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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Farewell to Cairo, Part II

            Following Brandon’s graduation, a job prospect came up that had the strong possibility of going overseas.  We talked about returning with excitement, and impatiently waited through the months that stretched into a year and half of process before we were abruptly told that Brandon was no longer being considered for the job.  And so we made other plans, and stopped thinking of Cairo.  But then, the week after Sophia was born, Brandon found out that he might have a chance at joining the Foreign Service.  And the dreams of Cairo began again.
            After his third day of work, Brandon showed me the bid list, the list of possibilities, each one a different two years.  Cairo was on the list not once, but twice, and with a perfect timeframe for us.  On Flag Day, Brandon walked back to me, Kathleen, and Sophia with the Egyptian flag triumphantly clutched in his hand. 
            A few months later, we got off the plane in hot, crowded, busy, but no longer so bewildering Cairo.  Almost three year-old Kathleen clutched Brandon’s hand while we waited for the vans that would take us to our new home.  I held fourteen month-old Sophia on top of the bulge that was 20 week-old Edwin. 
            And when we walked back into the villa on road 17, we knew we were home again.  The carpet was green, and the walls were yellow, but it was the same spirit of the Cairo branch, waiting for us.  And indeed, it was some of the same branch, with the entire branch presidency known to us from our time four years earlier. 
            This time in Cairo has been different that last time.  We have come with a job, and an organization to take care of us, provide our housing, arrange our travel, and even give us access to Breyer’s ice cream.  We’re no longer stepping over puddles of water cascading over the bathroom floor each time a load of laundry is washed.  I have an apartment that is my home with all of my things, and as much feeling of permanence as one can have in two years. 
            But our time in Cairo has also been a real beginning of our time as a family.  When we came, we had one child who could talk and one who was still a baby.  I felt like we were a married couple with some appendages that made life difficult most of the time and perhaps occasionally funny, but not usually pleasurable.  They both went to bed early, and parenting consisted of maintaining basic needs.
            Now we are a family of five, with an almost five year-old, a three year-old, an 18 month-old, and a baby on the way.  We have all grown up.  I now have children who are old enough to do chores and play elaborate games of make-believe.  My baby is old enough to go into nursery in a few weeks, and enjoys swimming at Maadi House as much as his sisters do.  I actually mostly enjoy my time as a mother and now truly find pleasure in my children.
            I feel that this time in Cairo, just as the last time, has been a time of transformation from one state to another, from harried mother of small children to not-so harried mother with a real family going.  I’ve grown very much over these two years and feel like I finally have things under control.  We’ve gone through two evacuations – one for Edwin’s birth, and the recent one for unrest – and I’ve reluctantly grown as a result of those also.  I’ve realized that I can indeed handle whatever has been thrown at me, four solo transatlantic flights included, and even handle it with a small bit of grace.  Brandon and I have grown closer and more appreciative of each other because of the separation, and I know we’ve grown even better suited for each other than when we came.  It’s been a good two years.
            And now we leave, and in a way, leave a phase of our life, one that last lasted since our marriage.  Always we have come back to Cairo, but now we’re done.  When I was talking with the girls about Baku, they asked if then after that we’d come back to Cairo.  I shook my head, and told them that no, Cairo wasn’t going to be our home anymore; we would have a new one then.  It is strange to know that we are leaving Cairo and leaving the beginnings in our life; the beginning of marriage, the beginning of family.  It’s now time to move on to the next part – the middle – with all of its excitement, difficulty, new challenges, and new pleasures.  But never again will we have Cairo, and it will stay with us always.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Farewell to Cairo

Adapted from a recent church talk.

