We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!

Off to Croatia

On Sunday, I leave for six days in Croatia for… work! I have a professional meeting there. Here are two great things about this meeting: 1) It’s in Croatia, and, 2) Some friends and colleagues from my beloved alma mater will also be there.

The more I learn about Croatia’s coast on the Adriatic, the more I wished Mr. Four and I had decided to make this a family vacation. The airfare is expensive (mine is covered by work), though, and, at the time of booking, before Mr. Four had his job, we didn’t think we could swing it.

And, especially surprising given that Croatia isn’t really all that far from here, it’s quite a schlep to get there: my travels on Sunday will include four cities, three countries, and three airlines. I fly Cairo to Vienna to Zagreb to Dubrovnik. My layover in Vienna is long enough to be long but too short to zip into town and see anything, unfortunately.

I read once some silly thing like “you know you’re an expat when … you have at least three currencies in your wallet.” That’ll certainly be the case next week: I’ll have my Egyptian pounds for home, Croatian kuna, American dollars to convert (my per diem from my employer), and maybe a few euros so I can buy a snack in Vienna.

The conference is long — Monday to Friday — and I know I’ll miss Mr. Four and the boys. But what an amazing opportunity for me. And of course it is easier to be a tourist without kids. And I’m really looking forward to seeing my friends, especially one in particular, my old supervisor and a dear friend. Plus she’s bringing me treats from the US: magazines and swimmer’s shampoo!

We have a busy few weeks when I get back: my wonderful college-aged cousin is coming for two weeks (the first family to visit!), and we leave on June 21 for the States. We talked to my mom last night, to wish her a happy birthday (the boys sang “Happy Birthday” in English, my idea, and in Arabic, their idea). The night before, the boys talked to their Grandpop, Mr. Four’s dad. Now they are both ready to hop on that plane and see all these relatives. Me too.

But first, Croatia. This is one of these times when I feel like the luckiest girl in the whole world. I’ll try to post once or twice from there. Otherwise, see you in a week!

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30 May 2008 Posted by | expat scene, family, tourism | 2 Comments

In which the tooth fairy comes to Egypt

First, some exciting news: Giggle just lost his first tooth! It’s been loose for weeks, which scared him at first, and then, when he remembered stories from his friend August, delighted him. Bug has even been saying he wants “broken” teeth.

This morning, he called me into the bathroom to see his bloody mouth. He lost his tooth while drinking some water through a straw. First he ran to his bedroom to put the tooth, still bloody, under his pillow, and then he went to the bathroom and freaked out over the bloody spot. We reassured him it was okay and tried to show him where the new tooth is breaking through. The obligatory salt water rinse, remembered from deep in the annals of my memory, made him feel better.

When Mr. Four suggested a nap, Giggle thought this was a grand idea. So he went to bed, but then tried to stay awake to see the tooth fairy. Mr. Four explained it wouldn’t work that way.

So now he’s asleep, and I believe I just saw the tooth fairy exchange the tooth for 5LE (less than $1 US, but it goes a long way here in Egypt). I just really hope Giggle doesn’t talk to August, whose teeth apparently garner a lot more cash.

30 May 2008 Posted by | giggle | 2 Comments

Moving and other news

We have a moving timeline! Our new apartment will be empty in late June, and so my employer, with help from our housekeeper/nanny, will move our stuff soon after that.

How fabulous is it to have a housekeeper? As fantastic as you might imagine. Even better when it turns out she can help facilitate moving our stuff while we’re in the States.

My employer owns the furniture, which will stay behind at our old apartment, and we’ll have a different set of stuff in the new place, so moving involves kitchen stuff, linens, books, and clothes, but not bookcases and beds.

And how fantastic is it that we’ll be out of town when it happens? We will have to pack our stuff. It’s not a total breeze. But pretty close to it.

The boys don’t know yet. We will miss some of the folks here in the neighborhood, especially some kids my kids have befriended, but this looks like a great opportunity for the Fours.

28 May 2008 Posted by | our life in egypt | Comments Off on Moving and other news

On the move

I just learned some great news: the Four family will be moving to a ground-floor flat at Choice B. This is the building with a small yard and a great location. I had heard the ground-floor apartment was small, but found out it has three bedrooms, which is plenty of space for us (the boys share a room). Plus instead of a balcony, we’ll have a small, private, walled outdoor patio, and, because we’re on the ground floor, we’ll have easy access to the shared yard outside.

