Sunday, March 29, 2009

Flashback Friday: My first sleepover

My brain has been going at the speed of a sleeping tortoise lately, so although it is Sunday already I'm barely coming up with an idea for Flashback Friday. It will be a miracle if I get everything that needs to get done finished by midnight tonight when I leave for Greece. Writing this actually isn't on my list of essential things to do and so rather than helping me get ready is slowing me down. But since my brain is going at the speed of a sleeping tortoise I can't think of what needs to get finished. So I'll forgive myself if something doesn't get done.

It will just be waiting for me to do when I get back, and that's okay. I'm going on a 4 day sleepover to Greece with my friend Jaehee. And Rachel. It should be fun, but I'm a little scared to leave home all by myself (with Jaehee and Rachel).

When I was (three or) four years old, my friend Rebekah planned a slumber party to celebrate her birthday. Rather, since she was also four, her mother planned the party. Rebekah invited a number of her friends over for dinner, cake, ice cream, games, a movie, and a sleep over.

That was a little adventurous on the part of Rebekah's mother, I think, inviting a bunch of little girls over, feeding them sugar, and then letting them sleep at her house. Very adventurous.

To add to the excitement that sleepovers typically entail, this was everyone's first sleepover, for the most part. At least, I'm assuming so since we were all about 4 years old and how many sleepovers can you really have before you're 4?

We stayed up really late. Super late. Later than I'd ever been up before.

Realistically we were probably in bed by about 9:00. I suppose that's one benefit of having 4-year-olds sleep over. They think 9:00 is late.

Rebekah's brother Zachary came in and fluffed all our pillows, Boh and Mo came in and read us a goodnight story, tucked us in, and turned out the light. And that was that. The sleeping part of the sleepover had started, which is yet another benefit of hving 4-year-olds over. Perhaps Mo wasn't so crazy afterall. 4-year-olds actually sleep at sleepovers.

Except for me. I was too scared to sleep and too embarrassed to tell anyone so I waited in absolute terror for everyone else to fall asleep and then I sneaked off into the night to find Mo.

Luckily we lived in a townhousey thing and our layout was very similar to Rebekah's house so I didn't get lost trying to find Mo. I was, however, crying when I found her.

"I want my mom!" I wailed.

Mo called my mom, who rushed over in her housecoat to pick me up. She walked me home and then sat on the stairs with me cuddled up in her lap for a while. We talked about how it's alright to be afraid and decided that sleepovers were perhaps best left alone until I was a little bit older.

And that was my first failed attempt at a sleepover. I've had many successful sleepovers since then. Sometimes I still want my mom.

Uh-oh, mess!

When Rachel talks she metathesizes and elides and coins and deforms so many words. There are only a handful of words that she says correctly. Next week she'll probably say those wrong and start saying others the right way just to switch things up on us.

She used to say "snack" as "nack." That s-other letter combination is difficult for her, but she's realized that there is supposed to be an es in the word so she just tacked it onto the end, taking off the -ck to make it easier to say. So now "nack" is "nas." I wouldn't have had any idea what she was talking about if she didn't continue to sign at the same time as speaking.

She's recently started to say "nose" somewhat correctly again. She used to say nose, and then she cut off the es and just said "no." The syllable "no" then meant either nose, no, know, I don't know, where'd it go, and probably about 5 other things. She's since added the es back on so nose is nose again, although she doesn't voice the es so it comes out sounding very Russian.

And I learned that she knows the word "smell" the other day. We were out walking and saw some beautiful flowers. I picked one and handed it to her. She sniffed it and said, "Mes!"

"What mess?" I asked, "You're all clean!"

She sniffed dramatically and said slowly, "M-e-s!"

I quickly figured out that smell and snack are very similar. Put the es on the end and drop the final phoneme before that. Snack=nas and smell=mes.

"Mes" also means "mess," which Rachel says correctly, so the ambiguity in our house never ends.

Yesterday Rachel came running out of the kitchen at full speed, coughing, gagging, and yelling, "Uh-oh! Mommy! Mes! Mes!"

Usually this means something along the lines of, "Hi, Mommy! Do you remember that apple you gave me and I've been chewing on all day long and storing the peel in my cheeks? Well, instead of swollowing I decided I would spit it out all over the floor and now there's a huge mess. I have no idea how it got there so don't blame me, but you should come and see! It's huge!"

There was no way "Uh-oh, Mommy! Mes!" meant anything good so I moaned and shuffled Rachel back into the kitchen to find the big "mes."

When we got to the kitchen, however, there was no mess in sight, at least not any mess out of the ordinary. A few dishes in the sink, a few cans pulled out of the cupboard, some splatters on the stove. Looked pretty normal to me.

"What mess, Rachel? I don't see a mess. Will you show me the mess?"

"Yeah!" she said excitedly.

Whatever she had discovered, she was pretty proud of it. I thought for sure I was going to find that she had opened the fridge, got out some yogurt, opened it by herself, and did some fingerpainting on a wall I hadn't inspected yet. Or something like that.

To my surprise she marched over to the garbage can, put her face right above it, and inhaled deeply through her nose. She was smelling as deeply as a new mother smells her baby after a bath. Very deeply. After a couple of good wiffs, Rachel came up for fresh air, coughing and gagging.

"Uh-oh, Mommy! Mes!" she said, pointing to the garbage can.

I just about lost it, but I controled my laughter in front of her because she was so seriously thrilled, and disgusted, by her smelly find.

"Yes, Rachel, garbage cans usually don't smell very pretty," I informed her, "So usually we don't smell them on purpose. Because they're gross."

