We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!

More mall fun

We finally figured out where Egyptians take their kids to play: the mall. This was no rinky-dink amusement park.

The boys really enjoyed the rocket ride.



They also rode on a train.

Giggle wanted to go on the big swing, but I said no way.

He did talk Mr. Four into the roller coaster.
roller coaster

And Giggle loved it. Here you can just see his head above the top of of the car, next to Mr. Four.
roller coaster

Poor Bug, way too small to go on the roller coaster, cried the whole time.

Are malls in the US like this now too? Or is this a phenomenon only in countries and cities without any public open space?


26 February 2008 Posted by | family, fun, our life in egypt | 5 Comments

The mall

So back in January, we spent a half day at the local mega mall, called City Star.
the mall

We had two primary destinations: the Mexican restaurant, rumored to be excellent, and Magic Planet, the indoor kiddie amusement park. The Mexican food was good. More importantly, it was Mexican, uncommon cuisine here in Cairo. And this was in January, when Mr. Four and I were both feeling a bit antsy for a break from Cairo, even if it came in the form of a lunch entree.

As you look at the photos, you may think, “It just looks like a big western mall.” And that is exactly the point: it looks just like a big western mall, and it’s in the middle of Cairo. Whoa.

This incongruity inspired me to take these very photos. Then, after I snapped a few shots, a security guard told me not to take the photos. So now they are contraband and far more interesting. Also interesting are the gigantic Christmas balls.

the mall

It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to drive to the mall, and the trip home is inevitably more expensive because taxi drivers leaving the mall assume you’re rich. We may be rich, relatively, but not enough to afford to buy anything at the mall, so we won’t be rushing back anytime soon. Not even for the Mexican food. The January malaise has passed.

By the way, there are photos to come of Magic Planet (astonishingly large for an indoor anything).

24 February 2008 Posted by | food, tourism | 2 Comments

Ah, TV

Mr. Four just downloaded a whole bunch of photos from the past few months. Here’s one from right after we got the TV set up.

21 February 2008 Posted by | bug, giggle | 3 Comments

The cost of bread in Cairo

My mom forwarded to me a recent article from the LA Times about the economy of everyday life in Cairo. According to the article, the price of bread has doubled in the past year, from 25 to 50 piasters, from less than five cents to a little less than ten cents. Pennies indeed to an American, but consider that (as the article mentions) some doctors here make only $45/month.

On Sunday, the New York Times had a story about how the rough economy in Egypt means young people can’t afford to get married. The Times estimates that couples need about $21,000 (yup, US dollars) in order to afford the bride price (ugh), ceremony, apartment, and furniture.

Unmarried young people are increasingly turning to religion to offset their unhappiness. The Times says that this religious fervor has repercussions beyond the nation and region:

Here in Egypt and across the Middle East, many young people are being forced to put off marriage, the gateway to independence, sexual activity and societal respect. Stymied by the government’s failure to provide adequate schooling and thwarted by an economy without jobs to match their abilities or aspirations, they are stuck in limbo between youth and adulthood. …

In their frustration, the young are turning to religion for solace and purpose, pulling their parents and their governments along with them.

With 60 percent of the region’s population under the age of 25, this youthful religious fervor has enormous implications for the Middle East. More than ever, Islam has become the cornerstone of identity, replacing other, failed ideologies: Arabism, socialism, nationalism.

The wave of religious identification has forced governments that are increasingly seen as corrupt or inept to seek their own public redemption through religion. In Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Morocco and Algeria, leaders who once headed secular states or played down religion have struggled to reposition themselves as the guardians of Islamic values. More and more parents are sending their children to religious schools, and some countries have infused more religious content into their state educational systems.

More young people are observing stricter separation between boys and girls, sociologists say, fueling sexual frustrations. The focus on Islam is also further alienating young people from the West and aggravating political grievances already stoked by Western foreign policies. The religious fervor among the young is swelling support for Islam to play a greater role in political life. That in turn has increased political repression, because many governments in the region see Islamic political movements as a threat to their own rule.

While there are few statistics tracking religious observance among the young, there is near-universal agreement that young people are propelling an Islamic revival, one that has been years in the making but is intensifying as the youth bulge in the population is peaking.

I don’t think I can add anything here. Read the article, and let me know what you think.

18 February 2008 Posted by | food, in the news | 4 Comments


Mr. Four was in an accident on Thursday. Specifically, a van backing up hit his bike.

He was wearing a helmet and the side of his body absorbed most of the impact. There was no blood, and mostly he’s fine, but he’s quite sore. He’s very tender on his hip and thigh, and he’s hurting around his ribs. He’s having a hard time standing up quickly, and it hurts him to pick up the boys.

To their credit, once the van did hit him, the driver and others nearby rushed over to make sure he was okay.

Cairo is flat, which makes it seem perfect for bicycling. And the distances in our neighborhood are such that a bike makes perfect since. A lot of places are too far to walk, but too close for a taxi.

But traffic patterns are chaotic, and first come, first in seems to be the rule of merging. And though there are a lot of Egyptians on bikes (like the guys I saw the other day delivering dry cleaning held with one held while he steered with the other), Egyptian drivers don’t really look out for bikes.

