Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sobri and Moudy's shops

The felucca ride we had planned on going on yesterday ended up being rather inconvenient for everyone involved. One by one, everyone we had invited bailed out on us, so we eventually decided to cancel. There’s a cold of sorts going around, people are battling Pharaoh’s Revenge, it was a school night…need I go on? We’ll have to try another time.

Not knowing what to do, we decided to follow the example of the Sharps and clean our apartment. We’re still not completely unpacked and moved in yet—we’re doing it slowly, as we clean things. Our kitchen is taking a long time because of the roach infestation. Sara got some Borax for us, so we put some of that around, and then, while we were cleaning last night Sister Barton brought by some “Combat” roach traps as a housewarming gift.

That’s one of the benefits of living in a branch, I suppose. You tell one or two people about a problem and the next thing you know, everyone’s taking care of you!

After Sister Barton left, we decided to take a trip downtown. We’d put up most of the pictures we’d brought, but we needed frames for a few more pictures. Even with all our little bits of “home” up on our walls they were still unbearably naked. We decided to find Sobri, a man who sells copies of the facsimiles from the Book of Abraham.

We had a rough idea of where his store is—the Spencers left a map for us with a number of stores circled and his was one of them—and we needed a few more household items (like a laundry basket because no matter how hard I try I always drop an article of clothing or two on the ground while I’m putting the wash out to dry and then they get all covered in dust and have to be washed again) so we set out for Road 9. Yet again.

We ran into a little pack of dogs that really freaked me out. They were barking at everyone and running around the street. I panicked, jumped behind Andrew, and grabbed onto his shirt. I knew the only way I’d keep walking was if he was pulling me along. (Have I mentioned that I can’t stand dogs? Rachel can’t, either. She cries when we’re inside and she hears them barking outside).

A nice Egyptian man on a bicycle saw my embarrassing display of cowardice and yelled at the dogs.

“Halas!” he yelled at them.

Somehow he was able to get control of them and he waved us on, holding the dogs off. I thought it was very nice of him to notice how terrified I was and to do something about it.

Our first stop was our favorite store—Moudy’s. They have everything there. We got a laundry basket, some hand towels and a few other essentials. We forgot a vegetable peeler. Yet again.

Then we set out to find Sobri’s. We had no idea what his store was called, but there’s a little trinket store across from Moudy’s. I suggested that this was Sobri’s store, but Andrew said it was too far down Road 9. After wandering around for a while and seeing nothing we ended up back at Moudy’s.

I convinced Andrew to ask the man at the trinket shop if he knew where Sobri was. He had some papyrus on display in his window so chances were that he’d know other papyrus sellers.

“I’m looking for a man called Sobri.” Andrew told the man (in Arabic), “Do you know him?”

“I’m so sorry,” replied the man, “I knew him. He was my friend. But he died.”

“God rest his soul,” Andrew said solemnly.

Much to his surprise, the man burst out laughing.

“Just kidding! I am Sobri! Do you want the ‘3 in 1’ or the ‘1 in 3’?’”

He took Andrew back to some drawers and pulled out the facsimiles. Aside from the fact that Andrew was wearing a BYU t-shirt, I’m not sure how Sobri knew we were LDS or that we were looking for the facsimiles. We ended up getting the “1 in 3” (three separate sheets of papyrus, each with one facsimile on it), all three for 50 LE (the “3 in 1” sells for the 35 LE). That’s a much better bargain than the papyrus we bought down in Luxor a couple of years ago.

I suppose Sobri’s shop is less of a tourist trap than the shop we visited, and Sobri has a pretty steady stream of customers looking for the facsimiles. He definitely found himself a lucrative business niche.

So, now we’re 50 LE poorer, but our walls look a little less lonely. And we still had plenty of time left in the evening to keep working on our kitchen. We set up the cockroach traps, cleaned out another set of cupboards so that we get our dishes off our couch, and even managed to play a stellar game of Scrabble before calling it a night. I kicked Andrew’s trash (yet again).

Friday, August 29, 2008

Adventures in Zamalek

Campus has been “open” to Andrew for a week and he’s been going in everyday to get some administrative detail taken care of. It’s all been very confusing, actually. He’ll go and stand in line for hours only to be told that he doesn’t have this form or that form or that they’re only serving undergraduates that day. We have most everything taken care of now, though.

Rachel and I joined Andrew yesterday morning on his way to school. We took off a little late because we’ve developed a slight case of Pharaoh’s Revenge so we weren’t feeling too well, but we decided to brave the city anyway. We stayed with Andrew on the Metro until Sadat and then continued on to Opera, by ourselves. I couldn’t find the women’s car so I just joined a group of women and pushed onto one of the public cars with them. We only had to go one stop, so it really wasn’t bad.

And then we were off to explore Zamalek by ourselves. Getting directions in Cairo can be difficult. We typically take a poll and will ask several people before taking their directional advice because, often, people will tell you which way to go, even when they have no idea. We have a pretty intense mathematical equation for getting an answer. Basically we take the most popular answer and ignore all the rest.

