Monday, August 30, 2010

What Americans Would Miss

A recent article on a great travel blog that I discovered just the other day tackled the topic of What Americans Take for Granted.  And quite frankly, I found it fascinating.  However, at the same time I'm not sure that I thought it did the topic justice.

There are so many things that we Americans take for granted, whether we have lived in the States our entire lives or whether we live outside the U.S. and only return stateside for visits from time to time.

Don't get me wrong, I am in 100% agreement with most of what was covered in the article.  I just was left with the feeling that there was so much more that could have been covered on this topic.

Maybe my perspective is a bit different because I am about to celebrate my 5 year wedding anniversary - which means that I have lived 5 consecutive years abroad in Cairo (not including the first two years I was based in Cairo) as an expatriate.  Now, keep in mind that we have made the trek back to the States once a year so I am not that far out of touch with American society.  I mean, I still know the secret handshake and the clubhouse location (wink wink nudge nudge).

So rather than spending just ONE Fourth of July out of the USA, I have spent a good 5 Fourth of July holidays.  But I know people who have lived abroad for over twenty years, so I would say that this list will continue to grow over the years.

So what DO Americans take for granted?  I am going to tackle this from my own in, what do I think that Americans would miss (if they were living outside the States, that is?)

Good driving.  I'm not saying that all Americans are good drivers.  On the contrary, I would say that a lot of them are not good drivers.  But still, the rules are there.  And the majority of people follow at least the basic outline.  And then there are police out there providing real accountability (as in - not out there to line their own pockets with spending money) so that people follow the rules.

Wide open spaces.  I have that Dixie Chicks song running through my head right now (what can I say, my mind works according to the music).  But I really mean it.  Try going to just about anywhere in Europe, especially in the cities, and you'll see what I mean.  Downtown Louisville has the widest streets compared to downtown Cairo and plenty of parking space (yes, I said plenty of parking space).  

Ready-made food products.  I have grown rather adept over the years at eliminating recipes that I could never possibly dream of trying because half of the ingredients are ready-made products.  We just don't have those kinds of things in Egypt.  And I must say that we get a LOT of stuff in Egypt that isn't available in other places.

Ice cream.  Did you know that ice cream that is made in America and shipped abroad starts to taste a little stale?  I would know...I have tried it.  I keep telling myself that I will learn how to make homemade ice cream just to get something a little closer to what we get back home.  But then again, no ice cream maker available.  

Doughnuts.  Okay so I am not even that much of a doughnut fan.  My idea of good doughnuts when we were growing up were the Hostess chocolate-covered and powdered-sugar doughnuts.  Still, not even the Hostess ones are available where I live now, much less Krispy Kreme.  

Good Mexican food.  Now we do have several Mexican restaurants nowadays in Cairo, although perhaps they border on Tex-Mex than real Mexican food.  But the chips and queso do the trick so I am happy, at least for a moment.  

Hot dogs.  Yes, we can get hot dogs in Egypt.  And yes, they taste NOTHING like the ones in America.  Now I know what you're thinking - aren't hot dogs made of pork which is forbidden food for Muslims (okay, so maybe you weren't thinking that).  And my answer to you would be yes, but at the same time there are all-beef hot dogs available in the USA that taste exactly like the pork ones to me.  I was never a hot dog fan before I moved overseas.  Now I crave them like mad when I come home to KY.  Blame it on my husband!

American breakfast.  Eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles, omelets, biscuits, muffins,...hungry yet?

Being able to get married without having to own your own house and furnishing it from top to bottom.  Long story short is that an Egyptian man cannot even think of getting married unless he owns a flat.  And the flats in Egypt are not the ready-to-move-in kind like we have in the U.S. No, these flats are basically just a hole in a concrete wall and EVERYTHING has to be built from there.

Closets.  I miss American closets.  Any kind will do, sliding door, walk-in, wide, narrow...they simply don't exist in Egypt.  Okay, so walk in your closet and then walk out...then imagine your life without it (that's how I live everyday)

Trees.  I love trees.  I seriously get offended every time I see them cutting down entire trees in Cairo - I kid you not, my heart hurts.  Just ask my husband

Drive-thrus.  Okay so I don't drive around Cairo with a sleeping baby in the backseat on my way home.  But if I DID and I needed a quick lunch or dinner - I would definitely be missing these.

Central heat & air.  I know, I know not EVERYONE has central heat and air conditioning in the USA.  However, enough people have it for it to be common place.  I certainly could do without the turning the air conditioner on and turning the air conditioner off routine that fills my days.  Great if you're trying to build up those arm muscles by lifting the remote and pointing...walking a little closer and lifting and pointing again...walking STILL closer to make sure it works this time...lift and point (I need to replace the batteries in all those remotes).

American television.  Let's put this into perspective.  In Egypt, I have a total of 7 satellite channels that are almost 100% in English that carry American television shows and movies.  And there were not this many channels 5 years ago when I moved back to Egypt to get married (I think there might have been 3 at that time).  So here I can choose from any number of marathons dedicated to my favorite TV shows - but back home in Egypt this is something non-existent.  Maybe it's a good thing because at least I can tear myself away from the TV in Egypt because there is absolutely NOTHING on.  

Walmart (or Target).  I think I have sufficiently covered my love for these stores.

