Tag Archives: children

Dear Future Tenant: Nothing You Do is Original

Oh sweet damp and dusty nights to come

One day, future tenant, all this will be yours. The house plant, the wobbly table, the bizarre equipment in the corner of the balcony that may have been used for torture….it will all be yours, to keep and to hold forever until your lease runs out after a year.

I remember when I was like you, wide eyed with wonder as day by day I discovered the rich variety of ants in our apartment and the necessity to keep everything as sterile as a freshly boiled set of vampire teeth. I, too, chuckled as I realized that none of the lamps in the apartment were equipped with light bulbs and ruined the Italian coffee maker by putting the top part on the stove, causing it to produce water permanently scented with burnt rubber.

The bathroom was a stranger to me as well, especially the shower square with its curtain that you must encase yourself in like a sausage while watching as water still shoots onto the floor despite your best intentions. And yes, I recall the nook, that precious nook in the corner of the first bedroom where I would while away the hours drawing both straight and curvy lines and think about to whom I could send them to as a time-released prank.Those were some of my better years. The ashtray of my mind was not yet full and I saw with youth’s vigor and hope.

And the balcony. Yes, I remember that balcony very well. I had dreams of buying a soccer ball and juggling on it without pants. Sometimes I walked to the edge of the balcony and looked out over the empty street, bad pop music sounding from a distance. It was my world. It will never really be your world, since it was mine first.

And of course, the bizarre bed contraption in the corner. I can see it in my mind’s eye and on this webpage very well. When I first laid eyes upon it I thought it a dilapidated piece of junk, good for nothing except soccer ball storage or unwanted guest accommodation. Upon closer inspection, I found it was something much more special, as if God himself had sent it to us, His final touch on creation and the 2nd greatest gift to mankind. Yes, future lessee, you will be the proud temporary owner of this bedswing, perhaps the only one in the entire world. And yes, the mattresses will be continually damp and half their mass is an accumulation of dust and previous tenants’ skin cells absorbed into them over the years.

But don’t let that take away from the experience of lying on the bedswing, moving slowly yet haphazardly both forward and side to side. As you absorb the view of the roof’s underbelly, perhaps you could imagine the man (or woman) that created this thing and why they did so. Were their beds too dry and dust-free inside? Did they want to reinvent the waterbed with chains, nails, and wood? Were they trying to make a cabinet and didn’t read the instructions correctly? Did they wear glasses? Love their mother?

I’ll let you think those thoughts for yourself, though I’m sure I’ve already thought of all of them since I was here first. I am not the original tenant. Nor am I the owner. But make no mistake, this apartment will always remember me, since I’m going to build a larger and even more bizarre device that will leave the generations to come wondering what happened to that girl and where did she get enough peanut butter to fuel a rocket launch. Just you wait.

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Why Can’t We Bite Ankle Biters Back?

Not an actual photo from the nursery

Here I will attempt to speak of something unspeakable, to describe something indescribable, to eff something ineffable. I saw into the depths of horror itself two days ago, and only now have mustered the courage to force it into words.  That may have been too dramatic. Judge for yourselves:

Out of our copious amount of free time and the goodwill of our hearts, my friend and I decided to hunt for volunteer work in this city. A month after baiting our line and casting out, we had a catch!  On Tuesday, August 23rd, we visited a volunteer site where we learned we are going to use our political science, diplomacy, and academic research skills in a preschool whose twenty kids range from 6 months to 8 years old. An impossible task? Not yet. Our coordinator described the preschool as a nursery where the kids get a good education so they can be ready for government-run schools. A screaming den of anti-learning would have been closer to the mark.

“Is this hell?”

This was my first thought when we entered the preschool. Our goal for the day was to see how it was and identify areas for improvement. After observing it, however, it’s hard to imagine how it could get worse, barring natural, biological, or extraterrestrial disaster.

One ankle biter was stomping around the back of the classroom and uttering sounds like a maniac. Another child was asleep on his desk. The big eyed girl next to me, maybe four years old, was wearing a scandalous shirt that revealed half her chest and spent most of her time staring at me or at the pictures I drew for her in my notebook. Barely contained in their chairs, the rest of the children were squirming like my dog does when my family makes it wear sweaters. It was a picture of loosely controlled chaos.

“Oh God, no.”

Unfortunately, we had arrived just in time for English class. The instructor, Madonna, tepidly manned the front of the classroom, clearly holding back the fear of losing complete control over the children and alternatively sweet talking or threatening them. She thrust forward a red card and shouted, “Whatiszeecolor?” Or in English “What color is this?” And the children yelled, “Ahmarred!” Or in English “Red!” This traumatizing process was repeated for all the colors and other various words.

