Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A New School Year is Approaching!

It seems like it has been a very, very long time since I have written on this blog.  In reality it has been.  Our holiday in Luxor was in April, right around the time that school was getting incredibly exhausting.  Therefore, the blog took an unexpected holiday.

So, now that it is September, and the school year is about to start fresh, it seems appropriate to re-ignite the blog.  The blog was originally created to document our day to day experiences in Egypt and our travels to other parts of the world, and that will certainly continue.  

I am sure that everybody who follows this blog will be aware of the events that engulfed the major international news broadcasts in mid August.  The ousting of former President Mohamed Morsi was not received well by the Muslim Brotherhood supporters and this led to very long protests in various parts of Cairo.  On August 14th, hundreds of people died and we watched the news in complete horror as we saw the death count rising steadily.  The thoughts, "How could this be happening" and "how could this impact our return to Egypt" to "will school start on time" to "should we go back" started swirling around in our minds.  We started to receive emails and facebook messages from concerned friends and family as they knew our departure to Egypt was a mere week away.  It was hard to turn away from the news and as we started answering questions about why would possibly want to return to Egypt, it became all the more clear that Egypt is our home for now.  Many people had a hard time understanding why we chose to return to Egypt with all the political unrest, but deep down, we experienced a peace that was beyond our understanding. 

Having lived in Egypt for 2 years, we are aware that protests occur often and that no protest in the past 2 years has impacted us.  This in addition to the fact that friends and colleagues that were in Egypt were saying that our area was safe, was enough that we needed to feel comfortable with our departure.  The flight went off without a hitch.  The kids behaved very well and we arrived in Cairo and moved through the airport smoothly.  For precautionary measures, we chose to stay at a hotel for the first night and drive through Cairo to our home in the morning.  It was so nice to unwind from a long day of traveling by sitting at the rooftop pool. 

Driving through Cairo was a breeze.  The streets were silent and traffic was minimal.  Both kids were thrilled to see our doorman and their bedrooms.  As we unpacked our suitcases and the kids became reacquainted with their toys, everything seemed to be "back to normal".  It is no secret that we had a very chaotic (yet very fun) holiday in Florida, and returning to Egypt was the triumphant return back home.  Despite all the media attention on Egypt, it seemed as though nothing had changed.  To be truthful, nothing has really changed for us.  Sure, there is a curfew, but it hasn't impacted us.  We still venture out to the mall and walk around the area.  The only major challenge that we had with our return is that we all seemed to have more difficulty adjusting to the time change.  Jet lag got the better of us and it took almost twice as long to adjust.  In some ways, it seems as though we are still adjusting.

The biggest impact that the events surrounding the 14th of August is that school has been delayed starting.  While we were supposed to start school on September 4th (tomorrow) the Minister of Education in Egypt decided that school would start on September 15th.  So, instead of starting tomorrow, we have been blessed to have 2 extra weeks to prepare for the start of school.  While I am anxious to start teaching and interacting with students again, I am thrilled by the chance to slowly move into the school year.

Until then, we will work on creating unique lessons that will captivate the minds of our students.  Some ideas will be great and others, not so much.  But, no matter what, we will continue to feel blessed by the opportunity to live and work in Egypt.  These truly friendly and open people are the main reason we have enjoyed our time here.  So, here is to a great year, wherever you are! 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Luxor Day 5 and 6

Our time in Luxor is quickly coming to an end.  Today we head back to Cairo to prepare for the last part of the school year.  It is hard to believe that it is April already and that there is really not that much more time for teaching before exams happen in early June.

But, I must recap the rest of our time here in Luxor.  After spending several days touring temples and tombs, we decided to give the kids a day off of exploration for time to relax by the pool.  It was amazing to have the chance to just sit and watch the kids play. 

Most people that come to Luxor, stay only a short time (2-4 days) before heading off to Aswan.  By rushing through the famous sites on these short trips, many people miss some of the "less popular" sites.  Since we were here longer than the average tourist, we were able to visit these sites, and are we ever glad that we did. 

