The views expressed in this blog are personal and not representative of the U.S. Government, etc etc etc.
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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Post Script

For all of you who were wondering, Brandon eventually made it to Cairo. He just made it at 2:30 AM Monday instead of 12:45 PM Sunday, which made for 38 1/2 hours of transit time over three days.

So it's not surprising that he might have gotten to work a little late the next day.

And just so you know that Brandon's experience wasn't unusual, I would like to pass on some statistics I found on a flight-tracking website about Turkish Airlines flight number 2. It got 0 out of 5 stars for timeliness (which means that it has on-time performance characteristics better than 0% of all other flights on the site's database). It was on time 12% of the time, late 1%, very late 9%, and excessively late 75% of the time. It was, on average, delayed 99 minutes, with the latest ever being 330 minutes (5 1/2 hours).

To repeat: if you have any desire to get where you're going on the day you intend to, don't fly Turkish Airlines. Get a horse; they're more reliable.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

There has got to be an easier way

Twas the day after Christmas and no one (well, Kathleen just got up to go to the bathroom) was stirring and Brandon was... at the airport. Again. On his flight out to come and see us, Brandon got delayed out of Istanbul which got him into New York just in time to miss his flight (not on Turkish airlines) which then necessitated cancellation of one ticket and a quick purchase of another to get him to Raleigh three hours later and almost ruining a surprise getaway I had planned.

So today I dropped him off at the airport with a kiss and a hope that he would be able to get to Cairo with no hitches. Silly me. His flight out of Raleigh was delayed, but got him there in plenty of time to... wait. And wait. And wait. Supposedly his 11 1/2 hour flight was to leave at 4:15, and last time I checked the status Turkish Airline hadn't even bothered to post a wild guess about when the airplane might even think of taking off. Which means that Brandon will miss his 1-hour connection in Istanbul and get to arrive in Cairo 10 hours later than expected. Just in time to get up and go to work with a 7-hour time difference in full force. Oh, and he can't sleep on planes.

So, just in case you had any thought of flying Turkish Airlines, don't. It's not worth any cost savings. Walking might just be faster.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Better Late than Never

Despite the late date of this posting, Edwin did arrive on time on Tuesday, the 15th. Lately I have been busy, so this is from my family's blog, pictures and text courtesy of my father.


George Edwin Sherwood, come on down!!

So, with Brandon safely in town, it was time for the reason that they were all here - to evict the new kid! The Labor & Delivery nurses were grateful for the two boxes of hot Krispy Kremes that Ashley and Brandon picked up early on Tuesday morning before they were called in.

Everything went smoothly; Dr. Zimmerman's epidural worked well, and went in just about when the contractions were getting, um, uncomfortable, as we doctors like to say. After that, it wasn't long before Ashley pushed twice, and out popped a nice, mostly bald, surprised looking kid!


The whole transition didn't seem like that good an idea, considering the treatment to which he was immediately subjected.


Ashley and Brandon were able to immediately confirm that yes, Brandon was the father, as evidenced by the water skis on the end of Edwin's legs.


Ashley confessed to feeling better after this one than the previous two.


Theresa McKee, an old nurse friend on Labor & Delivery kindly attended the labor and delivery, and compared notes about living in Turkey with Ashley and Brandon during the process.


Of course, there are priorities in life, and Ashley had food ordered within a very short time.


Meanwhile, Grandma was home wrestling The Girleens, and couldn't make it over to the hospital until the next day, when she was able to meet her newest grandchild, who didn't seem that impressed.


Ashley and Edwin were doing well enough that they were released a little more than a day after the arrival. By then, the sisters had been fed, bathed, read to, and put in bed, but were eager to meet their new brother when he arrived at home.




We are most thankful for Ashley's safe delivery and Edwin's safe arrival. So far, he's been a calm little guy, doing the things that guys his age do: eat, sleep, and go through diapers.


We hope that you are doing well, and appreciate the prayers in his and Ashley's behalf.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Recent Conversation between Kathleen and her Grandfather

While at the mall looking at a store:

Grandpa: Kathleen, what are they selling in that store?
Kathleen: (pauses, thinks) um, women!

We weren't sure whether she was referring to the mannequins or the women shopping.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Fact or Fiction?

Every parent has to make their own decision about how much to indulge in the Santa Claus story. Back before I even married and thought about having children, I decided that I would not tell any stories about Santa to my children. Brandon thinks that I am a killjoy, but my feelings on the matter are stronger than his, so the policy has theoretically stood.

The issue has really never come up until now because last Christmas Kathleen had just begun to think about speaking and hadn't really gotten around to having conversations with us. This year, however, the conversations have fully arrived and refuse to leave.

My first encounter with Santa Claus came while Kathleen and I were shopping for baby clothes. Kathleen saw something with Santa Claus on it, and she asked me who he was. "Who do you think he is?" I asked her. "The mailman," she emphatically replied. I then told her it was Santa Claus, and then got to hurriedly outline the parental policy about how Santa Claus was a pretend man who likes to bring presents to children.

After her first brush with Santa, Kathleen was excited to point out all of the examples of that pretend man, and even got to play with quite a few when we decorated for Christmas last week. She seemed perfectly capable to dealing with an imaginary man because, after all, everyone knows that mugs and dolls and pictures aren't real anyway, so how could Santa be real?

And then we went to the mall. While my mother and I were encouraging each other to greater heights of profligacy at Ann Taylor Loft, my father took Kathleen to see Santa Claus. She came back happy to have ridden all of the escalators and elevators in the mall with a reindeer hat perched on top of her head. I asked her about seeing Santa and she didn't have much to say. Which is about right for someone who is pretend.

This evening, however, she asked me where the real Santa Claus was.
"He's pretend," I told her, reinforcing the party line.
"What about the Santa at the mall?" she fired back.
"He's a man who's dressed up like Santa."
"What's his name?" she asked, knowing that if he was just a normal person he'd have a normal name just like everyone else.
"Well, I don't know," I lamely replied.
"Well then where's the real Santa?" she asked again.

After a few rounds of the same, I gave up. Perhaps, for the sake of my sanity, Santa Claus actually does exist. But he still doesn't bring the presents. Daddy does that part.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Tale of Two Thanksgivings

Brandon and I spent this Thanksgiving separated, he in Cairo and the girls and I in North Carolina. In North Carolina, we enjoyed a lovely Thanksgiving complete with a delicious meal, the company of my sister and her family, and beautiful fall weather. Nothing went wrong; the turkey was perfectly cooked, the potatoes perfectly mashed, and rolls fragrantly warm. The only incident that could even been barely considered and incident was Kathleen's refusal to eat her sweet potatoes. She ate them anyway after some 'coaxing.'

Brandon also had an enjoyable Thanksgiving. A family in the branch who lives half a block away invited him over for dinner and they enjoyed playing video games together, another turkey feast, and a movie to finish up the evening. Brandon and I had a nice chat before we ate and before he went to bed, due to the 7-hour time difference. He had just made it to bed when the phone rang.

Various FSOs take turn on 'duty,' being the first contact for people who are in distress, trouble, lost, or any other thing that various Americans abroad can conceive that they might need U.S. government intervention in. Just in case you had plans, stabbing people in other countries is still illegal and the government won't help you get out of that trouble. So is illegally importing cars.

This week, Brandon is enjoying his first spell as duty officer, which is why his phone rang at 11 p.m. Thanksgiving night. An AmCit (American Citizen) who had checked herself into a local hospital several days earlier had died. And Brandon was in charge of taking care of arrangements to contact her family. Unfortunately for Brandon, all contact numbers she provided were not correct, and by 2:30 that morning, he still hadn't found anybody to tell about her death.