American sales.  Coming home to the States is all about seeing family...and buying stuff to take home.  So back-to-back-to-back sales are definitely well-appreciated.  I was chatting with the saleslady at JCPenney the other day (a new past time of mine after having a baby and living abroad for 5 years) and I asked her if the current sale was ending anytime soon.  Her reply was that they always have a sale going on.  I have found this to be true in many stores that there is always some sort of sale going on.  Yes, this is NOT true in Egypt.  

Parks.  Did you know that we have fences around most of our parks in Egypt?  We have this beautiful (well, beautiful is exaggerating a bit) park right at the corner of our street that is securely locked most of the time.  Someone cuts the grass and trims the trees (shedding a tear), but they apparently sneak in at night because everytime I check the door are padlocked.  So to find park after park after park with SWINGS and benches and TREES (did I mention that I love trees?) is just a wonderful wonderful thing.

Freedom of religion.  I know, I just shifted gears on you.  But seriously tonight as my favorite praise song "Mighty to Save" came on the radio as we were driving home, I rolled down the windows and turned it up loud and sang my heart out...and I thought about how great it was that we have this freedom to worship as we please...and the freedom to stare at the crazy lady sitting at the light next to you who is singing at the top of her lungs.  Forgive me - I live in Egypt!

Freedom of speech.  Americans take this sometimes to extremes (as in saying TOO much) but it's true that this is a freedom that we highly value.  

Freedom to disagree with your government.  Did you know that this isn't allowed in much of the rest of the world?  Maybe I should rephrase that you have the freedom to express (as in say out loud) that you disagree with your government.  You can complain about your president, your representatives in Congress, your senators, you name it and you stay safe.  You may not be the most popular person around at times but you still have that right.

Freedom to be anything you want to be.  I know we could go on and on about environmental limitations and people's backgrounds and listen to all the "well I never got to be what I wanted" complaints, but the fact is that in the USA we have options.  We have MORE options than many people around the world could ever dream of.  (So basically stop complaining and get off your butt and get to work...right?)  I know LOADS of people who could only DREAM of having the chance to come to this country and make a whole new life for themselves, doing whatever it is they put in mind to do.  It's not a perfect country but it definitely opens so many more doors.  I hope that we can all appreciate it as much as we should.

What do YOU think Americans take for granted?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Help! I'm In Redneck Central

We went to the Kentucky State Fair today.  I haven't been in a large, crowded place like this in Kentucky for quite some time.  And I haven't seen so many rednecks in one place in quite some time.

Wow.  It sure brought back memories.

First there was the young guy dressed in a wife beater (basically a white sleeveless shirt), blue jeans and belt buckle the size of his head along with a pair of cowboy boots.  Must have been his fancy outfit, though, because those cowboy boys were polished up so shiny that you could see yourself in them.

Then I saw two young guys dressed in FFA blue cordoroy jackets with long gold chains dangling down into their pockets.  The FFA jackets haven't changed since I remember them, but the gold chains kind of confused me.  Were they redneck gangsta's or what?  Could something like that even exist?

There were lots and lots of flip-flops.  Not that flip-flops categorize you as a redneck necessarily, just depends on what kind of clothes you pair them with...and whether your hair is piled up so high on your head that it hits the ceiling fan.

I don't know what category this fits into, but I saw a number of people walking around with their dogs in strollers.  That's right, folks.  Here in Kentucky there are dogs apparently too precious to have to walk around on their own four feet.  And these were not the cheap umbrella-like strollers like what most of the kids were sitting in.  No, these babies were riding around in strollers complete with sunshades and screens to keep the sun and mosquitoes off of them.  My son could only dream of this kind of luxury!

I'm not sure what really classifies a person as a "redneck."  I have tried explaining this one to my Egyptian husband, and basically every time I am finished with my explanation he is still left scratching his head in confusion.  Suffice to say that redneck men are stereotyped as being dressed in a wife beater, old jeans & cowboy boots with an old ball cap on their head and beer belly sticking out from under their shirt and redneck women are stereotyped as young, barefoot and pregnant.

Jeff Foxworthy made rednecks funny and famous with his "You Might Be a Redneck If..." jokes.  I think most of his jokes come from real life situations although they often seem strange and outlandish until you take a Sunday drive out into some of the more rural parts of Kentucky.

These people really do exist.  

And you might find one by just looking in the mirror...

Read that list of 300 reasons that you might be a redneck.  You might be surprised when a few of them fall a little too close for comfort.

Or maybe that picture above of the redneck wedding cake looked a little too-good-to-be-true for you.  Especially if you could actually name all the snack cakes it was made of...

Like me.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Where the Green Grass Grows

I think it isn't until I come stateside that I realize how dull and dingy everything in Cairo is.  You have to understand that even though much of Cairo borders the Nile River that it's still basically built along a desert.  And desert means sand, lots and lots of sand.  Winter, spring, summer, and fall - regardless of the weather - there is a constant abundance of dust everywhere!  So this means that everything green in Cairo has a permanent tinge of brown to it.

And it also means that - being in the desert - that things just don't grow on their own there.  I would guess that everything green growing in Cairo was planted there.  Trees, bushes, and flowers of all kinds must be watered faithfully on a daily basis because if one waited for rain, well, that desert might just take back over the city.

So to come home to Kentucky, I am always kind of struck by how beautifully green it is here.  Some of the greenest grass I have seen here grows along the side of the highway (which, incidentally, is planted or at the very least supplemented because I just saw a truck shooting out grass seed out there yesterday).  But still really green and really pretty!

