We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!

America’s gift to Egypt

So H1N1 has come to Egypt, not from pigs, but from plain ol’ Americans. It seems a few students at the American University in Cairo now have the dreaded swine flu (they have all recovered or are asymptomatic) and now their dorm, which houses over 200 students and faculty, is quarantined for a week. A week!

Can you imagine the parent who’s just sent off their kid to Cairo hearing that they’re in a building surrounded by armed police in masks? Fun times indeed. At least they’re allowing in pizza delivery.

Police quarantine the AUC dorm in Zamalek, Cairo

Police quarantine the AUC dorm in Zamalek, Cairo

You can follow all the (lack of) excitement as written by Jack and Kaddee, an AUC faculty couple who was supposed to be in Dahab this week before moving back to the US.

The best part is that, according to Jack, the Egyptian government doctors have been going into and out of the building and wearing no gloves, no masks, nothing. So much for a quarantine, eh?

We are scheduled to leave on a US carrier, direct to the US, early Friday morning. I just hope we can get out of here before mass hysteria ensues.


9 June 2009 Posted by | in the news, sicknesses | 2 Comments


Photo by Flickr user jmtimages

Photo by Flickr user jmtimages

President Obama will be speaking in Cairo on Thursday, and the whole city is aflutter. In the past few weeks, the city has seen major painting and cleaning projects, especially in the area around Cairo University, where Obama is scheduled to speak around 12:30 local time. T-shirt hawkers downtown are offering an array of options, including one which says “Obama is the new King Tutankhamun.” Much of the city will be shut down–roads will be closed, and some businesses won’t open. And plenty of people won’t go to work regardless of whether anything is officially closed.

When I first learned Obama was coming to Egypt, I was thrilled as I hoped this would be my chance to see him speak in person. But it’s not to be. Obama isn’t coming to Cairo to chat with expats but instead to address the so-called Muslim world (which is far more diverse than that phrase suggests).

Some Egyptians are frustrated at the inconveniences around town, but an awful lot are quite proud Obama chose Egypt.

I’ll be working tomorrow–that is, if I don’t get stuck in any major traffic snarls on the way to work–and Mr. Four will be working as well. But, I am quite eager to hear what my president has to say, and am delighted my employer is setting up some TVs at work so we can watch the speech live.

3 June 2009 Posted by | in the news | 2 Comments

The pigs are still dying in Egypt

Photo by flickr user Paxie

Photo by flickr user Paxie

While the rest of the world moves on from H1N1 (aka swine flu), Egypt continues its slaughter of pigs, though so far they’ve only killed about 20,000 or so out of an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 pigs.

This blog post is a bit old, but an Egyptian blogger named Mostafa provides a local perspective here.

And an article yesterday from Reuters discusses how the mass slaughter is flaming sectarian tension. Reuters says that Cairo’s Christian garbage collectors and pig farmers are being paid only 100LE (about $17.79) per pig, rather than the 1000LE originally promised.

13 May 2009 Posted by | in the news | 4 Comments

Pig panic!

Photo by flickr user be_khe

Photo by flickr user be_khe

Swine flu fever is sweeping the world, and Egypt has its own version of this insanity. You may have seen the news reports of the mass slaughter of pigs now happening here in Egypt. (The New York Times has a good story which gives some context for this slaughter.) The latest news is that some farmers are fighting back; there have been several injuries and arrests.

The World Health Organization has criticized this slaughter, and they and the CDC assure us that people can’t get swine flu from pigs. In fact, they renamed swine flu to Influenza A to avoid the impression that people are catching this thing from pigs. So why the slaughter?

It has to do with religion, class, and politics here in Egypt. The pig farmers are also the Christian minority, the underclass. And many of these pigs are owned and raised by the Zebaleen, the Christian garbage collectors. Muslims don’t (usually) eat pork (well, some do, with gusto, but you know what I mean). Some of the Gulf Countries actually ban pigs completely, but not Egypt. But, many Muslims regard pigs as unclean–and not just unclean but nasty and filthy.

