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Posts tagged ‘Maadi’

Drama in the Bubble

School is in full swing and life here is getting back to normal. Our full routines aren’t in place yet—extracurriculars are still gearing up—but they’re getting there.

No longer the newbies, we’ve reached the stage where most things are familiar and we’re eager to venture out more, or at least I am. A big part of me wishes we could do a third year here, but it just doesn’t work with the kids’ school. I don’t want to move T during high school and, as much as I love it here, I’m not ready to commit to another four years in Cairo after this one.

The thought that this is our last year infuses everything I do. I’m trying to stay in the moment, but I find myself counting down lasts, as in, this is our last chance to do this or that, this is our last first day of school here, our last autumn here, you name it. And I’m thinking about our next destination more and more. I need to pull myself back and focus on where we are now. I do love it here.

Life is different in year two. We’re more comfortable moving around the city. We’re making changes in our daily life, including firing our gardener, who was terrible and was ripping us off on top of it. We’ve found a new one, an incredibly nice guy who has transformed our garden. He’s planted a bunch of jasmine in the plot in front of my office terrace, so when I go sit outside to drink my coffee or edit, I’m surrounded by its beautiful scent. I can already anticipate its Proustian effect.

We have new neighbors on either side of us, whom seem very nice, but we do miss our old ones. There’s a new, huge, restaurant that opened up across the street from us. I’m less than thrilled about it because it has a ton of outdoor seating and I’m worried about the noise. So far, the constant music has been annoying (though they do seem to have turned it down) and there’s a real clamor coming from kids play area. The Egyptian idea of bed time differs wildly from mine.

On a somewhat more positive note, there’s a new butcher shop in the neighborhood, and it is pristine. That’s a welcome addition. They have everything you could want and, best of all, they deliver.

I’m really enjoying the feeling of knowing my way around and am eager to explore the parts of Cairo I don’t know. I was wandering around my neighborhood this weekend further afield than I normally go and noticed how entirely at ease I now feel walking through the streets.

I’ve vowed to myself that I’ll be more social this year and make more of an effort to go to cultural events and to put myself in situations where I’m forced to speak Arabic. I called a local orphanage to see if the boys and I could volunteer there. The director said she’d call me back, but as I write this I realize I need to follow up with her.

I’ve also resolved to get the boys out and about more frequently. We’re running out of time to visit all the must-see sites in Egypt. I’m putting together a list so I can plan accordingly. We’re starting small: tomorrow we’re taking the Nile Taxi up the river to Zamalek with another family from the school.

Being away for the summer has allowed me the space to look at the city with fresh eyes—and remark upon its idiosyncrasies. My friends are always asking me about how life in Cairo differs from life in New York or elsewhere in the U.S., so I’ll share things as I notice them:

-Taxis: Whenever you walk down the street you will be honked at by every empty taxi that goes by. It’s terribly annoying and feels vaguely harassing. If I wanted a taxi, I’d be trying to hail one. It feels vaguely harassing.

UPDATE:

I was going to edit and post this (Friday) morning, but before I had a chance to, while I was working on something else, I heard a crazy din outside. That’s not so unusual—Egyptians are rather voluble—but it lasted for so long that I finally left my office and went to look out an upstairs window to see what was going on. A big yellow front loader was parked in front of Fire and Ice, the restaurant, blocking all the traffic on the street. It was surrounded by police. A man was in the basket, elevated in the air, and was shouting at the top of his lungs. All I could hear him saying was “you’re in Egypt, you’re in Egypt.”

photoOur bawab later told us that there had been so many complaints about the restaurant—hundreds, he said—that the police had shut the place down. They took down all the lights, all the speakers and removed all the patio furniture. The melee lasted for several hours.

I can’t say I’m disappointed, as being forced to listen to their music for 12 hours a day was making me a lunatic, but it does seem rather drastic. I would have been happy for the police just to remove the sound system, or to confine it to inside. Clearly someone around here has some serious juice with the local authorities.

Oh, Egypt. It’s one big soap opera.

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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.

 

 

A Day in the Life…..

When I was in New York in January, a friend told me that what she most wanted to read about on the blog was what my daily routine is like. So here goes:

There’s a lot about life here that’s very similar to my life in New York. I wake up and get the kids up and ready for school. When Oliver is around, he might do it. Breakfast is the same thing it was in New York: toast, or Weetabix or French Toast or eggs. One of the first things I did was get an espresso machine because there’s a dearth of good coffee here, so that’s part of my morning routine as well. Every time I go to New York I bring back bags of La Colombe, so I’m still drinking the same delicious stuff. I will be miserable when that eventually runs out.

