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

Friday, October 31, 2008

Not a Panacea


I guess the fountain doesn't fix everything . . .

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Burden Lifted

There has been a burden lifted off my shoulders today. It had been there for a week before I even recognized that it was a burden. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty good at just not "feeling" some of my feelings . . . stress, in particular. My body reacts: I don't sleep. But that's pretty common for me whether I'm stressed or not, so I often don't subjectively recognize that I'm feeling stressed out.

Take this latest example. I did a post last week that I had been asked to take a leadership role in the silent auction and raffle for the 2008 Maadi Women's Guild Christmas Bazaar. The very day that I accepted the position, I stopped sleeping. I became restless. I suddenly had an urge to clean my flat. I felt a little anxiety about the bazaar; that was normal--I've never done anything like this, and there's a lot to do. But I shied away from doing anything. I didn't know where to start. Now, had I thought it through, I would have recognized what I was experiencing: my classic "I am overwhelmed/in over my head/incapable of handling this" response. But I didn't think it through. I just did some cleaning and focused on other things.

Then God decided that, yes, it is again time to remind Deborah to pay attention to her body's natural cues. So He gave me one I couldn't miss. At my Sunday morning study of the book Captivating (by John and Stasi Eldredge), while we were giving prayer requests, I asked the ladies in my group to pray for me because I was feeling a little anxious about this leadership role. I thought I was pretty casual about it. But Ute, our leader, saw that there was more to it than that, so she got me talking about it. The next thing I knew, I was bawling. All of the suppressed anxiety rose to the surface, and I realized just how unprepared I am for that responsibility. It's like a random, inexperienced, guy off the street was put in charge of a Fortune 500 company. No clue where to start. Even if people tell him what needs to be done, he really doesn't have the knowledge or experience to accomplish it. That's how I felt.

So we prayed, and after I got home, I prayed some more. I told God all about how unprepared I felt, and that while I was willing, I didn't think I had the knowledge or skills to be effective in this role. I asked that He either would give this responsibility to someone else or give me the peace that He would get it done even if it was through me. After I prayed, I had peace about the situation. I felt God impressing upon me that the leadership role was not where He wanted me this year. My assigned role was what I had originally volunteered for: to work in partnership with others and to learn the things that I would need to know to step up to a position of greater responsibility in the future. However, I also felt that it was not yet clear if that would be possible, due to a lack of volunteers who were willing and able to take responsibility. But my gracious God gave me a peace that even if I did need to continue in the leadership role, He would make it work, and I had nothing to worry about. If I continued in a leadership role this year, it wouldn't be His preferred plan, but He would bless the efforts anyway.

One of the other ladies in the group is working on the bazaar, too, and Marge actually had asked her to check in on me and see how I was doing. Marge had known I was hesitant and wanted to make sure I could handle it. So Marge was told that whether I could handle it or not, I didn't think I could, and I was very anxious about this. (No confidences were broken, even though we do have a rule that nothing from Sunday morning goes outside the group. Marge is a part of our group, but she wasn't able to be there this week. Also, before I had said much at all, the other lady told me that Marge had asked her to check on me, so I knew the information would be shared--and I wanted it to be; otherwise, I would have said so, and it wouldn't have been shared.)

So this morning, I had a meeting with Halina about the auction. When I got there, Marge was there as well. Marge has been busy! Marge has agreed to take responsibility--even though she has SO much other stuff on her plate--and there is a team of four of us who will work under her leadership. We will do most of the time-consuming footwork, since Marge has enough time-consuming activities to do as president of the Maadi Women's Guild and as coordinator for the commercial vendors at the bazaar. Halina is soliciting donations from the greater Cairo, non-Maadi, area, including the large donations such as Nile cruises, airline tickets, and hotel stays. Pam and I will take the lead on obtaining smaller donations from businesses within Maadi, with help from Jennifer, who also will decorate for the silent auction. Marge will go along the first time or two, since Pam and I haven't done that before. I'm doing the administrative stuff--keeping track of the donors so we can make sure they all get recognized on the bazaar map and in the January issue of the Maadi Messenger. I'll also take the lead on deciding what goes into the raffle as opposed to the auction, and I'll also try to figure out, based on the donations we receive, how to group donated items into "theme baskets," which tend to sell better than single items. Pam, who is more creative and artistic than I am, will assemble the baskets, making them look way better than I could. As we go along, other tasks will get assigned to the person best able to handle them.

So I'm still very involved, but I no longer have the final responsibility. Marge is overtasked, so her leadership will be primarily in the form of instruction and answering questions. The rest of the burden is spread out among four of us. I'm getting the opportunity to learn without it feeling so much like "sink or swim."

This afternoon, Marge, Pam, and I went to a few shops to solicit donations. In just a few minutes, we collected an inlay box, a lamp, two perfume bottles, and a bunch of children's books. We also have a commitment for some gift certificates to a local restaurant--the owners told us he would give them to us after we come and enjoy our free lunch; they recently purchased the restaurant, changed a lot of things, and want us to have personal testimony of the good food and service. We're going out again on Sunday.

My attitude has totally changed. I'm looking forward to going on Sunday. I'm excited about the bazaar again. I no longer shy away from even thinking about it. It truly is a burden lifted from my shoulders. Praise God, or as they say here in Cairo, "al ham du lee lah!"

The Joy of Water

Cleo has discovered the joys of running water.

She loves to hop up on the counter by the sink, get in the sink, play with the running water in the sink . . . I can't stop her. For a while, I squirted her with the water bottle every time she got on the counter or in the sink. Sometimes she'd jump down, sometimes she'd hide behind the microwave oven, and sometimes she'd attack the water bottle. Okay, if she wants escalation . . . I started turning the water on while she was in the sink, often when she was directly under the faucet. She'd hop out, groom herself for about 30 seconds, and hop back in. She also likes to stand on the ledge in between me and the bathroom sink when I brush my teeth. There have been times I've had to pick her up out of the sink so I could spit without getting toothpaste on her.

Cleo taught Isis about the joys of running water. Of course, Isis isn't quite so sure about water of any kind. If I shake the water bottle at her, she jumps down and runs into the living room. I turned the water on once while both Isis and Cleo were in the sink. Isis hasn't come near the sink since. But, still, Cleo is a problem.

So we ordered a Drinkwell pet fountain. It arrived yesterday (thanks for forwarding it, Mom). The cats were enthralled before we even set it up. Cleo was soaking wet from getting on the table where I was unpacking it--the water bottle strikes there, too, not that it much matters to her. She'll hop up on the table, counter, or wherever she wants to be, even if she's already dripping. When I put the fountain on the floor, Isis got in on it. I put it in its spot and filled it with water using a cup. Isis sniffed around the bowl, backing off when I approached with water--apparently you never know what I'm going to do with water--but quickly returning once it was clear that the water was going in the bowl and wasn't splashing back up. Cleo followed me to and from the kitchen. When I filled the cup, she stood on the counter by the sink, stretched out over it, with one paw exerting pressure on the cup. I'm not sure if she was trying to pull it to her or tip it over. When I left the sink, she hopped down and followed me to the fountain.

