Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Sunday, August 16, 2009
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 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
Monday, August 10, 2009
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
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.
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
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Monday, August 3, 2009
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.