Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cairo, the musical

I left the house for the second time this morning without any kids. It was nice to be able to teach yoga without having (my) children screaming, running around, and jumping on me while I’m trying to balance on one leg or pretzeled into a ball…at least when I’m teaching. Any other time it’s fine.

When I got home I found that Dad, Josie, and Miriam had all gone down for naps, that Andrew and Rachel had just woken up, and that we had no water. We weren’t too concerned since we had planned on spending the day at the pyramids and after waking everyone up and getting ready to go—without using any water—we headed out.

Surprisingly, we had a really good time today. The pyramids slowly start to lose their magic after you’ve been to them and dealt with all the vendors so many times. I think this is time number seven for us and we weren’t really expecting to have a great time. But we did.

Rachel happily pulled Grandpa and Auntie Josie around, showing them her favorite parts while explaining over and over again how much she hates camels. She strongly dislikes the beasts and won’t go near them with a 10-foot pole.

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She was also rather wary about climbing pyramids today so I stayed down on the ground with her while we watched everyone else climb up. After watching them do it, though, she decided that she wanted to so I helped her climb up a little ways.

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We also made sure to take some nice pictures of Miriam by the pyramids since she’s usually all tucked up in some sort of baby carrier and is hardly visible in any pictures. I figure that one day when I make baby books for my girls they’d appreciate having such pictures included.

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We walked to the second pyramid, the pyramid of Khafre, which was surrounded by new fencing in response to an incident earlier this month when a man climbed up the pyramid—the whole thing—and then got stuck on the top. The back of the pyramid was still open, though, so Josie and Dad climbed up a little bit, but not far enough that a helicopter had to come rescue them.

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Grandpa, Josie, Miriam, and I rode camels around for a bit while Andrew stayed with Rachel. It was Miriam’s first time on a camel—and for Grandpa and Auntie Josie as well.

I think we’ve developed a certain air about us that lets the locals know that, in our own way, we’re local, too, and we hardly got harassed at all. The guy we bartered with was actually quite easy to work with.

“Look,” he said, “I can tell you are from Egypt, so I am going to give you the Egyptian price. I’ll start at 100 LE.”

We told him that we thought his offer was ridiculous and got him down to 30 LE for two camels without even getting into much of a heated argument about it. There were a few catches along the way, of course, but we were able to placate our guides with candy instead of money. Also, since they were like 10 years old they were intimidated by Andrew and his negotiation skills.

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It was a pretty fun ride, all things considered. Grandpa had his own camel and Josie shared with Miriam and me.

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After riding the camel Miriam decided she was starving so we pulled aside to have a picnic of peanut-butter-and-jelly for those with teeth and breast milk for those without teeth. Then we played some more on the discarded, tumbled-down pyramid blocks.

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The saddest part of the whole trip was coming across a recently-deceased desert fox—a vixen, and a mother. We could tell because she was still swollen with milk. It almost makes me cry thinking about her poor kits, stowed away in a den somewhere out in the desert, wondering when their mommy is going to come home.

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But, moving on from morbid tales of death and subsequent  abandonment, we’ll get back to the pyramids. It warms my heart to see police officers astride camels—they’re like the Egyptian version of the RCMP.

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Even with the dozens of tour buses parked around the pyramids it wasn’t too crowded. In fact it was a beautiful day—not yet too hot with a refreshing breeze every now and again.

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At the very end of our trip we stopped by the Sphinx, which, contrary to popular belief, does not require an extra ticket to enter. When we were walking up the ramp to get to the Sphinx a tour guide was explaining that they used huge pieces of rocks and scored them to make them seem like they had used several equal-sized rocks instead. After explaining that she started counting them.

“One, uh, two, uh, three, uh, four, uh, five…”

And she touched each one as she went. All the way up to nine. Like somehow the perfectly intelligent group of people she was leading couldn’t count for themselves.

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On our way down from seeing the Sphinx we started counting the “bricks,” ourselves.

“One, uh, two, uh, three, uh, four…” we sang, mimicking the tour guide’s accent and touching the wall.

“Five!” an elderly guard chimed in, smiling with a toothless grin.

“Six!” a vendor called out as we walked past his makeshift stall on the floor of the hallway.

“Seven!” called out his friend.

“Eight!” a young girl hawking headdresses sang.

“Nine!” another vendor said, “And ten!”

“Very good,” I said, “And what comes after ten?”

“One-sixty-eight!” he answered.

We all started laughing. It was like one of those impossible scenes from a musical where everyone randomly starts singing the same song and doing the same dance. I mean, granted, we were only counting, but it was still rather hilarious.

Later I had a singing battle with a young vender who was trying to sell me some piece of junk or another.

“Laa, laa, laa!” I sang.

“Laa, laa, laa!” he answered.

And then we back-and-forthed like that for a while choosing different pitches and rhythms until we got bored, which didn’t take too long. We left the complex and found a cab to take home.