            Cairo has been the touchstone of Brandon’s and my life together since before we were married.  When we were discussing marriage, Brandon brought up his need to go to Cairo the next summer for a study program.  After not hearing any conclusion to his dilemma, I summed up the situation for him by announcing, “well you have two options.  You can take me with you, or you can leave me, and then I’ll kill you.”
            And that’s how, six days after our marriage, two weeks after my graduation from college, I found myself dropped in the middle of hot, crowded, busy, bewildering Cairo with a halfhearted semester’s worth of Arabic under my belt.  I had lived overseas before during a study abroad to Vienna, but I quickly learned that Cairo is not Vienna.
            When we walked into the villa on road 17 our first Friday Sabbath, I don’t know if I had ever been happier to see the inside of an LDS church.  We were greeted warmly by the members, invited to dinner, and quickly given plenty of advice on where to buy everything from sheets to poppyseeds. 
            Our summer study extended into the fall semester, and we were given callings as the nursery leaders, which confirmed semi-permanent status as Cairo branch members.  The Cairo branch was our extended family, taking care of us, watching over us, and giving me somewhere to go for sanity and friendship in our crazy new home.
            When we left Cairo after seven months, we left with not only ourselves, but with the beginning of our family, baby Kathleen hitching a ride.  I will always see Cairo as the start of our time together as husband as wife.  We came, newly married and completely inexperienced with only six months’ of dating and courtship before we came.  We left seven months later with a lot more experience together. 
When we were married only a few weeks and the inevitable bowel troubles came, Brandon told me he was hoping to have waited another thirty or forty years before we were regularly checking up on each other’s bowel health.  I remember nursing Brandon through a particularly nasty fever equipped with only semi-cool washcloths and The Joy of Cooking to distract him.  We gallivanted through Cairo with metro as our main form of transportation to see the opera, hike to the Khan, and somehow get to Manial Palace instead of the Citadel. 
While washing dishes, cooking food, shopping, and riding the Metro to visit Brandon’s friend in Helwan, we grew to know each other and start to understand what it was to be married.  That time was one of the harder periods of my life up to that point, but it was what began to form us together, as husband and wife.
            At the time, I was more than happy to leave the insanity and stress of Cairo and return to the US.  But before long, the reminiscing began.  Remember the mangoes?  The bread?  The branch?  As the time passed, the glow enshrining Cairo grew brighter.

Monday, July 25, 2011

What I will miss most (and least) about Cairo

In two days, we'll be leaving (and yes, on a jet plane), and our time in Cairo will be done.  Everything we've been doing lately has been imbued with the emotional significance of 'the last time we....'

Some of those things I've thought of with regret, and others with a sense of relief.  Just like any place we have lived and will live, there are things I love and things I can live without.  One of the things I love about the Foreign Service is being able to have so many opportunities to find new things to love that I didn't even know existed.  One of the things that drive me crazy is finding new and inventive ways to be tortured by living conditions in foreign countries.

So without further ado:

Ashley's Cairo top (and bottom) 10 
10. The greenery (I'm really not kidding).  Despite Cairo being surrounded by desert, or perhaps because of this, Egyptians love plants.  And plants love Egypt.  Flowers bloom all year round, with some sort of tree blooming at all times.  Trees line some of my favorite streets in Maadi with glimpses into beautiful tropical gardens.

Tipping.  The last time I flew and a flight attendant took my trash, I had the irresistible urge to hand them some change.  Almost everyone here wants a tip, but there is the problem - almost everybody.  If only somebody could compile a comprehensive list of everyone in Cairo, whether or not they should be tipped, and how much the tip should be.

9.  Getting around.  Cairo is a city, and a very dense city at that.  Although we live in a 'suburb' of Cairo, 95% of the people live in apartments.  And so everything in our neighborhood is walkable.  But if we don't feel like walking, there is always a taxi waiting to take us where we want to go.

However, part of the reason there's always that taxi waiting, and honking, and asking if I want a ride is because, with my blonde hair and scandalously naked calves, I stick out like a sore thumb wherever I go.  I love being in the US where nobody gives me a second look.  Who knew anonymity was so precious?

8.  Egyptian food.  I've never heard much praise of Egyptian food, but I think that it's a seriously under-appreciated cuisine.  Especially the aeesh - local pita bread.  I'll probably spend the rest of my life trying to replicate its chewy, soft texture and never get it right.

The maintenance.  Or rather, lack of it.  Everything here has chipped corners, water leaks, eighty-six degree right angles, sagging facades, and corroded bases.  I've watched, over my two years here, brand-new buildings decay into patched-over, dirty replicas of their neighbors.  The whole country gives one the impression of constantly sliding into one enormous midden heap.

7.  The produce.  Oh, the produce.  When I read in Exodus about the children of Israel complaining about the leeks and the cucumbers and melons, I truly feel for them now.  Rere and I were talking about jam the other day, and I realized that nobody here makes jam because there is always fresh fruit available any day of the year.  And it's cheap.  And it's local.  And it's absolutely delicious.

Summer weather.  Of course, some of that deliciousness is because of the weather, and I have to pay for my incredibly sweet cherries with incredibly hot weather.  Between the months of April and October, the children and I spend most of our time inside or at the pool.  And that's it.

