Monday, September 29, 2008

And no one spoke English

It’s no secret that my Arabic is less than phenomenal, especially to me. And to anyone who talks to me.

So when I have to go out and run errands on my own I get a little bit nervous about what I’ll encounter. Today Andrew sent Rachel and me to the downtown campus to get the reading packets for his class on Palestinian issues. He had the readings for the first two weeks but the readings for the rest of the semester weren’t in the copy center until this week.

Since we’re going out of town tomorrow and he needs to do next week’s reading while we’re on vacation he needed to get the readings today. Unfortunately he was due to be stuck on the new campus all day long, so instead Rachel and I went to pick them up for him.

First I was worried about the metro.

“Don’t worry,” said Andrew, “You don’t even have to say anything. Just hand the ticket guy a pound and he’ll give you a ticket.”

With that aside, I started worrying about what I’d do at the copy center.

“Don’t worry,” said Andrew, “The guy who works there speaks really great English. You shouldn’t have a problem.”

With that aside, I started worrying exactly about how to get out of the metro station (Sadat station is rather confusing—it took Andrew two weeks to find how to exit out by AUC campus) and from there to the copy center. Andrew drew me some fabulous maps that worked kind of like Snake. He ran out of paper so he continued at the top of the paper; it was kind of hard to follow, but really a fabulous map. I’ve never been any good at Snake, anyway.

He even wrote out his course name so that I wouldn’t forget it. Isn’t he thoughtful?

This morning Rachel woke me up bright and early and we got ready to go. I wanted to get downtown while Andrew was between classes so that I could phone him, just in case. And of course there was a just-in-case.

I survived the first just-in-case on my own but only because all it took on my part was repetitive use of the word no. I had Rachel strapped in the front carrier for ease of transportation. I can’t even begin to imagine what taking a stroller on the metro would be like. To my understanding, babies are free to take on the metro, whether they’re in a stroller or not. We’ve never paid for Rachel before and I’ve never seen anyone else pay for a baby.

I walked up to the window and handed the man a pound. He stared back at me.

“Wahid, min fudlik,” I said, “One, please.”

Again he just stared at me. So I repeated myself, “Wahid…”

This time he shook his head and held up two fingers, “Ithnein,” he said, “Two.”

“Laay?” I asked.

He caught on that I didn’t speak a lot of Arabic so he spoke simply, “Inti wa hia.” He pointed from me to Rachel.

“La,” I told him, “Wahid, bas. Hia tifla.” No. Just one. She’s a baby.

“Ithnein,” he insisted.

“La, wahid.”

We went back and forth for a while—long enough to miss a train or two—until he started laughing and handed me a ticket. I didn’t thank him and went on my way.

We got to downtown and made our way to the bookstore without a problem. When we go there, however, the man who speaks good English wasn’t in. His assistant was, though. She speaks English about as well as I speak Arabic, I think, and we struggled together.

Somehow we were able to communicate what packet I wanted to purchase but she wouldn’t sell it to me and wanted me to fill out a form…in Arabic. So I called Andrew to translate for us. It ended up happily enough. She copied it off for us right then while Rachel and I played our own little version of “I Spy.”

I had just finished pointing out everything that was blue and was in the middle of pointing out everything yellow when the non-English speaking copy center worker came up and asked me if I wanted “everything” for the semester.

“Koula haga?” she asked.

There’s no way I could have told her anything else, so I just affirmed, “Ayawa.”

In fifteen minutes, Rachel and I were out of there. I felt like I was going to fall over. I was carrying the equivalent of 3 or 4 reams of paper, the diaper bag, and Rachel, who by this time was a very sleepy baby. The walk to the metro was short but taxing. I probably looked exhausted when I stumbled onto the car because a kind, elderly man kicked his seat companion out and offered it to me. He had to shoo a few people away before I finally made it back to him and sat down, with Rachel and the diaper bag (full of paper) on my lap, and a bag of paper between my feet.

The nice old man tried to make conversation. But he didn’t speak English, so our conversation died off fairly quickly after a few niceties. Rachel fell asleep about half way home. It was quite a relaxing ride. I was surrounded by sleeping, elderly gentlemen with a sleeping baby on my lap. Probably the best metro ride I’ve had so far. Maybe, if I learned more Arabic, I could actually stand to go out and do things on my own more often.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Citadel

Finally, after weeks of postponing and last-minute cancellations, we made it out to the Citadel. There really is a lot to see there, which surprised me because when we went with Kirk we did the Mohammed Ali mosque and then left. Who knew there was so much more?

We left our house around noon—because we had to wait for Miss Rachel to use the potty—and caught a taxi because we didn’t feel like sitting on the Metro all day, nor did we have time to do so. When we told the driver that we wanted to go to the Citadel he told us it would be 60 LE ($12). Andrew offered him 20 LE ($4), which he refused initially but eventually (and happily) took.

He acted like Andrew’s best friend the whole ride. They chatted it up and the taxi driver was amiable the whole time. That is an interesting aspect of Egyptian culture to me. We cut the driver’s fare in thirds and no one got upset. We were able to forget that he had tried to rip us off and he wasn’t bothered that we hadn’t paid him what he wanted. Obviously he was trying to overcharge us since he so willingly went with 20 LE, but still, I imagined that he’d be a little miffed that Andrew wouldn’t budge up from 20 LE to 30 or 40.

It was a nice ride out there—definitely nice to arrive and not feel tired from standing in the metro. We walked up to the first entrance to go through the first set of metal detectors. There was a policeman loading his lovely semi-automatic/machine/really big gun (not the regular kind you see on the street). I watched him do it while we walked up. Then he started twirling it around and pointing it at things. When we got up to him he stuck out his hand and started flirting with Rachel—tapping her cheeks and pulling her hair—all the while waving that gun, which he had just loaded, around in the air.

I was holding my breath the whole time, but we managed to make it through the first wave of security without blowing Rachel’s head off.

We then made our way to the ticket booth and purchased our tickets, both at the student rate. When we got to the gate, however, we ran into some problems. They have x-ray machines and metal detectors everywhere that you have to walk through/send stuff through before you can go into any major attraction.

“Put your bags through x-ray,” the guard instructed Andrew.

“Don’t put baby through x-ray,” the guard instructed me.

Thanks, Mr. Guard, because I was just about to, but then I didn’t. Phew!

We breezed through security, even though we set off the metal detectors, and then presented our tickets to the guard at the gate. He asked for student ID cards, which wouldn’t be a problem except that I don’t have a student ID card. Andrew showed his and explained that I was his wife.

The tourist policeman said that in that case, we were okay to go through. The guard did not agree. He wanted me to go back and pay regular fare because I didn’t have ID.

Andrew told him that I left my ID card at home, which was a lie…unless he’s referring to my BYU ID card, in which case that is very much at home, and rather inaccessible since it’s at home in America. But Andrew assured him I’m a student, which was a lie…unless he’s referring to the fact that I, like he, am on a student visa and therefore officially only have to pay the student price at tourist attractions.

The tourist policeman and the guard bickered back and forth for a while. Eventually the policeman won and we got to go in. I’m guessing he won because he had a gun and the guard only had a wimpy little stick thing.

I was only too happy to be done with security for the day. Men waving weapons around and yelling at each other tends to make me a little jumpy. I don’t know why…

Our first stop was Mohammed Ali’s mosque. We started walking over the threshold, completely forgetting to remove our shoes, and were already well on our way into the courtyard when the fashion police stopped us. The fashion police are women who sit outside the mosque and hand out scarves and robes to immodestly dressed women.

I’m always a little wary around them because last time I came to this particular mosque they made me tie a scarf around my waist because they insisted that they could see my “underwear.” I was a little miffed because I was in long pants and long sleeves in the middle of July and they made me wear a scarf around my waist just because I was wearing a layered shirt…and they were letting women in shorts and t-shirts go in the mosque just fine. I looked down at my outfit to make sure I was modest. I was pretty sure I was and didn’t really want to walk around with a nasty been-used-on-a-million-other-people-before-you scarf wrapped around some part of my body again.

“Please remove your shoes,” they said.

I’m so glad that they waited until we’d walked past them and were already inside to tell us this when they could have told us that at the threshold when we were right in front of their face. Oh, well. At least I passed their fashion requirements with flying colours this time around…except for the shoes, of course. How did we forget out about our shoes?