Mr. Four is such a trooper though. After the accident, he still bought me flowers for Valentine’s Day (roses from him and carnations from the boys), and then limped home with the flowers in his backpack.

16 February 2008 Posted by | our life in egypt, transportation | 2 Comments

Travels ahoy

Over the holidays, Mr. Four and I decided to plan our travels as if we are leaving in summer 2009. Two places high on the list at the time: Sharm (for the diving for Mr. Four) and Ethiopia (for all of us).

Sharm has since been amended to Dahab. Sharm is apparently more of a big resort center, whereas Dahab, just up the coast, has a funkier vibe. I have a long break in April, so we’re tentatively planning an 8-9 day trip to the Sinai, based in Dahab, but with day trips to Sharm (for the waterparks for the kids) and St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mt. Sinai (think: Moses), and perhaps an overnight trip via ferry and taxi to Petra in Jordon. And of we’ll want to laze around on the beach, swim, and, in Mr. Four’s case, dive. It’s an ambitious plan, to be sure.

Ethiopia is our other top destination, and we’ll probably go there next winter, during the Christmas holidays. Unfortunately, it’s still going to cost a few thousand dollars for the four of us to fly there, but it should be fairly affordable once we’re in country. I’m quite eager to travel the northern historical route (rock hewn churches and ancient monasteries await) and visit the Semien Mountains. And eat real injera with real teff.

As an aside: I was chatting recently with a co-worker about our planned travels. He’s an avid traveler who has been, most recently, to Iran, and he said, “Ethiopia would be tough with kids.” I laughed and explained that it’s more like it’ll be tough for our kids with their parents. Or something like that.

So, Dahab and Ethiopia are tops on the quickly growing list. Within Egypt, we also want to go desert camping (a weekend trip) and south to Luxor and Aswan.

With an extra year or two, I’d love to get to Tanzania, to island of Zanzibar as well as the inland areas with all the animals. But then that’s really dreaming.

Where would you go if you were here?

16 February 2008 Posted by | fun, holidays, tourism | 5 Comments

How Egypt is not like Saudi Arabia

The Muslim world is diverse, and Egypt is not like any other country.

And it’s definitely not like Saudi Arabia, where, last week, an American woman was arrested for sitting near male colleagues in a Starbucks.

That is not Egypt. And this is just as horrifying to me as if I were in the US.

Also, Saudi Arabia has outlawed Valentine’s Day and, temporarily, the sale of all things red and heart-y. Not for its capitalization of love (which is indeed problematic), but because it’s sinful.

In the meantime, the local florists here in Egypt are overflowing with red flowers, ribbons, balloons, and saccharine messages.

13 February 2008 Posted by | expat scene | 1 Comment

Mixed messages on first family contact

My adoption agency has not given us any more information formally about post-adoption contact with birth families (or first families, the term we use with Bug and Giggle). However, a friend (the kind you only know online but really like anyway) talked to them and was told that post-adoption contact was suspended indefinitely. It wasn’t going to be a short-term thing.

Another woman with our agency reported getting caught in the middle of a visa nightmare. She has adopted her child through the Ethiopian court system (from abroad), but the US Embassy won’t issue an immigration visa because the child doesn’t qualify for orphan status (he or she has two living parents who apparently relinquished him or her). So the child and the adoptive mother, who have a legal relationship according to the Ethiopian courts, have never met… and it seems the US might not recognize this relationship ever. And it’s not clear what’s going to happen to this poor little kid caught in the middle of a big government mess.

So that seems like just the sort of horrifying situation we all imagined but hoped was only hypothetical. It is up to the agency to make sure that children whom they refer to families are eligible for US immigration, and so it’s no wonder the agency is reacting so seriously.

Yet, in the middle of all this, another adoptive family in Addis reported meeting their child’s first mother, a visit arranged by the agency in Ethiopia, who said that since none of the other agencies had stopped first family meetings, they wouldn’t either.

Are you confused? Me too. I’ll post any updates as I hear them.

(I should also add that I won’t be discussing any details of my kids’ first families out of respect for my kids’ privacy.)

13 February 2008 Posted by | adoption, ethiopia | Comments Off on Mixed messages on first family contact


We have two visitors staying with us for a few days. It’s great fun, and the boys have loved the extra attention from these wonderful women.

This morning, one of our visitors and I were eating breakfast at our dining room table. Giggle, totally naked and with about a dozen stickers gracing his chest and belly, dashed out from his bedroom and down the hall. He streaked twice around the table and then sprinted back to his bedroom.

He and Bug are both pretty excited about our visitors, wouldn’t you agree?

12 February 2008 Posted by | giggle | Comments Off on Streak!

Africa Cup

A bit earlier, Mr. Four, Giggle, and I gathered around the back window of our flat. It sounded like a marching band was coming around the corner. A very big, very loud, and very well-organized marching band.

Instead, a group of about thirty people came into view, singing, chanting, and beating on makeshift drums.

The reason? There was a soccer (football to the locals) game earlier, and, while I haven’t checked the final score, I suspect that the honking, shouting, and other revelry means that Egypt did, in fact, win the Africa Cup. We’ve been warned the celebration may continue all night.

10 February 2008 Posted by | our life in egypt | Comments Off on Africa Cup