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

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

The brown clouds of Cairo (11/15)

The United Nations has issued a new report on pollution.

According to the New York Times, throughout Asia, southern Africa, and over Cairo,

a noxious cocktail of soot, smog and toxic chemicals is blotting out the sun, fouling the lungs of millions of people and altering weather patterns… .

The “plumes of carbon dust” are seen as brown clouds, which are

the byproduct of automobiles, slash-and-burn agriculture, wood-burning kitchen stoves and coal-fired power plants.

And Cairo is one of the top 13 “brown cloud hotspots.”

Folks, it looks and smells as gross as it sounds.

15 November 2008 Posted by | our life in egypt, sicknesses | 1 Comment

Salt in the wound

I wrote this blog entry about two weeks ago, in the wee hours as I awaited the first presidential debate, and never published it (I’m not sure why, but probably because I had already published something that day). I just noticed it and didn’t want to delete it, so here it is. It’s a bit melodramatic to publish this now, but, eh, it’s my blog, and I’ll cry if I want to.

Written around September 26
Sometimes blogging about my kids feels too personal. And sometimes I blog so I can stay up late to watch the presidential debates. So I dog blog. Just what you came here for, right? Good.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that a car hit Puppy Four, who ended up with some ugly abrasions on a paw. I later mentioned that he was having seizures again.

Well, the seizures were awful to witness. The poor pup would stiffen up, drool, shake, poop, paw for air, and more awfulness. He had been doing so well, too, up til the incident with the car. We were out walking that night for Giggle’s first soccer practice, and I wouldn’t have taken the Pup unless I thought he was up for it.

So what followed was a huge regression. The seizures completely wore him out. They seemed to happen more often at night, and he was lethargic and sensitive during the day–a huge change from his usually more energetic self.

We went yet again to the vet, of course. The doctor prescribed a new round of anti-seizure medication, which worked, but he was still really lethargic. He also developed an ulcer on his lip and nose, and he wasn’t eating very much. I took him back to the vet this week, and Puppy Four is now on a new medicine that’s working great.

But, at the vet that night, I finally asked, “Do you think he’ll be okay?” The answer is probably not. The vet suspects Puppy Four has permanent damage to his central nervous system and will never be “normal.” I was tearing up and didn’t walk to talk more about it, so the pup and I left to head back home, me sure he was near the end.

And so then, that night, the pup began a major personality recovery. He started following me around the house again and chewing on my arm whenever it was available to him. This morning, for the very first time, he play-growled with a pillow.

And tonight he found his voice: he barked (a first!) and worked his way up to a howl. Probably not so nice for the folks sleeping in the house, but it was fun to hear.

9 October 2008 Posted by | pets, sicknesses | Comments Off on Salt in the wound

Goodbye Puppy Four

We’re back from Dahab. It was a wonderful vacation. Both boys figured out snorkeling, and Giggle in particular loved it. He screamed about every fish he saw. Literally screamed. Bug also delighted in narrating all his fish sightings through his snorkel. Both boys saw Nemo, along with many members of his extended family. Every other fish, at least to Bug, was Dori.

We got home tonight right when Puppy Four arrived home in the Pet Taxi from the kennel. He was so thrilled to be home and pranced around the house in excitement. But he starting seizing about an hour or two later. Last week, before we left for Dahab, the vet and I had a long chat about the pup’s long-term prognosis. He suggested waiting a bit to see how the latest anti-seizure medicine worked, after doubling the dosage.

So, even amidst the breezes of Dahab, I’ve been mulling Puppy Four’s health. Then tonight, when he had the worst and longest seizure I’ve ever seen–or perhaps it was a series of seizures–I realized it was time.

I called the vet, and asked if he could make a house call. So he’s coming over tonight when his clinic hours are done.

The pup has finally settled down, which is good. The boys said good night to him, though we didn’t tell them what was happening. Right now I’m sitting in the boys’ room, waiting for them to fall asleep, and waiting for the vet to arrive.

We’ve lost a lot of pets over the past year. This one is particularly tough. All the others had long, full lives. But I suppose when I rescued a pet from near-death on the streets, I knew death might come sooner rather than later.

This will be tough for the boys as well, and especially Bug, who is particularly fond of the Pup and all our other pets. Just today he was asking about Iggy, our cat who died last fall here in Egypt, and the other cat whose pseudonym I can’t remember, the cat who disappeared in the spring.

Well, we did our best to help to him. He’s been a nice boy.

6 October 2008 Posted by | bug, fun, giggle, holidays, pets, sicknesses | 12 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

On religious cooperation

Thursday is a holiday called Mawled El Nabawi, the birthday of Mohamed (you know, the Prophet). And Sunday is the western Easter (can’t call it just “Easter” here because the Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter next month).

This means we have a four-day weekend starting tomorrow, perfect for a trip to the Red Sea, just a couple of hours east of Cairo. We’re trying a new hotel that apparently has two pools and a lovely beach. That’s pretty much all we need.

The forecast this weekend is ridiculous: highs in the low to high 90s, peaking at 100 on Sunday (this after the past two weeks in the 60s and 70s). Yes, 100 degrees. I will hide in the shade and read while the boys frolic. I’ve been either sick with a cold or some nasty allergies (either no doubt exacerbated by the pollution), so I’m looking forward to a weekend where I can relax and the boys can play like mad. We’re also delighted that some friends are joining us there.

Our housekeeper/nanny is going to take care of the pup and our kitty (who wonders why we hate her so much that we brought a dog into the house; the dog, in the meantime, seems not to have noticed the cat despite her constant stalking of him).

Tonight I pack and take the pup back to the vet for another check-up. I also just realized that I should probably put together some semblance of an Easter basket for each of the boys. That’s the tough thing about adopting older kids: you don’t ease into these holidays slowly, but, bam, here’s a 5 year old wanting some candy. Maybe we’ll pack it and hide it at home for the boys to find when we get back.

