30 July, 2011


Let's see what we can cram into one day!  May have been ended up being the guiding principle of this Saturday.  Scott and I have a late breakfast - bran cereal as penance for yesterday's NINE cupcakes (okay, they were mini but still).  Then we decide to try our hand at running in Egypt.  A crazy pass time for mid summer in the desert, but ever so much more plausible in an air conditioned gym.

We had to go to separate gym's within the club and I understand from Scott that the man's gym is not wonderful:  Only 2 treadmills, the weight lifting equipment is old, and the airconditioning insufficient.  By contrast, the ladies gym has 6 treadmills, decent weight lifting equipment, and pretty cool airconditioning.  Too bad for the dudes, though nice to see something lopsided in our favour around here!

I found most of the ladies don't run but walk on the treadmills.  Furthermore, the most popular equipment in the workout portion is the 'butt-shaker'.  At one point there were three ladies strapped in to those 1940s machines that "shake the fat out" (at least I think that is the point).  The beauty of these machines was demonstrated as it leaves you free to flip through magazines or text on your phone whilst your thigh, butt, or hips gets their jiggle on.

A quick trip home to change and put our feet up for a minute before our first social engagement of the afternoon.  We met up with a girl from Russia that we have met at a "global mixer" the other night at the Marriott Hotel.  This building is opulent, massive, and just so gosh darn fancy.  Kazzu and her fella join us in a cocktail room there and their coffee is served in beautiful china with a lovely silver pot for their own sugar cubes.  Scott and I split a cheese platter which just not quite as fancy as we were expecting for such a place; but the accompanying bread rocked!

A bit of a tour around the Marriott (we only saw one small part) revealed amazing ceilings, light fixtures, draperies, furnishings.  Wow - you can see why they would charge so much for the cheese plate!

We said goodbye to our first social group and had to race to catch a cab to our second social group.  Unbelievable and so different from our lives in Victoria where we knew only 2 people!

We met two of Scott's co-workers and a friend of a friend at a Thai restaurant in Zamalek.  It was again, very beautifully decorated.  They know how to do impressive here!  I got to order a tofu dish, my first since arriving and it was great.  We all ordered food that arrived on a steaming, sizzling plate.  It was hilarious to see the entire table steaming.  We were all already melting because the airconditioning (despite several request on our part) did not appear to be on.  When the smoke cleared we enjoyed a great meal.  A return visit will definitely be in order.

From there all 5 of us took a cab (1 cab!  He insisted that we squish in!) to somewhere near Zamalek (I was just a passenger, I have no idea) where you can hire small sail boats (Feluccas) to take a ride on the Nile.

For a mere LE60 ( about $10) they took us out for an hour.  The sun was already down (this happens before 7:00 pm here) and the city lights were lovely.  We did not travel too fast or go too far, but this modest vessel with seating room for about 20 people was perfectly suited to the 5 of us.  There were also two crew members, one that stayed at the back with us and one that stayed at the front and worked the sails.  This was like our equivalent to taking a gondola ride in Venice.  People often bring their own snacks and wine on board to make an evening of it, however we classy folk just brought a plastic bag containing a can of beer each.  Good conversation, beautiful views, a mighty fine float in a boat - Happy Saturday Night!

29 July, 2011

It's all about the Display

Friday morning and off to church.  We live right near an Anglican Church that has services in several languages throughout the week, including an English one on Fridays and Sundays.  But since Sunday=Monday here, it makes more sense to partake on Friday.

The church is in a bit of a compound type area with a few fellas manning the gate.  The church building itself is shaped like a pineapple!  Once inside, I wondered if I had the time wrong - I didn't see anybody through the front door.  But rounding the corner, there were about 50 chairs set up in a smaller side part and a few people getting seated.  I helped myself to a bulletin and then encountered the pastor who apologized for there being no greeters there today.  The theme continued as we found there that there was also no one there to play music and also no one there to make the coffee and juice afterward.  Summer in Cairo - everybody is gone!

Despite the mini number of attendees (maybe 30 people) I somehow manage to be in a row hip to hip with my neighbors.  I started off in a row by myself (and I was there 5 minutes late) and then a girl about my age sat a few seats down from me shortly after.  But then about 40 minutes into the service an Egyptian family came in and sat in our row so I had to scoot right into the other girl's lap.  The family had a brand new baby who mostly hung out in a basket that they put on a nearby piano plus two beautiful little girls with long, dark, curly hair.  I caught the littler one (who was squished up against my other side) peeking up at me throughout the service and we kept exchanging shy smiles.  So cute!

Anyway the service was great and it felt comforting to participate in something so familiar while being very much in the minority in this far away land.  Afterward I chatted with my left hip girl as well as the pastor and a few others.  It was someone's last day so that had thought to bring cookies, and the pastor had heard in advance there would be no coffee team so he had at least brought some juice.  We chatted for a bit on the patio outside and I met people from the UK and the US.  They go out for lunch every week so sometime I might join them.  They were advising my on Egypt's most famous dish - Koshari.  Apparently there is some disagreement on who makes the best around here so I will have to try it at several places.  When we went out to eat yesterday one of our table mates ordered it and it kind of looked like one of those "cleaning out the fridge day" meals.  Macaroni, spaghetti, rice, lentils, chick peas, and red sauce.  Apparently you eat this one meal and you are satisfied for the whole day.  As a girl with impressive food consumption capabilities I will have to be the judge of that!

