Tutor, teacher, and traveler Esther Fitts recounts her journeys abroad

Tutor, teacher, and traveler Esther Fitts recounts her journeys abroad

Photo courtesy of Esther Fitts

Hadley Carr and Fiona Fitzsimons

Rising before dawn, racing the sun to eat and drink as much as possible, then heading to work. Such was the month of Ramadan for new Wilson social studies teacher Esther Fitts while living in Cairo, Egypt. During this month, Fitts would be without food and water in the heat of Egypt from sunup to sundown. But once the sun fell from its high perch, tables covered with food would be lined up in rows. After her days as a college student, and later an SAT tutor, Fitts would enjoy the company of her friends and the beauty of the feast under the stars of the cosmopolitan city.

Initially a student at UCLA, Fitts felt that the political science curriculum and its Westernized perspective didn’t reflect her family’s experiences; Fitts’ mother was from India and she had travelled there with her family as a child. She began studying Arabic and while complaining to one of her professors about the biased curriculum, the professor responded, “You can easily get a scholarship.” So she got one to the American University in Cairo. 

Fitts transferred and after graduating from college, she stayed in Egypt to work as an SAT tutor. Fitts worked there for three years until a cheating scandal and fake IDs created confusion for the Egyptian government and it became difficult for Fitts to keep her visa. Leaving behind the Nile that flowed through Cairo, the walkways along it, and the parties on it, Fitts headed to Newark, New Jersey. 

When Fitts arrived in New Jersey, she signed up for the AmeriCorps year of service where she would tutor students three to four years behind at a charter school. After discovering her passion for teaching, Fitts worked on her teaching certificate through the program.

Also while in Newark, Yale University bought the SAT program Fitts had designed. “They have an African outreach program and they were looking for someone that had an experience in university access for African students, which is an oddly specific niche that I have.”

While working at the Yale Young African Scholar Program, Fitts got to travel all over Africa to three locations every summer. Fitts would travel to Ghana, then to Rwanda, teaching roughly 100 kids for 10 days. In boarding schools that were farther away from the city, surrounded by open fields, “every night was pretty much like a sleepover.” 

In all her worldly travels, music has been a large part of Fitts’ life. She loves to play the piano, but when she lived in Egypt it was difficult to find one. One friend offered her guitar as a substitute. The instrument, with her friend’s name and heart etched into its body, was a memento of the friend’s past admirer. Her friend, wanting nothing to do with the guitar or the boy, gave it to Fitts. 

The guitar was not the only thing she picked up, Fitts also got a sarong during her travels. Fitts has had the keepsake for years, the red wrap skirt-like item studded with colorful fish reminds her of the Red Sea. When she got the chance, she would vacation in Dahab. Arabic for gold, the spot was home to the bluest water she has ever seen and, below the surface, a view resembling a scene from The Little Mermaid. 

Though, one of the most important things she got in Cairo was friends. In New Jersey, she lived with one of her best friends for two years. Coincidentally, her neighbor from Cairo moved to DC too. They now live down the street from each other once again.