Christmas in Cairo, Part Deux

Happy New Year! We had a really busy two weeks full of food, presents and family time. My mom arrived on the 21st and definitely made the most of her visit.

She brought some holiday cheer in the form of Christmas light necklaces, headbands, and one bag completely full of presents, crafts, and my Grandma’s famous peanut butter fudge.

She made crafts and tons of cookies with the kids.

       

We tried our best to get a decent photo of all three kids… It is what it is.

We marveled at the Christmas morning gift-opening aftermath and wondered where we would put ALL THAT STUFF. The size of our apartment already has us limiting the amount of toys that are out at one time and I had a toy-rotation even before the holidays began. So that continues to be challenge.

We took my mom around to the sites, visited a few pyramids, and Abby posed with another camel.

We played a lot of Guess Who?, which brought back some great childhood memories for me. Abby also received the game Outfoxed from her Aunt and Uncle in Kansas City, and it’s a really fun game for kids. Highly recommend.

Took my mom on a felucca ride on the Nile. The kids loved the ride but William was sad he didn’t see any crocodiles.

Didn’t want to let a whole holiday season pass with no snow, so we visited Ski Egypt, an indoor snowpark/skiing/tubing place at the Mall of Egypt.

Skiing in the desert. Go figure.

My mom constantly put JR and I to shame and gets an A plus for effort at all times. She even brought out some science experiments, including constructing and painting a volcano that they  “erupted“ outside the apartment.

JR and my mom took them to the Children’s Museum in Heliopolis. They learned about tombs, mummies (maybe a little too much detail on the mummies) and digging for artifacts.

We were really impressed with the ease in which my Mom became accustomed to Cairo. She downloaded Uber and WhatsApp and had no trouble making her way around our neighborhood. Which is amazing considering it took us months to feel at home.  She had several massages since she was, technically, on vacation.  She took Abby to the hair salon for blow outs, manicures, and they even went back a second time with William and both kids got haircuts. All in all, a pretty impressive showing by mom.

It really was so wonderful having her here and we can’t wait to see her again!

Christmas in Cairo, Part 1

I’m calling this part 1 in the strong hope it will force me to write a part 2 in a week or so. We’ll see.

This weekend we held our Embassy Christmas party, celebrated here as a Breakfast with Santa.  My office is in charge of the party so there was a lot of prep work and cajoling to find just the right Santa Claus. We had around 100 adults and 75 kids turn out for crafts, pancakes and eggs, cookie decorating, sending a letter to the North Pole, and of course a photo-op with the big man himself.

A really cool thing here is that Santa arrives to the party on a camel! I was pretty pumped about this. Abby came with me an hour early to help set up and we passed the camel sitting outside waiting for his grand entrance. He seemed grumpy but aren’t camels always grumpy? Anyway, I mentioned it to my coworker who informed me that the camel had diarrhea.

Yep, you read that right. Of all issues I expected to face in my professional career, camel IBS was not one of them. The handler walked him around for a bit to help settle his stomach, hosed him off, and we all hoped for the best.

Thankfully the camel rallied and delighted all the guests. Abby surprised me by wanting to sit on him alone and even having him stand up. These things are really tall and it’s not super smooth as they maneuver up and down, so I was a little nervous. William played true to self and was scared of both the camel and Santa. Jake just napped and took it all in like a pro, third kid style.

It was a fun – but exhausting – party. Definitely a highlight of our time here so far and new memories we will treasure.

Now the real countdown to Christmas is on. Nana arrives in a week!

 

Come Visit (but call first)

More than a month (!) has passed since my sister visited us in October. I’m terribly behind on blogging but determined to catch up.

Abby was over the moon to pick up her Aunt Jamie at the airport.

Having my sister here was just the motivation we needed to cross off some major bucket list items in Cairo.

First and foremost, the pyramids! There are signs that say please do not climb, but you try keeping kids off of them while listening to a long-winded tour guide in 90 degree weather. I thought the weather would be much cooler. I thought we should semi-color coordinate our clothes and take a nice family photo for potential Christmas cards (something I haven’t managed to pull off in about 5 years). I had a vision. I thought we should have Jake come for the first part and then it’d be easy enough to send him home with the nanny.

