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Posts from the ‘Move’ Category

Exodus

Okay,

So it wasn’t exactly Biblical, but I’ll never experience a Passover dinner in quite the same way again. Getting out Egypt was an ordeal, to say the least, both logistical and emotional. We had to sell all the furniture in the house (which I didn’t quite manage to do, but thankfully O was there to deal with our aftermath), and cull for the movers. The boys were saying goodbye to their father and I was saying goodbye to the Tunisian. All very painful.

So here we are. In Paris. Setting up a new life yet again. There’s a lot to write about our last couple of months in Egypt and about our settling in here. So watch this space. The adventure continues.

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What I Won’t Miss

 

 

After my last posting, quite a few people seemed concerned that I was upset about leaving Cairo. While there are plenty of things I’ll miss, there are quite a few things I won’t. Here are a couple of them:

 

Bugs

 

These are giant, winged ants. We are being overrun by them. The more of them we kill, the stronger they come back. There were hundreds of them outside the other night. I’ve abandoned the barbecue. I won’t be sad to leave these behind.

 

 

spider

This is the gargantuan spider probably still crawling around my house somewhere. I posted a picture of it on Facebook a while back and a friend told me it was very. very. poisonous. I know there are spiders in Paris, but hopefully I won’t be sharing a house with one as big as a quarter.

And speaking of Paris….I’ve been stressed about finding a place to live. Not that I’ve done much about it. I wanted an apartment to fall out of the sky. Today one did, a lovely little place that is, fittingly, near the Place de la Concorde, so we will have an obelisk to remind us of Egypt. And it’s on a direct subway line to the boys’ school. It’s not a permanent solution, but we will spend the first month or so there while we look for long-term digs near the Canal Saint Martin. And if anyone knows of a great apartment for rent near the Canal, I’m all ears.

I had a fascinating day last week visiting Garbage City that I will write about shortly. It’s been a busy time with work, end-of-year school events and going-away parties. The pace doesn’t look like it’s going to let up any time soon. And we’re in the middle of a brutal heat wave. But relief is in sight. I’m going to a conference on Russian-Egyptian trade tomorrow, and then the Tunisian and I are escaping to the beach for a few days, More to come from there.

 

 

Spring Break!

We have boxes. Ninety-one of them, to be exact. What we don’t have is furniture, i.e. anywhere to put all the stuff in said boxes. Which means we have piles of books on the floor and heaps of clothes on the bed in the spare room. All you friends I invited to come visit? Hold off for a couple of weeks or so, unless you want to sleep on mounds of ski jackets. Not that you’ve all been pounding my door down… But fear not. I am finally motivated to deal with our furniture shortage. Somehow it didn’t feel so dire when we didn’t need any more than we had. A couch, beds, a desk—that seemed like enough until now.

Anyway…the boxes got here just in time. We had run out of cat food the day before. Yes, we have been shipping in cat food from New York all these months. (Just ask the few visitors we’ve had, or O’s work colleagues, who have all been kind enough to come bearing pouches of Weruva). Pathetic, I know, but we have the most finicky cats in the world (not that they particularly like the stuff we give them) and our vet in NY said that the grocery store brands that are available here are the nutritional equivalent of feeding our children Doritos all the time.

A friend of mine said when I was done unpacking I’d wonder how l lived without all my stuff. I’m having the opposite reaction. I’m wondering why I have it. I didn’t miss it at all (except maybe the kitchen supplies and the bedding), and now that it’s here I feel weighed down by it. It’s been an interesting experience. I didn’t bring any personal mementos—no photos, no letters, nothing at all that had any nostalgic value. I wasn’t conscious of their absence until the shipment came, but there was a lightness that came from not being tethered to the past. Even the books I’m unpacking, with their memories of where I was when I read them and what was happening in my life at the time, bring with them a certain heaviness.

Boxes!

Boxes!

The stuff arrived a couple of days after we got back from our spring break trip to a resort on the Red Sea called El Gouna. It’s a super-secure gated development about a 30-minute drive from Hurgada, and everything has been meticulously planned out. And I mean planned. There is little that is organic about it. Think Disney on the sea. O said it reminded him of Celebration, the Disney town in Florida. T also drew the Disney comparison. Having grown up on the beaches of Southern California, the uber-groomed vibe wasn’t my cup of tea (and the beaches aren’t particularly nice), but I can see why Egyptians love it. It is the absolute opposite of the rest of the country. Not a chaotic moment to be had.

