My time volunteering
I worked as a teacher of English in a secondary school for girls in Sohag, a small provincial town in Upper Egypt. I also had a part time job teaching Elizabethan drama to BA English literature students at the local University. It was all amazing, I had the most wonderful time and made lifelong friends. I was so excited when I returned to Sohag three years ago, met some of my former students and friends and visited my old school and the university.
The impact of my placement
At that time, Egypt had been closed off to the west for many years following the Suez Crisis and students' knowledge of the world and other cultures was extremely restricted. Of course I would like to think that learning English from a native speaker helped them to secure places at university and in their later work, but I also think exposure to someone from another country helped the students learn more about the wider world, different values and beliefs and enhanced intercultural understanding on both sides.
My unforgettable moments
There are so many! One unforgettable moment in my first year involved what happened when my class won a school competition for best decorated classroom. The prize was that the whole class got to go on a school trip to Luxor and Aswan. Some 40 students from my class, 3 teachers, the school caretaker and myself made the lengthy journey on third class trains. We had a whole carriage to ourselves and the journey was made singing dancing and munching sugar cane the whole way. We had the most marvelous time visiting all the sites and staying in Luxor and Aswan. For the students it was the first time most of them had been out of Sohag, which made it extra special.
The day after we arrived in Aswan, I went to visit another VSO volunteer, George, who was working there. He suggested that we go to the famous Old Cataract Hotel (of Death on the Nile Fame) to enjoy their swimming pool. This was my first glimpse of a different side of Egypt and it was certainly strange to come face to face with wealthy tourists reclining on sun-loungers all around the pool being attended by Nubian waiters wearing cummerbunds and fezes. Anyway, I was so excited to try out the swimming pool that I dived straight into the pool. Unfortunately, in my excitement I did not notice that I had dived into the shallow end of the pool. I smashed my nose on the bottom of the pool, and surfaced like a monster from the deep, with blood streaking down my face, in front of a group of horrified shrieking tourists. I staggered out of the pool leaving behind a mess in the pool and a trail of blood as we made a hasty exit from the hotel. After that George took me to a tiny clinic where an elderly German nurse looked at me contemptuously and proceeded to set and stitch my broken nose without any painkillers.
We had to run so I could catch the train back to Sohag. I just made it in time and I remember being touched by how distressed my students and school staff were to see the state I was in. They looked after me on the very long 16 hour train journey back to Sohag, keeping me supplied with sweet tea and biscuits. (We didn't win the competition the following year).
The impact my placement has had on me
This was my first job, straight out of university and it set me on the path for a career in education and development work, 25 years of which was spent working overseas in the Middle East and East Asiq. Almost 40 years later, I often reflect upon my time in Egypt and how it helped shape the person I have become.