there is always a breeze so all of my windows were open and it was delightful.)
This is my view from my classroom, and when the Call to Pray came, I saw this. I imagined for a moment being back in class with my old students at home in America and I got the biggest case of the giggles, just imagining those guys hearing and seeing what I did at that moment.
If you look, you’ll see our flag flying alongside both the Egyptian flag and the British flag. That’s what it feels like to be here…like I am bringing my world to be alongside someone else’s.
I sure love seeing those Stars and Stripes everyday. She peeks out and waves at me all the time.