And it is lovely. There’s a beautiful marina surrounded by restaurants, and a little downtown area with eateries serving some of the best meals we’ve eaten in Egypt (if you go, you must try the superlative Zia Amelia, which is run by a couple of Italians). We chose to go to Gouna for the sailing school. I am now convinced that sailing is best learned in childhood. I loved being on the water but ducking under the boom as we endlessly practiced tacking and jibing was exhausting. O and I both wound up with scraped knees; the boys, on the other hand, had no idea what we were complaining about. They barely had to bend to let the thing pass over their heads.065

We’ve had more adventures with urban wildlife, this time in the form of a baby mongoose that seems to be living somewhere in our back yard. We’ve tried to take a picture of it several times but it’s a bit camera shy. Very cute ,though.

We’ve been ever so slightly more mobile since O leased a car for work. During the week he has a driver who takes him to and from the office and I don’t have much access to it, but on the weekends we drive it around Maadi. Anyone who’s been to Cairo knows how utterly insane driving here is. There are essentially no rules, and those that do exist are unwritten and known only to the cognoscenti, which we most definitely are not. Driving here is so nuts that my father once got yelled at by a police officer for stopping at a red light. I keep wondering where that was. Where we live there are no traffic lights. We confine our driving to the Maadi bubble where it’s really not so difficult; still the car has made it easier for us to explore the outer reaches of our neighborhood.

The blackouts continue, but more randomly now. Sometimes we’ll have two in a day, then we’ll go a few days without one. It makes life exciting, never knowing what activity you’ll be unable to finish. I’m learning to cook in the dark, as long as dinner is already on the stove. I get most nervous when blow drying my hair. I live in fear of being left with a head of hair that’s half straight, half curly. It’d be tough to pull that off. The government promises the outages will get worse during the summer months. I think I might have to break down and get some emergency lighting for the kitchen. Then again, our favorite restaurant just started delivering. Maybe I don’t need to be able to see that stove after all.

Politically, it’s been more of the same. A few more university riots, a couple more bombs, a scattering of marches. Ongoing incidents of violence against Copts, and some tribal warfare in Aswan that left a couple of dozen people dead. It’s amazing what starts to feel normal. Then again, I guess that’s true everywhere. From here, it’s tough to understand how people in the U.S. go on as though nothing has happened after mass shooting after mass shooting.

That’s it for now. Off to unpack some more boxes.

 

 

Sex and Politics

Spring has arrived in Cairo and the weather has been glorious. Warm, but not too hot; I wish it could stay like this indefinitely. Of course, I’m ignoring the khamaseen, the sand-filled southern winds that for two weeks left me constantly rinsing grit out of my irritated, itchy eyes, but they seem to be behind us now. We’re headed to the Red Sea soon for some sun and sailing lessons, and I can’t wait.

We had parent-teacher conferences at school. Once again, I’m disappointed in the lower school but completely wowed by the middle school. T has grown and blossomed here more than I ever could have imagined and that’s primarily due to the school. The administration and the teachers are fantastic. Some of his favorites are leaving next year, including the principal, who is the best school administrator I’ve seen anywhere, but I think it’ll be okay. The vice-principal is taking the helm and he’s terrific, too. It’s X in the lower school I’m concerned about. We’ve started making him do Khan Academy work at home because he just isn’t getting the academic challenge he needs.

Also in the positive column, the blackouts have been decreasing. They were nightly for a while, and occasionally we even had two in a day, but we’re down to one or two a week. It’s a nice relief.

Our shipment from New York has supposedly arrived in Egypt. It’s expected to clear customs in the next few days. I’m hoping we’ll get it before we leave for the beach, but that might be wishful thinking. I’m not sure where we’ll put everything since we’re still woefully short of furniture, but I sure am looking forward to having a dining room table, and the boys are excited about having all their stuff again.