Medinat Habu was rated very high on Trip Advisor.  While I do not always follow the top trends on Trip Advisor, there has been a couple of times that the top picks have been by far the best I have ever seen.  We went to Segovia in Spain because of Trip Advisor and it is probably the best place I have ever been.  Medinat Habu ranked number 2 for places to see.  It is often skipped by tourists for the more famous sites like Valley of the Kings.  But, Medinat Habu was the best preserved temple we had been to.  I was impressed by the depth and quality of the hieroglyphs and the carvings and cartouches were very clear.  There was not very much color, but, this temple did not need it.  We paid one of the guards to take us into some of the back rooms of the temple often off limits to tourists and got to see some of the most interesting stories depicted on the walls.  It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

Then, we headed off to the Ramsseum.  This was the temple for Ramses II.  It is mostly in ruins, very small, and also skipped by most tourists.  During our time at the Ramsseum there were very few other people around and by the end, we were the only ones there.  We got some fantastic photos and had the chance to read up on what this temple was all about.  Apparently, when the Romans came to Egypt, they decided to take the good rocks out of the Ramsseum and move them to the nearby site to build Medinat Habu.  Basically, they turned the Ramsseum into a quarry.

Today, we head home, but, the trip to Luxor will be one to remember for sure. 

Medinat Habu

The side room we paid extra to see.

Kids at the Ramsseum

 Checking out the temple/

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Day 1 -4 in Luxor

It is 8:00 AM.  I am sitting on our hotel balcony with a beautiful view of the Nile River in Luxor.  This is the beginning of Day 4 here.  Spring Break has been a wonderful adventure for us so far.

We arrived in Luxor in the early afternoon.  After 7 hours of traveling (even though it is only a one hour flight), we thought it would be best for the kids to play in the pool.  The weather here is beautiful...reaching the high 30's everyday.  The pool is very crisp and refreshing after a hot day of exploring.

Here in Luxor, tourists explore the ancient sites very early in the morning until mid-day when it is too hot to be in the desert any longer.  The first full day that we were here, we ventured off to one of the smaller temples.  Luxor Temple was very quiet when we first arrived and as a result, we were able to get some pictures with NO people in it.  This is very rare at any major tourist site.  After visiting the temple, we jumped into a horse drawn carriage and toured around Luxor town and saw some very authentic markets.  It was one of the first times while being in Egypt that I felt that we were back in the heart of Africa.  In this market we saw animals being butchered, brightly colored cloth for sale and chickens and ducks in crates ready to be sold.  The market was a very tight little road with room for only one "vehicle" to make it through, so, when our carriage encountered a small truck, there was no way for both vehicles to pass by.  It took a group effort to get the truck to back up without hitting anything or anyone and for our carriage to continue past.

On our second day, we ventured a little farther out of Luxor to the Karnak Temple.  We jumped into another horse drawn carriage (our preferred mode of transportation here in Luxor) and after 30 minutes arrived at our destination.  After seeing Luxor Temple which is on the smaller side, Karnak Temple was huge.  We hired a guide (not something that we usually do) and we were really glad that we did.  We would have missed so many things had we not hired the guide.  Karnak was amazing and I highly recommend that everyone stop by and see it at some point in their lifetime.  In the evening, another teacher and his family arrived in Luxor and Princess was thrilled that she had some friends to swim with and to play with.

