Guest Blog – Riding a Camel to School by Bernadette Simpson

Fascinated by her story, I asked if Bernadette Simpson would like to write a guest blog on TMBOA.  I love experiencing different cultures and her book, An ABC Escapade Through Egypt, helps kids discover the wonders of Egypt while in their own living rooms.  Enjoy!

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Will you live in a pyramid? Do they speak Egyptian there? Will you ride a camel to school?

Feluka Dock

Feluka Dock

These were the questions asked by my friends when I broke the news to them that, yes, my parents really were making me move to Egypt with them. Although my mother had originally promised otherwise, once my father was offered the job, my mother rescinded, saying she would miss me too much and that I must join them on this adventure. My parents tried to woo me with the prospect of graduating in front of the pyramids. But I was sixteen. I would be starting my senior year in high school in the fall. All I wanted to do was hang out with my girlfriends, go to prom with my boyfriend, and graduate.

While I knew the answers to the above questions, I knew little else about Egypt. The company that my father worked for attempted to make our move to this foreign land easier. The company provided Arabic classes, as well as tests to measure their ability to adjust, and a video for the employee’s family to watch as an introduction to Egypt. Here’s what I learned: Egypt is hot and dusty.  (Seriously, the video must have repeated that phrase a dozen times. It became a family joke.)

But even with my allergy to dust, my parents insisted that I join them. And it wasn’t like I had a choice. So five weeks into my senior year, the phone call came. My dad’s work visa had been finalized and we were booked on a flight for the coming weekend.

And so there I was – a teenager plucked from the comfort of her own neighborhood and friends and set down in the middle of hot and dusty Cairo. I learned quickly that life in Cairo was going to be nothing like life in Houston, Texas.

Instead of asking my father to borrow the car, I flagged down taxis, learned to give directions in Arabic, and haggle for fares as there were no working meters.

Instead of playing frisbee at the park, my friends and I drove to the desert behind my apartment and used discarded cardboard boxes to slide down sand dunes.

Instead of strolling through shopping malls for entertainment, we met at the docks along the Nile and rented a feluka, or sailboat, that would drift along the river as we listened to music and munched on snacks.

And while there is no denying that Egypt is hot and dusty, Egypt is so much more.

I learned that arriving on time is not as important as simply showing up.

I learned that there is always time to share a cup of tea or a light lunch with a friend – or a complete stranger.

I learned that happiness is not dependent on the quantity or quality of what you own but rather the family and friends with whom you share your days.

Photo of my neighbor, the camel. Dahab, South Sinai

There is a saying that if you drink from the water of the Nile, you are destined to return to Egypt. Well, I guess I got my fill of Nile water! After graduating (yes, in front of the pyramids) I returned to America to attend university but spent every summer and winter break visiting my parents in Cairo. It was on one of those summer breaks – and on a feluka – that my heart was fully captured by Egypt, and an Egyptian! I made the decision that after graduation I would move to Egypt to begin my teaching career. And I’ve been here ever since.

I spent the first eight years teaching at various schools in Cairo and the majority of my students were Egyptian children. We learned from each other every day – and we especially enjoyed learning from books. My students eagerly awaited each new story that I shared with them. As I completed my graduate studies focusing on reading and English as a second language, it finally dawned on me that my students had very, very few books that reflected their country, their life, or the people they knew. We read about Thanksgiving and baseball, snowstorms and summer camp, but never about Ramadan or soccer or sandstorms. I searched every bookstore for something they could relate to but found nothing.

So I decided to rectify the situation by creating my own book. And although I first began by writing fictional stories set in Cairo, my passion for learning, language, and photography took over and I ended up writing a nonfiction alphabet book – An ABC Escapade through Egypt. (http://www.bernadettesimpson.com/aboutbook.html)

To complete my project, I took a break from teaching and moved to a small seaside town on the Sinai Peninsula. While technically part of Egypt, Sinai is a different world altogether and one that again encourages me to explore this land – with camera in hand of course, hoping to share the many wonders of modern Egypt with the rest of the world through my photo blog (http://escapadethroughegypt.wordpress.com/).

And while I never actually rode a camel during my student years, I now have one as a neighbor!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Guest Blog – Riding a Camel to School by Bernadette Simpson

  1. Wow, what a wonderful adventure :]
    Thank you so much for sharing your story.

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