An Absence of Forty-six Years or A Return to the Site of the English School Cairo, in Heliopolis

I can not decide which title to use. Does it reflect an enigma? Is their joy mixed with sorrow? When the 1956ers and earlier classes are gone will the institution go with it? I know that over time everything changes. Am I in a hopeless trap of sentimental nostalgia? I meet current boys on the school grounds but cannot say they are future Old Boys. They will become future graduates of the El Nasr School. When given “The Annual Edition 2002” of the school book, the heading, in one-inch bold red print, is EL NASR SCHOOL followed by the current logo. A shield outlined in green on a blue background. In the center of the shield from bottom to top is a wavy green line upon, which sails a royal white barge with a red sun outlined in gold with golden rays showering the barge from above. Within the red sun are the bold letters ESC. Below the large red heading, in one- quarter inch black capital print, is EX. THE ENGLISH SCOOL, HELIOPOLIS. Is the old school still shinning its rays on the new? What is one to make of it? Has an irreversible change already taken hold and I cannot see it? Are earlier graduates and the 56ers the only living legacy that remains? Is it all reduced to monuments of stone like the pyramids?

It is 10 December 2002, eleven in the morning and the four-hour tour begins. My wife Najiba and Sameh Radwan, an Old Boy of 1957 are with me. Sameh lives only five hundred meters down the road from the school. Only two building stood on the other side in 1956. Enver Murad used to live in one of those buildings. Both are still their Enver, but they need a lot of work to restore them to the appearance of the old days. This is my recollection picture of the street where the school buses assembled at the end of the day to take the day students home.

At long last, I am standing at the corner where one could walk into the main entrance of the school. I am there but I cannot see the school. A large solid door blocks the view. I do not recall such a door in the old days. I
knock on the door and enter. Two guards confront me. They do not want us to proceed. Sameh is kind enough to explain that I am an Old Boy who wants to walk through the school with the Principal’s permission. We all sign in. The approach and main entrance have not changed except the trees are much larger. As one looks up to the top of the entrance there in stone is THE ENGLISH SCHOOL big, bold, and timeless. The Head Principal of the El Nasr School complex is Samia Sabit, a wonderful person even though she is a produce of Saint Claire. I call Samia the Head Principal because within the old school grounds there are a conglomeration of smaller schools each with there own principal. These smaller schools have eaten up all the area, which used to be dedicated to sport. No longer are there football fields or open area for the sport of the season such as football, cricket, hockey, netball, track, and field. The only outdoor playgrounds are two concrete areas smaller than a netball court. The tennis and squash courts are gone.

Sameh warned me of these changes. I did not let them bother me. I was determined to relive pleasant memories. I had no expectations. I would be satisfied in stealing a look here and there and was determined to be grateful for them. Samia assigned a young teacher, Mona Salah, to take us around with instructions that no area was to be denied us. Upon exiting the old headmaster’s office we turned left and entered the corridor where most of our classes were conducted. Sameh and I simultaneously experienced the recall of a mock battle between the two of us that involved piling up of school desks within one of these classrooms and firing paper missiles at one another using rubber bands. The school found out of course and both of us received six of the best from Mr. Beard. The classrooms were to our right and looking to the left we could see the outdoor Assembly Area where the school day began. The entire student body would assemble according to one’s house: Raleigh, Frobisher, Grenville, Drake, Gloucester, Windsor, Kent, and York. The teaching staff were elevated in front of us on the covered walkway along the wall of Assembly Hall. We were all aware of the eyes of our favorite or most feared master of mistress upon us and we wanted to present our best side. It was not pride, fear, or love. I realize now that it was the budding development of self-respect and respect for others that motivated us to behave in this manner. Standing there in the Raleigh line, I looked to the right and just above the corridor windows were two large original school logos. The pink Tudor rose symbolic of the blending of the white and the red, perched upon a ribbon bearing the motto DUCIT AMOR PATRIAE (Love Will Lead Your Country) continuously sending forth the message that without unity and love no country is on a firm foundation. Similarly, mankind with its shades of differences must learn from one another to go forward with success, and nobility. Nationalism is indeed a terrible thing.

It is here that we made a departure from the tour to listen to some boys who were in music class. The class was in the old Prefect Room to the left of the entrance to Assembly Hall. A small nasty room perfectly suited to be the Prefect Room. In our day we had music class within the Assembly Hall at the foot of the stage where a large grand piano was located. These boys were very talented. They played both classical music and Egyptian pop.