6.  Winter weather.  The flip-side of summer weather is winter weather - the time of year when I look at all of that snow-fall in the US and feel smug while I drink my freshly squeezed orange juice while the children play in flip-flops at the park.  I just wish I hadn't missed six months of it.

The dust.  And the trash.  The dust is nobody's fault - Cairo is in the middle of the Sahara, and so winds constantly bring in fine, fine dust that coats everything in sight - the trees, the cars, the railings, my children whenever they go outside.  And since we're in a desert, no rain ever comes to wash it off.  The trash, however, is somebody's fault and nobody does anything about it.

5.  Maadi House.  It's our own little slice of heaven, with a pool, a restaurant, and a playground for the children.  I can almost always count on meeting someone I know there, and I don't stick out like any kind of thumb.  It's been our second home while we've been here.

Which is good, as we live in an apartment with no yard.  If it weren't for Maadi house, we'd have gone crazy, especially as there is no other green space to take the children to play in.  Luckily the apartment is large so the children can ride bikes inside instead of out, but in the end, an apartment is still an apartment.

4.  The branch.  It has been our family while we've been here, watching over us and helping us more than we've returned over the past two years.  We'll always remember the wonderful times at church.

Being dependent.  This is really something that comes with living in any foreign culture - you just can't go out and get something done yourself.  There is no phone book, no Home Depot, no library with do-it-yourself books.  Any time I want to get something done, I have to have somebody else do it for me.  Which, as nice as it may sound, gets wearing sometimes.

3.  Rere.  Need I say more?

My children's celebrity.  If I stick out like a sore thumb, my children are movie stars.  We tried a few times to take them out in public to the park or zoo, but quickly gave up when we were stopped every ten feet for pictures.  Everyone was nice, everyone was polite, but when everyone is fifty people, I get a little cranky by the end.

2.  Mangoes.  I think that mangoes are the supreme act of creation.  They could also be called ambrosia.

No car.  My favorite part of being back in the US was having my own car.  It was our choice not to bring a car, but I am never doing that again.  I am too American; I can't stand not being able to go somewhere without the aid of someone else.  I can't wait for home leave when I will have that beloved car back again.

1.  Friends.  Of course this had to be the number one thing I will miss about Cairo.  And it will be the number one thing I'll miss about every single place we live.

So that's our two years, in a nutshell.  We will miss Cairo, but we're also looking forward to the next adventure!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Seven Days to Go

In one week, we'll be in the Frankfurt airport, waiting for our nine-hour flight across the Atlantic.  The last of our odds-and-ends will have been packed up into four suitcases and our apartment left bare and waiting for the next family who will call it home.

And I can't wait for next week to come.

I'm not ready to leave for any dislike of Cairo; I wouldn't mind spending another few years here.  We've had a great time, and it's the height of mango season.  Rere is wonderful, and I'm incredibly sad to have to leave Maadi House.  Everyone in the branch I can count as good friends, especially as almost every sister present has helped us out this past week in some way or another.

But it's time to go, and I'm itching with impatience to get the leaving over with.  Our things are gone.  The apartment is empty (although, Edwin can still strew with vigor despite the decreased amount of material available to him), and we're going crazy with boredom.  Plane tickets are purchased, the suitcases have already been packed and weighed once, our ride to the airport is arranged.

And so now all I have to do is wait on my hands and try to shift with the six forks, knives, spoons, plates, glasses, and bowls to feed my family for the next few days.  Sophia asks every day when we're going to get on the airplane and every day we count the days together, she being almost as eager as I.

I know that when the actual day comes, I'll be sad for all of the people that I will miss, friendships that may be picked up somewhere else, but most likely not.  We will reminisce together and remember all of the great times we have.

First, however, we have to leave.  And it's time to go.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Packout, Day Two

This afternoon we watched the last of our things drive off in a rickety Egyptian pick-up truck, off to an unknown destination to be sent via obscure and unknown ways to Belgium and Virginia.  And then I started remembering the things that I hadn't pulled out, and were accidentally packed.  

The packing today went quite quickly, as the movers had packed almost everything and filled two of our three lift vans last night.  Our grand total for weight was 4,901 pounds, which included food, consumable items we bought for the next post, and six or seven boxes of water.  

