I've Moved!

My new blog is called Reflections from a Global Nomad, in order to acknowledge that we no longer live in Maadi and that we are, in fact, global nomads, not staying in one place longer than two or three years. Please join me at http://DeborahReflections.blogspot.com

Monday, July 28, 2008

Felucca Ride

Last night, Jeff and I went on our first ever felucca ride with some of Jeff's coworkers. Jeff's boss organized the outing and provided hors d'ouevres and drinks for the ride. Many thanks!

Getting to the felucca was a little bit of an adventure for me. Everyone was leaving straight from the embassy, after work, so I had to get to the embassy on my own. I could have taken the family shuttle in, but the latest one they had would have had me waiting for over an hour, so I decided to take a cab in--my first cab ride alone. So I walked out of the apartment building and toward a street where I usually can find a cab. I saw one approaching and raised my hand to flag him down. In Egypt, it's a good idea to tell the driver where you're going before you get in, so I asked, through the window, for the American embassy. He said "no, no," either because he didn't know where it was or because he didn't want to go there. I next asked for the Semiramis, a very well-known hotel near the embassy, or for Midan Tahrir, an even better-known traffic circle a couple of blocks from the embassy. He wasn't having any of that, so I let him go and waved down another cab. This time, I just asked for the Semiramis, assuming that the problem before was the embassy. This driver agreed, so I hopped in the back--women who ride in the front next to the driver are likely to receive some unwanted touching--and off we went. The driver kept looking at me in the rearview mirror, but that's not all that unusual for any Western women, particularly those with hair colors other than brown, so I ignored it. He dropped me off at the Semiramis, and I promptly crossed the street--luckily not too busy--and walked about two blocks to the South Entrance to the embassy compound. I waited on a bench in the courtyard for about 20 minutes, studying my Egyptian colloquial Arabic vocabulary while I waited. Then Jeff and his coworkers showed up. A couple of people drove/rode to the dock with the coolers, but the rest of us walked. It wasn't far, just a few blocks, but we had to cross the Corniche!! Those of you who are familiar with Washington, DC, think about crossing Pennsylvania Avenue without crosswalks, traffic lights, or drivers who are inclined to brake for you. During heavy, fast-moving traffic, not the slow bumper-to-bumper times. God is good; if He wasn't, there is no way we would have made it across in one piece.

So we ended up on the correct side of the Corniche, where the van pulled up and offloaded passengers and coolers. Meanwhile, one of our number was negotiating prices for the felucca rental. There were two docks side-by-side; both were willing to rent us the felucca for LE50 (approximately $10) an hour, but one of them had feluccas that were in noticeably better shape. So of course we went with that one. We rented the felucca for two hours, long enough to catch the sunset but not quite long enough for it to get really dark.

Now for those of you who, like me until recently, don't know exactly what a felucca is: The felucca is a small boat with a retractable canvas roof. The roof was on when we pulled out of the dock, but the captain immediately withdrew it. It sacrificed some shade, but the shade wasn't really necessary that late in the day, and it opened up the view. Both sides and the back of the felucca are lined with padded benches, and there's a table provided. The passengers usually bring their own food and beverages--alcohol is allowed--and the captain just cruises the boat along the Nile while you enjoy conversation, dinner, music, whatever you bring with you. The picture on the right shows the felucca we rented. You can also see Jeff carrying one of the coolers on board.

One of the interesting things about the ride was the captain. He didn't say anything at all unless he was asked a direct question. There were some tasks that he had to perform at the front of the boat (releasing the sail and such), but he spent most of his time at the back of the boat, steering. The interesting part was that he did not walk through the boat itself to move from the front to the back. He instead walked along the outside of the boat, where he could pass without interfering with us at all. He was very surefooted!

Felucca rides are popular for many reasons. For one thing, the breeze on the Nile makes the temperature much more comfortable. It wasn't oppressively hot yesterday, but it definitely felt better to be on the water, with the breeze, than on land. Another reason for the popularity of felucca rides is the view. Parts of Cairo are pretty; other parts are not so pretty, but as with any city, seeing it from the water is something special. There's an album on Picasa if you want to see pictures of the shore.

One thing to keep in mind when riding a felucca, though, is that the Nile, although beautiful, is not safe. There are crocodiles along its banks; I'm not sure how common they are in the busy areas of Cairo, but they certainly live in the rural areas. Also, the Nile is heavily polluted. People, particularly Westerners, are advised not to swim in it, drink any of it, or really even to touch the water, just to be on the safe side. Kind of makes you wonder what this guy was thinking! (Hmm, he's a little small in that picture, but he's windsurfing.)

There really isn't a lot to say about the ride. It was very nice, cool and comfortable. The food was good--a couple of meats, some cheeses, crackers, chips and dip, pastries for dessert. The drinks were nice -- various beers, a couple of wines, a couple of mixed drinks, soft drinks, and the essential bottled water. The conversation was entertaining. The setting was perfect. All in all, a good time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Khan el Khalili

Yesterday, Julia (another "dip wife") and I went to the Khan el Khalili. It was my second trip there, but I never got around to writing a post about the first one. Other things kept popping up, and then my memories weren't as vivid, and I wasn't sure what to write. But now I've gone again, so I'll write about this trip instead of the first one.

The Khan is basically a bazaar. It's a rats' nest of narrow streets and alleys, with shops everywhere. I haven't seen anywhere near all of it, not even most of it, just one little corner. And I can't find my way around even that corner, so it's a good thing Julia was with me. The first time I was there, I bought a loose, lightweight cotton shirt in an Egyptian style from one of the shops where embassy people go regularly--after we've been escorted to the shop once by someone the shopkeeper knows, he recognizes us, and he offers us his best price without bargaining. It isn't exactly the "Egyptian price," the lowest price which is offered to Egyptians only, but it's about half of what most Westerners end up paying. I love the shirt in this heat, so I wanted more. Julia also wanted some, so the purpose of our trip to the Khan was to visit that shop and buy some shirts.