I, of course, was lost the minute I stepped off the Metro and started asking for directions immediately. I was pointed in a number of ways: across the street, down this street, up that street. A few people even said that they didn’t know. I couldn’t get an “average” answer, so I just guessed and started walking.

I guessed wrong. Rachel and I ended up walking up Al Gezera street, up into Zamalek, and all around the island. My Arabic is lacking, to say the least, so this is how I’d ask for directions:

“Please, where is Ulm Kathom?”

Laugh all you want. I couldn’t find the main street of the Island. I suppose what’s even more laughable was that no one could really help me find the main street, either. The best directions I received were when I was too far away from the Metro to matter, but they were good directions, and I found Ulm Kathoom Street.

We were looking for a place recommended as a “child-friendly activity.” Always on the same place on the map, it hides under a number of names but usually is known as “Fish Garden.” Sometimes they tack the word “aquarium” on the end of it. So I was, naturally, expecting an aquarium of sorts.

When we found the park, which, by the way, is incredibly easy to find if you head off in the right direction from the Metro, it wasn’t an aquarium at all. It was more like an arboretum, similar to the beautiful Palmen Gartens that my mom and I visited in Germany, but much less nice. Still, it cost us only a pound to enter (and a pound for the privilege of taking my camera in) and it had some nice patches of grass to play on.

There were children everywhere, playing soccer and lounging on the grass. Rachel and I stopped on one of the lawns dedicated to lounging so that I could check her diaper. I started unloading the diaper bag (a blanket for her to lie down on, a diaper, wipes, a plastic bag to carry the diaper home in) when Rachel saw the water bottle I’d been lugging around. It was a hot day and she wanted a drink, so I gave her a sip and then put the bottle down beside the diaper bag and continued to get Rachel ready for a bum change.

A teenage girl walked up to us, picked up our water bottle, opened it up, took a swig, thanked us, and walked away.

I had completely forgotten that anything left in the open is public property.

It was upsetting to me that this complete stranger had used our water bottle, especially because there was no place to buy water inside the park, but I couldn’t really berate the girl. After all, I’m here in her world so I can’t expect her to live by my idiom. Still, I wish she would have chosen someone else’s water bottle.

Rachel and I left that spot and began wandering around the park. We’d only looked at a few trees and flowers before Rachel lost all interest and began a wonderful temper tantrum. She wanted the crackers she had seen in the diaper bag, so I pulled those out and gave her one.

While she ate that we wandered around for a bit, trying to figure out why it was called “Fish Garden and Aquarium.” We found some fish, but we never did find the aquarium.

I think that like 50 years ago the park was a nice, pretty park with fountains and beautiful statues. Now, though, the statues are covered with the same layer of grime that covers the rest of downtown Cairo and the fountains are all dry.

We gave up our wandering when we got too hot to walk around anymore. We found a park bench, sat down and pulled out our water, only to remember that a random person had taken a drink out of it. I discreetly pulled out the hand sanitizer and a baby wipe and gave it a little wipe down before offering Rachel a drink. She happily guzzled it down.

A little boy walked up to us while we were enjoying our cracker rations. I no longer was drinking the water, since it had about equal parts cracker after Rachel’s last sip. He was bigger than Rachel and a little aggressive—he walked right up to her, tried to take her cracker, and then pushed her.

His mom rushed up. I thought she was Arab at first because she was veiled but she got after him in Russian instead of Arabic.

“Nilzya!” she told him.

“You speak Russian?” I asked her in Russian.

She did. Turns out she’s from Moscow. We sat on a bench together and talked together while her boy, Daniel, picked on Rachel. He’s 1 and a half years old. She gave me wonderfully elusive answers to my questions, as Russians are prone to do (from my experience, anyway). Basically, she lives on Zamalek. She’s been here for 5 months. She doesn’t work, but stays home with her baby. Her husband is either back in Russia or she doesn’t have one. She was extra-elusive about that so I didn’t press.

When I asked her why she was here she answered that she is here “to live.” Upon further questioning she said that the climate is nice, whereas Moscow’s climate is horrible. Not exactly the answer I was looking for, but I suppose if I had the choice between Cairo and Moscow, I’d choose Cairo (at least for the winter).

Yup, that’s about all she told me. Oh, and her name is Sofia. And she’s 25.

We spoke mostly in Russian, which was nice. Usually people will switch to English for me because they assume, because I’m American, that my Russian/Arabic/whathaveyou is less understandable than their English.

Our landlord does that. He’ll speak in Arabic and Andrew will understand what he says, but sometimes, like if Andrew tries to clarify anything, he’ll switch to English. It comes out kind of like this.

“Phone garden cut. Bad. I bring engineer. Good.”

That means, I’m guessing, that our phone line was cut outside of the building for some reason. Obviously that's bad. So the landlord brought a phone-dude (engineer, I suppose) to fix it, which is good.

How nice that Sofia found my Russian to be sufficient and let me speak it. I haven’t spoken Russian to anybody in so long! It was fun.

