Travel & Teach - Egypt


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Penny Walters

Luxor is the number 1 or number 2 tourist spot in Egypt after Cairo’s Pyramids. Most people go for a week or maybe 2 weeks. There are some incredible tourist sights, including the Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, River Nile and much more.
The Egyptian men who work with tourists are incredibly friendly and more than helpful. However, it must be remembered that the average wage there is £30 a month, and the people are desperately poor and very frugal with their money. Thus, even the simplest transaction involves people ‘matter of factly’ taking a tip for themselves for their help, and sometimes asking for ‘baksheesh’ (a tip) as well. They assume Westerners are unbelievably rich. The air fare to Egypt is probably more than they could earn in a lifetime, so to them we are rich. They have no concept that we’ve saved up to go there! Purchasing anything involves haggling, and some people later find out things are a few pence cheaper, a few pounds cheaper, and occasionally a huge amount of money cheaper in reality. This can make any friendship strained, and all money transactions suspicious.

Published statistics reveal that 94% of people are Sunni Muslims, and religion is therefore very important to most/ all families. It is an integral part of life, not separate to it. The Koran has been interpreted as saying that women must wear clothes which cover all of the body and their head. Some women will wear gloves and a veil to cover their face. It actually says in the Koran that women must not flaunt their beauty. But Westerners are usually amazed at how the women put up with the heat in a huge amount of black clothing. Western women can wear what they like of course, but get stared at continually if they aren’t covered. Egyptian men can wear traditional Galibayas (a long dress) or Western clothes.
Egyptian women aren’t allowed out of their house unless with a relative or close family friend, so it is very rare for Westerners to opportunistically make friends with any Egyptian woman. Occasionally, if you’ve made friends with an Egyptian man you could be invited for a meal, but the women have to sit separately in a different room from visitors. A female visitor could go into the women’s room, but the women rarely speak English, so there’s a lot of body language, giggling and pointing. However, the food and the atmosphere are lovely. As a Western woman, I try not to judge these situations, and feel dismayed that women are kept in their house and segregated, but they all seem happy enough, and who am I to judge?
Egyptians speak Arabic, and those who work with tourists speak fluent English. The opportunity for work comes with teaching Egyptian men how to write English, and to help business men make their English more fluent/ perfect. If the average person is earning £30 a month, you can see how much money they’d have left for English lessons! So, you’d only ever be dealing with very rich (by their standards) business men. Because they are allowed 4 wives, some of these men may see Westerners teaching English really as an opportunity to make money rather than learn English, so female teachers need to question any Egyptian man’s motives. You’d also have to think about how you’d advertise your services, because few Egyptians read English. Maybe you could make friends with someone who could write a notice for you in Arabic in return for some free lessons?
Accommodation is very cheap, but usually rather dirty by Western standards (because of the sand and dust), so you’ll either need to rent somewhere that seems grotty and do it up, or find a cheap hotel. It depends if you’re going to work there for a profit, which is really highly unlikely, or trying to finance yourself, while you travel and experience the lovely country. Some Westerners have now bought restaurants or rent out flats, so you could try to find these people and get some tips/ help from them about locating yourself.
Some helpful Arabic words:
“Salamalicomb” hello
“Shokran” thank you
“shay” tea
“la” no

I am writing these comments as my interpretation of some years of visiting Luxor for a week or 2 every couple of months. The country is absolutely beautiful, romantic, steeped in history, beautiful food, and warm people. However, because of the money situation, friendships are always strained, so keep your wits about you!
Good luck!

Penny Walters, Dr.

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