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The Fun of it All

I had an interesting work week last week. I made it out of the Maadi bubble and up to Tahrir Square, where I interviewed one of the pastors at the Kasr El Doubara Evangelical Church, the largest evangelical church in the Middle East. They have some compelling programs, including several drug rehab facilities. Apparently they have a contract with the government and are the primary trainer of drug rehab personnel here in Egypt.

Domestic life continues to progress—at the pace of dripping molasses. I still don’t have my couch. I have a couch—two, in fact—but neither is the one I ordered. We have a loaner, and we have what was supposed to be our couch but was made with the wrong fabric. I have kept it covered in plastic so the cats don’t destroy it. They told me I would have the correct couch on Saturday, then Sunday. Now they’ve pushed it to next Tuesday. I just want somewhere comfortable to sit…

The advantage of such slow movement is that every little step forward seems like a huge accomplishment. I learned, for example, that my ATM card works as a debit card at a few places. Doesn’t seem like such a big deal, I know, but one of the biggest annoyances here is that, with a mostly cash economy, I am continuously running to the ATM machine, which is a 10-minute walk away. Okay, it’s a minor annoyance, but a constant one. So finding that I could use my debit card at the local grocery store was transformational. In the absence of significant progress, one must celebrate the baby steps.

The boys are still happy. X told me that he wants to stay here until he graduates from high school and T has discovered that he has a talent for the theater, so has been having great fun with that. He has potentially good news on that front, which I am not allowed to disclose until it is official, but if it comes off it would be very exciting for him. And he’s loving his Global Affairs class which, as far as I can tell from his description, will involve traveling around the country to do volunteer work. I’m sure there’s more to it, but that’s the part that has him excited.

X’s birthday party is next weekend. I have managed to put together the kind of party that would leave me slightly nauseated in the U.S. –entirely over the top. Things are just so much more reasonable here. We’re having a giant bouncy slide, playground games and a popcorn machine, plus the requisite pizza, hot dogs, french fries and birthday cake. I drew the line at the cotton candy machine. I figured I didn’t need to throw unadulterated sugar into the mix.

The kids in X’s class have been out of control as it is. They were all given school email accounts (what on earth were the tech people thinking??), and let me tell you, a bunch of 8 year olds can cause a fair amount of mayhem on Google Hangouts.  Thankfully the school told the kids they weren’t allowed to chat anymore, but X with email is still a scary sight. I can see a serious BlackBerry obsession in his future.

Thursday they had a pajama party/social. I dropped him off in the school gym, which was pitch black save for colored disco balls. The music was blaring. Some pretty good dance tunes—I was tempted to go in myself and take a spin, but he would have killed me. Parties certainly didn’t look like that when I was in 3rd grade—this was more along the lines of the Black Banana (a club in Philly, for the uninitiated). He was so excited.

I had my first all-Arabic phone conversation when I called a carpet cleaner to try to get a rug cleaned. I wasn’t at all sure I had adequately relayed my request but, sure enough, the next day the cleaner in question showed up on my doorstep. I guess my Arabic is coming along—although it wasn’t exactly a complex conversation. We’ll see if I get the rug back.

Curfew ended this week. It’s great news for Cairo and for all of Egypt, but I’m going to miss the quiet. The MB has marched by us a couple of times recently and they are LOUD. Apparently they have more planned in the coming days.

I just got a disturbing phone call from someone asking for “T’s mom” and identifying herself as being from the trauma clinic. My heart froze, until she explained herself. I was out of town last week and T had a sore throat. The lab is far away, but they make house calls, so someone from the lab came here to take a throat culture while I was away. The results are ready now (never mind that it’s a week later and we have already figured out that it wasn’t strep), so they want me to trek out to their facility to pick up the results up and pay the bill. That part, the seemingly easy part, they can’t do on the phone. The more I start think I have this place figured out, the less it makes sense.

And therein lies the fun.

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Trials and Tricks and a Dearth of Treats

If you ask my children, this past week was a bust—at least on the Halloween haul front. It’s true, there wasn’t much candy to be had, but the local festivities were pretty great. There was a Halloween social in the middle school that T came home from perhaps more excited than I’ve ever seen him. He had been dancing all night and had lost his voice from screaming. He was elated.

I may have said this before, but I am continuously struck by it so will say it again: the middle school here is fantastic. The brilliance of it is that the emphasis is on making school fun. The kids are so happy to be there that they are open to the learning that comes with it. The teachers are terrific, and the administration has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about how middle schoolers work. There are only four classes a day, each well more than an hour long, with 20-minute breaks in between and, aside from (I think) three core classes, all the courses are electives, so the kids are fully engaged.

I wish I could heap such high praise on the elementary school. It’s fine, but not superlative. From what I can see (to be honest, I haven’t taken that close a look), it takes a less holistic approach to learning and puts more of a singular focus on academics—which is ironic, since the academics there, while surely sufficient, haven’t wowed me with their strength. And there isn’t the same emphasis and concern with a student’s individual learning style. Having said that, X is really happy there, he loves most of his teachers, and I’m sure he will get what he needs academically.

But who cares about academics when there’s Halloween candy to be had? Apparently the school usually has an adorable parade for the kids on Halloween, but for some reason it was cancelled this year. People were really upset about that, but since we had never seen it, we didn’t know what we were missing. On the weekend, the elementary school held a Halloween festival, with booths and games and food (although not enough candy for his taste). Again, people said it wasn’t nearly as good as it had been in years past, but we thought it was great fun. I couldn’t drag X out of there.

The reason I needed to get him out was because we were meeting our houseguest for dinner, @pfro. She was a fantastic first visitor, because she was fearless and traveled all over the country. She said she had a fabulous time. There are so few tourists right now that you can get first-class accommodation for a song, and the monuments and historic sites are all empty. She said everyone was very friendly and so happy to see an American tourist that they treated her like a rock star.

Yesterday was another no-school day, scheduled off for the Islamic New Year—although it seems that, because of the moon’s shenanigans, the holiday is actually today. The school, though, decided to stick to the plan and give the kids Monday off because it was the first day of deposed president Morsi’s trial. It was expected to be held close to the school/our house, and there were tons of demonstrations planned. We were warned stay close to home. As it turned out, our little corner was quiet, as it always it, but the wider area was, indeed, a mess. There was a massive demonstration on the Corniche, which is the part of the neighborhood that abuts the Nile, about a mile or two from here, and the ring road exits to Maadi were reportedly blocked off by demonstrators.

And the trial, you may ask? It was, perhaps predictably, adjourned until January, both because Morsi refused to wear the standard-issue white jumpsuit and because of the utter chaos in the courtroom caused by his 14 chanting co-defendants. And while there were clashes and teargas, I haven’t read that anyone was killed and the Brotherhood seems to have been unable to cause any significant problems, so that’s progress.

Things must be getting better here from the U.S. vantage point, because the big news in the past few days was that the Americans are coming back. Apparently the government has cleared their return. From what I hear, the first wave of them arrives this weekend. I’m sure many of those who enrolled their kids in school in the U.S. will wait until the semester break to return, but it seems that things are about to change around here. For most of the folks, that means life is getting back to normal, but the boys and I have no idea what to expect.

Here’s to still more transition…..

p.s. I realize that I didn’t take a single Halloween picture, but we friends took us hiking a couple of weeks ago in Wadi Degla, so I’m giving you a wadi picture instead. It was beautiful and there were tons of sea fossils. Amazing!

 

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