Soon, though, she decided it was time to go so I followed her out of the park because I had no idea how to find the entrance gate again. She took off with Daniel in one direction and Rachel and I headed back to the Metro in the other direction, following Ulm Kathoom (a much easier way than the way we took before). Rachel threw a fit and screamed almost the whole way there (45 minutes). She and I had a midair wrestling match, which I found exhausting.

People kept staring and giving me advice. Cover her head, give her some water, blah, blah, blah. I ignored most of it (except I did give her water, frequently) until we met Daddy at the Metro. Then I thrust her into his arms and said I was finished.

She continued to scream the whole way home, except for when she was happy, but those moments were fleeting. She did play on the rings for a while, which she thought was exceptionally fun, and she played some games with a man (he kept trying to grab her hand with a book he was holding), which she thought was exceptionally funny.

Other than that she screamed the whole way. People kept giving us advice. Mostly just to give her water, which we were trying to do, but Rachel kept rejecting the warm, cracker infested water.

As soon as we got off the Metro we rushed to a kiosk and bought a nice, cold bottle of water. Rachel drank veraciously. We were both so exhausted when we got home that we fell asleep for a nice nap, covered in soot and grime and sweat.

I’ve been sneezing ever since getting back from Zamalek. I am so glad we don’t live there. It isn’t exactly unpolluted in Maadi, but compared to Zamalek it is cleaner than clean here. Seriously, the chain link fences in Zamalek are covered in a layer of grossness about a centimeter thick. It was so dirty. My face was so dirty just from walking around for a few hours that I had clean streaks from sweat running down. Gross, yes…

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Out in Maadi

The first time I venture outside alone in a new situation is always something I consider to be a great accomplishment. Three such moments stand out in my mind. There was the first time I went outside in Al-Husn and had a wonderful time in the Arab countryside. Then there was the first time I went outside in Amman and took a taxi by myself, speaking Arabic to the driver. Lastly, there was the first time I went outside after Rachel was born. We walked all the way to the mailbox and back and it just about killed me.

All three occasions took a good amount of bravery on my part, I think. I was terrified of living in the Middle East on the first two occasions, and so even thinking about going outside without Andrew was traumatic. And after Rachel was born, I was so sore I could hardly sit down, let around walk, so braving the stairs was difficult.

Well, today, Rachel and I went for a little discovery walk while Andrew was at school. It didn’t take nearly as much guts as going outside in Amman did—perhaps because I can hide behind Rachel here. I know people are staring, but I can pretend that they’re just staring at her (which they probably are).

Yesterday night I made wonderful plans to take the Metro into downtown with Andrew in the morning and walk Rachel to the aquarium…however, Rachel decided to wake up at 2 AM and scream for an eternity, so instead we ended up sleeping in and lazing about all morning. And I do mean all morning.

Instead of that grand adventure—which would have required riding the Metro alone—we just went for a little walk to Road 9. Rachel’s been a little bored lately and I just figured out that it’s probably because we left the majority of her toys at home. She has a little set of blocks from Ikea, a stacking tower, finger puppets, books, books, books, and several random little things that we could fit in the suitcase. But there’s nothing “task-oriented” to take up her time.

So we went on a little shopping spree to that little store we like. I should probably learn the name of it someday so that I can tell you what it is. On the way Rachel played on some newly manicured lawns, and we stopped at some interesting trees.

We looked at a lot of toys at the store. Rachel wanted to buy a game of UNO, but I told her to put it back because it wasn’t a baby toy. This made for a lovely temper tantrum. Quite an embarrassing one, really, because all the workers in the store—all of them male—ran over and crooned to Rachel about this and that, trying to make her happy. I have no idea what they were saying, but it didn’t work and Rachel continued to scream and make a fool of herself on the floor while I rolled my eyes and tried to maintain my patience.

Finally, her temper subsided and we were able to choose one puzzle with zoo animals and a push train. Hopefully these will help to keep Rachel entertained a little better.

We met up with Daddy on his way home from school, and he was able to fill me in on all the latest gossip. He’s been checking my email for me…

So congratulations to Michelle and Andy on baby boy Robinson. You should name him Robby. Just kidding…but if you still haven’t named him by the time I get to a computer with internet, I’ll try to give some real suggestions. And congratulations to Marquita and Daniel for having #2 on the way!

PS. Esther, Robby is a fine name. I just think Robby Robinson would be a silly name.

Walk to the Nile

Yesterday we took a walk to the Nile. Andrew was home in the morning and he looked at me flirtatiously and said,

“Would you like to take a stroll to the Nile, my dear?”

I think he’s been wanting to say that for quite a while now. At least since December. With all the time he’s had to run through the line in his mind, you’d think it would come out sounding a lot cooler and a little less lame than it did. But that’s the way it came out, so I accepted the invitation. After all, it was better than asking me about my scripture marking system.

So, we set off walking. The nice thing about rivers is that they’re relatively easy to find. All we had to do was cross the Metro tracks. Having already passed by the obvious staircase, we hunted around for another one. According to one of our maps, there was a staircase right beside a little shop we frequent. When we got there, however, there wasn’t any sign of a staircase.

