We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!


Folks, I don’t get out much. I know, I know: I usually seem so cosmopolitan!

Truth is, I go to work, sometimes take the boys to school, go to the pool on the weekends… but that’s pretty much it. I don’t even get to the further-flung supermarkets, accessible only via taxi and planning, instead preferring the convenience of the place around the corner. And we certainly don’t spend every weekend at the Pyramids.

If you live anywhere long enough, life becomes normal. Even in Egypt.

But I was reminded of my own special dullness tonight when, unlike most evenings, I was actually out at night. I took Puppy Four back to the vet. This dog now freaks out when he gets out of the taxi at the vet’s office. Makes for a fun evening. Anyway, his brain is definitely scrambled, even though he’s sweet most of the time at home. I had a good cry over the whole thing last week, but tonight the vet suggested we wait a few more weeks before we make any decisions. The vet says he’ll never really be normal, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have a happy, seizure-free life. So we’ll see.

Anyway, I had to go pick up more meds (this time, a steroid) for the pup, as well as a few things we need for our vacation. So I found myself at the local shopping center. It’s not the giant western mall, but one serving pretty much just my corner of Cairo.

And it was bustling. At 9:30pm. When usually I am home and, if not asleep, pretty close. And not thinking at all about going out.

Ramadan ends tomorrow night, and the holiday Eid el Fitr begins. Egyptians usually celebrate Eid el Fitr as a family, and they buy new clothes for their kids. So there were tons of families out tonight, choosing their Eid outfits.

It was great fun to wander around the shopping center spying on people. I was one of the few westerners there, so maybe they thought they were spying on me. The mood was festive, and it inspired me to do some of my own shopping. I got some very cute red shoes, locally made and pretty cheap, so we’ll have to see if they last. Plus I bought some sand toys and a jump rope for the boys.

Tonight made me wish I was out and about in the evenings more often. Maybe it’s the weather, but even when it’s not Ramadan, Egyptians really are night people.

I am also a night person. Which is why I’m awake and blogging at 11:30 when we’re leaving tomorrow on vacation and I have tons of things to do.

So, yeah, that vacation. We’re going to Dahab again. I blogged quite a bit about our April trip there. We had an amazing time, enough fun to make us want to go back. Mr. Four will dive a couple of days, and we’ll all snorkel in the sea, swim in the pool, and walk the Corniche. It’s super relaxing.

The shopping spirit was with me earlier today, when I indulged in new paperbacks, which I rarely do. So David Sedaris and Sarah Watters will be joining me in Dahab.

Plus we have a whole week! Eid last a few days, and early next week there’s an Egyptian national holiday… the timing is perfect.

It’s been a quiet month for me on the blog, and this week will be doubly so. Eid Mubarak!


29 September 2008 Posted by | books, family, fun, holidays, shopping, tourism | 5 Comments

Missing Cairo

Another answer to another question. Lenore wondered,

Is there anything that you missed about Cairo while you were on vacation?

Yes, definitely. I missed the obvious: our routine, our friends, Puppy Four. The boys were out-of-whack in the States, for as much fun as they had, and I missed stability most of all.

When we went to the mountains, I also really missed the ease of getting around Cairo. We don’t have a car here, and it’s only occasionally an inconvenience, whereas in the mountains, we had to drive everywhere. So I missed, I suppose, our more urban lifestyle.

I also missed delivery. I haven’t blogged about this much, but you can get almost anything delivered here. Definitely food from just about any restaurant (including McDelivery(!), though we’ve never used it), and also groceries from the market, vegetables from the veggie stand, and shampoo from the pharmacy. And your dry cleaning.

Tomorrow I’m going to order some more dog food from the pet shop. Isn’t that great? (Now if only we could get DVDs delivered.)

I also missed TV that is mostly commercial-free, though commercials aren’t so bad if you only see a few a year.

I also missed Ethiopian food made by our fantastic housekeeper.

I’ll blog more as I think of them.

26 September 2008 Posted by | holidays, our life in egypt | 7 Comments

If only I knew then what I know now

Last week I asked for your questions. Here’s the next question and answer.

TypO asked,

Borrowing from the Tales from a Small Planet site: Knowing what you know now, would you still go?

This answer, right now, is easy: yes, absolutely.

When I first read Typ0’s question, I was in the middle of a stressful few weeks at work, and it wasn’t clear that the stress would dissipate anytime soon. I was longing to be anywhere but here.

The stress passed, and now this is an easy yes. This doesn’t mean I don’t miss College Town terribly. I’d jet back there in a heartbeat. But life is good here, and this has been a great opportunity.

Bland, but true.

