We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!

Wah, I just want to watch some TV.

When we first moved to Egypt, we decided not to get a TV. We didn’t want to spend the money, and Giggle had already proved himself quite adept at operating the TV and DVD player, and we didn’t want the kids watching TV all the time. Or either of us.

Lately, though, I’ve been missing TV a bit. Once in a while it’d be nice to curl up, all four of us, and watch some silly kids’ movie. We’re not really folks who buy DVDs, so our options have been limited. And Mr. Four likes sports, and he’s been stuck trying to follow games online.

So, about two weeks ago, Giggle and I bought a TV for Mr. Four for Christmas. The same day, right outside the Carrefour where we bought the TV, I signed up for satellite service with Orbit, one of the main providers here in Egypt and the one with more sports offerings. I was delighted when the Orbit guy arranged for installation that afternoon. It was a Thursday, and they were to come at 7pm. It all seemed too smooth and too easy.

Orbit called me to say the installers were running late, but that was no problem. They finally arrived around 8:30pm. I was surprised when two young guys wearing stylish jeans and dress shoes showed up with the satellite dish. They started the installation only to discover they couldn’t get onto the roof. We found the bowab, basically the doorman/superintendent, who also found the neighborhood super bowab (seriously, it seems like this guy subcontracts all the other bowabs). It turns out that roof access is through a key, and only two people have keys to the roof, including the woman who owns our apartment (my employer rents it from her). The bowab had me call her, so I did. She didn’t pick up. The bowab said to call again (many people here don’t have voicemail). So I called and called until about the 20th time, when she answered. Her English wasn’t great, so I handed the phone over to the super bowab. In the meantime, the two installers and two bowabs were sitting around our living room while Giggle tried to get them to play and Bug chattered away in his room, unwilling to sleep with all the excitement.

Finally, after a protracted conversation with both bowabs, the building owner agreed to come the next day, Friday, at 3pm.

The installers came back on Friday afternoon, but no lady and no key. The installer guys said to call them when we had the key. They were annoyed. They also wanted to be paid for the installation, so we paid them.

The super bowab told us he’d get the key from someone else, a man who also apparently owns part of the building. But he was out of town for a few days with the holiday.

Finally, on Monday, about a week ago, I contacted my employer, our landlord, who said they’d get the key and bring it over on Saturday. Which they did, hurray! On Saturday I heard from the super bowab that he had the key. So then I called Orbit. The guy I spoke with didn’t quite understand the situation but said he’d have technical support call us. This was yesterday.

Technical support called today. “So you want help with your decoder?” he asked. I tried to explain the situation. It sounded like he understood, but then he said he’d have to charge us for a service visit. He said it’d be a minimum of LE 25. That’s less than $5, but we had already paid for the installation even though the dish wasn’t installed, so I told the guy we weren’t paying for anything. He said he’d have the installers come by, so I thought.

That was this afternoon. No installers today. And we’re now about a week and a half into our first month’s contract with this company, which we paid in advance. Obviously the language barrier is a major issue here (my Arabic vocabulary includes about ten words), even though many folks involved speak English well. I should have gotten the installers’ phone number, but I didn’t. And now I can’t figure out how to communicate that we need these guys to come back. And I don’t even know if the technical support guys would know how to intall the dish in the first place.

It’s incredibly frustrating. Because you know, all I want is to cuddle with Mr. Four and watch a little TV. And it’s starting to feel like an epic miscommunication. All this is no doubt exacerbated by my flu last week and my homesickness this week, both of which have me craving some mindless TV time.

Of course in the big scheme of things this is all nothing. I know that. But darnit all. I’m feeling very irrirated and whiney and incompetent. Blech.


30 December 2007 Posted by | oops!, our life in egypt | 7 Comments

Christmas recap

It’s been a busy few days. First off, we closed on our (now former) house in the States, which has me leaping for joy and sobbing all at the same time. Actually, I’m neither sobbing nor leaping, but I am very sad that we aren’t fabulously wealthy enough to own multiple houses we don’t live in. Plus, I really liked that house. It was my very favorite place of all the places I’ve lived as an adult.

(People who know the place we lived before that house might think I’m nuts, but it’s true.)

Why did we leave it then? Well, we didn’t move to leave the house. We moved for the great opportunity. Leaving the house was a side effect.

It is a huge relief not to have the mortgage. And, it’s great that the house pretty much paid for both boys’ adoptions as well as furnishing our mountain house so we could rent it (we still do own one house, which Mr. Four built many years ago).