The afternoon and was spent lazing about for a bit at home - it is TOO DARN HOT.  Forget what I said before, I am officially uncomfortable!  Then we walked about for a little bit in Zamalek - something we really haven't done that much of.  We discovered a new grocery store a block away that has pretty much everything we need.  It is in a small building and you don't think there is much to it, but a guy there gestures to a set of stairs and so we find there is a second level.  Another guy is following us around and when we finally pick an item off the shelf we realize the reason is that he intends to carry our groceries for us.  He eagerly comes forward with a basket and takes the obviously way-too-heavy-for-us-to-manage packet of raisins from us.  We have no idea what the procedure is for tipping the grocery carrier (who is employed by the store) so in the end we just pay for our groceries and duck shyly away.  The store, like everywhere else around here, offers delivery too.  So a person can go out to shop even if they have no cash on them at the time; have someone else carry your stuff around the store; tell the guy at the register that you are going to stop at the bank and head home; and then they will take your groceries to your house for whatever time you request. Incredible!  We have life way too hard in Canada!

The evening we keep exploring around and I have been noticing that around here they are Masters of Display. The way the fruit is arranged at the stands, the candy in the shops, even the goats hanging from the ceiling. It is all so orderly and attractive (well obviously not so much attractive the meat...)

We stopped at a nut shop whose slogan is "Add Delectation to Life".  What a fantastic idea, we could all use a touch more delectation.  We also stopped at a cupcake shop which I have to say far exceeds any that I visited in Victoria or Edmonton.  We tried NINE kinds and will have to return to try more of the intriguing flavours like yam, chestnut, and mango.  Another trip to cupcake heaven?  Sure!

28 July, 2011

More Ma'adi, More Falafel

Early to rise to make some breaky for the man again. Not sure if this tradition will stick, but it is nice to have a few more hours in the day.

I called the language school where I'll be learning Arabic with Kazzu to find out if we are in fact registered for the class since they have never replied to my application request and "re-request".  They said sure you're in and you can just pay on the first day.  I guess we won't know for sure until we get there since that is definitely not how their website says it works, but anyway I am cautiously excited about starting classes beginning July 31st.

Then a quick coffee with Eneda and Kazzu at a new (to me) joint nearby called Aroma.  It does not hold a candle to Beanos so my loyalty is still in tact.  It is a quick coffee - only 1 hr - which is way too short for a couple of chatty ladies like us, but Eneda has to run to be home for her airconditioner repair guy (mine is still broken - the airconditioner, not the guy) and I have to go to the district of Ma'adi again.

Hailing a cab on my own for the third time only.  The trip goes by without a hitch.  About a 40 minute drive for LE25 (egyptian pounds) equivalent to a little more than 4 bucks.  With my map and a memory of this trip last week, the cab driver and I make it there with no common language but a few silent hand gestures!

I meet with the community centre program manager where I'll be teaching dance in the fall and happily we find a way to hold all 8 hrs of classes per week that I would like to teach.  After only 40 minutes of chatting I make a full hour long cab ride journey home.  Too bad I'll have to commute so long to and from the centre, though on a map it really isn't that far.  Cairo traffic is to blame for the lengthy voyage.

My cab ride home is great - the driver did not turn on the meter which I have been told is a bad thing.  We are supposed to either agree on a price before setting off, or better yet: have them turn on their meters.  Well, head-in-the-clouds girl that I am,  I don't notice that the meter ain't a-runnin until we are 40 minutes into the trip.  When we arrive home (which is becoming easier to find all the time!), I ask him how much I should pay him since there is nothing on the meter.  I realize after that that is not necessarily the right thing to do since he could say anything.  But it is okay, he seems to look sheepish and says "no meter".  So I say tell him that my outgoing trip was LE25 therefore that's what I'll pay him.  I'm not sure how much of that he understood and he doesn't really reply so I just hand him the money and get out.  I did everything wrong and still wasn't swindled!

By the time that Scott gets home, he is completely exhausted.  Still not quite adjusted to that good 'ol 9 hr time change.  He has a nap while I hang out on Skype.  Then we head out to Abu El Sid which is a nearby Egyptian restaurant.

We have a seat and there are not too many people smoking cigarettes, but tons of people smoking shisha.  We order foul and falafel again - awesome!  Then two staff members from Scott's work walk in so we ask if they would care to join us.  They are heading to the pyramids tomorrow and we had been planning to go too, but the promise of incredible heat has us deciding to wait a bit longer.

I know those pyramids have been around for a good long while and they are probably not going anywhere during the few years we are here, but I hope we get there SOON.

27 July, 2011

I get a card and everything.

Hurray!  I am totally a member of the Gezira Sportsclub now!  This last step was the easiest of all - I just swing in past the guards with my little proof of payment paper, go straight to the membership office, and pick up two very official looking member cards (one for Scott and one for myself).

At least there is a picture of me on one, otherwise I would not know it was for me as it has Scott's name on it instead of mine.  Apparently the Arabic text indicates something like "in the harem of Scott Miller".  Interesting.  I always thought I was running this harem of ours.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  The day began many hours before the successful membership mission.  I awoke at a time that starts with a 6 and got breakfast ready for Scott and I.  This attempt at domesticity is a direct result of hanging out with a newly wed whose level of wifely commitment far exceeds my own.

Anyway, after coffee the housekeeper arrives.  We are getting to form a routine already where we chat a bit but mostly I just stay the heck out of her way.  I am progressing with my comfort level of having her there working hard whilst I twiddle.  She cleaned for over 5 hrs so there was lots of time to develop some comfort!  Scott is over the moon at the cleanliness of the kitchen - he opened the stove up several times that evening just to marvel at its gleaming.  Oh dear.

