2018

As I sit down to write  lesson plans, I can only think of other things I would rather do: catch up on blogging, knit, blow bubbles for the cats, sort my clothes that have tiny little holes from the cats’ claws, eat lunch, bake some bread, catch up on laundry, yoga for the day, possibly even wash the dishes. I imagine I will end up doing all these things before I get to the lesson plan writing.

One of my aunts chose this year to write a description of their daily lives rather than a year overview which I find to be an interesting alternative. I have decided to copy her because the whole year has already been recorded throughout the other blog posts. I hope you’re ready for a lot of reading.

It’s morning. Ronnie has gone off to the gym. He attempted to persuade me to come but, as my head was pounding from the Nth head cold I’ve had this (school) year, I decided not to join him today. I’ll do yoga instead. I’ve been trying to do yoga daily. From May to September, I was attending an air yoga class at a fitness center a few blocks away. I decided to stop going but continued regular yoga at home. I had been working on headstands until school started and, like teachers all over the world, I got sick. Now I try to keep myself upright as much as possible.

The kitchen is a mess because, after returning from vacation, one must prove that we can still survive here without gourmet wines and cheeses that we indulged on daily in Holland (also we took some ingredients home with us). I’ve made smoked salmon, Krab quiche in a signature crust made with Crisco and some cheese pie with substandard Egyptian cream cheese. We also found some real lemons (they call little green limes lemons here) and made Avgolemono, and oregano chicken. There are a lot of dishes to wash.

Winter time, whether truly cold or not, always gets me into a crocheting mood. I made hats for us to use in Amsterdam (very glad I did), and in the process remembered that my fingers don’t like to crochet, and get all warty and painful when I do. So I bought knitting needles in Amsterdam and I thought I would start on a project. If I was thinking, I would remember that all cool projects either require 20 balls of yarn or double point/circular needles…which I don’t have. So I’m trying an experiment. If what I’m doing turns out, I’ll write about it. Otherwise my failure will be my secret.

The water is hot, I’ll go wash a few dishes. That’s right, there’s no hot water in the kitchen so we have to heat up water on the stove. Quite primitive and it makes my least favorite chore even less enjoyable. At least we have hot water in the bathroom…Oh and make sure that you unplug the washing machine before taking the clothes out to dry on the line. Otherwise you will get a nasty shock.

I’m back! …after kicking the cat out of the kitchen. Leo still acts like a street cat, foraging through the kitchen (and garbage) for scraps of food. He’s quite fat and if we let him eat as much as he wanted, I am certain he would physically explode. I think he’s been a bit jealous of Zoe lately, who is growing and becoming more assertive by the second. They still have occasional cuddle time together, though.

I am currently writing this in a Word document because the internet is out. It could be simply that we need to go pay for the internet, or it could be that the network is down in the country, or the third option is that the government decided that no one is allowed on the internet anymore (that’s a bit dramatic I suppose, but it has happened here in recent history). We’ll go pay some money and see what happens.

This afternoon, we went to a cafe in our neighborhood for coffee, almost across the street from the grocery store were we just paid our internet bill. He had a vanilla latte and I had a vanilla chai, since I don’t like coffee. We took it for granted at the time, but now we’ve discovered how spoiled we were by Barracuda! Good drinks? Friendly baristas? Definitely not things we’ve been able to find in Egypt! However, this place is the closest we’ve been able to come to passable drinks and passable food, and the employees aren’t unfriendly.

With our drinks, we walked to the park. Ronnie insisted that even though I’m not feeling well, I still needed to go outside for a bit. We feel fortunate that we have a park in our neighborhood, since parks are fairly uncommon around here. Not only that, but it’s a dog park, so there are usually puppies to pet!

Our instruments have sadly been neglected this year due to various (money-related) issues with the groups we play for. If we were real musicians, it wouldn’t matter if people were paying us to play, and our day-to-day routine would also include practicing. Turns out we’re not real musicians! Ronnie got some new reed-making supplies when his mom met us in Amsterdam, so he’ll probably make a few oboe reeds in the next few days. He supposedly has a concert coming up on Jan. 25 (a Mozart concert to celebrate his birthday), if they don’t cancel that one, too. I’ll probably find out that they want me to play a few days before rehearsal. Organization isn’t their strong suit, something that regularly pisses Ronnie off, given his past as a manager-type-person for a symphony.