We took the embassy's family shuttle from Maadi to the embassy, then walked around until we were able to flag down a cab. The cab was typical of Cairo cabs: no air conditioner, no leg room, and insane driving. I counted at least 3 pedestrians that we almost creamed. Then there was the bus that almost creamed us. And then there was the other cabdriver, who apparently needed change, because after a discussion in Arabic through open windows, our driver rummaged in his dashboard compartment, pulled out a wad of bills, and handed it out through the window to the other driver, who handed a single bill back. All of this happened while we were still moving. But we finally arrived at the Khan.

We had the driver let us out on the side of the street opposite to the area of the Khan where we were going. We knew that there was a pedestrian tunnel there, which is a rarity in Cairo. We paid the driver LE20 (which made his day; he would have been happy with LE10, but we didn't have change, and we knew that cabbies always claim not to have change, and the difference is roughly $2, so we weren't worried about it).

We walked past a booth on the way to the tunnel entrance, or at least we would have walked past it, except that Julia noticed some rugs that she wanted to see. It turned out that the rugs weren't for sale; they were covering the real wares until someone showed interest in order to protect them from the dust. But the shopkeeper told us how to get to a different area where there were rugs for sale, lots of them, so we started heading that way. Then the shopkeeper decided to lead the way so we wouldn't get lost. We tried to dissuade him, but he wouldn't be dissuaded, and he said that he didn't need baksheesh (tip money). He claimed to want to practice his English. So he led us down the street and into the maze that is the Khan.

After one turn, we entered the spice area. It smelled wonderful! I wish I had taken my camera, so I could at least show you pictures. The shops had buckets sitting out piled high with various spices, all of them perfuming the air. I don't cook enough to know what any of them were, but they smelled delicious. After another turn, Julia lost confidence in her ability to find her way back out, and we didn't want to be at the mercy of our "guide," so she told him that we could see where the rug area began (we could), and that we thanked him for his services, but we were going to look at the spice shops before we went into the rug area. He eventually was persuaded that we were serious, and he left. Julia bought some cumin and some coriander, and we started heading back out to cross the main street and go back into the area of the Khan we know a little. We had taken about two steps when another man came up and started pressuring us to go to the rug section. We politely declined. My guess is that the first guy was taking us to a friend's shop, and when he couldn't get us all the way there, he sent the friend looking for us. I wouldn't have minded looking at the rugs, but like Julia, I didn't want to get lost back there and not know how to get back without help. And since we had a specific goal and limited time until the family shuttle we wanted to take back to Maadi, we went on our way.

We made our way back to the main street and found a pedestrian bridge. (Pedestrian tunnels and bridges are unheard of throughout most of Cairo, but with the Khan on both sides of a major 4- or 6-lane thoroughfare, there are more of them in that area.) Then we walked back up to the al-Husayn Mosque, which marks the entry that we have to use to the Khan if we want to be on the more familiar path to the gallabiya shop. (Gallabiyas are long, loose garments; the shop where we buy the shirts is actually a gallabiya shop.)

The Khan borders al-Husayn. When we reached the mosque, we turned left to walk along the border of the Khan. We found the narrow street where we wanted to enter--actually Julia found it; I was too busy watching my footing on the uneven cobblestones. We turned down the street and immediately were accosted with calls of "I have what you're looking for!", "I have good prices here," and variations on those themes. I believe it was the second alley on the right that we had to turn down to get to the gallabiya shop. I recognized it because of the jewelry shop at the corner; last time I there, they were offering very pretty strand necklaces for LE2.

The gallabiya shop isn't very far in that alley. It's right beside a glass shop that's owned by the same man--he owns factories that make glassware and clothing. We didn't look at the glass shop this time, but we did last time. There are beautiful figurines, wine glasses, vases . . . the whole second floor is devoted to Christmas ornaments. The workmanship is stunning, but I've never been a big fan of crystal or glassware, so it's a waste of the shopkeeper's time for me to even go in there. I think it'll be a different story when my mother or my mother-in-law come to visit me, though; they like those things a bit more.

We went into the gallabiya shop and were recognized immediately. Julia had been there at least two times previously, and I had been there once. Julia had special ordered some sand-colored gallabiyas for her nephews or some other children in her life; they wanted Jedi costumes for Halloween. This trip, she wanted shirts and to order a long brown vest-type garment that the kids could wear over the gallabiyas to enhance the costumes. (Jeanne, it may be too late for this year, but if your boys would be interested, let me know.) After she had ordered the vests and arranged for delivery, the real shopping began. I ended up with five shirts. I think Julia got three. It didn't take us long. The shopkeeper showed us which section had the shirts in our size, neatly folded in plastic in a stack. We could see the colors of the shirts but not the designs. We pointed at the colors we liked, he pulled them out and let us see the designs, and we bought the ones we liked.

After we finished there, Julia asked if I minded if we went to the Crazy Brothers' shop. We left the gallabiya shop and headed back out to the original alley. We continued down it until we got to an intersection that we recognized because that's where Guzman's is. Guzman's is a very nice jewelry store that also offers lower pricing to our embassy community, with no haggling. We didn't go in this time, but we did last time. They have some beautiful gold necklaces, pendants, rings, and bracelets. Some are all gold, whereas others have malachite, lapis, onyx, and many other beautiful gemstones. They also do custom work, including silver and gold cartouches. Their prices are reasonable when you consider the price of gold and the stones; most of the jewelry is more than I'm willing to pay, but considerably cheaper than similar work would be in the States.

