Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Reintegration

The past month has flown by.  We are loving being back in the United States.  Egypt has a special place in our hearts but we are glad that we have moved away.  The security situation and lack of social life were tough.  The reintegration process has been fun and easy.  At first my girls noticed all the differences between here and there.  My youngest commented about how clean it was without trash all over the ground.  One of my twins noticed the wide open desert space with a lot less people.  I hadn't driven since last year and I guess my 4 year old did not remember because she said to me, "Mom, I didn't know you could drive."  The first week my husband and I kept a verbal list of the things that we had missed and were once again enjoying which included little things like a garbage disposal and high water pressure while taking a shower and the big things like being able to easily communicate and drive here.
We sold our minivan in Egypt so it was time for an upgrade!  We now have a Blu-ray player/game screen!  We are ready for road trips!

Of course we needed to rejoin Costco!  The samples alone make a great lunch.
A big thing is we have our freedoms back and that is HUGE!  We can drive wherever we want, wear what we want, worship how we want and eat whenever and whatever we desire!  Those are basic rights for Americans and we are taking full advantage of them.  I LOVE being able to shop in person (not only over the Internet) and not only find what I am looking for but have so many choices.  I admit all the choices make shopping last a little longer but I really enjoy having options.  I have not had Middle Eastern food since we arrived home.  I have yet to miss it.  We have enjoyed all the new restaurants and old favorites that our new home has to offer.  We need to soon stop enjoying them so often or our pants will no longer fit.  We have been in a hotel so the eating out will not be as prevalent once we are settled.

We just sold our home in New Mexico.  I was a little sad that we didn't need to go back there to sell it since I would have loved to see friends and family.  We are hoping to move into a new home next month.  It will be so nice to have a yard again, a nice kitchen and our things from Egypt and New Mexico.  We are downsizing from our past 3 homes.  I look forward to getting rid of stuff that we don't need.  We are currently living out of suitcases and besides buying a few extra things, we have been fine.  I like less stuff because it is less to care for and it takes up less space.  Plus, stuff costs money and we would rather travel or do fun things.  I have a hard time with clutter and a lot of times more stuff becomes clutter.

Agree!
My girls are going to school this year...all three of them!  I have been emotional.  I went from daily homeschooling to them gone ALL DAY LONG.  I know that they are where they need to be this year but I am hoping to perhaps home school them again someday.  It is a new season for all of us.  I am busy right now trying to find a house for us and getting them adjusted to school.  They are loving their new school and teachers.  I have to admit that it is sure easy to go shopping alone and having some free time to do whatever I choose has been nice, but I do miss them while they are at school.  I have loved being a stay-at-home mom and being the one to care for my children each day.  I am starting to think ahead to what I want to do while they are in school and I have yet to decide.  I want to be available in the AM to get them ready and off to school, then home when they are finished with school and present in the evenings.  Maybe I will go back to teaching or maybe go back to school for another degree.  Who knows!?  It's nice to have options.  Right now finding a house has kept me pretty busy.

My husband enjoys his new job here.  He is busy working.  The other morning he left early to help out with an arrest.  My girls were surprised he was already gone to work but my youngest was even more surprised when I told her that their dad was out "catching bad guys" because she didn't realize there were bad guys here!  Sweet girl.  Just because we aren't talking about bombs, terrorism and walking past guards with AK-47's...she doesn't see or feel the crime and that is OK with me.

It is so nice to be living near our families.  We celebrated my husband's and youngest daughter's birthdays since moving here.  It was so much fun to be with family.  I surprised my husband by inviting his parents to visit during his birthday week.  My youngest had all her cousins over that live in the area.
Daddy and his birthday girl!  She chose The Cheesecake Factory for dinner.