Andrew was ready to keep walking on our side of the tracks, so I decided to be the brave, exploratory person of the relationship. We like to flip flop our roles. When I’m not brave, Andrew is. When he’s not, I can be. I kept walking, carrying Rachel. Andrew stayed put.

Just behind the store was a little alleyway and…a set of stairs. I waved at Andrew to follow. He called me his “brave, little wife,” which isn’t much in the way of a compliment, but I have to remember that I’m married to Andrew, so I take what I can get.

The other side of the tracks seemed wild and crazy to me at first, but I think that’s just because I hadn’t been there before. When we first arrived in Maadi the traffic scared me and I could barely cross a street without panicking. Now I’m fairly comfortable in our neighborhood, but still get antsy when we go somewhere unfamiliar, like the other side of the tracks.

We came to a traffic circle with like 5 lanes of cars, at least, all trying to push around the circle and Andrew tried to make me cross the street there. I refused and made him cross the street a little further up where the traffic had thinned out.

After walking for a while longer, we caught our first glimpse of the Nile. It was beautiful, as always. There were a bunch of restaurants hogging the good view, so we walked farther down the shore, passing several felucca docks and getting a beautiful view of the Nile.

It was there that we met Hanni—the Captain of the Paris—who wanted us to take a felucca ride right then. We talked with him for a little while, and in the end convinced him that we’d come back later. Andrew had to go to school in a few hours, and we’d feel silly being a big felucca with only our small little family. Besides, we weren’t in a haggling mood that morning, as evidenced by the .5 L water bottle that Andrew purchased for 1.5 LE.

Who’d have thought that we’d ever live within walking distance of the Nile? It’s only about a 20 minute walk out our front door. There’s a nice-ish walkway along stretches of the Nile not taken up by hotels and restaurants, where you can look out across the massive river. Rachel wanted to jump right in and swim and was very upset when we didn’t let her. So upset, actually, that she screamed halfway home.

I think we’re entering the “terrible twos” a little early. Rachel has started these terrific tantrums where she screams so long that she doesn’t know what she’s screaming about and, if she happens to be standing up, will throw herself on the ground dramatically and roll around kicking her legs and flailing her arms. It’s great.

And to think she thinks that if she does that she’ll get her own way. Fat chance.

“Oh, yes, Rachel, by all means, throw yourself into the Nile. Since you screamed so politely…”

We're still alive

Sorry for the long delay between posts and the utter silence from our end in the comments. Right now we're internet gypsies, borrowing the internet at the Cannons, Sharps, and Lewises (Thanks guys!), using McDonalds' free wireless, and using random, spyware infected computers at AUC (what I'm doing right now. Thank goodness for Portable Firefox!)

We're still alive and well here in Egypt. We should have internet soon . . . maybe. Our phone line is still cut, so we still have to get our landlord to fix that before we can start the process of getting DSL.

We still have no idea what's going on with our bawwab. I haven't seen the new guy for a couple days now. Hmm...

We walked along the Nile yesterday. Big river.

Our ants have all but disappeared. Cockroaches have replaced them. We're trying to find boric acid, but they use it as medicine here - it comes as a lotion for irritated eyes. When I explain that I want it in powder form to kill cockroaches, I'm laughed out of the pharmacy. Anyone know where to find boric acid as powder in Cairo?

Orientation and bureaucracy continue at AUC. I've spent the past 3 days trying to get a campus e-mail address, pay tuition with my fellowship, get my ID card, register for classes, and do everything else I need. So far I've only gotten an e-mail address and it only partially works. I'm sitting in line (for the second time this week) for my ID card. Ugh.

So, that's a quick update from the Heisses in Egypt. Thanks for all your comments and questions - keep them coming and we'll try to get them answered, most likely from McDonalds :)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Rachel Pictures

For those of you back home who are missing the many faces of Rachel, here are a few from dinner last night:

Oh, it's empty

And here's her infamous "I don't know," or "What?" pose. Since she's started pulling this, she's stopped shaking her head "yes" or "no," which is kind of frustrating. But the pose is so cute, we can't help but love it!

Get smart!

We are slowly getting a routine around here. Slowly, but surely.

Last night we made grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner, using Laughing Cow cheese and oil instead of real cheese and butter.

Andrew struggled to open the oil container, though. He set it down on the counter and announced gruffly,

“You’re in charge of opening the oil. It’s impossible!”

I looked at the oil, pulled a little strip of plastic off and popped the lid off.

“How’d you…?” Andrew started.

“I’m just smart,” I said, showing him the label of the oil. Just a woman’s touch, I guess.

My favorite part is that Andrew is wearing his BYU Alumni shirt. He’s one of the newest alumni, you know. Oh, and did we mention that Andrew will probably be tutoring some kids in math. He’s actually pretty good at math, just not opening oil bottles. We hope he won’t be teaching from this textbook:

Rachel, we know, is going to be smart because she already reads reference books. We were scrambling to get ready for church on Friday and I couldn't find her reverence book anywhere.

