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

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ma'salama, ya Masr, wi Shukran

Today is the day.

By the time this post publishes (it's been scheduled a little in advance), my family and I will have left Egypt.

What to say on a day like this? One chapter of my life is ending today. It's a chapter I'd like to keep open for a while longer. I expressed my nostalgia in my "Saying Good-bye" post not too long ago. Now I've said my good-byes to my friends, my favorite shops and their keepers, my favorite restaurants and their owners and employees.

What I haven't said yet is "Thank you." Thank you, embassy community, for preparing the way for me and for providing so many small and large luxuries to make my adjustment easier. Thank you, expat community as a whole, for welcoming me, embracing me, and providing a supportive social network during every phase of my life here. Thank you, Maadi Community Church, for showing me a glimpse of what heaven will look like. Thank you, Maadi Women's Guild, for giving me the opportunity to fellowship with other Christian women, to participate in group Bible studies, and to serve people who need it more than I ever imagined possible in my comfortable life back in the States. Thank you, Caritas Egypt, for running the baby wash program, which was my first foray into volunteering in Egypt. Thank you, Mother Teresa's, for running the orphanage and daycare where the children stole my heart from the moment I met them.

Thank you, people of Cairo, for welcoming me into your country. For being supportive and not impatient with me as I mangled your lovely language in my attempts to speak it, and for your attempts to help me learn it better and more quickly. For caring about my daughter and looking out for her welfare, even when I disagreed with your advice. For offering me a seat on the Metro even though I'm sure you were more exhausted and in need of it than I was. For using your own Metro ticket to get the turnstile to let me out that time when my ticket decided to stop working during transit. For banding together to protect my daughter, myself, and my property from your less upstanding neighbors during the Revolution.

Thank you, Egypt, for showing me that I'm stronger, more adaptable, and more capable than I realized. For showing me how good my life is. For showing me how good life can be even for people who have so much less than I have, as long as they have faith, family, and a sense of humor. For giving me a taste for adventure. For helping me understand that adventure does not always feel adventurous. For helping me realize that a laid-back attitude doesn't mean that things can't get done, just that they get done in a different way and with different timing. For showing me that things don't have to get done how and when I want them to, and I'll still be just fine. For allowing me to expand my horizons and those of my daughter.

Good-bye, O Egypt, and thank you.

Ma'salama, ya Masr, wi shukran.

Friday, June 17, 2011

An Invitation

I have enjoyed writing Reflections from Maadi over the last three years. However, I just don't see my way clear to continue writing Reflections from Maadi once we no longer live in Maadi.

Take heart, however (or be discouraged, if you rejoiced at the thought of this blog ending), for although this blog will end, a new one will begin. I decided to start a new blog, with a new name and a new address that aren't so country-specific, so that it can stay with me as we move from post to post over the years. The plan is to import the content of Reflections from Maadi and eventually delete this blog.

I do intend to publish one more post here, my good-bye to Egypt, so stay tuned for that.

My new blog will not have any new posts until this fall. I may feel compelled to write a little something before our arrival in Cambodia, but it's more likely that I won't post anything until September, after we arrive and set up internet access. This summer I will not be blogging, although I hope to keep up with the blogs I read.

My new blog is called Reflections from a Global Nomad, and it can be found at http://DeborahReflections.blogspot.com. Consider this post your invitation to join me there. I hope to see you there in September!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The New Normal

It seems like all the expats here in Egypt have a new system of indicating time. Events now are labeled as "pre-Revolution" or "post-Revolution." Yes, the Revolution of 25 January changed things that much, at least according to some. According to others, little has changed. I think it depends on where exactly you live and how much you pay attention.

In my neighborhood, not too much has changed, at least on the surface. The streets may be marginally cleaner. You're likely to see things like this:

Patriotism and pride in being Egyptian seems to be up. I haven't taken pictures yet, but it's very common now to see poles, trees, gates, and walls painted in red, white, and black, the colors of the Egyptian flag.
You're also likely to see scenes like these:

These pictures, and many others like them, appeared during or shortly after the revolution. They reflect the national unity that was present during the revolution (also captured by the now-famous photo of Coptic Christians holding hands while encircling a group of praying Muslims in Tahrir Square, making sure that they were not disturbed or harmed during their prayers). This unity has persisted among some, but unfortunately not all, Egyptians.

