Thursday, December 30, 2010

Egypt School of Driving: Redefining the Right-of-Way

Just because I got my driver's license in Kentucky doesn't mean that I've got this driving thing all figured out. Egyptians take driving to an entirely new level, and I think it's high time I share the notes I've been taking about how a *real* Egyptian should drive.

Be forewarned, however, that driving in Egypt is not for the faint of heart.

And if you're like me and you've only ever ridden as a passenger in Egypt, well, prepare for the ride of your life.

To show a real comparison, however, between the way we drive in the States (namely, Kentucky), I have decided to do a comparison between the "rules of the road" according to the official Kentucky driver's manual and the "rules of the road" as they play out on the streets of Cairo.

Let's take a look first at the Right-of-Way.

Point 1: Pedestrians
"By law, drivers must yield to pedestrians under the following conditions, (1) when pedestrians are in a crosswalk or at an intersection and there is no traffic light and (2) when turning a corner and pedestrians are crossing with the light."
Pedestrians are a driving obstacle. Every good driver in Egypt knows that the object is to get as close as possible to a person walking in the street without actually knocking them over. And if you get too close, don't worry - they'll just lay there for a second groaning in pain (surely it's not THAT bad) and get right up and go again.

*This includes mothers walking with babies in strollers and older persons trying to cross the street.*

If you're concerned with their safety, honk the horn real loud right before you pass them. That way they can jump out of the way in time before you run them over. At night, be sure to substitute flashing your lights for the honking of the horns. This is particularly true for foreigners walking in the dark because they're foreigners, they understand exactly what you mean.

Point 2: Turns
"Drivers turning left must yield according to oncoming vehicles that are going straight or turning right."
"If there isn't a police officer with a pad & pen in his hands ready to take down your license number, feel free to turn left at your leisure. Don't worry about the cars coming straight towards you. They'll appreciate the fun in swerving to avoid hitting you at the last moment.

Point 3: Traffic Circles / Roundabouts
"Drivers entering a traffic circle or roundabout must yield right-of-way to drivers already in the circle."
A roundabout (called a "midan" in Egypt) is no fun when there aren't any cars in it. So please be sure - regardless of how many cars are already packed into the midan - to force your car into the stream of cars. It's best if you take the extreme left and go straight across to the extreme right - that way you stop more cars in the process.

Point 4: Minor Roads vs. Main Roads
"Drivers on a minor road must yield to drivers on a main road."
Who cares what the difference is between a minor road and a main road is? If you're driving straight, people should stop for you. If you're turning left, people should stop for you. If you're turning right, people should stop for you. And especially if you're going the wrong way down a one-way street, the rest of traffic should come to a screeching halt and get out of your way because you have extenuating circumstances which mean you have to drive the *wrong* way.

Point 5: Intersections
"At a 4-way, 3-way, or 2-way stop, the driver reaching the intersection and stopping first should go first."
Regardless of how many streets are intersecting, the only reason to stop is if another car's nose or tail is in your way and you can't find a way to inch around it.

I know you're itchin' to do a little driving in Egypt yourself now, right?

But seriously, I have been studying this whole right-of-way concept in Egypt for years now, and I'd say that it's all basically a matter of being completely fearless. If you're shy and timid and don't get the nose of your car out there to enter the stream of traffic, well, you'll be sitting there for a while. You have to just get out there and do it - leaving your fear in the cloud of dust behind you.

My husband and I have been discussing lately whether or not I'm ready to begin driving in Egypt yet. And I'm telling you (just like I tell him) that I'm ready.

Just ask my grandma who taught me how to drive. When it came time to merge onto the interstate highway that first time - a time when most people gradually accelerate to move into the oncoming stream of traffic - well, I floored it.

No fear here!

So I think I'm ready. What do YOU think?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Confessions of an Expat Mom: Resisting the Urge to Compare

Everything I read as a new mom told me not to compare my child to others. And I've been pretty good overall about realizing that each baby develops at their own rate.

But what I didn't realize about being a mom AND an expat is that it's not just the development issue that tempts us to compare.

It's also our living situations.

It might be about what kind of flat you live in, what type of car you drive (or if you don't have a car), where you're able to shop, what you can afford, how many times a year you're able to fly home for a visit...

Because you meet people of all kinds when you live in a place like Egypt. You might meet oil executives, teachers, American diplomatic workers, people serving in roles of all kinds, foreign women married to Egyptians, people with money and people without, people who've been here for years and others who just arrived...

Some people are happy and well-adjusted. Others are not.

And regardless of where you fit into this list, you might look at someone else and think how easy of a life they've got or how hard your life is. Or you might look at them and realize how easy you've got it.

Either way, I encourage you to resist the urge to compare. 

We all have something unique to offer that no one else has. We all have a mission in life to fulfill. Your family is special, regardless of what you have and don't have.

Don't let it become a barrier for you. Don't let it keep you from making friends with people who are different than you. Don't let it cripple your lifestyle to the point where you can't leave the house. Go out and experience new things.

Honestly this isn't just an issue for expat moms. We all need a little reminder to keep our heads up and our eyes from judging.

Because call me crazy but I find that no matter how sad a story someone has there always seems to be a sadder story that's out there.

This might seem trivial but if you're stuck taking taxis everywhere and wish you could have a car. Well, maybe you'll meet someone who's hauling around 2 kids (and not just 1) across town in a taxi (a black-and-white one, no less) on a regular basis. Or maybe you'll meet another expat family with three little girls all under the age of four who can't afford a car.

Kind of puts things into perspective, doesn't it? I whine about things sometimes and then I meet someone who makes me look at my life. And then I kick myself for ever thinking I've got it so hard.

And if you're frustrated because you can't find Cheerios at the 10th place you've looked. Or the right kind of soy formula your baby needs because he's lactose intolerant. Or that brand of diapers you always use for your infant.

Well, unfortunately sometimes things don't go the way we want them to. And no matter how well we plan when we live abroad, something always happens to throw everything off.

But the worst thing you can do in a time like that is let it get to you. Please, for my sake, don't let it get you down.

You never know what tomorrow will bring. Tomorrow is a brand new day. And tomorrow you're sure to discover something new that you'd never find in your home country.

Being an expat isn't easy. Being a mom isn't easy. Just get through today and see what tomorrow has in store for you.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

"Egypt Ramblings" Article Featured in Escape From America Magazine

Egypt Ramblings' article My Cairo Kitchen: The Key to Successful Cooking Abroad is featured this month in the Escape from America magazine December 2010 issue. This issue is available online where you can read many articles pertaining to life abroad all over the world.

I must admit that I am new to Escape from America as well as their Escape Artist and Expat Daily News sister sites (on which my article Pet Lover in Exile appeared last month). But at just a glance, you will realize - like I did - that the overload of information about expat living available on these sites is just the beginning.

There so many sites out there with great resources for expats living abroad as well as those considering moving to a foreign country! I hope you keep this in mind if you ever plan on moving overseas!

And let me just say that if you're reading Escape from America BEFORE you move abroad, you are way ahead of the game!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Celebrating Christmas Overseas

Christmas is often a hard time to be an expat living overseas. For me, it's not just about being four-thousand miles away from family but also the struggle to keep the holiday traditions alive while living abroad.

Sure I love to trim the tree, bake cookies, sing Christmas carols, watch Christmas movies, and go to the candlelight service on Christmas Eve.

But it's still not always easy to make it feel like Christmas around here, but I do my best.

Even if I usually trim the tree alone. I might bake cookies and find that nobody likes them. I still sing carols loud and proud around the house even there's no one else to sing along. We still watch my favorite Christmas movies - like White Christmas, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and Home Alone - even if they're not the type of movies my husband grew up with.

Don't get me wrong, my husband's a good sport about the whole thing, even if these aren't the same Christmas traditions he's used to. And after being married for several years now he's used to me wanting to keep all those American holiday traditions alive in Egypt.

Even if sometimes it seems like I'm forcing it to feel like Christmas. And that can be downright exhausting.

Anyone else ever feel that way?

This is the life of an expat living abroad. We celebrate our holidays and traditions the best way we can. The longer the span of time you spend abroad, a little more distant you feel when the holidays come around.

One interesting fact is that most Egyptian Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7 instead of December 25. Apparently Eastern Orthodox national churches in Egypt, Greece and Russia (to name a few) use the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar (used by Catholics and most Protestants as well) which means that holidays such as Christmas and sometimes Easter fall on a different day.

