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It Has to Get Better

An excerpt from Jill Dobbe’s book Kids, Camels, and Cairo
By Jill Dobbe
It Has to Get Better

That morning I abandoned half of my wardrobe because it was either too short, too form-fitting, or too flashy. I tossed pieces of clothing across our crowded bedroom and made my final choice of a dark, shapeless skirt and paired it with a long-sleeved white blouse. The blouse had a high, chin-scraping neckline and was loose enough to conceal the fact that there were breasts underneath. The only shoes that matched my conventional and tasteless outfit was a pair of unflattering, flat-soled black loafers that I’d thrown in my suitcase at the last minute. Those shoes would become a mainstay of my daily outfit, as women were prohibited from wearing any open-toed sandals or high-heeled shoes. All of my gorgeous sandals would now be relegated to the back of my closet where they would gather a layer of desert dust. As I surveyed my modest outfit in the mirror hanging on our bedroom wall, I cringed knowing I would have to get used to dressing in this fuddy-duddy manner for the next two years.
Properly attired and ready to face the day, Dan and I joined teachers and students on the school van, which was to be our daily transportation to and from school. After the forty-five-minute ride, the driver parked in the lot adjacent to the school and we walked up to the main building. Upon entering, I was nearly blinded by the shiny gray marble that covered the walls and floors. It practically shimmered and was so different from the scuffed and chipped tile of the public schools in the U.S. I learned quickly that the impeccable sheen on the floors was the result of continuous daily mopping by the Blue Maids. Easy to spot in the school with their identical blue hijab (hence, their nickname), I watched their heads bob up and down as they busily mopped the floors. It was only 7:00 a.m.
Ms. Marwa greeted us at the school’s entrance and led us down one of the shiny hallways to her corner office. While Dan walked alongside her, I lagged behind juggling a stack of school materials that were about to tumble out of my arms. Just before we neared her office, I spotted an empty table and veered over to plunk everything down. Oblivious to the Blue Maid mopping nearby, I walked straight into a puddle of water and before I knew it, I was flat on my backside with books and papers scattered all around me. Ms. Marwa, upon hearing the commotion, ran out of her office and marched straight over to the Blue Maid, admonishing her for not displaying the yellow “Caution! Wet Floor!” sign that sat in a corner.
I sat up and instantly noticed my long conservative skirt had flown up around my waist exposing my not-so-conservative red lace underpants (there was nothing in the school dress code that said I couldn’t wear them!). Mortified that Ms. Marwa had gotten a full view, I pulled my skirt down as fast as I could. Bemused, Dan walked over to me shaking his head. “Are you okay?” He stuck out his hand to help me up. I grasped it and flinched from the sharp pain that shot up my leg. I had twisted my ankle during the fall and it was now turning black and blue.
Three days later the students arrived and the official school term began. Dark-haired Egyptian children of all ages chased one another back and forth while waiting for the first bell to ring. I stepped with caution into the unruly fray and navigated through the mobs of excited elementary students, praying I would make it to the building without any mishaps. With my arms carrying more school materials, I forged ahead toward the main doors of the elementary building. Just as I reached out to grab the door handle, a boy came out of nowhere and ran smack into me knocking me down. It was several seconds before I even realized what had happened. Tears sprang from my eyes as oblivious students jumped over and around my inert body. My tears were not only from the pain I felt (which was now spreading across my entire backside), but more the result of getting knocked off my feet by a scrawny ten-year-old.
I looked at the lanky boy and waited for some kind of apology, or help even. Instead, he gave me a lopsided grin and dashed off to join his friends in their game of tag, or more like, hit-and-run. Angry and hurt, I forced myself to stand up. It was the first day of school and already the second time I lay flat on the ground. No one came to help, or even ask if I was okay. Once again, I swallowed my pride, gathered my materials, and limped through the school doors.

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04/21/2017 - Jackie
I want to read more! Reminds me of my time in Peru and my physical struggles here in China...swallowing my pride. Thank you.
04/20/2017 - libra_in_wi
Jill has such a vivid way of writing, and sharing with her readers, about her teaching experiences while abroad! Not only does she describe in detail what it is like to be a foreigner living and teaching in Egypt, but she also allows the reader to comprehend the daily challenges encountered through the usage of very descriptive narrations. Jill highlights various cultural differences that she faced on a daily basis from having to select the appropriate styles of clothing that should be worn each day to differences found in the schools while teaching in a foreign land. It is always a great pleasure to read about Jill's experiences while living and teaching abroad, especially as an educator living here in the United States! By reading about Jill's international teaching experiences, one is able to learn more about the international world through the customs found elsewhere and the way in which people live their daily lives.



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