Thursday, March 19, 2009

Falling Apart-ment

We've seen about 15 apartments now (and just saw 7 today!) and have learned many things.

1) A new coat of paint costs about $50 in Egypt, but justifies an asking price of about $100,000 more. This is particularly true if the paint is disgusting (read: Gold!)

2) The quality of any apartment is inversely proportional to the quality of its surroundings.

3) Apartment hunting induces a unique kind of exhaustion.

Exercise makes you tired, work makes you tired, sitting in traffic makes you tired, not getting enough sleep makes you tired, exams make you tired, but apartment hunting makes you tired in a different way.

There's the physical tired of exploring apartments and climbing stairs.
There's the mental tired of trying to keep everything straight in your mind.
There's the stress tired to make the biggest financial decision of your life.
Then there's the tired of disappointment--an apartment has everything you need except for some horrible inescapable flaw.
Finally, there's the tired of excitement--the 'ooh, ooh, closer, week's will be good.'

It may actually be the most exhausting activity ever.

But it's so exciting---We just need to keep doing it!! Just a few more....we'll get there, we'll get there.....

Friday, February 6, 2009


Wahied came back from Luxor long haired, roughly shaven, cheerful and whole. As gifts, he brought home an entire bag full of dirty laundry, lots of (really nice) hibiscus, and a Camel-bone necklace.

Unfortunately I've been so busy I've scarcely had time to enjoy his company. We did, however, get to go out on Wednesday night to an "American" restaurant in our neighborhood, where we ate ---anyone? anyone? Buller? --- Burgers. And we're going to go back! I would rank it within the top five burger-making-places I've ever eaten at, and it was certainly the best burger I've ever had in Egypt. Mmmm...

Other than that, not much exciting stuff has been happening. I've been incredibly busy at work, and have managed to rope Wahied into the process as well. I have enlisted him into the process of re-translating a listing (about 700 statements). He has been incredibly helpful, but the process is slow going, because he insists on teaching me arabic during the process. Thus, I'm struggling through sentence after sentence while Wahied coaches me through "yes, good, benat is the girls, now what are they doing?"

While both helpful and productive, I can think of better ways to spend my (all too short) sunny, 80* weekend.

A'ight --- back to work.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

14 hours till work...

I have somehow managed to use up my entire weekend not doing much of anything. I was a bit of a shut in, to be honest.

After getting home from work pretty late on Thursday, made dinner, hung out with the neighbors for a bit, then came back and finished re-reading the second Harry Potter book (I only have 1 and 2 here) and started re-reading the Golden Compass.

On Friday I woke later than I ever have--at about 10:00, had breakfast with the neighbors (cucumber-tomato-tuna-and cheese sandwiches, yum!) and watched Vanity Fair (the Reese Witherspoon movie) on TV. Then I came back across the hall, brought my laptop to bed to complete a presentation, then read and read and read, finished the book and fell asleep. I didn't even change out of my PJs all day...

In the morning (today) I took the metro downtown to go to the American University bookstore so I could buy the remaining books in both of the series I had started. The metro was a strange feeling for me. I used to ride it every day and Wahied still does, but somehow it seemed to not really fit into my life here. I have really begun to feel comfortable here--I can handle the worst of Cairo traffic, I know my way around, I know what things do cost and should cost, and I know who to call when I need something or another. At home and at work I feel normal.

But nothing on the metro does feel normal. I take the ladies' car, which I find to be cleaner and less crowded, but I am perhaps more noticeable there than I would be on the mixed cars. Groups of very giggly and very critical girls will openly point and stare and critique every single aspect of my being. (In Arabic, assuming I can't understand). The people sitting on either side of me will try to put as much space between themselves and me as humanly possible. Some of the boys who come by selling knickknacks dropping their goods into women's laps will pass over me. The ones who don't will linger a little longer by me or try to touch my arms when I'm giving them their stuff back.

