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, August 25, 2008

Secret Believers

Not too long ago, I read a very enlightening book. It's called Secret Believers: What Happens When Muslims Believe in Christ, and it was written by Brother Andrew and Al Janssen. I don't know Brother Andrew's last name; I first read of him in his book God's Smuggler, in which he talked about his first Christian ministry, smuggling Bibles into the Soviet Union. Once the Soviet Union collapsed and religious freedom meant that his smuggling services were no longer needed in the Soviet Union, Brother Andrew turned his attention to other locations where Christians were persecuted, including China and the Middle East.

Secret Believers
is the true story of a small group of believers in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. I'm pretty certain that the unnamed country isn't Egypt--some of the factual details about the country's form of government don't match up with Egypt. But I don't know for certain what country it is. And all of the people's names have been changed, except for the occasions in which Brother Andrew himself shows up in the story.

The book begins with an event that I personally found disturbing, although as the book went on, I understood more and more why it happened the way it did. A teenage Muslim boy has become curious about Christianity, due to conversations with a friend who began questioning Islam while at college. Despite his abject fear of eternal punishment for even thinking disloyal thoughts about Islam, Ahmed--one of the main people the story follows--decides to visit a local Christian church. Here's the disturbing part: The pastor turns him away. The pastor fears two things: that the boy will claim Christianity until he marries a Christian girl, then go back to Islam and force her to convert as well; and that the Muslim community will accuse the church of proselytizing Muslims, which almost certainly would result in violence against the congregation. This is a vivid picture of the fear among Christians that persists throughout the book.

Another central person in the book is Butros. Butros is a Christian, from the same country as Ahmed. While studying in England, he met his wife, Nadira, who is a Christian from another Middle East country. After he finished his education, Butros and Nadira had to decide where they would live: England, Nadira's home country, or Butros's home country. Butros became convinced that God was calling him back to his native land, where he was to strengthen the church by ministering to the ministers in whatever ways they needed. Nadira agreed, so the two signed up for a life of poverty and persecution, foregoing the good-paying jobs that would have been theirs in England.

Eventually Ahmed and Butros meet up with each other, and with a few others who, like Ahmed, are Muslim-background believers (MBBs). The conversion experiences all are different, yet all have the same result. The former Muslim is beaten severely by his or her family. The beatings occur in order to convince the "apostate" that he or she is wrong, that he or she must revert to Islam or face even worse punishment after death. If the convert does not revert, the family may kill him or her in order to restore the family honor. The one woman whose story is detailed in the book--Salima--wasn't even sure she was a Christian when her interest in the Bible and the prophet Isa (Jesus) was discovered, but still, her father tore her Bible apart and burned it, beat her, and informed her that he had arranged a marriage for her to a very strict Muslim. She had to run away from home to avoid being forced into an intolerable marriage. Almost all of the MBBs detailed in this book either left their homes because of their conversion or hid their conversion from everyone around them, at least for a time.

Butros, Ahmed, and Salima are joined by Mustafa and Hassan. They do not openly proselytize, as that is a crime punishable by death. When Ahmed and some other new believers are baptized, they are baptized by Brother Andrew, not by any citizen of their country. This is because baptism of a converted Muslim also is a crime punishable by death, both for the baptizer and for the one who is baptized. A Muslim who converts to Christianity can revert back to Islam up until the time when he is baptized; then, he is an apostate who must be killed. So the local pastors can't baptize them without risking their own lives. Brother Andrew must baptize the first group; after that, leaders among the MBBs baptize other MBBs--since they already are under the death penalty, their risk is not increased the way it would be for the pastors. All the Muslim-background believers keep their baptism a secret, except from each other. But even that is not enough to protect them. Ahmed, Mustafa, and Hassan become targets because of their ministry, teaching Christians to read in order to help them earn better incomes. Two of these believers end up dead; the other flees the country because the police--knowing he is innocent--decide that he is the murderer simply because he was the last to meet with the two before their deaths.

The Muslim-background believers aren't the only ones who face persecution. The "official Christians"--those who were born into Christian families--also face persecution in this country, which has signed the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, which expressly states that everyone has the right to freedom of religion, including the right to change his religion. In the country of this book, the only ones who have the right to change religion are Christians, who can become Muslim at any time. Christians are highly encouraged to convert and sometimes are given no choice. Layla, born into a Christian home, is only a teenager. She is abducted, forced under penalty of death to say the shahada (covert to Islam), and forced into physical and sexual slavery to a "man" whose imam illegally married them without her, or her father's, consent.

