Tipping into twenty

Trip Start Sep 29, 2012
Trip End Jul 01, 2013

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Friday, November 30, 2012

Sunday 4th

We’ve heard a year abroad is a great time to do some
English teaching, so when an NGO in the art-deco district of Heliopolis on the
far side of town advertise that they’re looking for teachers, we’re quick to
get in touch and are asked to go for an induction. We take the metro to the far
end of the line, and find the NGO in a crumbling avant-garde building down a
side road. The organisation, called Better Worlds, aims to equip underprivileged
young workers with skills that will improve their employability. The programme
teaches IT skills, interview techniques, and amongst the other courses, aptitude
in a foreign language. Inside the shabbily charming building, we meet the
friendly Hanny, an engineer by day who set up the organisation a few years ago
and runs it on the side of his job, with a fully non-paid staff of volunteers. Having
survived the revolution, (which is more than many organisations can say) Better
Worlds is beginning to be recognised for its success on an international scale,
with donations made recently by the Kings of both Jordan and Saudi Arabia. It sounds
like it’ll be an honour to be a part of the team!

We’re briefed on what will be required of us. Megan,
Elise, Izzy and I will each take a different level class, teaching a 2 hour
class every Tuesday evening for a course of 5 weeks. Brilliantly, the British Government
has provided a fairly extensive plan for each course for us to follow, which
will save a LOT of time! But we’re encouraged to personalise our lessons and bring
the course up to date. Poignantly, Hanny says that many of these young people
would love to travel if they had the means, so the best thing we can bring to
our classes is a splash of our home country. ‘Take them to England for 2 hours
and week, and then bring them back to Egypt’.   

Hanny has one of his staff, Abdel, walk us back to the
metro. All the maintenance staff are young people on the Better Worlds
programme. We’re bade a courteous farewell on the platform. Some guys of the
same age and neighbourhood are crossing the flyover above us. Having been hanging
around bored and jeering away, one hoiks up and gobs on Elise’s shoulder. Yum. They
could be like Abdel I suppose. Better Worlds is right where it needs to be.


Wednesday 7th

‘Language exchanges’ are popular out here – pairing up
with someone whose language you want to learn and vice versa to do some work on
both languages. I’ve been put in touch with someone keen, so I head to the
centre and meet Karim. We sit in an ‘ahuwa’ (the ‘no trimmings: just
coffee, sheesha, chairs and tables’ type cafes you see everywhere) and do a mix
of Arabic and English conversation, though needless to say his English is way
above my level in Arabic. L

A literature grad writing plays alongside a paying job,
this is the first time I’ve found someone doing something in a field other than
commerce/business management related stuff, and he has very interesting stuff
to say. He tells me about a re-working of Hamlet he directed, using the
difference in register between street Egyptian dialect and classical fusHa to
do the high and low scenes, and intermingling the two languages as Hamlet’s
state of mind becomes more confused. To finish with I learn a couple of lines
from the play in translation.

Afterwards as a group of Englishmen, a crowd of us go to see
the bond film Skyfall. Considering on this occasion we actually want to watch
the film as opposed to experience the rowdy chaos of popular Egyptian cinema, we
sneakily seek out a more clinical hotel cinema. A unanimous sigh goes down the
row at the sight of a dank, rainy day in London town.

Friday 9th

We’ve been amazed how many friends we’ve made here after
just over a month, so with my birthday tomorrow, Meg, Emily and I take the
chance to have our flat’s first party. We have a great night hosting, and when
the flat’s full of Egyptians, English, Americans, Japanese and more, throw some
of the more bizarre English party games in the direction of our baffled and
excited guests. We vacate the house in the small hours, piling into cars
heading Nile-wards, to finish the night on a felouka boat down the Nile and
back. Watching the silhouettes of palm trees slide by against a big African moon,
I can’t connect this with my associations of a November birthday.


Our Birthday

Apart from the flat looking like a (glitter) bombsite, we
have a lovely day post-party, watching films and opening presents. Amongst the
lovely gifts are some woven bags, a typical mother of pearl box from some Egypitan
friends, and Arabian lamp and Turkish coffee pot from the flatmates :)  I skype the other half of
my birthday - Mum - who it’s weird not to be sharing the day with this time, and
here about snow falling in Weston Park… We finish the day with a jaunt to the
Nile island of Manial, for a meal on an amazing 5 story stationary boat. We sit
out on the top deck where you can see for miles, watching Cairo go by. What an amazing way to turn twenty.

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