Monday, May 31, 2010

Al-Azhar Park

On Saturday afternoon we headed off to al-Azhar park for a final visit. Apparently we’re on a farewell tour of sorts—we need to find something new to do! Al-Azhar park is one of the most beautiful locations in Cairo but it’s such a pain to get to that we rarely go.

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Miriam conquers the stairs

Yesterday Miriam crawled up the stairs to the play area. Granted there are only two steps…but, still! She can’t even crawl on flat surfaces yet—she’s still just army crawling—so what in the world is she doing crawling up stairs?!

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It’s probably because that’s where all the (age-inappropriate, taboo) toys are kept. Anyone can do anything with the right motivation.

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Today she fell down the stairs for the first time. She was not happy about it but it didn’t stop her from trying again. She’s brave.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Islamic Cairo…again

We decided to go on an adventure today since we’re mostly feeling better and since Andrew has finished with all his coursework and everything. Of all places to visit we decided to go to the Khan. I don’t know how many times we’ve been there, but that old bazaar in Cairo is huge so there are plenty of places we’ve yet to explore.

First we found a brass shop called Three Crazy Brothers that our friends recommended to us. We really had no idea where to find it but everyone knew where it was and pointed us, surprisingly, in the right direction so we found it without a problem. 

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Danish Dessert

My family enjoys a Danish dessert called rødgrød. I don’t know why or how we got hooked on it, but I’m pretty sure my Grandma would make it and I know that my mom and aunt like to make it, too. Since we aren’t Danish and don’t actually know how to make it, we buy mixes from the store—Junket’s Danish Dessert. The Junket brand originated in Denmark so we feel pretty safe that our Danish Dessert comes with an authentic Danish taste. We drizzle it on cake, mainly, but it’s good plain, too.

I know you can buy it in Utah, but I don’t think you can buy it in California because I remember taking my Auntie Arlene boxes of it. I can’t remember if you can get it in Alberta, because I remember my mom being really excited about being able to buy it in Utah.

She even sent me a couple of boxes to enjoy while in Egypt and last night Andrew made up a batch.

He had never had it before marrying me, but he likes it. He had never made it before, so after dumping in the powder and adding the water and stirring it over the burner for a while he began to get a little nervous.

“Ummm…what’s supposed to happen?”

“It should get clear, kind of like instant gravy…”

“Really? Because it’s not doing that. It’s getting see-through.”

“Andrew, clear means see-through.”

I’d like to tell you that the conversation ended there, because that’s a pretty funny ending, but instead we talked semantics for the rest of the evening. While we enjoyed some rødgrød, of course.

Andrew argued that clear means colourless, not see-through, but as we can see from Merriam-Webster* it definitely also means see-through.

Entry Word: clear
Function: adjective
Meaning: easily seen through

Clearly clear means see-through. It’s, like, right in the definition. And like the words translucent and transparent, it implies an absence of cloudiness, unlike opaque. So, there, Andrew. Clear and see-through are synonymous.

* While trying to decide on the way to spell Miriam’s name, we never once considered Merriam. Maryam came up, and Miryam, and a few other traditional spellings, but never once Merriam. How cool nerdy would it have been to name our baby after a dictionary?

Driving

While riding home from al-Azhar park this evening, Rachel looked up at me and said, “I want to drive a taxi in Egypt.”

“Here we are,” I answered as smoothly the genie from Aladdin's lamp, “Driving in a taxi…and we’re in Egypt. Your wish is my command.”

“But I’m not driving!” she shouted.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Khamsin

This morning when I got up once I was greeted by a sickly, eerie orange glow streaming through our bedroom window instead of what I might normally expect at…excuse me while I fumble around to find the cell phone, which, yes, is in bed with us…six o’clock in the morning.

Sometimes people are shocked with how long I can “sleep in.” But seriously, folks, specifically those who have accused me of leisurely sleep-ins, mothers don’t have sleep schedules (at least, this one doesn’t, at least, not lately) and, therefore, cannot technically sleep in.