My son is going to love this when he gets older. What more could a little guy ask for than to get 2 Christmases every year?

Anyhow here we are again, it's Christmas Eve. The tree is sparkling, the cookies baked, presents wrapped, and all that's left is to attend the candlelight service at church tonight.

Merry Christmas everyone! May it be blessed wherever you are in the world!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Wonder Years, Part 5: Making Egyptian Friends

Friends make the world go round. Sure it's your family that has to love you through thick and thin, but it's your friends that CHOOSE to love you.

Plus they make life a whole lot more fun.

Egyptians are friendly. There is no doubt about that. I would say that most newcomers could agree with that, considering how many "Welcome to Egypt" greetings you might get your first several years here.

I always say that the sign that you've been here long enough to fit in is when you don't have people coming up to you and saying that to you here in the street.

Making local friends is an important step to settling down in Egypt.

I already told you about how hard it was for me to begin to learn to speak the language here and how I suffered from the side-effects of culture shock early on during my first years in Egypt. So I guess it's no surprise to you that I didn't make any Egyptian friends until after I'd been here for several months.

I think that if I'd made Egyptian friends earlier that I would have had an easier time those first few months.

But once I did find some locals to become friends with, this was all I needed to open the door to me feeling at home in Egypt. Of course it helped that I had learned a little Arabic and understood a little more of the Egyptian culture by this time.

I wouldn't say it's hard to make friends in Egypt. It's just that it's not something you can really measure at first. So when you think you've made a friend, maybe in a week's time they won't call you back. Or maybe someone you hadn't counted on becoming friends with sticks to you like glue.

In the beginning I found it easier to befriend the people I spent the most time with. Since most of my time was spent studying Arabic, I became friends with my Arabic language helper (a girl my age who helped me practice Arabic and learn about Egyptian culture 3 times a week). Also I enjoyed being with my Arabic grammar tutor who I met with twice a week - an older lady but still friendly.

I did also get the chance to spend two weeks with a young married Egyptian couple as a sort of cultural immersion experience. So after struggling through speaking all Arabic to the wife for two weeks and getting to know all her family and friends (especially from the church), I because such good friends with her I decided to marry her older brother.

Okay, so it wasn't JUST because I liked her so much. (He was pretty great himself...)

So my Egyptian friends were mostly the people around me, people I saw on a fairly regular basis. I didn't usually consider people I met while I was out and about as friends.

In fact, it's pretty difficult to become friends with just someone off the street. I'm not saying it can't happen in Egypt, just that it can be hard to really make that kind of a connection out on the streets of Cairo. Seriously, do you meet your friends back home while you're out at the mall? Most people become friends with people they know - not complete strangers. I'm not saying it can't be done, just that it's difficult.

But I can honestly say that I had some great friends in Egypt after I'd been here for a while. They have been such a help in making Egypt feel more like home to me.

And now that I live in Egypt full-time, well, since so many expats come and go every few years, it is nice to know that there are some Egyptians that will stand with me through the years, regardless of circumstance.

And despite the fact that I'm still American and stick my foot in my mouth occasionally...

There are some definite advantages to having Egyptians as friends:

They open the door to the Egyptian culture. Sure after living for so long in Egypt, I could sit here and try to give you a rundown of all the things you need to know about living in Egypt... or you could watch them being lived out by an Egyptian. Which is more interesting? Which is more accurate? (Trust me, after almost 8 years in Egypt, I still make mistakes)

They can teach you Arabic. The only skill they need is to be a native speaker. An Egyptian can tell you if you're pronouncing something incorrectly... and they can tell you how to say it right. You can (and will) learn all kinds of new vocabulary from them.

Egypt is their world. They know all the best stores to buy things. They know all the best places to eat and drink. You'll experience things you'd never dream of doing simply because you're with an Egyptian. It doesn't get any better than that.

Let me just say that I was more than thankful for the friends I had back then... they certainly made Egypt a home away from home for me.

Just keep in mind these important things when trying to make friends in Egypt:

Be sincere. People anywhere in the world respond to sincerity. Cross-cultural communication doesn't really allow for that "fake it till you make it" stuff. If you don't mean it, don't say it. (This is not to be confused with some of the cultural traditions you might pick up in Egypt.)

It takes time. Be patient. Friendships don't happen overnight. I've found that a real friendship develops with shared experiences which, of course, requires time. Try not to get discouraged (like I did in the beginning) if you can't write home about all the new friends you're making in the first weeks (or months) you live in Egypt.

Another thing about time is simply that Egyptians spend more time with their friends than we're used to back home in the States. So if I hung out with my best friend once every couple of weeks, here they might see their friend minimum of once a week and they talk to them even more often. My husband talks to most of his closest friends on a daily basis, and if he doesn't call them - they call him.

Be a friend first. An Egyptian you meet may not understand that you want to be friends with him or her (stick to same genders please, ladies to ladies and guys to guys, just to be on the safe side). You might have to make a little more effort from your side from the beginning.

Learn the Egyptian culture. The first mistake a lot of expats make when they try to become friends with locals is they put their foot right in their mouth by saying the wrong thing. They say something (usually a direct translation from their native language to the Arabic) and it just doesn't mean the same thing here. Depending on how much exposure your newfound *friend* has had to Western culture, they might not be so forgiving if you say or do something wrong (or offensive). I'm not saying don't make mistakes, because - let's face it - nobody can just move to Egypt, learn the language and assimilate into the culture without making any mistakes. I'm saying just be aware. Try to learn all you can.

Don't force it. Just because an Egyptian is friendly doesn't mean that they necessarily want to be your friend. If they give you their number and then don't answer your calls, then they don't want to be your friend. Or if they do and yet they never call you back on their own, well they probably don't want to be your friend then either. Trust me, if they never EVER call you - they don't really want to be your friend.

Location matters. It's hard to be friends with someone who lives all the way across town. But if you find someone who lives close to you, you might find it easier to keep that connection with them in the long run.

Don't get discouraged. Lots of people who move to a new country don't know anyone when they first get there. You're in the same boat that every other expat has been in. If you can't find local friends, stick with your expat ones for now. But keep trying to get out there and meet people. You might be surprised at the friends you'll make in the end.

Also, don't get discouraged if your friend doesn't open up his or her entire life to you right away. Maybe if you're female the family might want to meet you to make sure you're a *good girl* for their daughter to spend time with. But often you might just meet with your friend one-on-one. Eventually they might introduce you to other friends, but again just be patient and try not to force the issue. You don't want to make them uncomfortable.

Try not to complain. Egyptian friends are not the people you should complain about Egypt to. I don't care if you hate the traffic, hate the crowds, hate the dust, the pollution, the heat... try to find something positive about Egypt when you talk with your Egyptian friends. And ESPECIALLY do NOT complain about the Egyptian people to Egyptians... be careful not to make any kind of negative generalizations about Egyptians in their presence. Trust me, they won't say it, but they'll be wondering if you think that of them in the back of their minds.

They're just people too. Maybe this is just an American thing, but I've had to catch myself from thinking about how much better things are in the United States than they are here. Sure, there's room for improvement in Egypt in many ways but we can still come here as expats and learn from the people here. So if you have in your mind that you're somehow *better* than Egyptians (even in the very very back of your mind), this might be an unconscious barrier to making any real friends here.

All in all, the point is that if you're living in Egypt as an expat you're missing out on the most important part of the Egyptian experience if you don't make local friends here.

Because the best part about Egypt is the Egyptians.

Don't forget to check out the rest of this series:
The Wonder Years, Part 1: Arriving in Cairo
The Wonder Years, Part 2: Learning to Speak Arabic
The Wonder Years, Part 3: Seeing the Sights of Cairo
The Wonder Years, Part 4: Dealing with Culture Shock

The Wonder Years is a series about Erin's first 2 years in Cairo before she met and married her Egyptian husband. Stay tuned for more of her adventures in Egypt the first time around.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Buying Children's Books in Cairo

Reading is definitely one of those things you really want to encourage in your children from a young age. At least that's what I read in the books and online.

And I've seen this to be true from my own childhood, having grown up in a family that reads as well.

One of the first things I wanted to do for my son was to read to him. This was, of course, after the initial shock of becoming a mother in a foreign country wore off.