She looked at me like I had used too many words, so I simplifed, creating one of those motherhood gems that I will probably find myself repeating several times over the next few decades. A "rule to live by," if you will.

"If it smells yucky, don't smell it." I condensed.

"O-tay, Mama! No mes!" she said, walking away from the garbage can.

And then, I lost it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

To see the senorita…

…With flowers in her hair!

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Rachel has sat still long enough the past two days that I’ve been able to do French braids, which is kind of exciting, I think. The mere fact that she is able to sit still and entertain herself for that long while I tug at her hair opens up a world of possibilities.

She was so cute at church today…after she stopped screaming “MY!!!” during sacrament meeting, that is. Everything was “hers” today and she was quite vocal about it. I think she was trying to make up, volume-wise, for all the other children that were gone. Half our branch was absent today.

The Penrods were there, though, which was nice, because it meant that Rachel didn’t have to be alone in nursery. She’s really excited about nursery lately and today even told us so.

“Noo-see!” she yelled after the closing prayer of sacrament meeting, “GO! Noo-see! My! Noo-see! Yay!”

It also means that after church when I was visiting teaching Simmone, Rachel could go out in the yard and play with the Penrod children, which she did. All by herself.

Mairyn decorated Rachel’s braids with flowers that the children picked from…somewhere. And when I was walking down the stairs, I saw them all outside, sitting in a circle, playing nicely together.

That made me very happy for some reason. Knowing that Rachel can play nicely with other children, knowing that other children like to play with Rachel, knowing that she’s old enough to hold her own in a group of children.

Or maybe I was happy because Spencer said that they often come to the church to let their kids run around in the yard. We were like,

“We can do that?!”

He was like, “Oh, yeah. We do it all the time. Let them exercise their God-given right, as Americans, to have a yard to play in.”

We very well may find ourselves exercising that right more often.

Rachel wanted to go home with the Penrods when it was time to go home. We sure are going to miss them when they’re gone! Especially since both Sam and Loei will be leaving nursery as well. And Finn’s family is moving away. Who will Rachel play with?

My only consolation so far is that I know of one family with 7 kids that will (probably, hopefully) be moving here this summer. They have a 1 year-old. And the Houses just moved in. Their youngest is 4, but she adores Rachel and plays very nicely with her.

Those are my Friday afternoon ramblings. I don’t think I’ve had a coherent thought all day, so why should my blog post flow?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Okay, you got me.

The power has been finicky lately. I think it's testing me. It keeps flicking out, just to see how prepared I am. Or something.

It started on Tuesday while Rachel and I were having a dance party. We were listening to the Beach Boys and dancing around the living room like crazy party animals. And then we heard the power turn off.

Heard, because it was the middle of the day and we didn't have any lights on, anyway, but we live our lives surrounded by the hum of electricity and when that power disappears you can really sense it.

Luckily, we were listening to music on the laptop and laptops switch to battery power when their power cords fail, so the music kept on playing and we danced right through the power outage without interruption.

Take that, electricity!

Later in the day, so late that we actually had lights on because it was getting a little dusky outside, I was making dinner when the power went out again. With a clack and hum everything powered down.

Luckily, we have a gas stove, so even though I was making soup and grilled cheese sandwiches dinner was still delivered as scheduled because the stove still worked. And we still had enough natural light in our apartment that we didn't have to worry about flashlights or anything.

You'll have to try a little harder, electricity!

Last night Andrew and I stayed up too late working on a project together. We finally decided to call it a night and go to bed at around 1:00 AM (see? too late), so we shut off our laptops and set about getting ready for bed: locking the doors and putting away a few last things in the kitchen, strategically turning off lights as we went.

The electricity decided it would help with that last part. Its strategy was to turn off all the lights at once instead of leaving on a few to guide us around the house. And I had just turned on our bedside lamp, too.

Okay, you win. I was completely unprepared for this one.

I found myself stumbling across our bedroom floor in pitch blackness; Andrew was stuck in the kitchen, which is a black hole at its best, now transformed into a pit of despair of sorts. I knew that if anyone had any chance of locating a flashlight, it was going to be me because I knew where the flashlights were, first of all, and second of all, I wasn't stuck in the kitchen.

I felt my way over to the bookcase and searched each crevice looking for the flashlight I knew was there. I found it at last, flicked it on, announced to Andrew that I was coming to rescue him and started improvising a little theme song for my rescue mission.

Two seconds into that little theme song, the flashlight died. Completely.

"Uh, just a sec!" I called out to Andrew, "The flashlight just died. But I know where another one is!"

I made my way to the television and grabbed the wind-up flashlight. Then I had to wind it...and wind it...and wind it, but eventually it did turn on and I rescued Andrew and we finished getting ready for bed by the light of the silvery flashlight.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Sandwich Question

Sometimes I think it's funny how small things really are a big deal. Like making sandwiches, for example.

In my mom's family growing up, if I remember correctly, a whole sandwich was what my dad considered a half. You would make a sandwich by folding one piece of bread in half and that was a whole sandwich. So when my parents were dating...or first married...or something, my mom was making sandwiches and asked my dad if he wanted one sandwich or two. He answered one, so she came out with a half a sandwich for him.

Obviously his idea of "whole" won out in my family growing up because I think a whole sandwich is made from two pieces of bread.

I must admit, though, that I always thought that was kind of a funny difference. And surely nothing like that would ever transpire between my husband and I.

But, oh, it has, as I was reminded today when I was making grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner.

In my family you put mayo and cheese inside the sandwich. Then you butter the outsides and fry it.

