We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!

Packing day

As I type, there are two Egyptian men in my living room building boxes and packing most of our stuff into them. Mr. Four and I are drinking beers, Bug has already fallen asleep for the evening, Giggle is watching The Incredibles, and Mr. Puppy is observing it all anxiously.

Yesterday was busy, as we sorted through all our stuff and piled what we wanted to ship into one room. We left a few things to take with us in our luggage. It took most of the day, but this packing day is much easier than two years ago, when we came here. We were trying to sell our house, re-home our animals, and help Giggle adjust to life in our family, the biggest transition of all.

Things will be a bit crazy when we get to Dream Town (on Wednesday, inshallah), but for now, I’m glad my employer requires that they pack our things (for insurance purposes). It’s making these last few days in Cairo much easier for all of us.

3 October 2009 Posted by | expat scene, getting there | 1 Comment

Dream Town, here we come

Folks, we’re leaving Cairo. As in, forever. And we’re leaving next week. It’s been brewing for a while, and you, my poor readers, are the last to know. (Sorry about that.)

We’re not going back to our beloved College Town. We’re heading many states away, to Dream Town. It’s such a dream town that I can’t quite believe we’re actually moving there.

I have a new job, which I’ll start in late October. We’ve tentatively lined up a place to live (we’ll be renting for a while), and our stuff that’s been in storage for the past two years should soon be making its way to our new home. I hope to get Giggle enrolled in school late next week, and we still need to find a pre-K for Bug. Mr. Four, as when we arrived in Cairo, will be staying at home for a while, to help us settle in.

We are very sad to leave our friends, the boys’ schools, and our wonderful nanny. But we are excited to go home to the US, to have sidewalks and clean air and woods and rivers. We are hoping this is a very long-term move, like through Bug’s high school graduation.

So that’s the latest! More to come as we pack.

1 October 2009 Posted by | bug, expat scene, giggle, home, our life in egypt | 4 Comments

Not our home, but our country

On the flight from New York to Cairo, Giggle, age 6, explained things this way to Bug, age 4: “Egypt is not our home, but it’s our country.”

I would probably have described it in the opposite way (Egypt isn’t our country, but it’s our home), but I was interested to hear how Giggle was sorting out this notion of having multiple homes and countries. After this summer, my boys have come to think of “home” as our family house in the mountains in the US, a house Mr. Four spent many years building, and in which he and I lived full-time for several years after. When we moved from that house to College Town, Mr. Four and I rented it out. It’s not set up as a vacation rental, which isn’t particularly lucrative (sadly), but means we can use it whenever we want, for as long as we want, and it’s already furnished. The boys hadn’t spent much time there until last summer. I think it was good for them to have the continuity of going back this summer. Giggle had such glee in his voice when he’d say, “Hey, I remember this place!” Until we’re back in the US permanently, I’m glad to give them some consistency in their understanding of home. And it’s a nice home–though the outside is my favorite part.

the view from our deck

Giggle and Bug were pretty stunned to learn that Mr. Four built the house. More shocked, even, than when we arrived in the US and I get behind the wheel of a car (“You can drive, Mommy?”). A couple of times, in the middle of watching TV or hanging out, Bug called out, “Daddy, Daddy! Thank you building this house!”

This may well have been the best part of the summer for Mr. Four.

And what a great summer it was. We were away about six weeks, and we spent the first three visiting family and friends and driving around a lot. The boys (and Mister Puppy) did great with this, much to my surprise and delight.

In the mountains, we went tubing and rafting and fishing and in general spent a lot of time outside.

playing in the trees

Giggle also got a new casterboard called a RipStik. Think of a skateboard, but complicated. So we went a lot to the local skate park, where Bug rode his bike and Giggle cruised around on his RipStik.

skate park

In this photo, you can see all the fellas of the Four Family: that’s Giggle on the RipStik, then Mr. Puppy, then Mr. Four, and way ahead on the trail, Bug on his bike.
walking & riding the trail

So while it’s nice to be home, we do miss our country.

27 July 2009 Posted by | bug, expat scene, family, fun, giggle, holidays, home, pets | 4 Comments

Looking ahead to summer

Despite grand plans to take the trip of a lifetime through East Africa this summer, it looks like we’ll be heading to the US for the summer–and then back to Cairo this fall.

I could say it was because I read in the book Third Culture Kids that it’s important for kids who live overseas to have a home base to return to each summer. But it’s also in part because I have been feeling homesick. Also, the boys are growing out of their clothes. And, Tanzania and Kenya are looking to be more expensive than putzing around in the US.

Most importantly, the boys have been asking to go to the US. Giggle talks about visiting “America” and Bug really wants to go to the mountains. Sometimes he’s so distraught that we’re not leaving right away that we have to talk about what we’ll pack for our trip and what we’ll do once we get there (pick blackberries, play with the neighbor’s dog, go tubing).

