Mary and Brad are engaged! We are thrilled. Brad is already part of the family. Lilly, Edith and Sawyer already call him Uncle Brad but it is so good to see Mary and Brad make this commitment to one another. They will have a great marriage.
We had been making inquiries about running groups. There isn`t one at the school (yet!) but we were told about one that meets on the Corniche down by the sea on Friday mornings. And a wonderful teacher at the school, Aichyne, said she would drive us over. I fully expected to meet a small group of dedicated runners (you have to be to run in this crazy heat). So we showed up and it was a group of close to two hundred runners!
We had to register and everyone seemed to be given a number to stick on their bellies. Finally, it dawned on us that this was a race. And that the vast majority of the runners looked like they just turned seventeen. I am not sure that I can properly describe how it all worked but it was quite something so here goes.
We were introduced to the leader. He is in the pics, a tall, slim fellow who is the second ranked triathlete in Africa. I know because he told me. But I believe him because he quite obviously is very passionate and sincere about getting these kids involved in running and developing healthy lifestyles and the whole running culture. And he looks and acts like an athlete. He is the real thing. Just like Laura and Dani.
First, the warmup. He crossed five lanes of traffic to stand on the median in the middle of the Corniche. You can check out the Corniche on Youtube. We were all standing on the other side of the road. He would start a stretching exercise and then blow his whistle when he changed to the next one. It was like being in the middle of the Vanier Parkway or the Lakeshore in Toronto. And everyone followed him. It was great.
Then the race started. I have felt dehydrated, well, been dehydrated more than once over the years but that run was a struggle. Six kilometres felt like twenty-six. But Judy and I both finished and we were treated like royalty at the finish. They gave us each certicates after our friend the leader gave a five minute instructional talk to the troops, referring to us as some sort of example, and telling the kids to save their energy in the early going of a race so that could finish feeling strong and good. They gave Judy and me each quite the round of applause when we got our awards. And then the winner, Achmed, turned his winning medal over to me in front of everyone! We weren`t actually fully functional during all of this, what with the heat and the dehydration and all, but it was very moving. And next Friday morning, we will return. How could we not.
Yesterday was the last day of work for the week. Thursday. Our weekend is Friday and Saturday. This is an adjustment. The work week starts on Sunday morning at 7:30. Anyway, to alleviate the stress of such a funny work week, we all headed off to the Cecil Hotel on the Corniche, a boulevard which runs along the Mediterranean sea shore Thursday after work. Ten lanes wide. We were told that, if you try to cross it Egyptian style and you get hit…no insurance coverage. Res ipsa loquitur i.e…you are an idiot.
The Cecil was built in 1929 and has kept in its original condition beautifully. Churchill stayed there as did Al Capone and the British Secret Service. Oddly, no one at the front desk knew anything about the hotel`s history. Judy took a photo of the elevator which is the original old black iron caged type with room for maybe four people who know each other very well. As she said: “ It`s all very regal.“ And so up we went for drinks (well, a glass of Fanta) and the most magnificent view of the Mediterranean which we could admire from our rooftop vantage point.
Most of the group took taxis but we took the tram. The tram is kind of rickety and a bit wobbly. All of the windows and doors are open. In the morning at 6:45 it is always mostly empty which is very pleasant. In the afternoons it is often packed which can be a bit much, truth be told. But last night, Judy and Rachel and I were heading downtown, the opposite of our usual direction, and it was blissfully empty. We had seats! It cost about ten cents Canadian. We did not leave the hotel until after sunset. I took an iphone photo which might make it to the blog. It was gorgeous (the sunset that is).
This is not an exciting headline. I will never be offered a job by the Ottawa Sun. I can live with that. But, even as I will say that Alexandria is mostly what I expected…chaotic, crowded, electric in many ways especially after dark, something neither of us anticipated was the people we have come across during our random activities, our everyday life. And it all started with the cheery vendors in the souk by the school calling “Welcome, welcome to Egypt!” on that first day.
For example, taking a taxi is an adrenalin rush right up there with looking over the balcony of our seventh floor apartment (for me…it makes me dizzy) or sky diving or running down the Gatineau park trails back to Chelsea. It is a lot like bumper cars without the bumpers. They all drive Ladas, little square yellow and black things. They have never heard of traffic lanes and they have a great time weaving in and out. Meanwhile, the pedestrians wend their way through the traffic like halfbacks cutting through the line.
I always sit in the front and “converse” with the driver. Yesterday, our fellow seemed to have something on his mind because he kept talking about the Egyptian president, who he evidently approved of, and gesticulating wildly, all the while talking from time to time on his cell and weaving all over the place. We came so close to one pedestrian that I could have picked his pocket if I knew where his pocket was. A millimetre never seemed so important.
We had an interesting conversation with Basil, one of the Egyptian admin folks at the school. He said that the most important interaction with Egyptians is the first one. And so we have tried to be as open as possible, at least in our demeanour, with our interactions. He also said the revolution four years ago was the greatest two weeks of his life. But that is just a teaser for another day.