In his family you put cheese and only cheese inside the sandwich. Then you butter the outsides and fry it. Some members of his family then choose to *gag* dip their sandwiches into little piles of mayonnaise. Apparently. I've never seen this done. And I'm kind of glad of it.

I can handle spreading mayo on bread, although I only have mayo with my grilled cheese sandwiches. I don't think I could handle it in a pile on my plate. Andrew thinks I'm weird because I put mayo in my grilled cheese sandwiches. I think he's weird because he doesn't.

But it doesn't stop there. We also can't agree on something as simple as peanut butter and jelly.

To me, a PB & J is just that: peanut butter + jam. I put peanut butter one one slice of bread, jam on the other slice of bread, then put those two together (faces in, of course), and, presto! I have my sandwich (or two sandwiches if you are in my mom's family).

Andrew spreads one slice with peanut butter, as is normal. Before jamming his second slice, though, he first butters it. So one slice of bread has peanut butter, solo, and the other piece has a layer of butter and a layer of jam. And then he puts those two together.

That kind of seems like overkill to me. More of a peanut butter butter sandwich. A PB & B & J.

Of course, he finds my butterless sandwiches a little strange as well.

I suppose we'll see which tradition will win out where.

At least we don't make peanut butter and pepperoni sandwiches (Auntie Em)!

Rachel stories

This morning Rachel woke up. I don’t know when she woke up, not exactly, because instead of being noisy she played quietly with her dolls in her bed. It’s not that I mind being left to sleep for a few minutes longer, it’s just that Rachel, like most normal people, has to go to the bathroom upon waking up. When she calls out to me, I can get her up in time to make it to the potty. Otherwise she ends up doing it in her diaper, which bothers me because she basically potty trained, except for nighttime and naptime and I just wish she would let me know.

So this morning when I finally woke up and went to check on Rachel, who I thought was still sleeping, I found her wide awake, sitting up in bed. She had all her toys (2 dogs, 1 cat, 2 Poohs, 2 baby dolls, 1 rag doll, 1 bear) arranged in a way that made me sense an extravagant story line, but she was still happy to see me.

I was less happy to see her. She smelled, which meant she had pooped her pants. Gross.

So I took off her diaper and washed her bum. Since we use cloth diapers, the next step is to do the “potty fling,” but Rachel was demanding breakfast, so I left the diaper on the bathroom floor and went to scavenge some breakfast for her.

When I got her breakfast, she wanted me to hold her while she ate it, so I obliged. I like cuddling Rachel.

Breakfast happened to be the snack container from the diaper bag because that’s what I happened upon first. It was full of goldfish. And apparently there was a little piece of paper in there as well, which was greatly distressing Rachel. I told her to go throw it away, so she hopped off my lap and headed toward the garbage can.

First I heard the swish of the garbage can lid swinging back and forth. And then I heard her potty scraping across the floor. Ugh.

She has this new habit of dumping out her potty instead of letting us do it. It’s horrible. She spills half the time. I think we’ve mopped our bathroom floor 5 or 6 times this week. And it’s only Monday.

I ran into the bathroom to find that Rachel, indeed, was holding her little potty over the big potty.

When she saw me, she dropped the potty. She knows she’s supposed to let Mommy and Daddy do that. To avoid repercussions, she tried acting cute.

“YAY!” she cheered, clapping her hands.

I surveyed the scene. Her diaper lay empty on the floor. It’s contents were in Rachel’s little potty. Her clapping hands were spraying particles of said diaper contents all over the bathroom.

I shuddered. She’s so helpful. Too helpful, really.

I suppose I could have taken care of her business earlier, but how was I supposed to do that with her playing the role of a rather whiney shadow? I don’t know.

She also has this weird diaper rash. Weird because she is only in diapers at night and they come off first thing in the morning. And then she’s free as a bird. So I don’t really know where this rash is coming from. We tried Balmex, but that wasn’t working so we switched to Lansinoh. She likes that a lot better.

At night when we put her diaper on she always reminds us that she has a rash and brings the Lansinoh over.

“Rash!” she says.

This morning I was getting ready for the day, as most people do in the morning. I’m one of those people who keeps ChapStick with my makeup, which may tell you exactly how much makeup I wear on a regular basis. Rachel walked in and saw that I was in the makeup area (I happened to be fishing for a hair elastic at that exact moment).

She pointed to her lips and then to the makeup drawer. She loves ChapStick and wanted some.

“No, baby,” I said, “This is Mommy’s ChapStick. Go find your own.”

She loves ChapStick, and she destroys ChapStick. So she has her own ChapStick. That poor ChapStick. Its life is agony, I’m sure.

“Rash,” she explained, pointing to her lips again, “Rashtick!”

How could I not give into that request? Her lips were rashy and she needed some rash-stick. I’m kind of sad that she doesn’t say bapstick anymore, but rashtick is just as funny, really.

I’m just glad that we’re having a better day than yesterday. And, yes, flinging poo all over the bathroom means we’re having a good day today. So that might tell you just how well yesterday went. Basically, it didn’t go well at all.

When Andrew got home from school, I mentioned, offhandedly, that I might make some cookies. I completely forgot that I had lent our baking powder to Jaehee and I don’t like substituting soda for powder. So that meant cookies were out.

However, Rachel overheard me say “bake cookies” and kept insisting, rather dramatically, that she needed to help do that.

“Cook! Cook! Cook! Cook!” she pleaded, and demanded, and screamed, and cried, and insisted, and whined.

This went on for probably 20 minutes.

“I don’t know what to cook, Rachel,” I said. “Stop screaming. Just stop. Screaming isn’t going to make me cook. Stop. Stop. Stop!”