So this is great for Mr. Four’s knees, great for the boys to play and get to school, great for me for commuting, and since it’s been a hassle to house train a pup from the seventh floor, great for Archie and his long-term residence with the Fours.

Of course, we haven’t actually seen this place. We might consider asking the current tenant if we could stop by, but she’s a widow whose husband worked for my employer until last November. Seems a tad insensitive to ask to check out her house. Right?

We’re not sure when we’ll move. The housing office is waiting to hear when the apartment will be empty, and they’ll want us to move as soon as possible after that. As always, I will keep you posted.

Meanwhile, I’m still very interesting in your feedback on Bug’s lungs.

27 May 2008 Posted by | our life in egypt, pets | 2 Comments

Young lungs

This spring we met a family here in Cairo who has been here since last summer, the same as us. They have a young baby who was born in the US but has lived here most of his life. Just recently, on their annual leave back the States, their American pediatrician confirmed what the parents had suspected: their baby has asthma, clearly exacerbated (if not caused) by Cairo’s polluted air.

The baby is now on hardcore steroids while they try to get his breathing under control and while they’re back in Cairo. For folks who don’t know–steroids can stunt a child’s growth, so my understanding is that they’re only prescribed to children in extreme situations.

The family was expecting to stay here another year, but their employer won’t allow them to, given the baby’s health concerns. The problem is two-fold: first, being here makes the baby’s asthma worse, and, second, the medical care here is such that the employer isn’t confident the baby can be treated locally in an emergency. Basically, Cairo makes the asthma worse, and the health care system isn’t up to par.

So, the mom and two kids are being moved back to the States while the dad is sent to a pretty awful place (like, what’s the last place in the world you’d want to live right now? bingo!) for the next year. They don’t have much choice or maybe any choice.

I’m sad to see this nice family leave and even sadder given the circumstances.

It also has me, a hypochondriac on behalf of my children, even more concerned about the poor air quality here (and I don’t mean LA bad; think Beijing bad). Bug had a really rotten cough for a long time this winter, which finally cleared up during the week we spent in Dahab. But now his cough is back, with hardly any cold symptoms. It’s just… a cough. A really bad cough.

There’s a scientifically established link between pollution and asthma. How long can we stay here before the kids suffer permanent lung damage? Our lifestyle here isn’t worth sacrificing the boys’ health.

This is a great question to bring to a a doctor, but we haven’t really established a relationship with a pediatrician here. My employer has a clinic for routine stuff, but I wouldn’t bring my kids to them for something unless it was urgent.

So I’m tempted to schedule an appointment with a doctor in the US, either our old pediatrician or perhaps a specialist… are there pulmonary pediatricians? Fortunately, College Town has a vast array of medical facilities so I can probably find someone.

I’m not sure exactly what I’d ask, but I think it’d go something like this: Doc, can my kid make it through several more months in Cairo without compromising his long term health?

And how about you readers? What would you do?

26 May 2008 Posted by | bug, our life in egypt, sicknesses | 6 Comments

Travel advice, please

I’m leaving for the US in about five weeks (but who’s counting), and I need some advice for our trip.

First, the rental car (or, more specifically, rental mini-van, which seems to be the only vehicle which will accommodate four people with bloated luggage).

Giggle, Bug, and I are scheduled to arrive at the airport near College Town, USA on a weekend night in June at about 9:30pm, so about 3:30am for our Cairo-adjusted bodies. We’ll have been traveling since early that morning, Cairo time. We only have one connection from Cairo to College Town, through New York City, but I’m sure we’ll be zonked, especially me, since Mr. Four isn’t joining us until about a week later and I’ll be on my own with the boys.

Here’s the question. Do I go ahead and pick up the rental car when we arrive at the airport? It’s about 30 minutes from the airport to the place we’re staying in College Town, including some interstate, so I’d be driving that stretch on my own (my first time driving in almost a year). I have never arrived in the US from a trans-Atlantic flight feeling like I was ready to drive, but I could inhale some sugary sodas and push it. Perhaps I’ll be so excited to be in the US that I’ll have some extra energy.

The advantage of getting the car that night is that, once we’re in College Town and have had a good night’s sleep, we can head right out the door to our favorite Family Diner and grocery store. We can start living right away.