While I may be feeling upbeat about life in Cairo, it’s been an abysmal week when it comes to women’s rights and societal attitudes about women. First, a student at Cairo University was sexually harassed by a group of fellow students who whistled and shouted at her as she walked through campus, some of them trying to remove her clothes. Afterward, the dean of the law school, where she studies, essentially blamed the incident on her for what she was wearing—a figure hugging, long-sleeved pink sweater and black pants. Then a British woman was raped by a security guard in a hotel in Sharm el Sheikh and the local governor basically said she was asking for it because she’d been drinking.

It’s probably not a huge surprise to hear that men’s attitudes about women here verge on the Neanderthal. Perhaps more surprising is how much women contribute to those attitudes. They, too, often see the victims of sexual harassment as somehow culpable—even the members of a Facebook group for expat women in Cairo were questioning the actions of the Sharm rape victim—even when they themselves are the victim. Until attitudes in Egyptian society change, and on a large scale, harassment and sexual assault will not stop. Women here need to be part of that change.

There was big news on the political front: Egypt’s defense minister, General  Abdul Fattah al-Sisi finally declared his candidacy for president this week, after first resigning his cabinet position. He is now officially a civilian, although he announced his intention to run while still wearing his army uniform.  Now that he’s formally declared, he’s fair game. We’ll see how long the near-universal adulation of him lasts. The Egyptian papers have already started publishing articles critical of him.

Sisi’s widespread support comes from the belief that he will be able make Egypt more secure. We’ll see. In the short term, his candidacy is just as likely to invigorate already angry Muslim Brotherhood supporters and Islamists and spark a new round of instability. Five people were killed on the Friday after his announcement in skirmishes with security forces, including a young female journalist. It’s all quite sad.

It’s easy to understand why Egyptians are looking for a little respite from all the turmoil. Even in our protected little bubble we’ve seen a recent spike in crime. Earlier this month a woman walking down the street with her two children just after nightfall was held up at gunpoint and, just two days later, three teenaged boys were abducted by five men in a car and robbed. They were unhurt and let go on the outskirts of the city with enough cab money to get home, but both incidents occurred relatively early in the evening and on the well-secured streets surrounding the school, so they’re a reminder that we should always be careful.

 

 

Are Arab Bombs Deadlier than Irish Bombs?

After the frigid week I had in New York, the no-coat-needed weather of Cairo has been such a relief. We were thinking about taking the kids skiing during their break in April—and we still haven’t ruled it out—but a warm holiday is looking pretty appealing after spending a week in calf-deep slush.

It was good to come back to Cairo. I arrive at the airport with no trepidation at all anymore, which is somewhat ironic, given that it’s far more unstable than it was during the years I felt uncomfortable here. I think some of that is just about familiarity.

I also think that some of the worry my friends have for me, while entirely understandable in light of what they see on the news (and appreciated), has to do with a distrust of the Arab world. I had dinner with some friends in January who refused to accept my assertion that I was probably safer in our cloistered expat neighborhood in Cairo than we were in Tribeca. But there is no question; we live surrounded by security guards and police officers.

And yet, my friends in New York—who have never been here—feel firm in their conviction that we are not safe. The funny thing is, I didn’t get any of that concern from friends when I moved to London in the early 1990s, and the truth is I felt far less safe there. I was always antsy about IRA bombings and was really shaken by the one instance in which we had to evacuate a restaurant.

That feeling was based on fact. Statistically, I was in more danger there than I am here. During the 1990s, eight civilians were killed in London alone, and many more people were injured. Over the 30 years of the Troubles, at least 650 civilians were killed. The IRA set off bombs in pubs, department stores, shopping centers, subway stations and on busy roadways. There was no way to know what their target might be and when they might choose to strike. Yes, Egypt could still deteriorate that far, but it hasn’t yet. For the time being, I live with less anxiety about terrorism here than I did in London. I’m just careful about where I go. And at least here I know what kind of places to avoid.

None of that is to say I’m not worried about the turn things seem to be taking. I am, and I don’t understand why the government continues to focus on the Muslim Brotherhood and has said next to nothing about Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, the Sinai-based terrorist group that has taken responsibility for nearly all the recent bombings. They keep trying to reassure tourists that they are still safe in Egypt. It seems to me visitors would glean far more comfort from the arrests of the perpetrators than they would from empty promises.