There is so much more in this book. At the end, there is a section in which Brother Andrew talks about the nature of the problem throughout the Middle East. He talks about believers in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Egypt. Across the board, Christians in the Middle East tell Brother Andrew what they need from believers in the West. They need believers in the West to come, with maturity and love. They need believers in the West to pressure the government--both theirs and ours--for true freedom of religion. They need believers in the West to impact their own cultures by living differently and by showing the watching masses that Christianity is not synonymous with modern Western culture. Above all, they need prayer. They cannot proselytize, but they can and do respond when seekers find them. And seekers are finding them--God is calling people through dreams and visions, causing people to seek out the believers who can answer their questions. It's a dangerous time and a dangerous path for Christians in the Middle East, and many flee. But some who could afford to leave choose to stay, for the sake of the seekers.

If you're interested in more information, I would encourage you to visit SecretBelievers.org. Among other things, you can sign up for free emails containing excerpts from the book.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Life in the Bubbles

More and more, I'm realizing that I live inside bubbles--no, that wasn't a typo; I really did say bubbles, as in more than one. I live in a bubble inside another bubble.

The larger bubble within which I live is affectionately known as the "Expat Bubble." It consists of all--okay many of--the expatriates who make Cairo their home. Included are Americans, Brits, South Africans, Indians . . . and many others.

I say that the expat bubble consists of many of the expats here, not all of them, because there are some expats who have a much more difficult life. These include the refugees. I've met one refugee through my church and have heard stories that would make a heart of stone soften. Some refugees are here illegally and could be deported, some back to countries where they would face immediate execution, at any time. Most refugees are poor, unable to get permanent employment, taking any job that comes their way. For a blog entry from Mark Jaffrey that will give you a much better idea of what life is like for the refugees, click here.

Anyway, those of us in the expat bubble have a pretty nice life. We're rich by Egyptian standards, even those of us who are not rich by the standards of our home countries. We live in very nice flats ("flat" is a much more commonly used word than "apartment" here), and we shop. A lot. We buy custom-made furniture. We buy alabaster. We buy all sorts of things. Many of us have maids and drivers. We're not worried about where the next meal will come from or how we're going to pay next month's rent. Many of us work with Egyptians, usually as supervisors or others with authority, although some interact with the Egyptian government as well. Those of us who are wives often don't work; we entertain ourselves with shopping or CSA activities. Some do volunteer work. But mostly we associate with each other. When the unemployed expat wives come into contact with Egyptians, it's usually because the Egyptian is our employee or a shopkeeper, or maybe a beggar on the street. We don't often get to know the Egyptians with whom we come into contact, unless it's our bawwab (doorman), maid, or driver. We live a sheltered life, although I can't really give too many details about what life is like outside the expat bubble. I'm still working on coming out of my smaller bubble and becoming more involved in the expat bubble. In time, I hope to venture out of the expat bubble and get to know more Egyptians and what their lives outside the bubble are like.

Within the expat bubble, there's an even more pampered group of people. This is the "Embassy Bubble," in which I am snugly ensconced. The embassy bubble specifically consists of Americans who work for the U. S. Mission to Cairo (the embassy and USAID, or the U. S. Agency for International Development, as well as NAMRU, the Navy something Medical Research Unit) and the families of those employees. We are pampered beyond belief. Our incomes are not as high as many of the other expats' (think oil), although it is higher than some.

The embassy people tend to live almost exclusively within our own little bubble. Those who work, work with other embassy people. Those who do not work socialize with other unemployed embassy spouses. Many of us live in embassy-owned compounds, although some live in embassy-owned apartments on the economy. Our housing compounds don't have bawwabs, but we do have armed guards. No one who doesn't "belong" is allowed in. Deliveries are dropped off at the gate, unless it's a big delivery, in which case the deliveryman waits at the gate until we come to escort him. (We can have visitors who don't have to be escorted, but they do have to sign in.) And our other privileges make it unnecessary for us to step too far outside of the embassy bubble.

We can eat out at the Maadi House. The Maadi House is a walled villa. On its grounds are a pool, a playground, a grassy area, a restaurant, and a bar. I think I remember seeing tennis courts, too, and there may be more in there. We've used it only for the restaurant so far; they have an excellent buffet on Thursday nights--good marinated steak--and a very good brunch buffet on Friday mornings. The food comes from the commissary (see the next paragraph). The Maadi House exists as a social club for the embassy. There's a yearly fee (I forget how much), because you have to join it. Guests are allowed, with members, for a fee of LE3, or around 60 cents. So combine the Maadi House with Otlob (an online service that lets you order from a multitude of restaurants, who all deliver, including McDonald's), and you don't have to go outside the bubble even if you don't want to cook . . . even if you haven't hired your own personal chef, which is also a possibility here.