The other options are to get a taxi to take us to College Town or to beg a friend to pick us up at the airport. Better in the short term, but then we’d have to get a taxi or friend to take us back to the airport to get the rental car the next day, which would involve schlepping the kids around yet again because I don’t want to leave them, jet lagged and over stimulated, with someone they don’t really know.

Next round: carry-ons.
My boys have each taken two trans-Atlantic flights, and they both did great. However, those flights left at night. This flight leaves in the morning, which means the boys will be wide awake. Giggle will entertain himself by watching every movie and listening to every music station (and he’ll complain bitterly when we have to get off the plane). Bug is less predictable, though generally easier to amuse.

So, what should I bring on the plane to entertain them (keeping in mind I’m limited by what’s available in Cairo)? And, more importantly, what should I bring it in? Should they each have their own backpacks, or will this just be more stuff for me to carry around? And do I bring the large carry-on that only fits overhead but holds lots of stuff? The boys could then drag this one around the airports.

The complicating factor is our short layover in New York City, which means there’s a good chance we’ll miss our connection and end up spending the night in New York (exciting at any other time! but not this one!), without our luggage. So, on the plane, I want to bring at least one full change of clothes for the boys, and something approximating a change of clothes for me. Any carry-on advice, whether about the bag itself or what to put in it, is welcome.

Transporting the children: child carriers.

Last summer, Mr. Four and I brought a lightweight umbrella stroller and the Ergo baby carrier on the plane. Either boy fit in either. What should I bring this year? I don’t think I want to deal with the stroller, and I could get one pretty cheaply in the US. But what about the baby carrier? Either boy could go on my back, backpack-style. What’s easier: one kid on my back and me hauling the luggage? Or two kids walking (or perhaps one being carried) and me hauling the luggage? Or maybe one kid in a stroller?

And, finally, car seats.

Mr. Four and I, in our naivete, brought the boys’ car seats to Cairo. They are now shoved in some corner of our spare room, collecting dust. I definitely won’t bring them onto the plane, but should I bring them back to the US? We’d probably save about $100 or so in car seat rental for the minivan and maybe $50 or so in car seat rental for when we’re at my mom’s house, but they are really bulky, even when they’re in bags to be checked. I was hoping to minimize the amount of luggage I’ll have to deal with when it’s just me with the boys. The distance from the car into the airport, and then from baggage claim to outside, can be the most dreadful part of any trip.

I probably won’t bring the carseats back to Cairo if we bring them to the US, so we could use the luggage space for Fig Newtons and maple syrup and other essentials. Which would mean that if we ever want car seats here, we’re stuck. But that seems unlikely. So, what do you think?

Last question: am I making this complicated or is it complicated all on its own?

18 May 2008 Posted by | bug, getting there, giggle, transportation | 17 Comments

Africa in the New York Times

Two articles from today’s online New York Times caught my attention.

First, some new research suggests that the transition of northern Africa from Savannah to Sahara was gradual and over about 6000 years.

Next, alarmingly, the Times reports that regional war and the global increase in food prices portend a major famine in the Horn of Africa.

17 May 2008 Posted by | africa, in the news | Comments Off on Africa in the New York Times

Great books about Africa, Part 1 of 8 million

First, a technical note: I keep promising, and then not delivering, blog posts with pictures. The truth is that my internet connection is s o o o o s l o w and inconsistent that it’s almost physically painful to deal with uploading and then blogging photos. I have a million pictures just waiting to be blogged. Maybe I’ll get to them eventually.

Meanwhile, my friend K in CO asked me a glorious question: what are my favorite books set in Africa? Given my commitment to the Africa Reading Challenge, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I have two categories in mind: books by Africans and books set in Africa. Of course there’s tremendous overlap, but I will also eventually highlight a few books written by non-Africans but set on the continent.

I should also note that despite my residence in Egypt, my reading has focused on sub-Saharan Africa and especially East Africa, an interest that began before my kids’ adoptions (and really was probably one of the reasons I became interested originally in Ethiopia).

So, here are a few great books set in Africa I read before I began the Africa Reading Challenge (and really these books are on my unofficial life list of best-stuff-I’ve-read):

What Is the What by Dave Eggers. A fictionalized autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, a former “Lost Boy” of Sudan, now a college student in the US. This book will knock your socks off (right, K?). (And my copy is autographed by Deng! But that was actually after I read it.)