Once out on the street, or even on the platform in the station, I'm back to normal--not quite invisible, not quite freakish--and can trick myself into thinking that at some point (if not now) I will blend in here. But the truth is that 10 years from now, with perfect arabic (inshallah) and Egyptian looking children, I STILL won't fit in on the metro. And that makes me sad.

At the bookstore, which is a tiny slice of heaven cut off and dropped into the heart of Cairo, I found the two remaining books in the Pullman series. Disappointingly, I was unable to find Harry Potter, save for a giant stack of book 7 (which I didn't buy) and a single copy of book 4 (which I did). I also bought a New (to me anyway) Manfredi book, an author who Britta has gotten me hooked on. Then I came home and started reading.

I stopped briefly to make some pasta and then again, later, to update this blog after realising it's now dark. And now, considering the long, busy days I had at work last week and expect to have this coming week, I'm wishing my weekend were about 10 times longer.

Otherwise things are great--life at the moment is happy, though it does not lend itself to exciting narratives.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Five years!

Wahied got the visa. It's a five-year multiple entry tourist visa. Woo!

We're going to come back to the states for a major visit this May. The plan is to come for 3 or 4 weeks, spending most of our time in Connecticut and New York, hopefully with a short visit to Chicago too.

Every time I think about it, I can't help squealing "We're a-comin' home!" which confuses Wahied, both because of the made up words, and because we are already home.

The best thing about this visa is that it has fundamentally changed my daily life here. Now I know that I'm here because I want to be, and not because I have to be. The distinction seems small, but it's actually a huge difference. I have chosen my life and can un-chose it any time I like, so it must be exactly what I want it to be.

Other than that, things haven't been all that different. Work is good, home life is good, Wahied is lovely, and things are fine. I've been busy. Somehow, I always seem to be busy. I'm getting a bit tired, to be honest. My break in May is a big thing to look forward to, but May seems to be pretty far away at this point. I guess that just leaves me more time to spend looking forward to it, though.

More later....

Monday, January 12, 2009

It has been too long

A combination of too much to do and too little of interest has kept me away from the computer for too long.

Since I last posted properly, lots of things have happened. We had two lovely, but entirely different, Christmases. The first was December 25th, "American Christmas". It was exactly what Christmas should be. We threw a party at the apartment, where we cooked roast lamb, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, carrots, yams, chickens, salad, and then had cheesecake, cookies, fruit salad, fruit, a chocolate gingerbread house and nuts for desert. We had plenty of gifts and things to drink and our neighbor managed to get us a couple of nice bottles of Champagne. 12 people came, all of them Muslim. It was loads of fun, and people left around 3am. Wahied got me a microwave. I got him a dictionary, a book and a remote-control hummer.

Our second Christmas, "Egyptian Christmas" was on January 7th. We went down to Wahied's family's village. I had work the day before so we left early in the morning on Christmas day. Wahied was driving and very eager to get there, and neglected both the speed limit and his wife's warning that major holidays usually come with major radar presence on the highway. Needless to say, we were stopped for speeding and Wahied had to pay a fine. I called it his "insolence ticket" and he called it "highway robbery". Christmas in the village is almost exactly like every other day in the village, except that the street is knee-deep in cellophane sweets wrappers and colorful garbage, kids are exploding firecrackers all day and all night, and everyone has baked 50 kilos of three different kinds of cookies, and force feeds them down your throat. I had eaten about 30 cookies (and had been asked if I'm pregnant more than that) before we even got from the car to the house.

The fact that I am not pregnant is a point of contention between me and, well, everyone else. Every single man, woman and child in Egypt, particularly the village will outright say "Enty Hamil?" (Are you pregnant?) and unless I answer in the affirmative (which I have yet to do) they get furious and say "Le? Ayzeen baby! Ayzeen baby dilwaqti!" (Why? We want a baby! We want a baby now!). Usually I just say "inshallah" (God willing) instead of my more controversial "If you want one, no one's stopping you". It was particularly bad this time, because now that we're approaching six months from the wedding (it has been more than NINE since the marriage) people have begun to gossip about whether or not Wahied is able to get me pregnant. He hates that, I hate that, and we're certainly not going to run off and produce offspring for them just because they're doing that. But really, I just think it's rude to ask.