We continued past Guzman's, looking for the first right. We went a distance that we knew was too far, so we turned and headed back to Guzman's to try again. On the way, we recognized the stairway we needed to go up to get to the Crazy Brothers, so up we went.

The official name of their shop is The Three Brothers, but someone at the embassy started calling them The Crazy Brothers, and the name stuck among embassy personnel. I noticed this time that there's a sign out front of their shop, labelling it The Three Crazy Brothers. I don't remember if that sign was there last time. The Crazy Brothers are metalworkers. They make decorative copper, bronze, and iron plates, lanterns, tables, pots . . . you name it. They have a lot of merchandise available in their shop, or they can custom make whatever you want. They also get a lot of business from the embassy. Some of their specialties are nameplates in English and Arabic for the diplomats' desks. They also give us special pricing, although they'll bargain a little if you hesitate over buying something.

Julia was looking for a pot to use as a "trash can with personality." She looked at bronze ones, copper ones, and iron ones. She finally found one that she liked with a price that she liked. I don't remember was metal it was, but it was a good size for a trash can, and it had a slightly distressed, hammered look. It should look nice sitting in the living room waiting for her to throw her junk mail in it. One of the brothers also noticed me looking at some of the decorative plates, because I'd like to get one to display in our china cabinet. He tried really hard to sell me one, but I remembered that last time we were there, Jeff was very interested in those. I decided to wait until he can go back with me; since that's one of the few home decor things where I think he'd have a preference, I want his input when purchasing one.

After we finished at the Crazy Brothers, we walked around the little courtyard where their shop is located. Some of my favorite pieces that I saw there were chess sets. There were some made from marble that were really nice. My favorite had the "black" pieces made out of malachite, so they were actually green, and the white pieces out of marble. I considered buying a set as a gift, but I didn't know if the intended recipient even plays chess. I also saw some beautiful wood-inlay boxes. I'm not sure how to describe them, so instead I'll take a picture of a pencil holder that I bought the other day so you can get the idea. The boxes are similar in style, with various patterns of inlay. They also have them with mother-of-pearl inlay, but I prefer the wood, or maybe wood with just a little mother-of-pearl.

So we made the lap around the courtyard, then headed back out to the main road to catch a cab. We got really lucky--there was a yellow cab dropping off a couple of Western tourists, so we were able to catch that cab back to the embassy. The yellow cabs are great because they have fixed prices with a clearly visible meter (most cabs have broken or no meters, so pricing is a matter of bargaining) and air conditioning. This ride was less scary than the ride to the Khan. The traffic was lighter, and this driver seemed to be making an effort to drive in a way that is more calming to Western passengers. When we arrived, the fare was around LE9. We gave him LE20 as well. Again, no change, but there was also the consideration that this ride was comfortable, unlike the first ride for which we had paid LE20, so why not make this cabbie's day too?

We were about 20 minutes early for the shuttle, so we stood in the shade and waited, then came on home. It was a productive day. We found our shirts, Julia found her trash can, and I'm pretty sure I could find my way back to the gallabiya shop, Guzman's, and the Crazy Brothers. Maybe next time I'll find a rug shop.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


I almost got hit by a car last night.

It was going slowly, so it wouldn't have done damage, but still . . . it scared me, and therefore, it infuriated me at the time. I think I'm over it now. It's all part of the process of learning not to expect Egyptians to drive like Americans.

I was crossing a street, on my way home from a cell group meeting. There's this one traffic circle near the compound; it's really busy, and it's often difficult to take the shortest way across (which is directly across it, through the grassy median in its center, and then across its other side) so Jeff and I usually just go around it. We cross maybe four smaller streets that come off the circle rather than cross the high-traffic circle twice. In this case, we were crossing one of the smaller streets when the cars that were going down that street ended up in a bit of a traffic jam--they all stopped. So of course that's the perfect opportunity to go across the street. As I was crossing behind the last car in the line, following Jeff, I looked up to make sure that the oncoming car was stopping. Something in that driver's face told me that I was in danger but not from him. So I turned to see the problem and found that the cab I was crossing behind was backing up--it was about half an inch from me. I instinctively hit the trunk of the car with my fist as I bounded away from it. The driver looked up as if to say "What's the problem?"

What's the problem, indeed. To the Egyptian mind, the problem was that this Western woman had just smacked his trunk. To the American mind, the problem was that this Egyptian man had just started backing up without checking to make sure he wasn't about to hit anyone. But we're in Egypt, not the States, and these things happen.

You see, in Egypt, there seem to be two major rules for traffic: If you want to go there, and you fit or can force yourself to fit, go ahead; and you're responsible for what's in front of you, not what's behind you. The first rule results in 4 or more cars driving side-by-side down a 3-lane road and in cars often driving on the wrong side of the road. I'm convinced it also has resulted in the extremely high sidewalks--usually a good six inches--so that cars can't drive on the sidewalks, not that they'd want to, with the trees and signs growing out of them at random intervals, but hey, they'd use it as a passing lane, trust me.

The second rule results in drivers routinely backing up without looking; after all, if there's a car behind them, it's the other driver's responsibility to honk the horn in order to let the reversing driver know that there's a problem. It also results in drivers honking their horns when approaching a car from the rear and attempting to pass, in order to notify the driver that it may be a bad idea to swerve in that direction right now, because you're also not responsible for what's beside you unless its nose is sticking out farther than yours, in which case it counts as being in front of you.