We kept the children with us today, and Edwin was fascinated watching the men move things in and out.  I watched the children while Brandon watched the movers play Tetris with our things in the lift van.  By early afternoon, everything was finished in time for us to go to the pool do many more important things that Brandon definitely need admin time for.

Now it's just finishing up some paperwork, a few more swim lessons, one trip to church, and an unexpected holiday before our time here in Cairo is done.  But until then, I'll be playing a lot of hide-and-seek, race up and down the hallway, and pull-all-the-couch-cushions-off-to-jump with the children to keep everyone occupied.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Packout, Day One

In my dining room is a pile of boxes.  Packed in those boxes is everything I have in Egypt except for four suitcases and their contents.  When we first moved into our apartment and had nothing but suitcases, it was bare and sterile, waiting for our things to come and make it home.  Now, with nothing but suitcases again, it just seems wonderfully clean and empty.

Our morning started well; after going to bed at one in the morning, Brandon and I woke up five hours later in time to get the children dressed and fed, the last load of towels dried, and a last few things hidden in the bathroom.  When we returned from taking the children over to a wonderful friend's house for the day, the movers were in front of our building and unloading rolls of cardboard, plastic, bubble wrap, and newsprint.

The first order of the day was our UAB shipment - eight hundred pounds of our things to see us through for at least the next six months.  Growing up, I always enjoyed watching The Price is Right.  When it was time for the showcase showdown, I guessed right along with the contestants, trying to get my bid as close as possible without going over.

This morning I played my own Price is Right, but with weight instead of money.  And so when I was able to get everything I wanted except my easel squeezed in right at eight hundred pounds, I may not have won a showcase, but I felt pretty darn clever for estimating my UAB weight so nicely.

After the UAB was weighed and safely crated, the morning progressed into the afternoon with box after box after box filled, taped repeatedly, and labeled.  While the packing was in a flurry, Brandon and I floated from room to room, labeling as boxes were filled.

A lot of our things didn't fit in boxes, so we got to witness the amazing overseas phenomenon of 'make your own box,' as the movers fit bed frames, plastic bins, and my favorite brown chair into their own custom plastic wrapped-boxes.  The most impressive sight of the day was our treadmill, boxed in layer after layer of cardboard and plastic before it was bodily carried down five flights of stairs.

By the time Brandon and I picked up the children and brought them home around 'sundown,' as Kathleen termed it, all of the house had been boxed except our storage room.  Rere, who is now officially worth her weight in gold, had been cleaning rooms after the movers, unpacking our suitcases into the newly-wiped dressers she had prepared, and washing the dishes of our welcome kit.

After finishing a delicious dinner, brought us by another kind branch member, Edwin hopped down from Brandon's lap (as the high chair had been packed) and bolted for his favorite toy - the kitchen drawers.  Brandon and I laughed and laughed as we watched him, with increasing consternation, open all of the drawers to find none of his toys in their usual places.  Later, when we told Kathleen that all of her books had been packed up, she buried her face in her hands and sobbed for quite a while before we could cheer her up.

And so now, time for bed in our green-velour-covered bed (thank you, welcome kit).  The movers return at ten tomorrow morning for a last lift-van full of boxes.  And then we'll be done, at least until the next move.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Farewell to the Khan

Last Saturday we paid our last (hopefully) visit to the famed Khan-al-Khalili.  I find it silly that, after two years of lusting after various housewares and handicrafts, we've waited until the last few months to buy them - just in time to be packed up for six months.

Saturday was the day of finishing up those odds and ends of major purchases.  We had a fabric kilim that we had ordered before the revolution (a week or two before) and not picked up yet.  My aunt requested some jewelry to be made up.  And Brandon and I set out to buy that elusive mashrabiya screen - for the last time.

Brandon requested to start in the morning, so after breakfast and showers we headed out into the already-burning heat.  Kathleen and Sophia frog-marched alongside Brandon and I as we headed for Road 9 (the local shopping street) while Edwin relaxed and sweated while being strapped to Brandon's back.

We got to Road 9, only to find the furniture shop we went visit closed, it being the early hour of 10:45.  Not wanting to leave, we kept on going to McDonald's to get something cold.  We were told that of course they didn't have ice cream at this hour as it was still breakfast time.  So instead we had orange juice.  Kathleen didn't want any, Sophia didn't like the taste, and Edwin spilled a full cup on the floor.  After Brandon mopped up the spill, the children played in the playground for a few minutes before we headed back to the furniture shop.