Andrew could tell I was about at the end of my rope, so he took over.

“I’ll cook something with you, Rachel,” he suggested, leaving his homework at his desk.

“What are you going to make?” I asked.

“I don’t know. We’ll make something up.”

I let the two of them wander into the kitchen and stewed for a few minutes, trying to regain my patience. After breathing deeply I decided that I should go and see what their experiment was. Kitchen experiments are sometimes not the best idea when Andrew is involved. Let’s just say he gets a little too creative.

To my relief, I found that they had found a cornbread mix in the cupboard that Karen had brought out with her in October. They were mixing that up.

“Stir! Stir! Cook!” Rachel was chanting happily.

I went to have a nap. A few minutes later Andrew came out to the living room to find me,

“You can go have a nap,” he suggested as he walked out to the empty living room.

“Unless you already are?” he added quizzically.

He walked into the bedroom where I had already set up to take a nap.

“I’ve got things under control,” he said.

And so I fell asleep, knowing that things were under control.

While I was sleeping, they finished up the cornbread and put it in the oven. That was difficult for Rachel. She wanted to eat them right away, not wait for them to cook. Andrew gave her some peanuts to tide her over.

She’s good with nuts if she takes a few at a time. But if she gets too many in her mouth she won’t swallow them. She’ll chew them to smithereens, but she won’t swallow.

It so happened that she took a whole handful of peanuts on this occasion and stuffed them in her mouth before Andrew could stop her.

“You have to swallow those,” he warned her.

After she chewed for a few minutes she tried to spit them out.

“You have to swallow those,” he reminded her.

She started to spit them out, again.

“Swallow…” Andrew said.

Rachel started to cry.

“Rachel,” Andrew explained, “It isn’t fair to throw food away like that. Other people would have liked to eat it. So you have to swallow it because you took it.”

Rachel started to cry harder. Her nose started to drip.

Andrew wiped it.

It dripped some more.

He wiped it again.

A little light turned on over Rachel’s head. She started crying harder and breathing heavily through her nose to force as much snot as possible out.

Andrew got out a new kleenex. He went to wipe her nose.

Rachel took that opportunity to spit all the peanuts out into his hand.

“Rachel,” he said, “I told you not to spit those out.”

He sent her to her room and told her it was time to get ready for a nap. She insisted she had to go potty. So instead of getting her ready for a nap he started taking her to the potty. While he was carrying her, she spat more peanuts out on him.

“Rachel!” Andrew said, “We don’t spit food on people!”

And then she peed on him. Looked him squarely in the eye and said,

“Pah-pah.”

So…that was his half hour with Rachel. And my day yesterday was similar, only it lasted the entire day. And so I’m glad that today is going better.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Inch by inch, row by row

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It is funny to me, how often I forget things that I shouldn’t. I forget lessons that I’ve learned and then I have to relearn them. Life would be so much easier if I could only remember everything I’ve ever learned.

Andrew planned Family Home Evening for tonight. He bought a pot and some dirt yesterday so that we could plant the basil seeds that we brought with us. The basil seeds that we bought last year to plant and never did. Those seeds.

We found an Italian shop yesterday, but they don’t have pesto…and since we had the seeds we figured that we may as well plant them. So we talked a bit about why we’re supposed to garden and about all the beautiful things Heavenly Father has created for us.

It was interesting to list the plants that Rachel is used to seeing. She loves apples, but she’s never seen an apple tree. We do, however, have a mango tree right outside our window.

After we had talked about gardening, self-sufficiency, and faith, along with anything else that has to do with planting a garden, we went out on the balcony to our “garden.”

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Rachel had fun playing in the “dirty” dirt and she even got to put some of the seeds in. Then we covered the seeds with more soil, watered them, and set them up where they can reach the sun. We laughed about that warning to wait until after the last potential danger of frost to plant. There is little danger of that here, especially now.

After we were finished planting we came inside and made peanut butter rice krispie treats together. We cleaned up the toys while they cooled and then we ate them (well, some of them) and started Rachel’s bedtime routine.

When she was in bed, I took out my scriptures. Sometimes it’s hard to find time to read during the day. Rachel will bring one of her books the minute she sees that it is reading time. Or she won’t even notice it’s reading time and will sit in your lap, positioning herself between your book and your line of vision.

I’m at the Vision of the Tree of Life right now in 1 Nephi, chapter 8, which I’ve read several times before. I’m often guilty of skimming over lists of things in the scriptures: the “begats,” explanations of currency, packing lists, etc. I haven’t ever found them all that interesting, truthfully.

But today when I read that they “gathered together all manner of seeds of every kind, both of grain of the every kind, and also of the seeds of fruit of every kind,” I realized something.

First, that the counsel to plant a garden is an ancient one. It’s not like preparation and saving for a rainy day and being self-sufficient are new ideas.

Second, I was reminded that the scriptures, even the preamble packing lists in verse 1, have answers to every question. Even questions like, “What in the world am I doing in Egypt?”

I’m here because I’m supposed to be.

Even though I didn’t have to pack seeds of every kind (we only brought basil), I did bring things from home that are familiar to me and everything is going to be just fine. We brought taco seasoning and maple extract (among other things) so that we can cook things that we’re used to eating. When I want a taco or maple syrup, I can have my taco or maple syrup, and I don’t have to spend a fortune to have it.

We also have good friends here who also packed things from home and who so lovingly share those things with us. So sometimes when I want to make peanut butter rice krispie treats I can, even though that should be virtually impossible here.

And for some reason, that made me feel better.