A more coveted privilege we have--possibly the most coveted--is our access to the commissary. Egyptians and most expats have to either go out to Carrefour (think Super Wal-Mart) to buy necessities, or they have to go to various small shops near their homes. To prepare for a dinner, they must visit the bread shop, the fruit and vegetable stand, the butcher, the spice shop . . . each shop tends to be specialized to one product, so you have to traipse all over Maadi, or Zamalek, or wherever you live. Even then, some things that you take for granted back home simply aren't available here. Your favorite brand of soap or shampoo may be available at the local pharmacy, but probably not. Want some real pork bacon, sausage, or hot dogs? Out of luck, not going to find it here. Not unless you have comissary privileges. It's like a small, but incredibly well-stocked, grocery store. We have produce, frozen meats, milk we can be confident has been pasteurized properly, pet food (available but very expensive on the local economy), cleaning supplies, a personal hygiene section . . . and if they don't have your favorite brand, you can request it. They may just be able to get it for you. Only embassy personnel are allowed to step foot in the commissary. Even the Department of Defense (DOD) contractors, who have access to the DOD-run PX and convenience stores, don't get in the commissary. On our first day at the embassy, they made up special commissary cards for us. No commissary card, no access, no exceptions. And someone with commissary privileges can lose those privileges by buying things at the commissary for someone without commissary privileges. It's okay to buy gifts there; we've given hot dogs as a gift to someone without commissary privileges, and we've had people over and served hot dogs from the commissary. But the recipient cannot pay you back without the risk that you'll lose your privileges. And there's no way I'm risking that.

Our other highly prized privilege--the other strong contender for the title of "most coveted"--are our APO privileges. Imagine being in a foreign country where the things to which you're accustomed are not available. What do you do? Well, if you have APO privileges, you get on Amazon.com or you call your mom and tell her what to ship to you (thanks, Mom!). The APO is the military mail system that provides a U. S. mailing address for those of us who are overseas. Many online vendors will ship to APOs, and if they won't, they'll ship to someone in the States who can forward the package for you. You don't even have to pay for the shipping from the APO collection point (I think it's New York for this region) to the final destination. Other expats have to pay international shipping fees, and even then packages may not arrive in a timely manner or at all, or they have to find someone who is traveling from the States (or Britain, or India, or whatever country they're from) and ask that person--sometimes a friend of a friend--to bring the item along. I received an email recently from a friend who wanted a book from the States. I was tempted to offer to let her order it off of Amazon or ChristianBook.com and ship it to me, but there's a catch: Just like with the commissary, if you extend the privilege to someone who isn't entitled to it, you can lose it. And with as much as Jeff and I depend on the APO, that isn't an option. So I offered instead to talk to a friend who's going home next month to pick up her two cats. (It wasn't necessary; someone else is coming back this week, so she won't have to wait as long for her book.)

Many "embassy people" don't stray outside of the embassy bubble. And some of those who do venture forth create resentment by lording their privileges over the other expats, or just by being arrogant in general. "Embassy people" don't necessarily have the best reputation within the expat community. You're more likely to hear someone say "Yeah, he's an embassy guy, but he's nice" rather than "Yeah, he's an embassy guy but he's a real arrogant jerk." And you don't have to say "He's an embassy guy and he's a jerk"; that's kind of redundant in many minds.

I'm trying to strike a balance between my two competing instincts: I certainly don't want to talk too much about privileges that I can't share, as much as I would like to share them, but I am very curious about what the other expats do in order to compensate for not having commissary and APO privileges. So when I'm with other expats at church or at cell group, I'm trying to listen more than I speak about those things.

So, uh, if you're a non-embassy expat and you're reading this particular blog entry . . . please don't hold it against me. :-)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Driving in Cairo . . . or Maadi, Anyway

Well, I did it. I've driven in Maadi. (Thanks to Mom for reminding me that I hadn't done a blog about it and that some of her friends were getting antsy.)

Last Friday morning, Jeff and I planned to go to church and then straight to the commissary for our weekly shopping, so we decided to just drive to church instead of walking like we usually do. We were running a little late, so Jeff drove. I'm the first to admit that I'm not a confident driver, so no way was I driving for the first time here when we were in a hurry.