We surveyed the goods, took note of the prices, and then hopped in a taxi for the long, hot, crowded ride to the Khan.  Our stop was another furniture shop which had a promising screen and mirror.  The screen wasn't finished, but the keeper claimed he could have it finished in a week - the day before pack-out.  We told him we'd think about it and headed to the bead shop.

At the bead shop, we gave a solemn warning to the girls that if they touched a single thing we would cut off their fingers.  While I was picking out stones for earrings and a pendant, Kathleen told me that she would like to be an adult.  Distractedly, I asked her why.  "Because," she told me, "if I was an adult, I would get to touch whatever I wanted."  Thankfully, everyone obeyed, however, and everyone retained their fingers.

The helpful man at the shop then took us to his friend the jeweler who kept his workshop up three or four steep and bizarrely twisted staircases (you have never known the meaning of warren until you've been up into the backways of the Khan).  The friend was very happy to set the stones in whatever setting we liked and handed us a jewelry catalog to pick one out.  While the jeweler handed dates around to the children, I picked out a setting, agreed on a price, and set up a time to pick it up this week.

Back down the staircases we went, and down the street to the furniture shop with Sophia walking more and more slowly while Edwin melted to Brandon's back in the 100+ heat.  At the furniture shop we decided on the mirror, not wanting to chance having the screen not finished in time.  After the requisite talk we agreed on a price, and then had to head out again for an ATM for a deposit, having already handed the cash on hand to the jeweler for his deposit.

And then, to the relief of the girls, we finally went home.  On the way to finding a taxi, Sophia tiredly proclaimed, "Next time we go to the Khan, I'm riding on Daddy's back and Edwin can walk."  Don't worry Sophia, there won't be a next time.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Last Gasp of Domesticity

In thirty-six hours, men will be arriving at my house.  When they get here, they will spend the rest of the day packing up everything I own except what I have placed in to my -- (number to be determined) suitcases and hidden in the bathroom.  And then I won't see those things for at least six weeks, most of it for six months.

When I really realized this, I also realized that I had a limited amount of time to finish off all of the odds and ends of things that I've been procrastinating... like making Edwin's stocking.  Unfortunately for Edwin and his new sibling, they're going to have to wait another Christmas for their stockings.

However, this past week I was able to finish a few things.  On Tuesday I made a church dress for Kathleen, completing everything in one day except for cutting out half of the fabric (which I had done earlier).  On Wednesday I made seventeen pints of mango jam, and then shocked Brandon by providing a warm, halfway decent dinner on the same day.  And today I pulled from the freezer puff pastry I made last summer to make a mango jaloussie for dessert.

Tomorrow is the last great push, when the laundry (oh the laundry) gets washed, suitcases packed, UAB separated, and all of those pesky tupperware containers harboring who-knows-what get rooted out of their hiding places in the refrigerator.

And after that, I'm hanging up my domestic goddess crown for a few months.  Or rather, packing it in a suitcase.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Packing preparations

The movers come in five days.  In five days, all we will have left to us in Cairo better fit into the three suitcases we've held out of our shipments.  Perhaps Lufthansa will check garbage bags?

For the last week, I've been working through the house, looking at every item in it and assigning it to a category: Baku, Virginia, home leave, or trash.  After about two hours of this activity, making the crucial decision as Kathleen and Sophia twitter about me, firing self-evident and repetitive questions, more and more items end up in the last category.  The more tired I am, the more items end up in the trash.

This is the part of the Foreign Service that I care for least, like the six weeks after a baby is born, the part that you do your best to forget, and cant' quite remember how difficult it is until you're in the middle of it.  And I don't even have to pack the boxes myself.

The last time we moved I was about this pregnant, too, and I have to ask myself when I'm tired and crabby and just wish the children would leave me alone why I'm doing this again.  But it only lasts so long, and then it will be done with until the next round, which I won't think about just like I don't think about having another baby while I'm pregnant with one.

Friends have asked me how I feel about leaving Cairo, and I honestly just feel tired.  I'm too tired to care, which is probably good because otherwise I might feel sad for leaving my home for the last two years.  But for right now, until those movers come Sunday morning, it's one step at a time, one drawer before the next, and one more yell swallowed in favor of a smile.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Istanbul, Day Five (the end)

By Monday, Brandon and I had been touristed-out, so we made our way to the Grand Bazaar for the obligatory souvenir shopping.  We had a limited amount of time before we had to leave for the airport, so a list had been made the night previous, and a schedule worked out.

