Monday, February 26, 2007

Oh, and another thing...

I forgot to write about my teaching experience on Sunday but it was a pretty interesting experience. Me and my classsmate Chris each did one hour of a 2 hour lesson. We had been told to prepare for an advanced conversation class, level 10. We were even told which pages of a text to draw the lesson plan from. It was pretty advanced stuff -- my lesson plan featured expressing suggestions and necessary statement using passive modals. When we got to the class Khaled told us, "It turns out you've been given a slightly less advanced class. You're going to need to enunciate and speak more slowly, but you can probably still present a simplified version of your lesson plan."

Armed with this information, I began the lesson, speaking a little bit more slowly, using lots of pictures. It took a few minutes for a few of the brighter members of the class to work out how to say, "We don't understand anything you're saying." The members of the class explained that this was their very first class--in other words, they had had absolutely no teacher before we arrived. We were being thrust on them the very first time they had ever had a class at the school. They asked me, somewhat plaintively, if I spoke any Arabic and I told them that they didn't. They asked me, "Please, say just one word in Arabic!" To which I responded لا (No.)

Fortunately, the whole thing was videotaped, so I could see what I looked like when it dawned on me that:
  1. I now had no lesson plan
  2. I had no idea what level these students were actually at!
Deers in a headlight is a pretty good description, although I think all things considered I didn't look like I was freaking out as much as I was on the inside.

I decided to go with feelings, and drew a variety of faces on the board, starting with basic emotions (sad, angry, etc.) and then drew faces with even stronger emotions and began to move them from recognizing "more sad" and "more angry" and then moving on to the expand the vocabulary to "miserable" and "furious". I then did some impromptu dialogue:
A: I'm angry.
B: I'm more angry.
A: I'm furious!

...and so on, making the students use the dialogue to learn the words. I then got them to write the words on the board. They seemed to understand.

I kept asking: "This is okay?" "Yes." "It's not too stupid?" "No." "You're learning?" "Yes!" "Okay!"

Okay, I was thinking, I'm teaching them emotions Then I said, "So we have sad and miserable, angry and furious, tired and exhausted, happy and delighted; so these are emotions that are more; these are feelings that are stronger." I wrote more on the board. "You know this word, right? More?" I then drew three stick figures with bizarre numbers of fingers on their hand: one with 4, another with 7 and another with, perhaps 9. "So this person has more fingers than this person, and this person has the most fingers." Oh, I realized. Now I'm teaching superlatives. I went on to teach them big, bigger, biggest and good, better, and best before finishing off the class with a tic-tac-toe game featuring emotions learned during the class.

When we took a break between classes, Chris and I went to the main desk to talk with the director about the misunderstandings regarding the class. It turns out we were given not a level 10 class, but a level 4 class. The unit we were supposed to cover was in the Intro book, while the one we'd prepared for came from Book Six of the series. And, coincidentally, the unit we were supposed to have taught focused on describing people, including the color of their hair, their type of hair, and -- get this -- superlatives, like shorter, taller, and so on. Chris scrapped his lesson plan as well (which focused on tag questions, one of the stranger features of English) and focused on the material in the unit in question. I thought he did a fantastic job.

I'm perhaps a bit excessively proud of how well I did (all things considered). It doesn't help that Chris kept saying, "You were awesome. It looked like you had the whole thing planned." Thanks for boosting the ego, Chris.

After the dinner we went to a restaurant institution in Alexandria, Mohamed Ahmed which serves the best fuul I've eaten in Egypt so far (Toby, take note), rich in cumin-y goodness. They also served this thicker bean dip the texture of refried beans covered with deep fried onions, which I believe was called Basara. I had an egg dish called shakshooka which is normally made with meat and tomatoes but here was made just with the tomatoes. A very delicious end to a very mixed experience.

Teaching English is Still Hard

...which is part of the reason that I haven't posted recently. I have been pretty worn out. Teaching English is hard, and it doesn't help that I've had to be out of the house many mornings at 8:20 am. I know some people may be having a hard time dredging up much sympathy for me since they have to get out of the house even earlier, but I am not really a morning person, never have been, and this is pretty difficult for me. I have also been staying up late at night working on lessons plans, so I have indeed been burning the candle at both ends, as they say, although in the case the candle is really a magic marker. I have made more drawings in the past week and a half than I have in the previous year. Visuals are pretty essential to language teaching, and I use them constantly -- drawing faces on the board to describe emotions, sketching out familiar (or unfamiliar, and sometimes downright odd) situations on the board.