You should have seen them when we turned the fountain on! Isis ran away at first, before coming to sit about a foot away and watch. Cleo stuck her paw in the water stream, then yanked it back out, shook it, and looked at it as if to say "Why is it wet?" Then she did it again. Yep, Cleo, water is still wet. She drank some, splashed some, had a good ole time. Isis eventually approached. First she drank out of the bowl. Then she stuck her paw in the stream. Then she drank some.

I didn't get my camera out soon enough. I wish I'd had it out when we first turned the fountain on; there would have been some really fun video. However, you'll have to be content with the pictures I got once they had settled down enough for me to stop laughing and think of the camera. I got one video of Cleo playing some with the water, but she kept stopping to look at the camera. I turned it off when she walked away from the fountain and started rubbing against my ankles. Anyway, here's the video I got:

I haven't caught Cleo in the sink since we plugged the fountain in . . .

Friday, October 24, 2008

It's Raining!

Or at least it was. I didn't actually see the rain. Jeff felt a couple of drops when he was downstairs putting the grocery cart back. I didn't really believe him when he told me (I asked if there had been a bird overhead), even though I had noticed earlier that the sky looked like rain. I figured, hey, I'm in Egypt; it probably isn't rain on the way, just a dust storm (which I have not yet experienced).

Then, just a few minutes ago, Jeff called me over to the window. The courtyard was wet, but not all over, like it is when they wash it. It was dry under the overhangs. We went out onto the walkway, and the railing was wet. But when we stuck our hands out, there was no rain. Jeff pointed out that it actually doesn't rain water here anyway. On those rare occasions when it rains, it rains mud. At least that's what we've been told.

I haven't seen rain since before we left the States, in mid-June. I hadn't even noticed until today.

An Egyptian First

My friend Lauren emailed me a link to a very interesting newspaper article this morning. Let me summarize:

In June 2007, in Cairo, a 28-year-old boy in a man's body (Sharif Gomaa) pulled his van alongside a 27-year-old woman (Noha Rushdie Saleh), reached out of his window, grabbed her breast, and pulled her toward his van. She pushed him away, falling down in the process. Gomaa then attempted to pull away, but--thank heaven for Cairo traffic--was unable to do so because another driver cut him off. Noha then did the unthinkable: she stood on the hood of Gomaa's vehicle to prevent him from getting away, and she asked passersby for help. They refused her. One woman even told Noha to "look at what [she was] wearing" because she wasn't wearing hijab. Noha was undeterred. She and a friend dragged Gomaa to a nearby police station . . . where the police initially refused to do anything. Eventually Noha herself drove a police officer and Gomaa to the main police station. Finally, over a year later, earlier this week, Gomaa was sentenced to three years in prison with hard labor. It's the first time in Egyptian history that a man has been sentenced for sexual harassment.

My initial reaction: Noha, you are one brave woman, and I respect you very much. Good for you, for not backing down, for demanding justice in a situation where everything about your history must have been telling you that you wouldn't get it. I am impressed.

Sexual harassment is not at all uncommon here in Egypt. Female tourists are advised to wear a wedding band, even if they aren't married, and that helps curb the harassment some, but it doesn't eliminate it. According to the news article, 83% of Egyptian women say that they have been harassed. Only 3% report it, because nothing will be done . . . there isn't even a specific law in Egypt banning sexual harassment. The common response is to blame the victim. She wasn't dressed modestly; she was asking for it. As if men are so weak that they have no control over their actions; a woman wearing loose long sleeves and loose long pants is just so alluring that they can't help themselves. Puh-lease. If you believe that, there's a bridge I'd like to sell you.

And it isn't even always the case that the victims aren't dressed modestly, even according to the Muslim definition. During the Eid (holiday) after Ramadan this year, a mob of around 100 youths attacked female pedestrians, I believe in Mohandiseen, a Cairo neighborhood. More details here and here. The same thing happened during the same Eid in 2006. The attackers ripped at the women's clothes, tearing them off. The women were wearing hijab. One even was wearing niqab, which covers the face as well as the hair. The attackers tried to tear it off. Now I understand why we foreigners are advised not to go out walking during the Eid. I'm not sure why it is that the end of a religious celebration--Ramadan--is marked by this kind of sexual violence, but it's a pattern and therefore should be recognized. On the positive side, this incident also pointed out some improvements in government response. Although no police officers were present when the mob began the attack, the police arrived quickly and put an end to it. Eight people were arrested. They went before a judge earlier this month, but I haven't seen any reports of the outcome.

The harassment usually is not violent like it was in these incidents. I know of one embassy wife who received a hard slap on the behind from some punk on a motorcycle, but most of the harassment is verbal. There will be catcalls or rude suggestions yelled at women. Women have been cautioned not to ever sit in the front of a taxi with the driver--some drivers assume that means you're sexually available, and they get free with their hands. There's also some inappropriate touching on the streets. (I've been told if that ever happens to me, it's perfectly acceptable for me to start yelling and screaming and berating whoever did it, as long as I don't curse or hit them. I'm not sure what my actual response would be; I haven't had to find out.)

I personally have experienced very little harassment. I'm pretty sure I've heard a few rude suggestions or comments, but since my Arabic is very limited, I didn't understand them, which is fine by me. There are some phrases I'd just as soon not learn. I had a cab driver yesterday yell at me out the window, as he pulled off to the side of the road to offer me a ride, "bee-yoo-ti-ful!" I scowled at him and kept walking. Even if I had wanted a ride, I wouldn't have gotten into his taxi. I had another taxi driver the other day who was marginal; in America, he would have been someone who just bungled a pick-up attempt, but here, he was bordering on rude, at the minimum. He kept staring in his mirror and telling me how good and beautiful American women are. So I responded by telling him how good and beautiful and smart and strong Egyptian women are. He said "No, they are not!" I told him he was wrong and got out of the cab. I pretended not to notice when he tried to give me his mobile number so I could call him when I needed a taxi. I just handed him my LE5 through the window and walked away.

So there you have it. Most, if not all, women in Cairo will experience some form of harassment at some point in time. Most of it is verbal; some involves physical touching. In rare cases, there will be violence. It's one of the trade-offs to living in Egypt, a trade-off that shouldn't have to be made, but that remains nonetheless. On the one hand, we Western women get to experience a totally different culture, visit some amazing archeological sites, and meet some incredible people. On the other hand, we have to put up with some offensive and shocking behavior. I would love to know how Egyptian women think about it--the ones who have been harassed, and the ones who haven't. Do most blame the victim, or is that a minority opinion among women? Do they view it as a normal part of life to be accepted, or does it anger them like it does Western women? And what do the majority of Egyptian men think--do they blame the victim or do they recognize that men are responsible for their own behavior? When their wife or daughter is the victim, who do they blame?

There are forces at work within Egypt to enhance women's legal and social standing and to decrease harassment, and progress is being made, as shown by the improved response to this year's Eid violence. Here's hoping the situation continues to improve.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Me? In Charge?

So I mentioned, I think, in a previous post that I signed up to help with the Maadi Women's Guild Christmas Bazaar. I have no experience in anything like this, so I was thinking that I'd play a nice little behind-the-scenes, supporting role. One where I couldn't mess anything up, seeing as how this is the biggest fundraiser of the year, and MWG counts on it for money to give grants to charities (orphanages, leprosy colonies, and medical clinics, among others). I thought I'd ease my way into it, learn a few things, and then maybe, if I had an aptitude, play a bigger role next year.