Okay, that’s enough of my house angst.

Before Christmas, while Bug was sick, Giggle and I made some Christmas cookies based on the recipe for Ice Box Cookies from the Joy of Cooking, mostly because this was the one Christmas cookie recipe that didn’t require cookie cutters.

The cookies were absolutely delicious and horribly crumbly. I found some food coloring, but nothing else decoration-wise. So I embraced the chaos of it all and Giggle and I made some really ugly cookies. Here’s Giggle decorating.


And here’s the cookie line-up. Please note the Ethiopia-inspired cookie:

The Joy of Cooking recipe for simple icing was sugar and water and the sweetest icing I’ve ever had. It was so sweet the cookies were actually too sweet for me. (Who knew such a thing was possible?) The boys, on the other hand, loved the iced cookies. We were going to share some cookies but Mr. Four and I decided they were too ugly and we didn’t want to shame all of America by distributing these cookies throughout Cairo. So we ate them all ourselves.

Next, Christmas.

Last year Bug was too little to understand Santa, and this was Giggle’s first American-style Christmas, so Mr. Four and I weren’t sure what to tell them about Santa. It turns out that if your kids are around enough other kids who know about Santa, you don’t have to tell them anything. Also, if your kids are around other kids who know about power rangers and super heroes, your kids will learn all about that stuff too.

So Giggle was thrilled when Santa brought him a big power ranger on a motorcycle and a little plain one too. Bug got a little power ranger, along with a Bat Man that broke in about ten minutes and has not been missed. The boys also got lots of trains, some from family, some from Santa, and Bug in particular has been thrilled about that. We also got some movies from family back home, and they have been a huge hit. They were even excited about the clothes from grandparents and Santa. Their aunt sent some nice craft supplies, and they immediately wanted to start on some “projects,” which apparently including dumping glitter on the rugs.

It was a great day, not too overwhelming, and we were in our jammies until about 4pm. Since we were leaving the next day for Alexandria, we had a simple Shepherd’s Pie for dinner after watching a movie. We talked to some family so didn’t feel too homesick. And it was great fun to have Christmas with two sons.

I’ll post about Alex in the next entry.

30 December 2007 Posted by | bug, family, food, giggle, holidays | 3 Comments

Christmas, then Alexandria

It does feel Christmas-y in Cairo, to an extent. Santa is ubiquitous, at least in retail stores. We’ve been playing Christmas music. Giggle is particularly fond of Elvis’s “Blue Christmas.” And we’ve all been sick, which is certainly in keeping with tradition.

Mr. Four has gotten very crafty of late, and the house is now decorated with red and green paper chains. Plus the boys made a number of tree ornaments at school, so our artificial, Charlie Brown tree is quite lovely, actually.

But of course it’s a holiday only for a few folks here. The Feast of the Sacrifice, Eid el Adha, was last week, so Egyptians have been in the holiday spirit, but most are back to work this week. That makes is easier for us to travel, shop, etc., as we’re not competing with crowds. But it does mean it’s easy to forget that tomorrow actually is Christmas.

The day after Christmas, we leave for Alexandria. We’ll take the train there and stay for two nights. We were trying to decide between a desert camping trip and Alex when I saw an article about Alexandria in last Sunday’s New York Times. And then we decided on Alex, even though, unfortunately, the great Bibliotheca Alexandria doesn’t allow children under six years.

Egypt is busy with foreign travelers this time of year (I read somewhere that France’s Prime Minister Sarkozy will be vacationing here this holiday season), but Alex, because it can be cold and rainy, is not as busy as Upper (ie southern) Egypt. Plus the rates we pay as Egyptian residents means we’re getting a great deal on a room–only about $50 for a suite in a sea front hotel (all the regular rooms were booked).

The boys are so excited for Christmas that they’ve barely had time to be excited about the train trip and our mini-holiday, and I suspect it will be hard for them to leave their new stuff, but it should be a good trip.

And with that I’m taking a break til after our trip. Happy Holidays to you.

24 December 2007 Posted by | holidays | Comments Off on Christmas, then Alexandria

Christmas in Cairo

Giggle and I had a fun few days while Mr. Four stayed home with sick little Bug. Last week we went to the hypermarket Carrefour, where Santa decided Mr. Four needed a TV for Christmas. The installation guys have come twice to install the satellite dish, but they can’t get on the roof until the owner of the building meets them with the key (which she was supposed to do and didn’t). Very frustrating.