"Where's her reverence book?" I asked Andrew.

"Uhhh...she doesn't have one..." he said after thinking for a minute, "Unless you mean her Russian picture dictionary...I guess that's like a reference book..."

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

"What are you talking about?" he questioned back.

"I want to find her reverence book."

"She doesn't have one."

"Yes, she does. You know, the book with pictures of Jesus and things..."

"Oh! Reverence book! I thought you said reference book. I have no idea where the reverence book is."

We left for church without her reverence book, but found it later that afternoon tucked away in a drawer with some other random items. Our house isn't baby proof yet, obviously...

Sleeping Beauty

While Andrew was out at Sunday School this evening, Rachel fell asleep while nursing. She hardly ever falls asleep in my arms anymore, so I held her for a while instead of putting her to bed.

She was holding still so nicely, I decided to do her hair. All I can manage when she is a awake is a quick ponytail, if anything, but I’ve been tempted to try more elaborate things because her hair is so long!

Tonight’s do: a French braid.

An open letter to the electric ants

Dear Cairene Ants,

There is a garbage can located in the stairwell. The tenants of each apartment faithfully empty their trash into the aforementioned can. It is full of delectable items, almost too good to describe:
Empty yoghurt cups, banana peels, peach pits, milk bottles, juice containers, and countless other various food scraps.

Yours, at absolutely no cost to you! It’s a smorgasbord of a deal.

If this does not appeal to your palate, try the streets. Have you looked at the streets here lately?
Chip bags, soda cans, apple cores (all the more!)…

All this and more, free to you! Act quickly (and organizedly).


The Heiss Family

PS. Stay out of our kitchen, you nasty little creatures!

PPS. And forward this on to your cockroach friends!

The bawwab conspiracy

Pretty much every apartment in the Middle East has a porter, or bawwab, who takes care of the physical aspects of the building. He cleans the stairwells, waters the lawn, cleans the tenants’ cars, carries heavy groceries up the stairs for you, and is generally an all around nice guy. The bawwab lives on site in a small apartment in the building or in a garage next to it. He generally knows the ins and outs of the apartment and neighborhood. In fact, the standard way of finding an apartment in the Middle East is to find a neighborhood you like and start talking to the bawwabs to see if there are any vacancies.

Our bawwab in Jordan was a nice, quiet Egyptian migrant worker who sent his low salary back to his family every month. He was never intrusive; he just did his job. Awesome guy.

Hussein, the bawwab at the church building here, probably has the easiest job on the planet. He doesn’t have tenants—the church owns the entire building. He mows and waters the lawn and cleans up the place after we’re done with church on Fridays. He’s the happiest guy ever.

When we were being shown all the different apartments last week (one week from today, actually), Reda, our real estate agents, would get the keys to each of the apartments from the bawwabs. When he showed us the apartment we eventually rented, he got the keys from a man named Khaled, who seemed to be the bawwab. He seemed really excited to have us move in to the apartment and talked up both the apartment and his services as bawwab.

When we came back the next day to pick up the keys, he was there, excited as ever. He followed us into the apartment and just kind of stood there. I asked him what he wanted and he informed me that he wanted to make a special agreement, “just between you and me” (bayni wa baynak)—whatever that meant. I was too concerned about getting him out of the place so we could see what we needed to buy, so I just shooed him out, telling him we’d talk about it in the evening when we thought we’d bring our suitcases by.

We didn’t end up moving over until Tuesday, so I totally skipped our “secret meeting.” We kept stopping at the apartment throughout the day to drop off cleaning supplies and household stuff we needed and never saw him doing his bawwab work.

That evening, President McCallister drove us over. His helpful bawwab helped us load up his car, which was great—he didn’t even ask for a tip, or baksheesh.

When we got to the apartment with the loaded car, Khaled was there. He helped us unload the car and carry everything up. He then waited in our apartment anxiously, saying he needed to talk with me about “our agreement.” He was disappointed when I told him “No, not yet.” We had to run over to the church to grab a few things left over from previous American families (dishes and stuff), and Hussein cheerfully helped us load up the car while we were there.

Upon returning with the kitchen stuff, Khaled impatiently helped us unload one more time and again stood there waiting in our apartment. I had already forgotten about our imminent deal, so I reached into my wallet, grabbed 2 pounds (like 40 cents)—a normal sized tip for a helpful bawwab—and handed it over.

He refused and looked gravely offended. He said that that was way to cheap for such a fantastic bawwab. He then reminded me of our deal, saying that since he was an amazing bawwab and guard, I could/should pay him something so he would take extra good care of me and my family.

Each tenant in the building pays a monthly fee to the bawwab—in our building it is 25 pounds (5ish dollars). I told him that we already pay him and he again refused, saying that this special payment of mine was a one-time-only deal. Confused, I upped his tip to 5 pounds, hoping that would be enough to get him out of the house.

Again, he refused, and acting hurt told me about his great bawwab services. I upped the ante to 10 and once again he refused.