As you may have guessed, the horns are used as general communication tools here. It isn't the case where a horn indicates anger, frustration, or threats of bodily harm, as it usually does in the States. Horns here can mean "please let me go there," "okay," "thank you," "you're welcome" . . . I think sometimes they just mean "hello." As a pedestrian, oncoming vehicles often honk the horn just to say "hey, I'm coming, don't step out in front of me because I won't stop." (That can be a bit more necessary here than most Americans would think; after all, it's common here to ignore the sidewalk and walk down the middle or side of the street instead, because of the 6-inch curbs at every intersection, the potholes in the sidewalks, and the random trees and signs in the middle of the sidewalks, not to mention the air conditioners that drip water on you from above.)

It gets interesting when the two major traffic rules are applied to turns and attempts to merge into traffic circles. When turning, it is important to go quickly--the guy behind you is not interested in waiting while you carefully pick your opening in the oncoming traffic. The horn-honking in that situation sounds almost as belligerent as horns in the States always sound. There are no red lights to speak of, and stop signs are ignored, so getting onto a busy street is a matter of confidence. The huge SUV usually obtains right of way over the tiny little car, but I've seen cases where the tiny little car driven with confidence trumps the huge SUV. It's just a matter of deciding that you're going now and forcing oncoming traffic to slow down, stop, or swerve in order to avoid hitting you. After all, if you pull out in front of them, you're in front of them, and rule #2 applies.

I haven't tried driving in Cairo yet; our vehicle hasn't arrived from the States. I assume I will eventually drive. I'm too stubborn not to rebel against the fear. My goal is to accept that in Cairo (and in Maadi), people drive like Cairenes. They do not drive like Americans. Although I would like them to drive like Americans, it isn't going to happen, and it would be neither right nor practical for me to expect them to. Americans who are successful in driving in Egypt--without giving themselves or their passengers heart attacks--are Americans who are able to accept that they are in Egypt. In other words, they drive like Cairenes.

The adventurous part of me is looking forward to ignoring the lanes. The logical part of me is too busy reassuring the scared part of me that the heavy traffic prevents anyone from going at the high speeds that can cause real damage, so even though there will be scrapes, there won't be injuries.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The 4th of July

Okay, so this post is really late. There's been so much other stuff going on that I haven't gotten around to writing this post in a timely manner, so I was tempted to not write it at all, but I can't really do that. I was reading blogs from RedState when I came across this amazing entry, which reminded me of how great the United States is and how many freedoms Americans enjoy (as well as how many freedoms are being attacked by some of our politicians). It brought to mind something that I felt at the embassy-sponsored 4th of July celebration here in Cairo, so I have to tell you about the celebration.

It was held on the campus of the British International School here in Maadi, out near the commissary. It was open, free of charge, to all American and Canadian passport holders, as well as to their guests who had registered ahead of time. There was a band, there was free food (hamburgers and hotdogs, I think prepared by the Marriott), there were door prizes and games, there was a full-service bar (not free of charge) operated by the Marines . . . a good time was had by all.

Some of the door prizes were really spectacular -- free round-trip tickets for one anywhere in the world, for two anywhere in the States (a particularly good prize for many expat Americans who can afford to go home only once every two, three, or more years). Others were more in line with what you'd expect: free bowling, gift certificates to local restaurants, free temporary gym memberships.

When we first arrived at the celebration, we had to park a good little distance away and walk back to the entrance, just because there were so many people there. We passed many police officers who obviously were there for our security. You can imagine how tempting it would be for certain groups to interfere with such a large gathering of Americans in a relatively unsecured location. The Egyptian police were there to make sure nothing happened to us, which I appreciate. But it reminded me that I see these police officers a lot around here, and they aren't the same as American police officers. Egyptian officers, at least the ones who are not traffic cops, look much more like military personnel to me, and they remind me that Egypt is not a free country. Apparently some of the restrictions are being loosened--newspapers now criticize the government routinely--but there are definite limits that would be unheard-of in the States. For example, there is no discussion of President Mubarak's health in public forums (at least from what I've been told, not being able to understand the Arabic newspapers myself). As expats here, especially as expats affiliated with the embassy, we tend to live in a bubble. We see the police officers, but we know that they're there primarily to protect us; we don't experience any real limitation on our freedoms. It's very easy to forget that Egypt is a police state.

While we were at the celebration, I noticed throughout the evening that, despite the security we had passed on the way in, there were areas where Egyptian citizens were congregating to see into the field where we were. The school borders a sporting club, so people in the stands there were congregating at the edge where they could see in. There also was a building, maybe an apartment building?, where people were congregating in the open stairwell and at the windows overlooking the field. I noticed this but didn't really think too much about it until the end of the evening.

The celebration closed with a rendition of "God Bless the USA." I'm sure most of you know the words, but just in case there's a reader or two who isn't from the U.S. or who doesn't know the words, the chorus goes like this:

I'm proud to be an American
Where at least I know I'm free
And I won't forget the men who died
To give that right to me.
And I'll gladly stand up
Next to you
And defend her still today,
'Cause there ain't no doubt
I love this land--
God bless the U. S. A.

As we sang that song, I looked around at the people in the stairwell. It hit me that they couldn't say "at least I know I'm free." In the United States, we know that no matter what else happens, at least we are free. We are free to worship as we see fit (and to share our faith freely, and even to change our faith if we want). We are free to keep and bear arms. We are free to criticize and protest the government to an almost unlimited degree, even to the point of removing leaders from power--think gubernatorial recalls, impeachment efforts, even simple elections where the incumbent is voted out. Egyptians don't have the same freedoms that we so often take for granted.

I've been told that as the U. S. presidential race heats up moving toward November, I should expect Egyptians to display an incredible amount of interest in this particular race and in our political system in general. They have no experience with elections that aren't rubber stamps. It's beyond conceivable that two candidates are engaged in a struggle for the office of President and that the people will choose the winner. Can you imagine that concept being anything other than normal for you? I can't.