Since there were extra children around to distract Dimples and Princess, we decided to face the scorching desert with our friends.  Venturing off to the West Bank of Luxor requires preparation.  We hired a van and tour guide to drive us from our hotel to the renowned Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Hatshesput Temple and the Collosi of Memnon.   The trip did not really start out well as Dimples became extremely car sick fairly early in the drive.  Having no change of clothes for the little guy, we pulled over and washed his clothes quickly knowing that they would dry just as quickly.  When we arrived at the Valley of the Kings (most well known as the burial site for King Tut), I was not super impressed like I was with Karnak Temple.  The Valley of the Kings was fairly desolate and aside from the tombs and annoying `salesman`, there was really not much to see.  But, roaming through the tombs was pretty impressive.  Some of them are ridiculously well preserved and fascinating to venture through.  When you buy a pass to the Valley of the Kings, you are allowed to enter any three tombs.  They punch your ticket when you enter one and monitor you pretty closely when you are inside as photographs are strictly prohibited.  Our guide did not give us a choice as to which tombs we went into which was kind of nice because we would have struggled to choose.  She gave us a list of things to look for in each of the tombs that we went into and that added a unique element to the adventure.  We chose not to enter King Tut`s tomb as it is one of the smallest and requires an additional, special ticket to enter.  Having seen a lot of the relics from his tomb a couple of times at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, we felt it was unnecessary to pay extra to see one of the less exciting tombs.  The tombs are like nothing I had ever imagined they would be like.  You have to see it to truly comprehend what they accomplished.  Quite possibly the most amazing thing is that Egyptologists are still finding things buried within the soil, uncovering more tombs and immaculate coffins that are thousands of years old. 

With the beauty of the tombs at the Valley of the Kings, you would be sorry to miss the even more amazing, yet much smaller tombs in the Valley of the Queens.  While arguably the most beautiful tomb of Nefertiti is located in Valley of the Queens, it is regularly closed and when open, only admits a few people a day.  To open the tomb for a visit it costs 20,000 LE (around $3,000), and, you require written permission well in advance of your arrival to get in.  $3,000 to visit one tomb for 10 minutes was a little out of our price range, so, we did not get to see it.  But, the other tombs that we saw were amazing and significantly more impressive in regards to color preservation than any tomb we saw in the Valley of the Kings.

We also visited the Temple of Hatshesput.  I was really looking forward to visiting this temple as it was different than Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple as these two temples are free standing structures.  The Temple of Hatshesput is build into the side of a mountain.  The story of Hatshesput is also particularly interesting as she is the only female pharaoh in Egyptian history.  She ruled for 18 years before her son took the throne.  Her story is fascinating, if you have time, take a quick read on her.  I was however, a bit disappointed by this temple.  The initial view is magnificent, but, the preservation of the statues and the hieroglyphics was poor.  Perhaps, with time, Egyptologists will restore this temple and it will be more appealing.  Not everyone held the same opinion as I did, but, it may be because we saw Karnak first. 

On day 4 we took a quick trip to the Luxor Museum which is significantly smaller than the Egyptian Museum but SO much better.  This museum has only the best items on display in well spaced and well labeled areas.  Also, there are two mummies on display which was fascinating to Princess and Dimples.  At the Egyptian Museum, seeing the mummies is an extra cost, one that we have not taken advantage of yet, so, it was nice to see some.  While they are pretty much what I expected, I found that they were much shorter than I thought they would be.  People really have gotten taller over time.  There were some fantastic wooden coffins that were found in 2008 on display which is an example of the treasures that still lay in the deserts of Egypt.

Other than that, we have spent a lot of time swimming.  The kids are little fish and Princess in particular is really turning in to quite the swimmer.  She is now swimming without any flotation devices, diving into the pool and searching for rings in the water.  Dimples is still very content in the very shallow waters with as much flotation assistance as he can get!

Our time in Luxor is coming to an end, and with that, a return to Cairo for the remainder of the school year.  Enjoy the photos, sorry, no pictures of the Valley of the Kings or Queens as cameras are strictly forbidden.

Princess at Luxor Temple.

Our carriage ride on Day 1.

The market that reminded us of Tanzania.

Our Luxor Traffic Jam.

Future employees of National Geographic tourism books at Luxor Temple.

A family picture at Luxor Temple.

The kids learning about obelisks from the tour guide at Karnak.

Daddy and Dimples exploring Karnak Temple.

Karnak Temple from the back.

The Bishops at the Temple of Hatshesput.

Bishops and Friends

Statue of Hatshesput.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Egypt is a Like Foreign Film...