Super fun pool party plus 3 more cousins were there but not in this photo.
Life is wonderful.  My daughter was asked to write about something that they did this past summer and she said that she couldn't think of anything to write!  She asked me to help her remember what we did because she could only remember going to the local children's museum (this past Saturday).  I just looked at her in shock and said, "Well, you have had a very big summer:  We vacationed in Paris and London, then we moved from Cairo, Egypt, to the United States."  She said, "Oh, yeah, but I just put the museum."  Whatever you want kid, whatever you want.  They have adjusted well.  I guess our life in Egypt and recent travels are just a distant memory!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ma'a salama Egypt


As we bid farewell to our home in Egypt, it really is a strange feeling to move from a place where I most likely will never return.  As we have done all of our "lasts" I have felt a mixture of emotions.  I am thrilled to be going "home" to the southwest United States where I have family and I am familiar with the area.  I am a little sad to say good-bye to this stage in my life with my children home all day with me.  I have really enjoyed home-schooling them.  Next year they will go to school.  I am also excited about this new chapter for us.  I am relieved to be leaving Egypt at a time when terrorism is AGAIN getting to be more prevalent.  It used to be that only the police were the targets of attacks but lately it has been tourist areas (Temple of Karnak), senior government officials (Public Prosecutor), and foreign diplomatic posts (Italian Consulate).  I am ready to no longer check reports for whether or not an area is safe before leaving my home.  And I am ready to not be on high alert for potential danger.  I will miss some of the conveniences here like home delivery service from the markets and restaurants and especially the local prices.  But I will not miss wondering whether or not I cleaned my fruits and vegetables sufficiently enough to get rid of parasites or whether a meal will give us "mummy tummy."  I will miss having part-time help in keeping my home clean, clothes ironed, and a babysitter (when needed).  I look forward to being able to drive freely wherever I please and where there are laws that are enforced - unless I get a ticket, then I will miss the lack of law enforcement. :-)  I look forward to being in the "land of Target" and having pretty much unlimited choices of grocery stores and restaurants.  I especially look forward to being near our families and for our children to develop deeper relationships with our relatives.  I talk to my mom almost daily on the phone and I am looking forward to having the option to see her whenever I want!  Overall, I have enjoyed being the wife of a diplomat.  Here's a fun graphic that helps describe my life:
I read an article today that I could relate to in a few ways.  It is written by a western woman expat who lives in Africa; she struggles with the western attitude toward the developing world.  I agree with her disappointment when she writes, "the rich westerner who comes away after spending a week or a month in a country and claims cultural competency, and is now an expert because they have eaten that food! Danced in that festival! Worn a headscarf! These things are merely the tip of the cultural iceberg. It is often said that the longer an expatriate lives in a place the less competent they feel to write about it, I can attest to the truth of this. The longer I am here the more I know how much I do not know, the more I need locals to correct me, clarify, the more (and deeper) questions I ask."  

I feel the same way about Egypt.  After 19 months of living in Cairo, I feel like I am still at the tip of the iceberg.  At times I have found myself going deeper but the language barrier has made it very difficult for me.  I still feel like such an outsider looking in.  And we still get the constant stares from the locals wherever we go.  I do know that my time here has given me an appreciation and understanding for this culture that I would not have had I not lived here.

I am grateful to have experienced this fascinating culture for the history.  The sights have been AMAZING.  I loved to study the Old Testament as I lived in this great land.  It was humbling to visit areas where Moses and even Jesus Christ sojourned.  I loved to teach my daughters about the Egyptian culture while living here.  We studied about mummies and the pyramids, then we would see mummies and even climb inside The Great Pyramid.  One of my daughters has developed such a love for the Egyptian culture; she loves watching all the National Geographic shows about Egypt with her dad.  She was even an Egyptian princess for Halloween.  I am glad that my children could experience a culture different from their own.  I hope they will always remember their experience and if they don't, then heaven knows we have enough pictures to remind them of their time here.  I hope that they will always have a desire to learn about different cultures as well as have an open mind as they experience new ways of doing things.  I hope that my family and I will always have cultural humility

I have a greater appreciation for and understanding of a culture that was very foreign to me two years ago.  I wish more Americans would realize that ISIS (and other Islamic terrorist groups) are to Islam what the KKK is to Christianity (you may remember this being talked about on the American television show The West Wing).  I think that some Americans think Islam is bad, but it's not.  The good people that I have come to know who practice Islam are faithful and devoted to Allah.  They pray five times a day and fast for a month during Ramadan.  They give to the poor.  They dress modestly and show respect for their bodies.   They love their children and only want the best for them.  People have been very polite and welcoming to my family and me.  Yes, there are extremists, just like in every faith, but they are only a small percentage of the people.  Of course that small percentage is what we hear about in the news.  I have always thought of Egypt as a male-dominated society because of some of the norms here.  A lot of times, American culture tends to focus on the Muslim women's oppression, perhaps due to her dress (as well as some of the laws here that give men more privilege).  Unlike other Arab countries, Egypt does not have strict rules regulating women's dress.  The women here are diverse in their opinions, dress, occupations and devotions.  This makes me smile:



I have always enjoyed studying and experiencing new cultures.  In college I loved my classes on race and cultural relations.  It has been a choice experience to apply my book knowledge as I have lived here.  I have learned that it is not my place to judge and that my culture is not better than another.  When I first arrived I would find myself comparing a lot and wondering why "they didn't do things the American way."  It has been a humbling experience.  It has been good for me to try and see myself and America through the eyes of the people here.  This graphic is sobering:
I still have so much to learn about this culture...like I said, I feel like I have just hit the tip of the iceberg.  I wonder if I will ever have an opportunity to live in the Middle East again.  I never anticipated living here, so who knows?!  I hope that through this blog I have been able to give you a little glimpse of the Egypt I have come to know.

Thank you for reading my blog and sharing your comments.  It's been a fun way to journal our adventures.  Now onto another adventure in a culture that I have always known, but it will now be viewed through new eyes.  I am not the same person that practically had a panic attack in the airport before boarding our flight to Egypt.  I have learned to adapt with only a few Arabic words and some clever charades.  If you are reading this and telling yourself that you could never live in a foreign country without knowing the language, think again.  If you smile and learn "hello" and  "thank you" then you will be fine - frustrated and lost at times - but you will be just fine!

My last Egyptian meal of koshari, ful (fava beans) and eish baladi (flat bread).



Monday, July 13, 2015

Ecco, la Gloria di Roma

When relocating to Egypt for the first time as a family, our original plan was to spend an overnight stopover in Rome, Italy.  My husband had already made arrangements for a hotel, a driver and a whirlwind tour of Rome’s greatest attractions in a single day.  Then the weather on the East Coast didn’t agree with our plans.  Our departing flight from Albuquerque, New Mexico was canceled.  Once we were able to make new arrangements, our new connection took us through Frankfurt, Germany.  We managed to get down to old town Frankfurt, but we were jetlagged and short on time.  


One of the benefits of living in Cairo is our close proximity to other amazing destinations.  Having missed our chance to see Rome on the way to Cairo, my husband and I devised a plan to resurrect our dream trip to Rome.  Neither of us had ever been before.  It was only one hour behind Cairo time and only three and a half hours of flight time.  After taking our little girls to Luxor (where they completely under-appreciated the experience and complained about having to see so many “old buildings”), we thought it best to plan this Rome trip as an adults-only getaway.  Fortunately, we developed a friendship with another family living in Cairo.  I negotiated a babysitting swap scenario where we’d watch their kids for a vacation if they’d watch ours.  They agreed and so my husband and I headed off for an amazing six-night vacation in Rome during December 2014.  


Hotels in Rome aren’t cheap.  We’re not tightwads, but we don’t want to spend money on a place to sleep when, in Rome, that’s almost all the hotel would be for – a place to sleep.  So we rolled the dice and tried our luck with HomeAway, one of many websites where owners advertise their flats as vacation rentals (see also VRBO, FlipKey, Airbnd, etc.).  On the whole, we lucked out with an affordable, great place to stay in Rome very near the Pantheon.  We enjoyed having the kitchen to serve up breakfast and cook dinner once or twice, but Rome is as much about eating as it is sightseeing.  Our contemporary, clean flat was in a perfect location.  To get over to the Pantheon about a block away, we had to cut through the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva Basilica as a shortcut.  To the left of the main alter is an exceptional Michelangelo sculpture of Christ the Redeemer inside Rome's only true, original Gothic church.  So cool!  


In truth, I’m writing this post months after our actual vacation.  I attempted numerous starts, but I never finished because there was so much I wanted to share.  Every detail.  Rome is so, so incredible.  We took hundreds, almost thousands of photographs.  Thanks to my hubby I am able to get this post completed with a bunch of photographs from our even-better-than-expected Roman immersion.
Pantheon
We absolutely fell in love with "our neighborhood" around the Pantheon.  Lots of activity, restaurants, shops, gelato.  Perfect.