We Wish You to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch. Did I say the Eggers book would knock your socks off? Well, this one will knock your shirt off. This non-fiction book inspired the Don Cheadle film Hotel Rwanda (also highly recommended), both of which focus on the Rwandan genocide perpetrated against the minority but historically dominant Tutsi tribe by the Hutus. (And, no, I didn’t know the difference between Tutsis and Hutus before I read the book.) Based on the description, it might be hard to understand on how this book can be so good. But it is.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie. Set in Nigeria during the Biafran-Nigerian War (the Nigerian Civil War) of the late 1960s, this novel focuses on the lives of three people, an upper class Igbo/Biafran woman professor; a white British expat who longs to be a true Biafran; and a young Igbo/Biafran man who works as a household servant. The writing is gorgeous and the story engrossing.

And now, a familiar promise: there is more to come.

12 May 2008 Posted by | africa, books, this blog | 5 Comments

Oh, happy day

We interrupt this hiatus to wish you a very happy Mother’s Day… from we Fours to you, especially Grammie JJ, Aunt A, Nana, Graeme, Aunt Ci, Aunt Ch, and Aunt M.

It turns out I had a very nice Mother’s Day, even given that it’s a work day here in Egypt (as are all Sundays). Mr. Four and I had haircuts scheduled with a new friend and stylist, a British expat who used to own his own shop in England but sold it to follow his wife around the world. He came over this afternoon, and I hope my haircut looks as good on me as Mr. Four’s does on him.

I knew my present was to be delivered at 6:30pm. I figured it was a plant. A big plant, tree-like, but a plant all the same. So imagine my surprise when, at the end of my haircut, in walks a masseuse, there to give me a massage.

It was unexpected and wonderful. Very relaxing, even though Bug kept coming in the room to “help,” by rubbing my arm until Mr. Four chased him out. Both boys insist we’ve somehow been cheated, though, because the masseuse didn’t leave a present. They were looking for something to unwrap.

I’m not usually one for holidays (except my birthday, which, as a consequence, is often a disappointment), but this Mother’s Day had me reflecting on my first Mother’s Day as a mom, two years ago. Mr. Four and I arrived in Ethiopia on Mother’s Day, and we met little Bug for the first time the very next day. We were expecting a slow transition, but he ended up relaxing with us during the day (when he met us, first he cried, and then he fell asleep in my arms), so we took him back to our guest house with us, and he’s been with us ever since. A day or two later, Mr. Four gave Bug a little box to give to me, and the box held a charm necklace called a “mommy tag,” a silver chain with a charm bearing Bug’s name. It was very sweet. I wore it just about every day for ages. (Now I have other jewelry from Ethiopia that I also wear.)

I don’t remember Mother’s Day last year. It was a chaotic time: we were in the midst of awaiting news from Egypt about a job offer and, much more importantly, news from Ethiopia about a court date to process our adoption of Giggle. Both came through around the same time, a week or two after Mother’s Day, which is perhaps why the day itself is a blur.

So here I am in Egypt, spoiled silly and feeling neo-colonial with all this pampering, but also loving Mr. Four and my wonderful boys.

11 May 2008 Posted by | bug, family, holidays, our life in egypt | 2 Comments

Pupdate 3: Puppy pretends to nap

We had a busy weekend, and on Saturday, we told the boys they needed to nap. They found this an unreasonable request and insisted they’d nap only if they could do so on the living room floor. So they set themselves up with blankets and crashed out. Mr. Four worked on some sodoku and even Puppy Four joined in the naptime fun.

naptime

But Puppy Four wasn’t really asleep. He was chewing on the carpet! He’s too young to do much damage, but he seems also to enjoy yanking the arm covers off of the couch and chair, so upholstery repair may be in our future (and may I again say, thank you, employer, for providing us with furniture that you’ll also re-upholster eventually!).

puppy

The puppy’s legs grew approximately ten inches while we were in Dahab. He’s becoming more mischievous, but he’s still very cautious around people, even us. He scares easily, similar to our Old Hound.

puppy

Cairo is full of dogs that look just like Puppy Four.

puppy

And yes, his ears are like that pretty much all the time.

5 May 2008 Posted by | pets | 2 Comments