25 September 2008 Posted by | our life in egypt | 1 Comment

On staying or going, and pets

A few days ago I asked for your questions. And boy did you ask. Lenore and TypO had some tough ones, so I’ll hold off on answering them.

Wendy asked a few questions:

Do you expect you’ll come back to the US when this assignment is over or will you look for another opportunity outside of the US?

How did you handle all of your pets when you left the country?

We have 3 dogs and I’ve always felt tied to the States by my dogs. Does that make sense?

The first question is easy, because we don’t know the answer. My contract here is for two years; we’re half-way through. But I have already been told I can renew for another two years, so this assignment is more indefinite.

Some days I really want to be back in the US, to settle into a community where we’ll live for more than a couple of years, where I can listen to a local NPR station and hike in the woods (though probably not at the same time). And some days I think I’m crazy to consider leaving. We’re in Egypt! It’s an amazing place. And our lifestyle here is good, helped by my 35-hour workweek (even less during Ramadan), generous vacation time, and full-time housekeeper/nanny.

And some days I am ready to move on, but to another country. I’ve been thinking a lot about different places in East Africa, though there aren’t as many opportunities for me in my field in sub-Saharan Africa. Or Europe, for that matter. We could probably move on to elsewhere in the Middle East, but I’m not sure of the appeal of that over Cairo.

What’s interesting is that about a year ago, I did a bloginterview with Mr. Four in which he said, “I think I’ll be glad to go home in two years.” Now, he’s settled in and really liking his job and our life here.

So, we don’t know. We’re keeping our options open right now.

Wendy also asked about our pets. I blogged about this a year ago, though much has changed since then.

When I accepted the job in Egypt, about 16 months ago, we had five animals, two cats and three dogs. Only two are still alive, the two younger dogs.

The Old Hound was sick and old and died peacefully after a life of adventure last July while we were still in the US. Iggy the diabetic cat came with us to Cairo but died from insulin shock about a month later. The Jeckyll/Hyde Kitty went to live with my mom, and she died last April after a very happy last few months.

Before I go any further, I do want to clarify that The Old Hound, Iggy, and the Jeckyll/Hyde Kitty were all quite senior. I think The Old Hound was the youngest, at about 14 years.

So that leaves Ms. Muddy Paws, who is living with my mom and whom I saw this summer, and Ms. Underfoot, who is living with another family in College Town. I love my girls, but they needed new homes even before we decided to move overseas as they just weren’t meshing with the boys. That sounds crass, but the situation was actually a bit dicey.

Of course, we’ve managed to acquire and lose a cat here. And of course now there’s the sweet if sicklyPuppy Four, who of late has been having seizures again.

Keep the questions coming, please. Wendy, I hope I answered yours.

17 September 2008 Posted by | home, iggy the cat, our life in egypt, pets | 2 Comments

Yet another new look

I wasn’t crazy about that orange, so here’s another design update. I’m still working out a few kinks, so please be patient. If you care enough to comment, please do!

Edited: Also, I just updated my links, off to the right, and added some more blogs that I read regularly. Happy reading!

14 September 2008 Posted by | this blog | 4 Comments

One year in

Recently, the spouse of a new colleague said to me, “Ms. Four, I hope I know as much as you do when I’ve been here a year.”

I assured her that I had told her everything I knew, and it didn’t go much deeper. But, with the arrival of some new, green colleagues, I have realized how settled into our life we are here. Even with the move, we know where to get groceries, bring the boys to play, find good food, and who to call to enjoy all this with.

Last year around this time I asked for your questions. You all had some great questions, and I answered them in a few different posts.

So, now one year in, what questions do you have for me?

14 September 2008 Posted by | our life in egypt, this blog | 11 Comments

Beyond the Horizon by Amma Darko

What a treat to stumble upon this lovely novella.

The story itself isn’t lovely, but involves a young and naive Ghanian woman whose husband abuses and exploits her. The novella begins at the story’s end, in Germany, with the protagonist reflecting on her transition from village girl to city wife to German prostitute. It offers insight into life in Ghana as well as the African immigrant experience in Europe.

Moreover, Beyond the Horizon is an incredibly compelling tale of a woman trapped first by naivety, and then by circumstances.

This book has me eager to read other works by author Amma Darko. If you are interested at all in African women fiction writers, I recommend it.

Note: a lot of students find their way to this blog entry because they have been assigned to read this blog. I am not going to help you do your assignment, nor am I going to sell you a paper. Please read the book (it’s short and very good) and do your own work.

12 September 2008 Posted by | africa, books | 10 Comments

Met my match

This puppy is as accident-prone as I am.

