By Janice Gray
After a career as a music teacher and then another career as owner and trainer of NLP Centres Canada, it was time for a change. On my 60th birthday, I accepted a position at the American International School in Egypt, sold my business, rented my house and moved to the Middle East.
It was a fantastic experience teaching Egyptian children and discovering amazing Egypt. Everyone knows about the pyramids but there is so much more to discover when you are privileged to live in a country for two years. Learning to find my way around Cairo, mumbling a few words of Arabic, visiting temples and the White Desert are among the many special memories.
After two years, a teaching opportunity at American Academy for Girls in Kuwait presented itself. After three years in Kuwait, I returned to Egypt for another two years. The last year was a Sekem School in the arid countryside northeast of Cairo where I taught children with the help of Mostafa, an enthusiastic interpreter. After teaching children of wealthy Egyptians it was an interesting transition to be working with the extremely poor. It was a wonderful year.
I was now sixty-seven years old. International schools rarely hire people in their sixties, so it was time to retire. During my time in Egypt, I became connected with St. Andrew’s, a liturgical church with a small congregation of friendly expats from around the world. Occasionally, I played the organ.
After my contract ended at Sekem, I wrote the minister offering to teach music four days a week at their refugee school as well as to give a benefit piano recital in exchange for permission to practice at the church. The minister accepted and that is how I became a volunteer. At St. Andrew’s Refugee School, there are about 250 children from neighbouring African countries. They teach the Sudanese Curriculum in English. Unfortunately, the school is entirely dependent of donations and the facilities are very sparse.
I have become known as the teacher who teaches the kids to sing softly. Cool! During the second year I spent two hours a week teaching six teachers to play the recorder and how to teach a song. That year they learned to play G, A and B on the recorder. They were very proud of
themselves to be able to play little tunes.
Last year was my third year. It was a short term because of Egyptian Revolution. Three teachers continued with recorder lessons. They mastered C and D enabling them to play 5-note songs! At the end of the session the 6th graders, the 4th graders and the 1st graders sang for the school. Part of the learning experience was forming a line, standing still and watching the director. As the children sang, the three teachers accompanied the singing on their recorders. They were very happy and very proud.
Regarding the practicalities of life, I stayed with a friend the first year. The second year I lived in a 2-star, friendly hotel in beautiful downtown Cairo. The third year I was staying at the same hotel but moved back with my friend a few days after the revolution started.
Why do I do this? I’m 70 years old. I do it because it makes me happy and it makes life so much more interesting. I am also very committed to the work.
© Riding the buses 2011