I have finally managed to scrape out some time at a high-speed Internet cafe, so at long last it's time for

Documentary proof that I have visited the pyramids

The day before we left for the pyramids, our teacher (who is Egyptian) told us that the pyramids really are not that big of a deal and that it's not that much different than looking at a postcard.

I respectfully disagree.

One thing that the postcards just don't capture is that the pyramids are big. Hugely, awesomely big. In fact, until modern times the pyramids were the tallest buildings anywhere, according to our guide (who may, in fact, be wrong).

Most photos of the pyramids look something like this:
There's me, way in front of a pyramid. It's generally the only way you can get the whole pyramid in the picture.

However, I went ahead and stitched together a few pyramid photos so you can see just how high up the pyramid goes:
(Click on the picture for full effect)

That seems a lot larger, doesn't it? Especially when you know how large each of those blocks is. Here's a picture of me on the pyramids, which gives you some idea of just how massive each block is:
So, summary: Me, very tiny; pyramids, huge and awesome.

Of course, I had to get a nice panorama of the three biggest pyramids:
Over to the right of the photo is a valley filled with garbage, left by the tourists I imagine.

So, proof. And if that's not enough proof, I took a photo of the Spinx's butt:
That's not something you can get on a postcard!

Well, gotta go! My laptop is completely out of juice.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Teaching is Hard

Yesterday was my first day teaching in an actual school. I thought I did okay, but there were definiely problems. Class management is always an issue, and it's very hard to determine whether the class is understanding the material. The one thing my class shined on was form -- they all understood the general teacher pattern very well, so they knew exactly what to do. We worked in pairs; today we had to work on our own.

I felt the class today went worse, but the evaluator said it went better. The children were younger -- a lot younger -- and there were more class management issues than before. There were a few kids sitting together who were the most rambunctious in the group. Why they were seated together is beyond my comprehension. The class just didn't seem to understand the dialogue I'd set for them, which I thought was pretty easy:

A: What's the weather like outside?
B: It's raining.
A: What should we do?
B: Let's watch TV.

With "raining" replaced" by different kinds of weather: snowing, cloudy, stormy, and so on. They did very well with identifying the different kinds of weather, but had problems asking the main question: What's the weather like? Later on, the teacher told me what I'd done wrong: I needed to shorten the dialogue to just one question/answer, and I needed to do more class repeats, since many of them had a real problem with the word "weather", which turned out to be a new unknown word. I received praise on my classroom management, though, which is nice.

Tomorrow I'm in the same class as I had yesterday, a bunch of fifth-graders, so hopefully I'll have learned lessons from today and yesterday, and tomorrow will go more smoothly. But the main thing I have learned so far is that lessons do not usually go exactly as planned.

Monday, February 19, 2007

No, I'm no dead

Well, there's no excuse for me not blogging for so long, but there is a reason, and that reason is


I've dreaded each post for the 1-2 lines of insipid Arabic that I've had to write, so I've decided to put it on hold for a while, at least until I start learning Arabic in earnest. The truth is I'm definitely improving my Arabic, but the focus has mostly been on comprehension, communication, and reading rather than on writing. So for now the Arabic section goes to the wayside.


The pyramids

I finally saw the pyramids on Friday, and they are awesome. I will be posting a load of wonderful pyramid pictures later today when I go to someplace with a high speed connection.

Sex, Politics, and Religion

...these are the three topics that we are not allowed to discuss with our students in our lessons or tutoring. This seemed pretty straightforward to me. Even in the US these are not really recommended topics unless you are actually teaching Sex, Politics, or Religion. However, many students didn't seem to get it. They were especially confused as to why students didn't discuss these topics and why they weren't taught in school. What Khaled finally had to say was, "What you have to remember is that Egypt is basically a developing country."