Anyway, after Carrefour, which is a very nice mall, Giggle and I ate lunch at Pizza Hut at the food court (our other choices were KFC, Hardees, Chinese food, and Lebanese food–it could have been anywhere in the US) and then played at the “Magic Planet,” an indoor mini-amusement park with a kiddie ferris wheel, carousel, and bumper cars. There was a long line for the bumper cars, and couple of moms almost came to blows as they jockeyed for their place in the cue.

Giggle loved the bumper cars, though it took him a while to figure out he had to push the accelerator, and mostly he drove in circles.

On Friday afternoon, he and I went to a party while Mr. Four, who by this point was sick himself, stayed home. The building we visited is owned by my employer, and they have a huge double lot with a large patio, play ground, and lawn out back. Plus some of Giggle’s friends were there, so we had a nice time.

By Friday night, I started to get sick. So I took over the sick bed patrol.

Some friends visited on Saturday morning, which was especially nice for Bug who doesn’t have a ton of energy but loves little Maya.

And now it’s Sunday. I’m in bed with a fever, pounding head, and wheezy cough. Giggle, who has the immune system of an ox (if, indeed, oxen have strong immune systems), just today woke up with sniffles but otherwise seems immune from all this garbage. Mr. Four seems mostly recovered and will probably take the kids to the playground this afternoon while I start wrapping some presents. It’ll be Bug’s first trip out of the house, except for a quick trip to the market, since last Tuesday.

On Wednesday, we leave for Alexandria for a couple of nights. And in between now and then, we have Giggle’s first western Christmas.

So that’s the latest update from the Four Family in Cairo.

(Please forgive any lack of creative output in this post. Blame it on the fever.)

23 December 2007 Posted by | bug, giggle, our life in egypt | 2 Comments

On foreheads and prayer

Mr. Four and I both have noticed that some people in Cairo seem to have a dark smudgy spot on their foreheads, almost like what you see Catholics sporting on Ash Wednesday. We finally figured out that the marks were from praying, which requires Muslims to bring their foreheads to the ground.

Well, wouldn’t you know just as Mr. Four and I were speculating, the New York Times has a whole article about the topic.

What’s most interesting about the callus, called a zebibah, is that it’s unique to Egyptian men and quite the fashion, apparently, as folks struggle to display their piety. The article says,

There are many rumors about men who use irritants, like sandpaper, to darken the callus. There may be no truth to the rumors, but the rumors themselves indicate how fashionable the mark has become.

The article compares the zebibah on men to the hijab (the head scarf that covers the ears and hair, but not the face) on women. I’ve heard about this religious revival from some Egyptian colleagues, who have told me that hijab was rarely seen in Egypt even ten years ago. I’ve also heard some Egyptian women–some who don’t wear hijab–say that scarf is a trend and absolutely not required by the Qoran.

I’ll leave religious arguments to people who actually practice the religion and note that I’m only passing along what others have told me. But if you have even an inkling of interest in Egypt or Islam, take a look at the New York Times article. And then let me know what you think.

18 December 2007 Posted by | our life in egypt | 1 Comment

On antibiotics and cough syrup

The CDC says:

Authors of a meta-analysis of six randomized trials (in adults) concluded that antibiotics were ineffective in treating cough illness/bronchitis.
Antibiotic treatment of upper respiratory infections do not prevent bacterial complications such as pneumonia.

So, even though I was wavering, I think we’ll skip the antibiotics, especially since Bug seems pretty perky today (though he insists he’s still sick, as he somersaults around the house).

Here was the most interesting part of the CDC’s advice on bronchitis:

When parents demand antibiotics…

  • Acknowledge the child’s symptoms and
  • Promote active management with
    non-pharmacologic treatments.
  • Give realistic time course for resolution.
  • Share the CDC/AAP principles and pamphlets with parents to help them understand when the risks of antibiotic treatment outweigh the benefits.

Now switch “parents demand” with “doctors prescribe.” I didn’t run all this by the doctor (I’m much more confident with Dr. Google than real doctors), but I’m frustrated that he doesn’t seem familiar with the latest research. Especially about the cough syrup, which was all over the news.

(I’m also thinking: Oh my. Has this become a mommy blog? Let’s hope not!)

18 December 2007 Posted by | bug, sicknesses | Comments Off on On antibiotics and cough syrup


Today was my last day of work for a few weeks. Tomorrow begins the Muslim Feast of Abraham, which honors, well, Abraham. Specifically, his almost-sacrifice of his son until God/Allah intervened and said he could sacrifice a sheep instead. So naturally this holiday involves massive sheep killings. That happens on Wednesday. Tomorrow, Tuesday, is the first day, when folks who are on haj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, start their haj. Or something like that. I promise to do a bit more research and fill in some details while simultaneously blasting Christmas music through the house to drown out the sound of bleating sheep.