And when it rains in KY, well, the air smells clean - especially if there's any greenery (like trees or grass) nearby.  Unfortunately, the handful of times that it rains in Cairo every year produces only dirty drops of water all over everything because the air is so dirty with dust and pollution.  Yes, the air might smell a little cleaner but this lasts just a fleeting moment before the dust gets back up into the air once more.  So rain is not always such a good thing in Cairo.  But here, well, it's like the world just walked through a shower and is now all fresh and clean and new!

You know, I have yet to let my son anywhere near the grass in Cairo.  At 9 months old, he has yet to feel the cool green grass under his hands and feet.  In KY this would be a real travesty, but in Cairo this is a matter of survival!  The grass in Cairo is usually off-limits anyways and if you COULD sit on it, I'm not sure that you'd want to.

But Kentucky is the Bluegrass state where the grass is so green sometimes that it's almost blue.  So it would be a shame if we came all this way and didn't stop to enjoy the green grass.  And while once he has gotten a taste of how good the grass feels beneath his feet, he may protest when I refuse to let him wander around on the grass back in Egypt - but then again, isn't it great to have something else to look forward to when you come back to KY?

Soft green grass...bare breeze...warm sun...

And I'm breeze...warm sun...

That's for me, while my son gets to discover the green grass for the first time.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Confessions of a Walmart Junkie

Okay, I admit it.  One of the things I miss most about the States is Walmart.  And if I come home and can't make it to a Walmart or Target within 24 hours of arriving in the States, I go into some kind of withdrawal mode.

Well, usually I arrange it so that I HAVE to go to Walmart soon after we arrive because I refuse to bring any toiletries with me so that I have to buy them here.

Sorry, no shampoo?!  Walmart run!

What, no toothpaste?!  Walmart run!

We have often flown into Northern KY (the Cincinnati airport is on the Kentucky side of the river, people) and we usually stay in the Hyatt Place in Florence, KY.  But what my husband may not be aware of is the fact that this is also the closest hotel to the nearest Walmart to the airport there...

I am seriously addicted.

What is the draw?  Well, I think until anyone spends a significant amount of time outside the U.S. they may not realize how difficult it is to find even the simplest of items in stores abroad.  And if you CAN find what you're looking for, chances are that the price is much more expensive than what you pay for it here.  I mean, you have to figure in the shipment and customs in addition to the production price.  And that adds up quickly.

So to come home and find everything so readily available with new flavors and colors and, well, seemingly unlimited options.  Let's just say a girl can go crazy in there!

I usually stick with the basic items that I use on a daily basis.  And then I make sure I buy a kind that I can't get back home.  And then, provided I don't go overboard while we're here, I get to pack it up and take the rest home to enjoy for the next month or so.

It's my own way of spoiling myself, you see.  It's the little things that count anyways, right?

And speaking of Walmart...I think it's time for another run.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Big City Convert

Well, one thing about coming home to Kentucky is realizing how much I have gotten used to living in a big city.  Somehow I vaguely remember how big Louisville seemed to me back in the day, but now I can drive across downtown Louisville in something like 15 minutes.

Yeah.  Not quite the same as living in Cairo, a city of 20 million people...a city that really does NOT sleep (sorry New Yorkers).  Seriously, we have sat in a traffic jam in Cairo at 12 o'clock at night.

Anyhow, so to come home to Kentucky it's like - wow, it is SO quiet here.  And what is with everything closing down so early?!  I mean, doesn't EVERYONE want to go grocery shopping at 10:00 at night?!  And why do restaurants close so early...don't people still want to eat after 9:00 at night?!

We have stayed closer to downtown Louisville the past couple of times we've been here, and I must say that I can definitely feel the difference. Just tonight my son and I were out for a walk after 8:30 PM and there were still other people out walking their dogs.  And I did see another couple out walking with their baby so I didn't feel like such a crazy person taking my 9-month-old out for a stroll as it was getting dark out.

Because seriously sometimes I feel like I need some kind of sign on my forehead reading "I live in Egypt so please forgive me if what I'm doing seems a bit unorthodox."  You always have to wonder if what seems normal to you after living abroad for a number of years may look at little strange to the outside world.  Not that I worry that much about what others think about what I'm doing, because at least in the States I am basically invisible anyways and I just don't really care what they think anyways.  It is usually just a passing thought sometimes that I wonder if people can ever tell that something is different about me...

Probably not.  And besides, how many Americans do YOU know who have the time to stop and pay attention to what is going on around them?  Everybody here is so busy busy that it boggles the mind to think of how much stuff they get done in one day.  I mean, I could only DREAM of going to the store AND meeting friends for lunch AND getting my hair cut AND going shopping for clothes AND going to a soccer game AND...all in one day.

I have learned that in Egypt if I can get just one good thing done in one day that it's a good day.  I'm not saying that my life is any less busy - okay well maybe I AM saying that.  But when you're trying to get around in a city like Cairo, using taxis and getting around just takes more time.  And by the time you get to where you're going, you might as well stay there for a while because it'll take you just as long to get home.

But even though I have adjusted to living in a big city, there are times when I just wish the world would just stand still for a moment so that I can just breathe a bit.  It's not so much that I am moving so fast, it's just that there is so much going on around you.  I mean, there are people everywhere at all times.

So definitely it is nice to be able to take a walk down the street where there is not a soul in sight.  Okay, we are still pretty close to downtown Louisville so there are definitely many more people out than, say, where my parents live.  But still, the trees are bigger and the sidewalks safer and people actually use the crosswalks.  What a relief!

