After working for a few years, I found myself holding down one full time job with the Government and three part time jobs, and freelancing some translation work. It was a full plate and I was running around, juggling my schedule so that I could do all that, keep my social calendar going, and enjoying a full life. But there came a time when I thought this was a crazy way to live, so why not branch into one field, qualify for that, and get a bona fide full time job that would take care of all the running around I was doing, and supply the income that would cover my needs. To this end, and surveying the market, and my capabilities, I had the choice of either becoming a teacher, or a secretary. In both, my command of English would be an asset. So as I had been working part time as a teacher, I thought to try a completely new field, so decided to qualify for the job of secretary.
The best courses were given at the Division of Public Services at the American University in Cairo. These were credited courses and you graduated with a diploma. I cared more about acquiring the skills of typing and shorthand, though the course included a variety of other subjects, two of which became major interests of mine, communication and human relations.
My first few classes showed me that I was a few years older than most of those taking the course, and that my English was far better. But to enable me graduate and get my diploma, I had to take courses in the language. A bit boring and a waste of time, but gave me the opportunity to get to know my teachers and fellow students better. The only other student whose English was good enough to be bored with the class, and who was nearest to me in age, was a young Lebanese of Armenian origin, married to a Scotsman who worked for a Lebanese Architectural firm operating in Cairo. Sylva was a beautiful girl and very vivacious , she was a lot of fun to be with, and we hit it off quite well. Eventually she introduced me to her husband and we all had some really good times together.
I was very proud of my progress as I aced my classes and finished my first semester with full marks which entitled me to a scholarship for the second semester. But half way through that second semester I was offered a tempting job. It was a temporary job, working for some Danes who were attached to the Ministry of Housing, as consultants for the per-fab project. Which really meant that they oversaw the companies that were delivering prefabricated housing to the Ministry of Housing, and ensured that they did not cheat the Ministry in any way. My job entailed secretarial tasks, filing, some typing, but mainly as translator/interpreter to the Danes whenever there was a meeting that they had to attend with the Ministry. It was a good job, and gave me insight into a field I had never experienced before. But there was a problem. How could I hold down a full job and keep up with my courses?
So I went and talked to the Dean and explained my problem. He was one of my teachers and knew me well, so we agreed that I would not be registered in any particular classes, but would attend whichever class was available, after working hours. This had two drawbacks: first I would lose my scholarship for the following semester, and second that I would sort of have to crash these classes as my name would not show on the teachers’ list when they took attendance.
My fellow students were all aware of my position and were extremely helpful, keeping me posted of any and all developments. My first class that I crashed was Arabic typing. There was a new professor, a young man. When I went in with the rest of the class, and he started to call out the names for attendance, I caught Sylva’s eye and rolled up my eyes, not wanting to go through all the explanations. So when he had called all the names and mine had not shown up, he came over to me and asked me what my name was. I don’t know what little devil prompted me to totally ignore him, and continue with my typing exercise. To get my attention, he rapped on the machine, looking up, I caught Sylva’s eye on me and turned to her and started making what I presumed could be taken for sign language. She caught on immediately, left her seat and came over and started responding in the same way. I heard a few gasps in class behind me, and a muffled giggle, but nobody gave the game away. Sylva finally turned to the teacher and said that I was given special permission to attend whichever classes I could because of my ‘condition’. Of course he did not know that my ‘condition’ was a job, and I did not feel terribly guilty as I had already cleared it with the Dean. I had that class twice a week for a full month till the end of the semester, and my teacher always looked pityingly at me whenever I was in class. The antics Sylva and I went through, every time my teacher tried to convey some information to me through Sylva kept the whole class entertained for the duration. And to tell the truth, she and I enjoyed ourselves a lot, trying to devise new signs that were not overly rude, but which looked as close as possible to sign language.
My exposure and downfall came the last day of class that semester, when in walked the Dean for a word with the teacher, and spotting me on his way out he said : Hello Aida, how is it going! I couldn’t very well ignore the man, so I smiled and replied faintly, fine thank you. He left the room and there was total silence. Everyone was waiting to see the teacher’s reaction. The poor man was in shock, he just stared. I had the grace to feel badly for him and thought it his due, so stood up and apologized to him and asked his forgiveness, explaining what the situation was, and that I wasn’t really cheating by attending classes where I wasn’t registered. I must say, this man turned out to be a real prince, or was still in shock, for he accepted my explanation and apology, and it was the last class in that semester.
I finally graduated a full fledged Executive Secretary, never having taken another class with that particular teacher.