We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!

Read this book!

The Nine Pound Hammer by John Claude Bemis

The Nine Pound Hammer by John Claude Bemis

The Nine Pound Hammer is a new young adult novel by North Carolina teacher and musician John Claude Bemis. And it is fantastic. The novel is historical fantasy based on American, and especially African American, folklore, set in the early 1890s in the American South. The book draws on lore of John Henry, hoodoo, bottle trees, African American traditions, and other Americana. It’s well-written and beautifully imagined. It’s especially refreshing for its multiracial cast of characters (unlike most classic fantasies, where the good guys are white and the bad guys are dark).

I was so excited to read this book–and I wasn’t disappointed–because the author is an old friend of mine. The Nine Pound Hammer is the first novel in a trilogy, and I can’t wait to read number two next summer.


1 September 2009 Posted by | books | 1 Comment

Helmet safety

Life is back to normal for the Four Family. The boys have been in school for about two weeks, and Mr. Four and I have both been back to work for a few weeks longer than that.

Giggle is now in first grade, which turns out to be very serious compared to kindergarten. There’s more homework and more responsibility. He was a bit overwhelmed at first, but now is settling in nicely. Today, after he finished his homework, he announced, “This homework was fun!” And then he added, “I hate homework.”

We Fours feel very strongly about helmet safety.

We Fours feel very strongly about helmet safety.

Bug is glad to be back with his best buddy, B, at school. B’s new nanny is friends with our nanny/housekeeper, so Bug has been spending a lot more time with his best buddy after school, which is great, because they have more fun and behave better when they’re together.

We bought skateboards for both boys recently. An expat acquaintance here commented he’d be too scared to let his kids get on skateboards. I speculated to Mr. Four that perhaps because in our world it’s normal to put your three year old in kayak, it’s not so strange to put your four year old on a skateboard–with helmet securely fastened, of course.

How about you? What outside toys do your kids have?

30 August 2009 Posted by | bug, fun, giggle, our life in egypt | 5 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

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.

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

Good kids and green grass

My long-time readers may recall vague references to my flight from Cairo to JFK last summer, a flight so terrible I actually decided not to blog about so as not to think about it anymore.

Early on Friday morning (in the US; it was Friday afternoon in Cairo), after about 14 hours of traveling, I told the friendly, helpful flight attendant that I appreciated her friendliness and helpfulness (after last year, I always make a point of thanking good flight attendants). “It was my pleasure,” she said. “Your kids have been great. It’s always a pleasure to work with kids with good manners.”

That was nice, though I didn’t think much of it until we were leaving the plane (we were about the last out), when another filght attendant started gushing about Giggle. “He’s going to be famous someday,” he said. “He’s so smart and he is so well-mannered. American kids just don’t seem to have good manners, but he does.”

I looked around for Ashton Kutcher and the hidden cameras. Then I passed out from shock.

My kids were good on the plane, mostly because we left in the middle of the night and they slept much of the way, and because Mr. Four was with us this year, and because I prepared better plane activities for them.

Still, it’s nice to hear. I adore my kids, but they can be a little crazy at times. And after last year’s flight, which included perhaps the lowest moment of my life, when I cried while arguing with the flight attendant, while Bug cried and wept for me to read him a book, well, let me just say this: what a difference a year makes.

Mr. Puppy did surprisingly well too. He didn’t exactly enjoy the flight, but aside from a huge puddle of pee he left in JFK (which we cleaned up–and, really, where else was he supposed to go after flying for 13 hours?), he behaved perfectly. And he’s been his charming sweet since then as well.

We’re having a great visit with Mr. Four’s family. They are great with the kids, pretty low key but also interested in what they’re saying, and the kids have warmed up to them quickly. Because of a graduation party, we visited today with a bunch of Mr. Four’s old friends, and tomorrow we have a big family picnic at my brother-in-law’s house.

We also managed to squeeze in a visit to Old Navy and Target, to catch up on our big-box shopping.

Plus it’s been raining quite a bit lately, and we are surrounded by green: green grass, green hills, green trees. It’s gorgeous.

You might be able to tell from this post that my eyes are drooping. More later, when I can remember how to spell.

14 June 2009 Posted by | family, holidays, home, pets | 5 Comments

Leaving on a jet plane

Since last September, Bug has had a little play chant: “I’m going to the mountains, I’m going to the mountains.”

Tonight, we finally are. (Sorta.)

We leave in a few hours for the airport, and we’ll fly into Mr. Four’s hometown, where we’ll visit with his family. It will be Giggle’s first time meeting Grandpop, Uncle D, Aunt C, and some cousins. Bug has met them all but doesn’t remember everyone. They are excited for that, and also for the new sandals that are waiting at Grandpop’s house.

After a few days with Mr. Four’s family, we’ll head towards our most recent home state, which we’ll crisscross to visit my dad, College Town, and our house in the mountains.

Once again my internet access will be inconsistent, but I will have more time. Your guess is as good as mine as to how much I’ll be blogging.

In any case, tonight, think of us as we soar over the Mediterranean, Europe (hello R!), and the Atlantic Ocean.

11 June 2009 Posted by | bug, family, giggle, holidays, home, pets | 5 Comments

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