Also because we were running late, we didn't have time for breakfast before church, so we decided after church to just walk over to the Maadi House for brunch. So we ate breakfast . . . after that it was time for the commissary run.

I drove. As we approached our Ford Explorer, Jeff tossed me the keys. After we got in and I started the vehicle, Jeff reminded me to put the side mirror back out. Before I came to Egypt, I hadn't even realized that the side mirrors folded in. Here it's crucial when parking on the street to put the mirrors in; even that doesn't always save you from having them scraped or knocked off, but it minimizes the likelihood. So I rolled down the window and popped out the mirror, then checked and adjusted all three mirrors. Jeff had parked on the side of a street pointing the way we needed to go, so I just pulled out and went. (Unlike many local drivers, I did look to make sure I wasn't pulling out in front of anyone.)

The first left was a semi-blind turn. The road was at an angle, and there were trees or signs (I forget what) partially obstructing my view. I looked as well as I could then just went for it. As we proceeded to the commissary, I got a little giddy. I hadn't driven in almost two months, and now I was driving again. It felt like I was really free to travel around Cairo for the first time. (I know, it's actually easier in most cases to take cabs, and I can get anywhere I need to go with them, but it's a psychological boost to be able to get yourself where you want to go without relying on anyone else.) Besides, I just enjoy driving, even though I'm not all that great at it.

Jeff had to remind me of a couple of the turns. On previous trips to the commissary, I've remembered all the turns, but I was paying attention to other things while behind the wheel. Things like whether or not someone was going to come flying out of a side street or how I'm going to navigate around all the cars that are parked on the street near that mosque. Traffic was very light for Maadi, as it usually is on Fridays, so there weren't any real heart-stoppers, but I was prepared for them anyway.

One thing I hadn't really realized before was how steep the speed bumps are. The speed bumps here are an adventure in themselves. They're not always yellow, or sometimes they're only yellow at the end because the paint has worn off in the middle, so they blend in with the road. They also don't stay in the same place-a speed bump may appear or disappear overnight, so you can never be certain where they are. Sometimes where there used to be a speed bump, there's a trough instead. Some, but not all, of the speed bumps have silver reflective things on the road before you get to them. But if they don't, you don't always see them in time to slow down appropriately. If you don't slow down enough, you can catch a little air off them. Trust me on this one. Jeff is very concerned about the Explorer's shocks.

It was kind of fun not worrying about lanes. If someone was in front of me and I wanted to go the speed they were going, I naturally lined up behind them, no matter where in the road they were. If I wanted to pass them, I did. On the left, on the right, it didn't matter. No blinkers necessary, just be prepared to honk the horn if they start to drift over into you. And be aware that if you start to drift over into someone else, they'll use their horns to let you know they're there. Drifting around all over the road isn't a problem at all. If there's a hole on each side, take the middle. If the speed bump only goes across three fourths of the road, it's quite all right to move from the far left to the far right to go around it. No blinkers, minimal looking (Jeff didn't like that part), no problem. My kind of driving, as long as traffic's light. I have yet to drive in heavy, or even medium, traffic to see how I like that.

I drove again today. It wasn't quite as fun, probably because I just drove last week so it isn't quite as novel. I'm still not looking out for the speed bumps quite enough. Today I forgot to pop the driver's side mirror back out. I didn't miss it. (Jeff groaned when he realized this fact.) When I come back to America, I'm either going to be a great driver or a lousy one. Great if I get to the point where I can drive in heavier traffic without scraping anyone, lousy if I just get used to the laissez-faire style of driving without practicing my limits.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

This and That

Okay, so it's been this weird combination of not much happening and lots of stuff happening, so this is a random miscellaneous kind of post, to let you know about all the small stuff that's been going on in our lives lately.