I got up at six, fed Miriam, and then went out onto the balcony to take pictures of the festering sandstorm.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Butterflies and ickies

A few nights ago we went to a farewell dinner for some friends who will be moving to Rwanda in a few weeks. Sister Knapp ordered Thai food, which I was excited about. Andrew wasn’t quite as excited about it because in Thailand people eat vegetables. I thought dinner was superb and it was fun to visit with some of the branch members.

Rachel was running around playing with her friends and having a great time. Then she ran over to me, said something, and started vomiting. She was on the couch so I lifted her off the couch while she was spouting out vomit and put her on the floor where she continued to vomit. It just kept coming and coming.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Two years, ten months, five days

Dear Rachel,

You, my friend, have been driving me crazy the past few months. Like absolutely bonkers, that kind of crazy. I’ve been using up all my patience on you and then some. Today I think I figured out why.

I think being an older sister is hard for you and I think that because today I took you out. Just you. And it was fine.

It was better than fine. It was great.

Seven Months

Dear Miriam,

You’re seven months old today and, frankly, you’re miserable. I’m sorry. Who knew seven months was such a hard age to be?

You hate that new tooth—you know the one. Bottom, front, left. It just broke through a day or two ago and I thought your mood would improve after that. But it hasn’t. You’re still not sleeping well and you spend most of your time trying to grind it away. I’m sorry, baby, but it isn’t going anywhere. In fact, you’re going to get more. It wasn't my idea, okay?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Homicidal Midnight Welder

Very late last night—at around 2:30 AM—we woke up to a loud grinding noise. Bright flashes of light filled our bedroom. Then everything went dark.

I grabbed Andrew’s hand.

“What was that?!” I whispered.

It didn’t help matters that we’ve been staying up far too late watching LOST.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bad guys, the captain, and other games

Rachel and Miriam befriended each other really fast. I don’t know how Bridget feels about it, but I think it’s awesome. Those two girls can colour at the table for hours and have been known to disappear into Rachel’s room all day playing make-believe or My Little Pony.

MIA

Why is it that babies always find the smallest things on the floor? Miriam is sitting with toys scattered all around her and what does she find? A teeny, tiny hair elastic. A hair elastic that I should have noticed and removed before I put her down. I believe it’s important to survey the scene a little before placing teething babies on the ground but at the same time, they are hard to keep up with.

We’ve been a little under the weather, so to speak, at our house.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Qalawun Complex and Sufi Dancers at the Khan

I ran out of steam the last few days that Amanda was here. We’ve been running around like crazy the past three weeks or so and it’s gotten so darn hot. Like on Sunday it was 117°F (47°C). That’s a little warm…at least, I think.

Saturday wasn’t terribly hot, though we barely managed to get out of the house by noon. We wandered around Dar es-Salaam for a while then headed back to the apartment to get the girls settled before I took off for the evening. Andrew stayed at home with Rachel and Miriam while I took Amanda and Josie to the Khan to watch the Sufi dancers.

We debated taking the metro and walking from there but at this point we were all still so sore from going inside the pyramid that we opted for the relative comfort of a cab ride and got to the Khan much earlier than expected. I led Josie and Amanda to Midaq Alley, which was alive and bustling with patrons.

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Well, perhaps not bustling. It is far too hot for any bustling, but people were lounging around drinking tea, smoking shisha, and playing backgammon.

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After finding Midaq Alley we still had too much time on our hands before the show started so we wandered around the Khan for a while.

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After wandering around for a while we found ourselves standing in front of the Qalawun Complex, quite near the Sabil-Kuttab of Katkhuda, and, much to my surprise, it was open. We have wandered past it so many times and it has always been closed. It was first closed in 2000 for renovations, but other times we tried to get in we were told they were filming inside and another time we were told something else. They always had excuses. We have tried to sneak in on more than one occasion and were consistently thwarted in our efforts.

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When I noticed that people appeared to be visiting the complex I got a little excited about it. Amanda and Josie both were less excited since they had already been when they went on an Islamic Cairo tour with Jaehee earlier in the week. I dragged them inside, anyway.