In a flash of unwitting innovation, all colors became compound Arabic-English words. Ahmar means red in Arabic, and thus fire trucks are “ahmarred,” chocolate is “bonniebrowen,” and cotton candy is “bambibink.” At the end of the session, I finally understood that success was measured not by possible ability to communicate with English speakers, but by the volume  and speed with which one could shout the compound Arabic/English color.

“When will this end?”

I had shivers when I imagined how many times they’d performed this exercise, and I nearly vomited when I contemplated the idea it would never end. Though the poor pronunciation of the teacher and the clear lack of learning on the part of the pupils were both painful, the shouting was the most egregious offence. Unlike most “inside voice” classrooms I’ve attended, Madonna would demand the students say the compound color as loud as possible, until some of them were literally screaming “AHMARRED!” while others continued to shriek, gurgle, or chitter in personal monologues or side conversations.

“Please rescue me.”

As pleasant as children’s laughter is, a child’s scream is what is scientifically described as “unbearable.” My patience was rapidly wearing. The kids, despite the satisfaction some of them got from yelling, were just as eager as I to be released from this prison. Furthermore, the idea the pupils would soon be given whistles as a reward for their good screaming behavior was equally nausea inducing.

I wished to flutter out the window and be a sheet hanging on the rows of clotheslines I could see from my cell, since they at least lacked the ability to hear or feel intense hopelessness. Finally, after lunch when the kids were all given sugary suckers for God knows what reason, play time came and we decided we had seen enough and made our escape, the sound of screaming children following us from behind the door. At the very least, it will be hard to make the place worse. At best, the children won’t learn anything but we will have fun and not want to be sheets.

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From the desert to the desert

Libyan rebel flag

In contrast to our normal weekday routine of returning to our hovels immediately after class and studying the punishing Arabic language until the 12 am call to prayer, 2/3rd of my apartment attended a Libyan cultural event at a cultural center in a posh part of Cairo, Zamalek. Since I knew my dirty t-shirt and wrinkled linen pants would make me stand out even more, I put on the closest thing I have to an appropriate nice outfit: a business shirt, jeans, and sperries. One day I’ll fit in somewhere.

After only minor difficulties finding the place, which is literally built into the underparts of an overpass, we found the oddly shaped but surprisingly nice venue bedecked with Libyan art, much of it pertaining to the current events going on there and the ever hated Qaddafi. The Bengazian band playing on the stage in front had just announced a brief intermission for the purpose of food and liquid consumption. Never had I seen such a hoard of people crowded around a buffet table….one would think there were a famine in Egypt and this was the first sighting of sugar and butter in months. I realize food prices are high nowadays but these people are from the upper class of society and attend “cultural events” surely they’ve eaten in the last week, right?

I managed to shove my way through the swarm and grab the most delicious cupcake I’ve ever eaten in my entire life…it was especially fulfilling as I’ve been craving western sweets ever since watching that dumb Australian cooking show centered on a child’s birthday party and ergo… cupcakes.

The band’s performance was by far the best part of the night, not for the quality of its music, which was so so and tended to be pretty cliché, but for the overall experience. Imagine, if you will, a small seated crowd emitting hubbub amidst the glare of bright lights and waving Libyan rebel flags in front of a band rocking out to pop ballads revolving around martyrs and revolution and blood and sacrifice to tunes on the same emotional level as a deeper N’Sync song. The most important component, however, were the kids that got on stage and were waving Libyan flags the entire time, sometimes blocking band members from sight for entire songs and/or threatening to injure them with the enthusiasm of their movements. At one point in the night, the rapper MC SWAT was forced to switch sides of the stage in the middle of breaking it down because of the peril he faced from one little girl with braids and ribbons in her hair.

The songs revolved around love of Libya and its unity and/or revolution. One of my favorite lines from the entire night was part of a description of Libya: “From the desert to the desert.” I guess it was hard to find another distinguishing geographical feature and from the border to the border wouldn’t work.

Another highlight of the night was actually hearing formal Arabic being used in the poetry reading. My heart delighted in hearing the sound of vowelled texts and my soul was nourished with sweet teshkeel. I love the importance of poetry in Arab culture…it’s great for revolutions, resistance, politics, love, insults, competition….everything.

I hope to see more cultural events and eat more free treats from this center under the bridge.

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