Some folks are chattering that this is just an excuse to ban pigs. And many Egyptians seem truly to believe that you can catch this thing from pigs–I heard this from a well-educated person just today. The government has responded to some of the criticism by suggesting this is just a health precaution rather than a swine flu preventative, but the damage is done.

Pigs are dying, and not necessarily in humane ways, and Christian pig farmers are losing their livelihood.

I don’t even eat pork. But it’s impossible to see how slaughtering 400,000 pigs is making Egypt a better place.

4 May 2009 Posted by | in the news, sicknesses | 6 Comments

Roses and thorns

We Fours have a new tradition-in-the-making, inspired by the Obama family.

A few weeks ago, listening to Slate’s Political Gabfest podcast, I learned that each night the Obamas individually share a rose, something good, and a thorn, something difficult, from their day. (For more information, the Washington Post mentioned it here.)

Mr. Four, Bug, Giggle, and I have dinner together at home usually at least four nights a week, and often more (though sometimes we eat dinner at our club on the weekends). But the boys often acted silly through much of dinner, and while I tried to engage the boys about their day at school, I wasn’t always successful.

But now we’ve started our own roses and thorns, and it’s going great. In fact, the boys remember it at dinner before I do. Bug even wanted to talk roses and thorns at breakfast this morning.

It’s a great way to have some structured conversation, and I’m learning a lot more about what the boys are up to at school. Thorns often focus on difficulty with a friend. (In Bug’s renditions, usually his entire school is in time out except for him and his best buddy B.)

Mr. Four and I usually talk about work stuff, and I think this could be a good way for the boys to learn more about adult life.

And, I realized as I writing this, the boys’ dinner table behavior is much better now that they have something to talk about and share.

I’ve been wanting us to have some family traditions, and so far this is a great one.

20 March 2009 Posted by | bug, family, giggle, in the news, our life in egypt, parenting, school | 3 Comments

Baby buying in Egypt

As I’ve written about before on this blog, and as people have discussed in comments, international adoption from Egypt doesn’t really happen. Not legally anyway. (Domestic adoption, at least in the western understanding, doesn’t exist either.)

But there are rumors of baby buying rings. And now it seems like some Americans are caught up in one such scenario.

This was first covered in the Egyptian press, and then Reuters picked it up, including in two good stories, one that focused more on the news and one that focused on one of the jailed couples.

According to Reuters, the couple from Durham, North Carolina, an American citizen and a green card holder with Egyptian citizenship, paid an orphanage $4,673 dollars for two infants and received forged papers listing them as the birth parents. They brought these papers to the US Embassy, to get (edited) some sort of official paperwork. The Embassy fished out the truth and turned the couple over to Egyptian authorities.

Apparently there are also two other couples who arrested around the same time, with similar charges.

The local news channel in Raleigh covered the couple’s first appearance in court on Saturday. This couples faces jail time of up to 15 years.

The real victims are the four children, now back in Egyptian orphanages. I wonder about their first moms. Did they sell these kids knowingly, thinking they’d have a better life as Americans?

A friend of mine here speculated that because so many things in Egypt, even legal processes, require a little baksheesh (a tip or bribe), perhaps this couple thought it was all legal.

But in case anyone is still wondering: you may not adopt (or buy) children from Egypt.

Edit on March 23: Please note that there are some very strongly worded comments on this post, some of which may come across as anti-Islamic. These are not my opinions, but I generally allow comments as long as the language is somewhat respectful. I’d be interested to hear folks’ responses to Mary’s comments.

17 March 2009 Posted by | adoption, in the news | 27 Comments

The news from Egypt

I’ve been quiet, but not for lack of happenings around Cairo.

Last night saw a tragic bomb blast at the Khan il Khalili, a market in downtown Cairo. Real news about the incident has been slow to come, but the BBC is now reporting that one person has been detained.

I first heard the news on Twitter. I told Mr. Four, who got on the phone, and then I immediately sent an email to our families. My goal was to get the news that we were okay to my mother-in-law before she had any reason to suspect we weren’t.

I then spent a few hours maniacally refreshing news websites and Twitter. I also took a walk around the neighborhood. The police were more active than usual, but otherwise nothing seemed much different.