I thought a lot of things and they were all wrong.

BUT! The pyramids were really cool to see. JR, my sister and the big kids actually went underneath one of the smaller ones in what our guide called “an Egyptian sauna”. I was especially impressed by the Solar Boat, this massive wooden boat that was found buried beneath giant stone pieces in front of one of the pyramids. Ancient Egyptians believed this vessel would carry the pharaoh into the afterlife.

We took my sister on a felucca (small boat) ride on the Nile and let the kids tag along. I went back and forth on whether or not I was supposed to put them in life jackets (which we don’t own) or at least a puddle jumper for William. But I’ve never seen anyone, American or Egyptian, do that so we felt reasonably safe with our adult-to-child ratio and just went for it. I’m much more concerned about crocodiles, to be honest. Sure, everyone says there are no crocodiles in this part of the Nile but everyone knows that:

 

We spent a morning shopping for bargains at the Khan, and since my sister is a foodie, she was excited to sample the different cuisines and restaurants here. She was also the first member of our family to visit the Egyptian Museum. The rest of us are holding out for the opening of the brand new one, which will hopefully open in 2020 (read more here).

The week went by too quickly, as it always does, but we are so grateful for the time spent together. Come back soon, Aunt Jamie!

 

 

 

Slump and Stuff

I started a post last week about being in a pretty deep slump. And I wouldn’t say I’m out of it, just that I’m coping, or at least finding ways to cope better. There is a handy chart somewhere that shows the different phases of adjusting to life in a new place. Initial honeymoon phase, then a period of culture shock, then you slowly adjust. There’s more to it but that’s the general gist.

I probably experienced a similar feeling in Tbilisi but I either don’t remember it or I’ve subconsciously blocked it out, the way we don’t recall the worst parts of child birth or newborns. Because if we did remember how bad it was, why in the world would we ever sign up to do it again?! I know this just a normal part of things and that it will get better. Right?

Let’s focus on the positives. We got our stuff! Our HHE (household effects – 5400 pounds of toys, clothes, furniture and books) and our UAB (unaccompanied air shipment). Normally JR and I would have both been at home the day everything arrived, but I wasn’t able to take off so he coordinated the delivery. He sent me updates throughout the day. At first I was thinking, oh this is going pretty smoothly, and also I really lucked out not dealing with it all. Then the pictures started to give me intense anxiety.

This truck arrived with all of our worldly possessions.

Here come the boxes.

William was an excellent supervisor. 


I bet you are wondering, why did they pack so much food? Does it make sense to pack food that will sit in boxes and storage containers in 100+ degree temps for more than 4 months? Just know that I am wondering the same thing.

I also cracked up laughing when I opened the box that my former Tbilisi colleagues packed for me. They packed out my work desk and made sure to include 4 McDonalds ketchup packets. It’s the little things in life, you know?


Because everyone needs a cooler in your bedroom. 

 


JR was focused on the top priorities, which included immediately unpacking and displaying his Halloween decor.

 


He was also busy shaming me for a bit of over purchasing I did YEARS ago before we packed out for Kosovo and Georgia (I know you can relate, KBS!)

The anxiety only increased when I arrived home and basically walked into an episode of Hoarders. There was stuff everywhere. Every surface, almost every available floor space, I mean just everywhere. Our treadmill doesn’t fit anywhere except our living room. It’d be one thing if we used it for it’s actual purpose, but I like to use it for clothes and storage so having it in the living room is really quite inconvenient.

My first priority was making a path to the beds and clearing them off so everyone could sleep that night. After the kids were in bed, JR and I were working on our bedroom. I grabbed our duvet from the top of the dresser and turned to put it on the bed. This huge, heavy mirror that sits propped up against the wall on top of the dresser came crashing down, rebounding off the dresser and then slamming down on the floor. Not awesome.