So as Jeff and I prepare to request our absentee ballots, I'm reminded to think about what those ballots actually mean, what they represent. I'm thankful that I was born a citizen of a free country. I thank God for my freedoms, and I thank the men and women of the U. S. Armed Forces who preserve those freedoms.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

And These Little Kitties Came Home

Introducing the two newest members of our family: Isis and Cleo (short for Cleopatra)! Cleo is the one who's all gray; Isis has the white paws and belly.

They're named after two figures in ancient Egyptian history: Isis the the mother of all pharoahs, and Cleopatra the last pharoah. The best estimate we have for Cleo's and Isis's age is around 6 weeks. They're littermates, two little sisters.

Isis and Cleo were adopted from the shelter run by S.P.A.R.E. (the Society of Protecting Animal Rights in Egypt). They, along with their sister, brother, and mother, were dropped off at the shelter by a man who paid for one night's boarding, left a false name, address, and phone number, and disappeared. This is a common way in which pets are abandoned at the shelter when their owners no longer want them. They were fortunate to have been taken to a shelter; there are countless feral cats all over Cairo, and many more cats are simply put on the street than are taken to shelters. The cats at the shelter are fed, sterilized, vaccinated, and adopted out whenever possible, often to families in the United States or Europe. They have much longer and healthier lives than do the feral cats.

Cleo and Isis did not have a good day yesterday. We picked them up from the shelter with their brand new carrying case, complete with two toys and a travel water bowl. We put a little water in the bowl, enough that they could drink it but not enough that it would slosh out, even on Cairo's bumpy streets. But although the water would have survived the bumps just fine, it did not survive getting in the cab.

The driver "helped" Jeff put the carrier in the backseat a little too exuberantly. The travel bowl of water landed on Isis's head. Isis was a wet and miserable kitty for the 20-minute ride back to Maadi. She mewled pitifully, sticking her paws and nose out of the carrier, begging to be let out and dried off.

I thought Cleo was handling the ride better. She was sitting calmly in the carrier, braced against the swerves, jostles, and bumps. She looked a little tense, scared even, but that was to be expected, so she was doing well enough, I thought. Then I realized why she was sitting so quietly -- she was motion sick. The new little mouse toy ended up in the trash when we got home, along with the soft bathmat we had put in the bottom of the carrier.

Things improved once we got them home. We put them in the storage room off the hall; we had prepared it for them beforehand with a litter box, food and water bowls, a scratching post, a few toys, and a cardboard box with a door cut into it. The kittens came out of the carrier quickly at first, then went back inside just as quickly, even though it was wet in there. This strange new place was not their cage back at the shelter, and they weren't certain that they liked it.

Eventually they both came back out. They found the cardboard box and decided it was a good place for a nap; at least Cleo did. While Cleo slept, Isis sat there awake and staring.

After naptime, they showed their personalities quickly. Cleo is adventurous; she started exploring and playing with the toys quickly. Isis was much more timid. She eventually explored and played some, but even today, she prefers playing with Cleo over playing with the toys. But for a while, they were both actively exploring and playing.

They were doing so well that we let them out of the storage room for a while. Cleo was great with this; she wanted to explore the whole apartment. Isis saw her reflection in the entryway mirror, then hid under the chest in the entry. We eventually pulled her out and put both of them back in the storage room. Even though Cleo is ready to come out, Isis isn't, and Isis also isn't ready to be in the storage room alone unless she's asleep, so Cleo will have to wait.

A little neighbor girl has been excited about the kittens, so she came over to see them last night. She was fine; she was soft-spoken and gentle, understanding that the kittens were scared. Unfortunately, the friend who came with her was not quite so fine. Think squeals and attempts to pet a cat who's frantically clawing her way up my shoulder to get away. Our neighbors reined her in before she went too far, but the kittens definitely were afraid of her. Luckily, Isis missed most of this. She had disappeared sleepily into the box just before the girls got here, so I opened the top of the box to let them see her but didn't take her out. Cleo got to go explore the living room a little bit, with the girls in tow. It was during this time that Cleo started to decide that Jeff and I aren't so bad, and we're pretty good places to go for protection.

After the girls and their chaperons left, Cleo joined Isis in sleep. They slept until around 3:30 this morning, when Jeff and I awoke to mewling. I told him to go back to sleep since he had to go to work today, and I went in there with them. At first, they just wanted me in there periodically. I'd go in, say hi, then go out to the couch and lie down. They'd let me sleep for 15 or 20 minutes while they played before mewling again, when I'd go back.

Then Isis got sleepy again. Apparently Isis has decided that I'm okay; in fact, I'm her substitute mommy (which is what we had hoped for). Apparently Isis also is a lap kitty. This means that when she gets sleepy, she wants to be in my lap. (Cleo also will get on my lap, but only if she's trying to use me as a ladder to get over the table we turned sideways to block the door.) I want to encourage her in this, but I don't want to sit on the floor in the storage room holding her all day while she sleeps. So I tried to bring her with me back out to the couch. Nope. As soon as I got one step from the storage room door, she was mewling loudly, claws out and gripping my arm through my sleeve, straining back toward her "safe room." So I took her back into the storage room and held her for a while. Eventually I couldn't take it anymore; I laid down on the floor and used their blanket as a pillow. At that point, Isis couldn't sit in my lap, and beside me wasn't working for her, so she went back into the box to sleep. So I went back to the couch.