Santa Maria sopra Minerva/Piazza della Minerva
We'd walk through this church and square most days as we started and ended our adventures.
Michelangelo's Christ the Redeemer
Vatican City
Here's the view of some of Vatican City and more of Rome from the top of St. Peter's Basilica.  You have to climb the narrow, cramped stairs to get to the top of the dome.  Not my favorite, but the view was worth it!
When we visited the Vatican, they were in the process of setting up the Christmas tree.
Statues atop St. Peters as seen from the roof: R-L are Jesus Christ, St. Andrew, St. John the Apostle, St. James the Younger, St. Bartholomew, St. Simon.
Pontifical Swiss Guard outside St. Peter's Basilica.
AMORE!
We spent the entire day at Vatican City and enjoyed watching the sun set over this incredible place.

Ponte Sant'Angelo / St. Angelo Bridge


St. Peter’s Basilica
Click here for a virtual tour
One of Michelangelo's most famous sculptures - The Pieta, a very touching, emotional rendition of Mary holding her crucified son (inside St. Peter's Basilica).
Kids and cupids.


Vatican Museums
The Vatican has some of the most amazing pieces of art.
The School of Athens, by Raphael


My husband with the audio guide; he would stay in one room all day if I didn't push him along.







The Battle of the Milvian Bridge (Giulio Romano): This painting depicts Emperor Constantine's victory over Maxentius; Constantine attributed his victory to the God of Christianity, and at that moment essentially embraced Christianity.  By doing so as the Emperor, Christianity came out of the shadows and began to spread to the mainstream.
There's no way I would ever have the patience to do the painstaking restoration work this guy was doing.



 Sistine Chapel
My husband did a little research before our trip and learned it was best to order tickets online ahead of time when visiting the Vatican.  I'm glad we did because there was a long line queuing outside at the beginning of the day before opening.  We breezed past that line and made a beeline straight for the Sistine Chapel.  Most tourists will take their sweet time working their way all the way back to the world famous chapel.  By the time they get there, they find themselves shoulder to shoulder with all the other tourists.  The advice we got about going there first paid off.  Only a few other tourists were there when we arrived and we got to enjoy the experience of the morning prayer.  When we were done, we walked back to the beginning and worked our way through the museum.  By the time we arrived at the Sistine Chapel again, it was packed, hot and stuffy.  At the back of the chapel is a door on the right that is sometimes open.  Through it we were able to take a shortcut to St. Peter's Basilica for the dome tour and everything else.  Unfortunately, photographs inside the Sistine Chapel aren't allowed, so these are borrowed from Wikipedia.
click here for a virtual tour

This is the Last Judgment.  Michelangelo was so insanely talented that not only could he carve intricate, life-like sculptures, but he could paint masterpieces, too.
My husband and I try to collect nativities from each country we visit.  Since Vatican City is recognized as its own autonomous state both politically and geographically, we picked up this hand-carved, hand-painted set from the Vatican gift shop.
Colosseum
Iconic!  Click here for some awesome Virtual Tours.
Arch of Constantine
It's crazy to imagine all the extravagant slaughters and spectacles that happened here.
Façade of the Temple of Saturn.

Front portico of the Temple of Saturn, casting its shadow over the Santi Luca e Martina church and the Arch of Septimius Severus.


Arch of Septimius Severus, Santi Luca e Martina in the background.

3 columns of the Temple of Castor & Pollux as seen through the remaining arches of the Basilica Julia.

Palatine Hill
View toward Altare della Patria from atop Palatine Hill.
The view of Palatine Hill from within the Roman Forum.







The Hippodrome of Domitian or Palatine Stadium.




Piazza Vittoriano or Altare della Patria
Our taxi driver made it clear that locals strongly dislike this monument.  It's too big, too white and too un-Roman-esque.


Regardless, this area was perfect for a stop to slow down and warm up with some thick, hot chocolate.
There seemed to be a lot of police in this area, too.  I guess it's popular with protesters.  We saw protesters on two different days.
The police weren't messing around.


From the news of that week: At least 40,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Rome, protesting against Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's reforms to the labour market.  Trade unions called for nationwide rallies against loosening restrictions on firing workers when companies are struggling.