(As an aside, Ronnie finally got paid by his orchestra after waiting nearly TWENTY MONTHS! They decided to start paying him as a substitute (that’s how I’m paid when I play) in March, but from Feb. 2016 to Feb. 2017, he just had to wait patiently while they figured something out. It couldn’t have come at a better time, as we were able to use some of that money in Amsterdam!)

It’s evening now, and we’ve finally got the internet up and working, so we’re going to watch some Netflix. We never got cable when we moved into this apartment, so Netflix (and less-legally downloaded movies) are our only option for entertainment.

This country has given us a lot of perspective and especially just coming back from the Netherlands, we are reminded once again how the tiniest little things can make such a difference. Like having hot water in the kitchen. Like having any type of food at your disposal. Like knowing that people will understand you when you speak English. Like having a peaceful neighborhood. Like clean streets. Like having toilet paper in public bathrooms. Like HAVING public bathrooms. Like not being stared at wherever you go. That being said, I hope we never forget what it was like here. Perspective is a good thing.

I wrote that last part in past tense, like we don’t live here anymore. If you didn’t already know, we are moving to Lithuania next August (God willing, insha’allah, whatever),  so this will be my last New Year’s post from Egypt!!!  So we do still live here, but only for 8 more months. We are incredibly excited about what the future school and country have to offer. We’ve been doing a ton of research already, and we’ve both started learning the language, which is incredibly difficult (but in different ways than Arabic.) It is our hope to stick around in Lithuania for a few years, but at the moment we’re just excited to move out of Egypt.

Here’s to 2018! A whole new year of exciting adventures (still no lesson plans completed).

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Thanksgiving

Surprisingly I have no pictures to post of the massive feast we shared with our friends. It must mean something but I’ll leave that interpretation up to you.

We were both quite unhappy at this time last year. The Egyptian economy had just tanked, I had left my original school, I was homesick, and we were stuck in Egypt for Christmas which depressed me immensely.

The difference this year is massive. We’ve made some new friends in Egypt, we’re headed to Amsterdam for Christmas, and we have Lithuania to look forward to next year. I am so incredibly thankful for (and excited about) all these things.

Life is hard sometimes, but it’s also amazing sometimes. Don’t give up. Push through the hard moments and live for the amazing moments.

School Year 2017-2018

Guess what? School started. I bet you could have guessed that by that sudden disappearance.

It has been quite interesting seeing how the school has changed since last year. This is the first time that I’ve been at a school for the second year (finally!) and I have both enjoyed and disliked it. On the one hand, it is much more familiar; I know the staff, the students, some of the parents, the curriculum, etc. On the other hand, the school has grown, a lot. Without getting into gory details, I’ll just say the school is going through growing pains. The things that we were using last year just don’t work anymore.

I have 22 students where last year I had 17. It’s amazing what a difference 5 kids makes. It’s a good challenge for me, but it’s quite exhausting.

We had some guests come at the beginning of September and we explored a bit more of Cairo. I think that deserves a post of it’s own.

Then school started and that’s pretty much been our lives. We played a few concerts including Beethoven 9 (again) and a premier for some movie.

This week is our mid-term break. I love that it always happens over my birthday. We thought about taking a trip to Cairo or Siwa, but decided to stay home and save money for Amsterdam over Christmas.

How to be content

I considered titling this, How to be happy, but that’s a bit presumptuous. We aren’t happy all the time. We aren’t even content all the time, but our time in Egypt has taught us a lot about it.

Moving is hard. Moving far away is harder. Moving far away to a new country where you don’t speak the language is the hardest.

One of the people I interviewed with this past year explained that living abroad isn’t easy and was more concerned about whether we knew how to make the best of things than about my teaching skills. For those of you not familiar with the international teaching scene, it is quite common that people don’t show up, only last a month, or leave mid-contract for one reason: It’s hard to live far away from everything familiar.

