Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Teaching in Egypt (4): What is karma?

A big part of teaching English is defining words. Some are easy (insult, conflict, debate), some are more challenging (imagination, rhetoric, influence) and some just simply take you by surprise.

The other day, just as I am about to take the lift down to skip out for a snack, a young guy standing in the hallway suddenly turns to me and asks: "Hey, what is karma?".

My level of intelligence tends to adapt to the classes I teach. When the intelligent part of my brain is not needed for a while, it goes into hibernation.

Rowing machine

In this case, I had just explained the difference between 'to see' and 'to watch' and had been miming the words 'rowing machine' and 'cross-trainer'. My brain is in no state to fire off a coherent definition of karma.

"Eh, that's a question I can't answer in the two seconds I have until the lift goes down" is the best reply I can come up with, just before the lift door shuts.

I ponder the concept of karma on my short trip to the corner shop and back. See, I don't believe in it, I think it's a big pile of nonsense. It never seems to work. I'm pretty sure I've never seen it in action.


I've seen too many people get away with treating other people like shit all the time, yet the sun never seems to stop brightening their own sky. 'Fuck karma' is my usual response when somebody brings it up.

But I decide that, as this is most likely this guy's first introduction to the concept of karma, I will give him the bare definition, no more. Who am I to negatively taint his first impression of a new idea?

Unfortunately, when I return to school, the guy is nowhere to be found anymore. But after class, on my way out, I run into him again. "So, what is karma?", I ask him.

"When you do something good, something good will happen to you", he explains with a proud smile. "Well done!", I reply, and I can't help but add: "It works the other way around too".


"If you do something bad, or treat someone bad, something bad will happen to you. So always be excellent to everybody, or karma will come and bite you in the ass!"

And before he can ask me what that last expression means, I disappear into the lift again. Another fun one for one of my colleagues to explain.


  1. if u don't believe in it, it won't work ;)

    1. So what if I believe in it, but the person that treated me bad doesn't? It doesn't work?