I admit, I expected my kids to be shaken by the bombings, but they aren’t worried at all. Their little world is so safe and secure that the danger feels far removed. T says he feels far more at ease here than he did in New York because there he worried about random violence, while here it is more predictable (no school or movie-theater shootings, for example). The school canceled a trip T’s grade was supposed to take to the Red Sea for security reasons, and his only reaction was disappointment. The boys continue to insist that they want to stay here longer than the planned two years. For now, though, I’m sticking to the timetable.

The trial of the Al Jazeera journalists and their 17 co-defendants (some of whom have complained of torture) started this week, and was then abruptly postponed until March 5. The whole thing is a joke, and a travesty. Other journalists who have worked with the Al Jazeera crew at news organizations such as CNN and NBC have attested to their professionalism, and the heads of some of the most prestigious news outlets in the world published an open letter criticizing the prosecutions. Frankly, I can’t figure out why the hell the government thinks prosecuting these people—some of whom have hardly spent any time in Egypt at all—is a good idea. Egypt is being ridiculed the world over and there is not a discerning mind out there that believes these guys are actually Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers.

Egypt today is unquestionably more repressive than the Soviet Union was during its final years, when I lived there. And at least there you knew the rules. Here no one seems to know what they are—including the people charged with enforcing them. Journalists have spent the past two months repeatedly asking if it is illegal to interview a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and no one in authority has yet to give a clear answer. What kind of government doesn’t know its own laws, and how on earth are people supposed to adhere to them if they don’t know what they are?

Things tick along slowly on the domestic front. We are the proud owners of a coffee table. It doesn’t match the TV console, which we will convert to a buffet in the dining room, but now we are left looking for a new TV console. It never ends. At least our dining room table is on its way over from New York. There’s one furniture decision I won’t have to make. Although I do think the chairs might need reupholstering…

aj5 aj6 aj3 aj2

Digging In

Our departure from New York became more definitive this week; I flew in on Monday night to move all our personal belongings to Cairo.

It was one hell of a week, and I am glad it’s behind me. I find moving emotionally draining at the best of times; this time I was dealing with it all alone and in terrible weather to boot. I was worried the movers wouldn’t be able to get there with all of the snow, but they managed. So now we’ve taken what we want from our apartment and our storage facility is empty. Our ties to New York are far more tenuous than they were a week ago.338

I’m not at all sure everything will get to us intact, but I don’t know that I really mind. I went to scope out the storage facility the day before the movers came, and was so overwhelmed that I was ready to just leave it all behind. We’ve been living without most of our things for nearly six months now and while there are a few items we could really use (duvets and pillows, for starters) we haven’t missed most of it. Still, I know how this goes, and when it gets to us we’ll be glad to have it and sad about the things that have inevitably broken in transit.

Moving out of storage

Moving out of storage

 

Empty

Empty

Or maybe not. Our perspective is a little different this time. I think being in Egypt, where the standard of living is so vastly different from anywhere else we’ve lived, has changed all of us and our relationships to material goods. We’ll see. I am looking forward to having a proper dining room table, though. When it will all get there is anyone’s guess. It’s scheduled to arrive in Alexandria at the end of March, but then has to clear customs and get shipped to Cairo. I have no idea how long that process will take.

I’m writing this once again from the lounge in CDG while I wait for a flight—this time back to Cairo. I can’t wait to get home, not least for the warm weather. New York was a frigid, slushy mess while I was there, which made the task of moving all the more grim.

Slush

Slush

Not that Cairo doesn’t have its own grim elements. Yesterday a bomb went off on a bus carrying tourists from Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, killing at least three people. The event was tragic in itself and ominous in what it portends. It’s the first bomb in the recent wave of violence that specifically targeted tourists; the previous attacks were directed against police and military forces. The fear is that this signals a new phase in the conflict between Islamists and the government.

Presidential elections are the next step in the roadmap, although a date has still not been set. Many Egyptians believe that General Sisi, who is the presumptive next president of Egypt despite having yet to declare his candidacy, will be able to bring about stability. I’d like to think so but I’m not at all sure it will be that simple, and one can only imagine that the cost of stability will be quite high in terms of human and civil rights.