We let Rachel out to run amuck in the courtyard while we composed some [of what we hope are] artistic shots. We’ve been trying to learn more about photography and have been fiddling with all the numbers on our camera but we really have no clue what we’re doing (F-stop, huh?) so if you have any tips, feel free to send them our way.

Artistic shots of the courtyard

When we had been standing on the sun beaten marble floor so long that we couldn’t stand it, we went inside the mosque. There were a ton of people inside so Rachel stuck pretty close by, although she did run around a little bit…in circles…around me. I remember doing that to my mom and she’d say, “Stop it! You’re making me dizzy!” and I’d be like, “Stop what, mom?” as I ran around her 20 more times.

Now I kind of see my mom’s point. Rachel wasn’t really making me dizzy but I could hardly walk anywhere because she’d be behind me one minute and in front of me the next, pulling my hand around behind my back so that I’d have to spin around as well, and just being underfoot in general. I don’t think she realized how difficult she was being, just as I didn’t notice it when I was in her shoes. Kids just have a lot of energy and less ability to contain it.

Inside the mosque

It was nice to be back outside. Rachel has noticed that if she yells in a large room she can make her voice carry and she was just starting to experiment with happy little shrieks when Andrew said it was time to go. We went outside and put our shoes back on and then looked out over the city. It was a pretty clear day and we were able to see out to the pyramids. Rachel was snatched away by a guard whose job it was to keep people away from the wall…he took her right to the edge of the wall, of course, and showed her how far down it was. I’m glad he was doing his job of protecting people from approaching the perilous wall (that actually looks pretty sturdy), although I can’t understand why he’d take a squirmy 1 year old right to the edge. I suppose I don’t have to understand everything, though.

We let Rachel play for a while after she got away from the guard. She was terrified of him and kept trying to run away, which made him quite upset.

“Laaaaaaay?” he moaned melodramatically while wringing his hands at the heavens, “Why?”

Because you’re “stranger danger.” Pure and simple. As a general rule little children don’t like being snatched away from their parents. That’s why.

She needed some time to unwind from her traumatic guard experience, but when she started playing with discarded cigarette butts, we decided it was time to find a better activity. So we headed over to the Military Museum.

It looked pretty interesting at first. Rachel loved the statues of the horses out front. We let her sit on one and she pulled the same pose that Ibrahim Pasha was in on his bronze horse. I don’t know what it is with her and mimicking statues, but it’s a rather endearing trait.

The museum looked pretty promising, too, until we realized that they had already closed and locked all of the exhibit rooms—it’s Ramadan so they close at 2 PM—and we could only see the exhibits in the hallway. There wasn’t anything to harm by touching, as far as I could tell, since everything was in glass cases or up on ledges higher than Rachel’s head, but the guards kept telling her not to touch anything. To keep her from being yelled at I told her to fold her arms and look with her eyes, which she did for a very long time until she couldn’t contain her energy any longer and had a complete meltdown in some random hallway.

Two guards rushed into the hall from somewhere to see what all the screaming was about.

Since there really was nothing to touch in that hall—there were a few paintings on the wall and some busts of some generals—they didn’t mind too much that she was wailing and banging her head on the floor. We left as fast as we could, but not without noting some wonderful signs that were lost in translation and some exhibits that didn’t even make it into the museum. All in all, it wasn’t very interesting and we were happy to leave. I wonder if it would have been more interesting if we had been able to actually see any of the exhibits…

In the open display, just outside the museum exit, we sat in the shade of a Soviet fighter jet while I nursed Rachel until she calmed down.

After calming down and relaxing, we packed up and went to catch a cab, which was a joke. The first guy we came across was sitting in front of the entrance to the Citadel. Usually we ignore those guys, but he approached us, so we told him we wanted to go to Maadi and that’s we’d already pay 20 LE.

“That’s a fair price,” he told us, “You can catch a cab on the street for that, I’m sure, but I am going to wait here for some rich tourists.” He rubbed his fingers together to gesture to us that he was after a lot more money than our measly, but fair, 20 LE.

That’s why we ignore the cab drivers right outside touristy places. It’s much better to just catch a taxi on the street. And we did soon after our run-in with Mr. Rip-off.

Our taxi driver said 20 LE was fine. He was an interesting driver—we had to wait in the cab while he filled up his natural gas tank. A lot of the taxis here have been retrofitted with tanks that use natural gas. His used both natural gas and regular gas. I’m not sure how that works, but it’s kind of interesting.

My favorite (read: least favorite) part of the whole ride was when he drove off the freeway in reverse down a one-way entrance ramp. I just about peed my pants, and here I was all worried about Rachel peeing hers! And then, just to top things off, our taxi driver said that 20 LE was a fair price but he wanted baksheesh. I can’t believe he wanted us to tip him after he almost killed us all.

But we did make it home safe and sound. No one peed their pants. No one got in a car crash. No one died of having to not touch things. No one fell off a cliff. No one got shot in the head with a sub-machine gun. No one got ripped off. It was a pretty good day.

The Potty Diary

On Friday Rachel woke up at 7:30 AM and went potty. She went all through church without an accident. Then we stayed after church to be home taught. Then we stayed even later so that Andrew could do his home teaching. Rachel finally went pee (in the potty) while Andrew was home teaching with Girgis and Joseph.

Then Andrew had to home teach the Lewises, so we went over to their house and Rachel stayed dry the whole time. We then had a lunch appointment for a lunch/dinner at the Barton’s and Rachel managed to stay dry until around 3:30…when she peed her pants…but she was standing up when she peed and her rubber pants contained the whole mess. Amazing! I was really happy about that because the Bartons have a very nice home and I would have been forever embarrassed had she peed on their floor.

She napped for 45 minutes once we got home, woke up and went potty. Then she played with her new toys until it was time to go to the Sharp’s for dessert and games. She stayed dry there until around 9:00 PM when she peed in her pants again. She just doesn’t do well at other people’s houses, I guess, but since she should have been in bed I suppose I can’t really blame her for peeing her pants.

We were in the middle of a good game of Settlers (I won, so it must have been a good game) and Rachel just wouldn’t simmer down. She was jumping on the couch, running around the apartment, and “mopping” the floors until 11:00 PM when we left. We tried putting her down, but she was in a screaming mood and we didn’t want her to wake up Finn or Abby, so she stayed up virtually all day long from 7:30 AM until 11:00 PM with only two accidents all day long. Not bad for a 14 month baby, I think…

Today Rachel got up at 7:00 AM, but since she didn’t go to bed until 11:00 last night I just nursed her and put her right back in her crib. She fell back asleep until around 10:00, got up, and wouldn’t go potty. We bummed around the apartment, watching the Presidential Debate on CNN, while we waited for her to be ready to go. Eventually she went and then we left to go explore the Citadel. She stayed dry the entire time we were out, I was a little nervous to have her be in underwear because I was “wearing” her, but I don’t like the idea of putting her back in diapers when she’s doing so well in underwear. She did a wonderful job, though, and went potty when we got home, and then went down for a nap.

When she got up she didn’t want to go potty, so we let her play but continued to pester her about going on the potty about every 10 minutes or so. She ate dinner and still didn’t want to go on the potty, so we let her play again, still pestering her about going.

Finally, around 7:00 PM, she dropped her toys and kind of squatted. Then she stood up straight and ran over to me shaking her little fist like a wild woman. I was so happy!

We’ve been trying to teach her the sign for “potty” for a few months now. You make the letter “T” by holding your hand in a fist with your thumb between your pointer and middle fingers, then your shake it back and forth to mean “toilet.” Rachel hasn’t been able to get her thumb between her fingers yet so she usually just shakes her fist. She’s never done it to let me know that she has to go before, though; she’s only done it when she’s already sitting on the potty and we’re talking about it.

So I ran her to the potty, pulling off her undies as we went. It was a good job I did that, too, because the minute I set her down she let everything go.

We celebrated her communication with high fives all around and a standing ovation and lots of hugs and kisses.

Rachel is doing a wonderful job at going on the potty. I’m so proud of her! And I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that I can’t even remember the last time I’ve had to change or wash out a poopy diaper (of Rachel’s). It’s had to have been at least 2 weeks? I’m not sure. Let’s just say that elimination communication is the bomb. With the next one, I think we’ll start a little earlier. With Rachel, we’ll just keep on keeping on. She’s doing so well!