As many of you who follow our experience in Egypt are probably aware, there is political turmoil in Egypt again.  Again, we had an early dismissal to ensure that all students arrived home in a timely manner (this is usually more to avoid traffic congestion than for safety reasons).  Again, people are out in the squares of Cairo and Port Said protesting various decisions made the judges in the Port Said trials after many people lost their lives at a soccer match just over a year ago.

My students are always very aware of what is happening in Cairo and exclaimed that all the trophies were taken...they tried to set Cairo Tower on fire...or, simply, people are not happy Ms.  While they may not always have the facts correct, you have to wonder why people head out in mass numbers.

One student today made a very interesting statement.  I was very pleased because he used a simile to compares Egypt to a foreign film.  We just finished our study of literary devices and figurative language, and, whether he knew it or not, gave an excellent example of a simile.  He said, `Ms., the culture of Egypt is like a foreign film.  There are no subtitles and it is a language that no one understands, not even Egyptians sometimes`.  This is often how I feel about the culture, particularly when it comes to protests.  I will never understand the motivation to head out because I am not Egyptian, but, it is reassuring to know that even Egyptians do not understand it. 

I must state that even though there are angry protestors out right now, and even though there are people creating havoc in parts of Cairo, our quiet little suburb remains quiet.  Right now, I am typing this out by candlelight because the power is out (a fairly regular occurrence), but other than the plane flying overhead and the kids running on the balcony, it remains quiet. 

Keep Egypt in your thoughts as they continue to move towards a functional democracy.  Hmm, democracy, that is the next unit to teach in Social Studies, it is probably more relevant than other right now.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Can't Beat the Weather

Ahh, the beginning of March.  Nothing says "Welcome to Spring", quite like the high 20's calling you to the swimming pool.  While I could never have fathomed saying that 3 years ago, today, it is a reality for us now.

We spent this past weekend lounging by the pool, soaking up some sun, and for Hubby, an entertaining round of Texas Scramble Golf with some other teachers from the school.  It was a much needed relaxing weekend for the Bishop's.

The kids thoroughly enjoyed having the chance to play, all day, by the pool.  Princess jumped right in and seldom left the cool waters.  Dimples enjoyed the kiddie pool just as much as Princess did, "the big pool".  It has amazed me to watch them in the water.  Princess has picked up the basics of swimming with ease.  She has not taken swimming lessons like most children her age (in Egypt, swimming lessons start at 5 years), yet, she swims better than most 4 year old children.  Dimples just likes to float, and it is adorable.

Princess also learned how to use a hula-hoop this weekend which was extremely entertaining to watch.  She took the instruction very seriously and would follow the steps exactly as directed to her.  She is a very adaptable little one. 

All in all, it was a great time away and a sunny oasis...that was only 10 minutes away.  My parents used to take us to a hotel for the weekend when we were younger, and now, as a parent, I understand why.  It is such a fun little get away that requires very little planning.  It was just what we needed to get us through the rest of March and into Spring Break when we go to visit King Tut.

School continues to be a very busy place for us, but, school would be boring if we were not busy.  Only 2 more weeks of MUN, then, everything slows down...then, with only 2 weeks left until Spring Break, we will be set to enjoy the time off together as a family.  But, for now, enjoy our weekend pictures.  Notice how much the kiddos are growing!
Princess and the hula-hoop.

Rocking the hoop!

Jumping into the pool.

Flotation device mania!

Playing catch with Daddy.

Playing on the table.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Return to Normalcy??

As I sit here outside on the balcony sipping a cappuccino and watching the sun set, after a beautiful day, a thought crossed my mind.  “Is it possible that normalcy will return to the Bishop household??”  With the Canadian Koshk (the school store that is run by Hubby) now officially open, and, with only 2 weeks left on the MUN calendar for the year, it seems that things are indeed returning to normal.

Today was the pinnacle of business for us.  In the morning, the Grade 9-12 students that have been involved with MUN since the beginning of the year hosted a Mock debate for the Grade 7/8 students that will be participating in their first debate next week.  The debate went on without a hitch and was an excellent teaching tool for the younger students.  