Even worse, I had just set up these two acrylic jewelry holders I liked and placed my rings in them. The holders lay in pieces on the floor and my rings were scattered. We found two pretty quickly but my wedding band was missing. I was so upset. There were open boxes and piles of stuff everywhere. I was convinced we wouldn’t find it. Frustrated, I told JR I was going to sleep and we’d deal with more in the morning.

A few hours later during the night I woke up to a loud crash. I was convinced the mirror fell down again but when I turned on the light I couldn’t see that anything had happened. JR started looking around and opened his closet door to reveal that the entire shelf and hanging bar had collapsed in a pile on the ground. He looked at me and then just quickly shut the door and said, “that can wait until the morning.”

Over the next few days we made progress little by little, including finding my wedding band! While I wish we weren’t still hauling our gigantic living room furniture all over the world, it is so comfortable and it makes us feel like we are at home. The kids are playing happily with all of their toys and loving the playroom set up. Now that we are in an apartment we don’t have an obvious place for our outdoor toys, so all 37 of them are parked outside our front door and crowding the walkway. No doubt the neighbors are loving this and wondering who allowed the circus to move in. All we need is a few spare tires and a broken refrigerator to really complete the look.

Hopefully my sister doesn’t mind the mess because she arrives TOMORROW!

 

 

 

A Day in the Life

A fellow blogger just posted about how she doesn’t like to be called lucky for her and her husband’s choice to live overseas. I thought it was an interesting read and it’s been on my mind a lot, especially this week because JR is traveling. It’s only my second week at work and it’s really tough when we still living out of our suitcases, still figuring out our morning routine, and just working full-time with 3 little kids. It’s a big adjustment.

Here’s how my day went.