Friday, September 26, 2008

New Toys

When the Lewises dropped us off at our apartment on Thursday they gave us a bin of toys that they’d been borrowing from the Brunets. Their shipment arrived a while ago and so now they have their own toys. Ours are packed in boxes in Grandma and Grandpa’s basement and won’t be coming out to Egypt, so at Enrichment a few Sundays ago I asked Maria if we could borrow her toys next.

She was only too happy to let us use them. We were equally happy to receive them, although slightly puzzled about why Maria had toys in the first place.

Her kids are all grown, but neither of them are married so the prospect of grandkids is still very much in the future.

I had heard that she was running a daycare, but in fact she is working full time for USAID.

It really was a mystery to me why she’d haul a big tub of toys across the ocean…

Well, today I found out the answer. I was talking with Maria while Andrew was home teaching. As she related it to me, her husband was unpacking some things when he came across the tub.

“Maria, did you pack a tub of toys?” he asked her.

“No, why would I bring toys here?” Good question, really.

As it turns out, it was all just a big mistake. The tub of toys was supposed to be a tub of linens. It had somehow gotten mislabeled or something and the movers packed the toys in their crate instead of the sheets and things.

Kind of funny, if you think about it, but very fortunate for us. I think we have more toys here than we ever had in Orem and Rachel just loves them (perhaps because she thinks they’re Sam’s toys). She has been playing on her own so nicely since we got them on Thursday. She loves the little school bus (I think Patrick had one of those—it’s pretty fun. I remember playing with it, too) and the toolkit, especially.

And while we’re giving credit for new toys, we also got a load of toys from Lydia, who has been sorting through her children’s toys and getting rid of things in preparation for their new assignment...they’ll be moving somewhere in January.

Come with me to Primary

I’m back in primary, currently acting as the secretary, although we haven’t quite hashed out what else I’ll be doing, exactly. There was talk of my being an Activity Days leader. There was talk of my being the chorister. Today I volunteered both Andrew and myself to be nursery leaders for the last 40 minutes of church. We’ve been trying to staff the nursery for a few weeks but haven’t been able to find anyone willing to be in there…

So, I have a hodge-podge calling right now. I assign scriptures, prayers, and talks. I try to help the children sit down and behave all through Sharing Time. I make up lists and charts, take notes, and do all that other secretary stuff. Soon I’ll be sniffing diapers, handing out crackers, and trying to teach a bunch of 2 year olds about being nice.

That’s all usual stuff. Today I did something a little out of the ordinary.

Andrew was teaching Sunday School in Arabic. It was his first Friday teaching in Arabic and he was rather nervous. I, naturally, had Rachel since I can handle her and do my calling at the same time, for the most part. I was holding her and trying to convince the children to sit down and sing. She was holding a doll she borrowed from the Penrods and trying to get the kids all hyper.

I was having trouble with one particular child—a little boy from Sudan named Farayella. He’s probably 3 or 4, never says anything, and really, really wanted his mom. His mother was in the room for a while and we worked in tandem to convince him to sit in his chair. She ran out of the room and Rachel and I retreated to the back.

A few seconds later, Farayella popped out of his chair and walked out of the room. I followed him, trying to talk with him, hold his hand, and guide him back into the primary room. Nothing was really working because he doesn’t speak English and I couldn’t think of anything to say in Arabic that would convince him to go back to primary. Instead I just followed him around. I figured he was looking for his mother, so I started to look for her, too.

We peeked into every classroom upstairs, even though I knew that she wouldn’t be in any of those rooms. We walked downstairs and peeked into a few rooms down there, but we never saw his mom. Farayella opened the front door of the church villa.

“Oh, let’s stay inside, ok, buddy?” I suggested. At this point I still didn’t even know his name.

The only response I got was the screen door shutting.

I ran out after him, but he was nowhere in sight. I ran out of the yard and into the street, scanning around wildly until I spotted Farayella halfway to Boor Said.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this kid ends up in the Olympics one day!

I set off running after him, Rachel bouncing in my arms, the doll bouncing in hers. He had such a head start and was running so fast that I couldn’t catch up with him. All I knew was that I didn’t want him getting to Boor Said. That street is so busy and hard to cross. I didn’t want him to end up like a bird hitting a clean window. I started to run faster. So did he.

White girl can’t run. And she certainly was no match against the three-year old Olympian, Farayella. Running I’d never catch him, so instead I yelled as loud as I could.

“Umik houn!” I called out. That means, “Your mom’s here!” in Jordanian Arabic.

Farayella slammed on his brakes and wheeled around. “Fain!?” he demanded.

“Houn,” I assured him and pointed to the church. I couldn’t think of how to tell him that she was still at church. I was kicking around the word “kanisa” but convinced myself that was Russian for something. Kniga means book in Russian; kanisa means church in Arabic. I always get those two words confused. Even though I have the language ability to say something as simple as, “Your mom is in the church,” I was too frazzled to sort it out in my brain, so when I caught up to him I just repeated myself.

“Umik houn, umik houn,” I said as I put my arm around his shoulders and started to guide him back to the church villa. He came willingly; after all, I purportedly knew where his mother was.

When we got back to church we immediately went to find his mom. She started talking to him…and I didn’t understand a word that she said. Andrew has a theory that they speak Arabic, but only in addition to whatever their native language is. No one seems to understand what they say.

But at least Esta (the mom) also speaks a bit of English. I asked her a few questions.

“So, what language does he understand the best?”

“Arabic,” she said.

“Oh, okay,” I had already figured that out because that’s the only language he responded to me in, “And, uh, what’s his name?”

“Farayella,” she said.

I had no idea what she said, so I just tried to repeat what I thought I heard.


Apparently I said it well enough. If it’s not his name, we’ll just make a trade. I’ll call him Farayella and she can mispronounce Rachel’s name. Rasha? Raychurch? Whatever. I’m flexible.

I wonder what I’ll get to do next Friday…

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Like a bird flying into a clean window

Andrew and I babysat for Sara and Kevan while they went up to Alexandria to pick up their car. They came back this afternoon and offered to take us anywhere we wanted. Andrew suggested we go to Lybia, but instead we settled for a trip to Carrefour. We still have a number of things we need to live comfortably—like more than 2 forks and enough towels to have company over. It was nice to get out there and do some one-stop shopping. Carrefour is like a French Wal-Mart; they have everything there.

While technically still in Maadi, Carrefour is really out in the boonies, involving a wild car ride. The traffic here terrifies me—it’s much like Jordan, only worse because there are so many more people here. There are few traffic lights (I’ve seen two so far) and it doesn’t matter because people don’t follow the ones they have. They use a lot of traffic circles and just push their way through.

Their rules seem to be summed up in one simple maxim: There are no rules.

Basically every intersection is an unmarked all-ways yield.

That said, they do have a few unwritten rules:
1) The first person to honk at an intersection goes first –or– the first person to stick their front end out in the intersection goes first.
2) Stop or slow down frequently for no apparent reason.
3) There are no “lanes,” just “directions” (to quote Sasha, my Russian host-father).

Other places enforce rules, but here they seem to be able to fudge whatever rules they like, even the direction of traffic on a divided highway. In the guide that AUC published for its international students it states,

“Traffic is crazy! Be extremely careful when crossing the road. It is not because a street circulates in one way, that a car will not come the other way!” [sic]

And Andrew has actually been on an AUC bus that dared to leave AUC by getting on the Autostrad via the exit, honking angrily at the rightfully oncoming traffic while it careened on down the wrong side of a major highway until it could use [what in America would be] an “emergency vehicles only” turn around place and switch back to the right side of the road.

Suffice it to say, the traffic here terrifies me. On our ride out to Carrefour, Kevan mentioned that he wouldn’t be surprised if a little delivery guy on a moped crashed into the side of his car one day *ping!* like a bird flying into a clean window.

We all laughed about it because the delivery guys are rather crazy. They zoom around, half of them without helmets, dodging trucks and buses and zipping around cars and trying to cut them off so that they can pull ahead.

I’m not laughing about it now. Instead I find myself sick to my stomach at the thought of it.

We were out walking during the Call to Prayer signaling the start of Iftar. We currently were laughing at the muezzin. Seriously, the muezzin at the police station mosque needs to go back to Call to Prayer 101. Instead of a mystical, ghostly sound, his Call to Prayer comes out a yelping mess. He’s completely tone deaf and when he tried to put some vibrato in his voice cracked, big time. It sounds awful.

