The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow Ameena Hester

Like an idiot, I was making shapes with my mouth in the mirror. ‘Bi sarraHa. BI sarraHA. Bi sarrAHa.’ I even threw in a hand gesture or two and convinced myself for a second that I had it down.

But it was far, far from down.

Ever since I stepped foot in this beautiful country, the wind in my chest has stood still. A part of me found itself invigorated with new senses. Who couldn’t be? Mother of the world, birthplace of Moses, home of my roots. Picture this: the air is drunk with humidity. Distant whistles. City dust settles in your lungs like a prodigious rite of passage. An old man is selling honey out of a vessel in his satchel.

(Vine voice: Is this allowed??)

“People scream from their balconies, ‘Don’t play here!’ But where else are we supposed to play? And they tell us: ‘Don’t play so loud!’ But how do you play not loud?”
(Cairo, Egypt) Courtesy of Humans of New York Instagram page.

Crowded, chipped sidewalks are spirited by the raillery of women babbling about so-and-so, effete men worn out by a day’s work rest under resortless palm trees. Banana carts. Sounds of cars and trucks- big & small- the music of the streets.

Despite experiencing strange beauty, the other part of me plopped itself in a corner and cried the baby blues.

As many of my other fellow Gappers have similarly expressed, my gap year has not been easy.

No one prepared me for the emotional strain involved in the turbulent, cyclic preparation and investment process turned failure and loss. Can I say it’s all worked out at this point? It’s too premature to say. But I can speak to the pure sense of life that volunteering has brought me so far. The first day I began teaching, I came in overzealous. I wore my only good dress suit and stayed up too late the previous night watching YouTube videos on how to control a noisy classroom. I ought to have worn a hauberk. The kids asked me if they should be writing down this or that every 5.8932 milliseconds. That kid pulled the other one’s hair. This room is too crowded. That mother wants that kid to pay attention. This kid keeps kicking that kid’s chair. Those kids won’t stop talking.

I prayed right there on the spot, on the verge of tears.

I held out for the last hour and a half. When I got home, I cried real man tears. Why did I even do this thing? What was I thinking? You’re falling behind! You came all the way over here to perform some mediocre duty and say you did something? Despite experiencing what seemed like the final destruction of my sanity, I pondered over the positive impetus of what I’d enjoyed about teaching that day. An excerpt from the day’s journal entry: “But though there is a bush of thorns I smell roses! There’s the beautiful, ocean-eyed Shereen* who is so soft-spoken and sweet. There’s Yusra* who raises her hand after every question and Kamil*, who has to be reminded to write because he studies the board so hard!”

*I’ve changed the names of the children to protect their identities.

This single, blushing hibiscus was given to me by a student on our first test day (before it was shriveled).

I was ungrateful, is what it was. And scared, too. I had faced a terrible cognitive dissonance in deciding if teaching (English) was an ethical thing to do. My mouth had come to colonize. It is unsettling that though I’d come for the opposite environment of what I had back home, it’d pursued and annexed me, tapping my shoulder on the other side of the world. American songs blast from corner stores. Graphic t-shirts printed in English. American manufacturers establish themselves here. Eventually I assuaged myself with the truth, which is this: in a globalizing society where the greatest opportunities are afforded to those who are educated and/or speak English, I am able to use my own blessings to teach others and give a glimpse of hope to these childrens’ caretakers and put light in their futures. Sending the elevator back down. I had to remind myself that this is what I’d hoped to come for. I could be teaching the world’s next great leaders and scientists and architects and authors and diplomats!

I am learning- slowly but surely- to not doubt my impact. I douse myself in essential oils and digress. I am trying to walk by the light of the mantra that tells me to go in, do my work, and leave soul everywhere. That is the essence of life!

This post is dedicated to my teachers. I am forever grateful for your impact and effort.