And so instead of going to church Friday morning, Brandon instead got to visit the hospital, identify the woman, visit her apartment, look for pertinent information, and attempt to locate a next of kin to dictate what they wanted done with her remains and possessions. To his knowledge, no duty officer had been faced with a body with no next of kin, which makes things more difficult.

But, to make things more difficult, he received a phone call around noon. Another lady had died. And he was responsible to call her next of kin and discuss what they wanted done with her remains.

So, it hasn't been the most restful Thanksgiving weekend he's ever had, with more visits to the Embassy than he would prefer for a weekend. And it's a long one - they have tomorrow off, too. Hopefully everyone in Egypt (who is an American citizen) will decide to stay alive.

Monday, November 16, 2009

That part of Oregon was my fault

Today I took Kathleen and Sophia to the pediatrician's for a 'poke' since everyone here seems to have access to H1N1 vaccine (being the clever mother that I am, I didn't tell them what they were doing until the nurse came in with the syringes).

Previous to the crying and protestations about staying in the hall while Sophia got poked, I had to fill out paperwork - four sheets per child. Two weeks ago I got to fill out some more paperwork - at least 6 or 7 pieces of paper - for my initial OB visit. When I was in Egypt, I had to fill out the same paperwork - twice - for the same pregnancy. And Kathleen and Sophia both got their own rap sheets filled out too.

Previous to the paperwork in Raleigh and the paperwork in Egypt, I got to fill out the exact same information for the girls when we lived in Arlington. I'm not sure exactly how long my labor for Sophia or Kathleen was, but by this time it doesn't matter. If I say five and fifteen hours enough times, the labor might as well have been five and fifteen hours because that's what it is now. And no, if have not had any problems with heart disease or sickle cell anemia, and my children's father is indeed white and married to me.

Within the past ten months, I have had medical records in four different cities and with six different primary care providers. And each place had their own forms to fill out, initial, and fingerprint (ok, I'm kidding about the last one). However, if anyone is interested in stealing my identity at this point, they can just follow my medical paper trail across the globe and back. It's about the same size as the swath of forests cut down to provide the paper for the forms.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Living a life of semi-leisure

My apologies to those who have become ardent followers of our oh-so-adventurous lives in Egypt. Nothing much is going on here, so as a sop I offer pictures. Enjoy!


Monday, November 9, 2009

A Recent Conversation

Kathleen: 'I forgot.'

Me: 'You forgot?'

Kathleen: 'I forgot something.'

Me: 'What did you forget, Kathleen?'

Kathleen: 'I forgot to do something.'

Me: 'What did you forget to do?'

Kathleen: 'I forgot to... go to the bathroom!'

Me: 'Well, you better go change then.'

Maybe we should stop using the Socratic method so much with her.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Truths of traveling

No matter how well-behaved one's children are, 15 1/2 hours of flying and 24 hours being awake is still a long, long, long time.

If there are going to be video screens not working, they will be the ones in front of Sophia and Kathleen and as a result their mother gets to watch cartoons.

No matter what the airplane provides for food - omelets, pasta, plain old rolls, cake, yogurt, chips, candy bars - my children will refuse to eat it leaving two perfectly good untouched meals in favor of gummy bears and goldfish.

Said gummy bears and goldfish on an empty stomach with insufficient water may lead to a very painful problem for certain children the next day.

If one is pregnant and traveling with two small children, the best service to be found is in the Middle East - you may have to pay for it, but it's much better than having your three year-old push your 18 month-old in the stroller while you heft 50-lb bags up to shoulder height to push everything through customs.

Europeans have no patience, compassion, or sympathy for pregnant women or small children.

Children always fall dead asleep for the last, shortest flight in the journey.

No matter how hard traveling can be, in only lasts for a certain amount of time. Thank heaven.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go...

I want my children to be sedated. Too much to do and nowhere to go [for my children], can they be sedated? Please don't take me to the airport, and please, please don't put me on a plane. But can I have my children sedated?

Our bags are mostly packed, but the taxi won't be here until 2 am, and I only wish that the dawn will be breaking when we leave, but that won't happen until we're on the plane for a good while, probably eating breakfast. But yes, we are leaving on a jet plane, and we really don't want to go.

So, wish me luck, remember me in your prayers and maybe we'll have some good stories out of it. Hopefully not.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Getting a Ride

Previous to moving to Egypt, my life in many aspects was quite simple. If I needed a carpet, I went and bought one. If I didn't like a piece of furniture, I took it to DI or listed it on Craigslist. If my faucet leaked, Brandon fixed it (or didn't). And if I needed to go to the airport, I called someone for a ride or just drove my car up there and, like the real adult I was, actually paid for long-term parking.

I leave for the US at 4:30 AM Tuesday morning (for those of you who were wondering, I took the Frankfurt route) and have to get from my apartment in Maadi to the airport about 30 minutes away. Previously this wouldn't have been a problem; we would have just called up a driver and arranged to have him pick us up and take us to the airport. Simple. All it took was money. Now, however, with two children, two car seats, two adults, a stroller, and four bags, those nice little Mitsubishi sedans that the private drivers pilot won't quite fit everything and everybody.

I was mentioning this fact several weeks ago to a friend, and she passed on the vital information that the Embassy provides transportation for any 'official' travel - and the Embassy has no small sedans in their fleet.

Armed with that knowledge, I did what every wife should do: I passed it on to Brandon and told him to take care of it. However, one week before our trip, Brandon still hadn't had time to ask the ten different people it took to find anything out.

Being a grown-up adult, I took matters into my own hands and, after telling the girls to be quiet because I was making phone calls, I started dialing numbers.

First I called the motor pool clerk. Oh, he told me, I needed to call the shuttle dispatcher. Then I called the shuttle dispatcher. No, no, he countered, I needed to call the travel office. Fighting the urge to give it up for another day, I called the travel office. We don't do that, I was told, you need to do that online. And how does one do that online? I asked. Well, we'll send you an email with instructions.

So, 30 minutes later I opened the email, followed the link, entered my magic code, and registered for the website. 30 minutes after that, I was told that the website had gotten my registration, but Cairo had to confirm it. So I waited. And waited. This morning (having called everyone yesterday morning), I called the travel office again. Oh, oh we'll get in touch with IT and they'll send you that email.

This afternoon, after no email, I called again. Oh yes, Mrs. Sherwood, there still hasn't been any email sent, but don't worry you still have until Monday to order the transportation. And how much notice do they need, I asked. 24 hours. Hm, Monday is too late then because I'm leaving at 4:30 AM, and that only gives you guys one more day to get things together.

I suppose in the end, maybe we can fit two adults, two children, two car seats, a double stroller and four bags in a Mitsubishi. Kathleen can always ride on top.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Doings

With only a week to go before the girls and I head off the the US, I've been getting things ready. For those of you who aren't aware, my husband's employer 'strongly recommends' delivering babies in the US, which necessitates a little more planning than a regular birth. Due to airline restrictions, we have to leave Cairo six weeks before my due date, and due to governmental regulations, we can't return until Edwin and I are medically cleared and Edwin has a passport and a visa, another six weeks.

However, after having read about my friend's experience delivering a baby here recently in a 'nice' hospital in Cairo, I'm now more accepting of an 18-hour cross-global flight by myself with two small children. Perspective is a good thing.

