Thursday, January 27, 2011

My Egyptian Education

Yesterday I called up my friend Bassant to see if she was interested in hanging out. I invited her over to the house, thinking she would stay for dinner and then maybe we could stroll around Zamalek and get some cupcakes or something. You know, something casual.

Well, she showed up with her mom and dad in tow ready for an all night adventure out on the town. It was six o'clock at night or as I like to call it- one hour from bedtime. My kids were both in basketcase mode, having skipped naps and woken up several times during the night (this jet lag thing seriously sucks). Plus they were in the middle of taking a bath and I hadn't eaten dinner. Basically, I wasn't prepared to go out and my kids were definitely in no shape to do anything but put on PJ's and pass out. Bassant insisted that I bring them, but I had to draw the line somewhere. My mom and I would join her, but my kids had to stay home. Chris and my dad stepped in as babysitters and I grabbed my camera and a headscarf, because you never know.

At first, Bassant wanted to take us to the light and sound show at the pyramids but I told her I was waiting to do that with my friends who are coming (plus I wanted to get home sometime before midnight), so we headed over to the Al Hussein mosque and Khan el Khalili instead.

Bassant and I in front of the Khan with Al Azhar mosque in the background.

After visiting the mosque, we headed over to the famous El-Fishawy tea house for drinks. Once inside, I felt like everyone's favorite little tourist:
You have to smoke some shisha!
La shukran, I'm pregnant.
You have to get some henna tattoos!
Alright, as long as it's cheap.
You have to order the sahlep!
The what? Sure, order me one.
And THAT was the best decision ever. That stuff was amazing. It's a hot drink with milk and orchid extract, sprinkled with peanuts, raisins and coconut. Simply divine.

After tea, we walked around the Khan and shopped a little bit, although Bassant wouldn't let me buy anything. Every time I tried, she would inquire about the price and then walk away in disgust, telling me it was much too high and she would get it for me cheaper later.

Although I was frazzled at first, I'm really glad I got to spend the evening with Bassant and her parents. Since I saw her last year, she has gotten engaged. It was fun to scroll through the cell phone pictures of her fiance and talk wedding details. When I asked her if she would take her husband's last name or keep her own, she told me she didn't have to decide- they have the same last name, they're first cousins! How convenient. We talked about Mubarak and Tunisia, Disneyland and Justin Bieber. Clark is now faced with the task of tracking down a Justin Bieber poster and transporting it over here without squishing it.

For the most part it was an evening of easy conversation and great company. Although, things did get a little awkward when Bassant's father asked what kind of lawyer Clark is. Um, you know. It's like science and technology. And inventions. Protecting people's inventions. Does that make sense? I'm pretty sure by the looks on their faces, that it did not make sense. This is country where 40% of the population lives on less than $2 a day and one third of the population is illiterate. A country where it is someone's job to hand you toilet paper when you enter the bathroom. Protecting science and technology? Not really.

I'm glad I had my mom with me because she was the perfect excuse to cut the evening short. No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to function on Egyptian time. I told Bassant that next time she has a day off she better give me a call. We'll go shopping and listen to the Biebs.

And just for fun, a family of five plus groceries on a motorcycle. Yesterday, it took an hour and a half to get from Maadi to Zamalek. I take my people watching pretty seriously in the car. Anything to pass the time.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Police Day Demonstrations

I mentioned that yesterday was a holiday, Police Day- a day meant for celebrating the police? I'm not sure. But you would think the police would at least get the day off. Instead they spent their special day dodging rocks and fighting off thousands of angry protesters. More on that story here.

The biggest demonstration took place at Tahrir Square which is just a few miles from my parents house. It killed me to know that something newsworthy was happening so close to home while we were sitting around watching a movie. So Chris and I begged my dad to let us go check it out. He reluctantly agreed as long we promised not to take any photos.

So we went out for what turned out to be a rather uneventful and lovely walk across the river and over near Tahrir Square. Aside from several ambulances speeding by, we didn't see much mostly because we didn't get close enough to the action. We did witness the abnormally empty streets of Cairo which was almost as newsworthy. They had blocked off traffic and shut down cell phone towers in attempt to break up the protests. It was quite surreal to see the streets so vacant.

I did pull my camera out a few times, pretending to take some photos of the sunset...

And then sneaking an out-focus shot of the riot police in front of the Ministry of Communications.


I tried but failed to find a photo that I saw on the news of several angry protesters in front of this same lion just hours early. You'll just have to imagine Booker and Ike as angry young Egyptian men, cell phones in hand, tweeting and chanting, "Mubarak Go Away!"