Except I didn't have any books yet to read to him.

Luckily my family - who came from the States to visit last Christmas right after he was born - very generously provided those first books (especially my dear sister) for us.

At first it felt a little silly to read out loud to my son. I mean, he was barely awake or sleeping. But I kept reading that reading was so important so I trucked on.

And I have to say that after several months of reading to him, he began to show interest in the books. Now at one year old he is pulling the books off the shelf and flipping through them himself.

Not a reader yet but hey, we've got plenty of time for that.

And while I was able to stock up on books the two times we visited the States this year, there is still a limit to how many books you can carry in your suitcase. Trust me on this, you need to WEIGH your bag before you get to the airport and have to go running to the airport store to buy another suitcase because the books are just too much!

So I have kept my eyes open here in Cairo for good places to buy books for kids. There are quite a few places to pick up books for kids. Most of what I have been buying lately is still board books, but there are lots of others out there as well.

Here are a few places I would recommend:

Virgin Mega Store. located in City Stars. Provides a decent selection of books for younger children in English. There is also a small section of books for young readers in English. Good place to buy pregnancy and baby books as well.

Diwan Bookstore. several locations around the city (Zamalek, Maadi, Heliopolis). The store in Heliopolis has a big section upstairs for kids and also has a great selection of pregnancy and baby books.

The Bookspot. located in Maadi (Road 9). Great location with a surprising selection of books for all ages (considering how small it looks from the outside). They also carry used books.

What about you? Where do you buy books in Egypt?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Egypt Essentials: The Stationery Shop

There are some things here in Egypt that I could live without... and others that I rely on time and time again. The typical stationery shop in Egypt is the latter. I honestly don't know what I'd do without them.

You KNOW how I love Walmart, but since there's not one here I have to make do with what's available.

And that's where the stationery shop comes in...

I mean it's not like I go running to one just about every day or even every week. But there are times - like today - that I need something random like Christmas wrapping paper and I know just where to get it.

You might be surprised at what these places carry. Here's a small list:
*Notebooks of all sizes
*Notepads of all kinds and sizes
*Pens (ballpoint and gel)
*Pencils (the graphite and mechanical kinds)
*Colored pencils
*Markers of all types
*Envelopes of all sizes (white, brown, A4, A5, etc.)
*Staples & staplers
*Rubber bands, paperclips, scissors, etc.
*Greeting cards
*Wrapping paper
*Gift bags
*Day planners
*Picture frames
*Books (used & new)
*Arabic-English dictionaries

Trust me, I used to be an office manager for an Egyptian company here, so I KNOW that these places carry what you need. If you can't find it in one place, ask them and they might be able to order it for you or maybe direct you to another place that might carry it.
Unless you're me - who still brings packs of my favorite blue Pilot G2 0.7mm fine point gel rolling ball pens from the States and hoards them for years, only opening a new pack of 3 when ABSOLUTELY necessary!
But that's just me.

I do have a favorite stationery shop in Egypt. My particular favorite has been Everyman's in Korba, Heliopolis for years. And let me just say that this place rocks!

Everyman's has the best selection of wrapping paper, gift bags, and greeting cards year-round here on the main floor along with other great items like picture frames. Upstairs is a haven of basic office supply items including some of my favorites like good-quality notebooks (which can be hard to find here), blue gel 0.7mm pens, and those A5 brown envelopes with bubble paper inside (great for sending things back to KY), along with new & used books (a pretty good selection of books about Egypt if I'm in a pinch and have no time to run to Diwan).

Today I went looking for Christmas wrapping paper and I was pleased that - as usual - they had a great selection of paper available. There were also these great Christmas tins that I can imagine would make great gifts (fill them with Patchi chocolates or homemade fudge). I even found gift tags, something I don't usually find in Egypt.

I didn't make it downstairs today, but I know that they usually have a great selection of knick-knacks like candles and figurines and such. This time of year, they are sure to have Christmas decorations like lights and garland among other things available.

In case you don't live in Heliopolis, I can recommend a few other places:
Samir & Aly (branches all across Cairo)
Bakier Stationery (Maadi, new branch now in Korba-Heliopolis)
Volume 1 (Maadi)
Attic Stationery

I have to say, though, that you'd be surprised at how much those little shops can carry - even that small one you have around the corner in Cairo. Plus they are a great place to make cheap copies (they'll even bind copies together into a book for a small fee).

Seriously, you can't really live in Egypt for very long without walking into one. They might seem a bit cheesy on the outside, but I promise there's much more than meets the eye inside.

What about you? Any recommendations for a great stationery shop near you (if you live in Cairo)?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday Cooking Overseas: Christmas Cookies

There is nothing that smells like Christmas more than the smell of sugar cookies baking in the oven. I can remember this from my childhood. We'd help my dad string the lights on the tree while my mom baked up a batch of sugar cookie cut-outs in the kitchen.

Oh the memories the thought of that smell brings me now!

I'm one of those people that likes to carry on the traditions we had growing up, are you like that too? And it doesn't really matter that I live in Egypt now. I still like to put up the Christmas tree, decorate the house with poinsettias, and - of course - bake Christmas cookies.

And while the nostalgia of it all sometimes makes me a little more homesick than usual when December 25th comes around, but at the same time it just doesn't feel like Christmas without them.

As most of you know, I have a 1-year-old son. So this time last year, I did not make my usual hoard of Christmas cookies for gifts to family and friends because I'd just given birth to a beautiful baby boy.

Something about not getting a full night's sleep that just takes the baking urge right out of you!

But this year I've been dying to jump back into my Christmas baking. Unfortunately with said 1-year-old, I can only bake when he's taking a nap or in bed for the night. But I still managed to whip up a batch of sugar cookie dough earlier this week while he was sleeping.

The problem is that my tried-and-true recipe for sugar cookies makes 8 dozen cookies! Well, I have a solution for some of those... namely the tea time after church tomorrow, especially since it's Christmas and everyone's bringing cookies. But don't worry, I've got plans for that other 4-dozen sugar cookies that the other half of the dough will make.

Here's the recipe, in case you've been looking for a great recipe (especially if you'd like to share a few cookies with some friends because it makes A LOT):

Classic Sugar Cookies
Makes: 8 dozen cookies

3 cups powdered sugar
2 cups butter, softened (as in room temperature, not melted)
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. almond extract
2 eggs
5 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cream of tartar

In LARGE bowl, beat 3 cups powdered sugar, the butter, vanilla, almond extract, and eggs with electric mixer on medium speed (or with a spoon if you don't have a mixer). Stir in flour, baking soda, and cream of tartar. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Heat oven to 375 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease cookie sheet (if you don't have a non-stick one). On lightly floured surface, roll each half 1/8 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes with 3-inch cookie cutters. Place about 2 inches apart on cookie sheet.

Bake 5-7 minutes or until edges are light brown. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely about 30 minutes.

  • You don't want the dough to warm up too much so only take out enough to roll out cookies for one cookie sheet at a time. Then after you cut out the cookies, roll the scraps up into a ball and put back into the refrigerator to chill before reusing.
  • The thinner the cookies, the better they keep their shape. Something about the Cairo air makes my cookies spread like wildfire in the oven so I make them as thin as evenly possible (watch them if you do this because they may only need 4 minutes if they're really thin).
  • I usually split the dough in half and roll into long logs before wrapping them up in plastic wrap and refrigerating. I find the logs are easier to cut off just enough for one sheet of cookies than a big glob in a bowl.
  • My favorite way to decorate is using sprinkles and egg yolk paint BEFORE the cookies bake. This keeps the cookies simple and less sugary (Egyptians aren't used to really sweet cookies with icing).
  • Make sure you sift the powdered sugar in advance. A great makeshift sifter is a mesh strainer - I actually find this easier to use here because sometimes the powdered sugar in Egypt is really lumpy.

UPDATE - Sugar Cooking Icing Recipe: Combine 3 tbsp softened butter, 1 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1 1/2 tbsp milk until reaches a smooth consistency. You may want to add more milk if it's too thick for you. Add any color food coloring you like (start with 3-4 drops, then add more drops to darken the color). You can switch out the vanilla for almond extract, lemon juice, or any other flavoring for a different kind of cookie.

    Oh how I love cookies at Christmastime!