His is the only call that Rachel is afraid of. She clings to me whenever she hears him starting up.

We were on our way to Metro to pick up some oatmeal (we forgot that at Carrefour and for some reason felt that we needed it) and were just coming out from behind the police station, heading up Road 81 towards Road 10.

There was a big gathering of people in the middle of the intersection, but we figured it was just some Iftar gathering since we’d passed a few places where people were gathered already, sharing juice and things. I’m not even sure why we thought that or when we realized it wasn’t a happy gathering, but things slowly started to sink in.

The black SUV with the side all smashed in.

The moped mangled and discarded off to the side.

The mob of people surrounding the victim, lying on the ground, writhing in pain, wailing for help, blood oozing from his fractured skull…like a bird flying *ping!* into a clean window.

I just about fainted, or threw up, or both.

Somehow we managed to keep walking. There was nothing we could do. I know first aid, but seriously…what was I going to do? I couldn’t think of anything to do, so I did nothing. Mob mentality had completely taken over and I rationalized that someone would have done something by now…

Solemnly we went inside the store to purchase our oatmeal. All the while I was wondering if anyone really had done anything and what I could or would do if they hadn’t.

Two minutes later we were back outside again. The crowd had dispersed some and an ambulance was just pulling away. Thank goodness someone in that thronging mob had escaped the “mob mentality” enough to make a phone call. It was probably the lady that he hit—she was in Metro on the phone with the police and talking frantically with the security guards. Poor lady…even poorer delivery guy.

I’m not sure how this is going to affect my street-crossing methods since I was too nervous about crossing the street before. I’ll have to look right and left and right again, and then left and right and left again. It was traumatizing and I didn’t even see it happen…

I think I can now add to my list of future campaigns. Already I mentioned the need for anti-smoking and anti-sodium campaigns. Now we need a stop-sign campaign. Really, if we could get Egyptian drivers to adopt a four-way stop mentality or even to install a few more traffic lights in place of their unmarked yields, I think we’d all be better off.

Nursery Prodigy

Since we've been married, Family Home Evening lessons have always revolved around very grown-up topics and grown-up conversation. We've used big words, no visuals, and lots of scriptures.

We continued with this after Rachel was born. She spent most of her FHEs nursing or sleeping.

She's bigger now, though, and a lot more focused and we've been struggling with what to teach her and how. We lack resources and we lack creativity. Rachel loves to look through her "reverence book" and talk about the things in the pictures--sacrament, temples, prophets, Jesus, etc.--and that's been going alright, but what we really wanted was some sort of direction to go with this. We want to teach her the basic gospel principles in our home so that she can start building her testimony today.

But how do you help a one year old do that?

You use the new nursery manual! I'm so excited that they've redone this! It has awesome little lessons that are still a little too long for Rachel's sake but simple enough that she can sit through about half of one. There are pictures and activities with every lesson. In short, it's awesome.

Andrew taught the first lesson this Monday and Rachel seemed to enjoy it.

We were joking afterward that Rachel is going to be a nursery prodigy. She'll know all the lessons by heart and will skip ahead to CTR 5 because she's just so brilliant.

And lest you think we're the type of parent that thinks our child is flawless, we were also joking that we could do the same lesson every week and she'd never even notice.

She's got the memory of a goldfish, but she makes a pretty brilliant goldfish.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sam I Am

I love playgroup. I especially like it now that Rachel is brave enough to venture off on her own a little. She's always been pretty brave (read: aggressive) at playgroup but she was just too small and wobbly to get a lot of playing done on her own. Besides, I had to watch her like a hawk to make sure she didn't gauge any eyes out.

She's softened up in her old age though, and rarely goes for the eyes. Instead she goes for hugs, which is nicer but still not usually very welcome on the receiving end of things.

But she can go up and down the playground equipment with some efficiency and, once Sam showed up, she left my shadow and started following him around like some kind of movie star. I don't think he minded, though, because he seems to like her, for the most part. He calls her "Ray-church," which I think is cute--alas, he had the opportunity to say it so many times today that now he almost says it correctly. *sniff*

We've been trying to get Rachel to say Sam's name because she can say both "s" and "m," but she just doesn't get it. He is definitely one of her favorite people, though. We were out walking the other day and I said,

"We're going to go play with Finn and Abby. Do you like Finn?"

Rachel nodded her head.

"Do you like Abby?"

Rachel nodded her head.

It was keeping her entertained so I kept going.

"Do you like Daddy?"

"Dada!" she said while nodding her head.

"Do you like Sam?"

A big grin spread over Rachel's face and she started kicking her legs, clapping her hands, and bouncing up and down. I had her in the front carrier so it made things kind of awkward. I had to calm her down before I could really walk again.

"Oh, sorry. Sam's not going to be there. Just Finn and Abby."

That burst her bubble. She was still happy, just not ecstatic. She likes little babies but has this certain fascination with Sam. He can do things that she can't do. And that, in turn, encourages her to do things that she maybe shouldn't be trying at her age.

Anyway, back to today. Sam came onto the scene yelling, "Raychurch! Raychurch!" and nothing got done until Rachel had given him a hug. He pushed her away, but she was not easily put off and stuck to him like glue. And as much as he didn't seem to want to have her with him, he sure did call after her a lot to make sure she was still following him and even gave her a helping hand or two.

He's a good big brother figure.

And with Megan dishing out wedgies we should have Rachel acting like a younger sibling in no time...

Underwear Girl

Two successful days into Rachel's underwear career gave way to her first official wedgie.

Megan was trying to pick Rachel up, which she is discouraged from doing for obvious reasons, and she dropped her (that's the obvious reason in case you didn't figure it out) but kept her grip on Rachel's pyjama bottoms and rubber pants. Perhaps it isn't an official wedgie since Megan totally missed grabbing her underwear, too, but I think it was pretty good for her first one.

Sorry the picture isn't that great. I was trying to get a shot of the girls in their coordinated pj's (because what would a sleepover be without matching pyjamas?) when Megan picked Rachel up. I hesitated while I struggled internally over whether to rescue Rachel or take a picture. I ended up snapping the picture while reaching for Rachel and this is the result.

If the pollution don't get you...

...the sodium will!

When we lived in Jordan we ate a lot of pasta. It's quick, it's easy, it's almost healthy. Furthermore we were dirt poor and used some of our precious money to buy some really disgusting and highly concentrated tomato paste that we felt obligated to use. This stuff was so strong! We had to mix in fresh tomatoes, regular sauce, and water to make it edible and even then it wasn't great.

We were really excited when we moved here to find that they had regular tomato sauce all ready to eat. Just heat, spice, serve.

It was good until we'd slowed down enough to actually taste it. It tasted like salt and tomatoes. Not tomatoes and salt, mind you, but salt and tomatoes.

"Did you put salt in this?" I asked Andrew.

"Yeah, but I didn't think I put in this much. I dunno. We don't have a salt shaker so I just poured it in from the bag..."

The next time we made spaghetti we measured the salt with a spoon and were very careful to put in only a little. It was still too salty so we started tasting different components of our meal: the Parmesan cheese and noodles were fine. The sauce was salty enough to kill a chicken.

After much experimentation, I finally examined the label.

Ingredients: tomatoes 22%, salt 2%...

That could be our problem right there. In the nutrition information it says that a single serving of this fabulous sauce gives you 83% of your daily sodium requirements. 83 percent, people!

I checked all the different brands we had purchased--because we'd tried almost every available brand during our experimental stage--all of them had the same 22% tomatoes, 2% salt deal going on. There was no way we were going to be able to disguise the salt so we started making all our tomato sauces from scratch (which isn't really that hard; we're just lazy and prefer to just open a can).

We go shopping fairly regularly here (like every few days) because things just don't keep as well as they do other places. I appreciate the effort of the Egyptian food packaging companies. I suppose they were just trying to make their tomato sauce have a longer shelf life. That said, someone needs to inform them that "canning" and "salt curing" are two different methods of preservation and needn't be combined. Ever.

Our frequent shopping trips have allowed me to examine the labels of more types of tomato sauce than I'd care to admit, but I think we finally found a sauce that won't give us a heart attack. It's Heinz Pasta Sauce--made in Egypt, sold for Egyptian prices. I think it's like 4.85 LE a bottle, which is only like 75 piasters more than the plain 2% salt kind. It's kind of like Egyptian Ragu and salt comes after onion powder, so that says something about the salt content. Still a little too salty, but good enough, I suppose.