The school is nearby and T’s classes start a little earlier than X’s, so he’ll often walk ahead. There’s only one street to cross between our house and the school, and on the way we pass at least four uniformed and undercover police officers and two school crossing/security guards, all of whom know us by name, so I don’t worry that he’s not safe.

One of us takes X five or 10 minutes later. There’s a massive security wall around the school and only people with passes can get through the rotating gate. Drop-off is pretty pleasant; they’re often blasting music in the morning, so people kind of dance to class, and the principals and sometimes the superintendent are outside greeting the students as they arrive. It’s all quite sweet.

After that my routine is pretty much the same as it was in New York. I sit down to write, and try to find time to read the papers and exercise. Both are tough. There’s a ton of Egyptian press, which I read in translation, and I try to keep up with the American papers as well.

On the exercise front, the CSA, the community center for expats, has a gym with treadmills and group classes. Occasionally I’ll go over there for a run, though I hate running inside. Sometimes I’ll go run at the boys’ school, but the track isn’t open to parents until after 5:30 p.m. so I’m usually too busy with them and their afterschool stuff by then.  There are also spin classes at the CSA, which I haven’t tried, and a Pilates studio, which I have and which is fantastic. There’s a yoga studio up the road that I haven’t been to but I know a lot of people who take classes there and like it. I’ll get there eventually.

The truth is, I’m still trying to pretend I can recreate my New York workout routine here, which I can’t. I miss running along the Hudson, so don’t run as much here. I haven’t found anything I like as much as the Core Fusion classes I used to take at Exhale, so I do one of their videos several times a week. And I tend to do my yoga at home as well. Eventually, though, I’m going to stop clinging to my old habits and develop a new routine. I had started swimming at the school once or twice a week when the weather was still warm, but it’s a little too chilly for that now.

I’m alone in the house until 1, when my housekeeper arrives. That’s another difference: she comes every day, whereas in New York we only had someone come once a week. Most expats in our neighborhood have daily help. For starters, it’s far more affordable here than it was in the U.S., but it’s also more necessary. Cairo is incredibly dusty and things get dirty very, very quickly. Streets are hosed down several times a day to keep the dust under control (making them muddy instead) and I’ve noticed our neighbors have their cars washed daily or close to it. And, as crazy as it sounds, it’s really helpful to have someone else who can answer the door. Everything here is done in person, so the doorbell rings constantly throughout the day.

I go back to pick up the boys from school at 3 or 4 depending on the day, and then deal with their various after-school activities, just like back in the U.S. We either cook something for dinner or order from one of the local restaurants (there’s an Italian restaurant, a Greek café and a rotisserie chicken place that are our regular haunts) or eat at the club where the boys play tennis. That part of life here is pretty boring and we’ve all discovered that we don’t particularly like Egyptian food.

The boys' favorite meal

The boys’ favorite meal

Similarities aside, there are plenty of things here that have become normal for me that I think would look strange to any of my Western friends. For starters, there’s the scene outside our house. There are always people in the street—the same people. There are the bawabs, the superintendent/doormen who live in every apartment building. There are the private security guards stationed at various points along the street, and the police men who constantly patrol. And then there are the drivers who spend most of their days just waiting around until they are needed.

We live on a small street that’s pretty quiet, but even here we get a lot going on that would seem out of place in New York. Like the bikya guy: several times a day a guy pulling a big wooden cart behind him walks through the neighborhood yelling “bikya, bikya.” He buys household junk. Or the zabbaleen, the garbage guys. Sometimes they come by to collect the trash in an open-backed pickup truck; other times they come in a little donkey-pulled cart. You still see donkey carts mixed in with traffic on a regular basis here, even on the highways.

And then there’s the poverty, which I still haven’t gotten used to. Two days last week there was a man dressed in a white robe with a white scarf wrapped around his head calling out to God in a hoarse voice while he shuffled slowly down the street. It was haunting and heartbreaking. A police officer later told me he was “magnoon” or crazy. There don’t seem to be a lot of services for the mentally ill here. There’s a paraplegic man we see wheeling himself through a busy intersection in the neighborhood who looks like he may also suffer from a mental illness. I’m always terrified he’s going to get run over. I saw him the other day stopped in the middle of busy traffic trying to lift his lifeless legs to put his feet back on the foot rests. It’s heartbreaking.

And the animals. There are at least a dozen wild cats that live on our street, and probably more. And packs of dogs. They’re not always here, but they can be scary when they are. One of them went for X the other day. Lately I’ve seen a litter of puppies frolicking around. They’re adorable—as long as they’re little. We hear packs of the big ones barking all night long.

One of our neighborhood feline friends.

One of our neighborhood feline friends.

