Sitting with Khadra

Azza and I are very tired today. Last night, around 10 p.m., we returned from a week-long road trip across a good portion of Egypt. We made this journey—a bumpy and sandy one—in a tough-as-nails Jeep Grand Cherokee owned and driven by Magdy, my wife’s oldest brother. Accompanying us was Basma, Magdy’s wife, Zeineb, Azza’s mother, and “Mehdu”—short for Mohamed—Zeineb’s youngest grandson.

The purpose of the trip was twofold: have a Spring Break adventure and visit a number of Azza’s uncles, aunts, and cousins, a sweet bunch of country folk who reside in an area of southwestern Egypt known as the Dahkla Oasis. To get a sense of where we went, find El Kharga on the map (see below) and then go west from there until you come to a place called El Qasr. That’s about where we ended up. The village we actually stayed in is not depicted. It’s called Ain El Oda.


If you’re into distances and that sort of thing, that’s a thousand miles, round-trip, across potholed highways that occasionally disappeared due to the creeping encroachment of mountain-sized sand dunes. In fact, portions of our sojourn could realistically be described as “off road.”

I envision this blog being the first in a series about the trip. What I did in Ain El Oda, and its environs, and the people I met there. My impressions. That sort of thing.

I’d like to do this first one on a woman named Khadra, one of Azza’s great-aunts.

I first met Khadra on her bed in the room where she slept, a dark space, made of Egypt’s version of adobe, with a dirt floor underneath our feet. The ceiling consisted of raw timber rafters and more mud. The bed was pushed up against one of the walls and the door was standing wide open, allowing flies to freely enter and exit. Semiha, one of Khadra’s daughters, was visiting her mother when we arrived. Of course, we all greeted one another in typical Egyptian fashion—a kiss applied to one side of the face and then the other, alternating like that until three or four smooches had found their mark.

There were no chairs so we simply sat on the bed itself. Khadra was wearing mourning black—Azza later explained that she’d dressed herself in this color nine years earlier, at the loss of a close member of the family, and just about the time she was ready to return to her regular attire, one of her sons died. Those traumas had been enough to cause her to grieve in perpetuity. Before the end of that initial visit, I asked Azza to ask Khadra how old she was. Khadra thought for a moment and then shrugged her shoulders. She wasn’t for sure. Eighty something, she guessed.

Khadra in her Bedroom
Khadra in her Bedroom

I immediately felt a strong kinship with Khadra. She talked about her physical ailments but never seemed to dwell on them. She had this marvelous way of suddenly turning toward me and looking me straight in the eyes before sending countrified Arabic my way. Of course, I wasn’t able to understand most of what she said, but Azza kept translating. Her utterances often had something to do with how happy she was to meet me and how glad she was Azza and I had gotten married.

In the evenings we made sure to return to Khadra’s place for a bit of socializing. After dark she’d leave her bed and go to the “sitting room,” a space that included a small television which she completely ignored. Instead, she would busy herself by talking with the ten or so visitors who’d come to say hello.

Visiting Khadra
Visiting Khadra

At one point, I told Azza to tell her great-aunt that she reminded me of my maternal grandmother, a woman I’m sure I’ll eventually blog about. As soon as she heard that, Khadra smiled and her face lit up. I’d given her such a compliment that she insisted I allow her to give me a kiss. Of course, I immediately obliged. Luckily, Azza had her camera at the ready and was thus able to digitally capture the moment.

Khadra Kissing Me
Khadra Kissing Me

Goku to the Rescue

It’s Friday Morning. Egypt’s Friday is similar to America’s Saturday, meaning it’s the first day of the weekend. Normally, the start of any weekend is enough to make me ecstatic, but Spring Break began yesterday at The American University in Cairo, so I’ve got a long holiday ahead of me, and thus I find it hard to accurately express how happy and unfettered I feel at this moment.

I teach on Mondays and Thursdays, and I had an interesting experience in my Heroes and Villains freshman seminar yesterday. It was oral presentation day. Three or four weeks earlier, I’d put the students into teams and each had chosen a hero or villain they were interested in. They’d then spent the intervening time learning about their individuals and planning their talks.

There were five presentation teams. Three had chosen heroes—Alan Turing, Erin Brockovich, and Goku—and two had selected villains—Jack the Ripper and George W. Bush, the man who spent eight years pretending to be America’s president. Actually, our two villains turned out to have some remarkable similarities with the exception that Bush had a lot more comedic value—if you like black humor—than did his British counterpart.

What I really want to write about is Goku, the anime character with big muscles and long hair that seems to change color from one period to another in his life. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the superhero, I’ve included a few images.