There’s also the fact that Egypt is a developing country. People do weird things and the stuff we want is often not readily available. It is so easy (and we are guilty of this) to get together and have a bitch-fest for hours on end about the people, culture, government, etc. It takes actual work to find good things to keep you sane and focus on being positive. And when you can’t find them, you have to make them!

Food

This is a fairly obvious one, otherwise comfort food wouldn’t be a thing. Specific things in Egypt that we haven’t found and have made ourselves include:

  • Butter: The butter in Egypt tastes atrocious, and there is no such thing as salted butter. So I began (and Ronnie has perfected) making butter by hand, and it is a billion times better than anything in the store! I keep telling him to write a blog about it, but he keeps dragging his feet.
  • Cocktails: There are a few bars here, and more in Cairo, but they charge hundreds of Egyptian pounds for one cocktail. That’s obviously unacceptable, so we have learned to make do with what we have available at home. We generally keep ourselves well-stocked (our alcohol store is called “Drinkies”). We won’t be hosting any Drinkology events, but we make do with what we have.
  • Crusty bread: Bakeries are overly abundant here, but they pretty much just sell muffins and maybe sandwiches. If we want, say, French bread,  then we’re on our own, so I’ve begun making that myself. I’ve tried sourdough a couple times, but I haven’t really had any success with that yet.
  • Iced tea: Apparently, this is a super American thing. Not only do Egyptians hardly EVER drink iced drinks, this one is weird to our British friends as well. It’s a trillion degrees outside, and Egyptians are still drinking hot drinks. Not us! Ronnie’s taught a coffee shop nearby how to make iced lattes (he’s the only person who’s ever ordered one), and at home, we’re all about iced tea.
  • Food of varying ethnicities: Bearing in mind that we don’t live in Cairo, the restaurants here suck. We’ve found one halfway decent Mexican restaurant all the way across town, and one grocery store that sells pretty okay pizza (they’re the only place we’ve found that uses sauce!). Even Egyptians’ idea of “American” food is disgusting. So we’ve started trying to improve our Mexican and Italian food, I found a great pizza crust recipe, and our friend left us a bunch of Indian spices when she moved to Bangkok a couple of months ago. This one’s a work-in-progress, but we’re trying. It’s better than anything we’ll get in restaurants, that’s for sure!

Exercise

If you’re an emotional exerciser (when I’m angry, it’s time for a run), this is essential because the culture will frustrate you at some point. However, running outside here is not the best idea. It’s possible, just not very convenient or pleasant. So Ronnie goes to the gym frequently, and I’ve become a lot more serious about yoga both at home and by attending weekly air yoga classes at a nearby fitness center. (This also helps when angry).

Video chat

Technology is wonderful, and a chat with family, friends, or even dogs can brighten our day. It’s good to see friendly (familiar) faces every so often. If you’re reading this we’ve never Skype’d before, let’s do it sometime!

Music

When I worked as a barista, I listened to the latest pop songs on the radio all day. As terrible as some the music was I realized that I missed listening to the radio. Since we don’t drive, I’ll often listen to random playlists on YouTube at home or in the classroom.

On the classical side of things, performing concerts is still enjoyable even though we don’t have close friends in the symphony here. At home, concerts used to involve going out for dinner or drinks afterwards. Now, the night usually ends with a trip to Cinnabon (there’s one conveniently located on the Library of Alexandria campus!) and a couple beers at home (not a lot of places to go for drinks here, and not a lot of musicians willing to join us!)

Pets

A week or two after we moved to Egypt we realized that this was the first time either of us been without a pet (college doesn’t count because we still had pets at home). There’s something about having a fur baby in the house that makes it more like home. Unfortunately, Egypt is overcrowded with homeless cats and dogs. We lasted about two months before we just had to take one home with us and our apartment became a home (aww…how cheesy). Seriously, though. This is definitely “home” now that we look forward to getting back to our pets when we’re traveling.

And now we have two! Zoe doesn’t have her own blog post yet, but maybe I’ll get around to it. We have no idea how we’re going to take them with us when we leave, but we will definitely do our best to figure it out before the time comes.

 

These are just a few things we do be content when it seems like everything sucks. Of course the most important part is that we have each other…as long as we can remember that we’re in it together.