Despite the pregnancy debate damper, Christmas in the village was good, if not uneventful. We only stayed for three days and then came back to Cairo. Once we got home, we took down our Christmas decorations and cleaned the apartment. I guess we're getting geared up for the longest period of no-holidays in the year.

Between our two Christmases we had New Years. We spent it at Anita and Omar's. It was just a little thing with the four of us, but we had some champagne at midnight and all sorts of little snacks.

Amazingly, two Christmases and a New Years party have somehow made all of my jeans get smaller and have made me appreciate the virtues of a nice green salad.

I'm not entirely sorry the holidays are over. Despite having to re-learn how to get everything done during a two day weekend (we just had four 3 and 4 day weekends-and weeks-in a row) I'm ready to get back into doing everything.

I'm really enjoying work. I'm working on a lot of projects--it feels like too many, but amazingly I'm getting my work done--and am being given a lot of responsibility and freedom in my work. I really feel like I'm learning a lot and accomplishing a lot. It's amazing to me just how different people, services, goods, the market, and research in general are in Egypt from in America. The commute and long days out of the house are still a bit of a downer, but work still nets positive in the happiness index.

Home life is great too. Despite the fact that he's a bit of a worry-wort, and more than a bit of a mess, Wahied is lovely. He's a little nervous about not having enough work (tourism is almost nonexistent this season, due to a combination of global financial crisis and war in the Middle East) but has been putting his extra free time to use, which has meant that we get to spend more of my free time being together. We're still exactly like newly weds, which perhaps we are. I'm sure every newly wed has thought this, but I doubt we'll stop acting like this for a long time yet.

The apartment is also great. It gets pretty cold in the winter, but it is lovely and full of sunlight in the mornings. It has become our home in a way that I never imagined a rental in a brutalistic concrete apartment building could. It has warmth, life and quirks that I really can't imagine living without.

Like we've settled into the apartment, the car has settled into Cairo. I still think that it looks pretty good in comparison to all other cars in Cairo, but I can't delude myself into thinking that it would look nice anywhere else. It is constantly dirty (despite bi-weekly washings) and is beginning to show signs that it has, er, been driven 12,000km in Cairo? Wahied is becoming a very competent driver. He has started driving in Cairo and in heavy traffic, and has already abandoned turn signals, right-of-way, and speed limits.

The reason I was able to write this morning is that I drove Wahied to the US Embassy at 6:30am. They have this crazy system that you have to be inside the embassy before 8:00am, but they don't start any interviews until 9:00am, and then make people wait all day.

He and I are both a little nervous about it. His paperwork is perfect--we have all sorts of proof that we really are married, that we own property, that we work, that we are going to stay here, and we have a letter from a Congressman and a recommendation from a woman at the embassy--and there is no reason why we shouldn't get the visa. But I guess that IS why we're nervous. If we don't get the visa then there's nothing we can do better in the future to help ourselves get it. We've both convinced ourselves that we don't really care about the visa, our home is here, who needs to go back, blah-de-blah, but the truth of the matter is, I desperately want the freedom to go home, and he desperately wants to not disappoint me.

In a few hours, though, we'll know one way or the other. Wish us luck until then!

I'm going to run off to work now. I promise that in the next few days I will keep you all posted on how everything turns out, will get back to all of the people who have contacted me and never heard a reply from me, will contact people I haven't heard from in a while, will swear by salads, and will be grateful.

xx My love to everyone.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Be Grateful.

I saw a man get killed today.

