We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!

Stuck in the Big Apple

Or, more precisely, at hotel near JFK. We’ve had a great trip to the US, and it’s been extended by about 20 hours after missing our connection in New York last night.

I am so glad I packed a toothbrush in my carry-on.

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24 July 2009 Posted by | transportation | Comments Off on Stuck in the Big Apple

Egypt moment (11/10)

Life has been a bit different this fall. I blogged about our new residence in Americaland in September. Last fall, we were so new and we had no idea what to do with ourselves. It was two months before I even realized I could buy M&Ms here (I was better off without that knowledge). We didn’t know where to take the boys to play. We hadn’t yet discovered the expat-y club we joined last January.

This fall, in our new apartment with its great location, with Giggle enrolled at the American school, and with my new commute on a work shuttle rather than the metro–well, I’m not in Egypt much. Of course I am literally. But that expat world you swear you’d never be in when you move overseas? Well, that’s my life.

Of course, we don’t have it as good as US government employees. Oh what I would give to have their commissary (US supermarket brands, at US supermarket prices, shipped to Egypt courtesy of US taxpayers) and post office (send and receive mail to the US, including packages, at domestic rates).

Daily I suffer the painful absence of Kashi GoLean Crunch from local markets, and thus my life.

Still, our world is more international than Egyptian. My friend M and I discussed this last month, and his take is that when you move overseas, you move into an international community. So you’re not immersed with locals, but with other expats from all over the world. Take my favorite local bloggers: Typ0 is a Canadian gal with an American husband and a resume that includes stints in Kenya and India; Lynda is Australian (I think) but has spent a lot of time in Germany and elsewhere on the globe; and Jenni is Swedish, but with an American husband and a family that lived in Belgium for several years.

(I started to write that we Fours are dull by comparison and then I remembered that my boys were born in Ethiopia. So that makes Mr. Four and me the boring ones.)

What reminded me of all this? When, I went back to Egypt last week. When I took the train to Alexandria, by myself, and then had a few free hours in Alex with a co-worker, I was reminded of Egypt.

Some highlights:

  • Train toilets that are, basically, funnels to the ground. I peered down into the toilet and saw the tracks rushing by under the train. This is on the first class car, mind you.
  • Garbage, everywhere. On the streets, in the sidewalks, everywhere.
  • Comments and leers from just about every man on the street.

Mr. Four calls these “Egypt moments.”

Now, much of Egypt is good. For example, while in Alex, my co-worker and I walked past the KFC to a local food place where we got two tamiya (Egyptian falafel) sandwiches and two bottles of water for 5LE, less than US$1. And those sandwiches were amazingly good, with crispy yet moist tamiya and fresh bread. That was also an Egypt moment.

10 November 2008 Posted by | our life in egypt, transportation | 2 Comments

Lessons, Part 1 of One Million

Don’t bother with the stroller, at least not when the parent-to-kid ratio is 1:2. With a luggage cart brimming with bags, and two little boys, I never could have managed the stroller as well. (I didn’t take it.) The Ergo carrier was great, even for my 35-pounder. We only used it a few times, but it was essential during a few airport dashes at nap time.

The hardest part of the entire trip is getting from the car to check-in desk. Life is easier once you have boarding passes and no luggage and you can pay attention to your children.

On the plane, talk to the people sitting in front of your kids: “Please let me know if my kids kick the seats or are bothering you in any way!” Then you are their ally rather than their enemy.

On the plane, be extra friendly with the flight attendants before they even have a chance to not be friendly to you. “We’re here! My two tired kids and just me!” (Optional.)

Then, when the flight attendant walks by and your kids are behaving, comment on your “angels.” (Optional.)

To be continued…

7 August 2008 Posted by | transportation | 2 Comments

THAT mother with THOSE kids

With no help from the horrid flight attendants on the Cairo to JKF flight (and I’m sure they felt the same way about us), we made it. I was starting to think maybe all Americans (like, had I maybe just forgotten?) were terrible until our second flight, when the lovely, wonderful flight attendant was so great with the boys and especially Giggle, who was having a very hard time waiting through a long runway taxi.

Now we’re here in College Town, at our friends’ house (they are out of town). It’s perfect and we’re so happy to be here.

More later when I have time.

22 June 2008 Posted by | getting there, giggle, transportation | 3 Comments

(Almost) on our way!

My cousin K is back from Luxor and Aswan and her cruise. She found some good folks on the boat and had a great time.

I’m just about packed. Mr. Four is working tonight, and the boys and I are headed out to a movie… then Saturday morning we leave for the airport. At this point I’m so excited my stomach is getting twisty. In a good way.

I’m so very fortunate to have some lovely people as friends, folks who are willing to buy us groceries in advance of our arrival, pick us up at the airport, and drive us around town until we get our own rental on Sunday. I’m looking forward to see them and everyone else.

