Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Getting Around With an Infant in Cairo

Getting around in Cairo with an infant is tricky.  For any new mom, your highest priority is your child's safety.  And Egypt doesn't exactly get an A+ in road safety, and you can basically get away with practically anything around here, whether it's holding a sleeping baby in your arms as you ride side-saddle on the back of your husband's motorcycle or just holding your child in your arms while you drive a car.  But sometimes it's just the logistics of accomplishing such a task in itself that pose problems at times.  

I must admit that for the fearless Cairo-residing expat that I had become over the years, that I was reluctant -  even fearful - to get out with our son in the first place.  Please understand that I was a first-time mom and since my son was born in late November, we were never quite sure how the *cold* weather would affect him.  So even though the weather doesn't really get that chilly in Egypt back in December, we were still worried about him getting cold.  Any excursion outside the house usually involved multiple layers of clothing and blankets in an effort to keep him as warm as possible, which also made proper buckling of the car seat rather difficult.    

And unfortunately even to this day we have only one car in Egypt.  This car is my husband's, and he has to use it all day at work.  So basically this means I am #1 left to walk around in our neighborhood to get what I need from the local supermarket or pharmacy, #2 have to call for delivery from any place in our area of Cairo for whatever I need, #3 take a taxi to wherever I need to go, or #4 occasionally my husband sends me the car with a driver (usually if I need to go across town).

So until our son was 3 months old, I didn't really get out that much.  I think looking back it was more of a personal choice to not get out more.  He had never gotten used to the stroller because it was simply too cold for us to feel comfortable using it.  I tried a couple of baby carriers but until he had any kind of head control, he always looked uncomfortable in that sort of thing.  And by the time he had any kind of head control, he was unwilling to be cooped up in a carrier (catch 22 situation, that's for sure).  So I would wait each week until Friday to get things done because my husband has Fridays off and then we could drive anywhere in our car.

But once he hit 3 months, something just clicked for me.  There was one particular day I just decided that this was the day we were going to start going out every day for a daily walk in the stroller.  It didn't really matter where we went, just getting out was the goal.  Our first walk was maybe 10 minutes out around the block a couple of times and back.  Then gradually we were able to walk farther down from the house up to 30 minutes or so.  Eventually I got to where I was able to walk down with him, and then sit in the local coffee shop for a bit before heading back home.  This was my little life of luxury back then.    

I also decided at 3 months that it was time to begin braving the taxis.  If I have not already made clear that traffic in Cairo is a leap of faith, well, that's just what it is.  And when you see Egyptians driving around with their baby in their arms and young toddlers hanging out the back windows of their cars, basic U.S. safety procedures seem a bit like overkill here.  However, since we had one of those car seat/stroller ensembles (borrowed from a friend) that let me buckle his car seat (without the base) into the taxi as long as it had seat belts out for me to use - this made me (and my husband) feel a bit safer about taking him out in a taxi.  Occasionally there were no seat belts in the taxi (or they were shoved so far under the seat that it would take surgery to remove them) and I was forced to kind of wedge his seat in between the front and back seats and hold on for dear life until we reached our destination.  Like I said, a leap of faith.

After a while, I kind of got used to this routine.  I could go just about anywhere in Cairo with him.  He was quite the taxi rider by the time he was 4 months old, and then we went to the States for a visit.  

A month later when we got back from KY, we retired the car seat/stroller combo in favor of a rear-facing Britax car seat.  And he was also upgraded to a lightweight full-size stroller w/three wheels.  We loved the new car seat.  And the new stroller was a hit as well.  Our son liked being able to face out towards the world while we walked around.  And it was so much easier to use the new stroller; it was lighter, easier to fold up, smaller in size overall, and just all around easier to push.  However, with the new car seat and stroller, this also meant was that I could no longer buckle my son into the taxi when we went for longer rides.  I had to balance him on my lap in the taxi (or hang on for dear life is more like it).  So no more taxi rides across town. 

Luckily we gradually adjusted - just like you always have to do in a foreign country.  I can still get just about anywhere on our side of town in Cairo with my son.  I just kind of say a little prayer every time I hop in a taxi, and chide the driver slightly if I feel he is driving recklessly (aka at breakneck speed and/or in a "I learned to drive on Play Station" kind of way).  

Trust me a little bit of chiding from me in Arabic goes a long way...

And now my husband and I have reached a kind of understanding that if I need to go across town that he will send me the car with a driver.  So far this has worked pretty well.  I certainly appreciate the ease of using our car seat in our own car rather than even thinking of trying to risk it going across town with our son in my lap.  I think you just have to draw the line somewhere.

Now you may be asking why I do not drive.  Well, that's mostly due to a lack of second car...and a husband that worries.  But I think for now we'll just keep on keeping on.  

Just like anything else in Cairo, the best thing to do is just to take one day at a time.  I don't think I can ever say this enough.  It's the story of my life.

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