We had hoped that the water would be back on by the time we got home, but it wasn’t. So instead we all smelled like camels and desert and taxi cab all afternoon. I took a nap with Miriam and then we left to go on a felucca ride, still as stinky as ever. Luckily we live in Egypt and no one really cares what anyone else smells like here.

Since I was napping and no one else bothered to make dinner, we picked up some burgers and fries to eat on the felucca. You can’t get much more Egyptian than that…well, you could, but I don’t want my dad to starve while he’s here. He hasn’t been too fond of anything he’s tried so far—koshari, shawerma, tamiyya, couscous.

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The felucca ride was fun, and filling. It was too hazy to see a good sunset, but we still enjoyed each other’s company and the fresh Nile breeze. I’m going to post a whole bunch of pictures now…it’s late and because daylight savings begins tomorrow it’s technically even later, so I need to get to bed. But you can probably tell from the pictures that we had a good time without me having to say much.

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Rachel loves boat rides and wanted to spend most of her time sitting on the bow. I told her she had to have a grown-up with her since there is no railing to keep her from falling into the river so she was constantly pulling anyone who would go up the stairs to the front of the boat.

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This has nothing to do with feluccas, but Miriam has started to suck on her bottom lip so much that she is starting to get a little rash. I have no idea how to break her from this habit and I don’t even know if breaking the habit would help illuminate the rash since she drools so much, anyway.

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We finished off the evening with some shopping on Road 9, where Grandpa and Auntie Josie picked out a few gifts for some friends.

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We stopped by Sobry’s to pick up some papyrus copies of the facsimiles from the Pearl of Great Price. Sobry is hilarious and wonderful. He never quite recognizes us for who we are, even though we’ve been to his shop several times—he’s old and we can forgive him for that. He does, however, always know that we are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Ah, I know what you are looking for,” he said when he saw us, “I know you are looking for three very special things. Do you know what I am talking about? You will find them in a drawer in the back.”

We already knew this so we started walking into his store.

“Do you want to know how I always recognize the members of your faith?” he called after us, “It is in your eyes. There is something different about your eyes—a happiness and light—and I just know. Every time. I love working with your people!”

I think that is beyond wonderful because that is what the gospel is for me—happiness and light. And no matter what happens in our life—good or bad—that happiness and light are there through everything. Faith is a profoundly powerful thing.

By the way, the water was back on when we got home so I showered and I must say that I am very happy to no longer smell like a camel!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

PhD pitfall, a thesis, and a new plan

In a series of remarkable miracles I think we have some semblance of a plan for the next two years. After the crushing blow of not getting into any of the six PhD programs Andrew applied for, we sat down in shock to sketch some more-detailed fallback plans since the only plan B we had in mind at that point was “find a job…somewhere.” That isn’t a great backup plan, if you think about it, which we really hadn’t.

Andrew’s dad asked us to Skype him at our convenience so that he could help buoy Andrew up after this huge disappointment.

“Remember,” he mused, “I was rejected by more schools than you ever applied to.”

In which Auntie Josie totally biffs it

We took Grandpa and Auntie Josie on the metro today and I was sure to explain how to use the tickets properly. Put the ticket in, go through the turnstile, take your ticket, hold onto it because you will need it later to exit the metro…that sort of thing. They were very good pupils and followed my instructions to a tee.

When we were exiting the metro station to come home, though, Josie and Rachel had a little misadventure.

Andrew had exited first—we had caught up with some of the BYU students that are here with study abroad and he was chatting to them about finding apartments and so forth. My dad exited second. Josie, who was carrying Rachel, was next in line, and I was bringing up the rear with Miriam while talking on my cell phone to a friend.
No one is exactly sure how it happened, but somehow—be it by someone’s pocket or Rachel’s shoe—the turnstile awkwardly jammed against Rachel and Josie and they were unable to complete a graceful exit.

Josie put her ticket in the machine to release the bar and then proceeded to walk through before getting stuck. She had almost finished walking through when she jerked to a stop and started going backwards. Then she flipped—head over heels—over the bar, twisting midair to harbour Rachel from impact, taking the brunt of the fall on her left shoulder and back.

Workers on the other side of the turnstile—and my dad—rushed to help the girls off the ground while I just stared with wide eyes, stammering into the phone, from the other side.

“Yeah…I can be there at…oh, hey! Yikes… What? Oh. My sister just…wow. Ummm…she’s okay. Yeah. I’ll just be there at four.”

Rachel started screaming for me and ran back under the turnstile so that I could comfort her and I hung up the phone.

Josie had tears in her eyes but I think it was from more from  laughing than from crying. We were all busting up.

One BYU student, Jake, said this, “I turned around and there were just…legs in the air…”

Yeah. That about sums it up.

Welcome to Egypt

My dad and Josie flew in yesterday evening. I must be crazy because I let Rachel stay up so that she could see them—let’s just say that by 11:00 PM I was more than ready to send her packing to her room. She was running around singing and dancing and being crazy, but she was so excited that Bumpa and Auntie Josie were coming that I just didn’t have the heart to send her to bed before saying hello.