So I’ll be offline for a few days, and (inshallah) will next post stateside. (And about that inshallah thing… after several months in Egypt, I feel like if I don’t say it, I’m tempting fate! Which I’m not inclined to do hours before boarding a transatlantic flight.)

20 June 2008 Posted by | getting there, transportation | 4 Comments

To candy or not to candy

Mr. Four thinks I shouldn’t bring candy on the plane, because once it’s out the boys are going to want it constantly and will go crazy if they can’t have it.

I’m inclined to bring it, something that’s long-lasting like hard candy, and let them overindulge.

Opinions?

20 June 2008 Posted by | bug, getting there, giggle, transportation | 8 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

Ouch.

Mr. Four was in an accident on Thursday. Specifically, a van backing up hit his bike.

He was wearing a helmet and the side of his body absorbed most of the impact. There was no blood, and mostly he’s fine, but he’s quite sore. He’s very tender on his hip and thigh, and he’s hurting around his ribs. He’s having a hard time standing up quickly, and it hurts him to pick up the boys.

To their credit, once the van did hit him, the driver and others nearby rushed over to make sure he was okay.

Cairo is flat, which makes it seem perfect for bicycling. And the distances in our neighborhood are such that a bike makes perfect since. A lot of places are too far to walk, but too close for a taxi.

But traffic patterns are chaotic, and first come, first in seems to be the rule of merging. And though there are a lot of Egyptians on bikes (like the guys I saw the other day delivering dry cleaning held with one held while he steered with the other), Egyptian drivers don’t really look out for bikes.

Mr. Four is such a trooper though. After the accident, he still bought me flowers for Valentine’s Day (roses from him and carnations from the boys), and then limped home with the flowers in his backpack.

16 February 2008 Posted by | our life in egypt, transportation | 2 Comments

How to make friends with an Egyptian taxi driver

Taxi driver: “Where you from?”

You: “America.”

Taxi driver: “America? George Bush bad.”

You: “Yes, George Bush bad.”

Works every time.

17 January 2008 Posted by | transportation | 3 Comments

Who put the men in the women’s cars?

The Cairo metro dedicates two cars to women only. The rest are integrated. If I’m with Mr. Four, we ride the integrated cars. If I’m by myself (or with only the boys), I ride the women’s car.

Until, that is, this past week. One morning, as the train pulled into the station, I noticed men on the women’s cars, the first two cars of the train. And it wasn’t just one or two men, but many, on both cars. I boarded the first car, which was about half men and half women. My courtesy Arabic (“good morning,” “thank you,” “tea with milk”) didn’t give me the vocabulary to ask anyone why men were on the women’s car, but at each stop more men boarded. No one else seemed confused. And no women chased off the men (which apparently does happen on the women’s cars).

This wasn’t a problem per se, but incredibly confusing.

No one at work had an explanation (let me re-phrase that: the three people, including one Egyptian, I asked at work didn’t have an explanation) other than that sometimes men go onto the women’s cars when the integrated cars are crowded. I didn’t buy this.

That afternoon, on the way home, I went to platform and saw some other women who seemed confused that men were waiting in the area formerly reserved for women. They chattered away in Arabic and then started walking, purposefully, elsewhere. I followed them and arrived at a new spot with primarily women.

So, that’s how I figured out the women’s cars were moved to the middle of the train. These cars now have huge red and green stickers over the doors. The stickers are mostly meaningless to me as they are in Arabic, but they do have the apparently universal stick figure for women, usually seen on bathroom doors: a woman in a skirt that ends at her knees. Of course, no women in Cairo wear skirts this short, but the sign is clear enough.

I missed the right car again yesterday morning (I hadn’t walked to the proper spot on the platform), but I experienced no harassment on the integrated car I rode, which seemed to have about one hundred men and three women, and the men even tried to give me a little space, which I appreciated. The harassment is a big deal here–I’ll write soon about a woman I know who left Cairo more than a year early because of it–but wasn’t a problem for me.

(A colleague of mine hypothesized that I don’t get harassed because I look old and married: thanks friend!)

For the most part, I enjoy the metro. I like being surrounded by Egyptian women and seeing their clothes, especially the colorful designs and intricate folds of their headscarves. I like the kindness extended to strangers, such as when a woman gave me her prime spot because I carried a large package, or as when a woman gave me a cough drop when I was coughing.

And from my part of town, the metro is faster and much cheaper than a taxi (20 minutes versus 30-45 minutes; 1 LE as compared to 20-25 LE), and more convenient than my employer’s shuttle.

All the same, very few of my colleagues, American or Egyptian, ride the metro. I think perhaps it’s considered lower class but no one has actually said this. People do seem surprised that I ride the metro daily.

In any case, my experience on the car-formerly-known-as-the-women’s-car reminded me of my cultural illiteracy. I really don’t understand a lot of what I see around me here in Cairo. I can figure it out most of the time, but often I am just very confused.

14 January 2008 Posted by | our life in egypt, transportation | Comments Off on Who put the men in the women’s cars?