The slightly troublesome logistics include Mr. Four’s vacation time, which is less than mine, which means we either spend more time in Cairo as a family, or I figure out something to do with the boys for about a week or two. I’ve been daydreaming about a European layover, which would be really expensive, which is why it’ll probably remain a daydream. But Mr. Four and I want the boys out of the city if we can afford it, since the air here is just so awful. Their little lungs need the break. And I really want to maximize my time away from Cairo, which helps me appreciate it all the more once I get back.

This is definitely a first-world problem however.

Last year at this time I was having another problem of the privileged: I was pretty unhappy in Cairo. I can’t pinpoint exactly what’s changed, except I’m pretty sure it’s me and not this place, but this spring I’m doing okay.

And, now, I need to get back to my daydreams. Prague, anyone?

23 March 2009 Posted by | bug, expat scene, family, giggle, holidays, home | 7 Comments

And the award for worst customer service goes to…

US Citizen Services at the American Embassy in Cairo!

I am furious at these people right now. A couple of times a year, they schedule visits to satellite locations to offer services to Americans. I desperately need new pages in my passport: Egyptian and Ethiopian visas are so big I’ve run out of room for any more stamps. The only option for me is to get this done at the Embassy; I can’t mail it like folks in the US.

The Embassy was scheduled, as recently as last week, to be in my neighborhood today. This works out well because I am off for today (for the Epiphany, Timket as its known in Ethiopia, the eastern Christian holiday) but the boys are in school.

But when I arrived at their satellite office, they weren’t there. I waited twenty minutes and finally asked… only to be told they cancelled and would be coming next week instead. Never mind that this date has been set for ages.

In early January, I scheduled my entire month around being able to do this today! Because otherwise I’d have gone downtown and waited two hours at the Embassy to do this back when I had a bunch of a days off.

This follows up on them not responding to an email I sent asking if my husband (who has to go downtown regularly anyway) could do this for me.

I’m also still mad that they didn’t help me vote last fall. The Embassy was making a huge push about how important voting was. So I sent them an email asking if I could mail my absentee ballot through their post office. I sent my email to the guy whose name was listed as being just the person to help US citizens in Egypt to vote. No word, no nothing. So much for the importance of voting. (I managed to vote anyway, no thanks to them.)

Here’s a basic customer service rule: if you’re not going to respond to email, don’t post an email address!

Right now, on the Embassy’s US Citizen Services website, if you click “Contact,” you get an email address. Which they won’t answer.

I’m not usually one to rant about the federal government because, well, I often like it (not in the Bush era though). And of late I have been feeling extra patriotic because of the inauguration. But right now I am burning!

19 January 2009 Posted by | expat scene | 7 Comments

Count your t-shirts

So, how many pairs of pants does a six year old need? How many pairs of socks will a four year old go through in a year? What sizes will my kids be wearing in 14 months?

In the US, I was always aware of Bug’s clothes: what fit, what was getting snug, what was dirty, what was clean. It was easy enough to pick up a couple pairs of shorts from Old Navy or Target when he grew out his old stuff.

Living overseas, without access to decent quality, affordable clothes for my growing boys, means shopping ahead when I’m in the US or in London. But I haven’t really figured out how to do this well.

Bug wears some hand-me-downs, but Giggle wears out many of his shoes and shirts and pants (with help from our heavily chlorinated water) before he outgrows them. So I can’t always count on having the next few sizes up.

Also, Giggle is still growing like a weed. He’s almost too tall for his size six pants (though the waist fits fine–I might be looking to buy Old Navy slim fit next time).

Add in the complexities of what these kids actually like to wear, and it’s tough.

Right now Bug has plenty of t-shirts but only one pair of swim trunks that fit–and the boys usually go through two or more swim trunks in a season. Last summer I made lists, but they weren’t specific enough. Instead of jeans, I need to specify sizes and quantity.

And part of this is figuring out how much I need in what sizes.

So, assuming we can get laundry done pretty regularly, what do you think? How many socks, shoes, pants, t-shirts, and underwear do kids need?

18 January 2009 Posted by | bug, expat scene, giggle, shopping | 4 Comments

Scenes from the expat life

A few things I never imagined writing:

The other day I took the boys to the club for their tennis lesson.

Yesterday I signed our housekeeper up for a cooking class.* (The woman at the desk said, “So you are signing up your maid?” I cringed, but said, “Yes.”)

Oh what a strange world it is.

*Mexican food! We are all excited. Also, she’s as much our nanny as our housekeeper. Just ask Bug.

5 January 2009 Posted by | a little different, expat scene | Comments Off on Scenes from the expat life

Three paths

There’s always plenty of time to reflect over the holidays here in Egypt. Which is usually a good thing. Here are the options in the months and years ahead.

1. Stay here for at least another full year (leaving no earlier than summer 2010). This would likely include taking a fantastic trip to East Africa this summer. It’d have Giggle in his great school for another year, and it’d get Bug through preschool. The downside: another full year of this air. Another full year in a place we don’t love (a problem of the privileged, I know). Another year where I wonder if my job skills are growing obsolete. Another year I risk getting stuck here, professionally.