However, not all the changes in Egypt are positive. In my experience, most of the negative changes are under the surface. Unfortunately, they can rise to the top suddenly and turn minor annoyances into dangerous situations. I have not experienced these situations myself, but no one is immune, and wise people will not forget that today's Egypt is not as safe for foreigners (or for Egyptians) as pre-revolution Egypt was.

One surface indicator of the dangerous undercurrent is a rise in crime. Crimes that are commonplace in big cities in the United States used to be unheard of within the expat community here; now they're much more common, though still less common than in America's largest cities. Purse snatchings and pickpocketing are things to be concerned about now, whereas in the past, they were remote possibilities in most of Maadi. There also are rumors floating around of murders and sexual assaults, though it looks like all of the rumors stem from one event that happened within a few days of the revolution--the rumors make it sound like it happens at least once a week, but in reality, it seems to have been a one-time occurrence.

The rise in crime is a problem, but it isn't one that I've been too concerned about. Like I said, the frequency of these events still is not as great as you would expect in most cities the size of Cairo. You can't guarantee that you never will become a victim, but you can reduce your chances by taking common-sense precautions, just as you would in New York City, Los Angeles, or Washington, DC. When I look at this situation, I see a choice: I can stress out about the difference between now and before, or I can see that Maadi still is safer than Washington, DC, where I went every day for two years with nary a problem, even though I spent a little time in some of the rougher neighborhoods as part of my job. I choose to take reasonable precautions and not worry overmuch.

I tend to be more concerned about two other recent phenomena. The first is the distinct possibility that minor incidents will grow suddenly into terrifying and potentially violent ordeals. It used to be that fender benders, for example, were no big deal; the drivers would yell at each other a little, and then someone would shrug and say "Allah aayez keda" (Allah wanted that), and the drivers would get in their cars and drive away. Now, if the fender bender involved one vehicle driven by a westerner, it is a real possibility that other drivers will band together with the non-western driver to blame the westerner and demand restitution, even if the westerner really wasn't to blame. Angry mobs recently have coalesced around minor traffic accidents and around tourists at the pyramids who resisted a camel handler's demands for more money than had been agreed upon. (It's always been a common trick to say "That was the price to get on the camel; it's another 100 pounds to get off!" But it used to be that the tourist who resisted for a while was able to get off the camel without handing over any extra money; now that may happen, or the other camel handlers may form an angry mob and scare the tourist into handing over all the money he has on him.) An angry mob can be a frightening thing, and I honestly do not know what I would--or even should--do if I ever became the target of one.

Even the possibility of angry mobs, though, would be less scary if it weren't for the other recent phenomenon: the police more often than not won't intervene anymore. The Egyptian police never have been respected by the Egyptian people; instead, they have been feared. When the police abandoned their posts during the revolution, the people's fear disappeared. The police still aren't working at full capacity because many police haven't gone back to work. The people no longer fear them, and that makes it dangerous for the police. The police spent years abusing their power; now, many of them rightly fear retaliation. If a policeman intervenes, he may just become the target of the angry mob rather than the one who scares them into dispersing. So purse snatchings have occurred within feet of  policemen, with no intervention. The mob at the pyramids gathered under the eyes of the tourist police and terrified a tourist into tossing a wad of cash in one direction and running with his family in another direction. It used to be that if we were afraid for any reason, we were instructed to go to a police station. As westerners, we would be protected, especially once we showed our diplomatic IDs. That protection may or may not be forthcoming anymore. Now the only safe places to go are to our embassy or to one of our other compounds. It's a little scary to think of what could happen if we became the target of an angry mob when we were not near one of those places.

Again, though, I see a choice here: I can take reasonable precautions and go about my life, or I can be so afraid that I don't ever leave my home. I want to enjoy my remaining time in Egypt, so I take precautions and live my life. I'm aware of my surroundings more than I was before, I'm more cautious in general, and I don't drive anymore (I think I still would choose to drive here, though more cautiously than before, but our car already has been picked up for export since we're rotating out soon). There is a potential threat here, but it isn't such a high-probability threat that it should unduly affect my life.