What you have to remember is that Egypt is basically a developing country

If you just visited Egypt as a tourist--and even if you're here as a student like me--it is very hard to take in just how poor Egypt really is. Sure, everything seems to be breaking down, it's a lot less clean than places in the West, but they have restaurants, cafes, shopping malls, and nearly everything else that you'd expect to see in a Western country.
This perspective changes when you are told that the average salary for an Egyptian teacher is around 800LE a month, or $160. And this is a pretty good salary; many Egyptians make only 400LE per month, or $80.
Fortunately for Egyptians (and, incidentally, the odd expat) prices for most things in Egypt are really, really cheap.
Cheapest of all in Alexandria is the tram, which costs just 25 piasters (quarter of an Egyptian pound, or $.05). Felafel is very cheap too -- you can get a very filing lunch of 2 felafel sandwiches for just 1LE, or $.20.
However, not everything can be cheap. If you compare what % of a monthly salary other things cost, Egypt becomes very expensive indeed.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The need for speed

I'd first off like to say that the reason that I haven't blogged for a while is that I have been a bit under the weather. I had a cold or something that lasted a couple of days, and I also had something wrong with my gums which eventually required a visit to a dentist. Dentists in Egypt appear to be pretty good, and are extremely cheap. I got an emergency visit plus an X-ray (to make sure I didn't have cavities) for the equivalent of $14. I'm now taking antiobiotics and this weird anti-septic mouthwash that is also a whitener and a plaque remover. My teeth have never been whiter or brighter.

Some of my classmates told me last week about a high-speed cafe in the mall just down the street from my apartment. After dealing with the slowness of dialup and phone lines that fall apart, I was finally read to give the cafe a go. And, aside from being extremely noisy and requiring a bit of finesse in setting up the connection, I now have a wonderfully fast Internet connection. I'll probably be stopping by here 2-3 times a week to do real 'Net work. Next purchase: noise-canceling headphones.

So, now that I can, I'm going to post some pictures from the past week or so.

On Saturday, we went to a number of the lovely archaeological sites in Egypt. I decided to be artsy fartsy and do a bunch of photos which juxtapose the modern and ancient Egypt. Unfortunately, those lovely photos are still on my camera, and not on my laptop. So, instead you're just going to have to look at this photo of the entrance to my apartment.

That's one of my classmates. His name is kept obscure because I haven't asked his permission to share it. His obscured head is courtesy of my "interesting" camera skills.

Since his photo's already out on the web, I can probably get away with showing this photo of Khaled, my teacher:

Yes, I know it's terrible. You try taking a picture at night while riding down the bumpy Alexandria streets without a flash!

Tomorrow there are exams on grammar and phonology -- part of the "language awareness" part of the course. I'm pretty sure I'll do okay, and in any case the teachers have made clear that even if you fail this part, you can still pass the class, since students are primarily graded on their teaching abilities. Still, everyone in the course is a bit nervous about it, possibly because the word "exam" now has the same effect on most people that "sabertooth tiger" must have had on neolithic man.

My Arabic has been improving slowly and subtly over the past week. One thing I've noticed is that I'm a lot faster at reading than I used to be. Although from time to time I struggle over figuring out the sounds for a word, in some cases I'm actually able to see the word as a whole, which is pretty cool.

Everyone in my class has an interesting story. One classmate is from California, has friends and family working in Hollywood, and (apparently) resembles a professional wrestler/actor who is quite popular in Egypt, so he is occasionally asked to pose for pictures. Another is only 19 but has already lived in India and Mexico and has taught in a pre-school for nearly five years. We have an anime geek who is also an Egyptologist; a Guernsey lady who not only knows one of my SOAS classmates but actually Salsa danced with him; a lady in her early 70s who has been travelling through China, India and goodness knows where else and is trying to go on to Iran from here; a studio arts teacher and grandmother of six; a devout Christian; a devout Muslim and father of three; a doctorate students researching gaze in Ancient Rome; an English (literature) teacher; a lady who claims to be born and raised in Exeter, England; and a woman who passes off as the ethnicity of every place where she travels to.

I'd better get going soon, but fortunately there's always a little time for:


العربية: الجمعة ذهبت الى بيت سحبة واكلت سمك. السبت ذهبت الى الدكتورالاسنان يوم الاحد ذهبت الى مدرس وادات وجبي

El juma thahabtu ila bayt sahiba wi akaltu samek. El sabt ila il doktur alsinan. Yum al-ahad thahabtu ila madrassa we iddat(?not sure) wajibi

On Friday I went to a friend's house and ate fish. On Saturday I went to the dentist. Sunday I went to school and (turned in) my homework.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Thank goodness it's Thursday

The weekend comes early in Muslim countries (although the work week can start early as well), so tomorrow is my first day off. Good thing, too, because I'm pretty exhausted. I think I have a minor cold. I'm taking plenty of vitamin C and should be fine so long as I can carve out 9-10 hours of sleep tonight.

That being said, people have been wanting to see what my apartment (flat) looks like, so I might as well spend a few minutes uploading photos just to please 'em. :-)

Here is a picture of the room where I'm staying:
And here is what you can see out of the window of my room at night:

I'll try to tell you more about what's going on in a later post, but now...