    So I'm sitting here now and contemplating if I can manage to make any more cookies. Because you have to understand that my usual Christmas cookie repertoire includes about 6 or 7 different kinds. So whether it's Buckeyes or Thumbprints or - my particular favorite - Christmas Casserole (these delightful little balls filled with dates, walnuts, and coconut) cookies, I am going to try to find the time to make something else as well. 

    What about you? Do you make Christmas cookies at Christmastime? Or do you have a favorite cookie you like to eat this time of year?

    And in case you live in Cairo and don't have the time or energy to make Christmas cookies yourself, you might check out the Sugar n' Spice shop (6 Brazil St, just around the corner from the Mobinil shop) in Zamalek.

    Monday, December 13, 2010

    Getting Immunizations Abroad

    Have I mentioned before that being a parent overseas can be a bit scary at times? No? Well, it can. And there is nothing more nerve-wracking than to watch a doctor poke your son with a needle, especially in a foreign country.

    Vaccinations are just one of those necessary evils.

    We parents all know this. But I must admit that I didn't know much about them before I became a parent myself.

    Sure, I'd gotten all those shots before I arrived in Egypt that first time. I was given a list of what I needed and the doctor gave them to me. That was about it.

    And if you have kids before you move abroad, you're sure to take care of this issue long before you step foot in a foreign country. But what if you give birth to a child in a foreign country? What do you do about vaccinations then?

    After I had my son last year, one of the first things we had to think about was getting him immunized properly here in Egypt.

    I had a lot of questions rolling around in my head about giving my son vaccinations in Egypt. Were the vaccinations in Egypt safe? Were they as effective as the ones back home? How would my son react to them? Would he get all the right ones that he needed here? What would happen if we had to move home to the States, would they be considered *done* even if he'd gotten them abroad?

    These are all valid questions for a new mom living abroad to ask, don't you think?

    And wherever you live I have found that the best thing to do when getting started with vaccinations is to do a little research. Well at least that's what I did.

    Being American, I looked up the U.S. vaccination schedule online on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. I printed it out and took it to our pediatrician in Egypt and discussed it with him. I compared it to the one here in Egypt. I read about vaccinations in the baby books. I talked about with other expat moms.

    My theory is that you can never have too much information when it comes to your kids. Just make sure that the information you're getting (and relying on) is from credible sources.

    And actually you might be surprised to learn - like I was - that vaccinations given in Egypt are pretty similar to what you have back home. For example, the only vaccination my son's received so far that is not listed on the U.S. schedule was the BCG for tuberculosis. And the timing of shots for him here has been fairly on target with what's customary in the States as well.

    Here is what he has received so far (and when he received them):
    • BCG: (shot) Newborn
    • Rotavirus: (oral) 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 23 weeks
    • Polio: (oral) 8 weeks, 16 weeks, 25 weeks
    • DTP/Hib/HepB (combination): (shot) 8 weeks, 16 weeks, 25 weeks 
    • Pneumococal (PCV): (shot) 10 weeks, 18 weeks, 27 weeks
    • MMR: (shot) 12 months old
    • Future vaccinations scheduled: 
      • Chicken Pox (varicella): 13 months old
      • HepA: 14 months old
    A note about vaccinations in Egypt: In Egypt, you can choose to get vaccinations done at the pediatrician of your choice or at an Egyptian government health clinic. Although as I understand it that once you start with one, you must continue with that choice. We were told that shots from the health clinic may be more *fresh* although in the end we decided to have our son's pediatrician give our son his shots.

    I still need to make sure his immunization records are in order for when our son starts school (either here in Egypt or back home in the States). In case you're American and wondering about this for yourself, the CDC has all the state vaccination requirements available in one place.

    Now I don't know where you are and what is available where you're at so if you're reading this and wondering about vaccinations for your child where you live abroad, you will need to do a little legwork to make sure you have all the info you need.

    The CDC has great health information specific to Egypt available as well. If you're not in Egypt, you may be able to find your destination here. And here is another great resource for vaccination information as well.

    My advice for getting vaccinations for your child in a foreign country:
    1. Print out the vaccination schedule from your home country (if this is what you feel the most comfortable with).
    2. Don't be shy to talk to your pediatrician abroad about it. Ask a million questions if you need to. A good doctor will understand your need to discuss it.
    3. Ask about the local immunization schedule and standards for children. You may be surprised that it might not be so different from your own.
    4. Keep track of updated information regarding vaccinations in both countries (abroad and back home). More information comes out every year and it's important that we as parents know what's going on. One way to stay up-to-date is to sign up for email updates from the CDC.
    5. If you have a pediatrician or family doctor back in your home country, ask them about vaccinations as well. They may not be able to tell you about the country you're in, but they can certainly answer any questions you might have about what your child needs according to that country's standards.
    What about you? Have you had experience giving your child vaccinations in a foreign country?

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    100 Things to Do in Egypt

    1. Visit the Giza Pyramids
    2. Visit the Sphinx
    3. Visit the Solar Barque (Boat) Museum
    4. Ride a camel
    5. Take a Cairo taxi
    6. Eat lunch at the Pizza Hut overlooking the Pyramids
    7. Have lunch at Felfela downtown
    8. Visit the Egyptian Museum
    9. Watch the Sound & Light Show at the Pyramids
    10. Walk across the Qasr el-Nile Bridge from downtown Cairo to the Gezirah or Zamalek island
    11. Buy books at the American University of Cairo bookstore in downtown Cairo
    12. Visit the Cairo Tower
    13. Have dinner at the Revolving Restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Cairo hotel
    14. Sit inside the Mosque of Muhammad Ali and look up at the chandelier and dome lamps (Citadel)
    15. Check out all the different pillars inside the Mamluk mosque (Citadel)
    16. Enjoy the view overlooking Islamic Cairo from the Citadel
    17. Take a walking tour of Islamic Cairo
    18. Visit the Hanging Church (Coptic Cairo)
    19. Visit the Church of St. George (Coptic Cairo)
    20. Visit the Ben Ezra Synagogue (Coptic Cairo)
    21. Visit the Amr Ibn Al-Aas mosque (1st mosque built in Egypt and in Africa)
    22. Visit Al-Azhar Park
    23. Watch the sunset at the Citadel View restaurant at Al-Azhar Park
    24. Shop for souvenirs at the Khan El-Khalili tourist bazaar
    25. Eat lunch at the Naguib Mahfouz cafe in Khan El-Khalili
    26. Drink coffee at El Fishawy's coffeehouse in Khan El-Khalili
    27. Ride the Cairo metro
    28. Walk along the Corniche El-Nile
    29. Eat koshary
    30. Eat foul sandwiches
    31. Eat ta'amiya (fried fava bean patties)
    32. Visit the Al-Azhar mosque
    33. Visit the Al-Hussein mosque
    34. Walk over the bridge to visit the other side of the Khan El-Khalili area
    35. Watch a whirling dervish show
    36. Watch a belly dancing show
    37. Take a Nile cruise in Cairo
    38. Visit the Cave Church in Mokattam
    39. Visit the Recycling Center in the Garbage Village
    40. Ride on a felucca sailboat in Cairo
    41. Attend an Egyptian wedding
    42. Walk in downtown Cairo at night
    43. Eat at Abou El Sid restaurant in Zamalek
    44. Visit a glass blowing factory
    45. Go shopping for used books in Abbassia
    46. Walk around the Wikalat al-Balah area downtown
    47. Visit the Giza Zoo
    48. Drink fresh fruit juice from a street fruit juice stand (at your own risk)
    49. Eat Roz bi-Leban (Rice with Milk) from El Malky
    50. Have dinner at an Egyptian family's home (best food in Egypt)
    51. Attend an Egyptian church service
    52. Attend an international church service
    53. Visit an Egyptian orphanage
    54. Learn how to make ma3shi wara aneib (stuffed grape leaves)
    55. Eat fresh fetir
    56. Ride on a microbus
    57. Visit an Egyptian sporting club
    58. Break the fast with Muslims during Ramadan
    59. Visit the Saqarra Pyramids
    60. Visit the camel market
    61. Visit the Pharaonic Village
    62. Shop at City Stars Mall
    63. Take the train to Alexandria
    64. Visit the Alexandria Library
    65. Visit Montazah Palace Gardens in Alexandria
    66. Walk along the Corniche in Alexandria
    67. Visit Pompey's Pillar in Alexandria
    68. Eat at an open-air fish restaurant in Alexandria
    69. Go snorkeling at the Blue Hole in Dahab
    70. Climb Mt. Sinai
    71. Visit the St. Catherine monastery
    72. Go parasailing in Sharm El-Sheikh
    73. See the mangrove trees at Ras Muhammad National Park
    74. Walk along the boardwalk at night in Naama Bay (Sharm El-Sheikh)
    75. Eat at the Hard Rock Cafe Sharm El-Sheikh
    76. Spend the night in the desert
    77. See the White Desert
    78. See the Black Desert
    79. Visit the Bahariya Oasis
    80. Go four-wheeling on the sand dunes
    81. Visit the Siwa Oasis
    82. Visit the Luxor Temple
    83. Watch the Sound & Light Show at the Karnak Temple (Luxor)
    84. Watch the sunrise by hot air balloon over Luxor
    85. Visit the Temple of Hatshepsut (Luxor)
    86. Visit the Valley of the Kings, in particular King Tut's tomb (Luxor)
    87. Visit the Valley of the Queens, in particular Queen Nefertari's tomb (Luxor)
    88. Visit Medinet Habu (Luxor)
    89. Visit the Ramesseum (Luxor)
    90. See the Colossi of Memnon (Luxor)
    91. Visit the Luxor Museum (Luxor)
    92. Take a carriage ride in Luxor
    93. Eat at the McDonald's across from the Luxor Temple
    94. See the Aswan High Dam
    95. Visit the Temple of Abu Simbol
    96. Take a boat ride on Lake Victoria
    97. Take a Nile Cruise from Luxor to Aswan
    98. Visit Kum-Ombo Temple
    99. Visit the Edfu Temple
    100. Visit the Philae Temple