God had other plans. It turns out that Marge, the MWG president and the person who's in charge of the bazaar, is having a really hard time getting anyone to agree to take a leadership role. She really wanted me to spearhead the raffle and the silent auction. This involves soliciting for donated items from local businesses, deciding what goes into the raffle and what goes into the auction, getting everything set up, setting start prices, getting volunteers to help with set-up and with monitoring the auction--can you believe someone stole a gold cartouche one year?--and probably more that I'm not thinking of right now. Luckily, for some of the donations, I have help: Marge and another lady both have relationships with some businesses that can provide Nile cruises and other large donations, and the lady in charge of the food vendors is going to hit them up for donations. But there's still a lot to be done, and not a lot of time in which to do it.

So--for those of you who are praying people, please pray for me and for this event. And for those of you who may have experience with anything like this--suggestions are welcome. And for those of you who live here in Egypt--please please please please please help me out with this. I need people to solicit donations (I'm really bad at that), put together baskets for the silent auction (I can sort items into different themes but I'm not good at packaging it to look nice . . . and I need someone to donate the containers, too), help me set up the day before the bazaar, and take a turn watching during the auction. I'm hoping for enough day-of volunteers so everyone can take some time to go shop without leaving anything vulnerable.

And everyone take a deep breath; it's going to be a rollercoaster!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Tuesday

Today has been a bit on the busy side, but it's been good. I woke up at 6:30, all on my own with no help from an alarm clock. It's a good thing I woke up a good while before Jeff had to leave for work, because he wanted to eat breakfast at home today. Usually, I'm still in bed when he leaves, and he gets breakfast from the cafeteria once he gets to work. But it isn't entirely that I'm lazy in the mornings--I stopped getting up because Jeff never had time for breakfast; I'd fix it, and he'd have to run out the door without eating it. In fact, he was the one who woke me up (at my request). I stopped getting up when he stopped waking me up. But anyway, I got up and fixed breakfast for both of us, then got myself ready for the day when he left.

And I had to get myself ready for the day, rather than spend my usual lazy hour or so checking email, news, and my favorite blogs, because I had something important to do this morning: go to the October meeting of the Maadi Women's Guild! I've been looking forward to this ever since the September meeting. Not only was I looking forward to the meeting itself, but I was looking forward to the shopping beforehand! I wasn't disappointed, either. I knew three things I was hoping to find: a Christmas gift for my niece, a rug either for our entryway or for the kittens' room (they track litter all over it, so a rug with a good texture should help contain the mess), and the Arabic alphabet/number baby books (for a friend).

So I came in the gate and headed straight for the Recycling Center table--after a slight detour when someone at the welcome table waylaid me to sign in. Drat the delay; the competition is fierce for those bedspreads and rugs! I got to their table, though, and immediately saw the books, but it turns out that the price was higher than my friend had authorized me to pay. So on to the next goal--and there it was, a pretty blue and white rug with the texture I wanted for the kittens. It would look good in the entryway, but if it wasn't big enough (I forgot to measure and am horrible at judging by just looking at it), it still would work perfectly in the kittens' room. I picked it up for a closer look and had just decided to buy it when another woman asked me if she could check its price. I checked the tag and told her that it was only LE20, but that I was buying that one. She offered to arm wrestle me for it. No luck, it was mine! (Insert evil movie laugh here.)

As I chatted with the nice-but-too-late rug shopper, I happened to look up and there, draped across the wall, was the perfect gift for my niece: a white-background blanket/bedspread with traditional "dolls" in a variety of pastel colors, so that no matter how many times she changes her mind about her favorite color, it's likely to be in that blanket. (At five, she's a little old for a baby blanket, but she loved the one I sent her little brother a couple months ago, so her mother and I decided that a "big girl" blanket would be an appropriate Christmas gift.) So, again: there, draped across the wall, was the perfect gift for my niece. But then, right before my horrified eyes, one of the sales attendants pulled it down and handed it to a couple of women. Drats, foiled again! But, wait, they were handing it back . . . there is yet hope. As the other would-be buyers walked away, I approached the sales attendant and asked how much the blanket cost. A bit more than I had planned to spend . . . nuts. However, there is still hope--I spy three more blankets hanging on a rack. First check: the price. Yes, definitely much more reasonable. I am told these are cheaper because they're baby blankets. That's okay, a baby blanket makes a great big-girl throw. But there's a problem . . . three problems, actually. One is almost all baby boy blue. It's very pretty, but it's not a color I've seen my niece get excited over, and . . . well, it just doesn't look like my niece. The other two, I just don't like. It was the shapes on them. Just not pretty. My eye kept going back to the pastel pinks, purples, yellows, greens, and blues now hanging back over the wall. Yes, it's more than I planned to spend. Yes, it's a bit bigger than I intended--I actually had intended on more of a baby blanket size. But it's just so . . . right. So I bought it. Hopefully she'll like it.

With my three major goals accomplished--even with the negative results on the one mission--I just browsed through the rest of the stalls. I found a few more things to buy: some baby puzzles, handmade by handicapped people, for my youngest nephew; a carved wooden train with an engine car, a caboose, and two regular cars for another nephew; and an insulated canvas water bottle carrier with a shoulder strap for me. Then it was time to go in for the meeting.

I had a good time. I met some new women while waiting for things to get started, and we kidded around about how much of an old-timer I am; I've been here a whole month longer than one of them, who's been here a whole month longer than the other. I chatted with some ladies from my life group and some more from my Captivating (by John and Stasi Eldredge) study, which just started last week. I also chatted with the editor of the Maadi Messenger, who will be using some of my blog entries as magazine articles in coming months. I was amazed at the difference one short month can make! Just last month, I knew only two or three people there, and I was a bit shy about introducing myself. This month, I knew several people and felt no hesitation in introducing myself to more. I even remember two of their names! (Major accomplishment for someone with as bad a memory for names as mine.)

The highlight of the meeting definitely was the African Fashion Show. I had wanted to bring my camera specifically for that, but the battery was too low . . . I'll try to get pictures from a friend and post or link to them later. There was a carpeted runway down the center of the tables, and we were treated to a series of women from different African nations, all wearing traditional clothing of their country. There were women from Sudan, Congo, Liberia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Eritrea, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. All of the women were beautiful. Some had the stunning good looks of models; others may not have turned your head on the street under ordinary circumstances. But all of them were beautiful today, as they smiled so joyfully at sharing and having others appreciate a little bit of what makes them who they are. That ties in so well with what we've been talking about in the Captivating study . . .

Anyway, I rushed out of the meeting just before it actually ended. I was supposed to be at language class at 11:30 this morning, and the meeting didn't end until maybe 11:45. I had made the conscious decision to be late to class, because MWG is important to me, and because my language teacher hasn't been less than 15 minutes late--usually 20 or 30--since classes started, due to an earlier class in another part of town and bad traffic. So theoretically, I was okay with being late. But you know me . . . I abhor tardiness, especially when I'm the one who's late. I could feel my anxiety about it rising throughout the meeting. Finally I couldn't take it and I had to leave.