He’s about on par with the Old Hound for vet visits. I recall taking the Old Hound for emergency midnight vet visits to the city about 90 minutes away at least three times. Once, for swelling after his neutering (“I thought they removed a dog’s testicles when he got fixed,” a neighbor commented as we observed some substantial swelling); once, for major swelling following a copperhead bite; and once, for en emergency jaw examination and tooth removal after, we think, a fight with either another dog or a big car.

And that’s just the midnight visits. We had plenty of daytime visits, as well as a series of appointments with the vet oncologist. Plus one time we lost the Old Hound for an entire month after a long romp in the woods. I couldn’t believe it when we got the call from someone who found him, skinny and hungry, but fine all-in-all.

At least here such doggie care is much cheaper. Yesterday’s round cost 130LE to the vet (including an xray), 40LE to the taxi driver, and 35LE in medicine, so about $41 total. In the US, this would likely have been a $200 injury.

This latest debacle involved a car and Puppy Four’s paw. Giggle, the pup, and I were walking down a road, with the pup on a leash, in the narrow space in between the parked cars and the roadway. Somehow, the pup’s foot ended up under a car’s tire, and the car then stopped, and, perhaps responding to my screams, backed up.

Puppy Four freaked out (who wouldn’t, with a car on this foot) and darted all around the round. So of course I ran after him. He finally let me catch him. Much to their credit, a few folks (American and Egyptian) stopped to make sure we were okay–but notably, not the driver of the car. Luckily, there were not further injuries. Mr. Four continued on to soccer practice, and I carried the now-heavy puppy back to our house, where he hobbled into the back room to hide and rest.

Also luckily, he didn’t have any fractures. Now he’s on yet another pharmaceutical cocktail, including a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, and antiobiotics. He’s resting and limping around the house.

A few weeks ago, following an episode in which I ran with the pup while wearing flip flops and ended up crashing to the ground and smashing my elbow into the pavement, Mr. Four commented that I was a klutz. (Approximately two seconds later, he denied saying such a thing.)

In any case, it’s no secret that whilst in a whitewater kayak I could manage some grace, on land I am a wreck.

It seems Puppy Four is much the same.

11 September 2008 Posted by | pets | 3 Comments

Happy Enkutatash!

Today is New Year’s Day in Ethiopia. According to the Ethiopian calendar, we’re now in 2001.

We celebrated with some good friends and some great food, courtesy of our wonderful housekeeper and nanny. She has the day off today and will spend much of it at her church.

Bug and Giggle had a great time dancing around the living room with Maya to our favorite Ethiopian-hip hop-fusion music.

Happy New Year!

11 September 2008 Posted by | bug, ethiopia, food, fun, giggle, holidays | 2 Comments


It’s easy to make snide remarks about Americans who move to other countries and proceed to surround themselves with, well, Americans (not that I ever did such a thing, of course). But I find ourselves in much the same situation this fall.

First, work. My job has moved, and, now, rather than commuting downtown each day by metro, I take a work shuttle out to the desert. I work with a lot of Egyptians, but it’s still a pretty western setting.

Next, Mr. Four’s job. He works with mixed group of Egyptians and Americans, but, like at my job, the atmosphere and setting is very American.

Giggle’s school. Last year he was at a preschool run by an Egyptian-American woman, but with an international feel. This year, he’s at, you guessed it, an American school. It is actually a pretty international place, with kids from all over the world, but his teacher is American, as are most of his classmates.

Our home. We live in the same expat-y suburb, but last year we were the only Americans (I think) in our building, as our employer was renting just one or two flats there. Now, we’re in a building owned by my employer and occupied by, yup, Americans. Well, that’s not exactly true. We have some American-Egyptian families here, but it’s not like being in our old building, where we interacted more frequently with our bowab and Egyptian neighbors.

Our club. Last fall we were missing our yard and frustrated by the lack of public parks and greenspaces here in Egypt. We found the solution in joining a recreational club (it’d be like joining the JCC or YMCA if your town didn’t have any public playgrounds or rec centers), and it’s populated mostly by Americans.

Of course we are still in Egypt–I was reminded of that this morning, when I brought the pup to the vet in a taxi driven by a man who was clearly trying very hard not to be cranky even though he was hot and tired and hungry and thirsty, all a result of his Ramadan fast.

But some things are much easier in Americaland. Lately I find myself wearing some skirts that cover my knees but don’t hit my ankles, skirts I tucked away in storage all of last year. And as a friend pointed out, immigrant communities in every country tend to stick together. Still, it’s not exactly the foreign-immersion experience we expected.

10 September 2008 Posted by | expat scene, our life in egypt | 6 Comments