March 29, 2008
We are truly blessed! We have been in Egypt less than 2 years, and have had an INCREDIBLE number of visitors! No kidding. We have had more visitors than many of our friends, who have been here for upwards of 5 to 10 years!
We could account for this in a couple of ways:
- We are sooooo ultimately cool, that EVERYONE wants to be with us
- Unlikely, but fun to contemplate
- Egypt is a rather exotic destination. Having friends who live here makes the visit MUCH easier and FAR less stressful
- Seeing us only one time per year is far more enticing than our regular and frequent appearances at all YOUR abodes in the States
There may be other reasons, but I’m leaning towards “B”. This is not a problem. Jack has posted a “reciprocation ultimatum” on his blog. That sounds really good to me. Y’all need to spread out to locations around the world where we haven’t been – we’d really appreciate it.
All that being said – we have been the “revolving door” hotel for the last month. It has been a month of laughter, misty eyes, short nights and tourist “crap-tacular” (thanks Joe!) events .
We enjoy our friends, and would do whatever we can for them. Yet I always find it surprising that they feel similarly. Recent visitors have arrived with supplies ranging from our favorite type of deodorant to crossword puzzle books (I am a TOTAL ADDICT) and crushed red pepper flakes to AN ENTIRE SMITHFIELD HAM, a digital photo frame (complete with pics of our “other life” in Seattle) and incredibly wonderful yarn and patterns. We have literally been floored by the incredibly thoughtful and personally relevant items that people have bestowed upon us.
To all of our guests while we have been in Egypt (and those who are planning/speculating or otherwise dreaming of coming) – Tosherofna (We are honored by your presence).
March 23, 2008
So, the housing guys “fixed” our plumbing. With MORE goop.
I ran the dishwasher, it seemed to function properly, but the water would not drain out of the bottom. This meant that the soapy water never went away, it just kept getting thrown all over the dishes.
All the dishes were slimy with soap scum. I was not happy about it – both in general, and due to the fact that we had 4 “foody” house guests, which means a LOT of dishes. (I am NOT complaining!)
So Jack decides to see what he can do. Neither of us was too optimistic, since he’d looked at it before and saw no clear problem – other than the lack of drainage.
He took off the dishwasher drain hose. Let the water out. Poked around in the hole. Poured the drain water into the sink.
A plumbers blank (little disk of plastic to block off a hole) came shooting out of the drain coupler! Awesome!!!! Jack fixed the dishwasher, all is well. Housing will take the credit. SNAFU
March 20, 2008
Plumbing in Egypt is…..interesting. Appropriate elbow joints, couplers and teflon tape are NOT standard gear here. Flexible tubing, masking tape and silicone goop are the norm.
We have a dishwasher in our kitchen that has gone through many iterations of “add more goop” to keep it from leaking all over the kitchen. It has been marginally successful.
Two days ago, I got a call from Jack – “We need a plumber – call housing”. The sink connectors were leaking, the dishwasher wasn’t draining, and everything under the sink was a puddle-y mess.
Yesterday the plumber came. He tinkered, gooped and “fixed” the problems.
This morning, while having coffee with our lovely guests, I heard a SOUND. It was the sound of water spraying under pressure. “OH CRAP – the dishwasher is running, the hose has let go, and the kitchen is going to flood.”
I ran to the kitchen. Everything was fine. The dishwasher had finished its cycle. There was no water on the floor (although the dishwasher had not drained either).
What the HELL is that sound?????
I traced it to the front door.
When I opened the door to the hallway, there was one of the farash (custodians) with the FIRE HOSE in his hand. He was using the fire hose to wash down the long, stone-floor hallway, so that he could squeegy it.
March 15, 2008
As people visit, they begin to think about things to bring home. Presents for friends, presents for themselves, artworks and memories. Inevitably the conundra (don’t know if this is actually the plural of conundrum…) of packing space and cash outlay rear their ugly heads and people begin “trimming” their list of “must-buys”.
Another inevitability is that, when they get home, they realize that they do not have enough things for everyone, or they have to give away EVERYTHING and have nothing left for themselves. There are e-mails and requests for the next friend to bring home more stuff for them, etc.
This occurred recently, and below is Jack’s response. Although directed at a particular event, I think it is a good lesson for travel and attempting to “gift” appropriately.
Let this be a lesson to the ladies:
BUY MORE SCARVES.
Seriously. They make great gifts, they pack REALLY small and they are relatively inexpensive.
I will share some of our gift giving secrets:
When we returned we had a bunch of people we wanted to buy gifts for.
We divided recipients and gifts into groups
These were specific people that we wanted to buy specific items for.
“I want to give Bob a [blah] and Mary a [widget]. We bought those specific items
These were people that we wanted to give something to, but we didn’t have specific gifts in mind. We counted em up. How many women, how many men, how many childrens.
Then went shopping.
