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Posts tagged ‘Moving’

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.

 

 

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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.

The Aggravation of Appliances

Ah, Cairo life. We’ve been back nearly a week and logistics continue to take up most of our time. Let me back up for a minute and say I’m loving it here. I love the challenge of penetrating a new culture. I love getting to know a new neighborhood. And making new friends. I am the happiest I’ve been in a long time.

But, gosh, nothing is easy here.

Somehow, none of it is bothering me—yet. Not the power outages, not the lack of furniture, not even the army of ants we’re sharing the villa with. None of it—except maybe the time our Internet went out shortly after we got it switched on—after four separate trips to the store and hours of hours on the phone with customer service (on Oliver’s part). The little adjusting-to-life-in-Cairo brochure they give you at the Community Services Association, a great resource for expat and the source of the closest drinkable cappuccino, warns that one should expect to only achieve a third of what sets out to do each day. Given our experience here, that seems ambitious.

Oliver has been great. The week the boys and I were gallivanting in Italy, he was trying to put the house together, all with a 7 p.m. curfew in place and a strict directive not to leave the neighborhood because it was potentially too dangerous further afield. Internet access was at the top of his list. I think he made two visits to the provider’s offices while we were gone, maybe three. When we came home he told me he’d been promised it would be switched on that day.

Fantastic. Only when I went to plug in the router I realized we didn’t have a modem. The next day, while I was out, Oliver got back on the phone with customer service. He spent two hours—maybe longer—on the phone with them. No one bothered to ask if he had a modem.

So the next day he went back to the store. Of course you need a modem, they told him. But they wouldn’t sell him one because he didn’t have a copy of his passport with him. So he went to three other stores. Curfew was nearing. No modem. He had to go back again to the Internet place the following day.

Finally we had Internet. But then the landline got knocked out. So we got back on the phone to customer service—I did, this time—and answered a litany of inane questions, such as, “What browser are you using?” and “Do you have the cord plugged in?” I did not have Oliver’s patience and, after irrelevant question #20 or so, asked for a supervisor. The supervisor told me that the problem was with Egypt Telecom, but not to worry, they would take care of it. An hour later we had no phone line and no working Internet. Welcome to Cairo.

I had read accounts of people being left in our situation for months on end, but Oliver got on the phone with customer service and in a few hours we were up and running. So, aside from the occasional lapse in service, we have Internet in the house, which means our Vonage works, which means our old 212 number works and is a local call from the US.

It’s not just getting wired that’s a challenge. The stove was delivered a few days ago but the delivery guys didn’t put the legs on or assemble the hobs. Oliver deciphered the Arabic numbers on what he thought was the receipt and had some very stern words for the guy on the other end telling him he had to send his crew back to finish the job. About 10 minutes later he got a confused call from the man we bought the boys’ mattresses from telling Oliver he didn’t understand what it was we wanted put together. Oops. So we asked the bawab (a doorman/super), who told Oliver that the delivery people don’t do that, the gas company does it when they come hook up the stove. Of course.

The dishwasher has been equally difficult to get working, but this appliance came with a dose of violence. The Zanussi guy didn’t come until a good week after he was supposed to. I couldn’t understand exactly what he was trying to tell me when he was here, so once again I turned to the bawab. There was some kerfuffle over a missing bag of dishwasher salt. I don’t fully understand what happened, but I heard the bawab telling him there would be no tip for him.

Zanussi guy left in a huff—supposedly finished with the job—and I went to pick up the boys from school. I heard some yelling when I got to the end of the street, and turned around in time to see Zanussi man jump the bawab. The two of them were in the middle of a full-on brawl when two local security guards jumped in and pulled them apart. High drama.

We checked in with the bawab when we got home. He was okay, apart from a torn shirt, but he had taken a sharp fist to the left eye. To top it all off? Zanussi guy didn’t even secure the hose, so water squirts all over whenever you run the dishwasher, and if you touch the metal door on the inside, you get little electric shocks.

And yet….the boys think their new school is the best ever and tell anyone who asks that they are enjoying Egypt, so it’s tough for me to get too ruffled about any of these little things when, so far, the transition has been such an easy one for all of us.

And oh….we have a new member of our household. Meet Samy.

Our latest addition.

Our latest addition.

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.

Success?

More house hunting yesterday. I was ready to call it quits since so many houses will be coming available in the next month or so that it seemed a little premature to look in earnest now, but my father had asked a cousin to check out some places and it seemed rude not to follow up on the leg work he had done, even if we didn’t think it would lead anywhere. So we went back to Maadi, and after driving around in circles for 45 minutes, we managed to find the agent my cousin had been working with.

The first two places he and his co-worker showed us were a complete bust. Old and dirty appliances, dark, small. It seemed we were on a fool’s errand. Then he showed me two places I had already seen, which was still a waste of time but at least he was moving in the right direction. It was interesting to see that even though an Egyptian had started the search for me, the prices weren’t any better than those that I had been quoted—in fact, the first two places were more expensive and not as nice.

I’d made an appointment at the school so my father could get a look at it, and we were ready to head over when one of the agents asked me if I’d be interested in seeing a villa near the school. “Sure,” I said, and we got back into the car.

