Now that we've left Egypt, I feel a need to record what we did there so when we look back on our time we'll remember it wasn't all homeschool and sleeping. I'll continue to post to this blog until I catch up to the time we left Cairo in June 2010. Our new blog will pick up from that time forward.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Taxi Ride in Cairo

I have written several times about riding a taxi in Cairo, but can not share enough about what a unique experience it is. Last night I had the opportunity to travel from my office here in Heliopolis through downtown Cairo over to Maadi. I went to spend the evening with the House family where we would have supper and a Family Home Evening. While that was the highlight, truly it was newsworthy to report on the trip itself.
There are several different type of taxis available to take in Cairo. There are newer taxis colored yellow that run off of a meter. These taxis tend to be owned by a company and a a little higher priced. Then there are white taxis with a sign on top indicating they are ready for business. These taxis are usually independently owned, but they are also metered, but not as high of a price as the yellows. Finally, there is the bottom end taxi that most of the folks use on a regular basis. These are a checkered black and white taxi and are usually about 20 years old. The cars have been built and rebuilt over the years, yet are still on the street running. Typically they are driven by old men hunched over the steering wheel with a cigarette hanging on their lower lip and the interior of the car shrouded in smoke and reverberating with the Quran being read from the radio. Yet, despite their differences, they share a common heritage of how they drive. Despite the age, color or car type, the taxi drivers in Cairo share a common personality trait: fearless.
My drive last night started under typical conditions. Dusk was approaching and so the light was decreasing. Traffic began to pick up because I left the office at the close of normal business operations. In discussing with the driver the best route, we decided to take the more picturesque route of Salah Salem. This street works it’s way from Heliopolis to Maadi fairly directly, and passes by some of the more notable sites found in Cairo.
It was a beautiful drive in terms of sites. I enjoyed the sites of the Tomb of the Unknown Solider directly across from the grandstands where Anwar Sadat was assassinated by members of the Islamic Brotherhood some thirty years ago. The Baron Palace was also a beautiful site, despite being closed down several years ago because of young teenagers participating in pagan rituals. Further down the road was the beautiful profile of the Citadel with the Mosque of Mohammed Ali lit up with the purples and whites of reflective lighting. An overlook of the City of the Dead is also one of the highlights of the drive. The avenue itself is also lined with large trees standing as modern pharonic sentinels over the bustling traffic, and provide a sense of peace and decorum amidst the automotive chaos on the streets below them.
All of these things are taken into account as I’m belted in securely and holding onto the crash handle above the door. My driver is smoking his cigarette from his left hand, while fiddling with the radio from his right hand. Meanwhile his eyes are darting back and forth between mirrors, cigarette, radio and me like a hawk soaring above its prey, waiting for the right moment to pounce. The taxi itself must be the prey, because it the right lane or track is always open. He uses his feet to dance a jig between the brake and gas, at times accelerating or braking based on what he sees in front of him. He squeezes between cars like a warm knife through butter, finding holes that weren’t there a moment before. He usesthe resources at hand to indicate his passage: horns, lights, yells, hand gestures, it’s all there. To further complicate or perhaps enhance the pleasure of the ride, I find that we are driving without the lights on. Typically this is considered to save the battery (or perhaps gas). So we only turn them on when finding a utilitious reason – such as signaling to clear the way.
To try and express the utter fear and anxiety associated with driving dark at high rates of speed in heavy traffic is utterly impossible. Perhaps it should be categorized as an extreme sport since the adrenaline rises precipitously whenever one takes a taxi in Cairo. However, at the end of the day, despite all the misgivings, I found myself leaving the House family apartment wondering what my next taxi ride would have in store.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Morning Walk in Cairo