While the cleaning is happening it is Grand Central Station around here - the airconditioner fix-it guy is back since we have some major leaks happening again.  Also two staff from Scott's work are by to inspect all the items needing repair or replacement in the place.  I am starting to think maybe I am employed after all - official apartment project manager for our unit.  Well the airconditioner fella says he already replaced parts and if it is still leaking now, we probably need to replace all of it - the only reason I have a clue what he said is that the housekeeper translated for us.

Eventually everybody leaves (except the housekeeper who is still at it) and I run out to get my membership card before having to return home for another airconditioning fix-it wiz comes to visit.  When he finally arrives he has the previous fella with him and it sounds like they are arguing.  I think it ended with them saying they will come back again tomorrow but honestly have NO idea if that is what they actually said.

Had supper waiting for Scott upon his return (domestic diva - I know - it might have something to do with my being in his harem?) and then we head to Kazzu's house before going to the club for the evening with our spiffy new membership cards.

Is it just me or is everybody else's apartment bigger, cooler, and nicer than ours?  Not bitter, just sayin'.  So we go to the Sportsclub and find it is a completely different place at night.  Families bring their children here as a safe place to hang out; bike; take tennis, gymnastics, or basketball lessons; or play with some rather adorable stray kittens (the cats seem to have tripled since that afternoon).  Kazzu and her man play some B-Ball while Scott and I hang out in the pool.

The evening is capped off with my trying an especially healthy snack which consists of a mars bar cooked inside of a soft pretzel, bathed in butter.  Oh dear I might need to do a few more laps in the pool next time.

26 July, 2011

Hazlenut Icecream and Wine on the Nile

Another leisurely morning - I fear I am wrecked for life for ever having early morning employment and making use of one of those alarm clock thingies.

This time I'm IN the Gezira Sportsclub before that firm 2:00 pm cutoff.  I got past the guards with relatively little hassle too.  One of my new friends, let's call her Kazzu, seemed to understand the whole hoop jumping process of actually being a member of this place so I follow her lead.  She takes me to the membership office where I wait in line for the lady behind the front counter who rejected me on the grounds of being tardy yesterday.  She accepted my form and supporting documents this time and then said something really fast and quiet that Kazzu somehow understood to mean "Take this piece of paper around to another building, give them your money, then come back and see me".  Well okay, that's not what I heard at all.  Thank goodness for Kazzu!  So we visit the money takers, return to the front desk lady, and she instructs (this I understand) to come tomorrow to obtain the official membership cards for Scott and myself.  Success!

So after all that hard work, we reward ourselves with some pool time.  We chat for a bit but find that unfortunately her creepy admirer from yesterday is back.  Sitting two tables away, he resumes his previous days work of ogling Kazzu.  He leans forward, smokes a cigarette or ten, and continues to gaze at her without blinking.  He even inches closer to take up this practice now only one table away.  Finally, Kazzu has had enough so she reports it to the nearby staff.  The come over and talk to me to find out what the problem is and I tell them that this guys is making my friend very uncomfortable and can they deal with it.  They say "Why you look sad?  Smile.  Everything is fine."  They even suggest that we just move to another table.  I seriously doubt that would help and imagine the creeper would just creep on over.  The one thing the staff will not do is address the guy, ask him to leave Kazzu alone, or ask him to leave.  They don't even turn to look at him.

Disheartened by this lack of support, we head over to the women's only gym where at least we know he will not be a problem.  Some hardcore weightlifting ensues and we still manage to have a nice afternoon.  Kazzu heads home to meet up with her fella and I return to the pool to meet up with our other friend who we shall call Eneda.

Eneda and I get right to the business of pumping out a few laps of the pool just to say we did.  Then we enjoy lounging by the pool (the creepy guy is long gone) and I have some magnificent hazlenut icecream.  Where have you been all my life?  Probably with my newfound ginger lattes.  We have another nice chat before heading home ourselves.

Scott is already back from another long work day - somebody has got to do it - and has ordered some mighty fine pizza for us.  We catch up for a bit before I head out to my next social engagement - an international organization networking event for people living in Cairo but hailing from everywhere.

Eneda, Kazzu, and myself step aboard a beautifully decorated and illuminated boat on the nile.  It was permanently docked, but we could see lots of smaller boats floating down the nile all around us.  My goodness, I can't believe I'm ON THE NILE and that I'm really in Egypt.  Unreal.

We sat down at table outside with a gorgeous light breeze and got to meet people from France, Russia, Egypt, Canada, US and Mexico.  Journalists, researchers, entrepeneurs, embassy workers, teachers, poolside loungers - you name it, we were all there.  I had heard that Egyptian wine tends not to be the best but tentatively I ordered a glass of "red".  It was quite fine actually though I never did find out what kind it was and if it was the exception or the rule in Egyptian wine.  Anyway, several hours were spent chatting, hearing about all the things to do in Egypt and what everybody was up to in Cairo.  All those that I met genuinely like it here and many have lived here for several years so that was encouraging too.

I came home to a sleeping Scott - a first in a long while.  Poor fella has some serious sleep debt to pay off but hey, he'll be lounging poolside in a few days himself.  Let's hear it for weekends beginning on Fridays!

25 July, 2011

I'm in! Well, almost.