It took 5 more minutes to finally get the price up to 50 pounds ($10). He then left, happy, promising the best bawwab service ever, even saying that he would clean our balcony in the morning.

The landlord came later that evening to collect rent and I broke my apparent “secret bawwab deal” and told him about it. He was outraged that his bawwab would steal from his new tenants. He said that he’d take care of it as soon as possible. Early Wednesday morning, he actually called me again to confirm that the bawwab had really taken 50 pounds from us.

We haven’t seen Khaled since Tuesday night when we paid him.

In fact, until yesterday there was no visible bawwab for our building. The stairs still got cleaned, the trashcans got emptied, cars got washed, but not by Khaled.

Finally this evening, on my way to Arabic Sunday School, I met the mystery bawwab, Ibrahim—a younger guy with a small family who lives with him in the little garage. I was in a hurry so I unfortunately couldn’t ask how long he had been our building’s bawwab, but when I asked if he was the bawwab he looked at me like I was crazy for not knowing already.

This brings us to our bawwab conspiracy theories:

1. Khaled was never the bawwab all along. He was some random guy that saw that we were potentially moving in and became a bawwab-imposter. He put on a great show until he got our money. Then he ran. However, how did he get the keys if he wasn’t the actual bawwab? If Ibrahim has been the bawwab all along, was he in on it, or was he gagged and tied down in the garage?

2. Khaled was the bawwab, took too big of a gamble, we squealed, and he lost his job. Ibrahim was brought in as a replacement by our angry landlord.

3. Khaled was the bawwab, got our money, and ran. The landlord hasn’t taken care of the situation yet (he’s on a business trip right now), and when he comes back, humble Ibrahim will get the brunt of the landlord’s wrath. Maybe I should check with Ibrahim to make sure he doesn’t get fired.

4. Khaled works for the FBI/CIA/Mossad and was using us as pawns in some megaglobal conspiracy involving Interpol, China, some radical right-wing Catholic cult, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Area 51, the Great Pyramids, and Osama Bin Laden.

Cast your vote in the comments for your favorite one!

Ants, Ants, Ants, Ants

Marching up and down again…Ants, Ants, Ants, Ants…5, 7, 9, 11

Eleven o’clock is approximately the time that I scared Andrew half to death this evening by wildly slapping my arm and screaming,

“Get it off! Get it off! Get it off!”

I got bit by an ant. So small, yet so painful. It had dug its little pinchers into my skin and was not letting go no matter how many times I slapped it. For some reason I was thinking it was going to be like a mosquito: slap, dead. But it wasn’t. Andrew had to scrape it off and then smash it with his fingers.

This was just a mere minute or so after Andrew had received a bite of his own and, after listening to him freak out about it said, “Oh, did the little ant get you?” in a patronizing baby voice. Why did I have to open my big mouth.

He had just come from the kitchen to inform me that there were ants swarming on top of the refrigerator and I guess a few ants had hitchhiked on his person from the kitchen to the living room just to bite us.

We went back into the kitchen. He had moved all of our food off the fridge and onto the stove and had sprayed the fridge with RAID. The ants were caught in their tracks and died in perfectly straight rows.

They had been filing in from, of all places, an electrical outlet.

“That must be why they hurt so bad! They’re electric ants!” I told Andrew. He asked me if such a thing existed. I told him that I doubted it but that I couldn’t be sure because we don’t have the internet and thus no Google so I couldn’t check. Later on in the evening I moaned, “Ants don’t live in electricity!”

The ants here, however, must feed on electricity. When we were staying with President McCallister Andrew had ants in his laptop constantly. He would open it up and they’d pour out from under the keys.

There were ants here and there around his apartment, but they weren’t into organized crime.
The ants at our apartment have been a bit more aggressive. They march around the apartment like they own the place, making only 90 degree turns. Two lines side by side: one filing in and one filing out. If only Cairo traffic could pick up on that…

From what we knew all the food on the fridge was sealed—the food was on top of the fridge because we hadn’t cleaned out our cupboards yet and they’re gross—but we started to go through it anyway.

The ants seemed to be concentrating on the packages of Oriental noodles (Ramen, for you Utahans) we had purchased at Carrefour (thanks, Jill, for taking us there, btw). The packages of noodles were sealed in a bigger plastic bag, but the ants were inside those, so we opened them up.

Not knowing if they had the ability to chew through plastic or not, we opened them up and started examining the individual pockets. Ants were spilling out all over the place. We boiled a pot of water and started throwing the packages in the water to kill the ants. Bubbles coming from the packages of noodles led us to believe that there were holes in some of the packages.
Now our noodles were wet and full of dead, semi-dead, and live ants. We ended up throwing most of them away. Our spaghetti noodles were completely sealed (except for one bag that was completely ripped open), so we were able to keep those, and the corn flakes, that were open, were ignored by the ants. Go figure.

With ants all over the place at varying stages between life and death, we continued to battle them with RAID, fire, boiling water, and sheer brute force. I think most of them are dead now. At least, I hope so.

