Skip to content

Archive for

Great News

We found out last weekend that the boys got into the school we wanted them to go to in Cairo. Rationally, I knew they would, but until the acceptance notice came there was always a lingering fear. I think T was most relieved. He’s so excited to be going. He loves UNIS but I think that after seven years there he’s ready for a change. He’s really looking forward to perusing the elective offerings and choosing his courses. He’d leave tomorrow if he could.

X is also getting excited about the new school. I came home from Egypt with a bunch of photos, and when I was putting him to bed after I showed them to him, he told me, “Mommy, I might be feeling better about moving to Cairo.” It’s no surprise. The school looks like a summer camp. It’s huge—I read 11 acres somewhere—with soccer fields and playgrounds and basketball courts and volleyball courts and ping pong tables and foosball tables and an outdoor Olympic-sized swimming pool. I think it was the photos of the swim class that got X over the hump. The teacher was in the pool and he was squirting a bunch of kids who were lined up at the side—all wearing goggles, which is X’s prerequisite for going in the water. The kids looked like they were having fun.032 107

033

I think it also helped that the school looked so much like UNIS. I’d taken a photo of a wall mural detailing the UN Rights of the Child. “We study that here!” X exclaimed when he saw it. The classrooms had a similar set up, too, with cushions in the book area and math and reading prompts taped to the walls. It was helpful for him to see that the new school wouldn’t be the alien experience he’d feared it would.

The boys also enjoyed seeing the pictures of the houses I’d looked at. Of course, it would be too much to ask for them both to like the same place. T preferred the villa and X preferred the penthouse. I’m on the fence. The villa is sweet. I love that it’s on a quiet street and feels like a house, which we’re unlikely to ever live in otherwise. It’s great space without being ostentatious or over the top. High-end places in Cairo tend to have gilded furniture and shiny marble floors and feel more like bank lobbies than homes. While this place has marble floors on the ground level, they’re white and worn and don’t feel overly fancy. The kitchen is huge and filled with light. The stairs are rose-colored marble and a little cracked, and while it’s four bedrooms there are only two bathrooms upstairs, so it still feels fairly modest. Overall it’s got all the space we need—including an office and a guest room—but it has a warm and homey feeling. And the huge garden is fantastic. On the downside, though, the street is quiet and I wonder how safe I will feel there.

Bedroom013 KitchenLiving room section 1

The penthouse, on the other hand, has a doorman and is far more secure. It’s also great space, five bedrooms in total, so we could have a guest room and an office there, too, and it’s on multiple levels. The roof deck is amazing, with a built-in barbecue and lounge chairs. It would be a great place to throw parties. On the downside, it isn’t as light, the kitchen is smaller and darker—though still large by NYC standards—and the floor of the entire, enormous, living/dining area is a highly glossed marble. The space is fantastic but it’s hard to imagine it ever feeling like a home.

044 023

I haven’t done anything on the housing front since I got back. I will soon, but I don’t feel too worried about it. I could take either, and others will come on the market once school lets out in June. I’ll get back in touch with both agents in the next week or so. In the meantime I have to wire the deposit for the school, and now my father tells me my grandmother is unwell again, so there’s that to worry about.

Advertisements

Wrapping Up

Concerns of my grandmother’s demise were unfounded; she recovered, or attained a state that passes for recovery in a somewhat ailing 95-year-old woman, yesterday. Today she was still not feeling great, but my father had arranged a surprise birthday party for her and she rallied. In the end, she really enjoyed herself.

My father and grandmother at her 95th birthday party

My father and grandmother at her 95th birthday party

My father has started negotiations on the villa. I’m glad he’s doing it. Not only did he offer far less than I would have had the guts to, but he’s not budging. And I know he’s right. A lot of people are leaving when school lets out at the end of June and a ton of new places will come onto the market. I’m not worried about losing it—while I would love to end up there, if it fall through there will be plenty of other places. And still, I know I would have caved on a million points by now.

I managed to get out yesterday to see my friend R. We met at a Nile-side restaurant in Zamalek called Sequoia that’s frequented by expats and wealthy Egyptians. It’s a different world from the one I inhabit when I’m in Heliopolis: cocktails, shisha, plush furniture, wi-fi and good food. It was great to see R and meet her boyfriend and 6-year-old son.  She’s been living here for nearly a year now and is enjoying herself. Her son told me that Cairo isn’t quite as good as California, where R’s family lives, but he likes it here a lot.