We bought a jar of Heinz Pizza Sauce last time we went shopping (yesterday, I think) and we've yet to try it. They admit that their recipe contains 1% salt, so we'll have to see how that tastes.

Canned beans are also rather salty. I may have to start buying dried beans and boiling them myself but, as I mentioned, we are a little lazy and prefer to just open a can than to go to all the work of boiling water. At least with the beans we can drain out the briney water and eat our slightly pickled beans without the extra sodium.

Oh, and we picked up a big bag of MSG at Seoudi's the other day. That's right. We picked it up, snapped a picture, and put it right back. I'm pretty sure that stuff is lethal, although I do know a certain someone who would make MSG sandwiches (you may choose to come out of anonymity if you wish).

In addition to an effective anti-smoking campaign, Egypt could really use an anti-sodium movement. Really this can't be good for anyone unless there's some magical property of nicotine that blocks out sodium. Perhaps that's the trick.

Because, really, who needs pants?

When you’ve got a big, floppy hat and golden slippers nobody’s going to be checking for pants.

Plus it’s a lot easier to make it to the potty on time if there’s only one layer to take off. We recently traded in our prefolds for underwear and Rachel’s been doing a great job of making it to the potty! She was so excited when we brought them home from the Bio Shop (Road 231 in Degla). We had to put a pair on right away. But then she didn’t want to take them off to do her business and ended up having an accident in the hallway.

I ran her to the bathroom and made her take off her underwear. It was soaking wet, so I put them in the diaper pail to be washed. She growled, stood up from her potty, marched to the diaper pail and retrieved her underwear. I told her that the underwear had to stay there because she peed in it, but we could put another pair on and if she didn’t pee in that pair she could wear it for as long as she wanted or until bedtime, whichever came first.

Two days and two accidents later brought us to yesterday, which was an amazing day, potty-wise. Rachel woke up shortly before 9:30 AM, wet already. She did her morning BM and was in underwear until 1:15 without an accident. I changed her back into a diaper so that she could have a nap, and she woke up, wet again. We put her underwear back on and she went through the rest of the afternoon accident free. She went potty right before I put her in a diaper to take her over Lora’s and asked her to just hold “it” until I picked her up, which she did. I put her on the potty when we got home she did her business and went straight to bed.

It was awesome. I hope this is a new trend.

Update: This appears to be a new trend. Perhaps I’m crazy, but I took Rachel out and about wearing underwear (covered up this time with rubber pants and brown gauchos). She stayed dry all during playgroup (although I think she might have peed in the pool (but honestly, what kid hasn’t done that?)) and she spent the afternoon and evening running around wild with all the Lewis children. I think it’s safe to say we're well on our way to being potty trained!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rachel the Cheeser

I sat Rachel on a stool while I made birthday cake #2. It was basically a re-do of the actual birthday cake, with more sugar. We took it over to the Lewises and it did much better there, thank goodness. Sara makes such wonderful desserts that I would have been mortified if my cake failed there. We’d never be able to go over ever again and that would be a real shame.

Anyway, Rachel was driving me crazy so I sat her on a stool to keep her from putting random things (ie: food, books, toys) into the washing machine, playing with the knobs on the stove, taking things out of the garbage can, holding onto my legs so that I can’t walk, touching the greasy rack that we took out of our oven so that we could fit a cake pan inside, or getting into mischief in general.

I gave her the lemons after I was done squeezing them and she had a good time sucking the juice out and watching me cook. She was being such a goof that I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures.


Egyptian UNO

While scanning through the shelves of games at Moudy’s Rachel and I happened upon a game of UNO. We forgot to bring our UNO cards and Andrew had mentioned that he would like to get in a few good rounds of Cutthroat UNO while we were out here, so it kind of jumped out at me. It jumped out at Rachel as well. She picked it up and wouldn’t put it down, causing a wonderful temper tantrum at the time. I made her put it back because I’m a mean mom.

A few days ago, though, we went back to Moudy’s to see if they still had a game of UNO for us to buy. Rachel was the one who spotted it and embraced it with relish. She had a very difficult time parting with it when I told her we were going to put it in a bag to give to Daddy. She was under the impression that anything cool we purchase belongs to her.

She forgot about it soon enough and was just when Andrew opened it as he was. Probably more excited, actually. You see, this is no ordinary game of UNO. It came in a big, red box shaped like a hexagon prism. Inside that box is a black box and inside that box are the cards. Rachel is much more interested in the box than the cards. I can hardly blame her. The box really is pretty cool.

The cards are alright, I guess. They’re pretty flimsy but they serve their purpose. They are made in A.R.E.—the Arab Republic of Egypt—under the brand name FUN, which apparently is "America’s #1 Brand of Family Games!" It’s a “high quality products original,” which we’re guessing means a rip off, unless Mattel knows about this company.

Andrew and I played a few rounds of regular UNO while we were waiting for our landlord to leave last night. We were too tired to even consider playing Cut Throat (which is more fun with more than 2 people, anyway). I’m not sure that we’ve played a lot of 2 player UNO. We kept running into problems and even had to refer to the rules a few times.

We learned that if you play a reverse the order with only 2 players, it works the same as a “skip a turn” card, which actually makes a lot of sense.

There were a few rules that we didn’t remember at all and were wondering if the rules in the Mattel version of UNO include any of these:

1) Players who make card-play suggestions to the other players must draw 2 cards from the draw pile.
2) If a player plays a wrong card and it is noticed by any of the other players, h/she must take the card back and take 2 extra cards from the draw pile. Their turn is then skipped.
3) If a “draw 4” card is played, the person who would have to draw 4 can challenge the person that played it by asking them to show them their hand. If the “draw 4” was played illegally, the person who played it has to draw 6 cards (4 + a 2 card penalty), but if they played it legally the challenger has to draw 6 (the original 4 + a 2 card penalty).

I don’t ever remember any of those rules from my UNO playing days. Does anyone out there know the truth? I suppose I could look it up online, but I’m sitting at home right now and we still don’t have internet, so…

We’re also interested in the description of the “action cards” because our rules get pretty biased. The first sentence under the “Wild Draw Four Card” states that “this is the best card to have.” Do the real rules really rate the cards as good, better, best? I don’t remember. We haven’t played UNO for a while and I can’t remember the last time I read the rules.

Any of our friends around here up for a wild round of Cut Throat?

Happy birthday, Andrew!

It was Andrew’s birthday on Friday. He’s the big 24 now. Time flies. We had a little party with some of our “small family” friends, the Schillings, Sharps, and Masons. After we chatted for a while I brought out the cake, which was a complete flop.

Andrew’s favorite cake is “Jell-o Cake,” a recipe that his mom would make. I’d never had it before he introduced it to me a few months after we were married. He likes it a lot, so I tried to make something similar here.

We used an Egyptian cake mix. I saw it in the store and had to get it because they voweled the English vowels, which I think is hilarious since English already has vowels. But just in case we forgot where the vowels were or what sound the vowels make, they put the Arabic vowels on to help us out.

I made a lemon glaze to pour on the cake while Andrew entertained the Schillings in the front room. I thought the lemon glaze was good. The problem with my assessment, however, was that I happen to think lemons taste good. Rachel does, too. She and I can suck on a lemon and not pull a face. Apparently not everyone can.

I brought out the cake, we sang, Andrew blew out the candles, and then we served the cake.

Hardly anyone finished their piece and those that did didn’t ask for seconds. Rachel and I were going to town though.

I was a little disappointed and mentioned this to Andrew after everyone had left. He said that it was just a little too bitter and needed a lot more sugar. To make myself feel better I ate the rest of the cake. I still thought it was good.

Besides the cake, the rest of the evening was great. We talked about the upcoming vacation, played Fluxx (because Andrew wanted to use the “Today’s Special!” card since it was his birthday), and watched Rachel try to interact with Finn. Her personality is a little too potent for him right now.

Is she hugging him or strangling him?

In addition to it being Andrew’s birthday it was also International Landlord Day. Our guests started filtering out shortly after the cake was served. First the Sharps left to meet with their landlord, then our landlord came by, and then the Schillings left to meet with their real estate agent who wanted to show their apartment to someone else (since they’ll be leaving in a few months).