I flagged down a taxi pretty quickly and I was on my way . . . only to be chagrined as the driver pulled into a gas station, first promising "only ten minutes," then quickly reducing it to five minutes, then to one, as he saw the impatience on my face. He got the gas he needed, then started the car again . . . or tried to. He pushed the car backward up a slight hill (with me and my huge shopping bag still in it), then hopped in and tried to get it started while it rolled down. Didn't work. He tried again. After the fourth time, I just got out and handed him some money. I had gotten about five feet down the road when another taxi pulled out of the same gas station and picked me up, taking me the rest of the way to class. By this point, my anti-late mode was in full swing. I couldn't stand it! I hopped out of the taxi and headed inside the building--when I heard a familiar voice. I paused and turned . . . to see my teacher hopping out of another taxi behind me. Suddenly all the tension was gone, for me, at least. Even as we walked in together, my teacher apologized profusely for his tardiness. He didn't seem to understand that my own tardiness negated any ill will about his--for this time, at least; he probably was apologizing for the pattern rather than for today specifically. We went in, and I called a classmate, who has taken to staying at work until I call to let her know our teacher has arrived. Then she appears just a few minutes later. We had a good class, and I came home.

After lunch, I did some laundry and some dishes. Then I baked cookies for tonight's life group meeting. We have a couple who have offered to host it each week, and we just bring pot-luck snacks. Last week I took apple pie. Tonight . . . chocolate chip cookies. I started this blog while the first batch baked. Now I'm finishing up and waiting for Jeff to get home . . .

So that's my Tuesday. How has yours been?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Baby Wash

Today I participated in the Baby Wash program for the first time. Once a week, a group of English-speaking ladies meets at the Community Services Association (CSA) in Maadi, a suburb of Cairo, Egypt. From there, the group takes a trip over to Giza, just across the Nile and north a little, to volunteer at a community center type of ministry. This center houses a medical clinic, a program to educate street children in a trade so they can earn a living, and the baby wash. Although the English speakers only go once a week, the ministry is not neglected. Each day of the week has a different group at the baby wash—I know an Italian group goes one day, but I’m not sure who fills in the other three days.

The baby wash is the fundraiser for this ministry. The mothers who bring their children pay a very nominal fee, I think just LE1 or 2. The groups who go provide the bulk of the financial support. We pay roughly 2000USD per year. The money, at least for our group, is donated by a church back in the United States whose congregation wants to help these babies, their mothers, and the others who benefit from the center.

At the baby wash, mothers bring in their babies to be weighed, washed, and screened for obvious medical difficulties. It’s a four-week program with weekly visits, and the children receive a gift each time. During the first visit, they receive a pair of pants, a t-shirt, and a cloth diaper that the volunteers never actually put on the baby because we don't know how--we use disposable diapers on them. A photograph also is taken of the baby and mother during this first visit; it is given to the mothers during the second visit. For many of these women, this will be the only picture they ever have of themselves with their beloved child—some women participate in the program exclusively because they want this picture. During the second visit, participants also receive an adorable little gallabeya, another pair of pants, and a pair of socks. During the third visit, they receive a thick sweater, matching pants, and a hat. During the fourth and final visit, they receive a baby blanket. All of the items are purchased from local women who make the items out of soft Egyptian cotton. In this way, the ministry helps the working poor of the community, not just those who benefit directly from the center’s services.

While the babies are bathed, a couple of things happen simultaneously. New mothers who may not know how to bathe their babies learn by observation, and the babies are given a good once-over to make certain that any obvious medical problems are addressed. Babies can be sent over to the clinic if necessary, but it's more common for the women to be given supplies, such as diaper rash cream or a moisturizing lotion or oil, and to be told how to use them to care for their babies' routine needs.

This morning, six expat women met at CSA to take the trip over. Two of us were "in training" to bathe the babies. Neither of us had ever bathed a baby! Two were regular volunteers--one actually is in charge of coordinating the program for our group. One had been to the baby wash once before and is a mother herself. The final volunteer was a baby wash regular, but she was going this time to be trained in the administrative role of weighing the babies and keeping the records, which would be her responsibility while the usual coordinator was traveling over the next month.

At the clinic, we set up in a good-sized room that obviously was designed for the program. There were three sinks, each with a baby tub and ample counter space, and a couple of tables. Cushy pads rested on the counters, to lay the babies on while drying them. Baby wash, shampoo, lotion, and oil were stored in a locked cabinet and were distributed quickly to each station. A baby scale was on one table, and the second quickly became filled with the baby garments and diapers that were taken from the storage room next door.

Before any mothers or babies came in, my trainer showed me how to clean the tub in between each baby. Then we filled the tub with warm water--constantly adjusting the water flow, because the hot water kept cutting in and out--and set up the towels and washcloth that we'd need for our first "client." One of the other more experienced women did the same with our other newbie in training at the sink beside us. The remaining two women made sure all the supplies were ready, set up the scale, and got out the records that they keep on each child.

When the first baby came in, she was stripped off and weighed, then handed off to the pair beside us. The second one was ours. My mentor and I had agreed that I would watch her take care of the first one, then she would supervise me taking care of the second, and then I'd be ready to be on my own. So I watched as my trainer bathed the baby and washed her hair, explaining all the while what she was doing. Then she pulled the baby out of the tub and wrapped her up in a towel, dried her off, checked for diaper rash, and put her diaper and new clothes on. Easy enough. While she brushed the baby's hair and helped with the picture, I cleaned out and refilled the tub for the next one.

The next one also was a little girl. After she was weighed, she was placed in my arms. I have to admit, I took my time getting over to the tub. It was so nice just to hold such a tiny, precious baby! But then we were at the tub, and I had to put her down (of course while continuing to support her little head and keep it out of the water). It was easier than expected to bathe her. I've been in the room before when my sister or sister-in-law were bathing their little ones, but until today, I was never the one who actually bathed the child. I always assumed it would take a master of coordination to support the baby's head while also bathing the baby, washing her hair, and rinsing everything off. Nope. It was easy. I bet it would have been different had she decided to fight me, but all my babies today were easy. When I was finished, I pulled her out of the tub and laid her down on a clean towel spread out over the cushion. Her mother, who had been standing beside me the whole time, started drying her off before I even got my hands off her. So I had help from then on out. Apparently this is normal. Some mothers stand back and let you do your thing; others want to help.

When we were finished with that baby, I was pronounced ready to do it on my own. However, our other newbie also was ready to do it on her own, and there were only three sinks. So the two experienced ladies each had a sink to themselves, and we novices shared. My companion washed the first one, then I dried and clothed her. We swapped roles for the second baby, then swapped again for the third and final baby of the day. I noticed while my partner bathed Ramadan that he had severe diaper rash. When she pulled him out of the tub, I tried to be very gentle as I dried him off. Luckily, he was a happy baby, just lying there grinning up at me. One of the other ladies brought me some diaper rash cream, which I smeared on everywhere he seemed red and irritated. The poor baby--his rash was extensive. Everywhere his diaper covered, even halfway up his back and down his little legs where the diaper didn't even go, was red. I learned later that the rash was so bad because his mother didn't realize how often his diaper needed to be changed; she was a first-time mother, and even the more experienced mothers here often don't change the diapers enough because diapers are expensive, and there isn't enough money to buy more than absolutely required. Ramadan was in the same diaper for a whole day and night. We gave the mom some diaper rash cream, and the woman who works at the clinic full-time—the only one of us who speaks fluent Arabic—told her how and when to apply it.