Since Brandon is going to be a lone man for the next three months, I've been preparing some comforts for him to enjoy during our long absence. Before you start feeling sorry for Brandon, envisioning endless dinners of rice and long hours cleaning our spacious apartment, don't worry - I didn't leave him comfortless. Rere will be coming twice a week to clean, do the laundry, and cook for him so he'll be okay on the material end of things.

Rere, however, is Egyptian and will be cooking Egyptian food, so we've been making bread, English muffins, cookie dough, and marmalade for him to snack on. The marmalade, I must admit, is more for my jealous guarding of the precious mango jam than for an extreme concern for Brandon if he were to go jam-less. He does like marmalade, however, and so I think most of the mango jam should be safe.

I'm also packing and setting things in order for yet another uprooting (albeit temporary). Kathleen is excited about flying on an airplane - and one that includes breakfast! Sophia doesn't have a clear idea of what's going on, but is getting old enough to pick up on context clues. Every time I pull out a suitcase she starts screaming bloody murder. I'm not looking forward to the airport scene.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

We had no idea

Recently Kathleen got new nursery leaders. Or, to be more accurate, she finally got nursery leaders. Unlike most wards, the Cairo branch goes through turmoil every summer, losing about one third of its members, with the Primary usually suffering very heavily from loss of teachers and so the branch limps along as best as it can until everyone is finally settled down.

As a method of introduction, the husband in the nursery pair thought it funny to introduce himself AA-style. 'I'm Aden,' he told the mostly non-verbal children, 'and I've been off the bottle for 24 years.'

Kathleen was next. 'I- I- I'm Kathleen,' she continued in mimicry, 'and- and... I'm... still on the bottle.' With that pronouncement, she buried her head in her hands evidently in shame as the other children looked on in puzzlement and Aden's wife tried to stifle her guffaws.

We'll be putting her in rehab next week.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Empathy

As I child, I remember my mother being pregnant and one specific incident. One day (after having had a hard day I imagine), I remember her laying on the couch resting. She was so tired that she called my sister home from a friend's house to bring her a glass of water. At the time I remember thinking how lazy my mom was and couldn't she just get a glass of water herself?

I now repent of my bad thoughts. With a very, very long two months to go before the watermelon gets removed from my innards all I want to do all day is lay on that same couch and have Kathleen bring me drinks of water - only that she'd probably spill it on me. Instead I have to be content with having her pick up all of the things that I can't bear the thought of bending over for. Every night I strongly consider having cold cereal for dinner and my children are only saved from their fondest dream by guilty thoughts of nutrition.

I always forget this stage, or it seems less miserable when I'm not actually living it. But for now, two months is a long long time.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A little taste of grocery shopping

I've looked at my posts recently and realized that most of them concern more domestic matters and none of the hair-raising stories that some of you enjoyed during my first time in Cairo. Unfortunately for those who are looking for the more exotic side of my life, I have to tell you that really, there isn't one. Being a mother of two small children really is mostly the same no matter where you live - lots of breaking up of fights and telling people to sit down and eat their food.

However, there are some differences, so today I'll tell you about grocery shopping.

Just like in the US, there are various places I get my groceries: Carrefour (like a Super Wal-Mart, but French), the Commissary, and Rere. Every Sunday I give Rere a list of fresh fruits and vegetables that I need for the upcoming week, and on Wednesday she shows up with whatever I asked for (she also buys the eggs and aeesh [pita] bread). That's my favorite way to shop.

However, there are some things that one can't get on the local market or are cheaper at the Commissary - like all dairy products. Since our family drinks a lot of milk, I have to go to the Commissary every two weeks for milk as it costs about $2 a gallon less (and is a lot tastier) than Egyptian milk. While I'm there I pick up other things that are more expensive on the local market, like cold cereal, butter, cheese, ice cream, shampoo, and laundry detergent or I just can't get, like brown sugar, cream of tartar, powdered sugar and dryer sheets.

The Commissary, as some of you may remember, is in one of the ubiquitous walled compounds that all American facilities are in, and has restricted access. We don't have a car, and so I have to take other transportation to get there. Local black-and-white taxis aren't allowed so we use a private driver/taxi service that did something to allow them access to all of the compounds (baksheesh? who knows? I don't care as long as it works).

So, my trip to the Commissary starts by saying goodbye to the girls because I only go shopping on days that Rere comes (one of the perks of living in Egypt), after which I go four floors down, and say hello to the two or three bawabs hanging out in the entry to my building. I go outside where the car is waiting and get in with perhaps a brief greeting, perhaps not. The drivers are not very talkative.

Then I sit in the backseat and watch the cars swirl around me as the driver deftly maneuvers through traffic. We drive out of Maadi and under the Autostrade, past fields of trash and rubble, past the newspaper-sellers table with rocks holding down the newspapers, past a mosque, and past several sleeping guards. When we get to the compound, the car goes through the customary explosive-sweep, after which we drive through the compound and I get out at the door to the Commissary while the driver parks his car.

While in the Commissary I can pretend that I'm in a deserted small Safeway in the States (more often than not I'm the only person there) as I peruse the aisles looking for Malt-O-Meal cereal and Bounce laundry sheets. All of you know about that part of grocery shopping.

After paying for my groceries, I make sure to tip the baggers who then wheel a cart with the bags out to the car while the bagger and driver put the bags in the trunk. I'm still not quite sure what I'm supposed to do at this point. We take the same route home and the driver stops at the entrance of the building. I get out, and one of the bawabs (who we pay 50 pounds a month apiece to do this) helps the driver get the bags out of the trunk and into the elevator. I pay the driver, and then get into the elevator with the bawab and ride up to our floor where he helps me take the bags inside. And then I put the groceries away.

So, now you know about grocery shopping. I told you that my life isn't very exciting.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Space

Yesterday four Egyptian men showed up at our apartment and completed one more step in making our house a home. When we moved into this apartment, I quickly declared that about 1/3 of the furniture would have to go. In preparation for its departure, I started piling up extra furniture in the future nursery and in extra spaces around the house.

And so yesterday, much to their dismay, the poor men had to figure out how to get: four mattresses, four box springs, four bed frames, four headboards, four 7-ft bookshelves, one entertainment center, one china cabinet, one curio cabinet, one 6-ft dresser, one night stand, three mirrors, one hall table, one desk, one chair, and four lamps down the elevator and into their waiting truck.

It took an hour to get the things out of our apartment, and then another hour to get it all downstairs and into the truck. The irony of course is that after we leave in two years they're just going to have to get it all back up here again.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Daddy's little girl

Brandon claims that there are times in every father's life where one's offspring spontaneously produces thoughts or ideas that makes one proud. Unfortunately those times are usually the ones that makes the mother cringe.

Today at breakfast, Kathleen was identifying letters on the milk carton (sometime I will take a picture of it for you) and she correctly identified a lower-case i. "And what does 'I' say?" I prompted, reinforcing the reading lessons we've begun recently.

"I says /i/, like in icky-icky putang!" she happily responded. Brandon beamed, his warm paternal heart glowing with joy at having instilled some of the 'knowledge' of the ages in his little girl's intellect. I promise, though, that she hasn't actually seen Monty Python - she only knows what her father has told her.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Defeat

Ten days ago, I made a gamble: instead of diapers, I pulled out panties and put them on Sophia. She is old enough, I reasoned, to put two and two together and figure out that panties are not diapers and start using the little red potty we had gotten her.