So maybe the big city convert is still a small-town girl at heart after all...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Expat Goin' Home

Well, even before we reached Kentucky, it was already a different world out there!  I always get this crazy urge to break out into the national anthem the moment I step off the plane into the good old US of A.  Call it homesickness sinking in…

We DID have a bit of drama during our layover in Frankfurt.  All you moms out there, you certainly know what it’s like to get off the plane and find that your stroller didn’t get off the plane with you.  Yep, you guessed it.  It’s called carrying a 19 pound baby on your arm along with the diaper bag and overloaded backpack on your back.  Suffice to say that this was not the picture I had imagined.

Enter airline help desk #1…

Me:  “Please I need to know where our stroller is.”

Them:  “Oh I’m sorry madam you have to go to [insert other office halfway across the terminal]”

Me:  “Please can’t you help me.  As you can see, I am carrying my son and all these bags and I don’t know if I can make it that far.”

Them: (totally oblivious to the pleading tone and puppy dog eyes) “I’m sorry madam I can’t do anything from here.  You have to go to [insert office halfway across the terminal – AFTER passport control and AFTER baggage claim]”

Me:  (smiling politely but really seething inside) “Thank you for your help.”

Enter airline help desk #2…

Me:  “Please I need to know where our stroller is.”

Him:  (not speaking very good English) “You…check…there.” (pointing at the 2 guys standing off to the side)

Me:  (quickly turning away when I realize he doesn’t speak English) “Thank you”

Me:  (turning to the 2 guys) “Please where is my stroller?”

Him:  (after he checks my ticket) “I’m sorry madam you have to go to that office there.”  (pointing to an office on the other side of this enormous baggage claim room)

Me: (at the point of tears now) “Where?”

Him: (sensing that a waterfall of tears is about to come) “Come with me”

Let me just tell you.  That last office was for baggage tracing.  Yep, they’re acting like my stroller was lost.  And I want to scream “it’s NOT LOST!  That really sweet friendly lady at the Cairo counter (who was apparently not as smart as she seemed) put a baggage ticket on our stroller along with a gate check ticket.   So my stroller is NOT LOST!  It’s just sitting out there with our bags waiting to be put on the plane to Chicago!”

They couldn’t get our stroller to us.  They wouldn’t even try.  And I, afraid that it would get really lost if I pushed them to try, kept my mouth shut about it.  This is one of those times where you hope the look on your face is worth a thousand words.  Maybe it’s just wishful thinking.  But in the back of my mind I can hear my husband saying “give them a break, Erin, they’re just doing their job.”  Hence the look and NOT the thousand words!

The good news is that they had a lost and found stroller that they gave us.  So I plopped my son in the stroller and off we went to check into the hotel.

When we arrived in Chicago, the good news is that our very own stroller showed up at the gate.  I think the guy was kind of shocked by how giddy I was to see it.  And then the 2nd stroller showed up, and I had to go into the whole story to explain why I had not 1 but 2 strollers waiting for us at the gate.

And the 1st thing I did when we got our stroller back was to rip off that stupid baggage ticket.  Probably NOT what you’re supposed to do, but I wasn’t taking any more chances.

So I learned a lesson, but luckily in the end it all worked out.

Note to self:  do not let that nice, sweet, friendly lady who is cooing over your child distract you from making sure that your bags are clearly and correctly marked (yep, we lost a bag last time) and that your stroller is not tagged like a piece of luggage.

I still hope that the guy who was working the airplane in Cairo who ignored the gate check ticket in favor of the baggage ticket will find himself one day…lugging a 19-pound child through an airport on one arm…with a diaper bag in one hand…and an overloaded backpack on his back…

Is that wrong?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ladies Only

Get a bunch of ladies in one room and I guarantee, regardless of their nationality or language, tongues will start flapping immediately.  I used to think that this concept of "flapping tongues" was something unique to the South, but let me tell you - Egyptian women can "flap" with the best of them!

I experienced my first ladies-only salon ("coiffure" in Arabic) in Egypt yesterday.  It was a teeny, tiny little place tucked in a corner not far from our house.  I was a little uncharacteristically nervous walking into a new coiffure like that cold turkey, but then I gritted my teeth, plastered a smile on my face and walked in the door.  

Most coiffures in Egypt are full of men.  I know this sounds strange, but there are men washing hair and men fixing hair and men cutting hair.  There are men serving hot tea or coffee, men arranging fancy hegabs (veils), men taking money,, men, everywhere!  

There is only one section of every coiffure that men are not allowed...has something to do with "sweet" (Egyptian waxing), but I think I'll leave that one to your imagination.

So to walk into a ladies-only coiffure was a bit nerve-wracking but also a bit exhilarating.  Because I know how the ladies in Egypt are, they're like ladies everywhere that I'VE ever been - friendly, talkative, curious, ...    that's just how we ladies do things.

I go to the coiffure to get my eyebrows done.  This is one of those things that you dread and then when you're done, you are SO glad that you went through all that pain.  And I felt a bit like that yesterday, or at least a little bit.

I think they may do eyebrow waxing somewhere in Cairo, but I have yet to try this.  They've done it the old-fashioned way in every coiffure I've been to in Egypt so far.  Old-fashioned is basically some good old tweezers, combined with threading and tiny scissors for trimming.  

We'll come back to the threading...

