Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Monday, February 06, 2006

A new conversation class!

I just returned from teaching Week 2 of the new semester at the Coptic Cathedral. I am now teaching level 6/7 class, a step up from the last class. And, as always, I LOVE IT! (Really, I think I need to be a teacher...just don't know who and what to teach.)

Tonight we had conversation on "Cultural Perspectives: Family Life in Egypt and America." (Yeah, catchy title, I'm creative ;-) Really, it was enlightening for all of us!

During the first half of class we talked a lot about childhood and teenage years. When I asked the class what children do for household chores (a new phrase for them) or responsibilities they all said "homework." That's it. What about making the bed? Brushing teeth? Doing dishes? Not fighting with your brother or sister? Taking the dog out for a walk? (Okay, that last chore not the least bit likely, but it's the point that counts.) Nope. The only responsibility(s) they could come up with is doing homework and having fun. With that, I decided to show them "The Chart." You know the one; where Mom writes all the kids names on the Y axis, the list of chores on the X axis, and puts stickers or stars in the boxes when a chore is completed. At the end of the week, you count the number of stars/stickers and you are rewarded with ice cream or a movie or money or whatever. The class was pretty intrigued by this, and an hour later at the end of class one woman came up to me and thanked me for the idea. She said she's going to try this chart concept with her children. I'm excited to hear how it goes!~

Then we discussed teenage years and the 'rights of passage' (another new phrase) into adulthood. I told them about driving at 16, smoking, voting, and gambling at 18, and drinking alcohol at 21. They were totally floored with these age markers. "So you mean you cannot buy a cigarette if you are 17?" [In Egypt, anyone can buy a cigarette.] "That's correct." "But, what if you are caught smoking and you are only 16?" "Well, unless the parents are upset, nothing really." "Well, then why do you have this law if it is not enforced?" A decent question. "And if you are under 21 and caught with alcohol, what happens?" "You are in trouble; maybe you go to jail." "And the parents are in trouble as well, right? Who is punished for this?" Difference in culture again. In America's individualistic society, only the person doing the crime is punished, but in Egypt it's a family ordeal.

Speaking of family ordeals, we soon started talking about marriage. In Egypt, you must have money, your own flat, and a stable job (if you are man) in order to get married. If you are woman, you must be patient and wait for a man (who is often 'chosen' by the family members) to have money, a flat, and a good job. Certainly an issue in a country where over 35% of the population is unemployed, and much more cannot afford his own flat.

I told them in America, you don't really need anything to get married. If you are in love, you can easy get married. We hit the jackpot with this topic, let me tell you! Suddenly questions were being asked left and right about issues of marriage and religion. While there are similarities in our views of love and marriage, there are great differences as well. When I asked the students what they desire in a companion, they said such things as, "someone close to your age, someone your family likes, someone with the same religion, someone with a stable job, someone with responsibility, someone you love."

For these Coptic Christians, divorce is not an option. It simply does not happen for them. In fact, they could not understand how someone can be following the bible (be a Christian) and get a divorce. I tried to explain issues of falling out of love, dealing with domestic abuse, etc. but found that I really hard a hard time expressing the issue. Even with abuse, one student said, "Then the father must leave for a while, control himself, and come back to the family." When I explained that sometimes the father (or mother) just doesn't come back for a variety of reasons, a student asked, "But, he is still the father, isn't he?" "Yes, he is." Look of confusion.

One student said, "Why is it okay for a man and woman to live together and have a child but not be married?" Another said, "So, you have strick rules about smoking and drugs but not about parenting and marriage? I don't understand." As the conversation continued, I found myself having a harder time understanding and/or expressing my culture as well. I mean, in a sense, it's interesting that we believe 20 year olds are not responsible enough to handle alcohol, yet there is no restriction on the same person for being a child into this world.

An interesting tid-bit: According to the students, the Coptic Church says a woman can marry a man up to 15 years older than her (but no more) and a man can marry a woman up to 3 years older than him (but no more). [However, this does not seem to be enforced.]


  • At 2/06/2006, Blogger Ken Trunnell said…

    Hey Sarah,

    We were worried about you when we heard about the ferry capsizing.


  • At 2/08/2006, Anonymous Sarah Richter said…

    As we get older and see others parenting, I question the same things your students do? THey should make parents, or potential parents, take something like a driver's test to be a parent. Then renew their license each year. The majority would pass, but maybe this would help keep unfit [and really unwanting] parents from hurting lives...just a suggestion.

    Your students really hit good targets. Both of our cultures have good and bad societal constraints and laws.


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