Sunday, November 18, 2007

Teaching Sudanese Refugees: a preview

I visited St. Andrews yesterday to meet with Abigail, the new Director of the Adult Education Program. The office is on the second floor, which sits on top of a small property with one main teaching classroom and a bungalow on the playground. Some children are kicking around a soccer ball.

A petite lady in her mid-20s with fair skin and brownish hair, Abigail studied in Cairo for a semester in 2004 while at the University of Virginia (UVA). This is now her second rotation in the Egyptian capital. She has scheduled me to teach one class twice a week for a total of three hours. My students will probably be more advanced speakers.

The school has eight paid teachers serving 600 adults and 200 children. Most of them are Sudanese Refugees; however, the school also welcomes refugees from Somalia and Eritrea. Abigail says they “turn no one away.” Some students need to learn Arabic besides English to function in Cairo. Like the previous school I taught at in China, St. Andrews emphasizes English and computer skills; however, unlike my Chinese students, these students don’t have cars and drivers to shuttle them home for the weekend at nice condos in the city.

While we talk in the office, a skinny, young boy comes in asking for bus money home. Abigail prepares to give him one Egyptian Pound (about 20 cents), but he asks for 2 LE to include his “uktee” or sister. Abigail pulls out the bus fare from her purse and hands it to him.

A while later, a young girl enters the office with a scraped knee. Abigail tends to the small wound with some disinfectant spray, warning her young patient, “ok…this will hurt a little.” Spray. Spray. She covers it with a band-aid and the operation is complete.

After I leave St. Andrews, I spot an Egyptian man pissing into a fence next to the Nasser Metro Station. Maybe he really has to go. Despite his precarious situation, he is fairly discreet. No one seems to notice him. Once he finishes his business, he calmly zips up and walks away. The last time I saw public urination in broad daylight was in China during my teaching year. Egypt reminds me so much of China. Both are crowded and polluted, but have so much potential. Both countries operate with authoritarian political systems trying to find ways to improve their futures. Both have young men who like to piss at or through fences in public.

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