The way I see Egypt today--the new normal, if you will--the people have made one choice: They chose to oust Mubarak. Now they have a series of other choices to make. They will make political choices at the polls, and those choices will determine whether Egypt is free or not, a democracy or not, a nation united or a nation divided along sectarian lines. But they also will make other choices as they go about their daily lives, and these choices will have great impact as well. Each and every Egyptian will decide whether he or she prefers to live in a country of laws, where the police are allowed, encouraged, and even forced at first, if necessary, to function as police do in free societies, to protect the entire population and to enforce laws that affect all people equally. The other option is for the population to fragment into "us" against "them" groups and band together to promote "our own" over all others, even if "our own" is in the wrong; to prevent the police from functioning as police do in free societies; to trap Egypt in the past rather than moving it forward into a modern and future reality of freedom and equality.

The people of Egypt have made one choice, which has resulted in the new normal we see around us today. But now, and every day from now going forward, they must choose what the new normal will become. I wish them well as they examine their hearts, their minds, and their society in order to make the choice with which they and their children will live.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Saying Good-bye

I have a serious case of preemptive nostalgia.

Our time in Egypt is coming to an end; we're leaving in just a few--so few!--short weeks for an indefinite time. There is no guarantee that we ever will come back, although both Jeff and I would like to return. We'll spend the summer on home leave in the United States, then move on to our next post (Phnom Penh, Cambodia) this fall. We're excited about our future in Cambodia ... but I'd just as soon not have to leave Egypt.

Some friends recently arrived for the beginning of their posting here. For the last week, my days and evenings have been filled with introductions as we take our friends to our favorite restaurants and shops, expose them to the pleasures of Cairene life, and generally try to help them settle in and thrive here. It's a happy time of reuniting with friends and sharing aspects of our life that I really didn't expect to be able to share with friends from home. But it's also a sad time.

Every time I introduce my friends to a restaurant, to a shop, to the joys of a sunset felucca ride, I'm acutely aware that it may be my last time to enjoy those pleasures myself.

We introduced them to MCC this Friday, and as I looked around at the familiar scene, it was like I was experiencing it again for the first time. I felt again the awe as I looked at this tiny slice of what heaven will look like, with people from so many different races, cultures, and denominational backgrounds. I admit it; I teared up a little as I thought of my impending departure. Even though I anticipate finding a similarly diverse international church in Cambodia, nothing ever will be quite the same as this, my first, international church.

We took our friends to the Khan el Khalili yesterday. We introduced them to our old favorites, to which we were introduced early in our tour here--Moustafa's glass and clothing shops; Gouzlan's jewelry shop; the Three Crazy Brothers metalwork shop; and Sunnyland, the world's best papyrus store. We took them by some of our own finds--the camel bone shop with the amazing figurines and chess sets, and the silver shop where you can purchase a necklace or bracelet customized with your name. They found their own shops to visit as well--a small jewelry shop, a large bookstore with historic photographs of Egypt. At each of my favorite shops, I looked around with longing at all the beautiful items that I had considered purchasing on previous trips but had decided against for one reason or another. This would be my last chance; was I sure I wanted to pass up these purchases? In the end, we made our planned purchases of some water glasses to match a pitcher we purchased a year or so ago, a couple of pajama sets for Alexa to grow into, a camel figurine carved from camel bone for my mother, and a commemorative spoon for her friend. We also purchased two wood inlay boxes--how have we been in Egypt for three years without purchasing one of those?; a couple of old locks to which Jeff took a fancy; and two large papyrus paintings by Ibrahim, the painter whose subject matter could almost step off the page and into the shop, but whose price tag matches the quality. We also were gifted with a small inlay box for Alexa and with two smaller papyrus paintings that the shopkeeper had seen me gazing at longingly--a beautiful Tree of Life and a nighttime pyramids and camels scene that inexplicably captivated both Jeff and me.

We still have more introductions we want to make. There are shops here in Maadi, the alabaster factory in Mokattum where we finally will purchase those lamps we've been talking about for three years, and the Asfour Crystal showroom, to name a few. We want to make a repeat visit to our favorite restaurant, Condetti. We want to introduce them to a few other restaurants here in Maadi. Maybe take another felucca ride. I'd love to introduce them to the pyramids, but the security situation there is just shy of stable enough for us to feel comfortable going there right now.

Each introduction will be a hello for them ... and a good-bye for us. I'm so grateful to have had this time in Egypt, both the pre-Revolution years to get to know the "Egypt that was" and most especially these short weeks since the evacuation was lifted, to meet the "Egypt that is becoming" and to say good-bye to my life here. The future holds wonderful things for us; I only hope it is not too selfish for me to hope that one of those wonderful things is the opportunity to return to Egypt one day and meet the "Egypt that will be."