So we’re off for a few days. In the meantime, let me know how you’re spending your weekend.

19 March 2008 Posted by | family, fun, holidays, our life in egypt, sicknesses, tourism | 1 Comment

On antibiotics and cough syrup

The CDC says:

Authors of a meta-analysis of six randomized trials (in adults) concluded that antibiotics were ineffective in treating cough illness/bronchitis.
Antibiotic treatment of upper respiratory infections do not prevent bacterial complications such as pneumonia.

So, even though I was wavering, I think we’ll skip the antibiotics, especially since Bug seems pretty perky today (though he insists he’s still sick, as he somersaults around the house).

Here was the most interesting part of the CDC’s advice on bronchitis:

When parents demand antibiotics…

  • Acknowledge the child’s symptoms and
  • Promote active management with
    non-pharmacologic treatments.
  • Give realistic time course for resolution.
  • Share the CDC/AAP principles and pamphlets with parents to help them understand when the risks of antibiotic treatment outweigh the benefits.

Now switch “parents demand” with “doctors prescribe.” I didn’t run all this by the doctor (I’m much more confident with Dr. Google than real doctors), but I’m frustrated that he doesn’t seem familiar with the latest research. Especially about the cough syrup, which was all over the news.

(I’m also thinking: Oh my. Has this become a mommy blog? Let’s hope not!)

18 December 2007 Posted by | bug, sicknesses | Comments Off on On antibiotics and cough syrup


Today was my last day of work for a few weeks. Tomorrow begins the Muslim Feast of Abraham, which honors, well, Abraham. Specifically, his almost-sacrifice of his son until God/Allah intervened and said he could sacrifice a sheep instead. So naturally this holiday involves massive sheep killings. That happens on Wednesday. Tomorrow, Tuesday, is the first day, when folks who are on haj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, start their haj. Or something like that. I promise to do a bit more research and fill in some details while simultaneously blasting Christmas music through the house to drown out the sound of bleating sheep.

So, I have the rest of the week off for the Feast. Then, next week I have off for Christmas. Then I am also off for New Year’s Day, the Islamic New Year, and the eastern (Coptic) Christmas. Plus my employer is filling in the holidays with extra days off.

I highly recommend living someplace that celebrates multiple religious and national holidays. Works out beautifully.

All this time off has me wondering how to fill the days. I’ve been thinking about desert camping (a bit pricey for just the four of us) as well as a trip to Alexandria, which we’ll do next week.

And then today I had an amazing thought: Christmas cookies! I’ve never made them before, probably because I’ve never had so much time off around the holidays. So, here in Cairo, I have more time to celebrate Christmas traditions. You just wouldn’t expect that, would you? Nor would you expect to see Santa everywhere, but he’s here too, on stockings, on pictures, in displays, and, in person, at the boys’ school. Who knew Santa spent so much time in Muslim countries?

I filled in some of my time tonight with a visit to the pediatrician. Poor Bug has bronchitis, though of course I didn’t know that before El Doktor told me. He prescribed antibiotics, though I’m ambivalent about filling the prescription. He also prescribed cough medicine… which was in the news recently as being unsafe for kids under five. Right? Anyway, I’ll consult Dr. Google on this tomorrow and decide what to do.

Despite my dismissive attitude, the doctor was very nice and professional, US-trained, excellent English, and so on. Doctors here usually work late morning and then again in the evening, so Bug and I left home around 7:30 or so, waited about 15 minutes at the doctor’s office, and then were seen right away by the doctor. All this for LE 150, less than $30. Poor Bug has a fever, too, but it went down with some ibuprofen.

Now we’re all huddled into various beds in our room, and I’m going to turn off the computer so we can get some sleep.

17 December 2007 Posted by | bug, fun, holidays, sicknesses | 4 Comments

It’s the water.

When I was about seven years old, my family took a vacation to Acapulco. My parents were so eager to share their excitement about Mexico with us that they took us to see Bo Derek and Dudley Moore in the movie Ten, filmed in Acapulco but more notable for featuring Bo Derek’s large and naked breasts. Oops!

Anyway, as we traveled, my parents emphasized that I should not drink the water. A few days into the trip, my sister was sick. The only water she had had was during tooth brushing. So, my parents, concerned I might get sick too, said to me, “Little Four, have you been drinking any water?”

I said, “No.”

“Then how are you brushing your teeth?” they asked.

“I haven’t been!” I explained very sensibly. Because how on earth can you brush your teeth without water?

This story came to mind as we’ve been talking to Giggle about regular and effective tooth brushing. He went back to the dentist today for his third visit. Last week he had three cavities filled, making four total fillings until today, when she filled two more. And discovered another two in addition to the previous seven. I can hardly keep up, but that makes nine cavities total.

After the fillings, he’s getting a flouride treatment. Oh, and then little Bug goes to the dentist. Health care is cheaper here, but we’re paying 300 LE (about $50) for each filling. Ouch all around.

Now, back to the tap water: we drink it. Not as our regular drinking beverage, though we did do that at first, until the chlorine taste got to us. Much to our surprise and delight, the tap water here is safe, most of the time, because of the chlorine. How do I know there’s a lot of chlorine in the water? It smells like a public pool. Also, people told me.

But we use it for brushing our teeth and cooking. So, this has me wondering: are there long term effects of chlorine consumption? Chlorine is, in fact, a carcinogen. Then again, bad water can kill you pretty fast too. Or, rather slowly but painfully.

In any case, clean tap water is an absolute luxury that we really appreciate.

22 November 2007 Posted by | giggle, our life in egypt, sicknesses | 3 Comments