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Posts tagged ‘Amsterdam’

Wacky Weather

I was emailing with a good friend who recently moved to London, and we were remarking on how different our lives are at the moment. I was saying that while we love it here, when I was in Amsterdam a couple of months ago I realized that I was completely relaxed there in a way I never am here. I’d forgotten what it was like to be able to go anywhere, anytime and not have to worry about curfews (which we no longer have to do) or running into a Muslim Brotherhood demonstration, or just getting into trouble because of the language barrier. Just taking a taxi can be stressful because most of the drivers who hail from other parts of Cairo don’t know their way around our neighborhood, and with my pathetically limited Arabic I have a hard time directing them. I have to study more.

As an aside, I also noticed when we were in Amsterdam that X had forgotten how to cross the street. There are no traffic lights in our neighborhood so crossing the street can be a challenge. If you can’t find a gap in traffic, you have to brazenly walk out into the street and hope someone will stop. We have found women rarely will—I guess they have enough BS to put up with in this male-dominated society that when they get behind the wheel of a car they don’t want to take any guff from anyone. X has developed the habit, as have I, of putting one hand up, policeman style, in the hopes that drivers will see that as a sign not to run us over. So far, it’s worked. But when we first got to Amsterdam, X would just step into traffic and hold his hand up. He’d forgotten there were such things as crosswalks.

While we’re on the topic, I might as well mention that there are virtually no sidewalks here, either, so you wind up walking in the middle of the street. A friend of mine told me that someone she knows was back in the U.S. walking Cairo style. A police officer asked him why he was walking in the street. He said: “Where do you expect me to walk?” Apparently, he shared X’s organized traffic amnesia.

Anyway…back to my friend in London. She had a bunch of questions about what day-to-day life is like here, and asked me to write about them in the blog. So here goes, one by one:

Would love to know if you meet up with friends for coffee and while doing so, what you’re looking at or overhearing.

I do meet up with friends for coffee. There’s only one place whose coffee I like, Café Greco. They have two outposts, one on Road 9, which is the main shopping street in my neighborhood, but it’s on the other end of it so I don’t get over there too often. The other one is in the Community Services Association, which is kind of a hub for expats. They run welcome programs and tours and have classes and a gym and a library and a little store and pretty much anything else a foreigner in Egypt would want. And a Café Greco, which is where I get my coffee when I’m not brewing the La Colombe that O ferries over from New York for me.

The conversation is pretty much what you would find in a NY coffee shop. Post drop off, it’s mommy chat. Later on you’ll see business meetings. People meet for lunch. They talk politics. I’d estimate at least half the people I see there are Egyptian. I know some of the memberships—the video library, for instance—are limited to people with foreign passports, but I don’t know about general admission. It’s possible all the Egyptians I see there have second passports. Whoever they are, they’re a pretty cosmopolitan bunch. And everything there, from menus to posters to the monthly magazine, is in English.

Okay, this is post getting to be long. I am going to save the rest of her questions for the next one so I can do them justice.  On the home front, well, we had a lovely Thanksgiving at a friend’s house. It was perhaps the most American Thanksgiving I have ever had. The food all came from the club affiliated with the U.S. Embassy here, so the turkey was, I’m sure, Butterball and the fixings were as traditional as can be. The desserts were made by an Egyptian-British woman, but I must say they may well have been the best damn apple and pumpkin pies I have ever had.

We are working on a Christmas tree. That’s trickier. We’re deciding between the fake tree and the little live tree that isn’t really a fir and the branches are too flimsy to hold ornaments. It’s a tossup. I’m hoping to get the boys to decide this weekend. If we manage to get out of the house. I canceled our planned trip to the pyramids today (yes, I was trying again) because it is so cold here that it was snowing in parts of Cairo. I figured it’s no fun riding camels in the freezing rain, and the monuments aren’t going anywhere. The weather is going bonkers here. Yesterday we had a rainbow, which I was told was rare in Egypt. Today, snow, reportedly for the first time in more than 100 years. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

I didn't take this but it was too good not to share.

I didn’t take this but it is too good not to share.

We had a little domestic drama this week. T was in his room when all of a sudden the light fixture came crashing down out of the ceiling. There was glass everywhere, and he kept yelling that it could have killed him. Maybe it could have. So I got a new electrician in—this one recommended by the lovely manager of the aforementioned American club—and he checked all the fixtures in the house. Apparently none of them is safe. But he didn’t have time to finish, so he’s coming back Saturday. I’m going to ask him to take a look at the still-electrocuting dishwasher, too. Maybe we can finally fix that thing.

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A Tourism Backfire

I’m writing this on a flight from Amsterdam to Cairo, where we spent the past week. We had a great week in Amsterdam, eating our way through the city. The boys tried all the Dutch specialties I grew up with. It was chilly and rainy—and we didn’t mind in the least, coming from always-warm Cairo. That’s a real change for me. I’m normally such a baby about cold weather.