All in all it’s been a productive trip, and I’m feeling much less apprehensive about our move here. I think we’re going to have a great time. Okay. It’s getting late and the car is coming at 4 am to take us to the airport. I can’t wait to get home and see the boys.

Success?

More house hunting yesterday. I was ready to call it quits since so many houses will be coming available in the next month or so that it seemed a little premature to look in earnest now, but my father had asked a cousin to check out some places and it seemed rude not to follow up on the leg work he had done, even if we didn’t think it would lead anywhere. So we went back to Maadi, and after driving around in circles for 45 minutes, we managed to find the agent my cousin had been working with.

The first two places he and his co-worker showed us were a complete bust. Old and dirty appliances, dark, small. It seemed we were on a fool’s errand. Then he showed me two places I had already seen, which was still a waste of time but at least he was moving in the right direction. It was interesting to see that even though an Egyptian had started the search for me, the prices weren’t any better than those that I had been quoted—in fact, the first two places were more expensive and not as nice.

I’d made an appointment at the school so my father could get a look at it, and we were ready to head over when one of the agents asked me if I’d be interested in seeing a villa near the school. “Sure,” I said, and we got back into the car.

As soon as we walked in to the villa, my father and I both fell in love with the place. It was perfect for us. Nice, and spacious, but not too fancy. Some of the other places I’d seen that I thought would work had a ton of marble, which felt a little too much like living in a bank for my taste. This place was wonderful. It was clean and nice without being ostentatious. Two floors, a big living/dining area, downstairs, with a nice kitchen and a little office, and four bedrooms upstairs, not huge, but nice with built-in closets and a balcony. The garden was quite large, and lovely. My dad made the agent an offer, which we both realized was way too low. I’m hoping we can come to some agreement, because I think the boys would be really happy there. Best of all, it’s only two blocks from the school.

Today, though, things are less cheery, although I’m hoping that’s only temporary. It’s Friday, so everyone has the day off, and I am planning on heading to Zamalek to meet my friend R, a colleague from my newspaper days who is living here now, but my grandmother isn’t doing well. Several times this morning she almost fell and a few minutes ago she started moaning and was having a hard time standing up. I called my father, who’s at his cousin’s for breakfast, and he told me to put her to bed with her legs propped up on pillows. She told me she’s feeling terrible. I’d put her on the phone with him and apparently she told him she thinks it’s the end. I sure hope not. I really want my boys to have a chance to get to know her.

Hopefully this will pass and she’ll feel better soon. I realize that at 95 (which she’ll turn next week) she probably doesn’t have a ton of time left, but I will be heartbroken if she’s not around for at least part of our time here in Cairo.

The Search is On

It’s been an exhausting few days here in Cairo, but, overall, good ones. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday looking at apartments in Maadi. The first few flats I saw were a bit depressing—one was very nice, but too small and too expensive for what it was, and the other two had grungy bathrooms and no outdoor space at all. The next day, though, I went out with a great broker named Monzer, and I liked every place he showed me. He made me feel much more optimistic about being able to find something we would all be happy in. It’s a little too early to be looking, though, as some of the places he thought I would like he can’t show until June 1.

All of the apartments we looked at were within two blocks of the school we applied to for the boys, and a few were right across the street. It would be great to be so close for a few reasons. First of all, the campus is huge and has a ton of places to play, and from what I hear it serves as an informal community center, so I think the kids will spend a lot of time just hanging out there. Also, school starts really early—around 8 am, I think—so being close will make it easier for the boys to get to school on time. T always wants to go to bed later, and balancing a reasonable bed time with his need for sleep is a constant challenge.

I toured the school on Tuesday. It’s an amazing campus, and it seemed like a happy place. It’s so big and spread out that it’s hard to get a sense of it, particularly the lower school. I got a better feel for the middle school, which looked fantastic. The kids are allowed to take electives, and there was one in which they design something on computers for the first part of the trimester and then build it for the second part. I think T will be very happy there.

I’m less clear what X’s experience will be like in the elementary school. I’m sure it will be great, but I am mindful of how upset he is to be leaving UNIS and we have been so happy there that I share some of his sadness on that front. I know the school in Cairo will be a wonderful experience, but UNIS has been a really special place for us. T, on the other hand, will be in heaven at the Cairo school, if only because there are ping pong tables in the recreation area where the kids hang out during their lunch hour.