I think we bathed eleven or so babies total this morning. There were the two while I was training, the two that the other training pair did during the same time, three that we novices bathed, and then I'm assuming another two each for the other volunteers. There may have been more, though; we novices probably were slower than the others.

I've been told that I'll be able to go to the Baby Wash around once a month. They can use only a limited number of volunteers, because there are only three sinks, so not everyone goes each time. But I'm looking forward to going again.

One of the other women also told me about the volunteering that she does a few times a week at Mother Teresa's in Mokkatum. The nuns run an orphanage and a daycare so that impoverished parents can work, and volunteers come in to help care for the babies. There also is a special needs room, where handicapped children are cared for. I'm going to see about going up there at least once or twice to see if that's a place where I can get involved in helping out.

It's really heartbreaking, when you think about all the needs. You don't really see a lot of it in Maadi, other than a few beggars and street children selling tissue paper for a pound a pack, but there is immense need in Egypt. In a previous post, I talked a little about Garbage City, or Mokkatum. And then there are the street children. It makes me want to get involved wherever I can. Updates as events warrant.

9 February 2009 Update:

Since I originally wrote this post, I have been back to the baby wash three or four times. I have seen many babies who are well cared for and a few others whose mothers do the best they can. In each case where more appropriate care is needed, the mothers have been very receptive to instruction, and the results are apparent on the baby’s next visit.

Unfortunately, little Ramadan’s case of diaper rash is not the worst I have seen. Just last week, I saw a little boy whose diaper rash was so severe that his skin looked raw and wrinkled, as if he had been burned. He also had sores on his face. His mother was very concerned about his condition and had been doing all she knew to alleviate his discomfort. This child went from the baby wash directly to the doctor’s office in the same building, where the mother was given instructions about his care and a medical ointment to use on his sores. I look forward to hearing that he is much better on future visits, although I can’t be sure that I’ll see him again. Each baby comes in only for four visits, and I do not always get to see them more than once.

I also had the opportunity to visit Mother Teresa’s recently. I intend to begin going there regularly. You can read about my first visit here.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Maadi Grand Mall

Yesterday afternoon, Jeff and I walked down to Maadi Grand Mall (MGM) to go tuxedo-shopping. We had been told by a friend that there was a good tailor there who could make Jeff's tux for the Marine Ball, and since we didn't know how long it would take, we decided that we needed to get moving on that. I also needed to get a rhinestone accent piece for my dress, and my tailor had told me that there was a store in MGM where I could find what I needed. I'd been there once, but only for a few minutes, and only on one floor, so I didn't fully understand what I was letting myself in for.

Jeff and I had a pleasant walk to MGM. The weather has started to cool off some. The temperature was probably in the low 80s, and there was a breeze, and it was shady most of the way. And it was comfortable inside, too; it must be air-conditioned.

We had no idea where in the mall we needed to go. The mall is pretty big, with maybe five floors. According to the internet, there are around 300 spaces for stores. Each floor is laid out around a central balcony. One or two rows of stores flank the balcony, and on each end there's a little maze with other stores. It can be a little overwhelming when you're searching for something specific but don't know the store's name and therefore can't really ask for help. I also noticed that the mall map didn't seem to have any store names, just numbered boxes to represent the stores.

We decided to start at the bottom and work our way up. We roamed the ground floor and saw two or three tailors and one thread shop. No sparklies in the thread shop, so no luck there. We also saw a food court, some scarf shops, some menswear shops (dressy and casual), some kids' shops, and of course, a lot of women's shops. Of these, many had western clothes, from casual to evening wear, and quite a few had gallabeyas, also ranging from casual to evening. On to the first floor . . . and the second . . . and on up. Somewhere in the middle--I forget which floor we were on--we spotted a larger-than-expected shop that had to have been where my dressmaker had sent me. One wall was covered with fancy threads and ribbons. Two walls were covered from floor to ceiling with boxes. Each box had a small, clear plastic bag on front that had samples of what was inside: decorative items that could be sewn onto clothing, drapes, or whatever. There were "useful" items like buttons, and there were purely decorative items. Most were gold- or silver-toned. Two or three were rhinestone. I had hoped for one piece, long and delicate-looking, like what was on the original bridesmaids' dresses. No luck there. But I found some small flower-shaped pieces and bought ten of them. If they're put in a wavy line, they should mimic the look I want. I don't think the dressmaker will use them all, but I'd rather have too many than too few. I was surprised at their cost--LE8.5 each. At current exchange rates, that's around $1.50 each. It was more than expected, but everything else on the dress was so inexpensive that I don't really mind. So my mission was accomplished; how about Jeff's?

All in all, we saw probably seven tailors. We had no idea which one had gotten the recommendation as a good, inexpensive tuxedo maker. We called our friend who had told us about him; our friend had never used him and didn't know where in the mall he was, just that someone had been pleased with his work. Jeff admitted that he really wasn't so keen on the idea of having one made without knowing that someone had had good luck with the specific tailor we were using, and I agreed. Jeff also admitted that he wasn't so keen on the idea of having one made in the first place; he'd rather buy one off the rack. It's easier.

So we went back to a men's shop that had had nice suits and one nice tuxedo in the window. A sales attendant came up to us immediately, and Jeff just said "Tuxedo?"

"Yes, yes. Here." He pulled out a nice, classic, conservative black tuxedo coat (no tails), with satin on the lapels. Jeff and I both liked the look of it. The salesman, however, took another look at Jeff, looked at the tag on the coat's sleeve, and frowned. He pulled out another coat and started trying to convince us that it was better. In reality, it was pin-striped. The lapel was the same material as the rest of the coat, except that it was bordered in satin. Jeff was a good sport; he tried it on and looked in the mirror. Neither one of us liked it so well. We told the salesman that we really preferred the other. He said that the only one they had in Jeff's size was the striped one. We prepared to leave the store. The salesman hurriedly told us to just wait a moment while he ran over and got on the phone. He came back with a downcast face, and we knew we'd be leaving.

We headed across the mall to another nice men's store; I think it was called Lorenzo's. This one didn't have a tux in the window, but the suits were really nice, so we were hopeful. We had seen tuxes in other windows, but they were . . . not so much Jeff's--or my--style. Very current and stylish . . . okay, to speak plainly, they were in line with some very UGLY fads. We wanted a classic look, in line with the suits we saw in this particular window. So we went in, and a salesman again immediately greeted us. Jeff used his one-word question again: "Tuxedo?"

"Oh, yes, yes. This way." The sales attendant led us to the back of the shop. Tucked away in a corner, there was a rack of tuxedos, all hanging nicely in their plastic bags to keep the inevitable dust off. There were boxes of vests, ties, and handkerchiefs stacked neatly on a table. Shirts of all colors were nestled in their plastic bags on shelves. The store looked similar to what I would expect of a nice store back in the States. The attendant showed us some vests. Some very modern vests. We finally found one that was more subdued, with a black-on-black pattern. It was available in medium or in 2X. I was doubtful, but Jeff pointed out that Egyptian men tend to be smaller than him, so the 2X may work. He was right.