Here’s hoping we can make our garden grow. We have no idea where to buy seeds here so I’m currently trying to dry my own tomato seeds. It’s an experiment.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A wedding and a funeral

When we were in Luxor in January, we happened across a funeral procession. Andrew snapped a picture.

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When we were in the Khan yesterday, we happened across a wedding procession. I snapped a picture.

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I can’t tell you much about the details of either weddings or funerals here since I have been invited to neither. And it’s hard to separate the different traditions into culture verses religion. I know a lot more about Indian weddings and funerals than I do about Egyptian weddings or funerals, although most of what I know I learned from Bollywood.

There are some similar traditions, though. Cultures naturally influence each other, especially in the case of a shared religion, in this case, Islam.

Street processions seem fairly popular in both places.

Also, wearing the color red on your wedding day; although white is becoming more and more popular thanks to Western influence.

Obviously I have more questions than answers.

Islamic Cairo…again.

I wasn’t even going to go on this trip. I’ve been to Islamic Cairo so many times that it just didn’t sound interesting to me. And I knew that if I went I’d end up carrying Rachel for the majority of the time and that made me feel tired.

But then Jaehee asked what my plans were instead of going.

When she asked me that I thought of two things. First, the answer to her question, “Nothing.” And second, the question Fredericka asked me at playgroup on Wednesday.

“So, what do you do?” she asked.

“I stay at home with Rachel,” I answered.

“Well, of course,” prodded Fredericka, “But what else do you do?”

Apparently the blank stare I gave her said everything because that is a question I have been asking myself a lot lately. She quickly rephrased to keep the conversation going,

“What did you do before you had Rachel?”

I don’t feel like I’ve done much of anything lately. I feel like all I do is play Ring Around the Rosie and primal forms of hide and seek, and make sure that the house isn’t too destroyed when Andrew gets home. I almost keep up with the laundry, but that’s easier said than done when everything is drying in your spare bedroom instead of in the dryer. Sometimes I even manage to sweep the floor.

There’s also my church calling and some Relief Society activities…but really, what do I do? And what would I do with a day all to myself?

In all honesty I can tell you that I would not spend a day to myself cleaning the house. I haven’t reached that point in my life yet, I guess. And I hate our apartment right now. So why would I want to be alone in it all day, let alone clean it?

I don’t have any good answers. Not today. All I can say is that I’m so glad that I will be going to Greece in a few days. I need a break from Cairo. Living here taxes my patience.

Nothing gets done on time, mostly because there is no schedule to anything, except for praying. And sometimes, especially at the Khan, the locals are so annoying that they really, really get to you. Both Jaehee and I had our *moments* of fury.

Yesterday probably wasn’t the best day for me to venture out to the Khan since I’m already feeling a little bit Egypted-out, but I went anyway because, frankly, I had nothing better to do than wallow in solitude at home.

We rode the metro out a little ways and taxi-ed from there. Rachel is getting to be a pro at riding the metro. Her favorite thing to do is find “Rachel-sized” handles so that she can balance all by herself.

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Our first touristic destination was the Al-Hakim b'amr Allah mosque. It was completed in 1013 AD, so it’s like almost 1000 years old (four more years to go), which is pretty old. The minarets are fairly original, but there has been a lot of restoration work done since the mosque has survived several earthquakes, etc.

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20090322 - 002 Once inside we were swarmed by people wanting to take our pictures, especially pictures of Rachel. I think we were held up for about a half hour. No joke. Everyone needed a turn crouching by Rachel to pose for a shot. Everyone needed to try to hold her. Everyone needed to kiss her cheek. She wasn’t very happy about it. She doesn’t like going to strangers.

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But then this one girl said some magic words. Instead of asking for a kiss or picture, this girl said,

“Do you want to play with me?”

Rachel sized her up, hesitated for a minute, and then said, “Yeah!”

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And that was that. Rachel and this girl were best friends for the next 10 minutes. They ran all around the mosque and had a great time.

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From there we continued to wander down Muizz Street, stopping at a few mosques along the way, most of which were closed for renovation. I don’t mind walking down Muizz Street. It’s usually pretty quiet and the architecture is beautiful. It apparently has the greatest concentration of medieval architectural treasures in the Islamic world. I wouldn’t doubt it.

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When we started to reach the more congested areas, we knew we were entering “The Khan,” which does not make my list of favorite places in Cairo. I was hungry so we started looking for a place to eat but instead found what we were told was a prison. It was also closed for renovation work, but the ladies who were acting as gate-keepers said we could go in. They mentioned, as we were walking past them, that they “drink tea,” which is a polite way of asking for baksheesh. They would let us see the prison and then offer us some tea, which we would then pay for…except that they wouldn’t really offer us any tea; we’d just pay them.

It was a pretty interesting prison, if that is, indeed what it was. We haven’t been able to find much information about it. There did appear to be prison/dungeon things down below a prayer area made of intricately carved wood, which was apparently where the prisoners would pray. I don’t know if any of that is true, but it was interesting to see, even if I was hungry.

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20090322 - 015 From here we wound our way through some deserted and narrow streets, in search of palatable food, into the thick of the Khan.

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We were happy to finally reach the Khan, for the sole reason that the food there looks more appetizing than the food we saw in the back streets. But poor Jaehee was immediately accosted by a tout.

“Ni hao! 你好! Ni hao ma! 你好! Ni hao!” he said, pulling his eyes back so he was looking at her through little slits. He followed us for several meters, continuously jabbering away in Chinese.

“I’m not Chinese,” Jaehee told him, “Go away. Leave me alone.”

