Posted by: Tommy | November 30, 2010

Haikus and Good Bye, Egypt

Some wrap-up thoughts from Egypt:

We are sitting in the airport at 12:30 am, waiting on our flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and then to Johannesburg.  I’m still angry an hour later.

We hung out with the guys we’d been couchsurfing with in Cairo until it was time to take a cab to the airport.  They’re teachers at the British International School here in Cairo (one Brit, one Australian) and have been as hospitable as can be.  They’ve been busy, so we haven’t seen them much (we’ve seen their TV alot though – they get a bunch of American channels).  But today we were able to spend a few hours with Dave, the Australian.

He’s helped us during our stay, giving us maps and directions frequently, and advising us on taxi prices, camel prices, etc. during our time here.  He’s been right every time, so we believed him when he said the taxi to the airport from his house would be 40-50 pounds if we got a “white taxi”.  The white taxi’s are a new thing in Cairo – taxis with meters.  The old system, which many of the taxis here operate under, was to try to screw the tourists for as much as you could and as a tourist to haggle for a much lower rate. The white taxi is universally regarded as much cheaper by everyone we met here.  Dave said we could take a private car for 80 pounds, but that it really wasn’t necessary to pay that much, as every taxi driver knows how to get to the airport.

We flagged a white taxi down outside of Dave’s house and hopped in.  Airport, please!  Everything seemed to be going well; the driver was nice enough, though he didn’t speak English.  I was sitting in the front seat (giant backpacks with Anna in the back) and had a good view of the meter.  I wasn’t really worried, as we still had 70 EGP remaining and were expecting a 50 EGP ride, at most.  Hamed (the driver) made a few comments about me watching the meter in broken English, trying to laugh it off.  But Dave had told us the rate (1 km = 1.25 EGP) and either Hamed was going way faster than the speed limit or his meter was wrong.  We were well past 50 EGP when I saw a sign that said Cairo Airport- 16 km.  Hmmm.  In that 16 km, the meter passed 80, 90, 100 EGP.  We passed another sign, 5 km to the airport.  The meter had gone up 50 pounds (about $10) in 11 km.  That’s more than an NYC taxi.

I had a pretty good idea of what was going on, so I had told Anna (in Pig Latin, in case his English comprehension was better than his speech) to get out of the car with her bag as soon as we stopped.  I motioned for him to stop near some policemen at the airport. And Hamed demanded 130! pounds.  We’d only been in the car for 25 minutes.  And he wanted $25.  In Egypt.

I grabbed my bag and made sure Anna was out of the car and had her stuff, then I walked over to the group of policemen and asked for someone who spoke English.  The taxi driver is following me, shouting at this point.  I explain to one, who’s English isn’t good enough, so he gets another for me.  As I explain my situation, the cop repeatedly says “1 km = 1.25 EGP” .  I explain that I know, and we went 40 km – so I should owe 50 pounds, not 130.  The taxi driver continues to argue.  The cop has a big smile and is telling me I have to pay it.  We only have 70 pounds, so I head inside to find an ATM (I tell them – I’m actually looking for an honest cop).  A man in a nice suit stops me and asks if everything is ok.  I say no and ask him if he knows the price of a taxi from El Maadi (Dave’s neighborhood) to the airport.  He repeats what Dave said – 40-50 pounds.  He works for a limo company at the airport – which charges 100 pounds to/from El Maadi.  He is indignant, as are several of his coworkers.  He wants to know where the taxi driver is.  So we go outside – and I watch Suit Man get into a loud argument with the taxi cheater.  A cop joins in, then several of Suit Man’s coworkers get involved.  Suit Man ducks out and asks me for 60 pounds.  I have a 50 and a 20, so I hand it over.  Suit Man stuffs it in the drivers hand and tells Anna and I to start walking.  It’s sad that I paid almost double what Dave thought we should be paying (and what he pays to the airport) and I had to fight to ONLY get screwed out of 20 pounds.  It’s absolutely the most maddening thing about mainland Egypt.

I needed to vent – I feel better.