Then Cleo decided that it was time for my training to begin. She'd mewl; I'd come back; she'd stop mewling and look at me until I told her that it was okay, I was here. She didn't want to be held, petted, or touched; her food and water were fine, and her litter box was clean. She proceeded to ignore me. I'd go away. Five to 10 minutes later, the process would repeat. Eventually Cleo went to sleep too, so I was able to check email and get a shower. Then they woke up, and the whole process, including my training, repeated again for a couple of hours. Now they're asleep again.

So I'd say the kittens are adjusting. We're establishing the rules. They call me; I come running. They pounce on my toes; they get sprayed with the water bottle. I think these are rules we can live with.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Random Post

The coolest thing happened last night. We had gone to church, then to dinner at Maadi House (just a couple of blocks from church), and we were walking home. As we neared the church, a vehicle stalled at an intersection, and we stopped because Jeff was going to see if there was anything he could do to help. The driver of the vehicle was Mark, the worship leader at church. He had left his lights on and already had a marginal battery, so he was having some issues, but he got it started again with no help from us, and we thought it was on for good, so he was going on his way and we were going on ours. (We found out after we got home, when he and Jeff became friends on Facebook, that it wasn't quite as simple as that, but he made it home okay.) Just before he pulled away, he said something that I didn't quite catch. He repeated it, but I still didn't quite catch it.

I have good hearing, but I often have problems focusing on one sound to the exclusion of others, which makes it difficult for me to understand people sometimes if there's any background noise at all (which there always is in Cairo). I get a little embarrassed if people have to repeat themselves for me more than once, so I usually just let it go and get Jeff to tell me later what they said. That's what happened in this case, too.

So I smiled and nodded, Mark drove off, and I turned to Jeff. "What did he say?"

"He said that he liked your blog."

"My what?"

"Your blog."

"My blog?! He's read my blog? Cool!"

The really cool thing is that I don't think I've told anyone at church about my blog. I may have mentioned that I have one, but I know I haven't told anyone what it's called or how to find it. I deliberately set up the blog so that anyone could read it, but I really didn't expect anyone to other than people who know me from back home. So it's just really cool that someone else actually has found it, read it, and liked it. Thanks, Mark, you made my day :-)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Home Sweet Home

Today -- the long-awaited post about our apartment here in Maadi. We live in an access-controlled compound owned by the U. S. government. There is parking on the ground level, as well as a playground. All the apartments are on floors 1 and above. (Floor numbering here is not the same as in the States; the ground floor here is Ground. Floor 1 is the first floor above ground level, what in the States would be the second floor.)

They set up the compound very well for privacy and sound insulation. There is an open-air (but covered) walkway on each floor. The walkway is a big square, with apartments on each side. But the apartments don't actually touch each other--there's open space, balconies overlooking the courtyard in the middle of the compound or the street outside, in between the walls of each unit. The picture probably shows what I'm talking about better than I can explain. It looks like two separate buildings connected by a railing; those actually are two neighboring apartments. So even though I'm in an apartment building, I don't share walls with any neighbor. I have neighbors above and below me, but none on any side. So it's incredibly quiet. I hear horns honking outside, but they're muted, and it would be impossible to escape them altogether with Cairo's traffic.

This apartment is huge. We have plenty of space for ourselves and for visitors. I don't know the square footage, but it has three bedrooms, two baths, a large combination living room/dining room, and a nice kitchen. It also has a laundry room, a storage room, two linen closets, a coat closet, two walk-in closets in the master, and large closets in each of the other two bedrooms. After we had been here for a week or so, we learned that there also is a storage unit downstairs that we can claim -- we figure we'll put boxes in there that we want available for the next move, but we haven't gotten around to accessing it yet. It's a bit of a hassle, because we have to buy a lock for the unit itself, make a sign for the unit door, and then get the guards to let us into the room where all the storage units are.

One really nice thing here in Cairo is that there are lots of furniture options, and we can swap out any furniture we don't want for something else. At some posts, there isn't storage for excess furniture, so you get what you get and that's it. Here, there are tons of options for upholstery and rugs, and they'll swap out the wood furniture to the extent that their supply allows. I'm going this afternoon to look at upholstery samples because I don't like my couch/love seat. I'll also see about swapping the rugs in my living and dining rooms, because they're red (yuck!). We're also going to swap out the twin beds in the guest room for a queen bed, and all the furniture in the third bedroom, which will be converted to a den.

We also have the option of painting the walls. We've picked the colors for the bedroom (blue, with one darker blue accent wall). We haven't picked colors for the living/dining area or for the soon-to-be-den because we want to see what furniture is available first. The color in the guest room will depend to some extent on what bedspread we choose. Jeff has informed me that painting must be completed by the time our HHE arrives, so I have a couple of months.

Okay, so this blog hasn't really told you that much about the apartment itself, but I have pictures for that. They're available here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Miracle of Mokkatum

On 5 July 2008, Jeff and I participated in a CSA tour of the Mokkatum church complex. I've uploaded an album to Picasa for anyone who wants to see more pictures than those I'll include here. The album has 73 pictures in it, so allow plenty of time :-)

Mokkatum started out as one church that was carved out of the mountainside. As time went on and the congregation expanded, becoming too large for that one church, another church was carved out of the mountainside. And so it went. I'm not sure how many churches there now are in Mokkatum; we entered three and saw entrances for at least two more. But the complex includes more than just churches. Because it is surrounded by Garbage City, and most of the people who belong to these churches are incredibly poor, Mokkatum also has other amenities that the people would not be able to afford on their own. There is a small arboretum, a small sports/recreational club, and even a small zoo. We didn't get to see the sports club, and we didn't take pictures of the zoo (it was too depressing, with the tiny, smelly cages, but it's my understanding that the larger zoo that the richer people go to isn't much better). There are pictures of the arboretum on Picasa.