Brandon was in the good graces of somebody, as we started out ahead of schedule, arriving in the Grand Bazaar (with reportedly four thousand shops) half an hour before time.  Our first purchase was a pashmina for my mother, which I bought at the first shop we entered, and fairly easily bargained the price down almost half.  We dispatched with trivets next, using the time-honored tradition of walking away, and left the storekeeper not quite happy with how things had gone on his side.  After the trivets came Christmas ornaments.  When the storekeeper asked where we were from and I replied 'Cairo,' he immediately dropped his price almost to my initial offer.  We finished off our shopping with a nice bowl, and another good bargain.

To Brandon's amazement, we were leaving the Grand Bazaar within forty-five minutes of our entrance with our treasures in tow.  We had enough time left to withdraw money for our hotel bill (which took some time, as Brandon's card was blocked; thankfully mine worked), eat an ice cream cone on the grounds of Topkapi palace, and watch the top-sellers outside the Blue Mosque.  

As we rode in a taxi to the airport, we both agreed that the trip was a wonderful success with nary a disaster the entire time.  And when our flight was even on time, we wondered what we had done to have the fates smile down on us so kindly.  We had an absolutely wonderful time, the weather was beautiful, we were hardly harassed at all, and we never got lost for more than ten minutes.  I can't remember a more pleasant string of five days I've had in a very long time.

Which is good, as it's now time to get ready to leave - in less than three weeks.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Daddy's Tender Heart (or how I was conned into buying a purple bike)

For Kathleen's fifth birthday, we're giving her a bike.  She has asked for various and sundry things (including a horse and carriage), but she's getting a bike.  Whenever the children start asking about various things they want for birthdays, I always remind them that although they are free to ask for whatever they want, Brandon and I are the ones giving the gifts, and so we will choose what we're giving them.  I'll be interested to see how long that explanation can hold up.

When Kathleen got a tricycle for Christmas several years ago, I found the most solid, gender neutral one possible because in this family almost everything gets passed down.  And in fairly quick order.  Just the other day, the girls were talking about passing down their blankets.  I assured them that blankets are personal possessions and so are kept.

So when I started looking for a bicycle, I looked for a nice, solid, gender-neutral one.  And I found that toddler bikes don't come gender-neutral.  They either have streamers and unicorns or man-eating trucks on them.  Eventually, after searching and searching I found these ones:

Of course, they were the most expensive bikes I could find, but they were nice, solid, gender-neutral bikes, acceptable to both girls and boys.  They blue one even looked a little girly, and I worried that Brandon wouldn't approve.  When I showed him the blue bike, he took one glance and snorted 'That's a boys' bike.'  So I showed him the next one, 'Boys' bike too,' he announced.

I explained to him all of my reasoning, my desire to be economical with our money (which always plays well with him), how I didn't think our boy(hopefully -s) would want to ride a pink bike with streamers.  To which he only replied, 'I rode a girls' bike and that didn't hurt me a bit.  And they have lower bars which help in a fall.'  

After some wrangling, he threw up his hands and announced that I could do what I like.  So I got to work scouring the internet for a good deal on the bike.  After a few websites, I stumbled on this bike:

I showed it to Brandon.  He approved, and then thanked me for deferring to his preference.

And that's how I found myself calling a bike shop in Raleigh, asking about having them hold that purple bike until we come in August.  I guess the boy (-s) will have to deal.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Istanbul, Day Four (the Sabbath)

When Brandon and I booked our trip for Istanbul in April, we made sure to schedule our trip so as to avoid Friday, the sabbath in the Middle East.  When the revolution took us away and kept us away long enough to miss the trip, we had less flexibility to reschedule, and so had to schedule over a Friday.

After contacting the Branch President in Istanbul, however, we found out that the weekend here is Western, and so church was on Sunday anyway, so our previous scheduling would have not made a bit of difference.

When traveling on the Sabbath, Brandon and I (and the children by default) try to avoid activities we don't engage in at home and keep it a day of rest as much as possible.  So this morning, after having a leisurely breakfast (sorry, Metin), we got ready for church and made our way to a park near the church building.

On our way, we saw a (literal) cat house.

And just before the park we found an enormous, floral cat sculpture.