He wasn’t about to leave us alone. And Jaehee’s blood was boiling. She turned around and glared at the man.

“SHUT UP!” she screamed at him.

I asked her why it bothered her that he thought she was Chinese. I mean, I’m mistaken for German and French people all the time…and it’s not offensive. Plus, I pointed out, she went up to a Japanese girl today thinking that she was Korean, so sometimes even Asians can’t tell themselves apart. I know that I can’t tell whether someone is German or Australian simply by looking, at least, not usually. She couldn’t come up with a good reason for why this was so upsetting, either.

“It’s probably just Egypt,” we agreed.

More likely just the Khan. People here are always fascinated by Asians. But the vendors at the Khan are obnoxious. End. Of. Story.

Andrew decided he wanted fatir (Egyptian pancakes), so we found a fatir place that we’d been to before and sat down to eat. I ordered a “mixed pizza,” which ended up being a mistake. It looked really good. Someone else at the restaurant had ordered one and it looked pretty safe from where I was sitting.

Little did I know, it was filled with meat. Being filled with meat is fine, as long as the meat inside is not pink, as mine was.

Andrew asked the waiter to take it back to the kitchen and have it be cooked for a little longer.

He explained that he could not do that since I had ordered a mixed pizza an that is how a mixed pizza comes.

We explained again that we only wanted it to be cooked longer and it wasn’t a big deal. You just take it back to the kitchen and have the cook put it back in the oven.

He explained again that he could not do that. I had ordered mixed pizza and that is how a mixed pizza comes.

Andrew is a softie, so Josh interjected, on my behalf.

“The meat is still pink,” he explained, “She wants the meat to be brown.”

“This is hot dog,” he said, meaning sausage, “It is meant to be pink.”

“No, cooked meat is not pink. Chicken, beef, “hot dog,” whatever. It doesn’t matter. It needs to be brown.”

The waiter came to my side of the table and explained to me that it was impossible to take it back to the kitchen.

“I just want it cooked for a few more minutes,” I begged, “I can’t eat it like this!”

He then stopped speaking English to me and instead began to use a very patronizing tone in Arabic.

“I don’t speak Arabic,” I said, “So I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

He continued to talk down to me in Arabic.

“I still don’t understand you…blah, blah, blah…please just stop and take my food back and cook it longer.”

“It is impossible!” he said firmly and started to walk away.

I don’t know why he was so personally offended since he wasn’t the one preparing the food. He was merely serving it so it wasn’t like I was critiquing his cooking skills. I don’t know what came over me, either, but as he was walking away I yelled,

“BAD SERVICE!”

I suppose I felt justified calling out his stubbornness. After all, if they can stand outside their restaurant boasting about their merits, why shouldn’t I warn others about their demerits. It would level the playing field and create less of a feeling of false advertisement in the Khan, I think. I was about to add, “DON’T EAT HERE!” when I suddenly found that the server had swooped back down upon me.

Luckily, a kind Egyptian man, who was eating at the same restaurant, came to my rescue.

“What is the problem here?” he asked me kindly.

“I want my food to be cooked longer. The meat is still pink and I can’t eat it that way,”

He turned to the server and said a few short sentences in Arabic.

The server glared at me, snatched my plate away and disappeared inside.

“There,” said the man, “It was all a misunderstanding. Enjoy your stay in Egypt.”

I think I thanked him a thousand times in both English and Arabic. I love meeting nice people.

My pizza came back a few minutes later, much browner than before. Not quite brown enough for my taste, but at least it wasn’t half raw.

And that’s probably why you shouldn’t go to the Khan when you’re already sick of Egypt. It’s a good thing both Jaehee and I will be leaving in a few days. A very, very good thing.

Rachel is coming with us, which is also a good thing, because she also threw a fit at the fitir place and started screaming, growling, and biting the table. Jaehee and I are stellar examples for her, what with our random fits of yelling.

Andrew and Josh were probably a bit embarrassed and wanted to get far away from the fatir place, so we left to go across the street to the al-Azhar mosque.

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We met a cute little Indonesian family there that had a girl a little younger than Rachel and a boy a little older, judging their ages solely on their ability to balance and how fast they could run. The little girl was veiled, which I thought was interesting because most girls don’t veil until puberty. I couldn’t tell if they were super-pious or if they simply thought she looked cute veiled, because I have to admit, it was pretty adorable to see a mini-person in a mini-veil.

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They were a little apprehensive about making friends at first.

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We considered going on to do the rest of Islamic Cairo, since all we’ve ever done is this first half from Bab al-Futuh to al-Azhar over and over and over again. I suggested to Andrew that the next time we do Islamic Cairo we taxi to Bab Zuweila, the gate at the south, because we have no idea where it is, and work our way up to al-Azhar instead of starting at al-Azhar and trying to find Bab Zuweila. There is no guarantee we would ever know if we made it to Bab Zuweila if we tried to get there from al-Azhar.

So that’s our plan for the next time we go to Islamic Cairo. We were all too tired to do the rest of the tour; Rachel, especially, needed a nap. She eventually fell asleep the last 10 minutes before we arrived home, which meant that that was her nap for the day. Oh, boy!

Turn right to go left!

Rachel spent Tuesday evening at the Lewis household so that I could go to my belly dancing class and Andrew stay on campus for his evening class. We met up there to pick up Rachel and stayed to chat for a little while. Sam was still up, kind of playing with Rachel.

They are both interesting to talk to because they are both completely obsessed with different movies. Sam loves the movie Cars. Rachel loves The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Both of them quote their favorite movies for half of their communication. For the longest time, Sam refused to say any color words. Everything red was Lightning McQueen, everything yellow was Luigi, everything green was Chick Hicks, etc.

