Thursday, February 21, 2008

Oral Presentations: fitting your life into 5 minutes or less

This was the last week of class at St. Andrews. Students took their written test on Monday and Wednesday night was the Oral part. It was simple. I asked the students to prepare an oral statement of 5 minutes on one of three topics:

1. Tell me about yourself
2. Give me an opinion on Cairo traffic, pollution, housing shortage, or another current topic
3. Cairo is my home now, but …

Most students chose to talk about themselves. I passed out the corrected written test to students at the beginning of class; about 5 failed. It’s always difficult to face failure, I told them. I failed statistics twice in college, before I finally passed it on the third try. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid; it just means that there’s room for improvement.

Ban is a 48 year-old mother of three boys, who likes to dye her hair reddish-purple, and wears a matching red jacket this day. She left Iraq a year and a half ago when her family received a letter threatening to kill them. She first took her youngest (12 years old) and oldest son (24 years old) and fled to Egypt, leaving her husband and middle son in Baghdad. She has tried to find any way possible to take them out of Iraq, but so many countries have denied them entry, including Sweden and the European countries. She now lives in the Cairo suburb 6th of October, where she bought a flat.

Ishag, a soft-spoken 27 year old Sudanese, went by the nickname Khaby as a child.
A childhood friend called him last week, asking for Khaby. He had forgotten his own nickname, so initially did not recognize his old friend. “We was living together,” he explained. They chatted for a while and reminisced about the old days.

Salum, from Tanzania, has been in Cairo since 2005. “I don’t like Cairo! It’s too cold in winter and too hot in summer.” He learned Arabic when he was 15 years old. It sounds like he looks forward to the day when he can return to his homeland.

Omer, a tall gentleman from Chad, has been in Egypt for 5 years. He always has an upbeat attitude. He bemoaned his mediocre English abilities and felt maybe he should try to improve his French to improve his job prospects.

In a strange way, I was relearning the backgrounds of my students on the very last day of class. When I reheard their stories, I felt an acute appreciation of the difficult lives they lead. Of the struggles they’ve faced and are facing. And I realized – again – how fortunate I am in being able to travel freely with my American passport.

After the last presentation was given, the students shook my hand as they filed out of the bungalow. I was happy to finish the course, but also sad to see my students leave me. I will have about two weeks before the next 9 week term begins. Alhamdulillah!

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