What a perfect day!  How guilty should I feel I wonder for how lovely a time I am having whilst my dear husband toils...

A leisurely morning at home and then a THREE hour coffee visit with two wonderful women.  Of course I had to have the ginger latte - try this everybody!  Then off to the Gezira Sportsclub again to try and get the elusive membership.  A hard time again given to me at the gate to get in, even though I have a membership form and accompanying documents and am waiving it at the guards saying that I need to get in to register for the club...

We full out ran to the membership office at the back of the club to try and get there before the closing time of 2:00 pm (lots of places close early like that over the summer months).  But alas, though everyone is still in the office and working, they will not let me hand in my registration form because it is like 2:07 pm.  One of my new buddies who speaks Arabic pleads, but to no avail.  Come back tomorrow and get there BEFORE 2:00 pm.  Shoot, we ran in the summer heat of Cairo for nuthin.

Well, these ladies I'm with are a lot more bold than I am (though this is something I am trying to work on) and we decide that though I am not technically a member of this elite establishment yet, we should stay (since we're past the guards anyway) and enjoy our afternoon.  So we find a nice shady table beside one of the three pools and order some lemonade and continue with our lengthy chatting Part II.  A couple laps to make it seem like we're there for fitness or something and then some poolside lounging until the sun is no longer over head.

Here none of the rules of dress apply - women in bikinis, shorts, whatever - here it is okay.  Unfortunately, one of my friends had an unwelcome admirer.  After about an hour of openly starring at her, he comes over and proposes marriage.  She politely declines, being otherwise committed and also being put off by his high score on the creep-o-meter.  He never did let up with the starring though.

We head home after this lovely day to meet up with our respective sweethearts and I begin to think that being in Cairo may be a rather delightful thing.

24 July, 2011

Mrs Shannon and Mr Scott

Ok, yes: we are now some of "those people".  We no longer need to scrub our tub, mop our floors, or iron our own shirts.  We have employed someone to do these tasks on our behalf.  'But Shannon, you are not working, don't you think that you have enough time in the day to scrub a bathroom now and then?'  Well...yes, but we are helping to fuel the economy and  build the employment rate! Plus, I HATE bathrooms.

Furthermore, I am doing some hard stuff too:  I had to get up at 7:00 am  to let the housekeeper in!  I have been sleeping until at least 9:00 am every day so that was really tough.  Plus then there is the whole question of how do I look busy and keep from feeling guilty for the four whole hours that she is working?!  Truly, challenging business.  Well, I handled the first two hours by returning to complete my required number of zzz's, and the remaining two hours by puttering around doing dishes, laundry, and playing on the internet.  To make me feel even more pretentious, I am being called "Mrs Shannon" and am answering inquiries about "Mister Scott".  This will take some getting used to as well as some personal justifying on my part.

But the end result is a wonderfully clean home, and hey, like I say, we're creating jobs here people.

After a tough morning of observing work, I headed off to try and get a membership at the Gezira Sportsclub.  Check it out at http://www.geziraclub.com/

A beautiful, historic resort type place with 3 pools, 3 gyms, 30 sports, several restaurants, and tha making of some very fine lazy summer days.  The only trouble is getting in!  You first have to get past the guards who don't want to let you in without a pass, even if your objective is to get in to obtain a pass!  Well, luckily I was with a determined young lady who would not take no for an answer and who herself already had a membership there.  We went through only a small portion of this massive place (which occupies the whole southern half of the island we live on) to find the office where one can obtain a registration form.  Getting the form was hard enough, but after that you need to include a referral letter, photos, and passport info.  This is an elite club!

After successfully leaving with the form I made my way back home to tackle the always challenging task of looking busy while people work on the apartment again.  Now there were two fellas trying to repair one of our screen doors.  Over an hour later, it is still not working and there are plans to return another day.  Who needs a screen door anyway?  All the bugs seem to be INSIDE our apartment already!

The last challenge of the day was trying to order some of those big blug jugs of water to go with our new water cooler.  I called up the nearest grocery store that delivers and did not get an English talker.  After being on hold for a good while, they passed me on to one, but it was still hard to communicate much.  Eventually, satisfied that they might know where I live and they might know what I was ordering, I asked them when it would arrive and how much it would cost.  They just said "thank you" and after a few trys I just thought - oh well, surprise me.

We a bit over an hour later, two guys arrive at my door with 4 things of water, but they are just boxes filled with normal water bottles.  The guys obviously had to load and unload this heavy lot on this exceptionally hot day.  I felt terrible to tell them that it was not what I wanted!  As a gesture of apology (and to lighten their return load) I bought one box, though that too was hard to find out the cost.  They still looked annoyed but what can ya do?

So our cooler still sits empty and waiting, but we do have a mighty full fridge of water.

23 July, 2011

What if I want to get my own T.P.?

Boy, do the days fly by here!  It could be because the sun sets early, or that it takes 10 times as long to drive somewhere as one would think necessary, or maybe because we can't quite stop sleeping in, but at any rate, we generally find ourselves eating supper at 9:00 pm and wondering where did the day go?

Today we finally set out at about 1:00 pm in search of a cool, low effort activity - aka - to the mall.  Not quite the adventurous first weekend out that I had thought we would go for, but the truth is we were tired and in search of something familiar.

So, to Citystars Mall in Heliopolis.  By far the hottest, longest, slowest cab ride to date.  Those streets were packed.  But we got there and it was HUGE:  6 floors, plus floor zero, several cinemas, hotels, amusement park, not to mention stores, restaurants, cafes, etc, etc.

