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Posts tagged ‘Zamalek’

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.

Celebrations

Poor O. He got here Friday and I have handed off all the tasks that I find too annoying to do. He spent three hours on the phone today with our Internet provider, trying to get our service sorted out. As it stands, you can’t have more than one device online at a time.

But it hasn’t been all terrible for him. I managed to get the couch delivered the night before he arrived, so at least he had somewhere comfortable to sit when he got here. And the day after he arrived we had X’s birthday party, which was apparently a great success. We had a ginormous bouncy slide that the kids had a blast on. I’m not sure why. I went down it once and it brought back all those school science lessons about friction. I’m still nursing burns.

Sliding Xander

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I had a fun week the week before O got here. Very social, including a book party at a trendy restaurant in Zamalek. It seemed all of Cairo was there—at least all of chic Cairo. I took a Nile Taxi up with a friend and bunch of her friends—basically a speed boat on the river, but a great way to travel because you avoid all the traffic, plus it’s lovely. There were passed hors d’oeuvres and pomegranate margaritas or martinis or cosmopolitans—I had too many of them to remember exactly what they were. It was a hip as any New York party, with one massive difference: the smoke. The place was so thick with cigarette smoke that the only thing to do was light up yourself. It felt like the healthiest option, a way of equalizing internal and external toxicity.

The MB marches had become a regular occurrence in our neighborhood until the passage of the protest law. The kids found them scary, but mostly they were just loud. They came and went pretty quickly, though.  There hasn’t been one in a week or so, maybe because of the harsh implementation of the new law prohibiting protests without prior notice.

Things feel pretty settled, really, as long as you’re not put off by armed soldiers on the streets. I drove out to City Stars in Heliopolis the other day, right by the Rabaa Mosque, and the street was lined with soldiers and army vehicles.  There’s an underlying tension, as though things could blow any minute, but for the most part life has returned to normal in Cairo. Foreign countries have eased their travel restrictions and the U.S. Embassy families are returning.

On the home front, we have sad news. Samy the fish died. X was disconsolate for an hour or so. He wanted to have a proper burial for the little guy, until he saw his sinking corpse in the fishbowl. “Just flush him,” he told me. I think he’s done being a fish owner for the time being. Too much heartbreak.

T has not one but two big pieces of news. First, he was chosen to be one of nine students who will be participating in an improv festival in Munich this February. On top of that, he was the overall winner of the Middle School writing contest, and won a generous gift certificate to Diwan, Cairo’s best chain of bookstores. He’s thrilled about both.

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.

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