We found some Tupperware containers left behind in the church cupboards by some previous students (thanks Mark and Aprilee!) and put our corn flakes in one for safe keeping. To lighten the mood in our hot kitchen, I brought one in to Andrew, cracked the lid and quoted from Aladdin,

“Ooh, look at this. I have never seen one of these intact before. This is the famous Dead Sea Tupperware. Listen. Pbbtt! Ah, still fresh!”

I thought it fitting since we were experiencing an Arabian night…I didn’t ever used to think that having the vendor in Aladdin selling Tupperware was very authentic. If I only knew…

This morning we had another ant infestation, but this one was entirely our fault. We were running late for church and didn’t clean up Rachel’s mess before running out the door. When we came home there was a little trail of ants leading from the dining room to a hole in the wall somewhere. We took care of that and thought our problems were over, but alas!

For those of you who know me well, you know that I’m not the best housekeeper. I sometimes put off doing the dishes for too long and let my floor go unswept for much longer than it should…
But seriously, when there are cockroaches on the line I can be downright religious about cleaning house.

We wash our dishes after every meal. I sweep and mop. We don’t leave food out.

Still, we don’t know what to do. And so we turn to you, dear readers, for advice. Lay it on us!

How do we get rid of these ants once and for all without completely fumigating the place?

We’re already planning on investing in more Tupperware containers to hold pretty much any food-like substance and are keeping about as clean as we can, what with a one-year-old on the loose and everything…any ideas?

Coptic Cairo

At church today, President McCallister mentioned that we currently hold the gold medal for finding an apartment. I suppose it seems like we found an apartment quickly—it only took us one day of searching before we signed a contract—but in truth, I’ve been searching for apartments for months online to no avail. I looked at thousands of apartments and pumped tens of landlords for more information. So our search extends far beyond the one tiring Saturday we spent looking at apartment after apartment.

But we’ll accept the gold. Unless the Shillings or Sharps can beat us!

Now that we’re getting settled, we decided it was time to venture out of Maadi. Since it’s Friday, the Sabbath, we decided to head into Coptic Cairo for the day. So, after church, lunch, and a nap for Rachel, we hopped on the Metro.

I was a little nervous at first since I seemed to be the only woman on the wagon—there are separate cars solely for women and I didn’t get on one of those. As I understood it, they are there for your convenience, and should I ever decide to use the Metro alone, I will probably jump on one. But it seemed for a moment that perhaps riding the women car was requisite—I was quite relieved when I saw some other women get on!

We got off at the Mar Girgis stop, walked out of the Metro, and right into Coptic Cairo. It is just that close. The Roman Towers stand right in front, and kind of below, the Metro station, marking the start of Coptic Cairo, or Roman Babylon.

Our first stop was St. George chapel, where several families stopped to wave at Rachel and take pictures with us. It was kind of interesting to be a tourist attraction at a tourist attraction, but such is the life of an American family with a “blonde” baby in the Middle East. Everyone was shocked that we spoke Arabic—truthfully only Andrew speaks Arabic, but I’m getting much better.

A little girl named Maria came up and asked me, very slowly,

“Ism-ha eh?”

“Rachel,” I said.

“Rasha?” she repeated.

That’s close enough. Most people say Rasha or Bashel. I don’t know why since they have all the phonemes in Arabic to say Rachel.

After I assured her that Rasha was correct (or at least along the lines of correct) she ran off to tell her family that I spoke Arabic to her.

They followed us around for a while, snapping pictures with their cell phone cameras, and asking us a few questions. They were definitely a Coptic family. Not only could we tell by the tattoos of crosses on their wrists, but the children’s names were a dead giveaway: Maria, Justine, and, of all names, Andrew!

It was quite a shock when we were innocently poking around the chapel when we heard a voice call out harshly, in Arabic,

“Andrew! That’s wrong!”

Andrew checked himself to make sure he wasn’t leaning up against any ancient relic and that the lens cap was on his camera still so that it wouldn’t look like we were taking pictures. He was clear. And then we saw the culprit.

A little Arab Andrew, swinging on a chain blocking the tourists from entering the rest of the chapel.

We eventually lost that family…and found ourselves in a group of teenagers, all haggling us for pictures. I was so proud of myself when I understood that one of them asked if Rachel knew how to walk. I am proud of pretty much every time I understand anything at this point.

We posed for several pictures and didn’t lose that group until we left to get on the Metro again.
We wandered all around the graveyards and into several chapels, including the chapel built on the cave that, allegedly, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus hid in from King Herod; and the Hanging Church, all the while with our personal paparazzi, snapping pictures and repetitively kissing Rachel's cheeks.

After two hours, we were beat. We had finished off the last of our water, and Rachel was getting rather grumpy, so we headed home. We’ll go back to Coptic Cairo another time, not on a Friday, so that we can go to the museum and other things…but we’re waiting for Andrew to get his student ID card so that we can get in cheaper.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I know we haven’t posted much recently, but don’t worry because we haven’t been doing very much yet. Mostly we’ve been cleaning our apartment. It’s not as dirty as it could be (we’ve seen worse), but we still have a lot of work to do to make it livable.