The Goku group was the fourth to present yesterday. After the third talk was done, I announced to the class, “Now for something entirely different. We’re going to hear from presenters on a hero I’m sure none of you have ever heard of.”

The students looked at me as if I’d just blasphemed. Sensing that I’d made a major faux pas, I said, “Show of hands. How many of you have heard of Goku?” Virtually everyone responded with an arm held high in the air.

I’ve always prided myself on being a hip, in the know person, but yesterday I was so far out of the loop it wasn’t even funny. For a moment there I felt like the sort of old geezer who lives in a log cabin out in the woods, a million miles off the grid. You know the type. He has no electricity or running water, couldn’t care less about fads and what’s hot in pop culture. The people in the nearby town see him tramping through the wilderness from time to time, his long beard hanging quite far down the front of his flannel shirt.

I recovered from that geezer feeling pretty quickly, though. Today, there’s no sign of it. What I’m feeling “the day after” is something akin to wonderment, especially now that I’ve done a bit of learning about anime and Goku.

Yesterday’s presenters introduced me to a world within this larger world. For the sort of people who inhabit it, have a look at this very interesting video snatched off YouTube. Much thanks to the anonymous human being who put it there.

The Grinning Buddha Seeks Work

I am currently looking for employment in the United States, preferably in Texas. I’m just wrapping up a seven-year stint as Instructor of Rhetoric and Composition at The American University in Cairo. Yes, that Cairo, the one attached to Egypt that you keep hearing about in the news. (By the way, a full listing of my work experience can be found on my résumé.) So, as you might guess, I’ve got tons of international experience. All that’s been good—living as an expatriate has been incredibly enriching in a myriad of ways—but my parents have gotten older, and ties, with family members, have frayed despite my best efforts to prevent this from happening. It’s now time for me to return to the place of my birth and become the grandson, son, brother, uncle, nephew, and cousin I’ve been unable to be in recent years.

I’m also looking to return to the States because my Azza, my lovely Egyptian wife, is mere weeks away from being issued one of those proverbial “green cards.” Once that happens, we’ll need to pull up tent stakes, pack our kit and caboodle into a cargo container, and jet across the pond. Shortly after landing on terra firma I’ll need to be able to muster the financial wherewithal to feed, clothe, and house the two of us. By the way, I’d be a crappy husband if I didn’t go into a bit more detail about what sort of person Azza is and about how happy she makes me. For one, she is a professional foodie who does magical things in the kitchen. (At which point I wave my magic wand and make all her goodies disappear.) As a result of all this conjuring, I’m looking more and more like a chubby grinning Buddha.

So far, I’ve been guilty of beating around the bush. I’m really writing this to engage in a shameless act of self-promotion. By that I mean, I’m composing this to send an important message to all potential employers out there—if you happen to come across my résumé floating around in the zero gravity of cyberspace, you should immediately rush to the nearest telephone or computer and contact me for an interview. You’ll certainly thank yourself afterward if you do so.

I’ve spent a large chuck of my professional life working as a teacher of critical and creative thinking. I say “mostly” because I’ve done other things. Again, my résumé spells it all out. But being a teacher means a lot more than most people realize. It means, for example, that I’ve got tons of management experience. After all, I am the manager of the classroom every time I step into it. During each lesson I have to move our little company forward toward well-defined goals that relate to clear “corporate” objectives. I have to make sure everyone is on task and on message. I have to pay attention to pacing and I’ve got to do on-the-spot troubleshooting. What if my computer and projector fails or if the students aren’t getting it? What do I do then? I can’t just throw in the towel. I have to model those problem-solving skills I keep telling my students all about.

As a teacher, I’m also a master salesperson and persuader. Each course I create is a product I have to sell to my “consumers,” and they have to buy into the process we’ll follow to reach our educational goals. I have to convince them they need to get what I have to offer. I have to pay attention to “packaging” and quality. In fact, I have to be my own Manager of Quality Control. To make matters even more complex, I often face buyers who are downright resistant to what I have to hawk.

When you hire a teacher, you get a heck of a lot for your money. You get a philosopher and a psychologist. You get a life coach, a motivational speaker, and a program developer. You get a learner—a teacher is expert in knowing how to acquire new knowledge and skills—and someone who finds value in the process of intellectual struggle. What more could an employer hope to find in a potential employee?

Of course, I could go on and on about why I’d make a good addition to just about any sort of team. But, right now, I’ll leave it at that. I’m always available for a much longer chat. Just pick up the telephone or send me an email…