    Wednesday, December 08, 2010

    Fighting a Cold in Egypt

    It's that time again in Egypt that we wait around for all year. The nights are cooler. The days are still warm, but the sun doesn't shine quite so bright. In short, it's the "most wonderful time of the year."

    Okay, well so it's not Christmas (yet). Not that Christmas in Egypt is anything like the white Christmases I grew up with in Alaska.

    By the way, don't you just love this snow scene? Doesn't it make you just want to go out and go sledding?

    But the one thing I hate that the change in the weather does bring is the dreaded cold virus. Maybe it's because people don't dress quite as warmly as they should. Maybe it's because they don't cover their mouths like they should when they cough or sneeze in public. And maybe, just maybe it's because they forget to wash their hands afterwards when they do...

    Because even though many people in Egypt might believe that sleeping with the air-conditioning on can cause a cold. It CAN'T!

    You catch a cold, as in a virus, from another person. Maybe it's something they've touched. Maybe their germs have traveled through the air over to you (due to the lack of covering their nose and/or mouth). Maybe it's when they kissed you hello.

    I hate having a cold.

    The good news is that fighting a cold in Egypt isn't as hard as you might think. I know that finding medicines when you live abroad can be a bit of a headache, especially if you're from somewhere like the States where there's always a newer and better pill on the market to cure what ails ya.

    I know that (especially if you're new here) you might assume that Egypt doesn't have any medicine that you'd want to take. I mean, who knows WHAT they have hidden away in all those pharmacies on practically every corner here in Cairo... or how LONG it's been there?

    But the good news is that if you have a name, you can write it down and give it to the pharmacist, well, if they have it, he or she'll sell it to you. No prescription required. Just make sure you check the expiration dates.

    Here is the low-down on what's available in Egypt for fighting a cold:

    • Claritin: A non-drowsy antihistamine. I brought loads of this in liquid gel form back from the USA recently. Great for all ages, be sure to check the package for dosage.
    • Tavegyl: A mild antihistamine, the drowsy kind. My OBGYN prescribed this for me while I was pregnant. You have to be careful about medicines if you're expecting.
    • Physiomer: A saline nasal spray. The best prevention method out there, especially for children (even newborns). And it will work wonders to clear that blockage in your nose in ways that blowing alone can never do.
    • Halls: Throat lozenges. Helpful if you have a sore throat. Egyptians eat these as candy (seriously!) so you'll find them just about anywhere.
    • Vitamin C: The most common form is effervescent tablets that dissolve in water.
    • Cough syrup: Ask for this at the pharmacy and they should be able to give you something.
    • Tissues: Sorry no special tissues with lotion are available in Egypt, but small packs of tissues are available just about anywhere (even at the little kiosks down on the corner).  
    The great news is that winter is the season for oranges in Egypt. You'll find oranges, tangerines, grapefruit and even mandarins. And, of course, lemons are available all year round. So I recommend that you keep your kitchen stocked with these fresh fruits as the cold season comes round.

    And everyone knows that natural Vitamin C is better than taking the tablets, right?

    But in case you're tired of all that orange juice, did you know that the following fruits and veggies are good sources of Vitamin C too?
    Kiwi (imported year-round)
    Papaya (not in season now)
    Tomatoes (available year-round)
    Cantaloupe (a summer fruit)
    Strawberries (just bought our first bunch last week)
    Brussel sprouts (available frozen)
    Broccoli (coming into season)
    Sweet green pepper (available year-round)

    And the one thing I know I need more than ever when I come down with a cold is SLEEP. If it's one thing I know after 7+ years of living abroad it's that I need more sleep than I ever did back home. And when I'm sick, well, nothing works better for me than a few hours extra of sleep.

    But that's just me.

    And if all else fails, just ask the pharmacist. The good thing is that in most pharmacies the pharmacist will most likely speak English. So if you need medicine for a certain ailment (sore throat, cough, runny nose, etc.) just go in and tell them you need something for... fill in the blank... and they'll probably be able to give you something for it. It might not work as great or as quickly as what you had back home, but it'll work... eventually.

    What about you? Do you have any great home remedies for treating a cold? 

    Monday, December 06, 2010

    Activities for Baby in Egypt: A Review of Dados Egypt

    Finding things to do with a young child in Egypt is not easy. This has been a great source of frustration for me, particularly being from a place like Kentucky where green grass is everywhere and activities for children abound.

    Here in Egypt green spaces are usually surrounded by a fence, and you have to pay admission to enter by the gate. Then once you get inside, you find the playground old and decrepit and unsafe for young children.

    All I wanted was to let my son swing, for heaven's sake. Was this too much to ask?!

    Our solution to this problem finally was to join an Egyptian sporting club. But that is a subject for another time.

    So when it came time to think about trying to find any sort of class for my son - music, art, or even just story time - I honestly had no clue where to begin. At first I was determined to find something close to home. He was young and took naps at random times, so I preferred to stay on our side of town.

    Then I discovered Dados. A friend of mine had taken her son to both the Music and Create Fun classes in Maadi and recommended both classes to me.

    So we tried a Create Fun class. The age range for this class is pretty large, from 10 months to 3 years. It's all about letting your child discover things through his senses.

    My son at the Create Fun class
    For example, we went to a class based around rice. Each activity allowed him to discover rice in a different way.
    1. Small square bean bags filled with rice to throw and touch.
    2. Larger socks filled to the brim with rice that to bang on the padded floor.
    3. A baby pool filled with rice allowed him to sit in the rice and discover the feel of it on his hands and feet.
    4. Cooked rice to squeeze out into ropes to feel it (and taste it) on his hands.
    5. Finally making a *sushi* snack of bread, cream cheese, cucumber, and rice. 
    We tried the Music class as well. This particular class is perfect for my son at his age now (1 year). The age range is from 3 months to 5 years (although most of the children in the class are 1 to 2 years old).

    With the music class, the teacher brings out a new instrument for each song. At the age of 1 year, it is helping him to learn not just about music but also how to watch the teacher and to play his instrument at the same time. Then at the end of each song, they *clean-up* together by putting up the toys. This is a difficult lesson for him to learn (giving away the new toy after just a few minutes), but he is also watching the other kids and learning this way as well.

    We live in Heliopolis and have tried the classes in our part of town. But I personally enjoy the Dados center downtown in Zamalek more, even if it is farther away.

    There are other classes offered at the Zamalek center that are not offered anywhere else. For example, there is a Story Fun class on Saturdays that we might try because I believe my son might enjoy as well.

    All in all, I must say that I have been impressed with the overall experience with Dados. These are the first of this type of classes that I have tried with my son, and he has enjoyed them thus far.