We started off with a Beanos where the staff there spoke wonderful English and I got to introduce Scott to the now legendary (in my mind) Ginger Latte.  Yum.

Then with only having to cover half of the mall to find it, we found the Golden Stars Theatre. We went to the "VIP" section to buy our tickets. For the same price as seeing a movie at a Cineplex in Canada we got sit in a private little lounge area until the show began and then once in the theatre there were only about 20 seats - all big recliners with mega leg room! It was only us and 2 other couples there. They even have an intermission for us to go to the bathroom or grab some more popcorn.
Speaking of bathrooms, I have not been able to use one in any of the malls that we have been to so far without being serviced by a bathroom attendant.  I don't know how anyone else feels, but I feel neither pampered nor comfortable with someone standing outside my stall as I unfuel, waiting to give me toilet paper.  I feel quite comfortable with tearing off my own squares and decidedly uncomfortable with this level of assistance.  "VIP" recliners - sign me up; "VIP" toilet service - I'll hold it until I get home thanks.

22 July, 2011

Dandy Mall

 Had a late start today which is too bad since Friday mornings are a chance to move about easily through the empty city streets.  Fridays here are like Sundays back home, Saturday is like Saturday, and Sundays here are like Mondays - got it?

While most people are attending church on Friday morning, that is our chance to go for a walk, a bike ride, a drive (if we get a car - which yes is a possibility), grocery shop, or other errands.

I might lose this opportunity if I join a church that meets Friday mornings but am still working that out.

Anyway, when we finally left the apartment at 1:00 pm, things were just beginning to come alive in the streets again.  We did have the fastest and safest cab ride here so far though since we did beat the rush.  Our cab was beautifully clean and the driver spoke enough English to understand my exclamation to that effect.  We went to a place called Dandy Mall which besides some familiar shops like Toys 'R Us, Second Cup and Body Shop offered all the comforts of home should we ever decide we need comforting!  They even had a movie theatre playing at least one English Movie - currently Harry Potter.

There were many restaurants to choose from to eat at at the mall including Hardees, McD's, KFC.  We chose a more traditional type restaurant because I had yet to try local Falafel.  Fuul, cucumber yoghurt dip, falafel, and pita was our meal.  It was all DELICIOUS, though the Fuul (fava beans with some delicious seasonings and green peppers) was the best.  Lots of easy recipes for this on-line if anyone wants to try it out.

The Falafel was super different than we've had before - they looked more like little doughnuts rolled in sesame seeds.  Yum.

The pursuit of how to effectively order a black coffee continues.  This time I ordered an Americano, they asked me "Nescafe?" (which means you get instant coffee I think), I said "No, like espresso with water".  So naturally, we get a little shot of espresso and a bottle of water!  Still good, but not quite what I meant.

By now it was 5:00 pm and we decide to go to the Carrefour in the mall for more groceries.  It was just as packed as when we tried the previous Saturday and both of us were too tired to attempt to navigate the cart traffic.  So we abandoned cart and got the heck out of there.  But after some thought, we decided that was the main reason we made the trip out of Zamalek in the first place so with our shoulders squared in determination and without cart (carrying items only we thought would be easier) we tried to reenter.  Lots easier without a cart.  We returned home successful but exhausted.
Maybe the heat, maybe the crowds.  But anyway, we survived week one!

21 July, 2011

Another Malfunction?

I had plans for a delicious ginger latte and some errands with my new buddy for this day, but instead was met by a leaking roof.

I called downstairs to the Boab (apartment front desk person who oversees the building) who spoke some English and within about a half hour there was a repair man at my door.  He had a ladder and no shoes (maybe he left them at the front door or something, but I never did see them).  He spoke no English but I gestured about what the problem was.  We think our air conditioner was leaking, but it was a fair amount of water and the ceiling tile was saturated and slightly warped.

He worked for about an hour before letting me know that he had to go out and get a replacement part, or fix a part, or something - I don't know because it was Arabic!  He returned within the hour and worked for at over an hour more.  No water is coming out anymore and the airconditioning is running!  I am confused however because I think he told me he would come back on Sunday.  Maybe it is a temporary fix?  This language business is frustrating.

I spent the afternoon researching stuff to do here (including the Arabic lesson options) and blogging.  I think I am caught up with the latter now!  One blog a day is a lofty goal, but hey - I've got time.

20 July, 2011

Lady Who Lunches

Three Social Engagements!  In one day.

I started off the day with a 10:00 am coffee visit with one of the spouses living in Zamalek.  She has been here a little bit longer and I found it so encouraging to see how well she has navigated her way around here.  I had possibly the best coffee EVER - a latte with fresh ginger grated on top.  Whoa - write that idea down Starbucks.

We had a really good time, she had lots of incredible stories and has been just about everywhere.  I am by far the least travelled of everyone I have met here (okay I haven't been very many places by most people's standards, but I tell you these guys have got it covered!).

Then off to Ma'adi by cab again, this time by myself with a map. We somehow got there in about 40 minutes with only one wrong turn.  There are not very many street signs and lots not in English so I was counting roundabouts and intersections on my Ma'adi map.  I can do this!  This time I went to the Community Association Centre (they have a gym, a library, a store, a language school, and a cafe) where I met the outgoing dance teacher for the program I'll be taking on in the fall.  She had set up her own recitals there and had classes with waiting lists.  Big shoes to fill.