Let me just say that I LOVE the fact that I can go home with perfectly shaped eyebrows that #1 I didn't have to lift a finger to do and #2 I paid less than $2 to get done!  Granted, you have to watch these ladies very closely because they often finish one eyebrow before they start the other.  So very careful checking to see that the eyebrows match is required.  Otherwise you might get that permanent raised eyebrow look (don't lie, you know what I mean).

Now, about the threading.  This is the pain that I mentioned earlier.  I have a kind of love-hate relationship with threading.  Basically I LOVE that it gets rid of all those little hairs around the eyebrows that are impossible to get with tweezers but I HATE that it makes my eyes tear up and basically I feel like in that moment I will seriously die from the pain.

Threading is exactly what it sounds like (or at least I hope it does).  Basically the lady takes a long piece of thread and folds it over twisting it around and around.  Then she catches the fine hairs in the twisted part and yanks...yup, I said YANKS.

Oh, the things we do to be beautiful!

I usually do my eyebrows first.  And then - if I feel like I have the nerve - I ask them to do my upper lip.  This is the part where I think I might die from the pain.  Because there are moments where all I can think is escape!

But enough about pain.  I wanted to talk about the ladies too.

In a place like this, I am glad that I can speak Arabic.  Because even though it takes a little while for the ladies to warm up to me (granted, their tongues are still flapping a mile a minute the whole time - just not to me), once they do they definitely make up for lost time.  In about 5 minutes, this one lady had the whole story - how long I'd lived in Egypt, how old my son was, who my husband was, if I liked Egypt or America better (classic question asked by many Egyptians I meet for the first time).

I laugh now as I think about it.  She would have made a great reporter actually.  Because there I was with my feet up (oh, I got a pedicure as well - also for somewhere around $2) and couldn't move, so what else is there to do but answer her questions?

Well, finally the work was done.  And it was time to leave.  

Just another experience in Egypt to remember!  

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sweet Things to Eat

What is this, you ask?  This is a little piece of heaven.  Mango, cream, konafa, and soft cake are layered in a perfect combination of sweet and smooth with crunchy and tart.  Where has this been all these years?  Why am I just tasting this now?!!

I'm so glad that I didn't have to leave my sweet tooth behind when I moved to Egypt.  And I have QUITE the sweet tooth, let me tell you!  The truth is that I don't bake because I like to bake but rather I bake because I like to EAT the things I bake.  Chocolate chip cookies, brownies, coffee cakes of all kinds, muffins, banana breads,...and on the list goes.

And while I am not a full convert to the ways of eating Egyptian desserts, I would say that they make a decent showing alongside the traditional sugar-based desserts that I hold so dear from back home.

Most desserts in Egypt are honey-based.  By "honey-based" I mean that the main source of sweetness in most desserts is honey.  For me, this makes many of the traditional sweets here rather rich and heavy.  A small piece will usually fill me up quickly, although I have been known to scarf down more than a few pieces at a time every once in a while.

The Mango Konafa that you see pictured above is famous among Cairo residents.  It's made by the patisserie Le Carnival only at Ramadan time (which incidentally coincides with mango season this year).  Hence the little piece of heaven that I described above.

Other desserts that are famous around here are baklava, basbousa, and konafa.  Most of you will be familiar with some form of baklava ("baklawa" in Arabic) with its layers of phyllo dough, nuts, and sweet syrupy goodness.  Basbousa is a kind of cake-like treat made from what tastes like cornmeal.  It is surprisingly delicious, even for you Southerners who thought perhaps that cornmeal was destined only for that iron skillet you've got hidden away in your kitchen.  And as for konafa, well, it's not really my favorite.  It has a kind of straw-like texture that makes it difficult to chew and a bit dry for my tastes.  But I have to say that lots of people love it around here.

I must admit that I have not tried my hand of making any of these desserts at home.  I take that back, I DID take a basbousa box mix back with me to Kentucky a couple of years ago.  And although my family back home at it with gusto, I was personally disappointed with my meager attempt to duplicate the basbousa we get in the sweet shops here.

The fact is, my friends, that I'm just plain lazy.  I'm not out to prove anything.  I just want to eat good food that reminds me of home - which as I mentioned above is why I love to cook and bake so much in the first place.  But if I can get something better that's store-bought....well, I think you get the picture.

So here is to all the sweet things to eat in Cairo...

May you always be accompanied by a cup of steaming hot tea!

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Sacrifice of a Name

What's in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  
I like my name.  I think it suits me.  It's simple and not easily turned into some strange nickname.  And back home it is easily pronounced.  I mean, people usually say my name correctly the first time.  It's spelled the normal way, the RIGHT way, not like some others with a crazy spelling like Aryn or Eryn.

And then I came to Egypt.

Egypt is apparently where all correct name pronunciation dreams come to die.  I know, that seems a bit harsh doesn't it?

But I know I am not alone.

Just last week we were at church and the pastor introduced himself as "Jim."  And then he launched into a tirade (well, I exaggerate a bit) about how his name wasn't "Jeem" it was "Jim."  Apparently Pastor "Jeem" has a hard name to pronounce.

I laughed.

It was like he was inside my head.

I don't give out my name much these days.  One of the earliest lessons I learned when I first arrived in Egypt was that it wasn't appropriate for me to tell people (namely men) my name.  So then when I struck up any sort of polite conversation with a taxi driver and they asked me my name, I knew that we had just crossed into non-polite conversation territory so I would clamp my mouth shut immediately.