    I have been looking into other classes like this around town, so if I find anything else I will be sure to let you know. What about you? What kinds of activities do you do with your child?

    Friday, December 03, 2010

    Photos of Egypt: What to Do in Cairo Traffic?

    I never suffer from a lack of things to do while sitting in traffic in Cairo... and we sit in traffic A LOT in Cairo.

    I like to read billboards along the road. If they're in Arabic, I try my best to read them. This one for Galaxy chocolate has Arabic along the bottom (although I'm thinking it says "Fruit & Nut," what do you think?)

    There are lots of billboards everywhere so this keeps me busy for a while.

    I like to look down on the crowded streets below full of cars and people and think to myself... I'm so glad I'm not down there.

    Or I might look down at the moving traffic down below and think... I sure wish I was down there.

    I do this kind of wishful thinking pretty often while riding on the roads in Cairo.

    I might be thinking... Oh, those poor people sitting in that traffic over there.

    Although secretly I'm thrilled because there's nothing worse than sitting in traffic on this bridge with no exits in sight to escape it.
    But less than 2 minutes later I'm thinking... Oh, I wish we were over there in that lane.

    Until we get a little farther down the road to find that the reason why traffic is so good on that side is because there's an accident holding up the cars.

    Then I check to make sure my son is still asleep...

    I think we wore him out in music class that day because he fell asleep the moment we got in the car and slept all the way home.

    Doesn't he just look so peaceful? When he was younger I used to spend a lot of time sitting and watching him sleep.
    But back to the road...

    Now I'm watching the Aramex guy fly down the road on his motor scooter. He's weaving in and out of cars, sometimes squeezing through narrow gaps between cars that don't seem quite bit enough for him to fit through.

    Until he gets a phone call. Then he slows down because I'd imagine it's hard driving a motor scooter with one hand.

    Mobile phones are a serious driving hazard in Cairo.

    We finally reach our neighborhood.

    I'd forgotten how busy Sheraton is during the day. This is because there are lots of companies in our area.

    I'm so glad we don't live on this street where people double-park on both sides of the road.

    Then it's just two rights and a left... and we're home.


    Wednesday, December 01, 2010

    The Wonder Years, Part 4: Dealing with Culture Shock

    As much as I love Egypt, I must admit that it may not leave the best of first impressions. Traffic is insane with cars weaving in and out beeping their horns incessantly like they're in some PlayStation game gone wrong.

    The air is thick with pollution and dust. In fact, everything seems to be a permanent dull beige in color.

    It's hot. And the sun just doesn't ever seem to stop shining. By midday, you're praying for just a small tree somewhere to lend you some shade. Or at least for that building's shadow to move just a little bit to give you a break.

    It can all be a little too much to bear.

    All in all, if some pharaoh hadn't thought so much of himself to build himself a huge monument of stone that's lasted for centuries... Well, perhaps we wouldn't be so enamored with the thought of making the long trek here.

    That's the Pyramids, by the way, in case you were wondering.

    But in all seriousness, it's important to highlight the difficulties alongside the good things. I mean, we ARE trying to paint a real, authentic picture of Egypt here on Egypt Ramblings, now aren't we?

    So what is culture shock anyways? I like Wikipedia's take on culture shock, in case you've never experienced it for yourself. The only thing I would add is that culture shock comes in cycles. It's not all cut-and-dried, the first few weeks in the Honeymoon phase, the next few months in the Negotiation phase, etc.

    The fact of the matter is that while the phases might come in this order the first time around, well - if you're in Egypt long enough - you're bound to go through them again.

    And again.

    And again.

    Unfortunately I didn't last very long in my initial Honeymoon phase the first time around. It might have even lasted days. It may have been the fact that I arrived on Friday and started language school across town bright and early on Monday morning.

    Getting to language school was no easy task. First, it didn't help that I had to wake up earlier than I'd gotten up in years (as in Northern Kentucky University, freshman year, 2nd semester - when I foolishly signed up for a 5-day-a-week 8:00 AM Calc 2 class). Secondly, the 10-minute taxi ride to the Metro station took 20-30 minutes at that time in the morning (yeah, I know, since when do people actually STOP for the traffic lights in Cairo?) Then it was just a small matter of braving the morning rush to work by squeezing onto the ladies car on the Metro.

    Forty-five minutes later we'd peel ourselves from the glass to step out onto the platform and breathe fresh air (that did not include the stink of some polyester-clad lady's sweaty armpits).

    Only to find that we were 15 minutes late for the opening remarks by the language school principal... who promptly scolded us in front of the entire school for being late.

    I think the girls had to hold me back from scratching his eyes out.

    Yep, I definitely hit culture shock pretty fast.

    My way of dealing with culture shock back in the old days was mostly withdrawal. I was perfectly happy hanging out at home. My roomie and I became experts at McDonald's delivery and late-night movie marathons. She also happened to be a Law & Order junkie so I got my fill of *dun-dun* pretty quick.

    Sure, I'd get out and walk around the neighborhood. I'd buy fresh bread from the bakery around the corner. I'd go hang out with some of the girls from time to time. I enjoyed hearing their stories about all their exciting escapades through out the city and marvel at how brave they were.

    But I was not about to go out and experience it for myself.

    I was what you might call a "late bloomer" in Egypt.

    It took me a while to get used to being here. I was too afraid of making mistakes to try very hard. Life for me in Cairo was more about just treading water than actually going out for a swim. I was just trying to make it from day to day.

    It didn't help that I felt like a fish out of water here. Too many things had changed for me in too little time. I was paralyzed from the shock of it all.

    Here are a few things that had changed for me:

    My clothes. I'd been a t-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes girl all my life. And here I was in Egypt wearing dresses and skirts. Whose idea was this anyways? It was downright uncomfortable. I didn't know how to cross my legs properly. I didn't have the right shoes. And somehow I lived in constant fear that some crazy Egyptian guy was gonna come up behind me and flip my skirt up.

    The attention in the street. Let's just say that in America, I was invisible. I was never the kind of girl that turned heads. And I was okay with that. But suddenly everywhere I went in Cairo, men were looking at me. And when I mean looking, I mean LOOKING. It unnerved me. And they said things to me. I didn't understand the words but I didn't need a translator to know that I didn't want to know what they were saying.

    Living in a big city. I had never lived in a city even remotely close to the size of Cairo. So dealing with the Cairo crowds and having to take public transportation everywhere was overwhelming. I couldn't believe how many ladies could fit into a single Metro car, especially when schools started... and then Ramadan came.

    Being unable to communicate. I was a Speech Communication major for cryin' out loud. Words were my life! And suddenly 2-year-olds could communicate better than I could. I felt like an idiot.

    Not having any friends. I struggled to connect with people. I had a great roommate and had class with some great girls at language school. But that was more like "friends by force" than true friendship. They were basically stuck with me. The good news is that I became great friends with them later, but it was rough starting out.

    Sometimes I think about the Erin back then and I want to go back and shake her. I wish I could tell her to JUST. DO. SOMETHING! Stop being so afraid. Stop waiting for the world to stop and take notice of you. Stop comparing yourself to others. Stop trying so hard to keep from failing that you fail from doing NOTHING!

    I still struggle with culture shock in Egypt at times. I do love this country, I really do. But there are times, days, weeks, even where I have just had it up to here. I don't want another guy looking at me that way. I'm tired of trying to think in Arabic. I get lonely. I miss home. And if I have to explain one more taxi driver this week why I don't want to put my son's stroller on top of their car...

    Hey, I'm only human.

    But I've gotten better at reading the signs of culture shock for me. It still creeps up on me occasionally, but I recognize the feeling a lot quicker than I used to. I know when it's probably better that I sit at home and watch reruns of Glee or NCIS than go out. That maybe today my son and I should just take a stroll down the street to our favorite local coffee shop rather than braving the traffic to go somewhere more exciting. That when he's taking a nap maybe I should too.

    And if I have a cold... well, just forget about getting out of the house. Because I am not a very nice person in any language when I can't breathe right.

    I think we all have days like that.