As soon as we walked in to the villa, my father and I both fell in love with the place. It was perfect for us. Nice, and spacious, but not too fancy. Some of the other places I’d seen that I thought would work had a ton of marble, which felt a little too much like living in a bank for my taste. This place was wonderful. It was clean and nice without being ostentatious. Two floors, a big living/dining area, downstairs, with a nice kitchen and a little office, and four bedrooms upstairs, not huge, but nice with built-in closets and a balcony. The garden was quite large, and lovely. My dad made the agent an offer, which we both realized was way too low. I’m hoping we can come to some agreement, because I think the boys would be really happy there. Best of all, it’s only two blocks from the school.

Today, though, things are less cheery, although I’m hoping that’s only temporary. It’s Friday, so everyone has the day off, and I am planning on heading to Zamalek to meet my friend R, a colleague from my newspaper days who is living here now, but my grandmother isn’t doing well. Several times this morning she almost fell and a few minutes ago she started moaning and was having a hard time standing up. I called my father, who’s at his cousin’s for breakfast, and he told me to put her to bed with her legs propped up on pillows. She told me she’s feeling terrible. I’d put her on the phone with him and apparently she told him she thinks it’s the end. I sure hope not. I really want my boys to have a chance to get to know her.

Hopefully this will pass and she’ll feel better soon. I realize that at 95 (which she’ll turn next week) she probably doesn’t have a ton of time left, but I will be heartbroken if she’s not around for at least part of our time here in Cairo.

Logistics

My dad arrives in New York today. He’ll spend a few days here with the kids before we leave for Cairo (via a couple of days in Paris). I’m looking forward to ticking a few more things off the to-do list.

In the past week I spoke to someone at the Community Services Association in Maadi, the neighborhood where we plan to live. The CSA is a community center for expats and the person I talked with told me that they would be a great resource for me in my house hunt. A lot of people find places through word of mouth, she explained. I plan on making them one of my first stops.

I’ve also been in touch with a couple of brokers, so I’ve got that side of things covered as well. It’s still a little tough to know exactly what price range to look in because we don’t know if Oliver will be coming or not, but I figure that, at the very least, I’ll get a feel for the marketplace.

I’ve got an appointment with the admissions director at the school we want the kids to go to. I’m looking forward to seeing it. I keep meeting people who went there and rave about it. Last weekend I was getting my hair cut and telling my stylist about our move. A guy who works in the salon and overheard our conversation told me he’d gone to that school for a few years when he was a kid and he considered them some of the best of his life. I also managed to talk to the former headmaster, who now runs the school a friend’s kids go to here in New York, and he assured me that the academics are strong.

Unfortunately, it seems we’re going during a big vacation week, so several of the people I’d like to see are going to be out of town. On the upside, we arrive in Cairo the day before Orthodox Easter, so we’ll be able to celebrate with the family. I always like being there for the big Coptic holidays. Even though the rituals are foreign to me, they’re so beautiful that I love being able to watch them. And I’m looking forward to seeing my grandmother, who rarely leaves the house and is lonely. I’m happy the kids will have the chance to get to know her.

We showed the apartment here in NYC to a neighborhood parent today, and it looks like he wants to sublet it with the furniture, so that’ll make packing up much easier than it otherwise would have been. There are still a lot of unanswered questions, but it feels as though things are moving forward. I’m starting to feel the time pressure, though. I’m planning on moving in a little over three months and as of this moment we have no house, no school and no jobs. We have yet to sort out the logistics of getting our stuff out of the place here and into a place there, and deal with whatever visas we need and all the paperwork of transporting the cats. I’m hoping that by the time I get back from Cairo I’ll have resolution on some of these things.

Machinations

The kids’ school applications are finished and I’m headed to Cairo in a couple of weeks to look at houses. I’m going with my father because he is the best bargainer I have ever known and I am well aware that my lack of Arabic will mean I’ll wind up paying double what he would. He’s being kind enough to come with me and help me house hunt, even though he thinks I’m nuts to be taking the kids to Egypt. He called the other day while our Arabic teacher was here and asked the professor to talk me out of going.

He’s not the only one. I’ve been meeting with Copts in the New York area for a story I was reporting for the New York Times Metropolitan section, and the consensus seems to be that I’m out of my mind. The reaction when I tell people I’m moving ranges from utter disbelief to real concern. Which I appreciate. Truly. I just think that Egyptian Christians are—understandably—so fearful about what the rise of the Brotherhood means for them, that perhaps they lose sight of the parts of daily life in Egypt that continue normally. And I get it, believe me. I was terrified the one time I was harassed there and couldn’t wait to leave. As a Times reporter who lived in Cairo for ages said to me: “Do I think you’re okay moving to Cairo? Sure. If I was your Coptic aunt, would I tell you not to come? Absolutely.”

On the upside, the word of my move has been filtering out among our more international friends, many of whom know people working in various jobs in Cairo. Although I already have one or two friends there and a handful of acquaintances, it’s nice to know that there is a pool of people I’ll be able to get in touch with on arrival. I love that part of expat life—many of my closest friends are people I met while living overseas. And, according to our friends here, the people they know in Cairo still seem to be enjoying themselves, despite the instability.

The kids seem to be dealing with the move in different ways. T has a friend who was in Cairo over the break and went to see the school the boys will—hopefully—be going to. Apparently it was so amazing that he’s launched his own campaign to persuade his parents to move to Cairo, which has T feeling gung-ho about the whole thing—provided I find a house where he can put up a basketball hoop. X is still adamant that he doesn’t want to go, and is pretty anxious about it, but we’re learning that underneath that carefree and blustery exterior is a worried kid. So we’ll need to carefully manage him, but it looks as though he needs some extra attention and thought regardless of where we’re living. I’m still convinced that this will be an enriching experience for both of them.

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