But I mean, seriously, if they know that it's impolite to ask a woman's name then why do they ask it?!!  It's like they're daring me to break the cultural rules here!  And then I can see them in my head later down at the coffee shop talking about all the loose Western women that they shuttle from place to place when, in fact, THEY are the ones who bring up the subject in the first place.  We don't KNOW that we shouldn't be giving you our names (unless some kind Egyptian language teacher or friend takes pity on us and tells us these kinds of things)!

But I digress...

Delivery in Egypt is a wonderful thing (I really SHOULD blog about it sometime so that you can appreciate it as much as I do).  But the one thing I always dread about getting delivery with a new company is when I try to tell them my name over the phone.  It takes me like 10 tries for them to get them to hear my name correctly.  No, my name is NOT Ellen or Eman or Evan or ... (fill in the blank with some Arabic name that is nowhere near the name Erin) ...

It's "Eh-REEN."

Yes, you guessed it.  Here I am in Egypt mispronouncing my own name.

Let me tell you.  I worked as an office manager for an Egyptian company here for almost 3 years, and most of that time I was on the telephone talking to different clients and companies.  And I am ashamed to say that I resorted to the "Eh-REEN" version of my name on a regular basis.

And cringed every single time.

In Paris I was aghast to find that they could pronounce my name correctly (hallelujah!) but they were determined to spell it "Irene" rather than "Erin."  So even though they could say it right, all I could hear in my head was "EYE-Reen," which is not how they pronounced it at all.

So now when I do delivery I usually take the easy route.

I give them my husband's name.

Yes, this is more culturally appropriate anyways.  And yes, this is because his name is written in Arabic downstairs on the intercom button so it's easier for them to find me to deliver that pipin' hot pizza (or McDonald's cheeseburger or my favorite Egyptian banana split - aka Roz bi Leban with ice cream & fruit on top - or diapers) to my door.

But what they don't know....

What I'll never tell...

Is that I just can't bear for them to mispronounce my name AGAIN!  Or me either for that matter!

Yes, it's just a name.

But it's MY name!

Disclaimer:  I just want to say to all my lovely Egyptian friends and family that I LOVE that you call me "Eh-REEN" or Erini.  I am not complaining about how YOU say my name, and you are certainly welcome to call me anything you like.  This is more of an expression of how I feel when I try to get complete strangers to understand what my name is.  Oh...and if you're one of the very few (you know who you are) who call me Eranie, well I guess that's okay too. ;-)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

When I Grow Up

Do you ever have this feeling sometimes that your life is a bit like the movie Big (or 13 Going on 30 for the younger generation)?  Somehow you've woken up and found yourself in a brave, new world where you are suddenly a grown-up?

Okay, SO I'm a woman in her thirties.  But, seriously, I still have a lot of things I want to do when I grow up (for real):  travel the world, write a book, own my own business,...

Yes, I know what you're thinking.  Travel the world?!  Don't you, like, LIVE in Egypt?  Didn't you spend 6 months in Paris, France, and another 2 months in Yemen and in the Philippines?  Why, yes sir, I sure did and why thank you for reminding me that my dreaming days are over.  

But what about Paris with my husband, London on a non-rainy day (and when I am not suffering from a horrible cold), Rome, Athens, the Great Wall of China, Salzburg-Austria (where the hills are alive), Budapest (or is it Prague), Prince Edward Island, New York at Christmas, Disney World, VENICE...

Oh, and yes I do want to write a book one day.  I'm not really sure why.  I know that there are loads of people out there who never think of writing a book one day and they write books all the time.  So what is so special about me wanting to write a book?  I don't know, it's just something I'd like to do.  I'll let you know if I ever do.

And in my mind I have owned the perfect little bookstore for years.  It's one of those stores that has all the BEST books to read (which of course I could personally recommend because I would have READ every single book there) and a sweet little cafe attached where one can sit and read books to her little heart's content.  Oh, and don't forget the home-baked goods on sale that I made myself.  I didn't say it was a realistic place, just that it's been in my mind all these years.  But where oh where would that little shop fit here in Cairo?  And who would ever want necessarily to read all the books that I like?!

Still I have to say that He did pretty good when He planned out my life.  I still have those "Big" moments where I stop and look around in disbelief.  After all, who could have imagined THIS?!

But don't worry I am not about to give up those dreams yet either...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

When the President Moves

I was realizing as I was just on my way home today that the Egyptian president or someone else important will be moving soon.  How did I know that?

Sixth sense, maybe.  A revelation, definitely.  Or maybe I am just that smart.  ;-)  You pick!

So first I must clarify that by "moving" I mean "driving in a car from one place to another."  I know that in English it doesn't make sense that way but right now I can't think of the correct way of saying it in English.  (Occupational hazard of learning and speaking a 2nd language)

Okay, I admit it - I am NOT clairvoyant.  Actually the truth is that the Egyptian president lives on our side of town.  The actual location of his house is a mystery to me, although they block off a whole section of Heliopolis inside of which is his house somewhere.  So we don't exactly have a White House sitting around here for everybody to drive by and take pictures.

Pictures of government buildings and bridges are, in fact, forbidden here in Egypt.

But what every Egyptian knows is that when a street is lined with black-uniformed soldiers and plainclothes police that the president will be moving soon.  And you certainly don't want to get stuck in the traffic that clogs up the streets once they shut down roads to let him pass by.