Our UAB is here!! The UAB (unaccompanied air baggage) is a small portion of our stuff from the States that gets shipped here by air; we were limited to . . . I think 450 lb. But it's here! It got here last week. So now I have almost half of our dishes (I wanted all of them, but there was that weight restriction thing), two of our bath towels, one of our hand towels, one of our washcloths, all of our kitchen knives, our pots and pans, one piece of bakeware, our very own sheets (oh so soft and luxurious compared to the adequate-but-nothing-special ones in our welcome kit!) . . . oh, yeah, and a Roomba! I'm so excited about the Roomba. For those who may not know, it's a robotic vacuum. I hate to vacuum, but Roomba does it for me while I do whatever else I want. I've missed my Roomba. (The kittens are terrified of Roomba when he's vacuuming, but they make themselves feel better by pouncing him and walking on him when he's on his base/charger.) Oh, and Jeff's XBox 360 is here. I'll have to let him be all excited about that one. We also were able to fit in some DVDs and decorative items . . . although I forgot to add in a bath mat, silverware, or any trash cans. So we've done a little shopping to replace some of the welcome kit items that we gave back. Overall, though, it's been a great trade.

Our Ford Explorer arrived yesterday! This is a mixed blessing. Theoretically, I now have more freedom and the opportunity to do something that I kind of enjoyed back in the States--driving. On the other hand, I now have no excuse not to brave the Cairo--or at least the Maadi--traffic. But I'm going to do it. I'm driving to the commissary tomorrow. Depending on how stressful the drive is for both me and Jeff, he may be driving back. We'll see. It shouldn't be too bad tomorrow; the streets are usually deserted on Fridays, but if we pick the wrong time, we'll be dealing with all the mosque-goers' cars blocking the road. I'm going to be optimistic. I'll do fine.

We've started taking classes in Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. This basically is a dialect of formal, or Modern Standard, Arabic, just like the particular version of English that we speak in the South is a dialect of the Queen's English. So I've been up to my eyeballs in the difference between "minfadlik" and "minfadlak," the fact that "enta" means "you" and "emta" means . . . "when," I think. Not to mention the decision as to whether or not I'll follow the Egyptian custom of adding "al ham du lee la" whenever I say that I'm fine. It means "Praise/thanks be to God/Allah." The decision part comes in because if it's a general "thanks be to God," I'm okay with that; I am not, however, okay with thanking the specific Muslim god Allah for anything. I don't think Muslims see any difference between God and Allah, though, so even getting an answer to the question of precisely what the phrase means may be difficult. One of my friends from church says "Al ham du Jesus." That certainly avoids any confusion.

The kittens have started their vaccinations. They did NOT enjoy their first visit to the vet, nor are they likely to enjoy their second. Poor little Isis meowed pitifully the whole way (thankfully it was a short drive), so apparently her reaction on the drive home from the shelter wasn't totally due to the water bowl on her head--I made sure there was no water in the bowl this time, although I had bottled water I could use if they needed it. Even the vet looked a little chagrined while he was examining her because he and his assistant couldn't calm her down either. Just for the record, Isis does not like being examined, she does not like having her claws trimmed, and she *absolutely* does not like getting a shot. Cleo was more stoic. During her examination and claw-trimming, she stood quietly in the grip of the assistant, looking daggers at Jeff and me for putting her through this indignity. But she totally rebelled when the needle came out. You would have thought the vet was sticking that needle through her heart instead of through a fold of her skin. Isis, whom I was holding and comforting at the time, couldn't decide between trying to bolt for the window (it was closed), trying to get to Cleo (I had her turned so she couldn't see what was happening), or just huddling in a little shaking ball of terror (my preferred reaction, as it made her easier to hold). Cleo refused to be held and comforted by us (I think she was mad), so we put them both back in their travel case, where they cuddled up with each other and eventually calmed each other down. The meowing started up again as soon as we picked up the case; there's something about a moving "room" that the kittens don't seem to like. The vet prescribed some deworming medicine for them (they don't have worms; it's a precaution), but we haven't been able to get them to take it. We traumatize them when we try. I think we're going to let the vet give it to them when we take them back for their second round of shots next weekend. We also need to talk to the vet about having them microchipped and spayed. They may never forgive us for those.

If you want to see some pictures of the kittens with Jeff, click here.

So that's about it for us . . . I'll let you know as stuff happens :-)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

(Jeff's Hijack) -- Dark Knight + Golden Stars = AWESOME

(We interrupt your normally wonderful blog posts for a guest spot by the husband. Deborah will be back in this space soon.)

Last weekend, we went to see The Dark Knight, the latest Batman movie that's been racking up jillions of dollars since its release. The movie was great (if you even thought about enjoying Batman Begins and by some chance haven't seen this yet, I highly recommend seeing it in the theater -- some of the visuals definitely belong on the big screen), but there was something competing for my wow-factor that night -- the theater itself.