Life in Cairo is lived on an entirely different timetable. Things happen much, much later here. I called a local orthodontist at 9 p.m. the other night just to see if I had the right telephone number. To my shock, someone answered the phone and gave me an appointment.  Another orthodontist (we’re still choosing…) called me at 10:40 on a Thursday night (the first night of the weekend; Friday and Saturday are the non-working days here), to give me an appointment for 7 p.m. that Saturday. I asked for the address and she told me to call at noon the day of my appointment and they would give it to me then. I ended up getting sick and when I called to cancel, they didn’t even have my name in the book.

This post is getting long, so I’m going to wrap up. I’ll try to be better about including all the quirky differences about life here in future posts. And feel free to ask questions—I’ll happily answer them.

Salaam.

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.

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!

 

Feline Distractions

We are slowly putting in place the trappings of a normal life.

I accomplished a fair amount last week on the domestic front, although I don’t have much to show for it yet. I ordered a couch and commissioned a carpenter to make loft beds for the kids. The couch should take three weeks and the beds about a month.

X's bed will be a version of this.

X’s bed will be a version of this.

T is getting a variation of this bed.

T is getting a variation of this bed.

The logistics of getting things done in Cairo haven’t gotten any less convoluted. The good news is, they still amuse me most of the time instead of driving me crazy. Living in the Soviet Union was good preparation for life in Egypt. It’s the same level of inanity, but at least here the people preventing you from accomplishing your goal for no apparent reason do so with a smile and are, for the most part, unarmed.

Sorting things out with officialdom or the various customer service departments involves, not surprisingly, spending a lot of time on hold. I’m always bemused when the agent gets back on the phone and issues the standard lost-in-translation line: “I’m so sorry for being late.”

One of the many companies whose hold music I had the pleasure of listening to this week was Etisalat, my cell phone service provider. In fact, I dealt with them on two separate issues. The first one was to address the many text messages I’d received in Arabic. I had no idea if they were warning me that my service was about to be turned off or what other dire notice they might contain. So I called the English-language customer service line, told the representative I was getting text messages in Arabic and asked her if she knew what information the company might be trying to relay.

“Your texts are set to be delivered in English,” she said.

“I know, but you are sending me texts in Arabic,” I replied.

“Well, we have it set to English.”

“Yes. That’s the problem. They’re still in Arabic.”

“What do they say?” she asked, still not fully grasping the issue.

“I don’t know,” I answered, trying not to get exasperated. “That’s what I’m trying to find out. They’re in Arabic and I can’t read Arabic.”

“Well, we have it set to English.”

And so on. I eventually gave up.

I had a similar encounter over my bill. I received a text message—this one in English—warning me that my service would be disconnected if I didn’t pay my bill in three days.  So I went to the bank—one of the acceptable places to pay one’s bill—and they told me I needed to go to the Etisalat store. I didn’t bother to ask why. Only the store near me had closed, the nice man at the bank warned me. So I called customer service to find out if that was true, and the agent told me I had an account surplus and should ignore the text they sent me telling me I owed them money. Go figure.  I am sure my phone will be turned off any day now.

Dealing with the bank has also been an adventure. I had to apply to get an account, then wait five days to see if I would be approved. I got a call saying I had been and was given a rather dubious-seeming account number on the phone. Very few digits. I was given no paperwork, no nothing. An ATM card required a separate application. Someone will supposedly come to my house to deliver my PIN code, and another person will come to deliver my ATM card. Likewise a checkbook and a password for the online banking system. The craziest thing is that the checkbooks allow you to write checks in any currency—you just specify which one you want next to the amount.

Finally, we get to matters feline. The missing kittens turned up across the street. Their mother had moved them to a bigger, fancier villa with a swimming pool. I can’t blame her, really.

But no sooner did we figure out where they were than we found a teeny tiny little guy—he couldn’t have been more than a month old—whose mother didn’t seem to be taking care of him. So we spent five days giving him kitten milk and kitten food and basically falling in love. And then, one day, he was gone.

I asked the bawab across the street where the kitten went and he just kept saying “Korean woman, Korean woman.” There’s a big building up the street that a bunch of Korean families with young children live in. I’m hoping one of them adopted him. I miss him, but I think it’s probably for the best. He didn’t look healthy and needed some serious veterinary care. And with our two cats, I wasn’t going to be able to let him come live with us in the house. I was already wondering how he’d survive when we left.

I keep waiting for the inevitable crash of homesickness, but while the boys talk about missing their friends in New York and want to talk to them on the phone as much as possible, they continue to love their new school. T told me this weekend that he thinks being here has made him more appreciative of what he has. Even if that’s all he gets out of his time in Cairo, it will have been time well spent.

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