The Barrages or Al-Kanater

After the camel market, we visited the barrages which is where the Nile splits into two branches and heads off into the delta. We stopped at a cafe and had some mango juice (and a much needed Coke Light for me) and then played at the park.





I love these trees.


As we were strolling across the bridge, I noticed this man riding his donkey and talking on his cell phone. I thought it would make a cool picture so I quickly rummaged through my bag for my camera. The police escorts must have noticed because they chased the guy down and made him stop to pose for a photo. I was mortified.

So Booker's preschool class does this thing called "Grover Sleeps Over." Each kid takes turns bringing Grover home along with a journal where they draw pictures and write about their activities with Grover. Booker's entries usually go something like this, "Grover slept on the bottom bunk while I slept on the top" or "Grover ate mac and cheese with me." I figured Grover could use a little spice in his life, so we got permission to bring him to Cairo. So check out Booker's blog for updates on his adventures with Grover.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Birqash Camel Market

Yesterday was a holiday here in Cairo so my dad and little brother didn't have work or school. We decided to head out of the city to the Birqash camel market. I suspect this was my dad's way of getting us out of Cairo and away from the planned demonstrations/protests. More on that later.


We arrived a little late and most of the camels had already been bought/sold, but it was still fun to walk around looking at the camels.







They hobble the camels so they can't walk around.

Guys with rifles who escorted us around. Because we all know how dangerous camels can be... especially when one of their legs is tied up.

Camel hides.

Just outside the market, there was a mass camel grave (and beyond that, a soccer field?) I guess they don't make the sick camels walk too far before shooting them.

And next to the grave, a dump of burning garbage. If only you could capture smell through a picture... even from within the car, the smell was pretty powerful.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Al Azhar Park

View from Al Azhar park.

I'm feeling some pressure to blog everything I do in Cairo, which is fine except that we haven't done much lately. I'm sure that will change once our good friends the Glausers show up and the serious touring begins. Until then, we've been lying low and trying to establish some sort of normal sleep pattern. Not going so well- I just woke up from a 2 hour afternoon nap. Thanks, mom!

We did make it out to Al Azhar park today. Al Azhar park, the park that doesn't allow balls or walking on the grass, which sounds like a bummer of a park but it was just what the boys needed. We played on the playground (attracting only minor attention from the other kids and their cell phone cameras), ate some lunch, strolled around the grounds and tried to soak up some Vitamin D through all that thick Cairo smog.

Some observations from the past few days...

- My feet swelled up like huge sausages on the plane ride over. They're just now starting to return to normal size. It's really strange to not recognize your own feet. I tried to teach Booker how to massage my feet but he just ends up punching them.

- Sweet potatoes must be in season because all the street corners have little oven carts that will bake them up for you over a fire for one pound (18 cents). I can't wait to try one.

- Which leads me to street food. I had decided that I should probably refrain from eating street food and just stick to clean looking, well established restaurants. At the very least, street food might aggravate my heartburn. At the very worst, I might get a bad case case of diarrhea which would give me contractions which would lead to early labor which would lead to a premature baby in a NICU-less Egyptian hospital. Totally plausible, right? Street food = dead baby. But all that changed when I got here and remembered how much I love koshary and tamiya (falafel) and sharwarma. When I was little, my parents would call me the Sharwarma Queen. I think I'm more of a Tamiya Queen nowadays. I had three tamiya sandwiches for lunch. THREE!?! Did I mention that I have a new prescription for my heartburn that is super effective?

- This might be a broad generalization, but I think Egyptians are eager to help foreigners. Maybe overly eager. Today at the park one of the security guards came running at me to inform me that my park ticket was halfway out of my back pocket and IT COULD FALL OUT AT ANY TIME (I was already inside the park and didn't even need my ticket anymore). Except he didn't speak English and I don't speak Arabic, so he spent a lot of time pointing at my butt looking concerned. I was really embarassed.

- Another broad generalization? Egyptians are much better parents than I am. I sat on the park bench drifting in and out of sleep this afternoon while other parents helped my kids up onto the slides, pushed them on the swings and acted concerned when they would face plant in the sand. Back in the states, I would be very alarmed if a heavily bearded man volunteered to push Ike on the swing. Today though, I would have hugged that nice Egyptian man if it weren't considered so inappropriate.

- Zizou is a nickname for the Egyptian footballer, Mohammed Zidan whose jersey Booker was wearing today. I didn't know this so when everyone kept yelling Zizou in our direction, I just assumed they loved Wes Anderson films as I much I do.

- Remember how I said that the culture shock might be less intense this time around. I was wrong. The traffic here still leaves me speechless.