In the late 1970s or early 1980s, an artist came to visit Mokkatum. I think he was Dutch, but I'm not sure, and I don't recall his name. In either case, he never went home. He fell in love with the churches and people of Mokkatum, and it became his mission and his ministry to improve the complex for the benefit of the people. He began a program of carving pictures of Bible scenes into the mountainside, so that the illiterate people could see and be reminded of the Bible stories and principles. He still lives at Mokkatum, where he designs the carvings. He has a team of artists who assist with the carving. It is his dream to cover all of the mountainside within the complex with Bible pictures. In many pictures, you can see the round holes in the mountain where the workers put stakes to hold the platforms on which they stand while carving; in a few pictures, you can see the wood planks they stand on. Seeing how high some of them are, I can't imagine climbing up there at all, but these artists are dedicated to their ministry.

Most of what I saw at Mokkatum is best shared via the pictures and captions I put on Picasa. However, there is a story of Mokkatum, depicted in the pictures, that I want to share here. It is the story of Saint Samaan and the Miracle of Mokkatum.

The picture to the left depicts how Samaan (later known as Saint Samaan) became a one-eyed man. Samaan was a very devout Christian man who worked as a cobbler. He was so devout that, although he was very poor, he desperately tried to save money to give to people who were needier than himself. He also went out very early each morning, far earlier than anyone else was out, in order to fetch water for old and disabled people. For this reason, Saint Samaan often is depicted with two bags, one behind him representing the money he was saving for charity, and one in front of him or in his hand to represent the water he carried. Neither of these bags is depicted in this particular picture. In any case, Samaan was a very devout believer. One day, while working in his profession as a cobbler, a woman came to him and asked him to fix her shoe. When the woman removed her shoe from her foot, she pulled her dress up, and Samaan inadvertently glimpsed her ankle. The sight of a woman's ankle was forbidden, and Samaan felt incredibly guilty. He remembered a Bible verse that says that if your eye causes you to sin, you should gouge it out, for it is better to lose your eye than to lose your soul. Samaan promptly gouged out his eye, but he continued to feel guilty because he had seen the woman's ankle. That is how he became a one-eyed man, although at that point, Samaan was not a well-known man.

During this time, Cairo as a city was desperately in need of expansion. The population was too big for the space available to the city. The city could not expand in one direction because of the Nile River and its floodplain; it could not expand in the other direction because of the mountains, which had no name at that time. A meeting of all the leaders of the city was called in order to discuss the problem and arrive at a solution. In attendance at the meeting, along with other leaders, were the King and the Egyptian Pope. One of the other attendees knew of a Bible verse that says that those who have faith the size of a mustard seed can say to a mountain "Get up and move" and the mountain will obey. This attendee mentioned this verse in jest, making fun of the Pope. The King asked the Pope if this verse really existed; the Pope said that it did. The King asked if it was true; the Pope said that it was. The King and the Pope agreed that the Christians in Cairo would fast, pray, and demonstrate their faith by moving a mountain out of the way to allow for the city's expansion.

For three days and nights, the Christians of Cairo prayed and fasted. In the early morning of the third day, the Pope was praying and fasting in the Hanging Church, then his headquarters, when he fell asleep. The Virgin Mary appeared to him in a dream and told him to exit the Hanging Church by the Iron Gate and seek the one-eyed man, for this man had been appointed to lead in the miracle that would occur. Although it was too early for anyone to be about in the city, the Pope believed the Virgin and went out by the Iron Gate. He saw a one-eyed man, Samaan, who was engaged in his ministry of fetching water for old and disabled persons. The Pope approached Samaan and told him that he, Samaan, had been appointed to lead in the miracle, but Samaan said no, he was not worthy; he was a guilty man. The Pope assured Samaan that he must have been forgiven, for he was the one God wanted to lead in this miracle. Samaan could not deny the Pope's words, but still felt unworthy, so the two agreed that the Pope would be the visible leader, while Samaan would stand behind him and tell him what to say.

The Pope, Samaan, and all the faithful of Cairo went to the base of the mountain. Also with them were the King and other people of the city who wanted to see the miracle. The faithful prayed to God and commanded the mountain to move. Suddenly, the mountain began to shake and rise; it rose to the point where the sun could be seen shining underneath the mountain. The King and the people were terrified and begged the faithful to stop, to put the mountain down. The faithful complied, and the mountain was put down. When it landed, it broke, and that is how it got its name of Mokkatum, which means "broken." Although the mountain was not moved out of the way for the city's expansion, the faith of the Christians did inspire the other people of Cairo to expand the city anyway; they expanded up and around the mountains, so the people got the living space they needed.

And that is the Miracle of Mokkatum.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Travelers' Sickness?

Today I had intended to write about Mokkatum, but that's going to have to wait until tomorrow or maybe just later today. This morning I'm recovering.

Last night I thought I was experiencing my first ever bout of travelers' sickness. This morning my husband informed me that my symptoms were more consistent with food poisoning. We think it was the cheese or the sandwich meat from lunch. I was fine most of the day yesterday, but around 6pm, I started feeling a little queasy. I was talking to my mom over Skype at the time, and I deliberately hid the queasiness from her; you know how moms worry (sorry, Mom, but it's true). As soon as we had hung up, I went to the bathroom. I spent the rest of the night either in the bed or in the bathroom.

My husband was wonderful. He brought cold wet towels for my face and neck; he took out the trash after each and every bout of vomiting; he reminded me to drink my water mixed with electrolytes (although I resisted that one; I didn't want anything in my stomach).

I scared him to death at one point. I had gone to the bathroom. He heard a crash and then nothing. He found me in the bathroom, passed out, but having apparently hit my head on the tub on the way down. I think we've agreed that I passed out because I had been resisting the electrolytes too well, but neither of us are doctors so who knows?