I was wrong. After 10 days of wiping up messes from the floor (thank heaven 80% of the flooring in our house is stone), emphasizing and re-emphasizing where exactly business is supposed to be done, threatening, cajoling, and bribing, not much has changed except for Sophia's ability to hold it longer.

And so this morning I pulled the diapers out again. I've realized two things: some fights just aren't worth it and there are worse things than changing dirty cloth diapers.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Numbers

Recently, Brandon called his mother for her birthday. Long ago in a land far away, he picked up his phone, dialed ten numbers, and then sang her Happy Birthday.

Today he started at 6:15. First he dialed 8 numbers, then talked to somebody, dialed two more, and then was told that the number was invalid. So he tried again. Then I tried again. And again.

After waiting 30 minutes, he tried again, and then got to dial 10 more numbers, only to not have it work. He tried again, with the same result.

Not wanting to try the patience of the man who kept answering the phone after the initial 8 numbers, he waited an hour this time, and got all the way through 8 numbers, 2 numbers, 12 numbers, 10 numbers and 10 more numbers only to have it not work – again.

Then, it being his mother’s birthday after all, and being a boy who really loved his mother, he tried one last stinkin’ time. And this time, after punching buttons on the phone 43 times in the correct sequence, he heard his mother’s sweet melodious voice. And he wished her Happy Birthday.

Monday, October 5, 2009

So that's why they do it

This afternoon, after spending three hours traveling up to the Embassy and back in order to have the priveledge of providing a ‘sample’ and listen to Edwin’s heart beat, I decided to order in some dinner. I’m pregnant. I can do that sometimes.

So, I went to my trusty computer, turned it on, and then watched as the little spinning wheel just keep spinning and spinning and spinning. After nothing happened for awhile, I looked at the router. No magic green light for anything related to the internet. So I unplugged it and plugged it back in. Still no results. After a few more attempts, I had to face the reality: we had nothing coming to our house.

Usually in this situation, I wait to see how things develop. However, this time dinner was on the line, so we needed some action, and we needed it now. So I took a drastic step and called TE Data.

After a few menus, the man on the line told me that the problem was simple: we hadn’t paid our internet, which was due on the 24th. All we had to do was get somebody over to TE Data, pay some money, and wait for it to get turned back on.

At this point in the states, I would have said OK and sent Brandon racing over with some cash as soon as he got home. But I’m an expat now, and I live in Egypt. Things are different here. Instead, I told him he was wrong. We had paid already, and we had paid two months in advance. Yes, he told me, but our two months were up. No, I told him, that wasn’t right because we only got internet three weeks ago. No you don’t understand he told me, you can’t pay three months in advance, only two.

At this point, I entered my expat persona with full force: I started yelling. No! I told him, YOU don’t understand – we just paid three weeks ago!! We paid two months in advance!! The internet should be working!!

Then he told me to hold on a minute while he checked with billing. Full of apologies, he came back in a minute. ‘I’m so sorry madam, there was a mistake. We’ll have it back on in less than two hours.’

I should think so.

Diplomatic Privileges

I've always been impressed with the title 'diplomat.' It conjures images of men in dark power suits and leather attache cases deciding the fate of the world over stiff drinks in a very chic restaurant.

Then my husband became a diplomat, and the prestige of the word fell down a few notches - along with 'vice consul, third secretary.' I suppose that's probably true of most titles; they're much more impressive when they are attached to people that you don't personally know.

Along with our status of diplomat (yes, evidently I am one too because I have an official card from Egypt stating that I am a diplomat. Who knew you just had to marry the right guy?) comes the vaunted 'diplomatic immunity.' Although what exactly I'm immune from nobody has quite explained yet. I still get sick. I still have to pay the same taxi rates. I don't have a car so I can't run down pedestrians in the street. I can't really get away with stepping to the front of the line at the store while waving my card and declaring I'm a diplomat so I deserve to go first. Pretty much I'm just like everyone else (well except for the rent-free thing).

Recently, however, I discovered one of the perks of being a diplomat: diplomatic rates. This coming weekend is a long weekend thanks to our friend Christopher Columbus having discovered a whole new continent. This being the last long weekend before I leave Brandon a lone man for three months, I decided to arrange a trip to the closest beach, Ain Sokhna. Some friends had recommended the Movenpick resort based on a previous trip, so I gave them a call.

I asked for the resident rate, which the reservation desk claimed was an astounding 1500 pounds a night (I never trust anyone quoting me any prices). I like beaches and I like Brandon, but I couldn't quite justify that for one night, a beach, and a swimming pool. So then I tried a tactic the same friends suggested, I asked for the diplomatic rate.

Suddenly the price dropped to 850 pounds, a not-unreasonable price that includes taxes, breakfast, and dinner for a reportedly five-star resort. And plus I get the warm glow of unjustified pride that comes with asking for the 'diplomatic rate.' It almost makes me feel like a legitimate adult.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Helwan

Last Saturday, Brandon and I decided to get out and go to Egypt. For those of you who are wondering ‘Don’t they live in Egypt?’ you are right, but not quite right. Although we live in Egypt – most people speak Arabic, I pay for things with Egyptian pounds, and everything takes 10 times longer to complete – we don’t actually spend much time in the Egypt that most Egyptians think of being their home.

In fact, if one lived in the compound, took the shuttle to work, shopped exclusively at the Commissary, and spent their weekend at Maadi house, they wouldn’t ever actually have to leave US-administered locations.

Brandon having had enough of US-administered locations, we decided to visit his friend Samir in Helwan. Last time we lived here, Brandon spent nearly every day, 4 or 5 hours a day, passing time with Samir in his family’s store, going on errands, or hanging out at their apartment. Brandon liked to refer to Samir as his 35 year-old Egyptian boyfriend.

So on Saturday for old times’ sake, we dressed up the girls, hiked over to the Metro, and headed down to Helwan, a very Egyptian area of Cairo. Both Brandon and I had made the trip before, but this time we had two little blonde girls with us which increased our foreigner profile dramatically.

Unfortunately for our trip, we had not factored in the Muslim holiday of Eid-Al-Fitr, the slam-bang finish to Ramadan which involves, of course, more eating. Samir’s store being a store, it is situated right in the middle of the shopping district of Helwan.

So Kathleen got to have a waist-level tour of vegetable stalls, countless stinky Egyptians, animals, fish stands, potholes full of slime and muck, and everything else that comes with third-world markets. I looked down at one point to see her covering her mouth while commenting ‘Something smells good. It smells like poop’ (she hasn’t figured out that ‘smell’ and ‘good’ don’t always have to be linked together). By the time we reached Samir’s store, Kathleen was about to go into social withdrawal.

Unfortunately for us, she didn’t and we had a very… nice… visit that was punctuated by warnings every five minutes to Kathleen about not touching anything and Sophia crying, as of course the visit took place in the middle of their nap.

Eventually we headed back to Samir’s place around 1:30 or 2 for ‘breakfast’ which the Kathleen wouldn’t touch and Sophia ate everything offered to her, including gargir, also known as arugula grown much larger and bitterer than it ever ought to have.

We finally used the girls incessant crying and whining to escape and straggled home around 4:30 – only six hours after we left. Make sure and come back – like tomorrow – Samir told us as we hustled out of his apartment. Hmm. We’ll have to see about that.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mango Jam

Yesterday, Rere came through my door with two very heavy bags. In each bag was 10 pounds of mangoes. Yesterday afternoon after coming home from my doctor’s appointment, I set to work. Two hours later, my hands were cramped and aching, and my skin and fingernails were dyed yellow. When I went to bed, I was followed by the scent of mango that still hadn’t washed off.