Two days ago, a group of seven of us went to the Alexandria Library which is an amazing institution. The original library was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was intended to contain in its collection a copy of every book published in the ancient world. Sadly, it was destroyed not once but twice. Anyway, we were on the tram on our way there and the fact of the matter is that we stick out like sore thumbs. A fellow, maybe our age, asked where we were headed. I told him. He said “Follow me. I will take you there”. Turns out he was a professor at Alexandria University which is across the street from the library. After a short delay, while he had a bit of a conversation with the security people at the school, he led us right there.
This has happened a lot. Complete strangers will ask us “Can I help you?” if we are standing looking bewildered (which happens a lot). And yesterday at a very busy grocery store a young girl, maybe fourteen years old, came up to Judy and asked to take a selfie with her! It was so cute. We are definitely a novelty, which we are just realizing. Strangers in a strange (for us) land.
The name of our school is Alexandria International Academy (AIA). It is a World IB (International Baccalaureate) school running an international program which is taught in many countries. Most of the IB programs are in the U.S. and Canada but they really are all over the place. Our principal sent four years for example helping to get an IB school certified in Mongolia. He loved it. Mongolia!! I can’t say I have thought too much about Mongolia until very recently.
Our fellow teachers have taught in places like South Korea, Kuwait (not too many fans), Thailand, Pakistan, and India. They are Australian, French, English, American, Costa Rican, Ivory Coastian, and of course Canadian. And probably others that I have forgotten to mention. There is definitely a sense of wanderlust in many of the group. Darren, the principal from Brandon, Manitoba, left home to study overseas twenty six years ago and has never moved back. Visits quite often but his working life is overseas. For Judy and me, who are so rooted in our Canadian life, which is a rich one, it is an eye-opener to think about such a different philosophy.
We are really trying to do our bit to help build a certified IB school. Judy and I are both staff in the Middle Years Program (MYP…loving the acronyms!). She is the English teacher and I am the Humanities teacher. I thought that I was teaching math too but that doesn’t appear to be happening. Too bad in a way because I had this great math lesson involving a little can of maple syrup (entirely Monica Chappell’s ideas that I was “borrowing”!). But I digress. It is fun to think about working as a team to create these new programs. It reminds me of when Run Club started and our Tuesday night yoga and pot luck feasts got off the ground. And also when the choir at the church had to figure out how to function after we lost our professional music director. Starting from the ground up. It never gets old.
Enough for now. Coffee break is over! Time for another hair raising taxi ride. More on that later.
Have a great day!
The only thing notable about the actual trip, and it was a good thing, was that it was uneventful. I got patted down at the airport in Frankfurt and that was sort of exciting but that was about it. But flying into Cairo was quite astonishing because suddenly all we saw out the window of the airplane was miles and miles of sand. And the pyramids! There they were! Just sitting there!
We were apprehensive going through the Cairo airport because no one was allowed into the airport to greet passengers. Why, one wondered? I still don’t know but we sailed right through, and instantly saw Darren Arbour, our Principal, who flagged us through into the smothering heat.
We set off in a minivan with Mohammed the driver at the helm. We stopped at a gas station where it was total bedlam, complete with parking/gas pump attendants, many of them, marshalling the vehicles around while the group of five teachers and one Principal picked up some cold drinks for the drive.
into it at this point. The van had these lovely dark purple curtains, closed, and keeping out any semblance of oxygen. Meanwhile, sitting in the back, I had this wonderful view of everyone’s heads flopping forward and backward from fatigue. At least until mine started flopping too.
Peeking through the curtains, I saw that we were rollicking along a four or six lane highway. There seemed to be a vehicle broken down at the side of the road every kilometre or so and piles of rubble everywhere. As Darren said, ” Welcome to Egypt everyone!” And miles of half finished hi rise buildings with no windows.
Finally getting to the Alexandria city limits and seeing the welcoming sign felt great. And suddenly, we were driving through so much traffic with people all over the place. Of course it was only 8 pm or so even though it felt like I don’t know what to us. We dropped off Rachel first, right in the middle of the souk (market) near the school. It was so alive with shops, market vendors, little kids like our grandchildren playing in these little narrow streets. And we drove by the wall and gates of the school too. That was fun for us.
We were dying to get to our apartment by then. Here is a little description. This is an old building. There is a wizened little elderly and wonderful doorman named Bibi who is always around. He was there to greet us. If he isn’t at the front door, you ring a bell and he materializes. The entranceway has wide marble steps and an old fashioned elevator with a metal wire gate that is about the size of a broom closet.
Anyway, this apartment is like something out of E M Forster or Graham Greene or Casablanca or Turner Classic Movies. Humphrey Bogart would feel right at home.There is marble all over the kitchen and bathroom and the buffet in the dining room and on little side tables here and there. The ceilings must be sixteen feet high. There is a servant’s door beside the front door. We haven’t decided who the servant is yet, Judy or me. The three bedrooms are separated from the living areas with a doorway. If one of us is in the bedroom and the other is in the kitchen, there is no way we can hear each other. The furniture is old and heavy and substantial. In short, it is just what the doctor ordered.
We miss all the gang.
With three days to go, still stuff to do…and then the real fun begins!