Unfortunately, this was the state of the Trevi Fountain when we visited.  But since we want to return to Rome someday, we still tossed in a coin!

Hard Rock Café Rome
For my husband, it's a thing.  If one is within 50 miles, he has to go to the Hard Rock Cafe, eat something and collect a pin.


Trastevere Neighborhood Stroll 
Trastevere is a neighborhood on the west bank of the Tiber River with all sorts of charm and character.  We followed Rick Steves' itinerary exactly and were so glad we did.  We had a wonderful time exploring this unique part of town, eating traditional cookies, exploring quaint shops, appreciating a few different churches, studying its historical relevance . . . a must see part of any week-long+ trip to Rome.


Saint Cecilia was an early Christian martyr, and is recognized as the patron saint of musicians.
Pope Paschal I (on the left) had this church built during his lifetime (9th century).  As such, he is the only one in the apse with a square halo (indicating he was alive when the mosaic was created).
I stepped out of this church for a little bit and really missed out; my husband was treated to a private concert by this nun playing the organ.


Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere
 With a charming plaza out front, this church was another exquisite sight to see in Trastevere.  It's one of the oldest Christian churches in Rome and possible the first dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  From the glorious mosaic apse to the striking geometric 3D ceiling, this was yet another fantastic stop on our tour of Rome.
What a lovely market!  After a morning stroll in the Trastevere neighborhood, we crossed back over the Tiber River and ate lunch on the periphery of this famous square (sadly, famous for public executions like burning Dominican Friar Bruno alive at the stake in 1600 - that's his statue in the center).  I did the very typical-American-tourist-in-Rome-no-no and ordered spaghetti and meatballs.  I'm telling you, it was delicious!  The best spaghetti and meatballs I've ever eaten!


Of the four rivers represented (Danube, Ganges, Nile & Rio de la Plata), this statue depicts The Nile; we're partial to all things Egypt.

Seemed like there were more Egyptian obelisks in Rome than there are in Egypt!

Gelato and other Goodies


Don Nino was fantastic, too!

Yes, as a matter of fact, those are chestnuts roasting.  My husband loved them and they filled the crisp, winter air with the greatest Christmas-time aroma.
And of course . . . PIZZA!!!

Although still impressive, this column pales in comparison to Trajan's Column, a fascinating piece of architecture/art.


Via del Corso/Via Condotti Designer Stores
Via Del Corso and Via Condotti areas near the Spanish Steps are famous for all the high-end fashion stores.  This is a collage of stores we saw while window shopping.  And this was me the next day...I wish!

video
 The selfie stick vendors are a hyper-aggressive band of criminals.  The Italian police attempt to scatter them from popular tourist spots in vain.  Here's a sampling of their relentless efforts at the top of the Spanish Steps.  Unfortunately, my husband stopped filming too soon (I can't figure out how to turn the video back sideways; sorry!).  Shortly after being slapped in the face with a rose, I pretended to agree to buy a dozen roses from the same culprit.  After handing me the bouquet, I turned around and slapped him in the face with the whole bunch and took off running down the steps!  My husband and I were bombarded with a swarm of green laser beams as we made our escape (those obnoxious laser pointers are another popular item for sale by these hoodlums).

Piazza del Pop0lo (Ramses II obelisk)


The tour book we bought suggested finding something less typical to add to our itinerary to make it more unique.  My husband picked this stop, and I'll be scarred for life.  I guess as the story goes, a long time ago the friars ran out of room for all their dying brothers' bodies.  So one of them somehow convinced the others to let him take all the bones of deceased friars and make intricate designs, art and even a chandelier out of the bones!  I took one look at the first (of several) rooms and just sped through the rest of it, barely daring to glance anymore.  My husband seemed to get a kick out of it.  Photos aren't allowed, so these images are borrowed from Wikipedia.  Yuck!



Selfie Sticks
Finally, our trip to Rome introduced us to the blight of selfie sticks.  How obnoxious!  The tourists seemed to embrace the "technology" and the illegal vendors of said sticks swarmed every popular location with relentless harassment.  What ever happened to asking a stranger to snap your photo???

And yes, we saw lots of nuns, priests and friars