Yesterday we got to do an exciting getting-ready-for-school thing when we went to buy Emma’s uniform. It is pretty standard here to have uniforms in school and hers is no different. A couple of weeks ago the school told me where to go to buy one, and we’ve been waiting for a free afternoon to do just that. I told Emma in the morning that we would go after lunch to get it, but reminded her that we have no choice when it comes to school uniforms. Everyone wears the same thing, and we wear the uniform and colors that the school chooses. I wanted her to be prepared for this because she is sometimes particular about clothes. She has a favorite dress that she has worn everyday possible since February when she first got it as a hand-me-down. It is short-sleeved so she had to wear a shirt and pants under it during America’s winter, but now it is at least weather-appropriate. It has a few holes in it, but still she insists to wear it every time it is clean, which is basically every other day. She even has favorite underwear and socks to go with it—all pink. So you can see why I was concerned about her feelings on a school uniform.
We walked down the street to the uniform place and entered a small clothing store which pictured a school-uniformed girl outside. There were at least 10 young men wearing the store’s vest and ready to help any customer who entered. At the time, I was the only one along with my two little girls. I think they were initially quite puzzled that this babbling half-Arabic speaker was buying a school uniform for an Egyptian school. But I had memorized the things I was supposed to tell them…I need a uniform for Wadi Degla Language School, grade KG2.
I noticed neat stacks of different colored shirts on the shelves behind the counter, and a few of these stacks were pink. I silently prayed that the pink was for the girls of this school. But it didn’t take but a minute for the man helping me to put a mostly navy blue, with a red stripe and light blue stripe, polo shirt on the counter complete with a Wadi Degla emblem on it. I reiterated that this was for a girl, but it seems that all the uniforms are the same for this school. Emma was behind me but could see it, and yet didn’t complain. She tried on a shirt to check the size and then we went into a dressing room to try on the navy blue pants which were much too long and a little baggy, but surprisingly fit around the waist. Next she tried on the soccer warm-up that is the uniform for P.E. days. I wanted to take her picture while we were doing this simply because buying a school uniform was a new thing, but the man told me cameras were forbidden in the store. Not sure if they were afraid I would try to make a copy of the uniform or what, but I saved my picture for once we got out of the store. (pic in stroller) After we tried on the sweatsuit, which is Emma’s favorite part of the whole uniform, the man asked if I wanted to see the “sweater.” I put this is quotes because while we were speaking Arabic the whole time, he used the English word here. I said yes since this would be needed in winter and he brought out a fairly thick winter coat. I was surprised at this but he assured me this would be needed in the winter. I thought a sweater would be much more useful, but as they really weren’t trying to push multiple items on me throughout my time there, I didn’t feel they were just trying to “sell” me something.
At the end, we purchased one of everything we thought we would need for the year. I didn’t want to go overboard, although now that I’ve left the store, I realize that I will really need another shirt and pair of pants since she will be wearing these five days a week. Fortunately it isn’t too far for me to head back there. I was a little surprised at the cost of this all, thinking some of the things more expensive than I expected. I am pretty sure most schools in Egypt have uniforms, including the public schools. I wondered how the cost for them varied since many Egyptians are quite poor, I didn’t think a school uniform should be a strain on their budget. For all my purchases which included one pair of pants, one short-sleeved polo, one long-sleeved polo, one sweatsuit and one jacket, it cost me 600LE, or about $100. I guess as I write this that isn’t too expensive to outfit my child for her whole school year, but I ‘m just not used to spending that much in one shopping trip!
This store also carried other school accessories such as backpacks, lunch boxes and thermoses. Emma was sure to point out which of all of these things she wanted and Hannah chimed in on her desires too. I thanked them for their suggestions but assured them they had good backpacks for this school year already and I would consider the lunch boxes if necessary. We headed back home to show our new things to Daddy.
As we arrived home that day, Emma was talking excitedly about her uniform, and Hannah said, “but Emma, it’s black.” I quickly shot Hannah a glance which meant, “Let’s not remind her of the dark color of the uniform,” and we entered the house.
Thankfully Emma is eager to wear her new uniform, especially the sweatsuit for P.E. She is counting down the days until school starts, although is a bit distracted as her birthday comes first and requires its own countdown. I realized I have a lot to learn about this whole uniform thing, and I’m sure, the Egyptian school system in general. I just hope I send her to school on day one at the right time with the right things wearing the correct uniform. She will already have enough differences to overcome; I don’t want to add to them!