Friday, November 21, 2014

102 Days in Egypt

Red Sea
South Sinai Peninsula 

Sitting in a Dahab pub with the Red Sea in front of me, I have finally found inspiration to write again. The past two months have been filled with sadness, dread, mummy tummy and heartache. But I am excited to reignite my passion for travel and storytelling. Thank you for reading...

I want to first bow down to any teacher who has survived a middle school classroom. Pre-teens are certainly a different human breed. I have never in my life experienced students like the ones that grace me with their presence at Hayah International Academy. These kids come from a crazy amount of money. I overheard one student offer to have their personal driver pick up their friend to work on a school project. Students have personal maids, which may explain why they leave their crap everywhere. I literally found a half eaten apple in my bookshelf, old juice boxes shoved into their desks and nutella smeared across the floor. One of my seventh graders told me that she was not able to turn in her interactive notebook because her maid put it somewhere and now she cannot find it. Most of my students do not understand the concept of a line. And I never knew how sacred the contents of a pencil case are until I started teaching sixth graders.

Ever since I started working with my Social Studies crew at Tracy High, I have embraced being called Hillstead. I loved when my students called me Miss Hillstead. I felt respected and honored to be an educator. In Egypt, students are supposed to call their teachers by their first names which I am not a fan. A fellow TUSD colleague whom I am very fond of (who has incredible bi-planing skills and an impressive board game collection) calls his students by their last names which I love. However, Haydock may have a hard time getting through his lesson at a Cairo school because each of these students have at least three last names. I also have five girls named Nour, four Ahmeds, three Mohameds, two Omars and a partridge in a pear tree. Most students address me as "Ya Miss" and it drives me freaking crazy. I have reverted to calling them "student." And. these. kids. never. stop. talking. The past two days have been good at Hayah where I haven't broken down in tears or had an anxiety attack at the incredible amount of disrespect and attitude exhibited by the majority of the students. I have actually had a chance to teach and build a shred of rapport with them. Coming from a place where fostering relationships with students at Kimball came so naturally and happened so organically, this has been the most humbling experience for me as an educator.

My very dear friend Mary Connors left Cairo about a month ago to go home to Miami. Although there is nearly a 30 year age difference and we have only known each other for 102 days, I consider Mary to be one of my closest friends. Experiencing insanity and daily chaos certainly brings people closer together. Simon and I threw Mary a going away party with Gringos Mexican food, our ex-pat family and the hits of the Rolling Stones. Oh, and of course several bottles of Omar Khayyam white wine. I miss her so much, but I know that she is happier on the East Coast. Mary has inspired me to apply to the Harvard Ed School. She is an alumnus and has offered to recommend me to the program. It is absolutely a long shot to apply, but I am going to do it as it has been a dream to live in Boston. And having Harvard on your resume?!  How do you like 'dem apples? #goodwillhunting

Side bar-Phil Collins is playing in the background and I can't help but sing along. 

To elaborate on the heartache reference, Alex and I broke up last week. I once again bow down to all the couples who have survived and thrived in a long distance relationship. I truly wanted our relationship to work. I love Alex very much. But we were not getting what each other needed. I was not getting communication and Alex was not getting proximity. After we broke up, I did the healthiest thing I could think of. I went day drinking at ACE. I fell off a curb on the way home and sprained my ankle. It is still swollen, but I use this as a reminder to...
A) always take a cab home
B) rely on your dear friends to make you feel better
C) eat before I drink

Thank you for reading and I promise to make a concerted effort to continue to share my stories with you. I will leave you with my shout-out list of middle school teachers...

Ma'a salama,


Mr. Parra
Mr. Huffman
Miss Flowers
Mrs. Adams
Mr. Sato 
Mr. Vickers 
Suzette Mendonca
Crystal Wong 
Scott Anderson
Cassie Champeau
Maria Bassett
Ghaidaa Naguib
Hanan Deyab
Reeham Darwish 
Kristi Bergamini
Allia Hassan 
Simon Glogiewicz
Jason Romey 


  1. Glad to read and see you are still alive and kicking, even if it is in a limping, heartbroken sense. Stay strong and keep trucking. I love reading about your international exploits and hope to hear about them first hand in the not so distant future over cocktails - food first of course. :) - Budman

  2. Seriously dude.... I taught Middle School for summer school on year and realized that I could never do it full time. Those kids are crazy!! You're awesome though and I'm sure that they do appreciate you even if they are too entitled/distracted to show it!

  3. you are lucky ! till now you didn't meet the real Egyptian students !