Andi Downer, a lifelong friend of mine has been working and living in Egypt for the last 5 years.
I sat down to chat with Andi to discover more about what inspires, stimulates and motivates her.
Can you give me a brief overview of your educational background which has allowed you to be where you are in life now and to do what you do?
I lived in Trinidad for 16 years and completed my GCE’s before completing my secondary Education in the UK. I started off doing a degree in Liverpool (having completed my A’s in Law, Economics, Governmental studies and Statistics) but soon abandoned that as I found my calling in Nursing. This I completed in London but before I could work having qualified, I found love in a husband who was in the Navy. With that we travelled and for the next 6 years we were in Gibraltar bringing up 2 boys. On our return to the UK I went back into Nursing whilst my husband did a first degree. I followed him when my sons were about 8 and 10 years, reading Anthropology, Archaeology, Environmental studies and Education. After 2 years of study I diverted to do a full BA in Education leading me to qualified teacher status. Having done 12 years in British schools and a break up of my marriage, I fled to International teaching, beginning in Egypt.
If we can, I would like to go way back a bit. As a woman from Trinidad myself who has been living away from Trinidad for the past 16 years, I know your journey from Trinidad to England to Cairo must have been an interesting one. Talk to me. What motivated you?
I went to England really because my mother is from there and after a death in the family she returned to care for her elderly parents and as myself and my youngest sibling were under 16 she decided to take us with her. It certainly wasn’t my choice. I remember crying myself to sleep many nights wishing to be back in the warmth of friends and family back in Trinidad. As a good Christian girl, I went where I was told. Back in those days one didn’t really decide that one would stay in Trinidad as all my older siblings were married and the decision was made for us. I wasn’t really consulted to be honest.
What made you choose a career in teaching and how is the teaching experience different in the East?
As mentioned earlier I went into teaching by accident, but but accidental choice. I had 2 boys in Primary school where I helped out with the reading, trips etc, and got a liking for it. My husband had just completed his degree and I was working nights in a Nursing home.
Teaching in Egypt is very different from the pressures teaching in the UK. I felt burnt out trying to keep up with the testing and severe amount of paperwork and accountability for children who were not performing (but were doing their best) trying to get the best League tables and so on. Having come to a time in my life where choices were now my own and being unhappy in my employment, I took a leap of faith and just went with it.
Egypt has been in the news moreso since the “Arab Spring” in 2010. How do you feel living there, how do you account for your safety?
Egypt has its political problems and the religion of the country has its own ‘gender’ problems. However as an expat, I don’t fit into the boxes and lead quite a normal social life with little if any problems. I travel around Egypt quite freely, stay out of problem areas, and I would urge anyone to come see the beauty and surround themselves with the amazing history this place has.
Egypt has had a bad press. I live here. Yes there are areas you shouldn’t go to.
It is quite safe. As safe as anywhere else I can go to.
After 5 years I think I have just about exhausted the places I really wanted to see in Egypt.
Who inspired you? Who were your influencers? Do you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced you to become such an adventurous woman? Who are you committed to in your work and in your personal life?
My parents are my influencers. They (94 and 87 years old now) met in 1946 married in 1947. Dad, a black Trinidadian and mum white British. Can you imagine the barriers they faced? They are still married, 6 children , 13 grandchildren and 23 great grands from a variety of cultures later still going strong. My parents gave me the experiences, viewpoints and perspectives which formed my early opinions of how to live in a totally multicultural society as a child and I took that with me throughout my life up to today.
What are you most excited or passionate about? We note that you are an accomplished traveler especially to off beaten tracks.
I am passionate about sharing my skills as a teacher, learning new skills, cooking and of course travelling.
I have always travelled. As a child there was no better joy than dad telling all 6 of us to get in the car and drive to the beach at Maracas and in my later life travelling to USA, Spain, France before I married at which point I was hooked. The children(and dog) would be packed into a car with the tent and all we needed for the week and away we went to some corner of England. As money was tight in the early days we just did the British Isles but later on we flew to France, Spain and Greece.
Now I make sure not a moment of my free time is spent sitting still but going somewhere to experience the beauty, history, culture and people of a different place.
Can we talk about love and romance? Is it easier to find it in the East as opposed to the West? Are dating mores vastly different between the two cultures
There is an Arabic Egyptian saying “ I am happiest being in my own company”
It doesn’t mean I don’t love being with others but actually I am quite happy sitting on a hill watching the sun go down on my own. Of course I would love to share my experiences with someone , however I find that I am now at a stage that I have become used to being on my own. Lonely? Of course at times. I take pleasure in experiencing things and then able to share my insights, my photos, my experiences of the places I have travelled with my family. My grandchildren, my siblings, my children, my friends…I love them all, Could I live with them? ….Perhaps not!
Egyptian men ( a lot) are always on the look out for western females.
There are some wonderful male friends I have made here, as I would probably anywhere in the world. Not all share all my passions , my beliefs, my lust for living life, and as a western woman, sometimes that is difficult for these friends to fully appreciate. It is a clash of cultures. I am not saying that never the twain should meet, just that it is not for me. Alas, someone with my own values may one day cross my path and Yes I would be happy to go down that route again.
Let’s say we are talking a year from now, what would you say you accomplished in that year? So I guess I am asking about those things you know you will be doing in the coming year, that you know for sure won’t fall in the bucket of ‘wanted to do, but never got started’? Tell me about that.
I am always doing online courses, French Spanish, computers, educational etc. Some I abandon, some I keep going at.
I have started learning the guitar in January, and with 2 lessons I am happy to continue. If I can play Happy Birthday for my class, I’d be happy.
I am hoping to get to the Far East either professionally or holidaying so starting this Easter, I’m off to Vietnam. Summer I’m hoping to get to Malaysia.
However, I am at a crossroads in my career, having been here for 5 years I may spend another here or if I get the right job I’ll be off, so who knows…another leap of Faith?
Part 2 of the interview with Andi continues next week on this blog “Come With G”