4:00am – Jake wakes up crying. I settle him back to sleep, but now I can’t sleep because I’m sure he’ll wake up again, and since the kids share a bedroom wall, he’ll wake the other two up. He’s finally quiet and I think it’s safe to shower. I don’t actually want to shower at 4:45 in the morning, but it seems like the right move.
5:00am – Jake is up again. I rush out of the bathroom barely taking a second to dry off so I can scoop him up and take him to my room before he makes too much noise. This time I give him a bottle and manage to get him back to sleep in the pack n play we set up in our bedroom.
5:30am – I don’t know what to do now, because I’m in my robe with wet hair, but Jake is asleep in my room. My bathroom door is right beside him and I can’t do my hair or anything without waking him up. I get the sound machine from his room and plug it into the bathroom, then quietly take my hair dryer, straightener and makeup to the bathroom on the other end of the apartment.
6:00am – I eat some toast and putz on my phone and think, well, if nothing else at least we have plenty of time and I won’t be rushing out the door this morning since I leave at 7 for work.
6:20am – Abby and William are up. I give them cereal and then straighten Abby’s hair because it’s picture day at her school.
6:40am – Jake is awake again, but at least Remy, our nanny, is here now to help. Abby is dressing herself, William is making a huge mess with his cereal, and Jake is crying because he’s not feeling well and is running a slight temperature. I give him medicine and then hand him off to Remy because I’m still not dressed (as my clothes are in the aforementioned bedroom where he was asleep, and also because getting dressed for work is a real process right now. I am still dealing with the dreaded baby weight. Note, I plan to call it baby weight for at least the next 3 years.)
6:50am – I’m panicking now. Abby is in tears because she can’t find this little hairbrush that JR bought her a few days ago. The school said students could bring a favorite stuffed animal and/or toy for picture day, and apparently that’s her new favorite toy and the ONLY thing she wants to take. And it’s missing.
7:00am – We locate the hairbrush and the tears are miraculously gone. Jake is still fussing and I feel like a terrible mother for leaving him when he might not be feeling well. I can’t spare a moment though, because I cannot miss my ride to work.
7:40-11:00am. Still learning the ropes at work. Meetings, fielding questions I can’t answer just yet, eyes glazing over at all the emails coming in, wishing I could take a nap.
11:05am – Remy texted me to say Jake’s fever was not going down and she thought I should take him to the doctor. I was feeling very “ehhh third baby, it’s a fever, he’s okay,” especially since he’s been drooling non-stop and we expect that he’ll start teething soon. Then I felt guilty so I called the Med Unit to make an appointment. Now, we live in Maadi which is a suburb of Cairo, and it can take 25-45 minutes or more to drive from our home to the Embassy, which is downtown. The health unit is located at the Embassy, but twice a week they have office hours at the USAID building, which is conveniently in Maadi. Thankfully this happened on a day when the doctor was available at USAID, so I took the first appointment they had for 2:00pm.
12:00 – I canceled a meeting, finished up a few things at work as quickly as I could, and then walked outside to catch an Uber. I’ve used Uber frequently since arriving and rarely have issues. It can take longer than expected, and they often don’t have seat belts so it’s not my preferred method of travel but without a car, my options are limited. On this particular day, the Uber driver kept going in circles and did not get any closer to my actual location. I canceled and asked for another. Same thing happened. Not only was I getting frustrated, I was also feeling increasingly uncomfortable standing outside by myself because on this day I happened to be wearing a dress. Now, the dress came to my knees and had flutter sleeves, so it wasn’t particularly showy and I felt perfectly fine at work, but now being out in public I was hyperaware that I was showing more skin than anyone else around me. No one said anything to me, but many people stared. My third Uber request finally worked, after about 20 minutes of waiting.
12:45pm – I arrived back at our apartment, ate lunch quickly and changed, and contacted a driver that we’ve used before to take me to USAID. It’s not easy to find because of construction, and also since I was going to have Jake with me, I wanted seat belts and someone to wait for me there so I didn’t have to go through an Uber again. Then came a lengthy internal debate about which stroller to take (the double or the single travel stroller) and serious frustration that the one I wanted to take is in our shipment, which is arriving approximately never.
2:00pm – The driver picked us up and we drove to the appointment. I manhandled my double stroller through doors that were just an inch too small and met with the doctor. Jake was fine, no infection, just maybe a virus or teething which is what I expected. I told the driver the appointment would probably take 30-45 minutes, but we were done pretty quickly. I texted to say we’d be outside in 5 minutes. He texted back that he would be back in 15-20 minutes. Urgh. We wound up waiting 30 minutes for a ride home. I was displeased.
3:30pm – I figured, if I’m home early from work and Remy is still here, I should use this time wisely and take a nap. Ha. Ha. Ha. The kids were so loud, they kept running in my bedroom for urgent things like, “Abby looked at me funny”, and “Mom can I have a drink of water.”
5:00pm – I didn’t get a nap but I did enjoy laying in bed and reading a book in between interruptions, so we’ll call it a win. Remy stayed to help with dinner and baths. I don’t know if I’m lucky to be living overseas or not but I do feel very lucky that we found another great nanny.

9:00pm – I treated myself to an early bedtime.

Now of course this is not a “normal” day. JR rarely has to travel for work at his new job in Egypt. Most of the time no one is sick in our house. And someday, our car and our things will arrive. But it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel sometimes.

 

First Impressions

One whole month of living in Egypt! Here are my first impressions:

  • It’s hot. I mean REALLY hot. I’ve basically stopped checking the weather forecast because it is hot and sunny everyday. People say it’s different because this is dry heat, but I think when it’s hovering at 100 degrees (or more) daily, calling it dry heat doesn’t matter. I’m certainly not dry, because I start sweating the moment I walk outside. Straightening my hair is pointless.