I am not sure that today being the 2nd day of Ramadan that shutting down any roads during rush hour would be a very good idea, but hey they don't ask my opinion now do they?

At any rate, I am just sitting here breathing a sigh of relief that I am at home right now where the electricity is back on and my son is asleep in his bed.

And I can feel sorry for all those poor people who are out on the roads right now...

Hmmm...or maybe I should just go eat a piece of chocolate.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ramadan Time

Well, it's Ramadan time again.  Ramadan in Egypt kind of reminds me of Christmas in the States.  Yes, I KNOW that the two holidays are completely different, for different religions and for different reasons.

What I mean is that Ramadan as a "holiday" (although can a holiday really last a month?) takes over the country of Egypt in a way similar to how Christmas takes over America.

So just like you see trees and lights and decorations everywhere in the States at Christmastime, here there are Ramadan lanterns (called "fanoos" in Arabic) and Ramadan Kareem (Happy Ramadan) signs everywhere.  And I mean EVERYWHERE!

If you live long enough in Egypt (as in over a year), you will experience Ramadan.  It is the 10th month in the Islamic calendar so you really can't miss it because it comes exactly once a year.

Ramadan is a month of fasting but I have never seen them eat more food.  Granted none of that food is eaten during daylight hours, but still a LOT of food!  I read somewhere that Muslims eat more food during the month of Ramadan than they do the rest of the year.

The breaking of the fast together is a big deal too.  The meal that breaks the fast is called the "Iftar."  Most companies will host a special Iftar meal for their employees, Muslim or not.  And there are certain foods and drinks that are traditionally served at a Ramadan Iftar.  I have only been to a handful of Iftars, but one drink I found particularly good was made with dried apricots and milk.  Sorry I can't remember the name but it was yummy.

It is definitely a different experience living in Egypt during Ramadan.  Not only am I a foreigner but I am also not a Muslim so it is interesting to watch it all from the outside.

Kind of makes me wonder what Christmas in America looks like to an outsider...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Counting Pennies

Who needs pennies anyways?  Coins in general are just a regular annoyance.  They jingle in your pocket and add pounds to your purse.  So why do we keep them around?

My husband doesn't even bother to use coins whenever we go back to the States.  I discovered this by accident when I was looking for something and found the huge pile of American coins that he had managed to hoard over a week of visiting the States.

So I, being the money-conscientious one (ha!), quickly confiscated the coins and added them to my own meager collection because I actually use them.

I find it some sort of challenge, actually, to give the store clerk the exact amount of change.  It is a sort of never-ending cycle really, because once you successfully rid yourself of all coinage - then comes the moment when you need coins and you don't have them...and so on it goes.

But I really didn't start this topic today to talk about pennies or coins or anything of the sort actually.  I wanted to talk about this article I read today about a family that had to get rid of their car due to the recession.

The situation feels a bit distant to me.  I mean, I feel for the family involved, but it just seems so far away.  Granted it IS far away because I live in Egypt, but the reality is that it could be anyone in this situation.

We live in a cash-based society here in Egypt.  By "cash-based" I mean that we actually pay for most things in actual cash money.  Credit cards here are very strange because in order to get one you have to front the money to the bank first and then they will grant you a credit card in that amount.  In my opinion that's more like a debit card than a credit card, even though it's not technically pulling the money directly from your account.  Actually it sounds like a lot of work - taking the money from there to pay the money here, etc.

Yes they DO give out loans but I couldn't even begin to explain that one.  I mean it took several tries PLUS the bank guy explaining it for me to kind of understand the way the credit cards work here.  Like I said, not really a credit card if I have to give you the money up front.

But I think in America we have long been content with living beyond our means.  Can't afford a big house, just take out a bigger mortgage...Must have the fancy car, another loan in place...Can't pay off the credit cards, just transfer them to another card...  Sounds like a vicious cycle to me (MUCH worse than the coin counting I was doing earlier).

I was reading another article where the family happily downsized their stuff.  It definitely made for interesting reading.

So maybe this going back to living a more simple life isn't such a bad idea.  Could YOU live without your car?  Could you have less clothes, less shoes, or less beauty products?  Or perhaps we should start in the most reasonable way, that being living within our means.

Have YOU been simplifying your life lately?  If so, how and why?

Monday, August 09, 2010

Why Extra Time Change is Good

Now that my email group for foreign ladies living in Egypt have moved on from the topics of their favorite hegab style and their stance on second wives to a topic I can finally understand and relate to - namely the time change issue in Egypt - I am surprised to find that everyone is so against it.

Click here for a little background on the issue.

So if a bunch of ministers got together in one room and decided that the Egyptian people should change their clocks four times this year – certainly the pros must outweigh the cons!

Let’s look on the bright side…perhaps there really are some advantages to this:

First of all, I LOVE fall back.  You know what I mean, that day each autumn when we move our clocks back one hour.  I always feel like I am in heaven when I wake up that first morning and realize that I have a whole extra hour to sleep.  So…one advantage of changing the clocks four times is an extra fall back.

Secondly, I am psyched that this means that for another month or so the time difference between Egypt and the USA will be only 6 hours (EST).  So I have a whole extra hour to talk to family and friends.  That 7 hour time difference is a real kicker at times.