Friday, January 21, 2011

We Made It!

We're here and we're alive. Ish. It's 3:30 in the morning and Booker is up for the day. I can forgive him though because he slept for 8 hours (in a row!) on our New York to Cairo flight. I set my alarm in Tucson Thursday morning for 4:30 a.m. and got to my parents house in Cairo around 6 p.m. on Friday. I got about 2 hours of fitful sleep somewhere in there. It was a bear of a trip made worse by the fact that Ike just. would. not. sleep.

At one point, I had finally got him to sleep and snuggled up on his dog bed on the ground in front of me. Not five minutes later the flight attendant came around to inform me that it's "against the rules to sleep on the ground. Any airline. Any ground. Even on Quantas." Even on Quantas, what the!?! I paused for a moment, deciding if I wanted to react as rage-filled and indignant sleep deprived mother or as emotional and unstable sleep deprived mother. She must have seen what was coming, because that witchy flight attendant decided to let sleeping Ike's lie. I nearly cried tears of relief.

Other than that, we made it. Our luggage made it. I didn't cry once. And several of my fellow passengers (who all seemed to be elderly east coast tourists) even complimented me on how well behaved my children were. Which is the best compliment ever given how nervous and stressed I've been about this trip.

But that's enough about sleep and deprivation. It feels good to be here. I've missed my family terribly. After I stumbled off to bed, Chris built an elaborate fort in Booker's room and put him to bed inside of it. When Ike woke up last night at 11:30 thinking it was time to get up, my dad spent an hour (hours? I've lost all track of time) quietly convincing him that it was still the middle of the night. And I got several hours of glorious uninterrupted sleep in an actual bed thanks to them.

From my brief (only 45 minutes!) ride from the airport, my impression is that Cairo is the same place. I was surprised that I recognized many areas and was able to orient myself once we got to my parents neighborhood. Zamalek appears to be the same except that a little cupcake shop has opened up. Man, cupcakes must by popular if they've made it all the way to Egypt. You better believe I want to find out what an Egyptian cupcake tastes like. Perhaps the culture shock will be a little less intense this time. As we drove home, I thought to myself, "Of course we are driving in the middle of two lanes, alarmingly weaving in and out of traffic and occasionally blaring a police siren. This is Cairo."

Anyways, off to read my book until the sun rises. I'm glad to be on vacation.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Some Thoughts

Since I don't want my last post before leaving for Cairo to be about Christmas, here's a quick rundown of what's been on my mind lately.

Venus of Willendorf. Remember your first day of Art History 201? I do. I feel like a giant Venus of Willendorf right now. I loathe being pregnant. Maybe I'll order this for Clark and he can cuddle up to it during the week that we spend apart.

Ike. My soon to be middle child. There's so much I want to remember about this kid right now. Things like how when he wants to get out of the bath he says, "Nipples. Bath. Done." Which is how everyone should exit the bath really. Man, I love that kid.

Traveling. I've done some crazy things while pregnant. Skiing, wake boarding, camping in California three days before Booker arrived. But nothing compares to traveling across the globe with two little kids (and no husband) while 6 months pregnant. Oh and did I mention that on two of the flights the three of us are seated in separate areas of the plane!?! I'm panicking. Or should I be grateful and pretend that I don't know who those whiney kids in the back of the plane are?

Tucson. I'm sure many of you have heard about the tragic events that happened here in Tucson last Saturday. I can't seem to tear myself away from the news, can't stop going out of my way to drive past UMC and just can't seem to shake this overall feeling of anxiety and paranoia brought on by something so violent and unexpected. I wish I wasn't so neurotic. In an effort to understand what happened, some people have had some less than nice things to say about Tucson and Arizona in general. That makes me sad. As a hometown-less girl trying to make a hometown out of Tucson, my heart is weeping but I also feel a great sense of pride to be a part of this community. And shouldn't that count for something? Because, seriously, I've lived in enough communities to compare... Riyadh, Saudi Arabia anyone? So thank you Tucson, for giving me the right to drive my vehicle and for letting me leave the house without my husband's permission but most of all, for proving to me that you are a city full of acts of love, bravery and understanding even during this awfully dark time. I'm proud to claim you as my home.

Adoption. On a lighter note. Do you like cute hair clips? Do you like the idea of two Ethiopian siblings moving to Knoxville, Tennessee to become members of one of the most extraordinary families I know? I like this idea a lot. And if I were expecting a girl instead of a boy, you better believe I'd be stock-piling these super cute, fund-raising hair clips. Head on over here to buy them or just to read a really incredible story. It will lift your neurotic, travel-anxious, pregnant/bloated spirit.