However, I had four containers of pulp ready to make four batches of jam with. Seven bags of pulp were in my freezer, ready when the urge for mango jam or mango custard strikes me. My pioneer ancestors would be proud.

What would you do?

The other day I was given the choice between two very unpleasant options.

Option #1: Leave Cairo at 12:30 AM, get to New York at 6:15 AM, and then wait until 2:15 PM before catching a flight down to Raleigh.

Option #2: Leave Cairo at 4:30 AM, get to Frankfurt at 8 AM, leave at 11, get to DC at 2:30, leave at 4 and get to Raleigh at 5.

And I get to do this with two children by myself. So which particular slow death would you choose?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fall (what a nice thought)

Recently I have been noticing a particular theme in many of my friends’ blogs: fall. I even have a few friends who have updated their backgrounds to coincide with the season. They speak glowingly of that crisp in the air, the leaves changing colors, the excitement for school to start, and all of those other things that are theoretically supposed to come with the end of September.

Last Saturday, we went swimming. It was 92 outside. When I woke up this morning, the air conditioning was doing its usual arctic blast right over my bed. I found some new bright-pink flowers on the bougainvillea plants draped over my balcony. Since the flowers are technically leaves, does that count as the leaves changing?

Elevators

Today while reading Knuffle Bunny, Kathleen asked what that hole in one of the pictures was. I told her that it wasn’t a hole, it was the window of someone’s apartment.

Oh, she said, then where’s the elevator? They don’t have an elevator, I told her, they just walk up the stairs. Kathleen looked at me like I didn’t understand, and then pointed to another window. Do they have an elevator? Nope, just stairs. She looked nonplussed.

I guess that’s what we get for living on the fifth floor.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Convenience - and the lack thereof

Anywhere one lives involves a set of trade-offs; good for bad, pleasant for unpleasant. I have heard it said that you decide what downsides you can deal with, and choose the option that most suits you.

Living in Cairo has its trade-offs when it comes to convenience. Just about anybody delivers (including nurseries; who knew you could get a fully-grown ficus tree in our elevator?), and household help is inexpensive and plentiful. If one really wanted to, you could never actually leave your apartment your whole stay here. I’m really not kidding.

One downside, however, is medical care.

As we are here with the State Department, we have access to the vast bureaucratic engine that is the Cairo Mission. As this particular mission is one of the top three largest missions in the world, the array of available options is impressive. Included in our diplomatic goodies is access to post-provided healthcare. The only problem with post-provided healthcare, however, is that you get to do things on their schedule, in their own idiosyncratic way.

Yesterday I went for (I thought) a 28-week OB visit and everybody’s favorite drink-the-slightly-carbonated-orange-sugar-drink (why is it always orange?) test. However, after arriving (via private taxi-car that had to be ordered the day before) I was told that oh no, there was no OB visit, it was just the test. And the OB visit? Oh yeah, that had to be done up at the Embassy. So after spending an hour and a half at the clinic down in Maadi on Sunday, on Wednesday I get to Metro up to the Embassy for an hour-long appointment where we’ll start all of the paperwork trail that eventually will get me back the states in five weeks.

I knew this would happen, the point where nostalgia kicked in for those Springville days, the days of 5 minute (I’m really not kidding) OB appointments that I could drive to myself and spending the night before delivering in my own bed in my own house. If this is socialized medicine, I’m not interested.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sophia

For those of you who are wondering how our children are doing, I’ll tell you. For those of you who aren’t please wait until the next post to read something amusing.

The most important thing that Sophia has done is learning to walk. She had steadfastly refused to do anything even related to walking until right around the time we moved into our big, new, stone-floored apartment. Brandon still cringes every time he sees her walk, and can’t stand to watch her scoot forward down the three steps in our living room.

She has also finally decided to add to the four teeth that have graced her smile for seven months now and has added all four molars and two more bottom teeth. To make full use of her teeth, she has started talking and has far outpaced her sister at this age. Unlike Kathleen, who would only repeat ‘dada’ when asked to say anything, Sophia will repeat any one- or two-syllable word that she possibly can. I’m hoping that she can tell me what is bothering her by the time Edwin arrives. Here’s for hoping.

She has also become quite social, calling out ‘hi’ to everyone she sees, and is soaking in all of the attention that almost every single Egyptian that passes gives to her.

Finally my baby is starting to grow up – just in time for a new one to take her place.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Getting the Internet

When we moved into our new apartment, we knew it would take awhile to get internet.  But we didn’t anticipate how along ‘awhile’ would mean and all of the ridiculous steps it would take to have magic words, pictures, and sound pop up on the computer when you pressed a button.

 1. Find out who the previous tenant had internet with (the apartments are all from a pool, and so move from usg employee to usg employee)

2. Contact said provider about internet for oneself

3. Hear back from the provider that one needs a housing contract (right) or telephone bill (that come every three months) to switch internet contract to one’s own name.

4. Consult with fellow employees and discover that switch isn’t that necessary.

5. Contact internet provider contact about routers

6. Wait for contact to never get back to one

7. Finally give up and hitch a ride over to provider’s office.

8. Discover that internet can be turned on without name switch, but no router can be rented.

9. Go to Maadi Grand Mall to buy a router.

10. Find that all stores are closed (despite the mall being open, at 4:30 in the afternoon) because of something to do with Ramadan

11. Go to Radio Shack and spend 50 pounds on a useless cord, but no router

12. Go back another night and get router

13. Plug in router, fiddle with for several hours, never get the internet to work

14. Contact customer service and spend 30 minutes trying to understand what technical help is talking about

15. Finally get internet working after obtaining internet provider’s username and password, which was never mentioned when said service was paid for.  In advance.  In cash.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What was she thinking?!?

As a parent, I could probably just start an entire blog entitled ‘What was he/she thinking?!,’ and this particular incident would probably be in the top 10. 

Prior to our things arriving, Sophia and Kathleen slept in government-provided beds (which are now in the ‘furniture room,’ one day to be Edwin’s room along with three other beds and various other furniture).  Kathleen had a twin, but Sophia was in a folding port-a-crib.  Cribs generally aren’t particularly fascinating, but this crib had an attractive (to Kathleen) feature: wheels.

Many an evening we would find Sophia wheeled over next to Kathleen’s bed and sometimes Sophia would be woken from a sound sleep by her sister playing bumper cars with her crib and the other bed in the room.

One afternoon, I took a nap.  Kathleen and Sophia also took a nap, but evidently they woke up before I did because Sophia’s crying woke me up from my nap.  Groggily (after trying to ignore the cries for a few minutes), I went to find what Kathleen had been doing to bother her sister.

When I got to their room, however, they were nowhere to be found.  Continuing down the hallway in search of my misbehaving three year-old, I saw something odd: Sophia’s crib, in the kitchen.  When I looked further, my pace increasing to a run, I saw things in Sophia’s crib other than just Sophia.

Upon arriving in the kitchen, I found Sophia sitting partially buried by piles of clothes.  Kathleen had decided to amuse herself by emptying the entire laundry bag into Sophia’s crib and then adding their entire winter wardrobe that had been in their closet on top for good measure.  Figuring that Sophia would need some shoes to go with her clothes, Kathleen threw in all of the shoes she could find for good measure, too.