So, I have the rest of the week off for the Feast. Then, next week I have off for Christmas. Then I am also off for New Year’s Day, the Islamic New Year, and the eastern (Coptic) Christmas. Plus my employer is filling in the holidays with extra days off.

I highly recommend living someplace that celebrates multiple religious and national holidays. Works out beautifully.

All this time off has me wondering how to fill the days. I’ve been thinking about desert camping (a bit pricey for just the four of us) as well as a trip to Alexandria, which we’ll do next week.

And then today I had an amazing thought: Christmas cookies! I’ve never made them before, probably because I’ve never had so much time off around the holidays. So, here in Cairo, I have more time to celebrate Christmas traditions. You just wouldn’t expect that, would you? Nor would you expect to see Santa everywhere, but he’s here too, on stockings, on pictures, in displays, and, in person, at the boys’ school. Who knew Santa spent so much time in Muslim countries?

I filled in some of my time tonight with a visit to the pediatrician. Poor Bug has bronchitis, though of course I didn’t know that before El Doktor told me. He prescribed antibiotics, though I’m ambivalent about filling the prescription. He also prescribed cough medicine… which was in the news recently as being unsafe for kids under five. Right? Anyway, I’ll consult Dr. Google on this tomorrow and decide what to do.

Despite my dismissive attitude, the doctor was very nice and professional, US-trained, excellent English, and so on. Doctors here usually work late morning and then again in the evening, so Bug and I left home around 7:30 or so, waited about 15 minutes at the doctor’s office, and then were seen right away by the doctor. All this for LE 150, less than $30. Poor Bug has a fever, too, but it went down with some ibuprofen.

Now we’re all huddled into various beds in our room, and I’m going to turn off the computer so we can get some sleep.

17 December 2007 Posted by | bug, fun, holidays, sicknesses | 4 Comments


Now, for something a little lighter…

Giggle and Bug weren’t thrilled that I was gone (to London) for so long, but they were thrilled by some new underwear, a gift from their grandmother, who met me in London.

[photo removed because this mother got a little creeped out by some views of the blog]

16 December 2007 Posted by | bug, giggle | Comments Off on Caboose

Dutch (mis)treat

The International Herald Tribune (which is published by the New York Times) says today that the Dutch family in the adoption disruption brouhaha is feeling “misrepresented” by media reports about their family.

The family apparently released a statement, which said, in part,

“In contrast to what has been written, we don’t want to be rid of our daughter and there’s no suggestion we would disown her, right up until today. We are (her) parents and we feel responsible for her well-being and we always will.”

I hope this is all true and details as reported in the media are wildly wrong. I suspect not, but I hope.

The family also said their daughter is very sick, and suffers from “a fear of emotional attachment.”

Here’s something that really didn’t make sense. I mentioned earlier that the parents never processed their daughter’s Dutch citizenship. The IHT quotes them as saying it was an “oversight.”

An oversight? I might believe it if they lived in the Netherlands or elsewhere in the EU where it’s relatively easy to cross national borders. But coming and going around the world is much easier with some consistency in passports. We did not want the kids to enter Egypt as Ethiopians and then possibly not have the protection of the US government. Maybe it’s different when you are a diplomat, but I would think they’d be even more inclined to make sure their passports were in order.

This whole situation is more than troubling. The IHT article ends with the family asking for privacy, which seems like a fair request, but it also seems too late for that.

Perhaps the best that can come out of this is that their daughter can get the care and treatment and parenting she needs, and other adoptive parents will reflect carefully on this and perhaps become better parents to their kids.

(Tip to Racialicious for linking to the blog Resist Racism, which blogged about this and linked to the IHT.) 

(Edited to fix formatting, which I think now should be set.)

14 December 2007 Posted by | adoption | 3 Comments

Formatting problems

Sorry for this short bit of business, but WordPress seems to have done some upgrades (or maybe it’s because I just did an operating system upgrade), but, in any case, my posts are formatting differently and I’m trying to find an easy solution (ie not adding a break tag at the end of every line). Sorry for the ugliness of the Big Ben post. 

Edited to add: I think I’ve fixed it, at least in the short term.

14 December 2007 Posted by | this blog | Comments Off on Formatting problems