العربية: امس ذهبت الى سوق وآشتريت حدرو. اكلت كشرى. بكبدة عند صداع
El 'arabiya: Ams thabadtu ila suq we ashatarya hadrawat. Akaltu Kushari b'Kibde. 'ainda sada'.
Yesterday I went to the market and bought vegetables. I ate Kushari with Liver. I have a headache.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

What would you like to eat?

Yesterday we learned about the importance of context in teaching languages. First, we had a lesson entirely in Swahili without any English. This was to introduce the idea that a language can be taught even if the students don't know any of the language. Later on Khaled contrasted it with a traditionally structured course so we could experience the difference between two kinds of teaching English.

Later on, he showed us a variety of cards with pictures of professions on them: dressmaker, news anchor, postman, mechanic, etc. Then he showed us a picture of a teacher, and modeled the following dialogue:
تحب ياكل اي؟

أصب أكل مدرس

We knew that مدرس meant teacher. He then had us repeat the dialogue, repeating lines after him and getting us to ask each other the same line of dialogue. Afterwards, he asked us what we thought the line meant. We all said something along the lines of "What is your profession?" "I am a teacher." He finally told us what the lines actually meant:

What would you like to eat?

I would like to eat a teacher.

A pretty good lesson in how students will use context and communication cues to try to figure out meaning. In this case, we got it completely wrong, but only because he was fooling us on purpose.

I had Kushari again for lunch yesterday.

PS: The cafe was open again for business last night.

Tomorrow I will brave the slow choppy seas of my internet connection and upload some photos of my fellow classmates and the place where I'm staying.

Arabic to follow (trying to type Arabic on a nonfunctional Windows keyboard is not fun).

Monday, February 5, 2007

Breaking News

Really, really horrible car crash this morning just as I was waking up. I heard the stereotypical rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr followed by a sickening crunch. I thought about how, all things considered, I'd been here a relatively long time before witnessing (even if just with my ears) a car crash.

When I went downstairs, it turned out to have crashed straight into the cafe where I'd been drinking tea the night before. The car managed to hit the cafe straight on, so it looks just like those scenes in the movie where a car drives right into a storefont.

A friend was going to take a picture but I told her it would probably really piss the owners off; I'm not sure they even have insurance. As it is, I tried to put on the saddest face I could when looking at the wreckage. It really is sad; the cafe, which is very nice, is probably destroyed. I would have offered my condolences, but I didn't know what to say.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Back to School

Okay, so today I finally went to the school. The teachers seem really nice and appear to know what they're doing. They both seem friendly and helpful. Khaled teaches techniques for teaching, and also has the sorry task of dealing with all of the problems present in our apartments -- things like dangling wires, no hot water, bedroom doors that lock people inside their own rooms, missing keys, and so on. Ingie, the teacher of grammar and phonology researches linguistics at a University and speaks English with only the faintest trace of an accent. When pressed, she admitted apart from her native Arabic she also speaks German, French and is currently learning Hebrew. I strongly suspect she can probably get by in a few more languages as well.

Learning to teach English is easy!

So far, Khaled's class has been very fun, involving a lot of theater, roleplaying, and class participation. Here is a play we did, reproduced for your enjoyment, completely unabridged:

Maid enters, dusting
Mr. Brown: (enters) I feel faint. (faints)
Maid: (screams)
Mrs. Brown: (entering) What's the matter? (sees Mr. Brown) Call the doctor!
Maid: Doctor, come quick!
Doctor: (enters) I'm sorry, he's dead.

The End

We broke up into three groups and were told to present the plays in various ways: one group alternated acting it emotionlessly followed by a manic delivery. Another group alternated speaking like a robot and saying "dude" and "like" all the time. Our group had what I feel was the most inventive pairing: old time radio-style performance (with all of us sitting in seats with hands to our ears) and silent movie style, in which all the dialogue was written on pieces of paper and held up by one of the actors instead of being spoken.

Khaled explained that the limited nature of a play like this offers the advantage of controlling what he terms the "target language" for the students -- for beginning students, it's much easier if they have a very clear set of their language.

Learning to teach English is hard!

The second half of the day is grammar and phonology, and there's a lot more focus on how language works and so it requires a little bit more work. Today we learned the phonetic alphabet for English and the main word classes. Essentiall we're going to be getting a crash course in English grammar and phonology and in 2 weeks we're going to have to answer a grammar and phonology test. This is a lot less entertaining than pretending you're in a 1920s flick. But I find both classes equally interesting.

