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Holiday Cheer

Phew! I am always so relieved when Christmas is behind us. Usually we have a crush of holidays in December—X’s birthday, Sinterklaas, Christmas, Orthodox Christmas, New Year’s Eve. By the time my birthday rolls around in January I’m too exhausted to want to do anything. This year, though, we’re down to two holidays—Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and we’ve already made it through one.

T opening presentsChristmas was nice. O came in from NY—he’s here for good now—and brought all the presents with him.The boys were so happy. We had a mellow day, and just cooked dinner at home. The next day we drove to Ain Sokhna, a resort on the Red Sea about a 90 minute drive from Cairo, with two other families who have kids in X’s class, one from South Sudan and one from Bangladesh. It was quite the cultural mélange.

The weather in Ain Sokhna was about the same as in Cairo—in the low 60s, but somehow on the beach it felt much warmer. The kids had a blast playing in the sand—they made a giant sand castle—and it was warm enough for me to swim in the sea, although not for too long. Still, it was a great getaway. I think we’ll go back pretty regularly. The roads are good, it’s an easy drive and it’s such a nice break from Cairo that I imagine we’ll go at least a few times a year.Sand Castles

I’ve been running around Cairo doing interviews for the book, which is always exhausting. I had a meeting yesterday in a neighborhood called Shubra, which is about as far north of downtown as I am south. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper the whole way up there, and the entire round trip, interview included, took nearly five hours. It’s hard to get much done when a single meeting can take up your whole day.

Still, I’ve been venturing out of our little bubble pretty regularly. I’m going a bit stir crazy down here. We met a friend of X’s at the Gezira Club last week, which was lovely. They have absolutely everything there—playgrounds, restaurants, tennis, squash, gymnastics, soccer, golf….you name it. I was hoping to do some shopping while we were up in Zamalek but, once again, traffic was so bad that just getting there took it out of us.

Now that O is here there’s a new round of annoying banalities to be dealt with, and they’re even harder this go around. I’m an Egyptian citizen so, by comparison, was able to do things with relative ease. He tried to get an Egyptian cell phone number yesterday and couldn’t because he’s currently here on a tourist visa. They told him he would have to establish residency or get a letter from his employer to be able to get anything other than a prepaid phone. I can’t wait to see what happens when he tries to open a bank account or get added to mine.

I am becoming increasingly exercised about the position of women in Egyptian society. The sexism is everywhere, and so corrosive. I make weekly objections to both of my Arabic tutors about their curricula (which neither of them is responsible for, but who else am I going to complain to?). The rich men are always married to beautiful women and the poor men have fat, ugly wives. Today we were learning vocabulary around one’s daily routine. The man got up, ate breakfast, got dressed and went to work. The woman woke up, fed her family, cleaned the house and then visited with her friends.

But the truth is, the women in Egypt are as responsible for the state of affairs as men are. When I complained to my teacher today, he told me that he talks about this issue with his colleague at the university. His female colleagues just want to get married—to pretty much anyone. And these are women pursuing graduate degrees. I’ve noticed this here before. The women believe it is their duty to cook and clean and take care of their husbands. Men are held responsible for very little. The old attitudes hold and traditional gender roles are entrenched. Until the women themselves push back against them, nothing will change.

Things are going downhill on the political front. There have been several bombings over the past week and there is no reason to think we’ve seen the end of that. The government crackdown on the Brotherhood is more repressive than anything I saw when I was living in the Soviet Union. It’s gotten so nuts that they’re now arresting journalists for reporting on the Brotherhood. These new policies seem destined to backfire.

But the boys and I are about to have a temporary reprieve. We’re flying to NY in a few days and will be there for a week. We’re all looking forward to seeing our friends and being able to enjoy a city that functions for a while. I just hope it’s not too cold.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Daphline #

    O my I’m so happy for u guys, look at that beach enjoy it for me too lol.

    December 30, 2013
  2. Alexandra #

    BTW, same issue for Grayson in London regarding cell phone. Because I had set up utilities and most other stuff regarding the house, he had no way to prove his residency in the UK regardless of visa. Eventually he got a bank statement and I added his name to utility

    December 31, 2013
    • Alexandra #

      Sorry, sent before finished! Anyway, it’s complicated everywhere when you’re a foreign resident, especially post 9/11…I feel O’s foreigner bureaucratic pain!

      December 31, 2013
  3. anita #

    I don’t like that you have generalized women into 2 categories…fat and ugly or beautiful. And overall, I think this was a surprisingly sexist post. A little disappointed, I must say.

    December 31, 2013
    • Hi Anita, I agree that the categorization of women into fat/ugly or beautiful is simplistic and sexist. That was exactly my complaint about my Arabic lessons.

      January 2, 2014
  4. Tiffany Amer #

    Hi Monique!!

    I read your article on from Aug 2013 and you seem to have alot of good experience living abroad. I am married to an Egyptian man and we have been working on his paperwork to come live with me in the US, however the more we discuss things, we are falling in love with the idea of my daughter and I moving to Cairo. I know there is unrest there. I just wanted to have some advice on moving to a new country mainly with a child and how it effects them. I have been to Cairo twice since 2012 and I adore this city so much! I love the culture and the people. I’m a young woman who wants to get the most out of my life and I want my daughter to learn about other cultures and I feel I have the perfect opportunity now to do so. Is this something you recommend based on your experience there with your children in Cairo? Was it hard form them to adjust at first?
    Thank you so much for your time! Good luck with everything and stay safe on all of your journeys.
    Take care,
    Tiffany Amer

    January 26, 2014
    • Hi Tiffany,

      It’s true, we’ve had a great time here. Having said that, I don’t think it’s for everyone, so it’s tough for me to tell you if you’ll like it or not. It probably will have a lot to do with the age of your daughter, how much you like new experiences, and how open you are to things that are very, very different from the U.S. I don’t think I can give advice, but I will say it’s been great for my boys. As far as adjusting goes, they’re at an American school and they were at an international school in New York, so their school experience, which is the biggest part of their lives, isn’t all that different. But living here has certainly broadened their horizons, and I think they’re both better off for it.

      I don’t want to make light, though, of the difficulties of life in Cairo, and now is a particularly turbulent time. I’m happy to answer more questions if you like. Are you on Facebook? Message me there.



      February 10, 2014
  5. Roger #

    When we downloaded the picture of your son my 12 year old boy was fascinated by the fact your son appeared life size on our 30″ monitor and it looked like he was right in front of us. When my son finished admiring yours he looked at me with a big grin and exclaimed, “He’s kinda cute!”

    March 13, 2014

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