Today, Mr. Four and I both had normal days at work, though he reported that a meeting was cancelled because one of the attendees, an American, wouldn’t leave her house.

My heart goes out to the family and friends of the young Frenchwoman who died in the blast. I can’t even imagine.

Now, some context: tourists and tourist areas have been targeted over the past several years in different parts of Egypt. This attack could be part of that pattern. There’s another theory floating around that this was done by people angry at Egypt for its perceived support of Israel’s attack on Gaza in December and January. A lot of people throughout the Middle East and within Egypt are angry that Egypt didn’t open its border with Gaza. This is a very complicated situation–if you’re interested, let me know, and I’ll dig up some links for you.

As for the bombing–I’ll share any news as I hear it.

23 February 2009 Posted by | in the news | 2 Comments

A real way to help refugees

We’ve met a lot of refugees here in Egypt who are desperately hoping for a better life. These aren’t people from Egypt, but from East Africa, who have gotten stuck here as they work their way through the very complicated UN refugee system. Egypt is not a great place for these folks.

Our very good friend Mike has posted an idea to change.org as part of a larger campaign to find the best ideas for the new Obama administration. Mike, who is an expert on international refugee law, has a great proposal to help refugees get to the United States, including through individual sponsorship by Americans (which is already done in Canada and Australia). Mike wrote the following:

Our proposal to revitalize US refugee policy started several weeks later than others in the Ideas for Change program, but it has been moving up. We’re in third place now in the “humanitarian relief” category, and we are just 70 votes out of first place. But in just 10 days, we need to make the cut for the final round of voting.

Many of you have already voted, but some are still waiting. Now is the time. There is an opening to make a change for US foreign policy and for refugees around the world, but it won’t last for long.

Just follow these steps:
1) Join Change.org at https://www.change.org/admin/sign_up
2) Vote by going to: http://www.change.org/ideas/view/usa_refugee_corps_-_export_hope_and_revitalize_our_national_moral_standing You should see your vote register and the number of votes go up! If you don’t see that happen, try voting again.

If you have already voted, then please – please – find some colleagues or friends, and tell them about this idea. Ask them to vote. 70 votes is not very many. We can win this election, and give ourselves a major boost in the lobbying we will need to do in Washington.

And, finally, make this proposal your own. Add your input on the change.org website. There has already been a good discussion, and a lot of good ideas, and as this proposal is developed over time we will be incorporating them. And the more people discuss and debate it, the stronger this campaign.

Thank you. Mike

Please take a minute from your busy holiday season to vote to support refugees. Thanks!

22 December 2008 Posted by | africa, in the news | 1 Comment

NaBloPoMo, 12 days in (11/12)

You know the difference between NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo? NaBloPoMo is easy! At least so far. It’s been nothing like last November, when I stayed up way too late most nights to slog my way towards 50,000 words.

You could make this even easier for me by asking any lingering questions you might have. Thanks.

12 November 2008 Posted by | in the news | 5 Comments

So maybe not the whole world (11/8)

Yesterday I blogged about the positive reactions I had seen here in Egypt to the news of Obama’s election. I forgot to mention the taxi driver wearing an Obama/Biden pin. And then later I read this AP article on MSNBC about local opinion here in Cairo.

But not everyone is so excited. First off, I got a very nasty comment on my Election Day post. Don’t look for it; I deleted it. It included the n-bomb. Well, apparently this fellow was so angry he scribbled the same nastiness on expat blogs all around Cairo. If you’re so included (and you’ve been warned), check out the comments on this post at Lulu’s Bay, the only one I know who left it standing.

Also, another fellow who blogs at the Arabic Media Shack, thinks the average Egyptian is far less interested in this election than the American media has portrayed. I agree with him that we Americans can be arrogant and self-centered, and I agree with his point about Egyptian racism (which I’ve blogged about before), but I do think the incredible hatred here for the war in Iraq and George W. has some people more interested than you might expect.

If any Egyptians, or expats in Egypt, want to chime in, I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on this.

8 November 2008 Posted by | in the news | 7 Comments