I was driving to work. I has just passed my office and was waiting in the left lane of the main divided street in Nasr City in order to make the U-turn (which is legal and encouraged) to pull into my garage. A handsome boy, about 25, clean shaven and smiling, in a business suit and tie, passed in front of my car, on his way across the street. He gave a thankful half-wave to show appreciation that I made a full stop for him, and once he had safely hopped up onto the median, I inched forward.

Then, for one moment, the whole world stopped.

Everyone saw the ancient white car barreling down from at least 300 feet away. The squealing brakes did nothing except draw everyone's helpless attention. Women screamed. I screamed. Except for our screaming, everyone was paralyzed.

Then came the worst sound I have ever heard, and the boy was suddenly airborne--he was thrown--and I'm not exaggerating--about 25 feet straight up up up, his body rolling and rolling in midair.

He landed on the median, arm's reach away from the car that had hit him, and no more than five feet from mine. The moment he landed, the world re-started in triple speed.

People jumped out of and over cars, the traffic vanished, and before I could process what was happening I was parked, in my garage, shaking.

I waited until I had regained the manual dexterity to take the key out of the ignition, dry my face, and walk out of the garage into the street.

The street was packed with people gathered around the scene. Traffic on the normally 6 lane wide road was inching past on the right side. AND THERE WERE NO AMBULANCES AND NO POLICE AND NO ONE WAS CALLING THEM.

I crossed the street--cautiously--to continue on my way to work. A mere 50 feet past the scene of the accident, life was exactly normal. Girls were drinking sodas, guys were being lecherous, and people were zig-zagging their way through traffic, completely oblivious.

Once in the office, I sat down with my coffee to read the news and calm down before getting down to work.

277 People killed in Israeli airstrike on Gaza...
37 voters killed in a polling station in Pakistan...
24 hitchhikers killed in a truck crash in Bangaldesh...
14 Children killed by a car bomb in Afghanistan...

And I pulled out my notepad and wrote my one single New Year's resolution:

Be Grateful.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Never enough time..

I never seem to find enough time to blog. Work days are entirely devoted to eating, sleeping, and working. Weekends and holidays seem to be even busier. But right now, at 7am on a Weekday, I have found a few minutes between sleeping and working.

Last week we had the whole week off for the Eid holiday. We had big plans - and hotel reservations - to go to Dahab and hang out on the beach. But a couple of sinister glasses of village tap water intervened, and I spent most of the holiday in bed at home.

We did manage to buy a Christmas tree. It is a pathetic little thing - about 3 feet tall and scrawny - but it is a REAL TREE, it is still alive, and is covered in lights and shiny bits of plastic. And that's really what counts.

Unfortunately, that Vacation last week was the only winter time vacation that we get, so I'm going to take off Christmas day myself, and work on Christmas eve.

Getting into the holiday mood has been difficult here. Not counting the 80* weather, nothing about Egypt feels like Christmas. Stores don't have decorations, holiday offers, or gift wrapping done by girl scouts. I haven't heard Jingle Bells sung by cats (or any other Christmas songs) once. I guess the biggest hindrance to the christmas spirit is that I am the only person who cares about 'christmas stuff' like a great meal, lots of friends, gifts, decorations, music, and decent champagne, and I'm just too busy, too tired, and still not familiar enough with Arabic or Cairo to do anything about them. At work, while my computer is restarting, I'll make lists --buy gifts, buy paper, people to invite, meals that are both christmas-y and possible -- and then the list gets folded, put into my handbag, and instantly becomes "purse-clutter".

One shouldn't complain too much about missing Christmas, when faced with 75* days while her family and friends are facing ice storms. But a little variety would be nice. I'm getting a little stir-crazy, actually. I can't wait until Wahied gets his visa and we can go visit all of the places I so desperately miss. (New York, Connecticut and Chicago). I'm squirreling away my holidays so I can spend as long as possible there. The moment we get that visa....

Looks like I've run out of time again. I'll do my best to post whenever I can.