2. Look for a job back in the States. Be closer to family. Live someplace we love–or at least a place we understand. Someplace where people won’t stop us to ask if we are a family and then insist we can’t be because of the differences in our skin (sadly, this was not an isolated event). The downside: the end of the adventure.

3. Take the adventure another step and look for a job in eastern or southern Africa. Live someplace were we can travel even more easily to places we love. Be someplace where the boys blend in. The downside: a career shift for me that might be harder to bounce back from if I don’t love it.

Path number one is also the path of least resistance, and probably where we’re headed.

What would you do?

4 January 2009 Posted by | africa, expat scene, our life in egypt, race | 6 Comments

Best of 2008

My friend Jenni just wrote a nice post about her favorite moments from the past year, and I’m inspired to do the same.

Bug is napping, but I’m going to guess his favorite moment (the one that would come to mind, anyway) was opening the Batman motorcycle he asked about all fall and got from Santa for Christmas.

Giggle’s favorite moment from 2008:

  • Seeing Santa when he woke up on Christmas morning (he’s been talking about this for a week, and we haven’t questioned him further on the matter)

Mr. Four’s favorites:

  • Boating with the boys in the mountains this summer
  • Snorkeling with the boys in Dahab

My favorites (in chronological order):

Spring, in Egypt (mostly)

  • When we first joined our club last January, sitting outside in the evening, drinking tea or a beer, while the boys played on the playground, and feeling like I had a backyard again
  • Discovering Fagnoon
  • Our spring trip to Dahab, an amazing vacation that managed to include both lots of fun for the boys and lots of relaxation for Mr. Four and me
  • in dahab
    Bug and Giggle splash around in the kiddie pool at our favorite hotel in Dahab

  • My trip to gorgeous Croatia: walking the streets of old Dubrovnik and visiting with old friends
  • on the island of mljet
    Mljet, Croatia

  • A great visit from my cousin K in June
  • Sweet little Puppy Four
  • puppy four
    Puppy Four

In the US this summer

  • My first morning back in College Town in June, listening to NPR, reading the New York Times (in print!), and drinking tea while the boys played
  • Playing baseball with my dad, Bug, and Giggle in June
  • Swimming at the lake near College Town
  • The boys running hysterically into the house this summer to report “ghosts” outside, which were really fireflies
  • Later on, watching and catching fireflies with the boys, in College Town and the mountains
  • Eating my favorite cereal
  • Laughing hysterically while tubing with Mr. Four, Giggle, and Bug in July
  • My kids discovering the laundry chute at my mom’s house

Fall, back in Egypt (mostly)

  • The Africa Reading Challenge
  • Giggle’s school
  • A few hours at Hamley’s toy store in London
  • Spamalot (also in London)
  • Snorkeling with the boys in Dahab
  • Giggle deciding it was time to re-learn Amharic
  • Bug and Giggle talking to my dad and stepmom on Thanksgiving
  • Ethiopia: time with Bug, the rock hewn churches, hippos, and Bug learning how cool it is to be Ethiopian
  • A wonderful Christmas day, including a nice chat with my mom
  • Listening to my nephew play his new accordion via Skype

1 January 2009 Posted by | bug, ethiopia, expat scene, family, food, fun, giggle, holidays, home, pets, school | 5 Comments

Christmas in Egypt

I like Christmas in Egypt. In the US I often feel like the Grinch (before his heart grows two sizes), but here I find only joy in the holiday.

In Egypt, Christmas is whatever we want it to be. Very few people here are celebrating Christmas (Egyptian Coptic Christians celebrate in early January), so we aren’t competing with crowds of grumpy holiday shoppers. And perhaps because expats spend a lot of money, shopkeepers are extra friendly and offer enthusiastic holidays wishes. And, most importantly to me, other people aren’t telling us what Christmas should mean to us.

The Christmas spirit isn’t just felt by expats in Egypt. Many Egyptian Muslim families buy trees, and Santa brings money to many of these kids.

There are some challenges. It’s tough to find good quality toys here, at least without a major schlep to the big mall across town (I’ve been there twice and really the only thing that’d draw me there again is the Mexican restaurant). But I bought most of the kids’ presents in London in October (the most fun shopping day of my life), so right now we’re mostly shopping for stocking stuffers and a couple extra small things.

We’re also not sure where to find a turkey, but if we substitute a chicken (of which there are plenty) and still have the other traditional fixings, we’ll be fine.

The biggest challenge is that we can’t be with our family. On the plus side, we don’t have to deal with the stress of holiday travel.

So really the challenges are pretty minimal. What is great is how much time off I have to spend with the boys. This week we’re going to head out to Fagnoon, one of our favorite places, where the kids can paint and screen print and shape clay on a foot-pumped wheel, and hang out at our club and maybe even bake cookies.

The irony is that in this Muslim country, I finally have the time and space to celebrate Christmas just as we want.

21 December 2008 Posted by | expat scene, holidays | 10 Comments