Andrew was the most amazing husband ever and cleaned the whole bathroom yesterday morning while Rachel and I slept. It’s currently the least scary room in the house. I’ve been working on sweeping the floors really well—I have a feeling I will be sweeping a lot in the next two years. None of our windows close very well so we get a lot of dust coming in. There’s plenty of dust in Cairo! I suppose that’s normal for the desert.

Last night I drew up the floor plan of our house, as my mom requested. It’s not to scale, but it should give you a pretty good idea of how the apartment is set up.

Since drawing this Andrew opened the “scary door that we’ve never opened.” It leads onto a little balcony that is scary beyond all description. Knowing what’s behind that door makes the kitchen seem a little friendlier. The door no longer leads to the unknown and is no longer a source of nightmares.

We were dreaming it was a secret door that the bowab could use to get inside our house, or a creepy utility closet, or perhaps hiding a skeleton or two. All along it just opened onto a fire escape and there’s no way to open it from the outside, so it’s relatively safe—just covered in a ridiculous amount of junk and grime.

Instead of spending our time wondering about the door, we’re glad that it’s there to hide that big mess. And if I ever feel afraid of my kitchen, I can just open that door and suddenly the kitchen seems bright and cheerful and a lot more inviting!

A few more random things about our apartment:

1) Yes, we have the option of separating our rooms with curtains.
2) Our shower curtain was too short so we used 4 sets of rings to make it long enough. It's classy.
3) No, you can't have it! It's ours.

Here Kitty, Kitty!

There are stray cats everywhere. I don’t remember seeing this many cats the last time we were here but I don’t know how I missed them because they are everywhere. In every bush, behind every tree, on every step. Perhaps I’m exaggerating, but not by much.

Most cats are pretty docile, begging for food and then running away. Others are less well tempered and jump out at you, making you run away. Some look decent and others are missing limbs or bits of their ears and tails. Some are even kept as pets. So far I haven’t let Rachel touch any of them, which she wasn’t very happy about at first. She’s fine with just waving at them now and doesn’t cry every time she sees one because she knows that if we walk two more steps we’ll see another one.

Stray kitten

The word for cat in Arabic, “kota,” is very close to the English word for cat, but it still takes me a while to recognize it in Egyptian. We were walking down the street a few days ago, trying to find a specific store, and we kept walking past this older man. We must have passed him 3 or 4 times, at least. He and Rachel made friends and he started up this little game with her. He’d touch her chin and then say,

“Ota! Ota! Na, na, na…”

I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about but thought perhaps he was copying Rachel, who was saying, “Na, na, na…”

After he’d repeated himself several times as we walked back and forth in front of his shop, I realized that he was saying cat. Perhaps he thought that Rachel was meowing. Or maybe he just figured that she likes cats. It may have been that he was just trying to get me used to the Egyptian dialect.

Egyptians clip off most k sounds. Saqqarah becomes Sa’arah. Kelb is ‘elb. Kadaesh is ‘aesh. And kota becomes ‘ota.

Needless to say, Rachel was very happy on Sunday evening when Auntie Sarah brought her kitty, Athena, to say hi to Rachel on the webcam. Rachel even pet the screen. That was the first cat she’d pet in a whole week!

She had a hard time figuring out how the webcam worked. When we first turned it on, she got down and ran around behind the computer, just to check and see if we weren’t hiding our family back there (which we weren’t). She took everything quite literally.

When Grammy suggested that Rachel crawl through the computer, Rachel tried; she climbed up on Andrew’s lap and put her head on the monitor. She was a little disappointed to learn that she couldn’t actually just do that (but wouldn’t it be nice?). She held her arms out to Auntie Josie and kept poking Grandma’s nose.

We had a good visit with everybody, but it was hard to say goodbye. I almost cried when my mom told me that she had put away the teeter-totter and box of baby toys because, since Rachel is the youngest grandchild on my side of the family, no one is going to be using them for a while. Not for a few years, at least!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Falling Asleep

Rachel finally seems to be on somewhat of a schedule now. She’s almost sleeping through the night again and her naps are much more reasonable. I think using the pack’n’play really helped (thanks, Sara!) because she no longer wakes herself up by falling out of bed.

Here’s a picture of Rachel’s last nap before Sara and Kevan delivered the pack’n’play. She looks like she fell asleep praying or something. She’s kneeling on a pillow, on top of a suitcase. That’s a table under the blue towel.

Now she’s much more comfortable. She can toss and turn as much as she wants without having to worry about ending up on the floor, which is great.

The other night I couldn’t find any clean pyjamas—I’m sure they’re just at the bottom of the suitcase somewhere—so I put her in an oversized t-shirt. Grandpa Layton got it for her in Nevada. It’s size 3T, I think, so she won’t actually be wearing it for a while, but it made a nice nightshirt, or so I thought.

Andrew thinks that it makes her look too grown up. What do you think?