The attendant eyeballed Jeff and said a coat size (I forget what, but it was in the sizing system we're used to). Jeff was doubtful but went along with it. The coat fit perfectly. It was a nice classic look. There were some random strings and fuzz, but when the salesman saw me start picking them off--partly to make sure they weren't attached and partly out of an uncontrollable impulse that most women seem to share--he quickly got most of them off. As Jeff turned around to look in the mirror, I spotted someting on the back of his shoulder: a pick in the fabric. The salesman was horrified. "Don't worry, I have another one, same size. No problem. The fit is good?" We agreed that we liked the coat, just not the pick, and like magic, a new one appeared. This one was in good condition--no, it was in excellent condition; the first one had been in good condition. The attendant asked Jeff his pant size--actually he asked Jeff if he was this size or that size (I don't know if Jeff really wants his pant size on the internet, so I won't say what sizes he named). Jeff indicated the larger, and the attendant frowned. He asked Jeff to try on the pants. Jeff disappeared into the fitting room.

While he was gone, the attendant laid the coat out on a table and showed me some black satin material and some fancy button covers. He said that we had choices: we could take the coat as it was, with plain lapels and buttons; we could have the lapels and buttons covered with a matte black satin to make it a little more formal; or we could have the lapels and buttons covered with a shiny black satin to make it really formal. He pointed out that the satin all could be replaced at any time; just bring it in. Around that time, Jeff came out, wearing his own clothes. The pants were too tight. While he was out there, I showed him the satin, and we agreed that if it was going to be a tux, it should be formal. Shiny satin it is. Once that decision had been made, the salesman ushered Jeff back into the fitting room, where he was to put the pants back on, too small or not, so the on-site tailor could get a look at them. A few minutes later, Jeff came back out and we chatted while the pants were let out.

Jeff tried the pants on again. Perfect fit in the waist. The attendant folded up the pants leg and asked my opinion of the length. I have no idea where the pant leg should hit the shoe. I just know it's too short when I see it flapping in the breeze when he walks, and it's too long when he steps on it. I deferred to Jeff's opinion. He deferred to the attendant's.

Next the attendant pulled out a white shirt. Back into the fitting room. Eventually we settled on a complete outfit, except that Jeff didn't need any socks and we have to check the shiny black shoes he currently owns to see if they'll look nice or if we need to buy him some more shoes too. The work on the coat and the pant hem will take three days, so we can pick it all up anytime after Tuesday night. I'll try to get Jeff to model for the camera.

So we bought a tuxedo for Jeff. The really nice thing: it cost about the same as what we paid for one of Jeff's suits back in the States. Just for reference, for those who may not know us all that well . . . we don't pay a lot for suits. We get nice suits, but not huge names, and we get them from outlet stores or off clearance racks. We've never paid $200 for a suit, and I doubt we ever will.

Ater our main goals at the mall were accomplished, it was time to just look around. We visited an electronics store and a Timberland store. Even before the mission was accomplished, Jeff hadn't been able to resist a computer store and a Nike store. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by the mall. There's a lot more in there than you would think. The stores all seemed to be nicely maintained, and the salespeople are friendly and helpful. They spoke English, but they smiled when I attempted to communicate in Arabic. That's pretty common here in Maadi. You can get by without any Arabic (other than with taxi drivers), but the already-friendly people get just a little bit friendlier when you try to speak Arabic, even if you do mangle it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An Excursion to the Fabric Market

Today has been a full day. No less than three things I want to blog about! Originally, it was all about going to the fabric market, but as I walked to Sherry's place this morning, two other blogs just kind of happened. So I'll start at the beginning. Don't worry; the fabric market is still most of it.

I left home this morning a little before 10, as I was meeting Sherry and her landlady around 10:30. It was a nice, comfortable temperature, so I wanted to walk. As I headed down Bour Said, my first blog happened: I saw a man on a motorcycle, and he actually was wearing his helmet!! That sight alone is blog-worthy. Here you often see people on motorcycles holding a helmet in their laps, sometimes along with a child or two, but it's rare to see a helmet on a head. So there you go, first blog done.

As I continued down Bour Said, I heard a horn honking behind me. This, too, is nothing unusual. Cars often honk just to let you know they're there, and taxis honk to attract your attention if the driver thinks you may want a ride. I was on a nice, high, wide sidewalk (no chance of being hit by wandering out into traffic), and I didn't want a ride, so I didn't turn to look. As the car passed me, though, I saw that it wasn't a taxi. It was a newer model, shiny black personal vehicle. It got about ten feet ahead of me and pulled over. The driver's side window was up (therefore the vehicle had air conditioning), but the passenger side window rolled down as I watched. The driver was male, and he was alone in the car. Now this behavior is unusual and a little creepy, same as it would be in the States. I continued walking, although I patted the outside pocket on my purse where my mobile phone lives just to make certain it was accessible. As I walked by the car, the driver glared at me. He didn't say anything, didn't get out of the car, didn't even smile appreciatively the way some rather rude Egyptian men do. (They aren't supposed to notice women who aren't noticing them.) I broke with "proper" female behavior by glaring back at him and kept walking. After I had gone a few feet past the car, he pulled back out, tires squealing, and sped off. I haven't had anything like that happen before, and I don't know why it happened now. I was dressed modestly; I was wearing loose khaki pants and a loose blouse with three-quarter length sleeves--I even had my hair up in a clip, although not covered. Anyway, it was a strange occurrence.

So I continued on to Sherry's place. Her landlady, Iman, was late--by U. S. standards; she on time or maybe even early by Egyptian standards. She showed up around 10:45 for the 10:30 meeting. Sherry and I hopped in her car and we were off. We headed out of Maadi and up the Corniche. We went past the embassy a little ways, then turned off onto a small street that ran roughly parallel to the Corniche. I saw fabric shops lined up in rows on my right. On my left, there were cars double-parked on the side of the road. Car after car after car . . . not a hole in sight. After a few minutes, ,we saw on empty spot, but the car ahead of us took it, so we kept going. Finally, we reached the end of that road, and our driver spoke with one of the parking attendants. These are men who hang out in areas where lots of people want to park; they stop traffic so you can get into or out of a spot, and you tip them. The attendant confirmed "Mafiish makaan" ("there is not a place"). So we went back out to the Corniche.

We drove slowly up the Corniche, looking for a place to park. No luck. Finally, we had gone so far that we wouldn't be willing to walk back to the fabric market, so we found a turnabout and turned around. Next thing I knew, we were on a bridge heading across the Nile. Iman looked a little surprised and said "I am going the wrong way!" We had gotten up onto a bridge because the vast majority of the road went straight onto it, with no way to turn around, and the part that went around it to continue going south along the Nile was small and required a quick turn. So we headed across the Nile to one of the islands--I forget which one, but it wasn't Zamalek; it was north of Zamalek, I think--then headed down the Corniche on the other side until we got to a turnabout. Then it was back north to the end of the island, back across the Nile, and we were headed south again.

Not long after that, we started seeing cars parked on the right side of the road. Iman said that she didn't think you could park there, but we all agreed that apparently you can. There was a small break in the cars, which we didn't see until we were past it, so Iman backed up a good 20 feet along the busy Corniche. The woman is fearless. When we got back to the spot, she started to get into it, then realized that it was too small. She started to pull back out, when a man came running across six lanes of traffic from the other side of the Corniche. It was the parking attendant. Iman said out the window "Sughayyar!" (it's small) and started to keep going, but he indicated for her to wait a minute, he'd push the cars to make the spot bigger. Apparently when you parallel park on the side of a busy street, it's customary to leave the car in neutral so the attendant can push it to let another car in or out. So Iman parked, and we crossed the Corniche--it didn't even scare me this time!--and headed a little farther south to the fabric market.