I was picked up by the first cab I asked to go back home.  He went a different way that I could not figure out, but I had only a Ma'adi map so had nothing for reference.  He tried talking to me, but of course my complete lack of Arabic was a bit of a handicap.  By the creepy smile he kept shooting back I think it was just as well.  At one point he pulled over beside a restaurant, gestured towards it, and asked me something.  I don't know if he wanted us to go eat there or if he was just telling me it was a good place.  But he waited for a response from me (No?) before driving on again.  I did get home in one piece but I don't think I like taking cabs by myself here.  Until I learn some Arabic at least!

Third engagement - drinks at the Marriott Hotel.  What a fancy place.  Gorgeous building, gorgeous garden and pool at the centre.  We met the other Zamalek-ers plus two people from France.  All organized by my new latte buddy from the morning.  Again the conversation was divided between English and French.  I might leave here a much improved French speaker and a very wee-bit-o-Arabic speaker.  Again everyone was so interesting and friendly.  I could get used to this.

19 July, 2011

Poolside Lunch

An outing today!  The community coordinator from Scott's work organized a lunch meeting for all the spouses.  Those of us living in Zamalek took a cab to meet all the others who live in Ma'adi.

Walking to the corner to meet the Zamalek crew and catch the cab, I encountered a dead cat.  Oh dear, he appeared to be just soundly sleeping in the middle of the sidewalk beside a pile of dirt and cardboard.  There are so many stray cats in the street here that I guess that kind of sight is inevitable, but it was shocking to me at any rate.

So three of us met on the corner and caught a cab to Ma'adi House - an American club in Ma'adi.  Now I am learning that cab drivers are not familiar with how to actually get anywhere, plus the generally do not speak any English.  You might wonder how anybody gets where they want to be in such a case.  Me too!  The norm is to name the district you want to get to and once you're there the drivers pull over and ask passersby about the destination you named.  Eventually someone from the neighborhood gets him to the right place!

We arrive at Ma'adi House and it is really nice.  They have a library, playground, restaurant, pool, green space and maybe some other things I didn't see.  Some of the Ma'adi spouses with children have joined this club since it is about the best option for replacing  hanging out at a park or playground on a summer's day in Canada.  We sit at an outdoor table with some shade - I tell you this heat is lovely!  And what an interesting collection of Canadian Spouses - one from Morocco, one from the Czech Republic, one from Japan, one from France, one from the US, and yes, one originally from Canada.  We spoke alternately in English and in French since one spouse knew more of one and one knew more of the other.

Our lunch lasted a few hours (I think - I have no need to consult a watch much as of yet...) and then the Zamalek crew retired to the adjacent pool.  Ahh - like Goldilocks dream: not too hot, not too cold.  But awfully refreshing.  We floated about for over an hour before heading back home.

Cabs returning to Zamalek from Ma'adi sometimes don't want to take you because they don't want to go that far out of their area and don't want to get caught in rush hour (which is a sight to be seen!) either.  But after our third try, one would take us and so off we went.  This time I saw a family of 4 on a single motorcycle...driving on the sidewalk.  And this is not unusual here apparently!

A great day with really great people.

18 July, 2011


Success on day 3 of sleeping in Cairo!  Went to sleep at 11:30 pm and awoke at 9:30 am.  I wish I could say the same for Scott who, as evidenced by a tidy kitchen this morning, was wide awake during the wee hours of the night.
As a first-timer in the business of living abroad I’m seeing that a key ingredient to making a good go of the experience is being a bit fearless.  Even stepping outside the apartment front door I am met with issues of disorientation (which way is north again?), where to walk to avoid the steady flow of oncoming traffic on a very narrow road, who to talk to (can they speak English; can I understand them; are they trying to sell something; etc).  The next dilemma is finding the balance between bravery and recklessness.  Being friendly to the people that approach me, but not too friendly; looking like I’m walking with purpose when I don’t necessarily know where I am going.  Walking alone because I can’t stay cooped up while Scott is at work (after having heard that walking alone can be bothersome for some women).  I have also been told that cab drivers can be unsafe to ride with alone, but do foresee having to do that.
These are the sorts of things swimming through my head as I have my morning coffee (in the morning!  I have made the time change!), yet all experiences out and about to date have been very safe, exciting, and amazing.

