The Longest Flight

That’s not my normal exaggeration, our flight from Cairo to Washington, D.C. was my longest plane ride ever. It was scheduled to last 12 hours, and we were certainly seated on the plane that long, but from take off to landing I think it was about 11.5 hours. Truth be told, it wasn’t terrible. The fear and anticipation was probably worse for me mentally than the actual flight.

We woke up around 5:00am to get ready. Kids were up at 6, and by 7:15 we were in our shuttle van on the way to the airport. Considering that the Cairo airport was closed and we were the only flight of the day, you might have thought that the check in process would be faster. It was not. I was hyper-aware of every thing the kids touched (I lost count at 1000 opportunities to get sick). It was a relief when we dropped off our checked bags and then went to wait at the gate.

We had Jake’s monster car seat for the plane, 2 strollers that we gate checked, and 5 carry on bags packed to the brim with food, mostly. After our last flight (we hadn’t flown since we arrived in Egypt in August, which is unusual for us) I vowed to pack less activities for the kids and rely more on the iPads. The issue is this flight was during the day, not an overnight. My kids love movies and shows, but even they don’t want to watch a screen for 12 hours straight.

Honestly, the flight was as uneventful as we could have hoped. William napped for a while, Abby stayed up the entire time, and Jake slept off and on. Jake had the hardest time since he’s recently begun to walk and he loves to explore. He wanted to get down on the floor and we had to keep him confined to our laps or his car seat. JR and I took turns passing him back and forth most of the time. The lovely passengers in the rows right behind us played endless peekaboo with him. Everyone did pretty well until the last 20 minutes or so. By that point it was about 11pm our time, so well past bedtime. Abby finally broke down in tears, William was throwing a major fit, and Jake was fighting sleep in the carrier.

We were told our strollers would be at baggage claim, but we weren’t prepared for the long walk or how many times William would throw himself on the ground while we made our way to a shuttle and then to passport control. JR was carrying the 20+ pound car seat, I was wearing Jake, and William alternated being carried, crying, and occasionally taking a few steps on his own before tantruming all over again.

We were a mess while we waited in a short line for passport control. Just then, I remembered that I had a banana in my backpack leftover from our snacks. JR told me not to worry about it, we could throw it away on the other side. I was like, yeah but what if he asks me about it? He gave me this look like, don’t you dare even think about it. We walked up the customs officer and answered some standard questions about where we had traveled. Then he looked directly at me and asked if I had any food in my bags. I said, yes some snacks for the kids. He followed up with “any fruits or vegetables”?

As casually as possible I said, oh I think I still have a banana in there but we don’t need it so I can just throw it away. He said “I’m sorry, you’ve passed the point of no return. You’ll need to visit the team at the Agriculture office to take care of this.”

You can probably imagine the look JR gave me.

Honestly, it’s been a week and he still hasn’t forgiven me. But I couldn’t lie! To a law enforcement officer! He put all of our passports in this clear plastic box and called for a colleague to direct us down a very long path, far in the direction we wanted to be going. We walked and walked. Well, William didn’t really walk, of course. Finally we arrived in a separate waiting room set up like the DMV. I panicked. What had I done?! Just as we were called up, an officer informed us one of our children (I’m sure you can guess who) had run away. William made it almost back to passport control before JR caught him.

Meanwhile, the Agriculture officer walked up to me and said “ma’am, so you have a banana in your bag?” Near tears I replied, “yes, and maybe even two clementines. I’m sorry!”. He said why don’t you give me those, I’ll throw them away, and you can go get your bags. Bless his kind heart.

The whole ordeal lasted less than an extra 20 minutes, but it was still a setback. We made it back to baggage claim and I won’t bore you with the frustration of collecting all of our bags, not being able to find one for the longest time because someone had pulled it off and pushed it to the side, and the conveyor belt holding the strollers not working and preventing us from getting ours off.

There were no connecting flights to Ohio that night. When faced with the idea of taking all of our stuff, checking into a hotel, and returning to the airport the next day, my mom, as usual, stepped in to save the day. She rented a 15 passenger van and drove from Ohio to DC with my brother to pick us up. They were waiting for us when we walked out of baggage claim. They scooped up the kids, helped us load the car, filled us with food, and let us sleep most of the 6 hour ride home.

We’re getting settled in our AirBNB in my hometown, just a few miles from my parents. We’re quarantining with them and my brother. We all know it’s a risk, but no one is working or having physical contact with other people so we’re doing our very best, and we’re so thankful to be home.

 

 

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!

 

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!