Friday, April 27, 2012

Bad, Bad Blogger

It is true that nature abhors a vacuum; despite not working, I'm kept surprisingly busy on my sabbatical in Cairo. Anyway, that's my lame excuse for falling short on my (best) intentions of being a regular emailer, blogger, etc. and I'm sticking to it.  

Let me elaborate...

Much of my time (as I hoped, planned) is spent doing mom stuff - volunteering at school, chaperoning field trips, helping with homework. Most days I'm happy with the choice, but I'll admit it comes much less naturally to me than working professionally.   Last week, I screamed at O and A to stop acting like children.  Rightly, they pointed out that they are children and laughed in my face.  This week, after one of Cairo's famously filthy khamsins (sandstorms) blew through town and took my voice with it, I couldn't scream at all.  The boys vastly prefer me mute, especially at their baseball games.

The rest of my time is filled with trying to build my social circle and just exist in a very different environment and culture.  Constantly working to meet new people and make friends is fun but exhausting.  Not unpleasant, but a little like always being on a first date, a job interview or rushing a sorority.  The expats here are all nice, very welcoming.  I think everyone who chooses to live overseas must have some gene in common.  Everyone has been in our shoes at some point, so they are generally a helpful, outgoing lot.  In addition to the Americans, I've gotten to meet some great people from all over - Egypt, Brazil, Italy, Scotland, Lebanon, Sudan - amazing.

When I'm not cracking my kids up or out making friends, trying to accomplish the most basic tasks like  driving to the gym, finding hipster ingredients for my recipes, getting the service people to fix my Internet connection is challenging, time-consuming and downright death-defying (in the case of driving).  

For example, in Cairo, transactions are entirely cash-based.  The water guy comes and delivers the water bottles for 20 Egyptian Pounds (LE) cash on Tuesdays.  The gardener, picture framer, the boabs - everyone gets cash.  When I wrote a check to our tour guide for our recent Nile Cruise, he looked at it for a few minutes then asked in all seriousness, "And what do I do with this?"   All this cash is a huge paradigm shift  for someone used to paying for a Venti black iced tea (unsweet) at Starbucks with her check card.  I know of two ATMs in Maadi.  Today, both of them were out of order.  Instead of shlepping all the way out to USAID - the one place I can cash a check - I stooped to stealing money from the kids to pay the dry cleaner. I'm not proud.

Oh, how I miss Whole Foods (I knew I would) and Comcast (I never thought I would).  And I still haven't found anyone to unlock my damn iPhone here.  I have this stupid little phone with circa 1990 technology that takes me 20 minutes to send a text on using the number pad.  I now shorten "OK" to just "K" because it saves several minutes, and I'm pretty sure I am the only person over 40 actually texting other grown ups keepers like "C U L8R." 

So far, though, I am holding firm to my commitment not to commit to anything.   It goes against every fiber of my being, but I have so far resisted urges to run for the school board and apply to be the event planner for the American club - and it is kind of awesome for a change.  Since I can't totally help myself, I did just help successfully pitch a partnership with the school, a youth leadership development group here and some pro-skateboarders from Canada to bring a 6- week skateboarding camp to Maadi, so all the 10 year old boys here love me here.

In some ways, living here is like living in a college town (albeit one with lots of rubble, roving packs of wild dogs and the occasional tanks and armored vehicles) because there are so many activities and resources for Americans. The boys love that it is April and they can swim outside at the American club near our flat. Last month we went to the lovely Cairo Opera House for an Egyptian hip-hop performance. For St. Patrick's Day we went to hear "one of Cairo's premier Irish bands" (there's more than one apparently) play outside while giant bats flew overhead.  Lots of kind of surreal experiences like this...   

So you see, my glamorous diplomat lifestyle leaves little time for feeding my social networks.  Even though, in Epic Fail #125, my camera recently died and then I promptly dropped its replacement, smashing my best lens, I am going to try to be a more faithful poster of pictures and a better blogger.  Stick with me.

In the meantime, check out my Flickr photostream for pictures from the first few stops (more coming) of our Spring Break cruise down the Nile, including Abu Simbel, Philae Temple and Aswan.

/lkm in Cairo

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Epic Fail #233 - Accidental Porn

We've all adjusted quickly and rather well to living in Cairo, despite the occasional tears and frustration over things that "aren't like home." 

For O, the sports fan, especially, it has been a constant struggle to watch college basketball and now Major League Baseball games on our satellite "Dream Box" that plays mostly soccer matches and Disney shows in Italian, Greek and Polish.

When the satellite is down - which is more often than not - a critical connection to the familiar and comforting is severed.  And Mommy's got to fix that fast.

Consequently, I had developed a nice little relationship with the two young Egyptian satellite technicians who came to my flat, weekly it seemed, to get the bird back online.  Owing to my meager command of Arabic, our Fixer, Fifi, generally facilitated our interactions, but one day I was feeling bold and confident and attempted unaided communication.  That was my first mistake.

All was going well.  I greeted the satellite guys with a friendly sabah al khair (good morning).   I pointed at the TV, stabbed at buttons on the remote to no avail, and made a frowny face to convey my deep sadness over the lack of satellite signal.  They got it and went right to work to fix the problem.

A while later, they called out "Madame" (I am a madame here) and I rejoined them in the living room to inspect their work.  As they punched in channels on the remote, crystal clear images of Phineas and Ferb and The Simpsons came on 60 inch screen.  Things were looking good.  Until they handed the remote back to me to test it out.

I took the remote and started pressing buttons.  We were all smiling and nodding, so of course I got cocky and started messing with the volume.  Homer Simpson said something in Italian really loud.  I went wild and started scrolling through this channel and that channel, my hubris driving me to accidentally switch from the "Kids" bouquet to the "Adult" bouquet.

Suddenly, my Muslim friends and I are staring at naked pieces and parts, glistening and thrusting vigorously in all their HD glory.  With the volume cranked way past 11.  I panicked and tried to change the channel.  Push push - Polish MILFs!  Oh no, Greek lesbians!   Push, push, push - very naughty pirates of ambiguous ethnicity ... on a speed boat?  

Whether it was the subtitled moaning of the office vixens or the blonds with big boobies that attracted her attention, I'll never know, but just as I threw the remote at the repairmen and ran screaming "la, la, la" (no, no, no) out of the room, poor sweet Fifi entered.

With silent agreement, Fifi and I have vowed never to speak of my satellite shame.  I am no longer allowed to greet vendors unsupervised and Fifi has had the repairmen put a lock on "the channel that no one should ever watch."

/lkm in Cairo