17 July, 2011

The Lay of the Land

Sunday is the new Monday.  Scott’s first workday and he gets picked up at 7:00 am by the outgoing staff that he is replacing.  They go to work by cab.  I am none the wiser as I sleep until 10:45 am and hear nothing over the air-conditioning.  Both of us were awake in the middle of the night because of jet-lag.  Scott was scrubbing the kitchen and I was mostly unproductive except for doing some laundry.
I only awoke at 10:45 am at all because the door bell rang.  Left to my own demise who knows how long I could have slept!  It was a repair man from Scott’s work that had been tasked with addressing “deficiencies” that we had noted with the apartment.  The apartment was absolutely lovely – huge and with gorgeous furnishings – but deficiencies were fairly numerous and in retrospect quite humorous.  The dryer we found did not dry very effectively and filled the laundry room up with humidity.  It was found that though the dryer was venting into the adjacent wall, it had nowhere to go beyond that!  There was nowhere for it to go.  So a hole had to be drilled through the exterior wall to remedy this.  Secondly, the dishwasher when turned leaked all over the floor.  Upon inspection, the water connection was just a big tube stuck in a smaller tube with no adaptor – thus water just gushed out around the edges of the smaller tube.  These were the two most curious issues, the rest were less odd such as the odd nail sticking up, a patio door hung crookedly, a bathroom drain that was clogged, etc.  In a few short hours, one single worker fixed everything!  All that had to be left for another day was caulking the bathrooms and fixing a cupboard door handle.
The next visitors that day were a fleet of 4 male cleaners, also brought in before I knew they were coming – it looks like the days of wearing pyjamas when hanging out at home might be over!  Except for one, they spoke no English at all.  They had been called in because during our middle of the night cleanings we had discovered that the place was really quite filthy (especially the kitchen).  Scott’s work had already hired someone to clean, though we are not sure if anyone had come out before we arrived and if so, what they had done.  The crew was there for only a half hour but the kitchen did look a bit better upon their departure.  The bathrooms will still need our own personal elbow grease and the floors still leave the soles of our feet quite dirty.
The third visitor of the day was announced and was a fantastic English speaker - he was Canadian and was hired by Scott’s work to help get us settled.  He had called earlier in the afternoon which was when we found out that our phone was hooked up.  We were under the impression that someone would be coming in to hook up our cable, phone, and internet sometime later this week so hearing the phone ring was a surprise.  Apparently both our phone and cable had always been connected.  I had to ask the caller what our phone number was!  He let us know that our filtered tap water was safe to drink, offered up some suggestions for places to tour, gyms to join, Arabic lesson teachers, etc.  He then met up with Scott and I in the evening to walk us around our neighbourhood and show us restaurants, landmarks to navigate by, shops with good produce, etc.  The restaurants all looked great and we can’t wait to try a great many of them.
Home by 8:15 pm, hungry and exhausted (well Scott was exhausted, I was fine since I had slept in), we had our first ordering in experience.  We ordered beer in from Drinkies (a wine, beer, and liquor store that also does delivery) and supper from an Italian restaurant (though Scott had beef curry and I had cheese quiche).  It was good and about half the price it would have been in Canada.  Though we are beginning to think we tip too high based on the extreme level of gratitude that the recipients display!  Despite any advice to the contrary we have been eating lettuce and fresh produce from the restaurants with reckless abandon and so far – no issues.  We’ve also eaten some fruit and veggies from the grocery store, though we did soak it with a cleaning solution first.

16 July, 2011

Our First Expedition

Awake way earlier than our tired bodies want to be, but we are up and at ‘em for 12:30 pm.  The outgoing staff at Scott’s work takes us for a walk around our neighbourhood to get set up with groceries.  The grocery store we go to is like a boutique store, like a little Italian grocery place.  We find everything we want and that we are accustomed to, except milk and eggs are not in a refrigerated isle.  Different!  Plus there is no peanut butter without sugar (possibility for our first shipment from home?) and the All Bran is a bit more sweetened than at home.  The only other thing is that we have been cautioned by some about the quality of the meat so Scott is pondering at-home vegetarianism (though he is perfectly comfortable eating restaurant meat and has done so many times with no ill-effect).   Before grocery shopping we went out for coffee with two outgoing staff members.  It was difficult to order a black coffee – they kept saying “ice?” and we kept saying “no”.  We asked for the house blend, they looked confused, so we pointed to the big sign that said “House Blend”.  They said they were all out or didn’t have any or something.  We finally settled on Americano which we eventually conveyed and somehow it worked out okay.
After parting ways, Scott and I decided we wanted to go to a bigger grocery store for all of our cleaning supplies.  We ventured by cab to Carre Four in Ma’adi.  It was over a half hour and we were charged LE50.  Still not sure if that was a good deal or not.  We’re not sure if the driver spoke English since he did not speak with us at all.  We ate lunch in a restaurant out front which had both North American and Egyptian food.  We sat outside which was shaded and a beautiful temperature.  I have been pleasantly warm since arriving.  The lower humidity in comparison to Southern Ontario keeps it quite comfortable.  I tried to order a chickpea dish and a black coffee.  Instead I got a chicken dish and a chocolate milkshake.  Apparently this happens to people here a lot.  I happily gulped the chocolate milkshake (hey – I tried to make the healthy choice, what can I do if it got lost in translation!) and tentatively ate the top layer off the chicken dish which was a delicious yoghurt, cardamom pod, and cheese concoction.  We also ordered fatoush (a fresh salad with bread in it) and an eggplant dish with pita bread.  We left very full and excited about Egyptian food!
We then went into the Carre Four which at the entrance was a shopping mall with many familiar stores (signs in English and in Arabic) like the Body Shop, Nike, and Starbucks.  We entered the grocery store part and were awed by how packed it was.  It was truly amazing how many people fit in there.  Here most shoppers were locals and most women had their heads covered (though those that didn’t were doing fine too).  We had a few traffic jams.  One nice woman took the front of my cart and guided it between a seemingly impossible gap.  Two sweet kids did the same when we were in the checkout line.  We found everything we needed, though we weren’t sure if the prices were good or bad, or if we definitely had all the right products.  But it was a success – we were even able to pay with Visa.  We have since been told to go on Friday mornings if we actually want to be able to manoeuvre around.  That was good to know since we were planning to probably never attempt that again due to how busy it was.
We then took a cab home.  This guy spoke no English but somehow got Scott to barter for the price even though there was a meter in the cab.  We have since been told that we can insist on them using a meter, or just get out and use another cab.  Once they had settled on LE50, we headed out - a completely different way than the first time.  We saw SO MANY crazy things on the drive.  First of all was the driving – they do not adhere to the lines painted on the road, the weave in and out, they go very fast, they reverse on the highway if they miss their cut-off, they use their horns to communicate (it sounds like a wedding is going by constantly).  If you can get past it being scary, it is actually really fun.  Then there was what we saw on the road – nice new cars, very olds cars, motorcycles pulling trailers with people in them, a motorcycle with three people sitting on the seat, horses pulling carriages, open trucks with people sitting on the sides and holding on, random piles of garbage on the sides of the road, random herds of goats being fed on the side of the road.  Lastly, what we saw on the sidewalks – tea booths set up on the sides of the highway, chairs lined up on the sides on the bridge for people to lounge and enjoy the tea, long eared cats roaming around freely, row upon row upon row of brick apartment buildings as far as the eye can see, lots of cheerful clusters of people out walking.  It seems that Cairo at night is the most interesting of all!

