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Posts from the ‘Moving Prep’ 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.

 

 

Paris. The City of Carbs.

We’re wrapping up our week in Paris. Tomorrow we get back on the train to Brussels, and from there we’ll catch a flight to Cairo.

We’ve had a great time here, although it was far from the usual tourist’s week in Paris. We didn’t do much by way of seeing the sights, although the boys did go down to the Jardins du Luxembourg and played some chess, which they thoroughly enjoyed. A nice man there let them use his chess pieces and gave them some tips.016e2400477d6c0128fd498b72d8eb9a8fcf5900ce

Instead, we were pretty focused on doing what needed to be done for the boys’ school application. I had a couple of meetings with friends of friends who have kids in the school. They all love it, and all warned me that it’s very difficult to get in to. The boys were nervous about their interview, but they did well. And they both loved the school. It looks like a warm and wonderful place. We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed.

But none of this is to say that our week wasn’t full of pleasure. We rented an apartment on the Canal Saint Martin and had a terrific time exploring the neighborhood. On our first day here we went for a run up the canal, and it was really enjoyable. The boys are hoping we wind up living in this neighborhood—the opportunity to bike and run along the canal was enticing to both of them.

Even more of a draw, though, were two award-winning bakeries within walking distance of the flat we were staying in, Du Pain et Des Idees and Liberte. We’d go out every morning and get a baguette and a selection of croissants and pastries from one of them, and then debate which was better. I think I ate more carbs this week than I have in the past three years combined, but goodness, were they delicious. We bought a baguette from an ordinary bakery on the way home one evening and the difference was remarkable.

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Our last night here we went to eat at L’Entrecote, a restaurant that serves only steak frites and has a delicious, secret sauce. We weren’t going to go because the french fries are cooked in peanut oil, and X is allergic to peanuts, but I had called the sister restaurant in New York before we left Cairo, and they told me they use refined peanut oil, which means the allergens have been neutralized. I wasn’t going to take them, but after an unsatisfying steak frites dinner the night before, X decided he couldn’t leave Paris without a crispy tray of fries, so he was willing to take the risk. Plus, at L’entrecote they give you refills, which was more than he could resist.

We got there and the line was down the block, so I asked one of the servers if they’d give me just a couple of fries so X could try them and see if he’d be okay. She did, and he was, and the boys ended up having their favorite meal of the week. It was the perfect end to a successful trip. It’s safe to say that both boys are now big Paris fans. They keep telling me that they hope they get into the school. So do I. We should hear in late January, and I’m sure we’ll all have our finger crossed until then.

But now we’re heading back to Egypt. We’re on the train to Brussels right now, and from there we’ll board our flight to Cairo. It’s a little disorienting shifting between such different worlds. I’m looking forward to going back and getting my mind off of Paris for a while. I want to make the most of the time we have left in Egypt.

 

Facebook Fractures

Needless to say, the situation in Cairo has grown all the more heated after the latest round of massacres of pro-Muslim Brotherhood protestors. With the army taking charge in such a heavy handed way, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for people to stick to the black-and-white positions many of them had taken in the run-up to the June 30th ouster of former president Mohammed Morsi.

Not that they’re not trying. As an employee of the Egyptian Consulate in New York told me when I was there getting my boys’ birth certificates notarized, Egyptians are not good at accepting that others can hold differing opinions, or agreeing to disagree, so to speak. They’re also not particularly comfortable with acknowledging gray areas, preferring to paint things in absolute terms.  But given what’s gone on in Egypt over the past few days, it’s hard for anyone except the most polarized to acknowledge at least some level of murkiness in the situation there. There are plenty of people who were happy to see Morsi go who are now deeply disturbed at the sight of protestors being shot with live ammunition and the obvious ascendance of the Army. People don’t know what side to come down on anymore.

In a country where political discourse had been effectively shut down for the better part of 60 years, learning to disagree amicably isn’t coming easy. My contact in the Egyptian consulate told me his school friends are hardly capable of having civil conversations with him these days because of their divergent views on Morsi’s removal, and my Arabic tutor said that members of his extended family won’t even eat meals at the same table together—during Ramadan, of all times.