Bought so many male appropriate gifts, etc. Then assigned gift to person.
This was group of “gifts” with no names. Extra scraves. Key chains.
Some gag (really hideous Nefertiti cigarette lighters) etc.
This was for the time when we went somewhere and bumped into someone
we had forgotten about and said “Hey! Good to see you. We got you this
[pull out something] scarf!”
We have a VERY large list of people to buy for though, so this method may not apply
I will add to this, a mantra that Jack has instilled in me since our first “Big Trip” in 1999 -
ALWAYS BUY TWO.
I have a habit of seeing something that I want to get for a friend [and (not so) secretly for myself as well] and then when the time comes, I am either (1) extremely bummed to give it away or (2) I don’t give it away.
ALWAYS BUY EXTRA
I get LOADS of questions, from friends, family and total strangers who have found my blog and are coming to Egypt. Most of the questions run in the same veins, so I am posting an edited version of what Jack lovingly refers to as “THE MANIFESTO”.
Hopefully, this will help answer some of the most common questions that people have about the logistics of coming to, and functioning in, Cairo. So here we go…
- Visas – If you get your visas before you leave the states, it will be easier for you. The visas can be purchased (in USD) upon arrival. Friends and travel agencies can, however, book you a “Greeter”/”Expediter”/”Fixer” to get you thru customs and immigration. This process is much quicker if you have visas already. You do not HAVE to get the tourist visas before you come, it just makes arrival MUCH easier.
If you get them in the States (and probably here too) they will ask for an address of “Friends or Relatives”. If you are coming to visit me and Jack, e-mail for our street address, all others, use your hotel address.
A note on “customs” as it is. We did not even notice it the first time we arrived. We walked thru a little gate with a man standing next to it. He and the “greeter” exchanged *Salem aleykum’s* (greetings) and we were off.
“THAT was customs??” was our comment to each other.
So if you are thinking of bringing things (or if we’ve asked) there is very little that is *haram* (forbidden) other than religious proselytizing paraphernalia or “Unsavory media materials” if you know what I mean. Believe it or not, alcohol and pork are ok to bring in.
- Alcohol – Although it is possible to buy *Egyptian made* beer, wine and liquor, the only place in the country you can buy non-Egyptian is at duty-free (or at the embassy PX – which we do not have access to).
One terminal has duty-free inside customs (Terminal 1), one has it outside (Terminal 2). If you do not buy at the airport duty-free on the day of arrival, you can still go to a couple of locations in Cairo, but your duty-free allowance is less (3 bottles per person instead of 4).
- Vaccines – Egypt does not require any special vaccinations for entry. As long as you are
generally up to date on your regular medical needs, you won’t need anything extra.
March 14, 2008
The grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence.
This adage is often over used, but is also frequently apropos. I am struggling with this phenomenon now, as I was when I first applied for this job. Then – Egypt seemed to have so many more opportunities and so many fewer problems than Seattle. Now – the situations are mostly the same, but the perspective is 180 degrees shifted.
I understand human nature, behavior and expectations – and I am governed by them. We all want to move forward, be challenged, enjoy our lives, and yet few of us (myself included) can clearly see what we have now. We look to the future, to something newer, bigger, better and convince ourselves that the new thing is what we need. Change can be invigorating, but it does not fundamentally alter our realities.
When I came to Egypt, I was disillusioned with my job in the States. I felt like I’d “accomplished” the goals and aims that I’d set for myself, and had hit a glass ceiling. I had the feeling that I could go no further, and was going to be “trapped” doing the same things for the rest of my life. I wanted change and adventure and challenge. I got all of those things in coming to Egypt, however the day-to-day reality of work was the same. The adventure and challenges were, fundamentally, no different than in Seattle.
Things I love in Egypt:
- Most of the people that I work with and most of my students
- The invigoration of functioning in two languages – even if I’m not so good in one of them
- The sights/sounds/experiences of metropolitan life
- An ultra-urban living arrangement
- The food – street food and “local” food – Cairo is NOT an epicurean fantasy, but the “real food” is excellent
Things I hate in Egypt:
- The classism, have/have-not divide – felt in EVERY aspect of life and work
- The CHORE of functioning in two languages
- The noise and dirt and crowding of metropolitan life
- An ultra-urban living arrangement
And when I look at the lists, the things I love at times are the very things that I hate. They are also the things that I love/hate about Seattle. No place is perfect. Some days are wonderful. I smile at the traffic, the people in the street (no – LITERALLY in the street), the challenge of making myself understood in Arabic, the thrill of NOT being taken advantage of because I am khawega. Other days (or sometimes the very same day) all of those things are an unbearable burden, and I wonder why I am working so hard to stay here.
I realize that I am neither the first, nor the last ex-pat to feel these things.Â I also know that putting them in the blog does not mean that they will go away.Â But there you go.