Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tutor to the jeweler

I have found myself gainful part-time employment as a tutor to a diamond and gold jeweler named Barsoum. I first speak to his wife Manal, who has very fluent English. She tells me her husband is in need of conversational English practice for two hours a week. She doesn’t tell me much else except that they live by the Pyramids.

When I arrive at the compound, Barsoum meets me at the gate. He is a youthful looking gentleman with short hair and a mustache and a warm smile. He guides me into his house, which is a lovely mansion-like home. His wife serves me tea as we sit down at the coffee table. A large plasma TV screen sits on the shelf, below the DVD player. Barsoum has studied English for many years, but has not used it much outside the classroom.

He’s traveled all around the world, from the U.S. and Canada to Hong Kong to Europe to Bangkok, Thailand. He visits Dubai every three months and has been there more than 30 times altogether. He likes Hong Kong, but found the taxi drivers hard to communicate with as they speak little to no English. Barsoum speaks with confidence and much energy. He tells me that he wants to focus on speaking, listening and business vocabulary. In his line of work, he often deals with foreign businessmen, especially in Hong Kong and Thailand, who tend to be very indirect.

After nearly an hour of chatting, we move to the dining table, where Barsoum and his wife serve me a light snack of flat bread, salad, a thin omelette and cheese. I compliment her on the delicious food. I want to compliment on her cooking, but see that she has a maid in the kitchen.

Barsoum wants to meet with me weekly on Sunday mornings for two hours. He wants to take me to dinner Thursday in Dokki, by his shop, which is just a few minutes away from my language school.

The couple has two children in a private British-run high school, the “best in Egypt”. (Best means expensive). Even better than Al Alsson, the other famous international school. He wants about six children, but explains that his wife doesn’t want more. “It’s a real problem,” he jokes. They are Coptic Christians, and explain that in Egypt, unfortunately, the Muslims like to convert foreigners or any non-Muslims. I explain that I noticed that every conversation with a taxi driver usually turns into religion. “I feel like a fish and the Muslims are out to catch me,” I tell them. They laugh.

When our tutorial ends, they briefly show me around the Villa. “It is very quiet here,” they remark as we walk to the swimming pool. Many foreigners rent out the houses here. The couple lives in what would be called a “gated community” in the U.S. They hail a cab for me and I bid them Ma-esalama or see ya later.

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