In the next few days, I will be heading off to Cairo to spend a few weeks teaching at the Dover American International School. As both a historian and educator, I cannot tell you how excited I am about the next month. This will be my first time to both Egypt and the African continent.
During a conversation with a friend, she asked me about the story I will tell about this trip. It was an important question. With my past travels to France, I have always had a solid grip on the kind of narrative I would tell. My work as a French historian and experiences with traveling to France framed the different narratives – grad student, researcher, anti-tourist – that arose from my visits. However, for the first time in quite a while, I don’t have an easy set narrative. I will be traveling to a place that is new to me. Of course, I know the bumper stickers of Egyptian history (for a time during my teenage years, I wanted to be an Egyptologist). I can locate it on a map and I can list off some of the major cities. But I have never been and have never experienced the culture of Egypt. So as a traveler, I will need to reframe my worldview for it to underpin whatever narrative I will tell.
Also, I will not be going just as a traveler or a tourist. I will be working in a school with Arab staff and Arab students, teaching either the core American history curriculum or Egyptian history. This will be the other main narrative strand. This experience will be quite unlike any of my past teaching.
I am also conscious of what narratives not to tell. During the 1790s, as Napoleon marched his armies in northern Africa, he brought with him a mini-army of surveyors, archeologists, historians and a forest of crates to study, pack up, and pillage Egypt’s cultural heritage. The French were not the only ones to do this, of course. The British were just as bad. Part of this push to claim from what Edward Said referred to as Orientalism where Europeans exoticized and eroticized eastern cultures.
Western culture still does this and I need to be aware when I am Orientalizing my time in Egypt and readjust my mindset. It helps that I will be working with an established faculty and institution as a colleague, embedding me to a certain degree within the culture, rather than being left simply as an observer. Thus, an element of this narrative will be from the lens of immersion.
So, I won’t be crating home any antiquaries or shooting off the noses of unsuspecting statuary. But I hope that you will enjoy my next few posts over the next month.
Oh, p.s. I will NOT be taking pictures of me posing to look like I am holding the pyramids, or kissing the Sphinx. That’s just tacky.
Dr. Jason Sager holds a PhD in French History and is currently working on his B. Ed. He is located at the Dover American International School for the month of May 2019.