Luxor in May…heat, heat and more heat!

The school has never had a serious, multi-day field trip. It is the sort of thing that puts a school on the map so to speak. It involves a ton of planning and tremendous responsibility too. I have been teaching a unit that stretches from early humans to the Ancient Egypt and Kush (Nubia and present day Sudan roughly) and we live in this country with more remarkable ancient monuments and artifacts than probably anywhere in the world. And the little city of Luxor lies at the heart of it all. That is where we headed. By bus to Cairo. By plane to Luxor. 874 kilometers if you drive on the Desert Road.

As a leader and chaperone, you wonder about the human element – children being separated from their parents, especially their mothers in this case, in many cases for the first time. Planning the itinerary is straightforward, time consuming, but it’s just about making arrangements. No one is going to start crying if don’t see King Tut’s tomb. But lots of kids cry because they miss their mommy. However, they didn’t! They would sometimes say they missed their moms but they were cheerful about it. The parents were kept up to date via a What’s App parents group link so that they received information all day long, every day. The children were not allowed to bring cell phones, only cameras. In this world, would Canadian schools be able to have a field trip with no student cell phones allowed?

Luxor is so interesting. When you drive over to the West Bank and head toward the Valley of the Kings you pass through the old world in many ways. Girls marry between the ages of sixteen and twenty. As women many are covered in black from head to foot, although not necessarily wearing a full, face covering niqab. It is very fertile but with little modern machinery. It is dusty and feels kind of slow and underdeveloped. People including children often use donkeys and donkey carts as their main mode of transportation. It is National Geographic style Egypt. Such a contrast between the huge cities of Cairo and Alexandria which are so noisy and crowded and energetic.

Then there is the heat. That was intense. 45 degrees is as hot as I have ever experienced. We were not that far from the Tropic of Cancer as you can see on the map. Judy was our resident First Aid department and she gave the kids some real lessons on hydration, de-hydration and its symptoms. They internalized it and we kept after them to find shade, drink water frequently, keep their hats and sunglasses on and get to the pool as soon as we returned to the hotel. Even so, some were a bit woozy although not seriously so.

The Karnak Temple is the second largest ancient religious site in the world (after the Angkor Wat Temple of Cambodia). The monuments are imposing and massive to see in daylight. At night, at nine o’clock during the Sound and Light show, it was terrifying for the children. At first. Booming voices and spot lights being shone on random giant stone figures had them jumping out of their skin. One boy, taller than me but only eleven years old, would not let go of my hand. He kept saying: ‘We are in hell! We are in hell!”. Another girl said: “If I ever did anything bad to any of you, I am sorry! I am going to die! I am going to die!”. Meanwhile, I am thinking I have traumatized each of them for life. But when they wrote their reflections in their journals at the end of the trip, what was the best part of the trip? The Sound and Light show of course.

So it is over. The morning after we returned, one of the girls, who was very nervous before the trip, said to me:” Mister (they call me Mister) I want to go back to Luxor.” There was our reward… though we won’t return right away thanks!

From Alex to Athens and back; two different worlds

There were a couple of things that were really appealing about teaching in Egypt. One was that the assignment was in Alexandria not Cairo with its twenty three million inhabitants. Alexandria was on the Mediterranean and our apartment was to be a ten minute walk from the sea. What was not to like about that?

Which leads me to the other point. Alexandria is a stone’s throw from the European Mediterranean coast, in particular, Greece, historic and beautiful, especially the islands of the Aegean. Greece has been in the news like many countries in this part of the world for all of the wrong reasons…the Grexit problems with the European Union and its bankers; the refugees washing up in their shaky boats on some of their islands and a general image of despair. But look at the map I kept telling myself and Judy. A flight from here to Athens takes one hour and forty minutes. Like flying to Quebec City from Ottawa. But the difference between Greece and Egypt, even Alexandria which was founded by a Greek, is hard to describe.

So off we went, leaving Alex at about four in the afternoon and arriving at our little hotel in Oia on the island of Santorini by nine that evening. We had a transfer in Athens to catch our flight to Santorini that was hair raising to say the least but we turned on the after burners Laurie McLean style and just caught the flight on time. It was just what we needed. Santorini is a beautiful island, very rocky from the earthquakes and lava spills of the past but with breathtaking, stunning views. We travelled around the island on local buses which were very plush but cheap (1.8 Euros). Our accommodation at Maria’s Place was simple but clean and comfortable and we had five days to relax. The last five or six weeks at school have been intense, with extra time and work, so we felt like our vacation was earned. We also had two nights in Athens at the end of the week which we were a bit uncertain about, another big city with all that it entails. But we loved it. The metro is a wonder. It took us from the airport to our hotel and back easily and comfortably. They play classical music at the metro stops which felt very soothing. Maybe that is what we need in our classes full of rambunctious Egyptian kids! They would probably look at us like we had two heads.

Greece feels very European. Most people seem to speak good English. They are quite laid back although I did talk with a number of them about their eight years of austerity which have been and still are difficult. Everyone wants to get paid in cash and they are willing to make deals to see it happen, even hotel keepers. They are limited to four hundred and fifty Euros a week for interac withdrawals. Pensions have been halved. Life is not simple.

So we jump on our Egyptair flight to Alexandria and, before the plane is even taxiing down the runway, a huge brouhaha breaks out in the seat in front of us between a mother and some fellow sitting in front of her who I think made the mistake of saying something about her noisy children. Big problem! All sorts of passengers and personnel converge to comfort the mother. The unfortunate fellow is moved to the back of the plane somewhere and two minutes later, it is as if nothing has happened. Interestingly, we didn’t even blink. Home sweet home. Back to the noise and the chaotic, tumultuous energy of Alexandria. Our sweet, restful vacation finished with a bang.

Looking into the future

There are only seven weeks to go until we head to Cairo for our journey home on June 25th. It is difficult not to look ahead but there is so much going on between now and then that Departure Day will probably suddenly materialize out of the blue, like a shock.

There are major school activities almost every week including two out of town field trips that are my responsibility. One is to Luxor, the other to Athens.

The thought of taking twenty-eight Grade 6ers to Luxor and seeing many of the same sites we saw a little over a month ago is actually exciting. Four days and three nights.

The principal, Darren Arbour, and I put together an information letter for the parents which I read to the students on Sunday at 8:15 during our first class. I handed the first letter to the first student and before I dropped the second letter in front of the second student, the first one yelled “we’re going to Luxor!”. So much for my plan to slowly and tantalizingly read the letter to them. Of twenty nine Grade 6 students, twenty seven have signed up, a number I am thrilled with.

We did have an information meeting one night with the parents and that helped a lot because we could deal with concerns directly. All of the parents at the meeting signed up that night, a nice vote of confidence.

The Athens trip is not going to happen but I am hopeful for next year. The seeds have been planted and, now that Judy and I have spent some time in Greece (more on that later), I really want to do it. It would be a great learning experience for the students.

Meanwhile, the younger ones are all over me about the Luxor trip. Roomates are a big issue. They will not be allowed to bring cell phones. That was a big hurdle getting over that with both the students and their parents. Some of the kids have never spent even one night away from their parents so this is a courageous step for their whole families. The parents will have teacher cell numbers and will receive a nightly email with a report of the day’s activities.

Looming over everything is the thought of returning home, helping Mary with her wedding, seeing Ashley and Jon’s new little one and Sarah and Tommy and Lilly and the suddenly chatty Edith. And all of our friends at the Run Club, at Tuesday night yoga and the church and Judy’s former teaching colleagues and friends. Life does not slow down. Ever. That’s the fun of it.