Iman led us directly to a shop called Soiree. The owner, Fayez Labib, sells all sorts of beautiful material for dresses. There was lace and silk, as well as other nice fabric I didn't really recognize. And of course, there was the satin for which I was looking. I wanted either a royal blue or an emerald green. I wanted to see the material before I picked a color for certain. When we first went in, Iman gestured at a beautiful brown and gold lace with a matching taupe silk, and the shopkeeper pulled it out and spread it across a table. He pulled out pictures of models wearing different dresses made from the same type of material. I don't think Iman realized that I already had the style in mind and really just needed satin. The lace and silk she had picked out actually would have been nice with my coloring; they just didn't fit the dress I wanted. So with some help from Sherry, I conveyed what I needed, and the shopkeeper brought out some satin samples.

First he showed me a lot of reds, yellows, and oranges. Not exactly what I had in mind. I don't know any Arabic color words, but Sherry eventually made him understand that we wanted to see blue and green. So he pulled out his very limited selection. The Arab skin tone looks amazing with the warm colors; they don't get as much call for the cooler colors, so there were fewer options. They had bright greens, but only one dark green. It was almost black. They had several blues, including one almost purple one that Sherry and I both loved. But when I told Labib how much I needed, he faltered. He tried to tell me that that was too much; dresses don't require four meters of material! Where did I ever get such an idea that so much was needed? "From the dressmaker." Iman rightly guessed that Labib didn't have enough of that particular fabric. So he brought out large bolts of two other blues and practically begged me to come see myself in a full-length mirror with those fabrics held up in front of me. I have to admit it; he had picked out two beautiful blues that worked well with my skin tone. So I picked one of those and asked how much. "Twenty-five pounds a meter." So LE100, roughly 20 dollars. I was okay with that. Iman . . . not so much okay with that. A little arguing--I mean, bargaining--later, I walked out of the shop with four meters of material. My wallet was LE80--roughly 16 dollars--lighter.

Iman needed to buy some slippers, and Sherry and I wanted to see a little more of the fabric market, so we didn't head straight back to the car. We roamed down a narrow "road" between open stalls. Most had bolts of fabric stacked neatly along the walls. Some had scarves, dresses (Western-style and gallabeyas), or blankets displayed. One seemed to sell nothing but bras. We went into one other fabric shop, where Iman took stock of what they had available. Apparently, she's going to need some dresses for some events coming up, so she's getting ideas.

As we headed back out to the Corniche, I stopped to look at some scarves. There were some nice ones, and I asked "Bi kam?" (how much?) The shopkeeper told me that the one I was looking at was LE20, and he promptly took it off the display, unfolded it, and thrust it into my hands. He then led me deeper into the stall, pointing out scarves all along the way. I turned to make sure that Sherry and Iman hadn't left me--I had been in back--and saw Iman scowling. I asked her if it was a good price. "No." We left. As Sherry and I followed Iman through the crowd, she suddenly doubled back. "He is calling us back." Sherry and I looked at each other--had either of us heard anything that remotely sounded like it was directed at us? No, didn't think so. But we went back to the stall. Before I knew it, Sherry and I both were holding several scarves (Sherry wasn't even looking, they just got thrown at her), and Iman was talking with the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper was getting more and more upset. I couldn't understand what was being said, but he kept stalking off then turning back. Finally Iman told me that the scarf was LE15, a good price. I bought two as gifts and we left. The shopkeeper--still scowling--seemed glad to see us go.

We headed back to the car and down to Maadi. After a quick lunch, I took the dress material over to the seamstress. She saw the material, complimented its color, felt it, and scowled. She tried to make it seem okay, but I think the material is too thin, not thick enough to hold the shape of the dress. She seemed to think that she can make it work, especially after I told her that I wanted it lined but didn't know what material is best for that. She agreed to find and purchase the lining. I think it'll be a nice stiff fabric. I'll find out next week, when I go for my first fitting.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dressmaking 101: Getting Started

So how many women out there have husbands who really really want to go to a formal ball?

I do! In fact, Jeff has been mentioning for a while that he and a coworker or two are trying to get a group together to go to the Marines' Ball next month. I resisted this idea. Why, you ask? For one simple reason . . . I have no dress. Really. No dress. At all. Not even just "not a ball gown." No dress, period. I don't wear dresses. On those rare occasions when I need to look like I'm wearing a dress, I wear a top and skirt. My body is not made for dresses. I'm two different sizes. So when dress shopping, I try on a gazillion dresses and none of them fit. And I'm outside of the normal size range anyway, making it even more difficult. So I'm thinking that in order to get a dress, I have to order one online and then have it altered. Two problems: That's expensive, and it takes time. The ball is in a month. Shipping alone often takes two or three weeks.

A solution was offered by Pam, a friend from church. She had a dress custom-made here in Maadi and said that it isn't too expensive and it doesn't take too long. At first I resisted even that . . . even if something fits me, I don't know until I try it on if I like the way it looks, so how am I supposed to pick out a dress I've never tried on because it doesn't exist yet?

Jeff was disappointed but was willing to skip the ball. I felt like a heel. So I decided that we were going to the ball if possible. I got online and started looking at dresses. I remembered that there is one dress that I unquestionably liked the style of . . . my wedding dress. And I had picked out my bridesmaids' dresses to match my wedding dress; they had the same ruched waist that I liked about my wedding dress. So . . . I have a style that I know I will like, at least well enough. Step one: accomplished.

Next goal: actually getting the dress. The store that did the bridesmaid dresses doesn't ship to APOs, and even if they did, it would take too long for alterations. Okay. Time to find Pam's dressmaker. My friend Sherry came in handy with that. She knew where the dressmaker is; she uses her for alterations, and she's seen Pam's picture on her bulletin board. So today we went to visit the dressmaker. I met Sherry at her place, after my language class, and we walked together to the dressmaker. Turns out the dressmaker is a block from my flat--how much better can you get?

Anyway, the dressmaker spoke very limited English, so I was thrilled to have Sherry with me. I showed the dressmaker a picture of the dress, plus one other with a similar style, and asked which would be easier to do. She could do the bridesmaid dress with no problem, but the embroidery on the other would be a problem. So the bridesmaid dress it is. She took a couple of measurements and then told me to buy four meters of fabric--satin, to be precise. That'll be enough for the dress and a matching bag. It'll take two weeks from when I bring her the fabric, and the cost for her labor is extremely reasonable. Step two: get things arranged with the dressmaker--accomplished.

Step three will be purchasing the fabric. There's a fabric suuq (open-air market) for this. Sherry was there once buying material for her drapes, and she says they have lots of satin. Of course, we have to get there, be able to communicate, and bargain. Enter Sherry's landlady. I haven't met her yet, but Sherry loves her. I'll meet her tomorrow morning at Sherry's flat, when the three of us will take a trip down to the fabric suuq.

Step four will be finding the rhinestone accent piece for the dress. The dressmaker said that there's a shop in Maadi Grand Mall for that. Step five will include finding the shoes. I'll probably just wear the necklace and earrings from my wedding ensemble.

Oh, and we haven't even started the process yet of having Jeff's tux made.