Not content with merely clothing her sister, however, Kathleen decided that Sophia needed fed.  And that’s where the kitchen came in.  Not only was Sophia under piles of clothes, but she had several litres of UHT milk, ketchup, lemon juice, Worsterchire sauce, cheese, butter, green beans, okra, peppers, tomatoes, and about twenty packages of yogurt. 

By this time I was livid.  Kathleen knew not to put clothes in Sophia’s crib (she learned that from my reaction several days before when she had put everything in their room in Sophia’s crib), she knew not to leave her room during naptime, and she knew to leave the food in the refrigerator.  What was she thinking?!?

But the last, the ultimate, the final outrage, the one that left her in the dark hall bathroom for three hours until her father came home, the one that left me with an hour and a half of cleanup and two loads of laundry to wash, fold, and put away, was the eggs.

Yes, eggs.  Eggs are funny in how easily they break.  They break when cracked in a bowl.  They break when dropped on the floor.  And they most certainly break when tossed into a crib full of sister, clothes, and food.  And when they break they get on everything: clothes, sister, crib, food, and floor.

Our new place

For all of my female readers, I will address the most important topic first: our new apartment. Brandon and I are of two different minds: he prefers our old apartment, and I prefer our new one. He could, however, live in a cave in complete happiness, so for him the smaller the better, especially considering the vastly better plumbing fixtures in the old one.

I however, can live with the quirky Egyptian fixtures in exchange for the extra space we have. If the girls ever had a mind to wander, there’s plenty of space, and if I can teach them ‘hide and seek’ they could spend a good amount of time trying to find each other. Kathleen likes the nice, long hallway to play ‘red light green light’ in and the girls like riding the trike around our living/play/library area in the front. And I have enough cupboard space in the kitchen that I have an entire cupboard devoted to plastic bags.

I haven’t taken any pictures yet because our front hall is filled with boxes and the nursery is filled with extra furniture. I am happy that the State Department furnishes our apartments because we would go broke trying to fill our apartment so it looks like somebody actually lives here.

So, we’re here, our stuff is here, we like it, and we’re not moving for another two years. Thank heaven.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Hello Again

For those of you counting, it has been a month since any updates on our fascinating lives here in Egypt. My apologizes, especially as I confess that we've had the internet for a week now.  It's been an eventful month of silence for us here in the hinterlands - we moved one day, got our UAV (air shipment) the next day, got our first HHE (boat) shipment two weeks after that, and our second HHE shipment a week after that.  Combined with giving talks last Friday on the first day of our primary callings, it's been busy.  But don't worry, I'll catch everyone up on the highlights.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Moving

Tomorrow afternoon at 1:30, the moving van/truck/vehicle will be here (insha'Alla of course) and all of the boxes I have been packing will be transported all of the way down the street less than 1/4 mile to our new dwelling in the orange house at Orabi street (as I have been telling Kathleen).

We don't have internet hooked up yet, and no more nice neighbors to mooch off, so don't be waiting for any great posts about how we've been roller skating down the halls or set up a slip'n slide ramp in the front room.  Hopefully we'll have it up in a week or two, (inhsha'Alla).

We did find out today, however, that we'll be getting our magical air shipment on Thursday so I get to have lots of fun unpacking lot #1 tomorrow, lot #2 on Thursday, and hopefully lot #3 in a month (insha' Alla).  

Most of all, I'm looking forward to unpacking boxes, moving furniture, hanging pictures, buying plants, and decorating somewhere that will be Home for the next two years.  Hooray!

Delivery Service

When Brandon and I received our posting to Cairo, we discussed the issue of A Car.  The State Department will ship one car for their employees, but various countries have various restrictions about what kind of cars they will allow to be imported.  DoS will only import (from the US) cars that are two years or newer, so our Civic was not going to be put on a boat.  After some discussions, we decided against a car.
And so I am somewhat stranded.  We are within walking distance of the pool (2/3 mile now and ¼ mile after we move) and church and taxis are cheap and easily enough obtained.  We do have grocery stores within easy walking distance, but taking the girls is quite a chore because the stroller doesn’t fit through most aisles or sometimes between parked cars that line the ‘sidewalks.’
However, I have two saviors: Rere and my telephone.  I give a Rere a shopping list and she shows up the next time with all of the fruits and vegetables on my list.  And not only does she bring them, but she washes them and soaks them, too.
My other best friend, the telephone also does good work.  A while ago, I realized that we were in imminent danger from running out of toilet paper.  A phone call and 30 minutes later, we had toilet paper.  Magic!  Brandon needed some suits dry cleaned.  Rere took them out, and voila! The next morning they came back, cleaned and pressed.  One Thursday night Brandon and I wanted to watch a movie, but had no food to eat.  One phone call and $10.91 later he had gnocchi with gorgonzola cream sauce and I had four-cheese pizza.  Having no cake pans to make Kathleen’s birthday cake with, I made a phone call on Monday and Tuesday evening a lovely, pink cake showed up at our door.  I can even use my phone to make a car and driver appear, a car that is air conditioned and a driver that doesn’t get angry when I pay him.
With careful planning and thinking ahead I can avoid actually going to the store for several weeks at a time.  And when I do, I have Rere to watch the girls.  While one may not be able to have everything in this world for money, filthy lucre helps one get a good bit of those things in Egypt without ever leaving one’s house.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sophia

When Brandon and I lived previously in Egypt, we arrogantly thought that we were safe from ‘Pharoah’s revenge’ when after a week we were still healthy.  By the third week, we knew better.

So this time we were prepared and waiting and it came as no surprise that Sophia was the first to succumb.  One of her favorite pastimes is to wheel our jog stroller around the entryway by grabbing the front tire and rolling it.  She is still crawling and loves to chew on everything, including those hands that were just grasping the wheel that was just rolling through the streets.

She is doing better now, after three days of fever that didn’t want to respond to a potent combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen.  The fever having passed, she has now decided that food holds no interest for her – not even sweet delicious Egyptian grapes.  I have been reminded, again, that babies have fierce wills and really only do things that you ask because your will happens to coincide with their own at that time.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Kathleen's Third Birthday

Kathleen’s 3rd Birthday

Every family has their own birthday traditions.  After my little sister extravagantly invited every member of her second grade class over for her birthday party, my mother declared that birthday parties consisted of a sleepover with one friend.  Brandon’s mother, on the other hand, tried as hard as she could to convince him to throw a large party for his 16th birthday, and he wanted nothing to do with it.

Kathleen’s third birthday is the first birthday where any of our children had a clue what exactly a birthday was.  Since Sophia’s birthday in May we’ve been singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to every object Kathleen can think of, including the garage door, her teddy bear, and chocolate.  When one asks her when her birthday is Kathleen very precociously answers ‘August eleventh.’  Unlike previous birthdays, we weren’t going to be able to let this one slide.

So in preparation for her birthday, I asked Kathleen about breakfast and dinner and cakes.  She wanted eggs and toast and marshmallow cereaaaal (see the previous post about the Commissary) for breakfast, black bean soup for dinner (once again from the Commissary) and a pink cake.  The cake had been in previous discussions on her birthday first brown and then a fish cake.  The day before her birthday she decided she wanted a pink one. 

The fateful birthday morning dawned, and I woke her up with her favorite song.  After breakfast we colored as many pages in her coloring book as she wanted and then went downstairs to play after Sophia woke up from her nap.  Following lunch and afternoon nap, we went to the pool for the afternoon and came home in time to take delivery of the Pink Cake (yes, I know – the bakery delivers too; in fact I didn’t even have to physically go there, I just called in the order and for the low low price of 73 cents it was magically at my door at 5:00) and make her black bean soup.