 

Drawing, painting, sketching

I’ve never claimed to be an artist, but I do like to experiment with things…especially when I’m stuck in Egypt all summer.

One of the silliest decisions I’ve made is not bringing any supplies for my “hobbies” with us to Egypt. Luckily I’ve been able to find all the supplies I need here.

Other things I’ve experimented with and not pictured are hand lettering and a geometric folded paper piece.

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Colored Pencil: My first time spending time attempting shading with pencil.

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A poster sized music map. A nice idea but it needs a bit more attention to detail and finishing.

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Acrylic Paint: Instagram photo

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Pencil: Because there is no way I could ever get Leo’s unique color right with pencils or paint.

Potty training

Now that our cat population has doubled so has the litter usage, the litter sprinkling throughout the house, the litter smell, the arguing over whose turn it is to do the litter, you get the point.

So we are attempting to toilet train the cats. Hopefully in a few months I can update you all on our success. I have read several articles on how to do it and also several articles about why you shouldn’t do it…mainly because cats are know for their digging and scratching so that’s why I’m a bit skeptical about it working.

Here are the steps we have taken so far. We are lucky enough to live in a place with two bathrooms so obviously the cats get one all to themselves.

Step one is to move the litter right next to the toilet.

Step two is to start raising the litter box up off the ground. We accomplished this with a few long flat boxes, adding another every two weeks until it was the same height as the toilet.

Step three is to move the litter box onto the toilet. This was a bit challenging because they aren’t the same size and the box kept falling off.

Step four is to place a pan of litter inside the toilet. There are kits you can buy to do this, but if you live in a place like Egypt, you have to be creative. We bought a fish-shaped roasting pan and it fits perfectly. We taped it underneath the toilet seat and filled it with litter. (Obviously this works better when they have their own bathroom because that toilet is no longer human friendly. Also it’s quite messy.)

Step five is to cut a hole in the pan and slowly increase the size of the hole until they don’t need the pan anymore.

Right now we are on step four. The main issue we have now is that when you cut a hole, you are supposed to leave a moat for the litter around the hole. I may have to hot glue something around the hole so all of the litter doesn’t just fall in the toilet.

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Leo was a bit resistant at first. He scratched at the tape and most of the litter ended up on the floor, but he seems to have accepted it now. Zoë is still young enough to be flexible and learn new things.

I would be so happy if we could have litter free floors, but we shall see.

 

Books galore

As mentioned before, there are some classic books that I have not read so I frequently go through phases of reading everything I can to catch up. Here’s the list for this year so far.

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. Great book! Makes you think about how you’re living your life.

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. Comedy that I didn’t find very funny, but it was a short enjoyable book.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. An interesting book, I can relate to his middle eastern experiences.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham. A biography about her personal choices in life, I had nothing in common with her but it was an interesting look into someone else’s  life.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I couldn’t remember if I’d read this before or just watched the movie. A good book.

Nineteen Minutes by Picoult Jodi. This was a page turner for me, but also really depressing.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. A funny and honest journey of an old man. I definitely enjoyed this one.

Beloved by Toni Morrison. It was tough to finish this one. Very strange.

1984 by George Orwell. I’m not really sure what to say about this one. I just really hope our future never looks like the books written about it. Definitely an interesting book.

On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers. I’m a huge fan of Pirates of the Carribean soudtracks. Turns out this book was the basis for the movie of the same title. The book is much better. Maybe one day people will write soundtracks to accompany books…

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I wasn’t sure I could make it through this one, but once I knew the characters I just had to know what happened.

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. I love it and will most likely read it aloud to my future classes.

The Shack by William Young. A new, interesting perspective on religious views. I enjoyed it a lot.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. A good book, but I felt like there were too many unanswered questions about this dystopian future.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child  by J. K. Rowling. I get the feeling that she just couldn’t stop writing about her characters. It was a nice little story but I don’t know how anyone could possibly put it on as a play.

Catch 22  by Joseph Heller. I couldn’t read this. I tried starting it over 2 or 3 times. I had no interest whatsoever.

Nobody is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey. I started this one but it was very slow moving and I gave up. It just seemed like a depressing book anyway.