We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!

Another move opportunity

You all were terribly helpful the last time we were considering a move, so I’m taking a break from the Dahab travelogue to get your input.

We have the opportunity to move within our community. Our current place is fine, nicely finished if not exactly our style, but we have no outside space except for a little grassy postage stamp that even the puppy finds boring. My employer owns a few buildings in our neighborhood that have some outdoor space along with some other perks like free internet and bike storage (both of which we’d love to have). We also feel a bit isolated from the rest of our expat community here, so moving into one of these buildings would be way to connect with folks more easily.

So, there are two buildings we’ve had in mind. One that might be open, but isn’t right now, is further from the boys’ current school and Giggle’s fall school. It’s not a great location for the market either. But the apartments are nice, the yard is gigantic (the building sits on a double lot and the outside space includes lots of lawn and a playground), and there are tons of kids in the building. We know and like some of the families there. To get to both boys’ school, we’d have a walk of about 15-20 minutes through a busy-ish traffic area. I’d also have a similar walk to get to my shuttle bus for the work commute. An apartment might open soon, but this has not been confirmed.

The building we can definitely move into is right next to Giggle’s school, where he’ll start in August, and right at a stop for my work shuttle bus. The outside space is much smaller, though still a huge improvement from what we have now, with some swings and sandbox; the other end of the long and narrow yard has an outside grill. It’d be a very comfortable place to sit outside when the weather is right. Rumor is that these apartments are also bigger and nicer than the ones in the other building. The location is very convenient for shopping and most everything we do, much better than our current place and the other building. I don’t know that many families in the building, but there are kids, and the people I know I like.

Both yards are nicely maintained and landscaped and particularly nice right now with a lot of flowers in bloom.

We could stay put, of course, though Mr. Four and I would both really like to have at least some outside space, so the move would probably be worth it in either case (and I should note that while we’d have to pack our stuff, my employer would coordinate the move).

So, should we go for choice A, with a giant yard, pack of little boys, and a worse location, or choice B, with a great location, smallish yard, and bigger apartment? Complicating this decision is the immediate availability of choice B (we’d move in a month or so, but could confirm it all now).

Mr. Four is leaning one way and I am leaning another. What would you do? And what do you think we should do?

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29 April 2008 Posted by | our life in egypt | 16 Comments

Dahab in photos

I uploaded a bunch of photos from Dahab to my Flickr photostream. Take a look if you like. I’ll be blogging many of them eventually.

Here’s one of my favorites.
bug snorkels

28 April 2008 Posted by | bug, fun, holidays, tourism | Comments Off on Dahab in photos

Back in Cairo

We’re back from a fantastic vacation. I left off blogging right before our trip to St. Catherine’s Monastery, which was great. The church itself is awe-inspiring, really old and dramatic and lovely. And on a hot day, the mountains were a nice cool break from the beach. Though of course we dove into the pool about two minutes after getting back to our hotel.

I’ll blog more about our trip once I get the photos loaded (which will probably take forever, as always; it’s not the downloading but the organizing and uploading which kills me). But the rest of the week also included lots of snorkeling with some colorful fish along with some pool side adventures. The kids ended up playing with some new friends from the UK, Germany, and France (including the kids of someone prominent enough to have a Wikipedia entry, which of course I didn’t know but only suspected until I got home and googled him).

Today is Easter here in Egypt, for Coptic Christians. It’s also Easter for Ethiopian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Christians. So Happy Easter to you easterners.

Tomorrow, Monday, is Shem El Nessim, the Egyptian spring celebration. I’ll learn more about it and then pass along my wisdom to you. But it does mean I have tomorrow off, so I’ll go to the kennel and retrieve the pup, who, as the boys have been saying, has been on vacation with other dogs (okay, that’s what I told them). I hope he hasn’t been too traumatized by it all.

On Tuesday, Mr. Four starts his new job!

And since Thursday is the Egyptian Labor Day, I only have two days of work this week. Not bad for the first week back after a vacation.

We did get some sad news tonight: our old cat, the Jekyll/Hyde kitty, who has been living with my mom since last summer, died yesterday. By all accounts, she had become mostly a Hyde kitty and had left her biting, grouchy ways behind, and my mom, previously an avowed cat-disliker, really fell for her. My poor mom–over the past few years, she’s taken in three pets from my sister and me and overseen the death of two (who were old; my mom is not a pet serial killer).