The boys had a break from school because of the Eid al-Adha holiday, which marks the end of the annual Hajj to Mecca and commemorates Ibraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail to Allah. As in the Judeo-Christian telling, God stopped Ibrahim from killing his offspring, sending a lamb instead. In observance of the occasion, Egyptians slaughter an animal and donate a portion of the meat to the poor. Apparently the streets in parts of Cairo run red with blood on the day of the feast. I didn’t think we were quite ready for that.

I had needed a break. I had been on edge in the days before we left. There had been more to deal with of late. There was the RPG attack on the satellite dish in our neighborhood, and the 50 people killed in demonstrations on Armed Forces Day on October 6. And I didn’t make matters any better by deciding it was time for me to get the boys out of the cocoon of our neighborhood just as the self-described anti-coup alliance called for three days of protests. They’re still agitating against the overthrow of President Morsi.

I thought I had planned well. I knew the pyramids could be a dicey proposition because with the dearth of tourists the guides and hawkers there, starved for business, have grown very aggressive, but I also told myself we couldn’t live in Cairo for two years and never see the pyramids. And there is no guarantee that the situation here will get better. For all I know, now is as good as it is going to get.

I decided to play it safe. I booked a room in the Palace Wing of Mena House, the beautiful and storied historic hotel a stone’s throw from the pyramids. We’d go there, enjoy an afternoon by the pool, have a nice meal at the Indian restaurant—reputed to be the best in Cairo—and decide the next morning if we wanted to visit the monuments. I figured the tour guides at Mena House would know if it was safe to go.

The best-laid plans….

We got to within spitting distance of Mena House without incident (I wasn’t sure we’d be able to, as Giza, the area where they pyramids are, has seen its fair share of clashes recently) when things started to go wrong. The approach to Mena House is also the one used by many tourists heading to the pyramids and, before we realized what was happening, four men had rushed our car trying to get us to ride their horses or camels or god knows what. We signaled to them that we weren’t interested, but one of them—as it happened, the one with crooked eyes that made him look deranged and unhinged—jumped on to the back of the car.

The kids were terrified. The cab driver sped up, then stopped, then sped up again. We couldn’t shake him. The driver got out of the car and yelled at him, then got back in and sped off. The tenacious fellow held on for dear life. The kids were frozen with fear. Even I was shaken, and I knew what was going on, I knew he that he was acting out desperation and had no intention of hurting us; he just wanted us to hire him to do whatever it was he did.  All the while, the guards at Mena House stood idly by and watched it happen. It wasn’t the first time they witnessed that scene that day and it wouldn’t be the last.

When we got near enough to make eye contact I beckoned one of the uninterested Mena House guards over to the car, but by then the guy was leaving. Or maybe it was the approaching soldier that scared him off. I have no idea. All I know is that the boys were traumatized. Hours later, after we’d had a nice lunch by the pool and gone for a swim and were back in our lovely room, they told me there was “no way” they were going to the pyramids the next day. So the view from our window was as close as we got. I’ll try again in few months.

The View from our Room

I have yet to see any of my Egyptian relatives. One of my father’s cousins called a couple of weeks ago. He was going to travel for the holiday, as were we. He said we would get together after the break. I look forward to that. I noticed, though, that several of my cousins have unfriended me on Facebook. I have no idea why. I can only deduce that it’s because of my nationality (anti-American sentiment here as high as I’ve ever seen it).  Whatever the reason, I’m quite shocked by it, as family is generally paramount in Egypt. Still, I’m looking forward to finally seeing the family and introducing the boys to their cousins.

It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation, but the negative feelings toward Americans are tied up with wild theories and beliefs about Obama that have widely been accepted as fact. Many of them are completely illogical, and the funny thing is each side thinks he’s in bed with their opponents. Thankfully, most of the Egyptians we have gotten to know tend to be of the rational and independent-thinking variety, but the mainstream of Egypt makes the Birthers and the Tea Partiers look almost reasonable these days. It’s all so ludicrous that it’s amusing.

I know I now have many of you wondering what I’m talking about, but I just can’t bring myself to propagate the nonsense. Take Pamela Geller and her extreme-right cronies, intensify what they say by a magnitude, remove any trace of logic, and you’ll be close. (And some of the links below will explain more).

I will say, though, that, aside from the cold shoulder I’m getting from my cousins on Facebook, the anti-Americanism is confined to ill feelings about Obama and his Administration. Egyptians are careful to make the distinction between government action and citizens, and the boys and I have never felt unwelcome because of our nationality, despite Obama’s deep unpopularity here.

Speaking of Americans, I have my first visitor coming, @pfro. Ever the intrepid traveler, she’s touring the country. I can’t wait to see her.

 

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