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Tuesday, August 18, 2009


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


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


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.