A year ago Mr. Four and I had had five pets, three dogs and two cats. Both cats and one dog died from July to yesterday. They were all old and sick, but still.

The other two dogs are with other folks now (including one with my mom) and seemingly in good health for now.

We’ve also managed to lose a cat (and I don’t mean through death) here in Egypt. Maybe we’re bad news for animals.

Anyway, I’m not sure if I’ll even tell the boys about the Jekyll/Hyde kitty. Of course they both know her and remember her well. But Bug in particular has been extra attentive to death issues lately. When we went to St. Catherine’s, Giggle and Bug expressed an interest in playing with Moses (probably because I described him as an original super hero). We said they couldn’t play with Moses (or “Noses,” according to Bug), because he wasn’t there, he died a long time ago. So all day we heard “Noses died.” This is the same as happened after Iggy the cat died here in Egypt. And the same with after the Hound died last summer. Any advice on this one, folks?

Meantime, I have apparently resumed my night owl ways now that I’m back in Cairo. More soon, I promise. Now I need to go to bed and sleep off this vacation.

27 April 2008 Posted by | bug, family, fun, giggle, holidays, iggy the cat, our life in egypt, pets, tourism | 4 Comments

Sights of Dahab

Mr. Four saw some amazing fish on his two dives yesterday.

Meanwhile, the boys and I went to a beach where the only available umbrella was several rows back where I couldn’t even see the water. So we abandoned the beach and ventured out on a glass-bottomed boat. Seemed silly at first, but it was fantastic. The boys hunched over the edge of window for almost the entire trip, shouting “Fish! Fish!” at every fish they saw. Plus the captain, when we stopped for some folks to snorkel at a reef, even put on an underwater acrobatics show for us. His intended audience–pretty much my kids–ate it up.

Unfortunately, we did not see Nemo, who apparently is over-represented on many locally available t-shirts (a Disney exec would have a fit).

At the beach, we also saw some other interesting sights, notably an older Russian lady sporting a crocheted orange bikini.

Today we spent much of the day at the same beach, with a British family of three adults (including the nanny) and four nice kids. Bug and Giggle really enjoyed their new playmates. And Mr. Four and I enjoyed chatting with the parents.

Tomorrow we’re going to the monastery at St. Catherine’s, at the foot of Mt. Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments (perhaps you’ve heard of them). I’m not much into Biblical tourism, but even cynical me is excited for this trip. Plus our travel mates are a French family with two boys about the same age as Bug and Giggle. These trips are always best when families are with other families.

So Dahab is still fantastic, and I’m so glad we decided to stay in town rather than at some sterile resort. Tonight again we enjoyed dinner while lounging around on pillows at a restaurant perched at the edge of the beach. It’s lovely here.

21 April 2008 Posted by | bug, fun, giggle, tourism | 2 Comments

Dahab

We’re in Dahab! As I write this, at 8:30pm, Mr. Four and the boys are konked out in our hotel room. During so-called naptime today, I was the only one who actually slept, so here I am, enjoying the the free internet while my family slumbers.

We arrived at 10am (after leaving our house at 5am… and eventually realizing that driving wouldn’t have taken much longer than flying). The hotel is perfect. Intended for divers, it also has a small pool (with water the children insist is near freezing), a kiddie wading pool with caves and waterfalls (!), and a playground. The hotel sports Nubian-inspired architecture: our two large beds are tucked under domed white ceilings. And, as Mr. Four observed, here we have the most bed space of any hotel we’ve patronized in Egypt; usually Giggle is on the spare cot and Bug is smushed in between Mr. Four and me.

Our room lacks a TV, which isn’t really a lack actually, and we’re enjoying ocean breezes as there’s no a/c. This place is way more than we expected, which was a compromise between backpacker’s rugged and resort $$. And did I mention we’re right on the sea, staring across the Gulf of Aqaba at Saudi Arabia?

So today we rested and swam and explored and decided that our first impression is that Dahab is the nicest tourist area we’ve visited in Egypt, since usually we’re stuck on some resort with one or two overpriced restaurants. Here we have an entire village of overpriced restaurants, along with stores overflowing with Bedouin crafts made in China. Actually, Dahab exudes charm. A pedestrian walkway (the corniche) lines the sea, and comfortable restaurants with over stuffed pillows and low tables evoke the Bedouin-meets-hippie atmosphere.