    What is my advice to anyone experiencing culture shock? Answer these questions.
    1. Have you lived in a big city before? Not everything we small-town folk have to deal with is culture shock... sometimes it's just big city shock. The crowds, the traffic, the buildings everywhere, the noise. Maybe your problem is that you just need some quieter, less-polluted air to breathe (so skip down to #8).
    2. Do you have a support system where you are? Not everyone comes to Egypt with all the details worked out. Maybe you're having trouble because you don't know how to do basic everyday things... and you have no one to ask for advice. If so, find a community. This might be a gym, a church, a expat group, you name it, whatever works to get you the help you need. Don't be afraid to ask for help. I'm not saying everyone has the resources to help, but we've all been there so maybe they can point you in the right direction.
    3. Do you have friends, as in people you'd actually CHOOSE to hang out with? This is hard because as expats we're often surrounded by people and feel all alone in the meantime. If you're anything like me, you don't like to put yourself out there. But I think we probably all feel that way. Give it time. Find small things in common with people and build on that. Friendships don't happen overnight (and if they do, you are extremely blessed.)
    4. Do you have a regular schedule? I'm not saying pack your schedule full of meaningless errands. But seriously, having something to get up for every morning will take your mind off of what you're struggling with and back onto what you have to get done for the day. Just be careful not to overdo it (and don't let anyone else make you overdo it too).
    5. Do you have frequent contact with family back home? Trust me, it is cheap and easy to keep in touch with people back home. Try using Skype which lets you call computer-to-computer for free (or you can use Skype Out which lets you call computer-to-phone for set fees). Just do yourself a favor and limit yourself to once a week. Too much contact can make it more difficult to be here. 
    6. Are you doing okay with language learning? I know this isn't a simple question but it's an important one. If you've been here 3 months and aren't making any headway with the language maybe you need to change your tactics. If you're in a school, switch to using a one-on-one tutor. If you're using a tutor, enroll in a school. This might shake things up a bit to let you get back into the groove of language learning.
    7. Are you trying to do too much? Maybe you just have too much on your plate. I've seen a lot of volunteers get worn out here in Cairo because there's so much that needs to get done and there's no one else to do it. You're only one person. You'll last longer here if you focus your energy on just a couple of things rather than stretching yourself too thin across more responsibilities.
    8. Have you been out of Cairo? Get out of the city for a few days. This might mean going to the Red Sea or the North Coast, or even just taking the train to Alex for the day. 
    9. Have you taken some time out for you? One time me and the girls went to a spa somewhere in Zamalek and it was a nice change. Other friends of mine went for day-use at a 5-star hotel near the Pyramids where they swam and just enjoyed the sun for the day.
    Don't forget to check out the rest of this series:

    The Wonder Years is a series about Erin's first 2 years in Cairo before she met and married her Egyptian husband. Stay tuned for more about her adventures in Egypt the first time around.

    Monday, November 29, 2010

    Finding Baby Items in Egypt

    Last week I mentioned that my son just turned 1 year old recently. And while having a baby in Egypt has been one of the greatest blessings for me here, I have often found it a challenge to find the things I need for him here.

    Yes, I know I've been home to Kentucky twice in the past year so what am I complaining about?

    Well, I can't buy EVERYTHING in the States. Some things just don't last long enough to warrant them valuable enough to bring back to Egypt from America.

    That and they won't fit in a suitcase. (I know, I tried)

    But seriously, in case you're wondering yourself about where to get things for a baby in Cairo. Because there are a lot of things available here, but sometimes you just have to look where you least expect things to be to find them.

    Here's a rundown of some everyday baby items you might be looking for:

    Diapers. Supermarkets, pharmacies, and Seif stores (City Stars, Maadi, Giza). My personal favorite is the Pampers brand (Premium Care, white package, imported from Saudi Arabia)

    Diaper wipes. Supermarkets, pharmacies, Seif stores (City Stars, Maadi, Giza), and Mothercare stores (City Stars, Maadi, 6 October). I stick with the Pampers brand. My 2nd choice is Johnson & Johnson.

    Antibacterial wipes. Supermarkets, some pharmacies. I use these to wipe down a table or a highchair before I put my son's food out on it. I like the Wet Ones brand (you can find the individual travel packs).

    Shampoo, conditioner, baby wash. Supermarkets, pharmacies. Just about everyone carries the Johnson & Johnson brand which is supposed to be tear-free. Honestly what we use is a Johnson & Johnson head-to-toe baby wash brought from the States (it's not available yet in Egypt). We did use a Sanosan (blue bottle) bath and shampoo combo wash when our son was first born that was okay.

    Diaper rash cream. Larger pharmacies. You might have to look around for this because it comes and goes. Mine is from the States because 1 jar lasts forever. My advice is if you can't have someone bring you some and you're nervous about diaper rash, you can use a small amount of olive oil until you can find some here.

    Bottles, nipples, breast pumps, sterilizers. Toys R' Us (Babies R' Us section in the back) carries the hands-down best selection in Egypt. Mothercare may have a few things and you might find bottles in a Seif store or various pharmacies. But the prices at Toys R' Us are better. I recommend the Avent (Philips) brand.

    Bibs. Mothercare probably has the best selection I've seen all the way up to toddler-age. A lot of ours are from the States. Sometimes you can find them where they sell baby clothes.

    Teething rings. Toys R' Us, Mothercare, Seif stores, some pharmacies. Toys R' Us carries the Avent brand which has different teething rings for different stages. I bought my son a teething rattle from the Seif store that he loved.

    Teething gels. I have not seen this here in Egypt. You might check in a larger pharmacy first. Ours is from the States.

    Baby brush, nail clippers, droppers. Mothercare had sets including these items. Ours is from the States. You might find these individually in a pharmacy.

    Baby bathtub. Cheap and available just about anywhere (try Spinney's or Carrefour for cheaper ones, Toys R' Us/Mothercare/Hallmark store for a Fisher Price or other name brand). If you have a little baby that needs a support, I'd go with the Fisher Price brand. We bought a little white *chair* that fit inside a regular baby bathtub that held our son at an angle so that we could wash him without having to hold him in our arms. It was pretty reasonably priced from Mothercare.

    Baby monitor. Toys R' Us and Seif stores are the only places I've seen these so far. Check if they'll work okay in your home, these cement walls are terrible for reception in Egypt.

    Bouncy chair. Most toy stores will carry bouncy chairs in Egypt, just sometimes they sell out pretty fast. I hardly ever see them at Toys R' Us. Check Kams stores and Love & Care stores. I recommend the Fisher Price brand.

    Baby swing. Expensive and bulky but if you insist to buy one, you might want to price them first before you make a decision. I've seen them at Toys R' Us, Kams, Mothercare (occasionally), Hallmark store, and Premaman (City Stars) store.

    Highchair. Do yourself a favor and wait to buy this until they're several months old. We bought our Graco brand highchair at Toys R' Us and we love it. I've seen them at Premaman (City Stars) and Seif stores, as well as Mothercare.

    Crib. You need to evaluate your safety priorities before you make this decision. Safety was #1 for me and I wanted a crib built on an international standard. Larger Egyptian toy stores carry cribs sometimes. You can also have one made to your specifications by a carpenter (just check on the mattress size first). Ours is from the Mothercare store.

    Mattress. Be careful to buy a mattress where you buy the crib. Dimensions will vary greatly in Egypt and I'm not even sure what is available from a regular mattress store.

    Mattress pad. I have never seen these in Egypt. Mine are from the States.

    Changing table. I have seen very few changing tables in Egypt. We bought a changing table topper at Mothercare for our son's crib which was (and is still) a lifesaver.

    Pack n' play, playyard. Toys R' Us, Seif store, Kams store, Love & Care store, Premaman, and sometimes Mothercare. A bit pricy in Egypt. We don't own one (yet).

    Stroller. Toys R' Us, Mothercare, Premaman, Seif stores, Kams store, and Love & Care store. Ours is from the States.

    Sheets. Sheets for cribs seem to be a novel idea because I've not really seen them anywhere except Mothercare in Egypt. But take care at Mothercare because what I know as a "crib" is really a "cot" so be careful before you buy something. Another option (which is what we've done for almost all of our sheets) is to take the dimensions of the mattress and had someone make sheets for us. There are many shops that sell bedding & towels that might perform this service for you if you ask. This is cheaper and made to order - can't beat that.

    Baby towels & washcloths. Special towels for baby? Someone gave us a set for our newborn boy that included some sort of hooded towel that was from Egypt, but I'm not sure where they bought it. I think you might ask in the same type of shop as the sheets above where to get these. Washcloths (for anyone) don't really exist in Egypt. Most of the ones I've seen for adults are small towels which are not really suited for washing your face with. What we have at home are mostly what my husband has received on an airplane or snagged from a hotel.