I'm definitely better now. I'm eating Cheerios (no milk) and saltine crackers. As soon as I finish my green tea (I need caffeine but coffee probably isn't a good idea right now), I'll drink another bottle of water mixed with electrolytes, then switch to pure water for the rest of the day. I'll spend today probably lounging around reading and watching DVDs (no satellite TV yet).

So the Mokkatum post will have to wait. I'm heading back to the couch.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Garbage City

Yesterday, Jeff and I participated in a CSA* tour of the Mokkatum Church complex (the subject of a different blog). It was absolutely stunning, but for now, I don't want to talk about that beautiful complex. I want to tell you about the ugly part of Mokkatum.

To get to the cave churches, we had to drive through the part of Mokkatum that is commonly known as Garbage City. To understand Garbage City, you must understand that Egypt's trash collection system is not the same as it is in the United States. In the U. S., recyclables go to the recycling center, and trash goes to a landfill. In Cairo, trash is not sorted into recyclables and non-recyclables in the home. Everything goes to the same place. Originally, it all went to Garbage City. Apparently, there now are other places where trash goes as well, but a LOT of it still goes to Garbage City. The trash collectors are very poor; illiteracy rates among them are even higher than the 47% rate in Egypt as a whole. The collected trash goes to Garbage City, where it is sorted. I know at least some of it then goes to recycling centers, but I'm not sure of what percentage is recycled or where the rest of it goes.

Driving through Garbage City, the stench was unmistakable. The narrow, winding streets were lined with piles of trash. Occasionally we had to pull over to allow a truck through--just a regular pick-up truck, but piled high with sorted trash. By "high," I mean really high; the pile in the truck bed would be two or three times as high as the top of the truck cab. We saw one truck piled high with cardboard, with four children sitting on top of the pile.

Whole families live in Garbage City. Both adults and children were hard at work along the streets and alleys, sorting the trash. They sort it into piles of papers, fabrics, plastics, food waste, non-food organic waste . . . all day every day, these people live, breathe, and work surrounded by Cairo's trash. There were food shops located right next to trash piles. One man was selling food out of cart on the corner; there were piles of garbage within a foot of the cart.

Needless to say, this area opened my eyes to the true meaning of the word "poverty." The people who live and work in Garbage City are absolute nobodies in the eyes of Egyptian society. These people are deeply ashamed of their status. They want to work; they want to support themselves and their families and to make a better life for their children. We didn't take pictures of Garbage City, and even in Mokkatum we tried to avoid pictures that had people in them, because our guide, Hala, told us that the people are so ashamed of their living conditions that they don't want pictures taken.

There is some work being done to help the people of Garbage City. The churches of Mokkatum try to ease the lives of the people through education. They also provide some services that wealthier Cairenes can obtain elsewhere: On the Mokkatum grounds, there is a small sporting/recreational area, a small zoo, and a small garden. The area around Mokkatum is inhabited primarily by Coptic Christians, so they are the ones who are ministered to by Mokkatum. In another area of Garbage City, where the population is primarily Muslim, the Association for the Protection of the Environment is active.

The Association for the Protection of the Environment is a non-profit organization that operates at least one recycling center, offers literacy classes for children, and provides childcare. We visited a recycling center after we left Mokkatum. We saw two recycling units: a fabric unit and a paper unit.

In the fabric unit, women and girls are trained to create weavings and patchwork quilts. Originally, all of the fabrics were recycled from the garbage. Now, a small percentage of the material still comes from the garbage, but the vast majority of it (over 90%, I think) comes from textile plants that donate their scraps. The women and girls are taught to make quilts, pillow covers, handbags, and rugs from these scraps. We saw in their showroom some items that they had for sale, and they were beautiful. We bought a few items as gifts and intend to buy more for our apartment once we get the furniture and paint colors finalized.

In the paper unit of the recycling center, women and girls are trained to recycle paper and create stationery and art. In that showroom, we saw framed and unframed art, gift bags, stationery, greeting cards, and book marks. We bought some of the cards, so some of you may eventually receive one. All of these things--fabric and paper items--are available for sale all over Cairo, and even internationally. Some of the rug and handbag styles are very popular.

I've attached a picture of some of the items we bought at the recycling center.

*CSA is the Community Services Association. It's an English-speaking expat group, I think run by British expats. Its headquarters is here in Maadi. It has a coffee bar, a fitness room, a library, and a clothes closet. It organizes tours, classes, and other activities for expats. This was my first CSA tour, but it definitely will not be my last.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Electricity Update

Just a quick update on the electrical situation. On Monday, the same two electricians, plus their supervisor, showed up at my door to fix the outlets in my kitchen. I think the supervisor showed up because the work order that Jeff submitted included the fact that they had stood me up twice; that usually gets a supervisor to hover and make sure you're completely satisfied when they do show up bright and early the next day (still without letting you know they're coming, though, which is why they had to wait for an hour or so for me to get home). They took all the outlets off the wall again and moved my dishwasher (and also my stove and refrigerator this time). They never got near the fuse box. When they cut three of the live wires, I couldn't take it anymore. I went to the living room and read a book. After 30 or 40 minutes, one of them came in and asked if they could take a lamp from the living room to the kitchen. I told him to go ahead. A few minutes later, they called me into the kitchen and proved to me that all the 220V outlets worked by plugging the lamp into each and every one of them in turn. They proved that the 110V outlets worked by plugging in our tester and showing me that the lights lit up. Jeff told me later that those lights working means there is some electricity there, but not necessarily 110 volts. I haven't pushed it; we don't have our 110V appliances right now anyway, so I'm ready for the electricity saga to be over.