Thirdly (and fourthly), it’s Ramadan time.  For those of you who don’t know, Ramadan is the month of fasting for the Muslim community.  They fast from food, water, and cigarettes (and other things) during the daylight hours.  So this time change means that they #1 will get to sleep an extra hour in the morning (not really but their bodies will feel like it) and #2 will get to go home from work an hour early.  Most workplaces in Egypt already adjust their working hours to allow workers to leave early in order to get home to break the fast with their family.  So when they leave at 4:00 instead of 5:00, their bodies will feel even that it is only 3:00.  See what I mean – advantages!

Granted, I HATE spring forward so the thought of an extra spring forward just wears me out by thinking about it.   Plus I am neither Muslim nor working so the whole fasting angle really doesn’t apply to me either.

Well, at least I tried, right? 

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Finding Your Way Home in Cairo

If you're thinking that this is a picture of rush hour in Cairo, THINK AGAIN!

This is the phenomenon known as the Cairo traffic jam.  It could happen morning, noon, and night - sometimes lasting for a few minutes or maybe a few hours.

It can be a bit daunting to enter a world like this.  And even more overwhelming when you think about trying to find your way home through the chaos.

I think that the "aha" moment when I realized I was finally feeling at home in Cairo came when I could get from Point A to Point B without having to stop for directions.  Granted, I was in a taxi most of the time and it would seem like Cairo taxi drivers should know their way around the city better than most.  But when the taxi driver stops for directions, this can really shake your confidence in your ability to get where you want to be going.

Now I think I surprise the drivers with how well I know my way around Cairo.

I mean, here I am, this crazy foreigner lugging an 8-month old around on one arm and a folded-up stroller in the other.  I wouldn't be surprised if they take one look at me and think..."Here's another silly foreigner who won't know if I take the long way around..."

And then I open my mouth to speak.

And boy do I speak!

See not only do I speak Arabic, but I think I can safely say that I speak it fairly well.  That fact alone shocks the (well you know what I mean) out of them.

So as soon as I get in the door, I am telling them exactly which route I want to take.  And though they seem a bit skeptical at first, I am polite but firm so they usually do things my way.  I have no patience to deal with another driver who gets stuck in an extra 20 minutes of traffic just for going the way that EVERYONE knows is ALWAYS busy.

Oh, and I just hate it when they play dumb.

Hey buddy, I'M the one with the 8-month-old trying to falling asleep in my arms!

Plus they don't know that I am married to the KING of finding the most uncrowded way home.  I mean, my husband and I find every traffic obstacle as an opportunity to showcase our creative navigational talents.  I would say that we do this for fun, but it's more that we do it out of necessity.  We see a traffic jam in front of us, and we immediately start brainstorming alternate routes.  Sometimes I laugh that we never take the same way home twice.

So it's no wonder that the taxi drivers are so surprised at how well I know my way around town.  How could they possibly know?

Yes, knowing how to get around Cairo wasn't easy.  But once I did, I was just one step closer to feeling at home here in this amazing city.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

My New Best Friend

These are about to become my new best friend...

The only thing worse than your average cold is the one that sneaks up on you in the middle of summer...and the only thing worse than THAT is the knowledge that the tickle in your throat will be a full-fledged cold in about 24 hours.

So last night I finally took a Claritin as apparently downing unlimited amounts of Vitamin C and orange juice yesterday was not helping.

Prepare to enter the haze...

I know, I know, Claritin is non-drowsy.  And it is, really it is.  But somehow I always feel a little bit out of it on days when I take any kind of cold medicine.  Maybe it's just the side effects of the cold itself, not the medicine.

Now all I need is a nap.  My son is happily napping right now and, quite frankly, I should be right there with him.  I don't know about you but sleep for me really is better than any medicine I can take.

Actually quite a few people have been coming down with colds lately.  And considering that the weather is so hot right now, I guess it's only right that we should all suffer together right?  I mean what else could we ask for with Ramadan just around the corner.  Not only will people be grumpy from lack of food, water, and they can be grumpy from having colds as well!

Just another reason to steer clear of the roads in the coming weeks.

Now about that nap...

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Doritos and Coca-Cola

I had a craving today for Doritos and a Coca-Cola.  Granted the little bag of chips have been sitting there on our kitchen counter since last week, and the 1 liter bottle of Coke was almost empty in our refrigerator.  So basically I couldn't help myself...they were just CALLING to me!

I haven't eaten very many chips in recent years.  Sweets are more my thing - hence the refrigerator full of chocolates that my husband brings home when he travels.  What is better than everyday chocolate?  Special chocolate from Europe!

But every once in a while, I get this incredible craving for salt.  Maybe I've had too much water on that particular day...or is it not enough water?  I can never remember the whole salt vs. water thing.

And I have unsuccessfully quit drinking soft drinks.  When I was pregnant with our son, I was really good and very rarely drank Coke or Mirinda (comes in Orange or Green Apple) or Fayrous (malt-flavored Pineapple drink).  And I was okay with that because it meant I could stick to freshly squeezed juices like orange or lemon just about anywhere we went in Cairo.  Until I got terrible heartburn and had to cut out citrus as well.  Can you really drink milk with EVERY meal?!!

But now that I am no longer pregnant, the soft drinks have been calling to me.  Now I know what you're educated 32-year-old like me should know better than to be drinking soft drinks at her age.  Yes, I KNOW there is way too much sugar in them, I KNOW that the carbonated water is just not good for you, I KNOW that caffeine isn't the best thing...


So here I am, basking in the unhealthy afterglow of eating a bag of Doritos and a big glass of Coca-Cola.  Does life get any better than this?
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