    Onesies. White, short-sleeved, snapped one-piece typically worn by babies as an under-layer. I buy the Gerber brand from the States, but I have bought them here from Ladybird (Toys R' Us brand) and Mothercare. I've seen them also at Spinney's (might check Carrefour as well).

    Sleepers. Long-sleeved, footed, snap-up or zippered one-piece typically worn by younger babies to sleep in. Most of mine are from the States (Carter's, Just One You, Okie Dokie brands) but I have had to buy some here as well (sizing can be tricky with a new baby). I've seen these at Mothercare, H&M, United Colors of Benetton, and just about any other store that carries baby clothes.

    Shirts, pants, socks, jackets, coats. There are a lot of baby clothes stores in Cairo. Sometimes they have sales with some good deals and/or clearance prices. I've bought random shirts and pants for our son this way to supplement what I've bought in the States. I cannot vouch for the quality of the local Egyptian made items because I haven't had to buy any yet. Most of our stuff from Egypt was bought on sale from stores like H&M (bought some great jeans & overalls there), Mothercare (his coat is from there), United Colors of Benetton (they had a great clearance sale back last summer for winter items), and a few things from the Ladybird section of Toys R' Us.

    Shoes. If you're looking for newborn baby shoes, just keep your eye out in stores that sell baby clothes because sometimes they have accessories like shoes as well. There is a section in City Stars on the 4th floor around the corner from the Food Court that has a bunch of kids stores, including 3 or 4 stores dedicated to shoes for kids. You can find shoes in Mothercare. My main concern now with a 1-year-old who will walk soon is finding flexible soles that are easy to get on and off.

    Fever-reducer/pain reliever. Try Infant Panadol.
    Cold/cough (under 2). Try a saline rinse like Physiomer (with Baby comfort tip). For anything stronger, I recommend you get a doctor's opinion first.

    I find shopping for clothes for any age (including myself) in Egypt a bit of a challenge. This is true especially if you have something specific in mind (which I usually do). I want to buy things that are good quality and are not going to fall apart the first time (or 2nd or 3rd time) I wash something. Make sure you check the washing instructions before you buy anything because I've learned this lesson the hard way by buying something that said don't dry in the dryer (what?!) and I did anyways.

    But if you keep your eyes out for things and make a note when you see them at a certain place, this will help you later on when you're in a jam and need something quickly.

    Is there anything missing from the list above?

    Thursday, November 25, 2010

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Hello everyone!

    My turkey's in the oven... the pecan pie and corn casserole are made and ready to go... the green beans are washed & snapped and ready to rock n' roll! And I'm about to get up here and finish up the sweet potato casserole.

    Friends are coming over later today for a great celebration! What a day!

    Who says you can't celebrate Thanksgiving when you live overseas?!

    Just a quick note to say that you may have noticed that nothing new was posted yesterday (I usually post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). Well, with my son just turning one (his big birthday party is tomorrow) and Thanksgiving preparations yesterday and Thanksgiving today, I've decided to take a few days off.

    Don't worry, we'll be back next week!

    Stay tuned for the next installment of the Wonder Years, Part 4: Dealing with Culture Shock as well as another Mama Monday...

    And Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    "Egypt Ramblings" Featured on Pocket Cultures

    Egypt Ramblings was featured today on the Pocket Cultures website. Pocket Cultures is a unique site that highlights all kinds of different topics from countries around the world. Their mission statement as an organization says it all "We aim to increase intercultural awareness by helping people of the world to see the other point of view and think beyond stereotypes."

    And I have to say that I have read many great articles there that are written by real people who know the country they're writing about. I've found them both entertaining and enlightening. And there are many blogs (like mine) that are showcased on the site - a perfect way to add to your travel reading!

    So whether you are an expat or just dream of traveling anywhere in the world, this is definitely a site to add to your must-read list.

    Best of luck to Liz and her team at Pocket Cultures!

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    My First Year as an Expat Mom

    One year as a new mom in Egypt was vastly different from all my other years in Egypt. Once upon a time I was free to go where I wanted, do what I wanted, and be who I wanted to be pretty much anytime I felt like it.

    Well, I guess that's still pretty much true today. It just looks and feels a little different.

    Because I'm a mom now.

    My son just turned 1 year old yesterday. And people here say that the first year is the most difficult. Do they say that where you're at too? I don't know that I have much to compare this to, but I think I'd believe that statement.

    I've realized that there's so much to learn when you become a new mom overseas. It's a very exciting time. There's so much to experience and discover about the world around you and about yourself as well.

    In Egypt, I've had to relearn how to do a few things, like how to take a taxi and how to eat out. There are many places I love that aren't very kid-friendly and others I never tried that are great with kids.

    Becoming a mother changes your priorities. It has to. Not everything changes and not everything should. The simple truth is that you look at the world differently now.

    Unfortunately I wasn't blogging when I gave birth to my son last year. And I kind of wish that I had been so that I could have recorded what was going through my mind at the time.

    All I know is that I was overwhelmed. I felt like we had been given this precious gift, and I didn't even begin to know how to take care of him. It was easy to feel a little lost with my family around, especially my mom (although my parents arrived 2 weeks later). And though we were surrounded by all the love of my husband's entire family and church, that was a bit overwhelming in itself... albeit in a good way.

    And even after reading so much about what to do and how to be a mother, now it was time for the real thing.

    None of this fake it till you make it stuff would do.

    These lessons learned helped me survive my first year as an expat mom:

    You can never read too much. Reading isn't just about books (although they're important too if you can get them). I have discovered the Internet to be a world of resources for a mom living abroad. It's your own virtual community of helpers to walk you through this time.

    Know your limitations but don't be bound by them. Limitations can be physical, mental, and emotional. Some women, for example, have the "baby blues" after having a baby. Others may be incapacitated for a while after having a c-section. You might be overcome with homesickness after giving birth. This is okay and it's completely normal. Just don't let it cripple you from living a normal life now.

    Find a pediatrician that you can trust your baby's life with. I know that seems a bit extreme. But living overseas makes us parents very sensitive when it comes to our children's needs. We don't want them to suffer because we've made the choice to live overseas. So when it comes to finding a doctor for your child, it's important for you to be comfortable with that person (and your child as well). We spent a lot of time with our ped this past year so the effort spent making this all-important decision was well worth it, let me tell you.

    Go home if you can. Traveling with a baby seems like such an impossible thing to do. Trust me, if I can do it, you can too. My parents came to Egypt last year for the first time when our son was born. It was special to have them here, but it was also nice to go home and introduce my son to my brothers and my grandmother. Plus I got to stock up on baby stuff while I was there.

    Know where to buy baby stuff. Sure it was nice to go home and bring a bunch of stuff back to Egypt for our son. But I still know where to get this stuff here as well, because you never know when you'll need something in a pinch.

    For example, last week my son lost a shoe as we were fighting the Eid crowd to get into our favorite mall in Cairo (don't ask, it's a loong story). The problem is that he doesn't keep his socks on unless he has shoes on - so I needed some shoes pronto. Luckily I had already scoped out some places for baby shoes so I went right up and bought him a pair right then and there. Problem solved!

    Make friends with other expat moms. Don't be a loner. Get out there. Finding other moms to talk to was a life saver for me. And mix it up a bit. Find some moms like you (nationality, beliefs, situation - i.e. married to an Egyptian, etc.) and find some babies like your child (boy or girl, age, etc.) But don't just stick to that. Take advantage of living overseas alongside people of all different backgrounds. You'll appreciate the mix of people, and you won't be so disappointed when they're unavailable to hang out with you. And don't forget that moms of older kids have years of experience to share as well.

    Take some time for you. I cannot stress how important this has been for me. Being a stay-at-home mom for the past year has meant that my whole world revolves around my little one. But it's important to keep some perspective and an identity outside of being a mom.

    Set reasonable expectations for yourself. I have learned that it's okay to have high standards but not to be too disappointed when things don't work out the way you planned. The best thing to do is simply give yourself a break.

    I know that I am a different mom than perhaps I would have been had I given birth and been living in the States these past 12 months. Living abroad these past 7+ years has always been an adventure. Some days are good and some bad, that's just life.

    Being a mom now just makes things interesting.
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