Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Will Teach for Beer!
So, I think I have found my ultimate justification for staying longer in Cairo beyond the end of my Arabic studies—beer! To be more precise, it looks like I may begin a new stint as tutor to some managers at a beer factory outside the City. Rafat, the gentleman who contacted me this week, is the brother-in-law to Barsoum, my former student who sells jewelery.
In fact, Rafat and I met a year earlier at Baroum’s house during dinner celebrating Coptic Christmas. He and his wife gave me a lift home that night. At 32, he is married to Barsoum’s sister Hala, but has no kids yet. He has a smooth, chubby face with a caramel complexion. He is easy to laugh and about my height with short-cropped hair.
As he drives me to the factory, Rafat and I speak in Arabic. While he has a basic understanding of English and speaks it conversationally, he’s more comfortable speaking Ammeyya, or Egyptian Arabic. I manage to say a few statements about life and my experience in Cairo this past year that make him laugh. For example, I share with him the tale of the Muslim taxi driver begging me for a can of beer when I was going to a Halloween party. Never mind that the Holy Koran was above his steering wheel.
Rafat tells me that he loves Chinese people. “Just love them! They are so industrious. They work very hard -- night and day. They never stop. And they are so nice. There’s a time and place for everything. When they work, they work. When they leave work, they rest. However, in Egypt, They don’t like to work. The people take long breaks to smoke, eat or fool around. There’s no system for anything here.”
The factory is located about 45 minutes southeast of downtown in the countryside. We convene in the conference room. As the men gather, everyone lights up. They offer me tea and beer. I ask for tea, but they keep insisting that I have some beer. It’s still not yet noon. I decline politely.
Rafat and five of his colleagues mainly want to improve their spoken English. They must deal with their Belgian boss and sometimes with English-speaking customers. After assessing their reading, speaking, listening comprehension and writing abilities, I determined that they are all beginning speakers, with the one exception of Rafat, who has the strongest English skills.
After several hours of chatting and assessment, we decide to begin classes in about one week. We agree to a price that will pay for my rent and bean sandwiches many times over. To give you an idea of my wages, every time I visit them for a 2 hour session, I will make more money than most Egyptians make all month.
Rafat drives me to Monib, the nearest metro station and I return to make preparations for the upcoming class. Just as the economy in the US and around the world is in a slump, it may not be such a bad idea to remain in Egypt for a little bit longer as a tutor to beer manufacturers. As the economists say, the desire for beer is an “inelastic demand.” In other words, people keep drinking booze no matter what. Alhamdulilah! (Praise be to God!)