The other thing I wanted to share is much more interesting, I think.  It’s not something that is specific to Egypt, but this is where we heard about it and I wish someone had shared this information with me when I was in college or shortly after.  This is information compiled from Dave, Adam – Dave’s roommate, and the Texas couple we watched football with on Thanksgiving.  All four of them are living and working as teachers in Cairo.

Had anyone told me 6-7 years ago that teaching abroad was such an amazing deal, I’m sure that I would have spent at least a few years doing that.  This is not teaching English to foreign students – this is teaching a regular subject in a primary (elementary) or secondary (middle or high school) school abroad.  Dave teaches 4th grade, Adam teaches history, Marcy (the San Antonio wife) teaches high school biology and her husband teaches social studies.  All of them teach in English and none of them speak any Arabic.

Marcy and her husband have been teaching overseas for 7 years; 5 in Spain and 2 in Egypt.  They are looking to move to Thailand next school year.  Dave has taught in Cairo for 5 years and is moving to either Borneo or Belgium next year, depending on where his girlfriend can find a job. They all say you can pretty much pick your country if you are a qualified teacher with any experience.  Marcy has a masters and an IB certification.

Here’s the crazy thing – for teaching high school biology in Cairo, Marcy makes $60,000/ year tax free.  She gets free health care, her housing is paid for, she still gets summers off and the school provides 2 flights back to the States for her and her family per year.  She doesn’t have kids, but if she did they’d go to the private school for free.  She wants to move to Thailand, partly for the diving and partly because in Asia, teachers start at $70K (7% tax rate) and all the same perks, but make more with experience.  If you are willing to teach in Saudi Arabia (none of the 4 we talked to are), you start at 90K tax free and move up very quickly from there.  But then you live in a very strict Muslim country – quality of life does have a price.

Knowing the cost of things in Cairo, it would be very possible to live very well and still save $55,000 per year (all you have to pay for, really, is food and vacations).  We haven’t been to Thailand yet, but we hear its just as cheap or cheaper than Egypt.  You might be able to save $60-65K per year.  And there’s two of us.

I was running the numbers as Marcy and Dave were talking about this with us – if Anna and I had jobs at the same school – we’d have a double housing allowance, 4 flights home per year paid for.  If we managed to spend $10,000 per year on food and vacations – we’d still be saving $110,000 per year. If we had gotten master’s degrees after college and immediately moved abroad and started teaching, we would have started in 2006.  We would have 4 years in – and potentially would have saved $440,000.  That’s not counting any interest or investment income.  That blows my mind.  I had no idea that teaching abroad was so lucrative.  I had always wanted to be a teacher growing up but teachers in America are so underpaid that I couldn’t justify it.  Anyway, I wanted to share this in case you know someone who loves to travel and might entertain the thought of teaching – but is also interested in their financial future.  This is certainly an option worth further research.

My haikus for Egypt:

“Taxi, carriage ride; scarf, hotel, camel?” they shout; the sound of Egypt.

Divers paradise; cheap food, ping pong, coral reefs; narcotic Dahab.



  1. Again, glad you did Egypt for me so I wouldn’t be “gyped”. Get it? Ha, ha.

    • I had to walk like an Egyptian because my Sphynx-er was worn out from the Cairo-rhea.

  2. Some things I think I hate:

    1. White taxis. They aren’t all driven by Ruslan Kims, you know.

    b. Arian Foster. Who in their right mind would name their child that? I bet he was called foster child all throughout grade school. Why not just name him Arian Adopted?

    4. Jobs in America. Did you know that teachers in Thailand can make $70k a year? No wonder all of the jobs are going overseas. They pay better!

    C. Genies. My experience with genies is limited to I Dream of Genie, Aladdin, and Christina Aguilera’s Wiccan ballad, Genie in a Bottle. When you find a genie, erase all prior knowledge. It will be neither Robin Williams nor a dwarfed, blonde Hispanic. And forget what they say about wishing for more wishes.

    c. Cloning. If cloning actually worked, then Stieg Larsson would still be writing.

  3. Don’t you even think about it! Ok, think about it if it is what you and Anna want and it would make you both happy.

  4. P.S. Did I REALLY just say that?

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