There was an identifiable energy amongst the Grade 7/8 students as they eagerly asked questions about the debate format and process.  The vibe echoed throughout the school as students in Grade 9 and 10 asked when they can go to an MUN debate.  The program is growing quickly and I can only attribute that to the hours of effort and work my established MUNer’s have.  It is truly remarkable to see how much the program has grown.  

In the afternoon, Hubby had the ribbon cutting for the school store.  A year of planning and 2 weeks of a “soft launch”, the store officially opened with special promotions and an opportunity for parents to come in and see the store.  The launch was a huge success and many people happily departed with their stationary needs met.  The big seller were the Green Heritage coffee mugs.  Who knew?  The Business Education students were all dressed up and ready to greet the incoming guests to the store and, with refreshments available, guests were socializing as they milled about the store.   The store at the school has become a great learning opportunity for the students in the Business classes as they help run the store to varying degrees.  They are the “employees” and are expected to take in the money, make change and help the customers find everything they need.  A real hands on experience that takes what they learn in class to a real situation.

The life of a teacher is a never ending adventure.  It is an adventure that we are happy to take, especially as we have the ability to impact the lives of the students with such amazing hands on opportunities.   Both the store and MUN are unique changes to interact and work in unique situations that many schools cannot offer.  It truly is a blessing to be a part of such an integral part of the learning experience these students are having. 
With that said, I must return to one of my integral roles in the house...I have to fix a bike.  I am actually getting very good at repairing the chain on the bikes here.  They pop off a little too easily for my liking, but, living in a part of the world where the kids can ride bikes all year round, it is also a frequent part of my week.  By the end of this school year perhaps I will be a bike mechanic on the side.
Intro on what to expect at the Mock MUN.

Getting ready for debate!

The Canadian Koshk is officially open!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Busy as a Bee

Well, my last post was titled, The Winds of Change.  This title was more appropriate than originally expected.  Both Hubby and I have been incredibly busy with our teaching assignments and our self-inflicted huge projects that are finally coming to fruition.

About a year and a half ago, Hubby thought it would be a great idea to start a school store that would be made by the students and run for the students.  He bounced the idea around with his friends and colleagues, and eventually, he met with administrators and the finally the directors.  Everyone loved his idea and he has been feverishly putting together all the details for the store ever since.  The store has been running as a soft launch for the past couple weeks and has been remarkably successful.  I feel like we spend a lot of time looking at stationery because he has been having difficulty keeping the store full as students come to purchase the items they need to get through their days.  As I sit here at the computer, there are boxes of notebooks, and bags of staplers, sticky notes and writing implements.  The official launch of the store is this Wednesday.  It has been an exciting time for him, his Business Education students and the school as a whole. 

As for me, I have been in the midst of eagerly planning and preparing students for a variety of MUN conferences.  I spent Thursday night and all day Friday at a conference with students and the conference continues until Sunday evening.  It is so much fun watching the students use all their research in such a meaningful way as they debate with students from around Cairo.  My huge undertaking at school has involved growing the MUN program at the school.  In the next three weeks, I will be hosting an internal MUN conference with all the students in Grade 7 and 8.  We will see how the weeks progress as these students prepare.  I have been very impressed by the preparations that have taken place so far.

Dimples and Princess continue to amaze me.  They are truly phenomenal young children.  Princess is learning so quickly and Dimples is a very interactive little boy.  They have been busy at home and school.  They enjoy being around each other, playing together and riding their bikes outside. 

So, while this is not the most exciting post, it is an indication as to why I have not written much lately.  Our lives are pretty low key right now as we go to school and come home to recharge.  Once the store is officially open and all the "bugs" are worked out, and, when all the MUN conferences are finished in mid-March, then, we can unwind and relax.

The kids love playing on the deck and pretending to "fix" their bikes and scooters.

Hubby getting set for the school store.

Bulletin Board advertising the school store.  The store is called, The Canadian Koshk. 

We are excited about an upcoming trip to Luxor.  We have yet to head down to this area of Egypt and are excited to look around some very unique landmarks.