Into the Assembly Hall we went. It was ancient, dirty, and in need of repair. The old school emblems are still visible on the front of the balcony. The stage curtain bears the new school emblem as though it were an
afterthought. I could hear the music and see the girls as well as a few chaperon staff at our dances. Plays and skits over the years returned to me. On the back wall in the left corner are wooden plaques announcing past
house achievements. Then there was the final Assembly at the end of each year where parents would witness their children receiving awards earned during the year being presented by the Headmaster. I recall the repeated instruction of how to properly receive one’s award. Shake hands firmly with the right over the award being offered into the left hand. One step back and a bow or curtsey followed by a smart turn for a proper stage exit. The Memorial Garden was next.

As we walked over from the Assembly Area to the left wing of the school toward the Garden I prepared myself for the worst. A wall with gate blocked the route for we were entering into the grounds of one of that myriad of other little schools on the premises. I was; however, pleasantly surprised. The Garden was in excellent shape. The Arcade was marvelous. All the trees were larger of course but the shrubbery design and pathways had been kept up, and the Memorial Wall was splendid. The names were clearly readable. I was latter to find out that considerable funds and work had come from the Old Boys and Old Girls Association to achieve what I saw. The sundial, which was the centerpiece of the garden, is no more.

A week before this visit I read Mr. Beard’s history of the school. In it he had brought up a sad conflict that had occurred between the Old Boys and Old Girls Association and the governing board of the day. Twenty-two Old Boys gave their lives in service to their country during World War II. Only twenty-one names are on the Wall. Missing is that of Klaus Krahn a young German naval officer who served aboard the Graf Spee. He was the first to die. Now is the time perhaps to correct this decision made in the worst of times? I have discussed this in detail with Sameh. He told me that he would pass on my comments to Samia Sabet. Perhaps this is a job best done by the current chapter of the Old Boys and Old Girls Association, any volunteers? The only thing left for me was a visit to the Gymnasium.

The little grassed area in front of the building is gone. Several friends and I spent most of our morning and lunch breaks relaxing at that very spot. The gym was functional but again I have to report that it was dusty and dirty. That is it. It is over; never to be repeated. As I exited the gym my eyes fell upon the Dining Hall. Is the mural still there? I have to know. So many worked on the mural from inception to completion. So much
history in that painting. The fine arts teacher did a wonderful job of tracing the history of the Houses and their origins and major events right up to the present, 1956. It is not there! I wonder if any pictures of it survive?

I wish to make special mention of the Old Boys Raouf Mishriki and Mohammad Sameh Radwan who took my wife and I into their homes and families and spent endless hours making our visit unforgettable and remarkable. Without that instant bond developed by the school in each of us the experience just would not have been the same. Thank you Raouf and thank you Sameh and God bless you.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Madiha Abaza. I went to see her the day after seeing Lamy and Nazli. With my wife, Sameh and his wife, I paid a visit to Madiha at eleven in the morning. It was wonderful seeing
her again after all those years. She reminded me that I once mentioned to her that I thought her hair was turning red like mine. It turned out to be a moment when the sun was just right to give this impression. Madiha is the perfect host and she has a wealth of information on the old school days. Tons of photos, several schoolbooks, and a fax copy of Mr. Beard’s history of the school. She has spent time and energy to maintain contact with many an Old Girl and Old Boy. I was particularly pleased when she picked up the
phone and handed it to me with Mamdouh Bisharat on the other end in Amman, Jordan. She also called up Bobby Bianchi. My wife told me that it was the photos and Madiha’s comments that brought the school alive for her. For this I particularly thank you Madiha. I have already placed the coffee cups with the old and new school emblems in a place of honor in my living room. I still have not found a good use for the key chain. Thanks again for bringing back so many cherished memories.

Finally, I wish to report on my observations of Bahram “Lammy” Mahmoud. He is indeed a remarkable man, and a most fortunate one to have such a loving, devoted, and caring wife Nazli. I think it is the epitome of romanticism that they are Old Boy and Old Girl in one. I know that there are other couples from the school. I sometimes wish that Najiba had the privilege of attending The English School. I did not know Lamy when he was a student. It was only when he returned to the school as a temporary teacher that our paths crossed. Lamy exposed me to what little science I have retained over the years. He is the sort of chap that feels obligated to give back to the school that gave him so much. Three cheers for Lamy, hip hip….His stroke was devastating requiring him to relearn walking and talking. The first good sign I became aware of was even before I met the man. I could not see him the first night I wanted to because he had other social commitments. Right then and there I knew that Lamy was a fighter and will always make the best of any situation. Upon meeting him in his home I immediately recognized that the mind was as sharp as ever. Lamy and Nazli it was a pleasure!

Until we meet again much love, affection, and remembrance.

Dickey Moats

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