Okay. Short post this time. I’m wiped out after the overnight flight and have some duty-free shopping to do.

Gaining Speed

The pace of life here is starting to pick up. The kids are in school full-force; T’s after school activities started this past week and X’s start this week. I’m working more, exploring more and socializing more. Still no more furniture, though. I’m determined to remedy that tomorrow.

The boys continue to love school. T had a school social this week. He’s becoming increasingly independent. On Thursday X didn’t have classes because of parent conferences, so T went to school by himself. He left early in the morning, stayed afterward for sports practice, and the social was at 6 p.m. that evening so he hung around for that. I didn’t see him until 8 p.m. that night. He had a blast. He’s loving how much more independence he gets here.

I spent the morning exploring Road 9—our neighborhood’s main shopping road—with X. We started out at Lucille’s, a restaurant famous among expats for their breakfasts and burgers (okay, I detoured to Café Greco for a good cappuccino first…), then meandered up the street. We found what looked like a fantastic bakery and a cupcake store that wouldn’t be out of place in New York. I stumbled upon Saad Silver, the new outpost of the small chain of silver stores where my family has been shoppingfor years. I went in and introduced myself, and I happened to be carrying a key chain I bought from their store decades ago. The owner claimed to remember my parents, and promised me great prices. They have beautiful stuff.

That afternoon I met with X’s teacher for my parent conference. He seems to be adjusting remarkably well. I continue to be impressed by the school and at how much fun they manage to make everything for the kids.

When I was coming back home I heard what sounded like a cat massacre. I didn’t think too much of it, because with all the wild cats in the streets there’s always a lot fighting going on. Still, it was the most intense cat screaming I’d heard so far, and it sounded like it was in our next door neighbor’s yard. This morning when we woke up, our wild kittens were nowhere to be seen. I put some food out for them—I’d done that yesterday and they’d gobbled it all up—but as of this writing at 9:30 p.m. I have yet to see a kitten and the food is still all there. I have all the garden lights on and keep peering out the back windows, but there is no sign of them. I fear the worst.

I went on my first-ever felucca ride this week, organized by the school for new parents. It was beautiful. I can’t wait to take one with the boys.

A Nile Beauty

A Nile Beauty

We spent much of today with an old friend from NY who’s living here now. She has an adorable little boy who X got along with well. They don’t live particularly close to us, but I hope we manage to see them regularly. Tomorrow I am determined to decide upon a couch—particularly now that I have managed to open a bank account, which involves a somewhat complicated and abstruse approval process.  Then the boys have some sort of sporting day at school, so we’re likely to be there for much of the afternoon.

We continue to be infested by ants. Tiny little black ones and big giant light brown ones. The black ones are fast little suckers who will swarm any stray crumb within moments of its deposit on a floor or counter top, and can get in to anything (including sealed Ritz crackers and cat food, we learned the hard way). Supposedly, they are seasonal. We also have giant golden-brown ants. They are bold and undeterrable and seem to live in the walls. A nightmare. I’m worried about spraying because of the cats and, without knowing what kind of ants they are, I’m concerned that I’ll do something to make things worse.

The dishwasher and sink continue to shock. The boys refuse to put plates in the dishwasher at this point. The electrician is supposed to come Sunday morning. And then I am meeting with the country representative from Medecins du Monde to learn more about what they’re doing here (I’m on the U.S. board). And on Monday—hold on to your hats—I am venturing outside of the Maadi bubble into downtown Cairo for a meeting and then lunch with a friend of a friend of a friend. I grow ever bolder…

On the political front, well….the government/army crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and militants in Sinai continues, as do the attacks on army troops in Sinai. The tougher the army gets, the more popular they seem to be. Houses all over Maadi sport Egyptian flags; one taxi driver told me that they are displayed in a show of support for the army overthrow of Morsi.

There certainly does seem to be a feeling of nationalism pervading the country. One Coptic leader I spoke to said Christians have been careful not to turn to outsiders for help in light of all the recent church burnings, because they want to emphasize their solidarity with all the other anti-Morsi Egyptians, of any religion. There is an emphasis here these days on Egyptian identity and a bit of an insider vs. outsider attitude—which creates a quandary for a government that is also trying to lure back tourists who are, by definition, not Egyptian.

 

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