Our landlord almost stayed the night. He came to fix our fridge, finally. I’m not sure that he knew it was Andrew’s birthday, but as practical gifts go, it was a good gift. Almost as good as the time Andrew got some fans for my birthday when the air conditioner went out and I was a million months pregnant. Practical gifts are always good gifts.

Our fridge has been rather dreadful. I’m sure you’re all aware of our cockroach problem. That’s improved some, but they haven’t quite been abolished yet. I think part of the reason they keep coming back is because our fridge doesn’t seal all the way so they can get in whenever they like, which I don’t like. In fact, it has been one of the main reasons I’ve been avoiding the kitchen. Every time I’d open the door to root around a cockroach would fall right in front of my face, or run out of the door by my feet, or land on my head, or be on whatever it was I was after.

The fridge is supposed to be a safe haven from cockroaches, or so I thought. We didn’t have that luxury…until the wee early hours of Saturday morning.

The landlord, who has a few antisocial tendencies, was a little miffed that we had company but he decided to follow through with his plans to fix our fridge anyway. He showed up around 9 o’clock and started banging things around in the kitchen. A while later he came into the dining room where we were all seated around the table playing Fluxx. He came over to an empty chair and pulled it out slowly. So slowly, in fact, that we all started wondering if he was going to join us.

“Good luck teaching him this game in Arabic,” Patrick quipped.

Fluxx has no set rules, so it would be impossible to teach someone how to play in Arabic. It’s quite difficult to do so in English…

As it turns out he just wanted the chair. He took it into the kitchen and banged around for a little while longer. Then he came out and took the little table from Rachel’s play area.

“I’m going to go check on him,” Andrew excused himself from the table. When he came back he informed us that Hatim had taken the door off the fridge and had taken the old seal off the door. While Andrew was back there he asked Andrew if he could boil a pot of water.

We finished the round of Fluxx and then called it a night. Patrick is allergic to cigarette smoke and we were all getting headaches from it. Hatim has a problem and hasn’t quite grasped the concept that we have a problem with his problem. When we ask him to not smoke in our apartment he stops puffing on the cigarette but never puts it out. We even threw away the ashtray that was left in our apartment…which he somehow dug out of the trashcan and asked if, since we don’t smoke, he could have it.

So, the Masons left and we sat around waiting for our landlord to leave. Eventually he did, but he said he’d be back. He left our fridge all torn apart and I was hoping that he’d be back shortly. Instead he was gone for a few hours before he returned with the bowab from next door (since we don’t have one…still). They took the fridge door outside and were gone for a long time.

There was a knock on the door at 1:30 AM. Hatim was back, with the door. The old seal was back on the door and the whole door was greasy and rather banged up. He put it back on the fridge and then boiled the water on the stove and showed us how to melt the plastic seal with the scalding hot water so that we could stretch it out.

I was skeptical, but it worked. Hatim was able to stretch out the seal enough that it now suctions closed. Our food keeps a lot cooler now and it seems to be pretty airtight. Perhaps now we’ll be able to avoid both the cockroaches and the moldy Gouda. I’m glad that our fridge is fixed, really I am. Ecstatic, actually. I haven’t had a cockroach land on my head for like two whole days now. But really, did we have to stay up until 2 AM just so that our landlord could melt the seal on our fridge? Was that necessary?

He was laughing at us because we were both dog-tired.

“You want to go to bed?” he laughed.

“Yes, we do.” said Andrew.

“I’m not even tired yet,” said Hatim.

“What time do you usually go to bed?” asked Andrew.

“It’s Ramadan, so usually 4 or 5. I’ll still be up for a few hours.”

Thanks for fixing our fridge (in a temporary fashion), Hatim, and thanks for leaving before 4 AM. I don’t think I could have stayed up any later. Sorry we didn’t invite you to our party.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The bawwab conspiracy: the conclusion

As you all (should) remember, we had quite a conspiracy brewing about the nature, identity, and whereabouts of our shifty bawwab who stole 50 LE from us when we moved in to our apartment. We've finally tied up all the loose ends of the story and know what really happened.

Unfortunately it kind of has a boring ending. If only it was a joint Mossad/CIA plan.

Ibrahim, the younger bawwab, is actually the bawwab for the building next door and has nothing to do with the story.

After we told our landlord of the dastardly robbery, he immediately fired Khaled, who was the actual bawwab.

Since then the building hasn't had a bawwab. The gardener has been stepping in occasionally to take out the trash and clean the stairwell.

We didn't want Khaled to get fired; we just wanted our money back. Who knows what fate he suffered...

ArkhuS gouda

A few weeks ago we were craving a Mexican feast for dinner and rather than take a taxi all the way out to City Stars in Heliopolis, we tried our hand at making our own Egyptian-Mexican meal. Fortunately we brought a ton of Western Family fajita and enchilada seasoning packets with us, so we had the right spices. We had to improvise with the beans and tortillas, resorting to unseasoned fuul and the thinnest pita bread we could find (although we've since found flour tortillas at Seoudi and cheapo corn tortillas at Kimo's). Unfortunately we were completely missing sour cream and salsa (although I got my enchisagne fix at the Lewises a few days later). The only other thing we needed was some cheddar cheese.

Unfortunately, cheese is one of the more difficult foods to stomach here. It's mostly made from super salty goat milk and is generally pretty gross. However, as I learned in Italy and we relearned in Jordan, European cheese is great. Laughing Cow cheese is super cheap here and is one of our staples. Our other main cheese is gouda, which is vaguely like cheddar. So we headed down to Metro Market to find some great gouda for our meal.

When I got up to the cheese counter I carefully looked at all the different types of gouda, trying to find the cheapest one; some were stratospherically expensive! After I made my choice I asked the cheese cutter to get me half a kilo of the "cheapest gouda" (arkhuS gouda). He stared at me, waiting for me to continue with my sentence, and when I didn't continue he asked me what kind of cheese I wanted.

I repeated my request for the cheapest gouda, adding that I was a poor student. Again, he asked me what kind of cheese I wanted. Frustrated, I resorted to pointing and grunting, repeating "cheapest gouda, right there, the cheapest gouda."

He finally nodded his head and grabbed a cheese wheel to chop a chunk off of it. However, instead of grabbing the wheel I wanted, he dug under the other wheels of cheese to find some older, less pretty one - one that didn't deserve to be on display anymore.

I figured he was just trying to get rid of his old inventory, took the cheese from him, and went happily on my way. We had our Mexican meal and were content.

The next morning the cheese already had mold growing on it.

We figured the Egyptian heat, combined with our lame fridge that didn't close all the way, was the main factor for this quick destruction of cheese. A few days later, though, I figure out it wasn't. Heat wasn't to blame; the Egyptian Arabic dialect was.

In Egypt, though, all [dʒ] (j) sounds are pronouced as [g], so the Arabic name Jamal become Gamal, the word for beautiful, "jamiila," becomes "gamiila," and so on.

The word for "quality" in normal Arabic is جودة, or jouda. In Egypt that changes to "gouda." I was asking the cheeseman for the "cheapest quality," (arkhuS gouda) which is why he kept waiting for me to finish the sentence with the type of cheese I wanted. Eventually he just gave me the cheapest quality of gouda, or "arkhuS gouda gouda," which explains why he had to dig out the old gouda wheel for me.

I wonder what he was thinking... "This poor American student wants moldy cheese? Weird... Oh well..."

Voting from Egypt

Since November 4 is only 43 days away, getting an absentee ballot has been pretty high on our priority list. I tried voting absentee in 2004 on my mission but didn't get the ballot until mid December with a Christmas package, so we're really hoping to get the ballots moving our way sooner than that this time around.

NPR had a story last week that made it to their "Most e-mailed stories" podcast about all the problems with overseas voting in the past, slow postal service and impossible registration forms being the main complaints. They mentioned a new organization, the Overseas Vote Foundation, that finally went through all the voting requirements and made a website that fills out the needed forms for you. They're a non partisan organization, but the Obama-Biden camp has made some cool deal with them that lets them use their own custom campaign branding, CSS, and HTML layout at a special subdomain of their site. McCain hasn't, since he's apparently not pushing voter registration like Obama is.

So now we have both of our forms filled out and just need to get them sent out. Hopefully Utah e-mails empty ballots for absentee voters; if not, we can use ex-pat mail privileges here to get them faster (thanks Lewiseses!)

