Middle East studies in the News
Egyptian Educator Speaks to Southern Lehigh Students
by Charles Malinchak
Egypt. A land of deserts, camels and pyramids with no cellphones, sports, a place still living in the Dark Ages.
And what about those pyramids. How many are there? Are they still burying people in them and could a person still see a live mummy?
Those were some of the questions and misconceptions that arose Wednesday afternoon when about 225 fifth-graders got the chance to understand at least some Egyptian culture from Cairo native and a school principal in the country's capital, Hanan Gawdet.
The students were from the Joseph Liberati Intermediate School in the Southern Lehigh School District, where Gawdet has been teaching Arabic and Middle Eastern culture at various district schools this month under a grant from the U.S. State Department.
Standing before the group with a traditional Muslim head scarf, the first question was about the pyramids, which prompted Gawdet to ask, "How many pyramids are there?"
Answers varied from one to five, but she said, "There are 130."
One student asked if pyramids are still used for burials and whether she ever saw a living mummy.
"Nobody is buried anymore in the pyramids. They are for tourists. And no, you can't have a living mummy," she said.
"Why do you wear that scarf around your head," one student asked.
Gawdet, 57 and a mother of two, said it is out of respect for her Muslim faith and explained that women who want to follow the religion the way she does cover their heads, arms and legs.
"Not all women put the scarf on. It's an option. We don't have to. I didn't up until I was 32," she said.
"Isn't it [Egypt] all desert?" was another question. Gawdet answered by putting up pictures on a wall screen showing a bustling Cairo with cars, high-rise buildings and lights everywhere.
The pictures, along with her explanation that Egyptians have cellphones and play all kinds of sports, illustrated that Egypt is a modern nation.
"Egypt is more modern than I thought and the people, they're a lot like us," 11-year-old Carlye Noblit said.
"I thought is was all desert ... and I didn't know they spoke Arabic. I thought it was Egyptian," 11-year-old Nolan Sargent said.
Gawdet, who has degrees in education and English from the American University in Cairo and Cairo University, fielded questions and explained that Arabic is written right to left.
She explained the monthlong Muslim holiday of Ramadan, and that Easter is celebrated, but as a rite of spring as the Pharaohs observed it, though today colored eggs and chocolate are part of it. And, she said, it's not uncommon to see Santa hats and decorated trees at Christmastime.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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