Despite her protestations of suddenly not wanting black bean soup for dinner we did not have cake and at the soup.  During a fight with Sophia about eating and then taking her medicine, Kathleen got to watch ‘A Close Shave,’ and then we had cake and presents.

As soon as we talked about lighting candles, Kathleen ran into the study, slammed the door, and would only be coaxed out when Brandon carried her.  She cried when we asked her to blow them out, and then when asked if she wanted a story from her new storybook or cake, she promptly replied ‘story.’  So much for cake and candles.

So now, our oldest daughter is three, and I’m pleased with that.  We’ve done a lot of work to get to this point.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Running

When planning our departure for Egypt, Brandon and I wrangled over many details of packing.  We were told that we shouldn’t expect our UAB (air shipment) for at least 2 months, if not more, because of slow bureaucratic processes compounded by Ramadan, the month where no work gets done and everybody expects to be paid double for it (I’m not kidding – traditional is a bonus of one month’s salary).
One of our biggest wrangles was over strollers.  Strollers, unfortunately, are a part of one’s life when it involves two small children, one of which refuses to walk.  We don’t have a car and don’t intend to have a car, and so walking is a part of my life.  After the Stroller Purge (4 of the 6 gone), we had two options: the plane-friendly fold-up Joovy Caboose and our gargantuan double Baby Jogger.
Living to make my husband’s life difficult, I insisted that instead of the small, compact Joovy that folds easily we had to bring the Baby Jogger on the plane.  I had to go running, I insisted.  I couldn’t just not run for three whole months until I got back to the states by which time I couldn’t run anyway because I’d be out of condition and 34 months pregnant.  No, I couldn’t run by myself in the morning.  And no, I didn’t want to go to the gym – who would watch the girls?  So, the Baby Jogger, collapsed as much as possible and shoved into its very own Baby Jogger bag, joined our luggage mountain at Dulles Airport.
So this morning, after almost two weeks of lazing around, the girls and I went out for a run.  I planned my route carefully to avoid all busy streets because if sidewalks do make a pretense of existing, they usually have 18” curbs (I’m not kidding; I think it’s so the cars don’t use them as extra passing lanes) and bushes growing over them.  I also avoided the Three Deadly Midans where cars whiz around at high speed and make erratic turns without turn signals so as to scare the daylights out of any foolhardy pedestrians that might think of crossing the 6 or 7 streets that feed into the midans.
Other than those streets, however, the rest of the roads proved to be deserted.  Deserted of cars, that is.  I had an ample audience of bemused Egyptians, politely responding to my out of breath ‘masaa il kheer,’ and staring at that crazy white lady running down the road.  This being Maadi, they’re mostly used to it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Housing: Part 3

A few days ago, I visited our new apartment.  My first clue that we are going to be the local white trash neighbors was that the doorman called himself ‘security.’  In Egypt, most buildings have a ‘bawab,’ or doorman.  They usually come from Upper Egypt, have fewer teeth than they did 20 years ago, wear gallibeyas (traditional dress), and live in miserable hovels somewhere on the premises.  In exchange for the 40 or so pounds a month the building tenants pay them, bawabs will bring people the morning paper, wash cars, go do small errands and make sure that people who aren’t supposed to be in the building aren’t there.  Our ‘security,’ Hamad, as he introduced himself was dressed in slacks and a dress shirt and had a desk to sit behind instead of a curb to stoop on.

My second clue that we weren’t going to belong was the elevators: 2 elevators for 6 floors of apartments, and only 2 apartments per floor.  That means that we have the hardship of having to share an elevator with five other households.  I don’t know if we’ll be able to fit in for the crowding.

The third clue came when I looked at the windows.  They were all windows with wrought-iron railings across the sliding-door windows.  And nothing else.  Practically every single building in Egypt is heated and cooled by split-unit AC/heaters that have the compressor and fan hanging outside the building and blowing units mounted above the windows or on the floor.  This building had nothing outside the windows.  I knew that we weren’t going to have to exist without the aid of air conditioning; that is un-American and denying our constitutional rights as citizens.  That only meant one thing: central air conditioning.

When the renovations coordinator opened the massive 4-foot wide door and I got the first view of our home for the next three years, my suspicions were confirmed.  We had no business living in a place like this.  The front room, floored in creamy stone was large enough to house our entire duplex that we lived in previously in Utah.  The view through the 10-foot tall sliding doors was over Maadi, giving the illusion of a lush palm-filled valley.  On clear days we will be able to see the sun set behind the pyramids. 

My incredulity only heightened as I toured the rest of the house, separated from the front room by another massive door.  The kitchen has the standard pink-granite countertops but with the same creamy stone that floors the entire house.  Through the large kitchen is a full-bath, laundry room and storage room that I suspect served as maid’s quarters for the rich Egyptian that this apartment was clearly built for.  In addition to the ‘maid’s bath,’ there are two other full bathrooms for the three bedrooms (one of them literally large enough to fit a kiddie pool), and a bathroom in the master suite.  So with the half-bathroom in the front room, we will have enough toilets for everyone in the family including in-utero Edwin to have their very own.

We’re also getting some of the apartment painted and had the arduous task of deciding on colors for the front room and bedrooms.  Brandon warned me to not get used to such luxury because clearly they have no idea who they’re doing this for: somebody who had been working at a lasagna factory six months ago.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Housing: Part 2

Initially when we talked about housing, Brandon and I decided to live in the compound.  It had lots of storage space (amazing closets and a storage unit downstairs), it was very safe, and there were places for the girls to play. 

So, when we were asked about our preferences for housing we indicated that we would like to stay at 55/17 a compound in a quiet area close to two vital things: the pool and church. 

However, we soon heard back that 55/17 had no available 4-bedroom apartments (1 bedroom for us, 1 for Kathleen, 1 for Sophia, and 1 for Edwin).  The other compound that did have 4-bedroom apartments was 11/11, which is in a much noisier part of town, being right next to the only bridge that goes over the metro for several miles.  Not only were the only apartments in 11/11, but the apartments were actually 1000 square feet less than our ‘allotted’ space for our family size (housing is one part where fertility is on one’s side). 

Suddenly storage space, safety, and a place to play were a lot less crucial.  Who needs a grubby little playground when you can have 1000 extra square feet?  Besides, we can always walk to the pool.  There’s a nicer playground there. 

True to our sexes, Brandon and I faced off on opposing sides.  He was against moving and wondered why we really needed 1000 extra square feet.  After talking to a friend who had just moved from Egypt and had not lived on the compound (who highly recommended local housing), I fell on the side of more space.  I felt that really, I needed all of that extra space.  We’d have more rooms for the kids to go play in, right?  And when we had people over for dinner (in our roaring social life) then we could shoo the children off to another room for them to play with a babysitter.  Really, it would be so much better.  Ahh, greediness.  If one is given the choice of 1400 or 2400 square feet, 1400 which was just fine before 2400 became an option, suddenly become paltry and un-livable.  This is coming from someone who’s last real domicile was stretching to be called 800 square feet.

But, in the end, after I promised to do all of the unpacking and packing myself and promised not to complain about moving and cajoled and made sad eyes at him, Brandon finally threw up his hands and said something about whatever I did I should do quickly.

So we’re moving on up (on up) to that apartment in the sky.  And just like the Jeffersons, we’re going to have to endure some strange looks from our neighbors because everybody knows (especially us) that we have no business inhabiting such exalted space.