So, while Rachel is dragging her chair up to the television screen so that she can hug it and stroke each character as they walk across the screen, it's almost guaranteed that Sam is singing along to the opening music of Cars. And while Rachel is dragging around her Pooh bears (one of which used to belong to Sam), Sam is most likely carrying his Lightning McQueen car around. It makes it very easy to leverage anything with either of them.

Rachel was a little sad about being at the Lewis' without Mommy at first, so Sara said, "Tut, tut! It looks like rain!" and Rachel broke out into huge grins. Every time she got sad after that, either Sara or Sam would say, "Tut, tut!" and everything would be fine again.

When I got there, Rachel and Sam were still competing for Sara's attention. They were each running for books and bringing them to Sara to see who would be the one to get to sit on her lap. During one of their running around sessions, Sam crashed into Rachel and knocked her over.

"Oh, no, Rachel!" Sam lamented, "Turn right to go left!"

The grownups didn't think that was a very good apology, so everyone started prompting Sam to apologize properly.

"So sorry, Rachel," Sam said. It comes out like, "So saucy, Rachel," which is kind of funny.

Then they gave each other a hug, kind of. Rachel was too busy screaming and holding onto me to reciprocate Sam's hug very well. She did manage to get one arm around him and pat his back a few times, which was a cute and well-meaning gesture, even though she screamed the whole time.

I thought it was hilarious that his advice on the whole situation was that, had she turned right to go left she wouldn't have biffed it in the first place. Too much television for those two, maybe...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Flashback Friday: We’ve got roaches

I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but I can’t think of anything but a disgusting post about bugs. That’s because it’s spring here. The only reason we can tell it’s spring, really, is because all the bugs are back. There have been flowers all year long, which I’ve enjoyed thoroughly, sunshine, and warmth. It’s difficult to tell the seasons apart.

Kind of like how in Alberta your four seasons are almost winter, winter, still winter, and road construction, here in Egypt we have almost summer, summer, still summer, and bug free.

I’m rather fond of the season without bugs. We still have mosquitoes, that’s true, but at least we were able to stop battling flies and cockroaches and ants for a few months. I knew the seasons were changing on Wednesday when we went to Maadi House and Rachel was fighting off the “bees” (read: flies) the whole time. They were swarming her face and she kept whining about them getting into her eyes. I don’t blame her for whining. They were really annoying.

And then…when I was making dinner last night I noticed a cockroach on the fridge. It was about the size of the fingernail on my pinkie finger. I made Andrew come in and kill it and then we went around and plugged up all the drains in the house because it doesn’t matter how clean you keep your house, they will still get in.

20090320 - 001We have these nifty little drains on our bathroom floors that open up to expose the drainage pipes that carry out our waste water, raw sewage, etc. Cockroaches live in these pipes. These pipes are connected to our toilet, bathtub, and sinks. If the cockroaches really want to get into our apartment, which they often do, all they need to do is climb up the pipes.

During “summer” and “still summer” we were absolute vigilantes about covering our drains to avoid another cockroach infestation. We waxed prideful during our “bug free” season and slacked off in our drain covering habits. Thus the reason I saw that nasty little cockroach on our refrigerator.

We’ve since reinstated our vigilantism and are completely anal about covering up our drains before we go to bed. It goes hand in hand with locking up our doors at night. We’re almost back in the habit, I think. Our only problem is that Rachel discovered the drain. It’s kind of hard to miss since it’s basically in the middle of our floor. I’m surprised it took her this long.

Her favorite thing to do is to take it off. That is my least favorite thing to do because it happens to be where all the cockroaches, especially the ones too big to climb through the other drains, await their opportunity to enter our apartment. Beside that, it’s really nasty down inside that hole, even without the ever-present cockroaches.

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This is a cockroach that we noticed last night when I asked Andrew to fix the lid so that Rachel would have a harder time taking it off. So gross.

He took off the lid, yelped, and slammed it back on again.

“There’s a huge cockroach down there.” He said, solemnly replacing the lid.

My human thirst for first-hand knowledge got the better of me.

“Show me,” I demanded, climbing into the bathtub just in case it was quick enough to crawl through the hole and…I don’t know…attack me. Somehow the bathtub seemed to be a safer place.

He slowly revealed the cockroach for me and, although it was still big enough to gape at, it wasn’t big enough to absolutely scar me for life. I’ve already been scarred by a cockroach in that drain and this little guy didn’t even come close in size.

When we first moved into our apartment we were battling both ants and cockroaches, constantly, and were still trying to get our house clean enough to be livable. It seems to me that instead of cleaning when you move out (as is customary in America…at least, it’s what I’ve always done) you clean when you move in here.

So, I was mopping the floors and mopping the floors, trying to get rid of the Cairo dust (it’s impossible…ever since Phyllis, who has lived here basically her whole married life, mentioned having dirt in her sheets we’ve decided that getting away from the sand and grime of the city and desert is virtually impossible). I was dumping the mop bucket down the handy little drain on our bathroom floor because that was easier than lifting it over the balcony railing.

One time I lifted the lid to dump yet another bucket of filthy water down the drain and saw the biggest cockroach I had ever seen. It was probably 2 or 3 times the size of the cockroach we found last night. It was huge! Probably a good 2 inches long, and fat.

I gasped (because I’m not a screamer) and aimed my bucket so the water would fall on the cockroach. I had hoped it would wash the cockroach away, but the cockroach stood its ground.