There’s something about mornings after a rain. The same holds true in any city that I’ve been in through my life. Certainly, it holds true in Cairo. I had the chance to walk to the office today, and a walk through Cairo on normal days is anything but routine, but on a day after a rain, it’s something special.
Normal Cairo air is dusty, dirty and has a heavy, grainy feel to it. One can almost feel the pollutants, the population, the dirt in the air. The smells are not as pronounced, but instead feel stifled, waiting to break free, but bound by the weight of the heat and dirt. However, on a day after rain, the sights, sounds and even the smells are all found in abundance, as if they have been waiting for this moment to shine forth in exaggerated fashion. Such was the case this morning.
The sun was a bright and shiny thing, without the oppressiveness of working through several layers, but was able to stand forth in its glory. Being January, the heat itself was not the monstrosity that it bursts forth in a few months, but is a relaxing warmth, that one feels in the soul more than the skin. Being in the light has obvious effects on people, and the normal smile and ‘Salamu aleykum’ had a special lift to it today, a little more emphasis as people truly felt the peace they were conveying to me as I walked past them. Much of the time, I didn’t even have to initiate the greeting, it was as if people were waiting for me, knowing that I was coming, and had that smile and light in their eyes waiting just for me as I walked past them. It put a little spring in my step, and made my day that much better.
The colors were warmer and brighter than I remember them being. The dust, dirt and clutter was a little more sparse. I wandered through the streets greeting the flower shop attendant and chatting just a bit about the beautiful smell of his flowers. He offered me one and had Catherine been around I would have taken it, but as I was by myself, the flower would not achieve full enjoyment. I thanked him and forced myself out of the deep smells of the purples, the reds, the blues, as those are how I recognize good flowers. I stopped by the fruit stand (one of several on my stroll) and chatted with the old Hajj about the beautiful day. As we exchanged pleasantries about where I was from and how I loved Cairo, he kept expressing the traditional, “You are welcome mister. You are welcome,” in English. One of his young workers, a dirty and disheveled young man also wandered over and tried practicing his limited English. However, it’s always comforting to realize that as bad as my Arabic is, someone’s English is a little worse. After a beautiful interchange, I excused myself to continue my path to work, and the Hajj rushed to offer me an orange, or an apple. Graciously, I thanked him and tried to give him some money which I had to do two or three times before he finally took it (a mere pound for a beautiful orange).
The other scenes greeting my eyes were those typical of a morning walk in most cities I’ve walked in before. Construction going on in almost every other building, with the construction workers filling sand into wheelbarrows or into bags and packing them on their shoulders. Then walking into the buildings to carry it up flights of stairs. Taxi drivers with their rags wiping down their cab so that it’s nice and clean for the next customer. Business men walking in their suits with their computer bag over their shoulder, oblivious to the car ready to run them over. Drivers in the road jockeying for position and greeting other drivers with a toot or a honk – and each car has a different horn customized for that driver – and emphasized with a fist or a wave. Car radios blaring out the sounds of a muezzin giving a Quranic recitation or the latest from Amr Mostafa or Sherif Hamdy or perhaps Heba Mokhtar.
Finally, I arrive at the office and greet the standard police officer who stands outside and helps park cars. Such a nice man, and so I give him my orange and the water bottle I took from the hotel room. Just seeing his smile and gratitude only makes the day that much brighter.
Ah, I love a walk in Egypt in the morning after a rain.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

FOUND: Some pics from Germany

Todd had these pictures from his trip with Critter to Germany.

The first two are of a castle in Marburg.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Coptic Christian Wedding

Todd and I were invited to attend a few weddings of his co-workers. They were all a lot of fun. We attended some weddings of Muslims who weren't as conservative. Those were usually held in big ball rooms in hotels. There was usually lots of amazing food, loud music, lots of dancing, and professional photography with video recorders on huge cranes to span the entire crowd. The weddings usually didn't start till 10 or 11 at night and they'd go all night. At least that's what we heard. We were usually home in bed long before the parties ended.

We were able to attend a wedding of a more conservative couple too. It happened to be outdoor at a beautiful country club type place. The only thing different with that wedding was that it didn't have the dancing. It also started in the late afternoon which caused us to miss out on the great food.

That story is we were promised by the bride that it would start promptly at like 3:00. (I can't remember the time it was supposed to start.) The culture in Egypt is that time really has no meaning. You start a party when it's ready to start. Times printed on an invitation really mean nothing. But this bride, who worked with Todd, was adamant that this wouldn't be "typical." It would start right on time.