Dahab is certainly the most laid-back place we’ve been in Egypt. The dress code is European resort (well, except for the topless part), a refreshing change of pace from downtown Cairo, where exposed ankles can seem scandalous. Now I understand why some expats return here time and time again.

Tomorrow Mr. Four is diving, getting re-certified and then doing a check-out dive. The reefs here at the Sinai Peninsula were a major selling point for Mr. Four in the move-to-Egypt decision (before the job offer, I thought of Egypt as Pyramids and desert and other old stuff, but not a diver’s paradise), so it’s great he’s finally getting underwater.

And while I considered taking the boys on an adventure to the water parks of Sharm, which is a few hours south of us, instead tomorrow we’re going to stick around Dahab for a relaxed day of swimming and wading and reading and playing.

19 April 2008 Posted by | bug, fun, giggle, holidays, our life in egypt, tourism | 6 Comments

Some news, and off to Dahab

Mr. Four has a new job. He starts in a couple of weeks. This will mean big changes for all of us. He’ll be working part-time, but will have less time with the kids, unfortunately. We’re lucky to have a great housekeeper who will be doing more for us, especially nannying. I hope it won’t be too disruptive for the boys.

It also means we’ll have some extra money. We’ve been getting by fine on my salary, but another salary will be a huge help.

Mr. Four is really excited for this. He’s been quite happy to be home with the boys, but now he’s looking forward to an interesting job with interesting people.

And to celebrate his new job… we’re off to Dahab this weekend. Okay, we’ve been planning this trip for ages, but now it’s especially nice to have the time together as a family before Mr. Four begins his new job (just a few days after we get back to Cairo).

Dahab, on the Red Sea on the Sinai Peninsula, has the reputation of being a backpackers’ hang-out, though I think the true backpacker days are long gone. In any case, it’s supposed to have great character and great diving. Mr. Four is newly certified and these will be his first real dives. Plus I think we might be able to do some kiddie snorkeling for the boys. Maybe they’ll see Nemo.

I’m also hoping we can take a trip to St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mt. Sinai (yes, as in Moses) and take what’s here called a desert safari, which means hanging out with camels and Bedouin.

Mr. Four and I have traveled a bit over the past few years, but this is the longest real vacation we’ve taken since we went to the Everglades about four or five years ago (which was actually part work for Mr. Four so I guess that wasn’t even a real vacation either). And the first long vacation we’ve taken as a family.

17 April 2008 Posted by | family, fun, holidays, tourism | 4 Comments

Pupdate 2: Puppy in the Neighborhood

The puppy is still here and doing well. He’s growing fast, straight up, I think, as his legs appear longer and lankier every day. He could eat a horse (but mostly sticks to puppy food and rawhide). Most importantly, we’re seeing more of the puppy in him. Sometimes he runs around in crazy circles, and other times he likes to nibble on the edge of shoes, which, so far, is mostly cute because he can’t really do any damage yet.

He’s not a big tail wagger, and he’s still pretty mellow, so he’s more like puppy-lite.

Having the pup around has changed some of our patterns. Most days, after dinner, the boys and I take the puppy downstairs to the patches of lawn in front of our building. We tried walking him a couple of times, but he’s still too young to walk well on the leash, and the streets here are tough for leash training. So we’re content, for now, with the (so-called) garden.

Hanging out in the front of the building has meant that I’ve met more of my neighbors. And the boys have befriended a family from a few buildings down. The dad is a neighborhood bowab (a doorman/superintendent combo), and when they kids aren’t in school, they just hang out. So they like seeing my kids too.

They range in age from 3 to 12 years, four kids all together, all very friendly and very respectful. The boys particularly love O, who is 7, though originally I took him for 5 as he’s smaller than Giggle. Even without more than a few common words, they play great together.

We had the four kids all up to our apartment one night last week, and it was the easiest bunch of kids ever. Last weekend, we took three of the kids (O had disappeared with a friend into the neighborhood) and the kids’ mom to our neighborhood club with the pool. The mom, who does speak some English, said it was a huge treat because the kids usually don’t get to go anywhere.