So I slammed the lid back down, screwed it on, and haven’t touched the lid since…at least, not until a few days ago when Rachel discovered how to take it off. Now I find myself constantly adjusting it to make sure it’s fully sealed. And it gives me the heebie-jeebies every time.

I still don’t know what I think they’re going to do to me, but the memory of having them crawling around my fridge and dropping on my head while I’m searching for ketchup is enough to make me sick to my stomach.

Also, the fact that I’ve lived with roaches long enough to be able to have roach flashbacks. Ugh…

As a side note, I have a theory that the cockroaches play an integral part in Cairo’s sewer system. If we got rid of all the cockroaches, I have a feeling that the sewers would be backed up all the time. They can eat their way through anything and can, likewise, survive almost anything. They are probably what keeps our running water running. Isn’t that a pleasant thought?

Luxor: Day 3, Karnak Temple (January 5)

Not wanting to get ripped off, we woke up early in the morning and stood on the corner by our hotel to catch a microbus. It took us a while to figure out how they worked, but eventually we decided they had no predetermined route and when one stopped by us we asked if it would take us all to the Karnak Temple for 5 pounds.

The driver was very willing. Later we learned that was because we had paid him double what the locals were paying. We were sure to only pay 50 quirsh each on the way home.

It was neat to take the microbus, though, because we got to see more of the Valley of the Sphinxes while we were driving. It really does stretch from the Luxor Temple to the Karnak Temple. We know because we saw it. A lot of it isn’t uncovered and/or is destroyed, but it was still really interesting to see.

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We saved the Karnak Temple for last because we were so impressed with it the first time we went to Luxor. It was the crowned jewel of our trip and we wanted to repeat that this time around as well. Unfortunately, we were less impressed this time around. We’d already seen so many other temples and things that I think we were a bit tired of the same old, same old. Karnak is also one of the more famous sites in Luxor and, therefore, is more expensive and more frequented, which is both unfortunate and fortunate. It’s unfortunate because you “have” to go see it and there are way cooler things to see. It’s fortunate because all the tourists go there, leaving the cooler places (like Madinat Habu) relatively empty. Karnak is always awash with people.

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All that aside, it was refreshing, once again, to be back to our old “stomping grounds,” so to speak. We “knew” our way around the complex better than at Madinat Habu so we could more quickly show David and the Schillings the cool sites—at least, the sites deemed so by both Lonely Planet and our previous tour.

We spent a lot of time in the colonnade, which is huge, and made sure to find the Holy of Holies, the sacred water pond, and the good luck scarab. Those, from what we remembered, were basically what we looked at the last time we were here.

Rachel pretended that she was the tour guide; she was always holding someone’s hand and dragging them along to find more stairs and other exciting things like that.

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But we all know that, of course, Andrew was the real tour guide and told us everything we needed to know (or at least everything that he knew). When we didn’t know what things were, or when Andrew’s infinite wisdom ran out, we’d listen in on other tour groups…

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IMG_0534In the Holy of Holies we found a rather interesting tour and tagged along for a bit, somewhat accidentally. Everyone in that group thought Rachel was adorable, and after we ran into them in several chambers they asked us if we wanted to join their tour. We declined, but it was nice of them to offer, even if they were only after more of Rachel’s smiles.

IMG_4873Near the end of our visit we ran into an Italian tour group that was completely blocking the way out. They were all huddled together around their tour guide, listening intently, and oohing and aahing. We couldn’t help but listen in again.

Andrew used his superb Italian skills to tell us that the blue line above David and Josh’s hands in the picture marks as high as the Nile would flood. I don’t know how they managed to use the temple during flood season. My gut instinct is that they probably didn’t use it…because that’s really pretty deep.

We found a statue that was missing a foot and took a picture, in honor of Patrick, who took pictures of his foot in front of famous places when he went to Ghana because I told him to be sure to take pictures of himself in Ghana. Andrew’s foot is relatively small compared to the gargantuan size of the statue’s foot.

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We did some other silly things, like sticking Rachel on top of ancient things, which we never got in trouble for…and pretending to make sacrifices on altars, which we did get in trouble for (which is why David looks so awkward on top of the altar—the guards were yelling at him). The guards are really quite biased over here. If you pay them, you won’t get in trouble. If you have a baby with you they encourage you to stick the baby on things for photo ops. If you’re an American, they’ll get you in trouble hoping that you’ll bribe them away. It’s an interesting (read: broken) system.

I simply can’t think of much else to say right now, and the pictures tell it so much better, so it’s going to be a little picture heavy for a while.

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I feel bad that I blasted Karnak at the beginning of my post. Obviously it really is worth seeing. It isn’t my favorite thing in Luxor, but it is worth seeing. It is huge, and popular, and filled with interesting hieroglyphics.

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And where else can you walk around a giant scarab statue for good luck? We couldn’t remember if you were supposed to walk around it 4 times or 7 times, so we all did 7 times just to be on the safe side. My favorite part was when some random Russian tourists (без tour guide, без guidebook) showed up, watched us walk around a few times, and joined in. I wonder if they had any idea what they were doing or why.

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Rachel also invented a new way of walking while we were in Luxor. She holds onto your hand and then bends over until she’s completely parallel to the ground and perpendicular to her legs. And then she’s full speed ahead. We crashed into so many things. It was impossible for either of us to keep our balance very well.

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We all had a great time and Uncle David was especially happy that Rachel had finally, finally warmed up to him enough to allow him to pick her up and carry her around a bit. She had a hard time trusting him the first few days he was here.

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And that, in a nutshell, was our visit to the Karnak Temple.

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