The madrassa was fairly typical but easily falls on the more ornate side of ordinary.

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My favourite part of the madrassa was the back courtyard. I’m not sure why. It just had a unique view of the mausoleum and minarets that we usually see from the street, I suppose.

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What’s impressive is that the entire complex—comprising of a madrassa (school), mausoleum, and maristan (hospital)—was apparently built in only 13 months. I did the math and I’m still confused. To quote from Wikipedia, “the complex was begun in 1285 by the Mongol Sultan Kitbuqa, who ruled only briefly, and was completed by al-Nasir in 1304.” Now, call me crazy, but I see a span of approximately two decades in there, which is substantially longer than 13 months. Is it possible that Ali Pasha Mubarak made an error in his Khitat? Or perhaps I am figuring the dates incorrectly. If the complex really was completed in 13 months it must have been quite a feat because the mausoleum is amazing.

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Sunlight was streaming through beautiful stained glass windows dancing red, blue, orange, and green lights across the marble floors and pillars.

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And every surface was absolutely dripping with lacey geometric motifs or gold plating.

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After vowing to return again with Andrew I was able to peel myself away from Qalawun in order to make our way to the Wikala of al-Ghouri for the Sufi dancing. We got there plenty early and enjoyed some pastries in the street while watching the feral dogs and cats run around.

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The doors open at 6:30 and we got there at around 6:10. We ended up getting seats on the third row and sat there for two whole hours while we waited for the show to start. It was a long wait, but worth it. The show is amazing—it has definitely moved from the “sacred” to the “spectacular” and the routine the troupe has worked out is a showpiece if I’ve ever seen one. Still, it is interesting to watch, and, having seen “actual” whirling dervishes, I can see that they still have some traditional elements in their show.

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I was thrilled to see that the older gentleman was back with the finger cymbals. He seems to be the backbone of the show and everyone seems to perform with more gusto when he’s on stage. The audience responds to him very well. He just does a fantastic job.

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Just for kicks I timed the spinners this time. The first dancer was spinning for just over 23 minutes. He was very expressive.

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The next set of dancers were spinning for approximately 15 minutes. I stopped timing when the dancers stopped twirling in circles even though they continued to twirl and toss their skirts for several minutes after that.

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When the performance ended half the audience sat around in stunned, muted silence for a while before filing out the door. It is a fabulous show but so incredibly loud.

We caught a taxi home and were greeted at the door by none other than…Bridget! Yes, yes, Hotel Heiss lives on.

Pekma for Wrold

We don’t do a lot of clothes shopping in Egypt and in case you were wondering why I brought photographic evidence of the things they sell here. Granted, if we were willing to fork out the money we could buy decent clothes, but we aren’t willing to pay much so instead we take pictures of the decently priced clothing and then giggle about them later.

While walking down the street in Alex we came across this shirt:

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It’s an absolute classic. In case you can’t read the poem at the bottom it says:

The wind lether
Remembers
aredienched in dix
The wind that know
wands the dow
know that my

Later the lether was drenched in the dilk. Basically we have no idea what message this shirt is trying to get across but it makes me want to steer clear of anything with random Chinese letters on it for the rest of my life. Aredienched in dix? What?

I took Amanda to Dar es-Salaam the other day so that she could see an authentic Egyptian market—as opposed to the Khan which is authentic and not at the same time.

We got to see some interesting things like donkey carts loaded with gas canisters…

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…and garbage being burned in the street…

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…and bloody handprints left over from eid al-adha.

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We also had to stop to browse through the baby section. I am pretty sure that is my favourite section of any store—sometimes I have to plan my trips to Target so that I don’t get anywhere near the baby section. Of course, that’s when we live in the States. Here I am much better at passing up on things.

Here we have a shirt featuring Juicy Fresn Fruits…

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…and a shirt explaining How Find SDecial Friend.

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So that’s why we rarely go clothes shopping for the girls in Egypt. That and because we’ve been so abundantly blessed with hand-me-downs.

The top reason I don’t go clothes shopping for myself here is that I don’t like to label myself.

