International School Visit
Tuesday 18 May
Today we five writers-in-residents visited the El Gouna International School to meet the pupils and run workshops. After grabbing a hasty breakfast together we set off (Seni was already there) – Tizzy and I jumping in a tuk-tuk.
We were met my the Deputy Head, a nice bloke originally from Nottingham, ‘Mr Nigel’. A year before retirement, he had a pleasant easy-going attitude. He’d certainly seen the world as a well-travelled teacher. We had coffee together – which was much needed, after not getting much sleep (the wild desert wind; the heat; the midges; a dodgy stomach; my mind racing). I’d woken up about 3am and ended up typing some poems up. So, I wasn’t in the best of states… I was led to my class of year 7s – run by ‘Miss Becky’ from Cardiff. The room had a pleasant feel – with some impressive work and resources on the wall. A scale model of The Globe sat in the corner! I asked where everyone was from – there was an interesting mixture: many were half-Egyptian/half-European. Being a global mongrel myself I felt at home. I introduced myself and my work and read out some examples of my poems – getting the kids to make sound fx (howling wind, for ‘Song of the North Wind’; motorbike revs for ‘Ignition’). I recited ‘Phone Tree’ – my mobile phone poem; then performed my new piece, hot off the press (I’d finished it just before breakfast, despite being half-asleep) – ‘Rubbish Rap’, written on a sheet of card made from old Tetrapaks.
I donned my shades and baseball cap, doing my embarrassing white-men-can’t-rap (unless you’re Eminem) act. I got the kids to join in with the chorus:
‘El Gouna, the place to be – the greenest resort on the Red Sea!’
OK, it won’t win any literary prizes, I know – but as long as it raises awareness and celebrates El Gouna’s green initiatives, fostering a sense of local pride, that’s what matters. They seemed to enjoy it anyway, and it got them fired up to write their own ‘rubbish poem’, on any piece of scrap paper they could find. They read out their finished piece – and I was very pleased with the results. Hearing them ‘big up’ recycling gave me hope. The fact that many had written a poem in a second language was impressive – more than I could do!
We finished with some good questions – from ‘Why did you start to write?’ down to the nitty gritty: ‘How many books do they print/do you sell?’ (in other words, how much money do you make/how successful are you). I answered the last one by saying ‘If you’re in writing to make money, you’re in it for the wrong reasons.’
A final photo opportunity – and a lovely speech from the class rep, thanking me and hoping I’ll return – then it was time to go. What a well-behaved and bright class – a credit to their teacher and to themselves.
I met up with the other writers and we were all buzzing about how our respective classes had gone. It sounds like the kids adored us. Out here they don’t get the kind of cultural visits that school-children in, say, Britain get these days – and so they really appreciated us, which was nice. It was satisfying to engage with locals in this way – contributing something meaningful, rather than simply absorbing everything like the life-sponges us writers are.
An all-round success.