We found the location quicker than we expected so we had about 45 minutes or more to wander the grounds before the wedding. As the wedding time approached, we made our way to a table and wondered why there were so many chairs and tables but so few people. We began to worry for the bride because this wedding was scheduled on the same day as a World Cup game that Egypt was playing in. The wedding date was scheduled long before the World Cup game. We thought maybe everyone decided to skip the wedding to watch the game even though the wedding technically should be over before the game started.

We sat down, made small talk with some of the bride's family who was there and a few guests that started trickling in . Sure enough, it was like 2 hours after the scheduled time before the wedding finally started. We'd left Petey at a friends house. We saw the couple make their grand entrance and we gave them our best wishes. Then just as they were starting to serve the food, Petey called and said her friends needed to leave so we needed to come pick her up. Todd is still bitter that he never got to try out the great food at that wedding. We heard later from the bride that most people left right after the food so they could get to a TV to watch the game.

Another kind of wedding we attended was a Coptic Christian wedding. The following pictures are from that wedding.

This is the Coptic church where the wedding was held. Inside it had two levels--a main level and a balcony. Both levels were full. It was interesting that through the whole ceremony, people were getting up and walking to the front to get a better angle for pictures, people were talking, they were standing up and sitting down. Generally most people were quiet and were paying attention to what was happening but it didn't seem to be rude to talk or walk around during the ceremony. This picture was taken just after the wedding.

A picture of the couple posing for the crowd.

There were different parts of the wedding ceremony. Several people spoke but in a language I didn't understand so I'm not sure what was being said. But this guy with the microphone was a constant through the entire ceremony. He was constantly "singing" in the foreign language with no accompaniment. It was a cross between a recitation of something and singing a song that seemed to have no end.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Todd had to go to Germany on business in January. He still owed Critter a birthday date from the previous November. Petey got to go to Cairo from Jordan on her 13th birthday date (at that time we didn't know we'd be moving to Cairo). So now we've set a very bad precedent.

I'm not sure why I don't have a photo of Todd and Critter together in Germany. This is a picture of Critter with two kids of Dr. Hussein who owns Skopos, the company Todd works for. Todd and Critter had a great time, took a tour of a castle, enjoyed good food and time together.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Skopos Holiday Dinner

We invited Todd's coworkers for a dinner between Christmas and New Years. They've been so kind and generous to us and several have had us in their home so we decided to return the hospitality. Todd wanted a traditional holiday-type meal so we went with a turkey dinner. We've been told that it's rude if you refuse food when you go into people's homes but evidently the respect is not mutual because they hardly ate any of it and we had tons of leftovers. Apparently American food just isn't as appetizing.

I cooked 3 turkeys which was no small feat considering we have an oven that barely fit even one. This oven is similar to the one I had in Kuwait. This is one reason I'm anxious to get back to America where large ovens are the norm instead of the exception.

Here's our table of food.

We rented tables and chairs so people could sit down and enjoy the meal.

But strangely most opted to eat like this:

And the kids just wanted to play. T found a new best friend and they pretended to eat having a tea party.

Most of them that night hardly ate anything but they were all very polite. One family is Coptic Christian and they happened to be fasting from meat and dairy the night of the party so I think they had a plateful of corn. Mmmm. There were a few who couldn't come that night so Todd invited them to come a few days later to eat the leftovers. They ate a bit more but to this day I still have turkey in my freezer.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Cairo has a fun place for kids called the Fagnoon Art Center. One day while the "regular school kids" were on their Christmas break we spent the day at this center. Several kids from our compound went. My kids never really gelled with the kids in our compound for various reasons. But it was fun to go be social with them for the day and it was nice of them to invite us to come along. They never really understood homeschool and I'm pretty sure they thought we were weird. Here are a few pics of the fun.

Cricket with a wood project

T on a pony ride

It's not a fun place for kids unless there are pony rides. Here's Nic taking one.

Batman and Critter showing off their metal art.

Nic & Red painting