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I don’t know if you can read that, but it says “Redneck Princess.” Not exactly something I would be bragging about…

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Possibly the cutest nightmare ever

Last night Rachel woke up screaming just before 2:00 AM.

“No! Don’t do it!” she screamed, “Don’t do it! Please, no!”

Andrew went in to see what was the matter. Rachel was awake enough to talk about things but was still terrified and half-asleep.

“My little sister is gone! Josie put her in the wrong train and she went the other way! Now I don’t have a little sister!” She wailed dramatically, “MIRIAM!!!”

Andrew tried to convince her that Miriam was sleeping in the other room, but she was so shaken up that she just kept insisting that her sister was gone.

Eventually he calmed her down enough that she was able to go back to sleep.

Quite possibly this is the cutest nightmare ever.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Alexandria with Amanda

As implausible as this may sound we planned a trip to Alexandria and successfully accomplished everything we set out to do without nary a hang up. Clearly this is nothing short of miraculous.

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We took the 8:00 AM train up to Alex and it arrived on time. We walked past the amphitheater to the Korniche and ate snacks while overlooking the Med. That’s short for Mediterranean. Andrew called it “The Med” so we called it that all day, too, partly to make fun of him and partly because we’re pretty tight with the Mediterranean.

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We hired a taxi to take us out to Pompey's Pillar and the Catacombs, which were quite a long walk from where we ended up on the Korniche.

Pompey’s Pillar was still big.

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It was rather sunny outside and I had neglected to grab one of Miriam’s sun hats so I fashioned a turban for her out of a burp cloth. She was stylin’ and still ended up getting a little sun-kissed. Every one got burned on this trip, actually.

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Last time we visited Pompey’s Pillar we looked at the pillar and then left without visiting the caves which are believed to have housed the overflow from the ancient Library of Alexandria.

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It’s always fun to see new things and since we all have strong library ties we all were far too excited to be down inside part of an ancient library—even if it was just the overflow section.

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If all goes according to plan Andrew will be back in the library ranks this coming fall semester.

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Perhaps one of my favourite things about this day was that right before we left the house Rachel ran over to her toy box, exclaiming, “Wait! I forgot my camera!”

She spent the entire day snapping pictures on this tiny, plastic, pink camera after commanding people to pose.

“'Mile!” she’d say. She always leaves the initial S off that word. Then she’d heavily sigh and lament, “Or not.”

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I think she picked that up from me because she never wants to smile for the camera anymore and usually ends up running away before I have a chance to snap a picture. Thus the “or not.”

From Pompey’s Pillar we headed up to the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, which are apparently sometimes found on lists of the Seven Wonders of the Medieval World. We went down without a guide this time and even took Miriam inside. Last time they were enforcing ridiculous rules like mandatory tour guides and no babies allowed. This time they merely confiscated all our cameras.

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My favourite part about the catacombs, besides walking on platforms and looking into the water-filled tombs, is the bas relief of the god Anubis wearing authentic Roman garb and sculpted in the traditional Roman posture. It’s so great.

The part of Alex that the pillar and catacombs is rather, as our taxi driver described it, شعبي. Shabby, or folksy, common, vulgar. That sort of thing. It’s a complete false cognate to shabby in English, which means ragged and poor. Shabby in Arabic doesn’t necessarily mean shabby in English, although it could since the neighbourhood was rundown and poor, in addition to being filled with commoners.

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Most of what we’ve seen of Alexandria has been very well-kempt, colourful, and clean. Much cleaner than Cairo, even in the shabby neighbourhoods.

Our next stop was the Fort of Qait Bey. We spent quite some time relaxing on the jetty. We bought a proper sun hat for Miriam and Josie stuck her foot in the water, which for some reason was a putrid reddish-brownish-green colour and smelled horrible. I blamed the oil spill. I was then informed that the gulf everyone is talking about is the Gulf of Mexico. This whole time I was thinking it was the Persian Gulf and couldn’t figure out why the United States was so concerned about it. Everything makes much more sense now.