  • It takes a lot longer for mail and shipments to arrive. We were spoiled in Tbilisi! Our UAB (smaller air shipment meant to hold you over until the rest of your stuff comes) arrived at the same time as our HHE (all of our household goods, aka, the rest of our stuff), three weeks after we landed in Tbilisi. Now I know that was a fluke, but the wait for our UAB, or any planned delivery of it, is wearing. We are tiring of the same clothes and toys, and very much ready to make this apartment our home.
  • We also won’t have our car for 3-4 months, so we are walking much more than we did at home. Our neighborhood is nice and it’s been fun finding new places to take the kids or go out to eat. There’s something like a country club that we joined nearby (but not as fancy). They have a swimming pool, lots of green space, playground and restaurant as well as offering classes and other events for kids. It’s a 15 minute walk from our place which isn’t too bad, and we are enjoying all the opportunities to swim with the kids.
  • The work week is Sunday-Thursday. I wonder how long it will take until that feels normal. The schools are on the same schedule, so what’s interesting is I suspect when we leave here Abby will be surprised to learn that Monday-Friday is the norm back home.
  • Speaking of school, Abby had her first day of Kindergarten! The school told us that we could ride the bus in with the littler kids on the first day, so I planned to do that. When the bus pulled up she turned to me and said, “Mom, I think I want to go alone.” So I did what any helicopter mom would do and raced to the school in an Uber to walk her into her classroom and take a few photos. So far we are really impressed with the school. The campus is really nice, and everyone we’ve met there is super nice and welcoming. She is taking Arabic 4 times a week, plus an Egyptian culture class. Gym is twice a week and includes a uniform, definitely not her favorite as it cramps her style. But right now the school is offering their swimming courses and we’ve already seen a big improvement in her freestyle stroke after just a few classes!

  • The commissary (a grocery store on a nearby government compound) is amazing. We have had commissaries at our previous posts but they weren’t like this. The sign at the entrance says “Where your dreams come true.” You can get most of the American groceries you need there, and there’s a wide selection of brands. Wonder sandwich bread! Doritos! Tyson chicken breasts! The best thing is that the prices are reasonable, as opposed to a huge mark up usually found on the local markets.
  • We have a really nice apartment. The layout works for our family, and the people in our building are all friendly. I think we’ll always miss our house in Tbilisi  with all of the green space but the kids are getting along just fine here. As an added bonus, our good friends and next door neighbors from Tbilisi live directly below us with their two kids!
  • Grocery and food delivery are affordable and super convenient. Jake was low on diapers, so I used an app to order a pack and they were delivered 2 hours later. The store charged me 134 Egyptian pounds and I tipped the guy 30 pounds. Grand total was $9.91 for delivered pampers! Last week I used a different app to order from Gourmet Egypt, kind of a smaller version of Whole Foods. They delivered bananas, onions, bread and sweet potatoes quickly and pretty cheaply. It’s so convenient to order groceries from your phone – I could really get used to this.
  • JR and I celebrated our anniversary with a felucca (traditional wooden sailboat) ride on the Nile. It was relaxing and a great way to spend the evening.

On to month two, and if we are really lucky, we’ll get slightly cooler temps and the rest of our possessions!

7/14

Today, we’ve been married for seven years, and dating for almost fourteen (assuming we don’t count the 12 hour break-up after that night at Gaswerks. I blame the $1 shots.)

I remember a conversation we had one night after a friend’s wedding. We’d been dating for around 2 years at that point, but I can’t honestly remember who’s wedding or even which bar we went to afterwards. We were drinking, laughing and have a good time when the conversation turned to the future. Now normally when this happened, I would get wildly excited and try to play it at least a little bit cool outwardly, while JR would usually get a little green around the gills and steer the conversation in another direction.

Me:

JR:

But that night, maybe he was feeling the love from the wedding, or maybe it was the booze, but that night he started talking about how he really wanted to live and work overseas, and what that might look like for us.

He gave me this line, I’m pretty sure he actually said, “I can show you the world.” Straight out of Aladdin! And I ATE.IT.UP. I mean it didn’t even matter at that point, because I was madly in love with him already. Not quite Jerry Maguire-style you had me from hello, but close. I would have followed him anywhere.

Anyway, I thought he was daydreaming. Even when he started this job and we moved DC, I couldn’t have imagined this life.

But here we are. We just moved to Egypt, the third country we’ve lived in together since getting married and starting this weird Foreign Service adventure. We’ve added three kids, amazing trips and memories, and so much laughter. It’s not always easy but I wouldn’t trade it for anything!