The family is from Luxor in southern/Upper Egypt. They own two apartments down there, which are for the boys when they get married. The older daughter is 12, a very nice girl, and the mom said she’ll get married at age 14. Whoa.

So all this because of the pup. Unfortunately, Mr. Four still doesn’t want to keep him. I do (natch). Especially now that he’s getting stronger and healthier and we’re having more fun with him. But, we we’re looking for a new home for him since I’m not the one at home most of the time.

So that’s the latest on the pup.

16 April 2008 Posted by | family, fun, home, our life in egypt, pets | 3 Comments

Around the web

I have about three big posts brewing, but until I have time to finish them up, I did want to share some interesting things I’ve read over the past few days.

Michael Slackman of the New York Times has an article today about noise in Cairo. Don your ear mufflers, and read A City Where You Can’t Hear Yourself Scream.

A young Egyptian woman named Pakinam wrote a powerful blog entry on her decision to wear hijab: To Veil or Not to Veil.

Jae Ran at the great blog Harlow’s Monkey gives some great advice to parents on how we can be allies to our transracially adopted kids.

14 April 2008 Posted by | adoption, family, in the news, our life in egypt, parenting, race | Comments Off on Around the web

The Strike

There was a call for a general strike here in Egypt this past Sunday, April 6. From what I read, it originated with some textile factory workers who wanted to lodge protests about low wages and high inflation (issues I’ve blogged about elsewhere), and morphed into something national. Free speech may not be a uniquely American concept, but it’s certainly not a reality for most Egyptians either. My understanding is that most demonstrations that actually happen are spontaneous, and planned protests usually fail.

All the same, I was concerned about going downtown, where I work and the center of Cairo’s planned strike, on Sunday, the first day of the work week. The US Embassy did not issue any warnings, and my employer sent us a note a few days before which said it’d be business as usual. I talked to a supervisor the night before, who said things would probably be fine, and I was also reassured by another colleague who explained that the only people who needed to worry were those demonstrating or those taking photos of the demonstrators. I planned to be neither.

I did now to expect a heavy police presence downtown. What I did not expect was the absolute chill I felt as I walked up the steps of the metro and saw rows of riot police. The police, I’m sure, weren’t concerned about a white American woman walking to work, but I felt sufficiently intimidated, which, indeed, was the whole point.

And, they won, it seems. I’ve read on some blogs that police surrounded the Cairo factory at the center of the planned strike, and forced people to stay at work. Elsewhere I read that Cairo University, often a center of demonstration, had a very strong police presence.

Tahrir Square is a bustling place typically. On Sunday, many people stayed home, whether out of solidarity or concern for their safety, I do not know.

Here’s how empty it looked mid-day, in what was supposed to be the middle of the Strike.
Tahrir Square 1

Tahrir Square 2

One theory about why people stayed home was the big sandstorm. Here’s another.
riot police

riot police 4

So, the strike failed in most of Cairo. A strike, by the way, that apparently was organized through SMS text messaging (via mobile phones), Twitter, and Facebook.

However, Mahalla, a city in the Delta, was very active. Rather than repeating everything on someone else’s blog, let me know point you to a few, all with photos and lots of information. The blogs also have a lot of information on what happened around Cairo and the rest of Egypt in the days before the strike.

The Arabist
Arabawy
Egyptian Chronicles
Rantings of a Sandmonkey

You can also read some mainstream media reports from the New York Times (by a reporter based in Cairo) and the BBC.

Finally, there’s apparently a call for another strike, this time on May 4, coincidentally, Mubarak’s 80th birthday.

8 April 2008 Posted by | our life in egypt | 3 Comments

Dr. King

Last year about this time, I took Bug, then two years old, to the doctor. In January we had been to a fun and memorable Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade and had continued conversations about Dr. King. So, when I told Bug we’d see the doctor soon, he asked, “Dr. King?”

The nurse, a black woman, and I both smiled. No, not Dr. King.

The past few days, especially since I’ve been reading the comments on the Why are we here? post, I’ve been thinking a lot about racism. Racism manifests itself differently in different cultures and countries, but can we escape it anywhere? Of course I don’t have an answer for that.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King. I remember when King’s birthday first became a holiday, but I’m too young to remember Dr. King himself. I do know that it’s incredible to think that my family wouldn’t have been possible then, in 1968.

4 April 2008 Posted by | race | 4 Comments