Housing: Part 1

When Brandon and I first got posted to Egypt, we had a pretty good idea of the housing available.  In Maadi, the suburb we live in (a suburb of Cairo in the way that Draper is a suburb of Salt Lake City), we had two general options: compound housing or local housing. 

Compound housing is what it sounds like: an apartment complex, surrounded by one of those ubiquitous 12-foot cement walls.  This complex, however, is a little different.  All of the apartments are individual units laterally and as such have no walls touching anyone else’s apartment.  We only share a floor and ceiling with those above and below us.  And either the people above us are very quiet, or concrete floors dampen sound quite well. 

This being Cairo, the only lawn to speak of is a ‘dog waste area,’ and the rest of the open space is brick courtyard with some palm trees.  There is a small rubber-floored play area for the children.

To come inside the walls one must have the doors opened by a guard and to drive in one has to live in the compound and be subject to the usual sweeping and trunk-check.  This set-up makes the housing very safe (sometimes I don’t even bother to lock the door), but has its disadvantages in accessibility.  To get a cab one has to go outside the compound and wait, and the same goes for any friends that come to visit.  For deliveries (I know, poor me; not only the restaurants but the grocery store and the dry cleaners deliver) I have to walk down to the guard shack with the girls if nobody else is home.

Our actual apartment is very nice, about 1400 square feet with Pergo floors throughout and 10 foot ceilings.  Besides the bedrooms (one of which is set up as a study), we have a good-sized kitchen and a large living/sitting/dining room which also serves as the girls’ play room.  To preserve privacy, the windows are only on one side of the apartment and overlook a small street with trees.  This has the disadvantage of making the apartment very dark because all of the windows except one bank are sliding doors that open onto balconies.  These balconies are very dirty, very shallow, only two feet wide, and block a lot of light, especially when the trees are in front of them.

One can’t complain, however, as it’s much larger than anything we could afford on our own and we didn’t have to furnish it either.  There are certain advantages to picking up your whole life and moving it overseas for the next 20 years. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Egyptian Pleasures

This morning there was a knock at the door.  Standing outside was my present to myself: Rere. 
It is now 3:00 in the afternoon.  My kitchen is clean, the rugs are vacuumed, wood dusted, floors mopped, bathrooms cleaned, and there is Egyptian vegetable soup cooking on my stove.  In my refrigerator is salad and tahina for the bread sitting on my counter.  For snack the girls and I ate grapes and we have mangoes sitting in the refrigerator. 
The funny thing is, I don’t remember going out for food or chopping any vegetables for soup.  And I certainly haven’t mopped any floors today.
I have discovered that my mother has been wrong all of these years: magic fairies do exist.  I just never realized that they speak Arabic.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Commissary

During our former residence in Egypt, Brandon and I came as students.  We had to find our own apartment, pay rent, survive with minimal (if any) air conditioning, walk everywhere to save money, and shop on the ‘local market,’ as the expats call it.  We had to live like everyone else.
Not so this time.  The air conditioning is plentiful, rent is a distant memory, taxis are plentiful, and we have access to The Commissary.  I had heard about The Commissary on our previous visit but, as we were not part of the Embassy community of the Army, we had no access.
Yesterday I visited the exalted grounds for the first time.  One of the ward members offered to take me, so yesterday morning I hauled Sophia, Sophia’s car seat, and Kathleen’s car seat down three flights of stairs while Kathleen trailed behind.  After buckling the girls with their seats in, we weaved and threaded our way through the light Maadi traffic.  Having forgotten about Cairo driving laws, I was surprised the first few times we got passed on the left on a road narrower than the one we lived on in Viginia that already had cars driving the opposite way.  Despite the nonexistent traffic laws, however, we arrived at the Commissary, another walled compound, this time in the desert, a block away from a mosque and a large heap of sand.
We waited for a 5-inch thick steel door to slide away so we could drive into a barred metal enclosure with another gate to exit from.  While showing ID and assuring the guards that we were indeed allowed to enter, the car was swept and inside of the hood checked for whatever wasn’t supposed to go inside the walls.
All of this procedure, however, was necessary as the sign over the entry proclaimed “Cairo Commissary: Where all of your dreams come true.”
And if one’s dreams consist of bacon, Lucky Charms, Kraft macaroni and cheese, Pantene shampoo, and Thomas’s English muffins (frozen, of course), the Cairo Commissary is indeed where dreams do come true.   The girls and I leisurely strolled the aisles as we filled our cart with baking powder, brown sugar, 409, Quaker oatmeal, and the aforementioned Lucky Charms. When the total was rung up, we were offered the option of paying in dollars or with credit card. 
The dreams coming true, however, only extended to the Commissary itself, not getting the groceries back to one’s domicile.  After another exciting ride back through Maadi (5 minutes into which Kathleen pointed out that she wasn’t buckled up), we made it through a street with inches to spare on either side of our car to the parking lot inside my own walled compound (which necessitated another sweep and hood-check). 
From the parking lot the groceries were carried to the elevator, and my friend waited with the girls in the car while I schlepped two loads of groceries from the elevator to my door and then went back down for the girls and the car seats.  By this time the bemused worker mopping the outside floors (and yes that is absolutely necessary) had offered to help and carried the car seats the last 50 yards to our door.   And after all of that excitement, everyone took a nap.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Maadi House

After a hard few days of sleeping, unpacking, and avoiding going outside we decided we needed a break.  So we headed down to Maadi House, the hangout of local Americans. 

Brandon and I loaded the girls in the jogging stroller, trekked through trash-strewn and pot-holed streets filled with aged cars and staring onlookers and arrived at a neatly painted 12-foot high wall with a door. 

We opened the door, showed our newly-acquired IDs and rounded a corner to find a small piece of America tucked away in the back-streets of Maadi.  The blue water sparkled as children jumped in the cool(ish) water, green grass soothed our tired eyes, and a few bikini-clad women even lounged under shade umbrellas.

After a few hours of play, we got the reluctant children dressed and strolled over to the outdoor restaurant.  Brandon’s eyes sparkled when the waiter listed root beer as one of the available sodas, and I indulged in a BLT.  Kathleen and Sophia gorged on French fries, grilled cheese sandwiches, and strawberry juice. 

Walking outside to the horns honking and feral cats brought me back to Egypt.  But for a few hours, I was back in the US, the version that I can only have access to in Egypt.  

Friday, July 31, 2009

Update

For all of you who are wondering (and those of you who aren’t), we have made it to Cairo.  With the exception of two small children who decided that they didn’t like food anymore, and the subsequent frustration that it caused their parents, our trip went smoothly.  The planes took off on time – which is only what one would expect from a German airline – none of our luggage was lost, nothing was broken, and we didn’t even have to pay any overweight luggage fees.  I even managed to smile my way out of $250 for ‘extra bags’ also known as our car seats. 

Despite the new airport (I guessed correctly based on the lack of grime that is ubiquitous here), new houses, and newly paved roads, Cairo is the same Cairo that we left.  It’s hot, you can hear horns honking all hours of the night and day, and most importantly the mangoes are cheap, plentiful, and good.

We have begun to settle into our 4 bedroom, 3 full bath apartment with granite countertops and matching solid wood furniture that was clearly intended for someone more with more legitimacy and fewer smaller children than we have.  However, we will not become too settled as we will be leaving in a month or so to our real apartment (with even more space). 

So far, we are doing well and Kathleen is excited for her first trip to the pool.  For any who are hoping for outrageous stories on par with last time, give us some time until the nostalgia wears off and reality sets in.  It always does.