Updates as warranted.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Attack of the Cleo

The room was pitch black except for the light from the television. On the screen, a small figure in white robes ran to and fro, collecting flags and assassinating people in accordance with the needs of the Assassins Guild. Suddenly, out of the darkness, there arose a huge black figure, determined to catch and eat the assassin . . . the Cleo! (dun dun duun)

In the darkness, the Cleo swiped uselessly at the bright white figure, desperate for food. The figure dodged adroitly, all the while continuing his mission. Eventually the dejected Cleo gave up and turned her attention to . . . the Cat Dancer! (dun dun duun)

So you see the fun we have with kitties :-) For anyone who gets this blog by email and can't see the embedded video, you can see it by clicking here. If the video won't play (I seem to be having issues with that), click here and then click on "slideshow."

Oh, and Jeff wanted me to be sure to say: The Cleo's attempts to kill the assassin (from the XBox 360 game Assassin's Creed) did not result in any damage to the TV screen. No assassins or kittens were harmed during the events described in this blog.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


After we left Saint Macarius on Saturday, we went to Anafora, a Christian retreat center out in the desert. Unfortunately I don't have anywhere near enough pictures of Anafora. The camera's battery was running out, and the place was just so serene and relaxing that neither Jeff nor I could see disturbing the peace by snapping pictures every couple of minutes. So we took very few pictures, but if you'd like to see the 16 that we did get, you can click here.

As we drove along the highway, I saw a beautiful building enclosed in a wall. The white stone building had multiple domes. I commented to Jeff that it would be nice if we could go there. Jeff's reply: "Who knows, that may be where we're going." He was right, in a way.

We pulled up to the gates in the stone wall around the beautiful building. The driver honked the horn, waited a couple of minutes, and honked it again. No one came to open the gates. Ibrahim got out of the bus to read a sign, written in Arabic on a plain sheet of paper, that was attached to the gates. Then he pulled out his mobile phone and made a call. He got back onto the bus and announced that he had both bad news and good news. "The bad news is that Anafora is closed. The good news is that we can visit." With that, the bus began backing up and manuevering into a ponderous three-point turn. We drove up the road to the end of the wall, then turned down a narrow lane. We followed the wall until we arrived at the gate to another compound, behind the original one. We were admitted through this gate.

We continued down the lane past fields, with a few workers diligently going about their duties. Then we arrived at a clearing that had several small stone buildings. Most were connected to each other, but one stood alone. The stand-alone building faced away from us, and Ibrahim led us around the side to the entrance. Almost everyone paused to look around and take photographs of the pictures on the building's wall, so then we scurried to catch up to Ibrahim. I was so busy watching my footing that I didn't even glance at the building's front. We entered the building through some huge wooden doors. The building was almost entirely one room, with windows along each side, providing a cooling breeze when opened. The floor was covered in multi-colored rugs. There were benches and chairs along the edges. The center was covered with small stools and large pillows made out of the same material as the rugs. Near the front, there was a white cross laid out on the floor, and a tree-stump lecturn in the middle. Ibrahim later told us that the tree represents the Tree of Life. We all had a seat, and Ibrahim told us about how one becomes a Coptic monk and how the Coptic Pope is chosen. He also told us a bit more about the differences between Coptic and Catholic theology and church organization. He told us about recent events that have affected Anafora and mentioned a couple of interesting laws that exist not only in Egypt, but in other Muslim countries as well: No church can be built without the approval of the president himself, and even repairs to existing churches--as small as patching a hole or fixing a broken toilet--must be approved by the government. It used to be that Mubarak himself had to approve it; then he changed the law so that now, the regional government can approve repairs instead. Only Mubarak himself, however, can allow the construction of a new church. For that reason, Anafora doesn't have a church. Instead, it has only this meeting house. Government officials almost tore down the meeting house, saying that it was a church, but Anafora's leaders showed them that the meeting house is not a church, simply a large meeting room.

After the lecture, we exited the the meeting house and were given some time to look around and take pictures. That's when I first saw the front of the meeting house. It was breathtakingly beautiful. I can't describe it with words: look at the picture.

After everyone had walked around and taken pictures, we went back to the bus. We drove a short distance, by some more fields, to a large building where we were to each lunch. Ibrahim informed us that the lunch was free; it was a gift from the volunteers and workers of Anafora, and none of our ticket price had gone toward it. (There was a donation box that many of us used to show our appreciation for this hospitality, but there was no pressure to do so.) Lunch was a serve-yourself buffet of chicken, green beans, a potato dish, raw vegetables, flatbread, and a dip/spread that looked like hummus but wasn't. There were dates for dessert. Everything was delicious . . . except that I think dates must be an acquired taste. Everyone there was very friendly. Those who didn't speak English smiled shyly and nodded. Those who did speak English welcomed us warmly.

After lunch, we were free to roam the grounds at will. No one implied in any way that there was anywhere we weren't welcome to go. Jeff and I followed a path away from the building into the fields. We roamed along an irrigation ditch and back up to and around a swimming pool, where some men were relaxing in the water. One of them was a friend from church, who was spending the weekend there with some friends. We chatted for a few moments and then left him to his friends while we continued our wandering. Everywhere we went, there were seating areas set up. Some obviously were set up for those who wanted to sit alone, either in front of a beautiful view or in a grass-roofed cabana with a table available to hold tea or study material. Other areas were for groups of varying sizes: two or three chairs clustered around a small table on a veranda, eight or ten chairs on a breezy balcony, twenty or thirty chairs in a semi-circle under a grass roof. Everything was quiet and peaceful.

We went up to the roof of the main building and took a couple of pictures. We saw Ibrahim and a few members of our group chatting on the third-floor balcony. We discovered that the second floor was a library, and we stopped to look at the books. Before long, Jeff and I both were lounging on cushions reading. We overheard bits of conversation from outside, maybe from the second- or third-floor balcony, maybe from the veranda on the first floor. Our interest was piqued when we heard enough snippets to know that American politics was the topic of conversation, but it was so peaceful there that I didn't want to ruin it by getting involved in a discussion in which I was sure to disagree passionately with someone, and Jeff seemed to feel the same.

After a while, some conversation drifted in through the open balcony door that did pique my interest enough for me to forsake my book and head downstairs. People were talking about the delicious tea that they were drinking and about items that were available for purchase downstairs. So I went down to check it out. I drank some hot chocolate and purchased some hibiscus jam. I ended up out on the veranda sitting around a table with a constantly shifting group of people engaged in pleasant conversation. At first, it was Ibrahim and Lauren's family. Then Ibrahim and the male members of Lauren's family disappeared and were replaced by two women. At some point Lauren went in search of Zack. Then Jeff showed up; in response to my question, he said that he had come downstairs so no one would have to wait for him. I looked at my watch and realized that it really was almost 5 o'clock, the designated time for us to rendezvous at the bus. We had been at Anafora since 1 and had been left to our own devices since lunch ended around 2:30. The time had passed very quickly.

So we got on the bus and returned to Maadi. The whole way back, the sense of absolute peace never left me--even though I listened to Rush Limbaugh's podcast, which never fails to absorb all my interest and energy. Even today, thinking about and remembering Anafora, I can feel the tension leave my shoulders and my whole body relax. I guess that's what makes it such a great retreat center.