So far, I'm really glad that I'm taking the course. Speaking of which, I have to get going on my homework. Enjoy all.


العربية: صبحاً دهبت الى مدرسة. عندي إثنان مدرّسان. مساعاً درست
This morning I went school. I have two teachers. This evening I studied.

It was a dark and stormy night...

Not only am I still on dialup, but the phone wire I'm currently using is a spliced up phone cable that I have had to repeatedly twist together because it's not exactly plugged in to anything. Here is what it looks like:
(click to enlargen)

I'm currently in Alexandria, and it's windy. Now, I've been in situations that were windy before, but this is without question the windiest experience of my life. This was honest to goodness walking against the wind.

This is what the weather underground is saying about the weather in Alexandria:

Click for Alexandria, Egypt Forecast

I don't know what it says as you are reading this, but right now they are stinkin' liars. They say it is 23mph. Everyone here though insists it's a great deal faster than that. I mean, if you were using this to measure the weather, the rock would be gone. The wind is positively howling.

On a more positve note, I had my first authentic Egyptian food in Cairo today. It's called Kushari and it's a delicious blend of macaroni, noodles, rice, lentils, chickpeas, and tomato sauce which comes in a little bowl which you pour on top. At the table is a pitcher filled with a very, very spicy sauce which adds a little flavor and a lot of heat. Delicious.

Tonight, however, I couldn't find a proper restaurant so I had to eat a tuna pizza. The shame!

I've made it to the course and we have absolutely lovely hotel suites to stay in for the duration of our course. Furnished with lots of old elegant looking furniture. Very elegant and grimy, my kind of thing.

There are 12 other people on the course and I think I've met most of them. Everyone seems very nice and we already have homework, which I will read after I post this.


عربية: صبحاً ذهبت الى مطعم مع اصدقائى واكلت كشري. مسعااً ذهبت الإسكندرية بلقطا
This morning I went with friends to a restaurant and ate Kushari. This afternoon I went to Alexandria by train.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Wow. Just, wow.

No pretty photos, no long posts, no quirky videos: I am currently posting this via a dialup connection. According to my computer, I'm now connecting at 38667bps. For those of you who are more used to broadband, that is 0.04Mbps, or about 1/15th of a DSL modem. To give you an idea, this is the kind of picture I can upload for you people with that kind of bandwidth:
But that's mostly just 'cuz I'm impatient.

Well, I made the flight to Egypt and met up with my friend Catherine. As with all travel stories, there were complications: believing I was going to miss my flight in the morning, arriving at the wrong terminal, and a taxi driver who insisted on charging me $5 to drive from one terminal to the other. And of course to celebrate my arrival in Cairo, we ate out at a delightful restaurant serving...Thai food. Odd day, I'm exhausted. Arabic to follow.


العربية: صبحاً ذحبت الى القاهرة في طاأرة. انا طعبان
This morning I went to Cairo in an airplane. I am tired.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Every x begins with a single y

This is what I looked like Monday evening, after having had only 3 hours sleep or so since Saturday afternoon. I look and feel a lot better now.
A few months ago, I decided I wanted to go to Egypt and teach English while learning Arabic. I left home on Sunday and have been visiting friends from school here in London for the past few days. Next week I start a 4 week TEFL certificate course in Alexandria.

Tomorrow morning I am going to wake up very early and go to Heathrow to fly to Cairo. At this point, my internal clock has completely lost its battery and I don't know what time it is (I mean, I know what time it is by looking at the clock). So I'm not sure how getting up so early after so little sleep is going to affect me.

Yes I know I should be asleep already if I need to get up early in the morning. It's just I've discovered this about myself:
I'm not bad at getting out of bed early. I'm bad at going to bed early.


I'm going to try to write a little something in Arabic for each entry. Right now it's pretty bad but eventually it should be much better as I remember what I already know and pick up grammar and vocab. Initially I'm doing a bit of looking up but eventually I'm going to try to do it all on my own. I'm guessing this has mistakes, but apparently that's totally cool

العربية: ذهبت إلى مطعم واتقابلت صاحبي فذهبت المكتبة بريطانيّة وبعد ذلك ذهبت إلى الشعق وإشتريت فواكه
I went to the restaurant and met my friend. Then I went to the British Library and then I went to the market and bought fruit.