We went to see TDK (I love acronyms) at the Golden Stars cinema. This is part of City Stars, which is a business/residential/retail development in Heliopolis, northeast of downtown Cairo. It'll get its own post later (6 stories, 600 shops, and that's just the retail portion). After about a 30-minute mostly-boring (by Egyptian standards) ride there, we found the theater and bought our tickets. Here's where things got interesting. First, the tickets were LE100 each (a little under $20, $18.87 with a good exchange rate), which is about 4x the going rate most places here (and even more expensive than most theaters in the States). Next, I got to pick our seats. There was a touchscreen with a diagram of the theater and I picked out seats D3 and D4 for us. We got our tickets, each of which had an individually printed label on the back identifying our particular seat. Did I mention there were only 36 seats in the whole theater? I knew this was going to be interesting.

Since we had about 45 minutes before the start of the movie, and the previous show wasn't out yet, we went into the lounge area. There we picked our dinner off of the menu (we both decided on a cheeseburger with chips, I got some chocolate ice cream too), gave our order to one of the staff, and bought some popcorn and water (about $4 for a popcorn and 2 bottles of water--that felt bizarrely cheap in a theater).

Once the previous show was out and the theater was open, we went on inside. When we walked in, we were greeted by an usher who asked for our tickets and then showed us to our seats, which happened to be leather recliners, facing about a 15-foot movie screen. There were 6 rows, with an aisle dividing each row into one pair of seats and then the other 4 (Yes, I know the pictures show it differently. They're wrong, but the only photos of the theater I could find online. Deborah's very good at painting a picture with words. I just settle for lots of links to other websites and promo shots). They were spaced far enough that each seat could fully recline without kicking anyone in the head (no way someone could "accidentally" kick your seat in this place!). The recliners were all a bluish-gray and VERY comfortable -- they really did recline ALL THE WAY back. There was a small wooden table (roughly 24" in diameter) between our seats, so we had a place for our popcorn and water. The crowd was definitely upscale, several Westerners, probably a couple of Saudis, and several well-to-do Egyptians.

About 7:10 or so (the showtime was 7, Egyptian standard time), the lights went down and the screen came alive with . . . a blue "insert DVD" screen which quickly led to a "loading" message and then a fairly grainy image of a standard-definition DVD playing some commercials. I'm sure it would've looked fine on a regular-size screen, but at the size it was being projected to, it looked pretty rotten if you were expecting a typical movie picture. Luckily, after a couple of commercials and previews for upcoming Egyptian films, the picture went dark for a second, then came back with a much better picture (apparently there are two projectors, one for the commercials/previews, one for the movie). During the opening (naturally), a waiter arrived, bringing our previously-ordered cheeseburgers. He set the tray on the table and quickly departed. While the movie was very entertaining, the cheeseburger was only mediocre, but the novelty still made it worth having done once.

About 1/2 way through the movie, at a fairly critical point . . . the lights came on, and I remembered the "quaint" Egyptian habit of having an intermission during movies. Having drunk too much water and Pepsi, I decided that rather than be annoyed at the interruption I'd put it to good use, so I made a dash to the facilities. Deborah decided that since the theater was a little chilly for her liking, some hot chocolate was in order, and put in the order with the usher who came around with our bill, putting off the moment of reckoning.

Once everyone was back in their seats, the movie continued to its thrilling conclusion. Unfortunately, I missed a crucial moment because . . . the bill arrived. I would have thought it could have waited until the end, but no, once the hot chocolate was there, the waiter wanted to settle the bill immediately (I wonder how many people who'll pay 4x the going price to see a movie try to skip out on the food bill?). So, by the light of his cell phone, I read the bill (not much, if any, more than we would've paid at a restaurant), fished out the appropriate bills, and sent him on his way with a hushed "no change!" more to avoid another interruption than out of gratitude for the service (which was good, just poorly timed).

Once the movie was over, we headed back outside for the slightly-longer trip home, which was much more "exciting" and authentically Egyptian, due to the traffic jams, the lack of headlights (at 10:30 at night), and the parked cars and standing people which left barely enough room to squeeze by.

A couple of things (besides the seats and layout) that made the theater worth the extra price were the 1)lack of smoking in the theater and 2)lack of talking during the movie. Neither of these are a given when going to the movies in Egypt, so depending on other theaters in the area, Golden Stars may become the default for any movie that's showing there (there are only 4 "VIP" screens). We definitely know where we'll be for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" this fall (assuming it comes to Golden Stars). Maybe I'll try the pizza next time . . .

(We now return you to your regularly scheduled good blog posts by Deborah)