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While we were walking from the jetty to the fort we lost Andrew and Josie. Amanda and I walked with the girls all the way to the entrance and then walked around to the side of the fort and then all the way back to the entrance and then back to the side of the fort before we found them. They had stopped to look at fake Rolexes. I don’t know how we missed them. one minute they were right in front of us and the next minute they were gone.

Rachel was running out of steam by this point in the day so I told her that we were actually visiting the Diamond Castle. We dodged cannon fire and hunted down bad guys while hiding from scary monsters and she ended up having a great time.

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Right inside the citadel is the “pout” of the reservoir. We are assuming that, like Rachel, they sometimes forget to stick the S at the beginning of their words.

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We’re actually not sure what it was because now it’s just a wind tunnel. We had some fun letting it blow our hair around.

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At the request of my adoring fans (ahem, Andrew) I pulled the Blue Steel look from Zoolander. I’ve never actually watched that movie but that’s okay because I'm pretty sure there's a lot more to life than being really, really ridiculously good looking.

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There were some veiled girls watching us goof off and one of them remarked that she wanted to do it, too, only she couldn’t because her hair was covered. They tried just sticking their face in the wind but somehow it’s less fun without hair.

We had fun exploring the castle once again. Rachel screamed. A lot. And shot several invisible bad guys.

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We tried to take a “couple picture” but Rachel decided to be in the picture with us. Now it just looks kind of awkward because it’s like a family picture, but without Miriam.

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Afterwards we had gelato at ‘Azza. And it was fabulous.

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They have lemon, orange, vanilla, or hibiscus. I had a scoop of orange and two scoops of lemon. It took me quite a while to convince the server that I wanted two scoops of lemon. I probably could have done with three scoops of lemon but the server really wanted me to branch out.

He wasn’t sure what the red gelato was—first he called it strawberry but when we asked for strawberry he said they didn’t have strawberry. They had grape. So we asked for that.

The cashier, who looked like he could have perhaps been the owner of the shop, informed us in Arabic that it was hibiscus but that they had no idea what it was in English so Amanda wrote the word out on a piece of paper for him and he practiced saying it a few times.

It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great. The lemon gelato, however, was. We found a few lemon seeds in it, which witnessed to its fresh, intense flavour. Rachel called it the “spicy” ice cream. It was so good. The orange gelato had bits of orange in it and was also good, just not as good as the lemon stuff, though Miriam seemed to think it was to die for.

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Our final tourist stop for the day was the Library of Alexandria so that Amanda could go and nerd-out inside. Josie went inside with her while Andrew and I stayed outside with the girls who tragically aren’t allowed inside.

But that’s okay because we visited the super-rad play area instead. Rachel was completely over stimulated. She couldn’t decide what to play on first and was running around in circles muttering to herself.

“Okay, okay! I will slide first then ride the car to the horse and…no! I will do the horse first and then ride on the bugs and…they have bikes?! *Squee!*”

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Unfortunately the play area closes at around 4:00 so we weren’t there for very long before they kicked us out. I still think that Rachel somehow managed to get on everything at least once. Miriam, on the other hand, slept most of the time so I just sat in the shade with her. She woke up right before we left. She didn’t even know what fun she had missed.

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We spent the remainder of our wait time enjoying the plaza. There is a sundial set up where you stand in a particular location and can tell the time with your own shadow.

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There’s the Death Star. It’s actually not the Death Star. We’re just not sure what it’s supposed to be.

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And there are reflection pools.

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Rachel wanted to get in the water so she started droning on and on about it. When I told her that she had to stop she looked up at us and yelled, “Well! Blue isn’t my favourite colour!”

She was quite argumentative about everything after that so when Amanda and Josie reemerged from the library we headed straight to linner. We ate at Taverna’s again because it really is a great restaurant as far as Egyptian restaurants go.

We had just enough time to make our way back to the train station before catching our train and heading home without any delays.

I’m still reeling from how well everything worked out. Every time we go to Alexandria we enjoy it more so I’m really glad we went back after the first time we went…that first time didn’t really work out so well…