So, yeah. If you're trying to vote from Egypt (or anywhere else in the world), head on over to their site and fill out your registration form.

UPDATE: McCain is kind of working on his own version now, but it's not entirely working right now. These computers and internets are kinda tricky...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Water(melon) woes

It seems like our water has been turned off just about every other day this week. I’m always a little disappointed when I go to turn on the tap and nothing comes out, but I can deal with it. Usually. The water outages are pretty consistent—the water turns off around 9 AM and then comes back on around 5 or 6 PM (or later). Rachel and I have taken to doing full-day outings in order to avoid being home.

Being home is depressing; we’re constantly reminded, by the lack of dripping water, that we have no water. I never thought that I’d be happy about having a leaky faucet, but since it does leak and I know that it leaks I’ve come to accept the constant drip as a comfort of sorts. If it’s dripping we have water, and that makes me happy.

Yesterday (Wednesday) was one of those non-water days. Rachel and I woke up around 9 in the morning and went into the bathroom. No water. Again.

I texted Andrew to complain…er, inform him…about the situation, “Ma fii maya…again.”

He called back a few minutes later and suggested I go out and see if I could find the gardener.

“Just say, ‘Ma feesh maya fii shu’utna.’” He coached me.

Our gardener is acting as our bowab for now since we don’t have one. More on that later.

I got Rachel dressed while I practiced saying ‘Ma feesh maya fii shu’utna,’ aloud. I always get flustered when I try to actually speak Arabic to anyone so I find it helpful to practice scenarios before I encounter them. Unfortunately I had no idea what I would say to the gardener if he happened to respond. I couldn’t even think of how he would respond, so instead of thinking about what I would say next I just mumbled ‘Ma feesh maya fii shu’utna’ to Rachel.

When I found myself saying “Ma feesh shu’utna fii maya,” I began to feel a bit like Tom Hanks in the movie “The Terminal.” I knew that, even though I knew the phrase “There’s no water in our apartment” forwards and back, I’d end up walking up to the gardener and telling him “Our apartment is not in the water.”

Unfortunately we didn’t find the gardener outside, so I was left to wonder what to do next instead of what to say next. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I decided to ask our next-door neighbours if they had water. Big mistake.

We try to avoid our neighbours at all cost. They are an older couple; the woman is Polish and the man is English. We first met the woman, Anna, while her husband was out of town. She was completely intoxicated (she could hardly stand up) and had come to ask for some matches. She took Andrew into her apartment, gave him a tour (and one of her paintings).

“I am…eccentric, crazy lady. I paint. I listen loud music. I drink.”

That’s what she told him. All we can do is believe her. We thought perhaps her husband would be a proper English gentleman (I have no idea why we would think this, given her state), but he’s not. He reminds me much more of the thugs on 101 Dalmatians, if anything else. They both kind of scare me.

But I didn’t think of that until I rang the doorbell. And then it was everlastingly too late. I could already hear Anna coming. I suppose I could have run and hid, but I didn’t.

“Kheellloooo, my sweeetiesssh!” she spat at us. The smell of liquor on her breath was almost too much to bear. And it was only 9 o’clock in the morning.

“I was just wondering,” I stammered (I’m not used to working with drunken people), “We don’t have water…do you have water…?”

“Ahhh, da! Ze water ish bik problem. Bik, bik, problem. I maybe khelpju!”

She thrust some water bottles into my arms and turned around, shaking her derrière.

“You khan wasssh her…” she told me, indicating her rear end, “Babiessh always messhing zher.”

Again, the pointing and shaking of her backside.

“Khom innnn!” she sang, grabbing my arm and pulling me inside.

“Actually, I have company coming soon and I need to clean up my…”

“I don’t sink so!” she interrupted. But no matter what she thought, it was true. My visiting teachers were due at 11 o’clock and I did have to clean up my…apartment.

“You will have tea!” she commanded.

“Oh, I don’t drink tea,” I said. Always a touchy subject with Russians and Arabs, apparently beverages are a touchy subject with Poles as well. I suppose that can be expected since Poland was part of the USSR—their cultures are sure to have assimilated a little.

“No tea?” she asked, gravely offended.

“Uh, no. Spasiba. We don’t drink tea in my religion, but thanks.”

“Coffee then!”

“Uh, no, I don’t drink that either. Eto nilzya v moem tzirkye.” I tried Russian, hoping that she spoke it, again banking on the fact that she was already a grown woman when the USSR was alive and well. Besides, Polish is similar to Russian, so surely she’d understand part of it.

She sighed, slurred something in Russian. And after offering me both coffee and tea several other times, showing me her extensive collection of teas, and even offering me some liquor, we settled on a glass of water.

Anna was still not satisfied, however, and wanted to give me more. She brought out some watermelon, precut, from her kitchen. Rachel dug in. Juice was flying all over the place, drenching Rachel’s shirt and dying it pink, falling on the carpet, spilling on the couch, dripping on the tile.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “Rachel, do be careful…”

“It’s alright!” Anna sang, now thoroughly mixing Russian and English, “You will have some.”

She thrust the bowl in my face. I took a piece and ate it, noticing an obtusely odd flavor that screamed, “I’ve been sitting out all night! Don’t eat me!” After that I tried to discourage Rachel from eating anymore, but with Anna and her husband “Uncle” encouraging Rachel, it was a losing battle. Rachel ate about half the bowl of watermelon.

And then they brought out the chocolates.

“IshSwissh shocolate! Cannot buy in shtore!” Anna informed me. “Have, have!”

“I, uh, don’t eat chocolate either,” I told her, “I’m allergic…”

She studied my face for a moment and then pulled one arm in front of her face while contorting the other arm behind her back. “I know!” she exclaimed, “You yoga!?”

“Yes,” I said tentatively, “I do yoga…”

Not that I’ve actually done it much here. I need to get back into it, but that involves figuring out how to work the portable DVD player and I don’t have a mat to put on the wood floor and doing yoga on a wood floor just sounds ouchy.

“Me, too!” said Anna. She ran over to her (rather extensive) DVD collection and brought me an armful of yoga DVDs, “See?”

Yes, indeed I did see.

“Yoga means no tea, no coffee, no drinks, no candy. That’s why we’re healthy!” she slurred.


Rachel was sifting through the pile of imported Swiss chocolates on the table.

“Eat, eat!” Anna urged.

I helped Rachel sift through the chocolates, avoiding all cappuccino flavored ones, until we found a nice, plain milk chocolate. After Rachel had stuffed herself full of chocolate and claimed a little stuffed Eyore as her own (“Take, take! She likes it, take!”), and laden down with bottles of water, we left Anna’s apartment. Finally. I had 6 minutes until my visiting teachers arrived.

At least we found out from Anna’s husband (Uncle, we’re to call him) that there’s a pump broken somewhere between the Nile and Road 84 or something, and they turn it off and reroute the water so that they can work on it. It should be fixed soon (insha’allah). That’s about all he said to us before he disappeared somewhere in the house. He was about as drunk as Anna. Almost, but not quite.

Rachel was bouncing off the walls while my visiting teachers, Sister Lindsey and Sister Hall, were here. I suppose she had too much watermelon and chocolate. As soon as they left I fed Rachel lunch and put her down for a nap. She, uncharacteristically, calmed down immediately and fell asleep within five minutes of being put down.

I ate some breakfast, finally, and started cleaning up a bit. Then I read, took a nap, read some more, cleaned some more…and Rachel still hadn’t stirred. I went in to wake her up. She was very groggy and clingy and wanted to nurse right away.

I tried to make her stand up while I got ready to nurse, but she fell over and started crying and writhing on the floor. I picked her back up and she nursed for about two minutes. Then she looked at me and started gagging.

“What’s wrong, baby?” I asked. “Are you choking on something? Let me see in your…oh…gross…”

Rachel threw up all over me. I had a big puddle of throw up on my lap, which was quickly running down my leg and onto the floor. Rachel started gagging again. I didn’t want to be her throw up bowl again, so I quickly put her on the floor to finish throwing up while I tried to think about what to do.

She was holding my hands and shaking, puking her guts out every few minutes. We were both covered in throw up, and still the half-digested watermelon just kept on coming. Finally, Rachel let go of my hands, sat down (yes, in the throw up), and sighed a big sigh.

“Feel better?” I asked. She nodded and then, believe it or not, asked if she could keep nursing.