15 July, 2011

The Journey

I’m including this entry as one day because that is really what it was – two days strung together with no night in between!

We arrived at the Victoria airport at 9:30 am on Thursday, July 14 (2 hours before departure in case we had to clear customs).  We didn’t, so we used the extra time to have our last Canadian meal – breakfast at the Whitespot.  Good.  Our flight to Toronto left about 45 minutes late, but other than that it was an uneventful, comfortable, and nice 4.5 hour flight.  We had a prepaid meal on the flight and watched a couple movies.
We got to Toronto and started running since our next flight was already boarding.  We were in the right terminal but had to go to a very far away wing for international flights.  When we got there we each had enough time to visit the bathroom and then still had to wait in line to get on.  We made it!  This airplane was three lanes of three seats each and went back quite far.  We walked longingly past the first class section which had individual pods that looked mighty comfy.  We got back to the section of the common man and it was still okay because we only had two seats in our row and a bathroom behind us so we could recline.  This flight was 6 hours and we were served both supper and breakfast.  I don’t think I ever saw the sun go down.  Again movies, eating, this time a bit of dozing, but nothing like actual sleep.
Once on ground in London, we had a bit of a jaunt, we had to show our passport at a few places but no customs yet.  We took a bus (they drove on the wrong side of the road of course!) through a series of curvy roads and ended up at our terminal.  It was small and quiet and there did not appear to be that many people taking our flight.  Once on board, we were delayed for an hour due to lack of staff available for loading up luggage.  Then we had to wait for another take-off window.  There was about a 50/50 mix of westerners and foreigners, a few head-covered, a few not.  I’m not sure how, but we somehow got to Cairo on time, even after the one hour delay.  I think our flight was 4.5 hours.  It was all very confusing!  Again got served a pre-paid breakfast, dozed, and read.
We arrived in Cairo a little after 4 pm on the 15th.  Customs was a breeze – we just showed our passport (they didn’t seem to speak English), they asked “Rome?” and we said “No, Canada”, and that was it.  The airport was very nice, much like the Vancouver airport and a mix of people from all over.  We got to our luggage carousel, no problem, but only 1 out of 5 suitcases made it off.  We waited until everyone else had gone, Scott looked around for excess baggage to no avail, but in the end a gentleman came over and said ours might be one of the suitcases on the other side.  Sure enough, we went around to the other side of the luggage carousel, and there were all our suitcases, neatly lined up on the side.  Someone had kindly taken them off for us!  We had waited half an hour for nothing!
Finally we excited the baggage section to be greeted by a wall of cab drivers asking if we wanted a ride.  Luckily, the outgoing staff member from Scott’s work was a tall fella that could see over the drivers and he waved to us.  This was good since we didn’t know what he looked like or how we would find him!  He had brought a driver with him and they took us to our new home.  It was a bit of a hairy drive with weaving and bobbing, but not nearly as wild or as busy as we were expecting.  In retrospect, that is probably because it was a Friday:  A family and church day here.
Our apartment is immense!  We have so much space and at first it was confusing which way to turn to get to the room we had last been in.  We also cannot hear each other from one end to the other!  The furniture is brand new, comfortable, and elegant.  The outgoing staff left us to get settled after showing us around the unit.  He had left a bottle of wine for us in the fridge as well as some food basics to get us started.
We have three great balconies and Scott went out to enjoy one of them (a small balcony with no furniture yet).  I went out to join him and closed the door behind me to keep from air-conditioning outside – thanks for the training dad.  Unfortunately, the door locks automatically.  Unfortunately we had no phone with us.  Unfortunately Scott was in his underwear.  I thought okay, this is hilarious, but what are we going to do.  Scott thought, how could you have closed the door, and what are we going to do.  We tried for a few minutes to bust back in.  Well Scott tried; I helpfully offered that we could smash the glass.  We decided in the end to try calling out for help.  Did I mention that the streets were not very busy on Friday?
We saw a few people walk by, but no one reacted (either didn’t hear us or didn’t understand).  Finally, a man in blue was just outside the front door and he heard us!  We found out he was the Boab for our building!  We told him we were locked out and that we were in Apt ###.  He came back a bit later and said, no, there isn’t an Apt ###.  We finally figured out our unit number and so in he went again.  He came out and said the Apt was locked.  Apparently that door locks automatically too!  He went in again and came out with the outgoing staff from Scott’s work.  They would have to travel in to work and meet up with another staff member to get a spare key to get into our unit.
About an hour and a half later, after we had watched the sun go down and took turns sitting on a small pile of tiles in the corner (nowhere else to sit), they were there and let us in!  I haven’t stopped laughing about our first night here since.  I am still waiting for Scott to find it funny too.