In the park, we discovered the subtle sport of vying-for-shady-park-benches-with-old-Turkish-men.  After circling, looking for a likely candidate, and lying in wait, we scored a shady bench and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves eating fresh cherries, Turkish delight, and baklava for 'lunch.'

We were able to find church easily enough, and rode up to the seventh floor crammed in with the mission president and his wife, visiting from Sofia.  We also were able to meet the Area President who was visiting, and talk to him about church in Baku.  The LDS world is always small, but it gets even smaller in this part of the world.  We were disappointed to find out that our fellow FSLDS colleagues were out for the summer.

We enjoyed a wonderful meeting with Turks, Filipinos, Nigerians, Ethiopians, and fellow Americans.  It was my first meeting with simultaneous Turkish-English and English-Turkish translations.  I was very impressed with the efforts of the Branch President.  

After church, we strolled back to our hotel and saw more slumbering cats.

It's our last evening in Istanbul, so we enjoyed a pleasant stroll among the crowds at the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque as the sun set.  One more day, and then home to Cairo.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Istanbul, Day Three (or, going further afield)

So far, Brandon and I have contained our wanderings to places less than half a mile from our hotel.  Which is, of course, why we booked a hotel in this location - because it's close to a lot of things.  But, by the third day we'd covered most of what there is to cover around, and so we had to leave.

So we started our day with a Bosphorous cruise.  We intended to take a full cruise, but after some confusion combined with a late breakfast, we missed the 10:30 start time and took a short cruise instead.  And yes, Tammy and Alvin, I went on the cruise, too.  Here's the picture to prove it:
This picture is for my Uncle Mark and cousin Scott:

Having a lot more time than we anticipated, we started wandering.  First we went to the Spice Bazaar, which was completely underwhelming.  So then we visited the pet market.  Brandon and I debated whether the following were for pets or food.

 We knew these weren't for either.  Evidently, according to what Turkish we could figure out from the signs above the jugs, they are for healing a variety of maladies, including migraine and eczema.  And they were everywhere.

Having exhausted the possibilities of the pet market (there were quite beautiful exotic birds that would have been confiscated faster than we could think if we tried to take them to the US), we decided to try the calligraphy museum.  It was closed.  So instead we went to the Sulimanyet mosque, which wasn't.  On the way back, we thought we could hear the strains of 'tuppence a bag.'  In Turkish, of course.
We had a nice dinner and afterwards watched Brazilian capoeira dancers, had Turkish ice cream, and listened to "When the Saints Go Marching In" on one of the busy pedestrian streets.  We came home just in time for the call to prayer, and this lovely view out of our room window.

And now time for bed.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Istanbul, Day Two (or, Topkapi Palace and its Environs)

Across the street from our hotel is a restaurant with live music every night.  This being Turkey, we usually hear Turkish music sung to the accompaniment of a hammer dulcimer.  A few minutes ago, however, we were treated to 'Happy Birthday.'  I suppose you just can't get away from some aspects of American culture.

Today was another fantastic day of touring, eating, and a lot of walking.  We started off the morning by visiting Topkapi (imagine the last 'i' without a dot on it) Palace.

We continued the morning, and well into the afternoon visiting Topkapi palace.  My favorite part of the palace was the treasury; I have never seen such a collection of large gemstones in one place.   Almost everything in the entire display was encrusted with emeralds, diamonds, rubies, and turquoises.  It's too bad nobody gets to use it anymore.

After palace-ing ourselves out, Brandon and I had lunch at a delicious seafood restaurant.  Having enjoyed an excellent meal, we strolled to a park on the grounds of the palace and I took a nap on the grass.  After resting, we saw the Archeological museum and might have managed to at least walk by almost all of their one million pieces.

While in the museum, Brandon's phone rang.  He picked it up and Kathleen told him how they were painting their fingernails and toenails and eating Scooby-Doo fruit snacks and running up and down the hall.  I looked around at the marble sarcophagi and was so glad, for the twentieth time, that we had left the children at home to enjoy fruit snacks.

After viewing all of the archeological treasures, Brandon and I strolled home by the way of a local sweet shop to pick up our dinner - turkish delight and baklava.

We worked off the diabetic coma by watching YouTube videos and movie trailers.  I felt a little guilty for not being out, enjoying the culture and sights of Istanbul while we were watching transformers blow up New York (or some other major US city).  But then it started raining and now I just feel clever.