She threw a fit when I told her she’d have to wait while I cleaned up a bit, but there was no way I was nursing her in this condition. I peeled off her stinky, wet clothes, and then took off my own throw-up covered clothes, and we ran into the bathroom. I put her in the sink and turned on the tap. Nothing. Came. Out.

I had totally forgotten that we had no running water. Luckily we believe in baby wipes. Rachel and I got a baby wipe sponge bath, which was sufficient, but not perfect. I threw a towel over her throw up and sopped it up the best I could. We put some clothes on and then we sat down to nurse until Andrew got home.

“I feel so gross!” I told him, “But the water won’t turn on for a few hours!”. I still had bits of watermelon between my toes and Rachel smelled sour—I’m sure I did, too.

He called the Lewises who said we could come over and use their shower (bless them), which we did, and then they fed us dinner (bless them again). It felt so nice to be clean and de-throw-up-ified, surrounded by happy people who’d had water all day long, and full of, you guessed it, hamburgers (this time from Maadi House)!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ibn Tuloun and Al Azhar Park

At long last Andrew’s schedule has finally been solidified. He’s taking an Arabic class everyday Sunday through Wednesday. That class meets first thing in the morning so Andrew has to take the early bus to school. Due to Ramadan the class has been bumped even earlier, so that means that the early bus arrives earlier. Poor Andrew, who is not a morning person at all, has to get up by 5:30 in order to get to the bus on time.

Luckily, he was able to snag some graduate classes that were offered during the day so he only has to stay late on campus one night a week. Most of the graduate classes are only offered in the evenings, but I’m happy that 2 of his 3 Middle East/Political Science classes are during the day.

His one evening class is the same night that I take belly dancing lessons. Lora is babysitting for us on those evenings—I totally owe her big time once Abby gets big enough to be left with sitters on a regular basis.

This semester Andrew has Arabic 203—which is the 2nd to last regular Arabic class they offer at AUC. The number just sounds low, but really it’s high. I promise. If BYU used it, it would be a 400 level, post-study abroad class. But they don’t teach it…

He’s also taking A Critical Introduction to Middle East Studies; Islamic Institutions; and a seminar on Palestinian Refugee Rights and Issues. He’s happily interested in all of his classes so far. My favorite part, besides him actually having drive and purpose in his life again, is that he gets Thursdays off, which means that we get a 3-day weekend every week!

We squandered this Thursday away by sleeping in and puttering about the house, but we have been making plans to do exciting things on other Thursdays (when Andrew isn’t swamped with homework and reading). We made up for our lack of activity on Saturday, though.

Originally we were planning on heading out to the mosque of Ibn Tuloun, walking to the Sultan Hassan Madrassa/Mausoleum and then to the Citadel. We rode the Metro out to the stop at Sayeda Zeinab and after wandering through a market selling all sorts of wondrous things (including pickled cow heads *gag*) we grabbed a taxi and sped off to Ibn Tuloun.

The guards told us that the mosque was closed, but it wasn’t really. They were just grumpy—Ramadan Kareem (Happy Ramadan)—so we went in anyway and paid the staffers a few pounds to put some disgusting booties on our feet. I’m not really sure why we were wearing them, although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t to keep the mosque clean because, well, it was filthy—swirling with pigeon feathers and dust. I understand that mosques are sacred places and we offered to take off our shoes as we saw other people doing, but the staffers were quite insistent on our need for booties. Hot, sweaty, never-been-cleaned booties.

We put them on and wandered around. Rachel thought it was a lot of fun. Her sole goal seemed to be to get in the sabil (ablution fountain) in the middle of the mosque. She could climb up and reach across to the fountain, but she just couldn’t get her feet across no matter how hard she tried. Poor girl.

After many failed attempts she was able to satisfy her curiosity by going around and knocking on as many doors as she could. She had a great time.

Even though we promised the guards we’d only be 5 minutes, the staffers didin’t seem too pushy to get anyone out. There were a few tourists besides us milling around, as well as a few little Muslim families. Still, after admiring the architecture and reading about the mosque in our guidebook and having a little history lesson from Andrew, there wasn’t much else to do inside we thought we’d try to get on top (we’d seen some other people up there).

Among other things, Ibn Tuloun is famous for its minaret, which is in the Abbassid Iraqi style with the stairs on the outside. Ibn Tuloun was a governor from Iraq and copied the Al Mutawakkil mosque in Samarra. Apparently the minaret offers a spectacular view of the rest of the mosque, as well as the Citadel, but the door was locked and we couldn’t find the guards. We’ll have to go back another time.

After failing at getting to climb the minaret, we headed off to the Sultan Hassan Madrassa/Mausoleum. Rachel enjoyed the walk there. She loved being in Islamic Cairo—it was like being on a farm, only in the middle of the city. All we have out in Maadi are cats, dogs, and birds. In Islamic Cairo, though, there are donkeys and horses pulling carts, goats and sheep on the side of the road, and although we didn’t see any poultry we heard enough noise to believe that there were some roosters around somewhere.

Rachel was beside herself with joy and kept pointing at every animal she saw and making her generic animal noise (which right now is “Ooh, ooh!”). I didn’t think anything could distract her from her animal hunt, but then Andrew crossed the street and Rachel and I got stuck on the other side. She was alright until she noticed he was gone and then she started to panic.

“Dada?” she’d ask, put her hands into her question mark position.

“He’s right there, across the street,” I’d tell her. I don’t think she could focus on him that far away with all the cars zooming by and people whistling at her. She was pretty nervous until he was back within her reach.

Where's dada?
(Click on the picture, or any picture for that matter, for more detail)

The Sultan Hassan Madrassa/Mausoleum closed at 2 PM (Ramadan hours…Ramadan Kareem). At first I wasn’t going to believe the guy who told us that because people often try to scam you into believing that such-and-such a place is closed and will lead you somewhere else in order to rip you off. However, upon further investigation the site really was rather closed. He told us that the Citadel was closed, too.

So we thanked him and refused to go with him “down the street,” even though he was pestering us to no end, and quickly made new plans to visit Al-Azhar Park instead. We hailed a taxi and went off on the wildest ride of our life!

A garbage truck had decided to make his rounds so we were in stop-and-go traffic behind his truck for the longest time. We kept zigzagging around other cars and stopping so abruptly I thought Rachel would fly out of my arms.

And then we got to Al-Azhar Park and the driver gasped. We had taken the long way around instead of coming up in front of the Citadel. I don’t know if the driver honestly didn’t know he could come that way, or if he really just wanted to take us on a wild ride. I’m banking on him not knowing. He was pretty frustrated the whole time we were in the taxi… “Why do you want to go there?! Look at this traffic!”

It cost 5 LE each to get in (about 1 USD), which was worth it because Al-Azhar Park is beautiful! They had the same type of grass there that they have on the beaches in San Diego—all short and waxy. But it was nice to have a place for Rachel, our blossoming social butterfly, to run around.

We wanted to check out the playground, and she was more interested in becoming acquainted with everyone on the path. She ran up to a couple and jumped up into the arms of the man. It’s a good thing Arabs like children. He plopped down on a bench with her and gave her a Kleenex (one of her favorite things to eat) and played with her for a few minutes.

As soon as we had convinced her that she belonged to our family and not theirs, she was off hugging a pylon. And then she just about adopted herself into a family with three little kids walking the opposite direction. So many distractions, so little time.

Eventually we made it to the park and Rachel was in heaven. There were so many slides and swings to choose from. She had a blast running around while we chased her. For some reason she didn’t want to play with any of the kids at the park—go figure. Our camera battery died, which was only minutely unfortunate. We couldn’t take any more pictures of her having fun but it allowed us to get out from behind the lens and play with her.

We played until the sky started getting all sunsetty on us, which made us remember that it’s Ramadan and we had better hurry off to find a taxi before iftar or we’d be stuck in the park all night (okay, probably not all night…but probably well past Rachel’s bedtime). Rachel only had a few distractions on the way back: the couple she’d stolen the Kleenex from and a little boy that we had to stop and play with for a few minutes. She gave him a hug. His parents just about died of happiness.

Oh, and then we had to have a last minute photo shoot by the fountain at the main gate. A bunch of teenagers were there and they all whipped out their cell phones so that they could take pictures with Rachel. They passed her around and pinched her cheeks and made her anxious enough that she willingly let Daddy carry her all the way to the taxi.