My own family seems to be staging a war of their own, with cousin openly bashing cousin on Facebook. I got dragged into it a couple of weeks ago—which got me thinking about the dark side of social media. Much is made about the power of social media to shrink the world, and that’s true, but it can expose previously invisible fault lines in relationships as well.

In the days before social media, I had no idea what my relatives in Egypt thought about politics, as it was rarely a topic of discussion during our visits there—at least in my presence. Now, not only are Egyptians freer in expressing their political opinions than they were under Mubarak, but social media allows the world to see what they think.

Facebook has transformed my interactions with my family, and not always for the better. Our differences have been laid bare and exchanges often get heated. I was on the receiving end of a barrage venomous enough that a friend messaged me offline to comment on it, then tried futilely to defend me by posting a comment elaborating on the point I was trying to make. (Interestingly, my family was much more polite when disagreeing with him; Egyptian hospitality toward strangers reigns supreme even during political discourse). There was even an insult hurled—granted, it was a generalization about Americans, but it was directed squarely at me, and it stung.

Sure, all families have fights, particularly about issues as sensitive as politics. But a disagreement around the Thanksgiving table is likely to be punctuated with moments of fondness and levity, reminders that one is among people whom, ultimately, one loves. Facebook encounters don’t provide these palliative moments. The very technology that has allowed me to maintain closer ties with my relatives in Egypt has revealed just how far apart we are on sensitive issues—all without the comfort of a slice of warm apple pie.

Our move to Cairo is now less than two weeks away, and by the time we get there it’s likely that some attempt will have been made to clear the pro-Morsi sit ins. There’s no way to know how that will turn out—although past performance doesn’t bode well—or what repercussions will be lingering when we arrive. In all likelihood the atmosphere will be tense. That goes, too, for the first Friday night dinner we will spend with my extended family. I just have to hope that being there in person and being reminded of mutual affection will make all the difference.

 

Revolution 2.0

Things have been busy here and obviously a lot has happened since my last blog posting—both in my life and in Egypt. First up, there is a new government in Egypt now and what that means for the country is still uncertain. One thing is clear: the Muslim Brotherhood ain’t happy about it.

A lot of my friends have been in touch asking if I am still planning to go. The short answer: for the moment, yes. What I mean by that is, I haven’t decided not to go, but I also realize that things could further destabilize there.  At this point I’m working under the assumption that I’ll be moving next month but am watching closely and am ready to pull the plug on our plans if need be. I guess I should start formulating a Plan B…

The truth is, much of what is happening is what should have taken place the first time around. There should have been a caretaker coalition government and a constitution should have been written before elections were held, which is hopefully what will happen now, although even that isn’t a foregone conclusion. Yes, Morsi was democratically elected but he was well on his way to becoming a dictator and was running a regime that was far from democratic.

It’s important to keep in mind that, with the Egyptian Army controlling about a third of the economy, very little happens there that they don’t want. Their hand just shows more obviously at some times than at others. How they integrate the Brotherhood will be the key to future stability. Sending them underground will have perilous results; the factions that are willing to be part of the political process need to be cultivated and included.

A lot has happened on the personal front as well. For starters, my grandmother died a couple of weeks ago. Needless to say, I am heartbroken.  I really wanted the boys to have a chance to get to know her, and I can’t imagine what it will feel like for me to be there without her; she was my anchor. But she was 95 years old and was ready to go and didn’t suffer too much in the end, so there’s that to be thankful for.

Despite the unrest, school is currently scheduled to start on time. We signed and sent the money for the villa, so we’re committed there. I was relieved to have a place to move into right away; now it’s feeling like a bit of a burden to be tied to a place—not to mention, I’m wondering if we could have gotten a better deal if we’d waited. But what can you do? It’s done. I haven’t booked our tickets yet, and I’ve noticed that airfares are dropping, so at least we’ll save money there.

The boys seem to be feeling pretty good about the move, although we’ve shielded them from news of the latest round of violence. T has been emailing with a couple of boys who are going to be in his grade, which has him raring to get over there and has even eased some of X’s anxiety. Now that school is over and he’s not being reminded daily of what he’s leaving behind, even X starting to look ahead with more optimism.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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