It was so weird to see Josie. Teenagers grow a lot. I hardly recognized her. I mean, I did, of course, because we’ve talked on Skype every week for the past two years, but I was shocked at how tall and, dare I say, womanly she’s become.

This morning we got up and ready to go by 8:30 AM, which is like a miracle in our house, and headed to the Egyptian Museum. It’s a short ride from Maadi. I say it takes a half hour. Andrew says it only takes twenty minutes. He has taken the metro to class weekly for the past two years so he’s more of the expert but he seems to always underestimate the time it takes to get places…at least when we’re dragging the girls along. I always tack on at least ten minutes.

They’ve closed off all the roads leading to the museum and make you go through a metal detector just to walk down the street.

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Then you have to walk through the gate, put your bags through an x-ray machine, and walk through another metal detector just to get in the front plaza.

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Then you have to purchase tickets at one counter and leave your cameras at a different counter before heading through the turnstile and yet another set of metal detectors and x-ray machines.

Can we say overkill?

IMG_5675Not only do they have machines do the checking, they also have people. The front plaza has undercover cops milling about all over the place. They’d be really effective as undercover cops, too, if it weren’t for the sharp suits that no regular Egyptian would ever wear…oh, and the guns sticking out of their back pockets. Other than that, though, they blend right in…

We got stopped on our way through the final leg of security and Andrew had to let them examine his backpack. After digging through it, they pulled out my dad’s camera.

“Ah-ha!” the guard said, vindictively waving our camera around to his coworkers and tourists surrounding us, “Aha! Aha! Aha! Aha!”

He was beginning to sound like  a Yip Yip. I realize he needs job validation, but seriously…I was getting annoyed.

“Aha!” I said, mimicking his derisive tone, “You caught us! Very good! One less dangerous item has been brought into the museum. Who knows what havoc we could have wreaked with that camera!?”

Which camera did they find? The camera that we had put into Andrew’s backpack in order to leave it at the camera counter. Unfortunately they refused to take Andrew’s backpack so he just put it back on his back after handing them our other cameras, forgetting that we had put my dad’s camera inside. So he had to walk back out through security, leave dad’s camera and then walk back in through security. It was a hassle, we weren’t planning on using the camera, and we tried to give it to them once already….

And then the museum was full of tourist groups and that was annoying, too. Clearly I am not in the best of moods today…

But other than that, it was fun. Today hippos were standing out to me for some reason. I saw them everywhere. It was kind of humorous. One of King Tut’s funerary beds had posts featuring really funny-looking hippopotamodes and I saw a few stellar statues of  a god that I’m guessing might be Set, with a body of a human but a head of a hippopotamus.

We did a whirlwind tour, trying not to bore the girls or our guests, and ended up back in the garden before noon where we were free to enjoy snacking and camera privileges.

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Looking toward the Nile from the Egyptian Museum we saw the Cairo Tower and thought we’d visit it since we hadn’t been there before. It’s kind of like the Space Needle or the CN Tower of Egypt.

We weren’t quite sure how to get there so we caught a cab and took it across the bridge and then decided to just walk the rest of the way because it looked so close. Unfortunately we walked to the back of the tower so we had to turn around and walk all the way around the block to get to the front of the tower.

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On our way we stopped by an tree that was planted in 1868. It’s a banyan tree of sorts, with roots growing down from the branches to the ground. I think these trees are so interesting.

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The Cairo Tower looked rather interesting, too. Some of our friends went up a while back and posted pictures of the view, which looked amazing, even with all the city smog. Did you know, though, that it costs 70 LE to go up the tower? Yowzas. That’s per person and there are no student discounts.

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Did you know that it costs only 60 LE to go to the pyramids? And, really, what would you rather do? It would have cost $50 for all of us to ride in a big elevator and that didn’t really seem worth it to us so we were essentially grounded.

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Tired and dejected we decided to cross back over the Nile in search of food. This time, we walked.

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Walking across the Qasr al-Nil Bridge is always a treat. We noticed Hotel Sheperd, which was mentioned in Birds of Passage, and enjoyed looking out over the Nile.

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For some reason Rachel has this intense fear of falling into the Nile so while we were looking out over the water she started explaining to me how she would have to swim up to the top of the water if she fell in. She talks with her hands.

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We stopped once we were across the bridge so that I could take care of some necessities for Miriam. I asked Andrew to hold the front carrier for me. So he did.

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We ate at Felfela, which is a cheap local  joint, but much better than Arzak. We also walked down to al-Abd to get some ice cream before heading back to the metro.

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Everyone was sufficiently worn out by the time we arrived home, although the girls didn’t settle down for their naps until several hours later when I left to go tutoring. Without them. For the first time. Ever.

That? Was an amazing experience.

Four months of consecutive Bring-Your-Kids-to-Work days were beginning to take their toll on my sanity and I don’t think I’ve left the house without Miriam ever (okay, one time when I went visiting teaching next door for like twenty minutes I left her with Andrew because he happened to be home) so this was amazing!

Hooray for family!