Monday was a big holiday here called Sham el-Nessim, which marks the beginning of spring and dates back to ancient times. We went to my aunt Noona’s house, where the family gathers every Friday, too. She has a big villa with a swimming pool in a gated community in one of the many irrigated-green developments that have sprung up in the desert outside the Cairo ring road—respite for well-off Cairenes looking for an escape from the pollution and grime of crowded Cairo. I’ve been there a million times with my extended family, but this time her side of the family was there as well. What an eye opener that was. I don’t really know any of them. They were great fun and quite different from my side of the family.

I spent a lot of time talking to S and his wife Y, who I think will become friends once I move here. They were both great. S, it turns out, hung out with my brother when he spent a summer here as a 9 year old. He’s been very involved with organizing the Copts politically and started to tell me a bit about what they’re doing. There’s a great story in there. I didn’t have time to get the details, but will revisit the subject with him when I back in August.

Okay. The driver is here. Time to go back to Maadi with my father and look at some more apartments….

Yesterday’s News

I mean to post this yesterday but ended up using up all the credit on the Wi-Fi stick I bought (see below) because I logged on before the package had been activated. My telecom challenges continue….

I arrived in Cairo last night after a couple of days of very jet-lagged days in Paris.  I haven’t managed to do a ton so far but already I can sense that the atmosphere is very different here than it was a year ago. While people talk about crime and fear still—some, like my grandmother, more—they seem to be less tense, as though the dangers have been factored in to their daily lives. Oliver, who is English, likened it to the way Brits learned to live with the constant threat of IRA bombs during those years.

Today is Easter, but the real celebration happened last night. Everyone goes to late-night mass at the church, and then the family gathered at my late-aunt’s apartment, across the hall from my grandmother’s apartment, where I am staying, for a meal at midnight. Apparently you’re supposed to eat right in the earliest moments of Easter morning, i.e. right after midnight. I’ve never been a huge fan of the traditional Easter food. I didn’t get a good look at it last night, but I saw the boiled lamb that is always served, and there were kidneys in some sort of green sauce. I didn’t ask what it was because I wasn’t planning on staying to eat. It was well after 1 a.m. and I was still wiped out from jet lag. I’d only gone over to say hi to the family.

It was nice to see everyone. They all seemed pretty relaxed. Most of them knew I was planning to move and while a few of them pressed me on exactly why I would want to do such a thing, for the most part their reactions were positive. One of my second cousins has three adorable daughters, two of whom are almost the same ages as my boys. I’m hoping they become friends.  I’m curious to see how X will deal with these family gatherings, though. The kids are all girls and they are so quiet at these things it’s unbelievable. They sit for hours, talking in low voices and chatting with one relative or another. I can’t quite imagine X being able to keep it all so low-key. It’s going to be interesting.

Telecommunications are, as always, a challenge. I made my requisite trip to the Mobinil store up the street, doubtless the first of many. I had brought a cheap phone I’d bought in a drugstore back in NY thinking I could put an Egyptian SIM card in it, but I hadn’t realized it was locked. So after going through about 20 telephone numbers, choosing the easiest one to remember (which I don’t, although I do remember the last four digits), paying for it and signing all the paperwork, we found out that we couldn’t activate the phone. I’m going to try to find a cheap burner phone tomorrow that will take this SIM card I spent so much time getting set up today.

And then there’s the Internet. I had a USB stick, but I hadn’t used it so long that it was no longer valid. So I got a new data card for that, reactivated that account, got that home and up and running, and before I knew it I had burned through the package that was supposed to last me the whole week. She told me to wait a while before I started using it otherwise the rates would be higher. I guess I didn’t wait long enough. But I noticed that there’s a cute Italian restaurant on the corner that has free Wi-Fi. I think I’ll be spending a lot of time there.

The woman who helped me at the store was very nice and helpful. When we were wrapping up, she wished me a good Easter. For a second I wondered how she could tell what religion I was and then I realized. She needed my ID card to sign me up for phone service. All Egyptian ID cards state one’s religion. I thought it was heartening that in this increasingly polarized Egypt, a Muslim (albeit an unveiled one) would wish a Christian a good Easter, but it was also a reminder that I’m going to have to get used to religious labeling becoming part of my daily life here.

%d bloggers like this: