Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Roller Skating Moroccan Style

It's Wednesday and my exercise class has been cancelled, which is fine. Except that I don't need the exercise as much as I need the mood boost that goes with the exercise. So for my mental health and the benefit of everyone around me, I need to find something to do. Now I could run, except I like to run in short shorts and I'm not sure that I want to do that in public here in Morocco where the dress code is more conservative. And who the crap am I kidding? I hate to run. It's boring.

Now even though I put my roller skates in the storage pile for the movers somehow they got in the ship to Africa pile. And even though we've been here over a year now, I have not ventured out of the house in them. I don't know if it's more that Moroccans don't roller skate, that I can't wear shorts to skate in or the fact that there isn't a flat surface really condusive to skating. Ok, though I've made the decision to go out and be an even bigger caucasian spectacle than I already am. I must confess I'm nervous to draw more attention to myself by skating the streets of Rabat. But, as I always tell my kids when they are embarrassed, "who do you know in Morocco"? Well, turns out we really do know quite a few people. But whatever. And the people I do know here, they already know that I'm a kooky, gooby dork anyhow. So I strap on my skates with no particular destination.

The street is filled with potholes and gravel. The sidewalks are brick and bumpy. A smart person would have worn pads and a helmet. And those smart people, well they're smart. There are curbs, pot holes, unpedestrian friendly drivers and massive traffic circles to traverse. So I start on one of those great brick sidewalks and quickly veer onto a side street. I know. I'll go over by the king's polo field. I'm skating along and when I near the polo field I see two guards and as I quickly clip the corner I now see two extremely large dogs. And apparently they've never seen a freakishly white foreign chick on skates before and they are barking and approaching and the guards rush to hold them back. Ok, so I think I'm gonna double back now. Cause I don't really want to mess with the king or the dogs, but really mostly the dogs.

Now while the pavement on the road of the sidestreets is relatively smooth, other than the gaping potholes of course. The stop signs are a problem. Stop signs in Morocco do not mean that you MUST stop. They merely suggest that you do. And a lot of people don't. So it seems to me that a nice long stretch of sidewalk would be safer. And where is there some extended unadulterated sidewalkage? Ah, by the wall of the king's palace. And I bet that the sidewalks next to the king's palace are actually maintained. Just a guess mind you.

But to get to the palace wall from where I'm at I must pass through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops. Oh, I mean the seven levels of hell that is the terrifiningly large traffic circle, through the sea of congested honking drivers by the Sofitel. And I mean that the traffic is congested, not the drivers....just for clarity's sake. But if the drivers were congested they would just hack up a loogey and spit it into the street because this is Morocco and that's what you do when you're congested here.

So I slowly and delicately navigate my way accross the 3 separate intersections of the circle. Somehow I don't bust and get hit by on-coming traffic and I'm alive. This is good. Yay me! And yes, as I predicted the king's sidewalk is very well maintained indeed. It's good to be the king. Unless of course the people in your country want to overthrow you and continue to protest even though you've announced that you too are in support of a parlimentary governement and will relinquish your power, bout still live in the palace and enjoy all the perks of course. Then maybe not so much.

Now the thing about skating on a bumpy sidewalk that gently slopes uphill is that it's a really great workout. Sure anyone can skate a a smooth pristine surface, but can you do it in hot sweaty baggy jeans without water because you forgot it? Well sure you could. But, then of course there's obstacles: pot holes, traffic circles, gravel, stray cats. Then add in the looks, honks and comments which are more than any one foreinger should have. Unless you are in the band Foreigner. Then I would expect a swaying lighter vigil also. And I bet that even for Foreigner, if they are still alive, that the attention gets to be a little too much sometimes.

So, I cut around a side street and see if I can cut through the palace. What the hell? Again, who knows me in Morocco? So do a slow roll and approach the guard at the gate and ask to enter while looking at him pleadingly. He looks me up and then down and when he gets to the skates he shakes his head and finger in what in Moroccan is a very definitive no. I'm tired, hot and thristy so I start heading home. I find a sweet spot of fluid uninterupted asphault that where I can sprint next to the Hilton park. It's incredible and my skates glide so serenely. I almost forgot where I was except when I look over at the running path I'm skating next to I see women speed walking in head scarves, completely covered head to toe. I can't imagine how hot it gets to exercise so modestly dressed.

On my meandering path home I decide to go past the British Embassy as I've heard where it is, but never been by it. I find it and it looks like any other Embassy with it's non-descript white guarded walls around it. I would have tried to take a photo, but it really doesn't look like anything and you don't take pictures of those kind of things here. And the guards will enforce that. But really it's the British Embassy. Really? Who's interested? Like who's got a beef with Britain? What secrets could Britain possibly have? I mean we all know about Camilla at this point. And I think every news agency is spilling all the unwanted details on the wedding of what's his face to what's her face tomorrow. What else could there possibly be? Unless they are hiding their excellent culinary secrets. Which obviously is not the case.


Roller skating in Morocco is not boring.
Skating on bumpy surfaces make your feet itch like crazy.
I'm glad I'm not in the band Foreigner.
I do not like to be chased by large dogs.
It's good to be king. Unless you're the king of a North African country right now.
I can cross the 7 levels of hell by myself on skates without dying (although probably not twice).
I'm going to protest Britain by not watching the Royal Wedding tomorrow.
Always carry a water bottle.
I'm a great big gooby dork. Ok, I already knew that.
And I do not, do not blend. Not even a little.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Basketcase

Ah, spring in Morocco. The warming weather, gentle rains, balmy breezes, chirping birds, (Ok, I'm gonna confess I freakin' hate the chirping birds outside my bedroom window at 4:30am.) and Easter. Oh yeah, Easter. How does Easter always sneak up on me? Why is all our Easter stuff in storage in Colorado? And how are we going to make Easter in Morocco Easter-y or is it Easter-ish or Easter-esque? You know what I mean.

Two weeks before Easter. I haven't seen any Easter candy anywhere. Now I wouldn't expect to find chocolate Easter bunnies here except that before Christmas I found some reindeer chocolates for the kids stockings. But now I can't find a flippin' bunny anywhere. In retrospect, those reindeer chocolates looked alot like bunnies without my glasses. Maybe next year I should be total slacker mom and just buy 8 reindeer at Christmas and recycle the other 4 for Easter. So I've about given up on finding any chocolates for their baskets, that is until I go grocery shopping with Jade. And I see a display case at the end of the chocolate aisle in Marjane. There are only 6 intact unsmashed bunnies left. And I have Jade and there is no conceivable way I can purchase them with her. Damn it. When I return the next morning the display is gone. You have got to be kidding me. After frantically scouring the entire chocolate row, I find 5 huddled together on the topmost shelf. Yesssss! We have bunnies! Luckily all I needed to get was bunnies because an incredibly generous and thoughtful friend sent us two enormous packages full of Easter candy, crackers, cereal, granola bars, chocolate chips. Thanks to her my kids will have real Easter baskets this year!

Holy Thursday. Time to think about eggs. Luckily, one can get them anywhere. The thing is they are brown and covered with poo and feathers. This is just the gold standard Moroccan seal of freshness. It's not a genetically modified egg, it's a real egg that came from a real chicken that really, really needed to poop. It really does symbolize the bittersweetness of the whole rebirth process when you think about it. I mean rebirth is messy. And if you are American rebirth means you will go to Walmart and buy your paas egg dying kit and pretty it up. You can't get white eggs here of course you can't get your standard paas dye here either. So we're going to go natural, earthy and non-toxic. We'll use beets for red, red cabbage for blue, spinach from our garden for green and turmeric for yellow. I have everything we need I just need to cook them up on the stove when we're ready to color on Good Friday. We'll have the whole evening to turn our poopy eggs into impressionist works of art. It's gonna be great.

Good Friday. Oh crap, Jade has a birthday sleepover party. So egg dying is a no go. No problem. We have all day Saturday.

Easter Eve. Baseball is cancelled due to rain. So good. We have all day to color eggs together. I pick up Jade from her sleepover. Damn it. I remember Sky has a birthday party all afternoon. We'll just decorate eggs after he gets home. We'll just find something to occupy us this gloomy inside day. River and Ember are fighting. Jade is exhausted from her sleepover. No one is happy and the 15th chorus of "I'mmmmmmmmm booorrrrrrrredd" resonates in the whiniest of voices.

I'll just start preparing the dyes since they'll have to cook up on the stove with some water and vinegar. I pick the spinach from the garden, chop the cabbages and beets and locate the turmeric in the recesses of my spice cupboard. It smells like Russia with the cabbage, beets and vinegar simmering and it has fogged up the kitchen windows. Ok, the dyes are done we'll just wait until Sky gets home to decorate. Until that 16th chorus starts. I give in. We get out the eggs, find the crayons and pour out the still steaming dyes. We've got at least the next half hour or more covered. After all the girls are quite crafty and creative.

An egg or two are gently dropped in each one of the dyes. And we wait. And wait. And wait. And nothing is happening. And nothing is going to happen. The eggs are too brown.I never thought of myself as a racist until that moment. We ditch the dyes and resort to sharpees and paint pens. I'm pretty sure both of which are not natural or non-toxic when they permeate the shell. The question is is it more or less toxic than paas? And the bigger you think I care right now?

The night before Easter. Every year we watch that classic Here Comes Peter Cottontail tv special that we have on our ancient VHS tape. The tape that's in storage right now. Craig tries to download it on the computer, but that doesn't work. Huh. What else screams natural non-toxic earthy Easter? Probably that bootleg dvd of the Toothfairy that we bought in the medina. Same concept right? A strangely mutated home invader comes in and leaves your child gifts and wants nothing in return. So, we put the dvd in and even though illegal dvd burning guy swore it was in English, it's in French. Ok, so plan c. How about How to Train Your Dragon? I can't even stretch it to try to find an Easter correlation. But who cares at this point? After the movie, we enjoy this one of two nights out of the year that the kids willingly and without complaint run right upstairs and get ready for bed. Sky flings his covers open to climb in when out scurries a cockroach. Easter really is the season for rebirth I'm sure she's got tons of brothers and sisters. And eggs. Lots of eggs and I bet they poo on them too.

In the morning the kids are up way too early and discover their baskets full of goodies and the badminton set that the Easter Bunny left for them. It's 6am, dark dismal and raining but Sky can't wait to set up the net. Thank god because I can't wait to get on the internet and find a natural cockroach repellent that won't kill the roaches AND the kids. Success! I find one that is equal parts baking soda and sugar. The sugar attracts the roaches and the baking soda is toxic to them. Perfect. May you die a natural, earthy and non-toxic death. Ok, I admit. I don't care how they die. Just die. Die. Die. Then it occurs to me this death wish isn't very Easter-like. And then I wonder what kind of roach killer would Jesus use? I mix up the elixir of roach death and put little roach baits all over the house. I am ridiculously, ridiculously excited at such a natural, economical non-toxic (but hopefully only to humans) solution to our pest problem.

We play lots of badminton in the morning, despite the sprinkling rain. We have an incredibly relaxing afternoon at a friends house with a huge delicious spread and our kids playing in the yard getting dirty in the spring mud. The kids don't need the eggs or the candy or the movie. All they needed is mud and each other. Ok and some swords. So next year this is what I'm gonna do for our natural, earthy, non-toxic Easter. We're going to roll the poopy brown eggs in glitter glue, make mud pies shaped like bunnies and watch How to Train your Cockroaches (I'm positive this will be the sequel to How to Train your Dragon). And we're gonna invite our friends over to relax and enjoy it all with us.

Lesson learned: When things seem to good to be true... they are too good to be true. Anyone know of a great natural, non-toxic (to my kids) roach killer that the ants don't like?

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Tale of Two Kitties

Jade never asks for anything. Anything besides animals that is. So last year for her 9th birthday we went to spana (the Moroccan equivalent of the spca) and she picked out the sweetest little kitten and named her Maddy. And that's the day that Jade became the happiest kitty mama ever. Oh man, her birthday is coming up in a couple months and I know she's going to want another animal for her 10th birthday. And how many animals will we have by her 18th? Dorm rooms are animal friendly right? And I mean to more than just cockroaches. More about them later...

Smokey grew up on the streets of Rabat. Eating from garbage cans, staying up until all hours of the night and hanging with a shady crowd. Everyday Smokey comes to our house and everyday Jade leaves cat food to entice Smokey to return. And that's how Smokey became our outdoor cat. Even though Maddy is an indoor cat she quickly became infatuated with Smokey. They would both sit on opposite sides of the back door smelling each other through it. Maddy would meow the loudest and most lustful meows for Smokey. That was until Maddy got the operation that robbed her of her womanhood. And although the primal meowing stopped, the obsession with Smokey did not. How does that man cat have her so transfixed that she stalks him through the window all day? Or so I thought. Until one day we realized that Smokey was pregnant. And it was at that moment that we realized Maddy is a lesbian. And in case you didn't know, it's illegal to be gay in Morocco. I wonder what the consequence of getting caught in a gay cat sex act is? I think I know though. Thank god Maddy is an indoor cat.

Jade is a doting kitty mama. She feeds Maddy, cleans her litter, freshens her water, pets her, brushes her, loves her and takes glamour shots of her. Maddy is accustomed to her life of luxury. Sunbathing, eating whiskas, napping and chasing cockroaches around the house until she brutally impales them with her claw. Yes, unfortunately we have roaches. At least they aren't flying palmetto bugs like in Florida or Madagascar hissing cockroaches like in...well.... Madagascar. And lucky us, we have a cat who thinks that roaches are the best toy on the planet. How far she has come from her street cat roots. Well, except for the roaches.

Smokey gave birth to 3 kittens in our storage closet on a sleeping bag. (And god yes, I did throw that sleeping bag out.) The kids were so excited. When Sky was getting ready for bed that night he asked me if I was excited about the kittens too. I hate to be Debbie Downer when you know what your kids want to hear. But I feel like I have to deliver the bad news. As delicately as I could I explained we can't keep the kittens. Then I went on to say that they may not even make it and even if they do, life isn't great for a street cat. We will still feed Smokey and look after the kittens until they are old enough and then we'd try to find a home for them. So really I summed up, I was neither excited or disappointed by the kittens. I don't think he listened to a damn thing I said because he was way too excited to hear about any of the brutal realities of the world at large. Unfortunately I was right. Within two weeks, even though Smokey was an excellent mother, all three kittens died. The kids were devastated. Being right sucks.

A month or so passed and one day a door was left open, Maddy got out and looked for her lover. But she didn't find Smokey. She found Tomcat. Or rather, Tomcat found her. I'm sure Maddy tried to tell him he wasn't her type. She's very polite. And, hey I'm just not that into you, ok? But Tomcat being the macho guy he is, wouldn't take no for an answer. She tried to protect herself and clawed and he clawed back. He overpowered her and won. He defiled her. We took her to the vet, but she had licked her wounds so clean that he couldn't find any puncture wounds and sent us home. A few days later she had a massive infection and needed major surgery to drain the puss. Then antibiotics to eradicate the bacteria. That's it. Tomcat must go!

Smokey is looking a little plump. Nooooooooo. I know it's not fair that you don't feel pretty because you have fleas and worms. And you don't have any glamour shots. I know it's lonely on the street. But you can't give it up to every Tomcat, Dick and Harry that comes along! When are you gonna realize that he doesn't love you? You're not special to him. He's not saving himself for you. He's spreading the love around and he's not gonna be there for you. Or your kittens. He's a deadbeat Smokey! I don't care if he's your baby daddy. You need to give him up. And if you can't then we will.

We baited him for weeks. Craig placed a box outside near Smokeys food where Tomcat lurks. Waiting for him to become increasingly familiar and careless around it. And one day when we saw his can of Axe he uses to entice the ladies laying in the yard. We knew he was close. Sure enough he followed the trail of kibble into the box. Got him! And that's the last time Smokey or Maddy would ever see Tomcat again. He was transported across the river to the rough and tumble streets of Sale. He was all disoriented with his tail between his legs as he ran like a shot from the box. Hopefully never to be seen or heard from again. And everyone lived happily ever after.

The End.

P.S. We'll probably have a few adorable kittens in a week or two. Anyone? Anyone?

Friday, April 8, 2011

5 Star

 Scanning the passengers on the plane, I assess we're the only tourists on the flight from Cairo to Luxor. As the plane climbs we stray from the path of the Nile and into the red lands. Its inhospitable desert is void of any of the 20 million that overcrowd the capital. Peering out from the airplane window I only see ripples of dirt for miles. In an hour we will reduce our beleaguing populace by 19.5 million.

Unlike Cairo, where we stayed in a very practical apartment, in Luxor we'll be staying at a 5-star hotel. This is huge. We are not 5-star hotel stayers. Ever. But, because of the "deep revolution we-have-no-guests discount", this posh hotel is now within our budget. It even has 3 pools, a water slide and a mini-zoo.  Sky sees the plaque inside the lobby with  5 stars on it at the reception desk he eloquently utters what we all know to be true. "This is way above our class."  He said.  Thank god he realizes that.  
Then I started in.
  “See that plaque?  It’s a reminder to use your 5 star behavior. Which means, don’t wrestle your brother, don’t punch your sister.  And for god’s sake don’t whine, we’re in the Disney Land of Egypt, ok?  It’s the second happiest place on earth.  And don’t cop any 5 star attitudes!  I’m watching you.  The rest of your life is downhill from here on out. So enjoy it now.”  

The next day we took the hotel shuttle bus into town. We’re starting at Karnak Temple, the preeminent structure when this was the ancient city of Thebes, before it was destroyed in 335 BC.   When we get to our stop, they’re waiting for us. All of them. Apparently, the whole town knows the hotel shuttle bus schedule.  Even if there are less people begging and hassling, if there is always someone hassling you, it really doesn’t matter how many there are.  But Craig is amazing at this.  He’s heckling them and the kids start to make a game of it too.   I put on my big oversize sunglasses, I can’t even look at them.  Let alone talk to them, I feel so guilty.  I’m the snooty, privileged, unsmiling, Caucasian woman with a slew of cute kids. Oh my god, I’m Posh Spice.

The temple is beautiful surrounded by a cloudless sky.  And we could use a freakin' cloud right about now, cause it’s hot as hell. The kids are melting and have become a puddle at our feet and we're swimming those Beckham kids attitudes I warned them about. Of course the Beckhams have nannies who can deal with them. Us?  We’re drenched in sweat and exhausted so we head back to the hotel pool  for the rest of the afternoon. It's hard being the Beckhams.

The next morning we head to the Valley of the Kings where 62 pharaohs tombs lie and there are even more waiting to be discovered.  Sky is super excited.  Only, if yesterday was as hot as hell, today its actually hotter than hell.   The sign says we can't take pictures and must relinquish our cameras to the guards, but we’ve learned Egyptian rules were meant to be broken.  So we ignore it.   There is little relief from the stifling heat, except inside the dark sepulchers.  We’re at the last one that’s open for touring,  Merenptah's chamber.  A guard approaches us gesturing with his hands. He's speaking in Arabic, but we know what he means and what he wants.  And we know whatever it is, we’re so gonna do it.  Or see it.  Or whatever.
  We follow him past the barricade. He leads us down under the ancient coffin, until we are all cowering under the outer shell of a Pharaohs catafalque. Were we’re touching the underside of Merenptah’s ancient crypt!  Distant voices are becoming less distant and I hand him our camera and he snaps our picture.  We scramble back up and discreetly tip him. I probably should have asked if there was some ancient curse we should know about.   

That night for dinner we eat outside with a view of the Nile. The kids sit at a table next to ours. It’s one of those rare moments where they’ve called some kind of truce and they’re kind and polite to each other.  That one moment that makes up for a  hundred million other moments when you’d give them away on the street.  I looked at the kids, then at the huge buffet of food and started sobbing. Uncontrollably.  We’re in post revolution Egypt where many Egyptians are going to bed hungry.  And here we are in a 5 star hotel surrounded by more food than we could eat in a year. I feel completely guilty.  Maybe Merenptah’s curse is that 5 pounds I’m going to put on eating all this guilt food.

 We met Ashraf the day before. There was something different about him. He wasn't like the rest of the hagglers. He could sense our weariness.  I'm guessing he is probably very well educated and like most of the well educated Arabs there just aren't many jobs for professionals, or many jobs period. We took him on for our official guide for the last day and a half.  True to his word, he never pressured us or set a price and then asked for more. In fact, he never set a price at all.  He asked we pay him what we thought was fair. He took us around the city that day and told us he had a boat and could take us on a sunset cruise up the Nile.  

We arrived at the marina at precisely 4. Ashram was waiting with his son. He led us right to his boat. A sailboat at sunset. How romantic.  As romantic as it can be with 4 kids. And absolutely  no wind. Not a gust, not a breeze, not a draft, not a puff. Nothing. And Banana Island is upstream. Of course. Ashram and son paddled and steered and I'm sure they prayed for some wind. Anything. We all took turns helping to get that boat up the Nile River, the longest slowest crawl up the Nile River. 

Our cruise took longer than planned.  We’re in the middle of the crocodile infested Nile in the dark.  But, there is something much worse, mosquitos.  Swarms of them.  They are insidious and they’re out for blood. Finally we reach the far bank and pay Ashram.   His family will eat for a few more days.  

 The last day, we went into town one more time.  We spend the morning loading up on trinkets for the kids. We help the kids to bargain, but Sky has got it down. The feigned disinterest, the I don't think my parents will let me get that anyway innocent expression. He’s good.  Now, everyone's got their little piece of something to remember Egypt by. Not that any of us could really forget it.  It was the most powerful trip we’ve ever taken.  

In a taxi on the way to the airport we see hundreds of people with signs celebrating victorious revolution in Luxor.  Or so we thought, until we got home and a week after we left Egypt thousands of demonstrators barricaded themselves in Tahrir Square demanding the removal of the military council ruling in Egypt.  It turned violent and over 70 demonstrators were beaten and at least one was killed.

The thing about revolutions is things always get worse before they get better. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

20 Million

Apparently when the US Embassy in a country is evacuated you can't travel to that country on an official US passport. Duh. Luckily, Craig insisted that we all get regular tourist passports before we headed to Egypt. Because when we present our official passports to the Egyptian customs official, he responds, "I'll pretend I didn't see that", We realize, he's being very kind. He points at the visa office in the hallway where we can get a regular tourist visa, to accompany our regular tourist passports, which is all we'll require now. So, $100 later we're in Cairo looking at the outside of the terminal.

Cairo is one of the biggest and fastest growing cities in the world with a population of 20 million. That is the population of the top 5 most populated cities in the US combined. There's no hiding it's enormity. You can see it in the congested traffic, in the immense crowds and in the filthy streets defiled with garbage. But, even though we're in a huge city, we’re anything but invisible. We're obviously tourists, at a time when there are virtually no tourists. Revolution isn’t exactly good for tourism. So everyone everyone notices us. Everyone has something to say to us, something to sell us and everyone stares at us. They are brimming with happiness and thanking us for coming. I feel completely embraced by the Egyptians. Even if they are embracing me while sticking their hands in my back pocket for some baksheesh.

n. pl. baksheesh: A gratuity, tip or bribe paid to expedite service, especially in some Near Eastern countries.

While the US government may proclaim Egypt unsafe for travel, I strangely feel overwhelmingly safe. I was prepared for pick pockets, looting and chaos, but that's not what we found at all. I have never gone to an ATM guarded by a guy with a body shield and a machine gun before. Maybe Martial Law isn't so bad after all. Everywhere we went in Cairo we saw tanks, body shields and machine guns. As if Egypt didn’t have enough going for it pre-revolution with all its hieroglyphics, sarcophagi , pyramids and all that stuff, Sky and River are completely enamored with the revolution and military rule. And Sky is studying Egypt in school, so he’s telling us stories of King Tut and we let him be our guide and tell us everything he knows. Did I mention Sky doesn’t like school?

Our first stop is Tahrir Square, the heart of the revolution. The name means "liberation" and the 2011 revolution is actually the third that has taken place here, preceded by the revolutions of 1919 and 1952. As we get closer to our destination, the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, which is on the square, we see the burned remnants of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Unbeknowst to us at the time, it was burned down March 22, a mere 5 days before our arrival. Ignorance is bliss right? So we head into the museum which is prodigious. There are so many artifacts heaped together it looks like a garage sale. It's hard to imagine that the museum was looted. How crowded it must have been before the looting? And how the hell did they know what to take? After all, most stuff is not labeled. And how the hell do you steal a 7 foot statue made out of granite anyhow? It’s perplexing. What’s funny is they checked my small tote bag on the way out of the museum to make sure I didn’t steal anything.

Walking around Cairo we see some murals celebrating the new found liberation of Egypt. There are men selling t-shirts. We of course are the perfect targets and throngs of vendors approach us. As soon as one leaves another one comes. Craig handles the hasslers effortlessly. Thank god. It's hard for me to say no. Not only do I have boundary issues, I’m half-Canadian, which makes it virtually impossible to say no to anyone. Until I find grown men leering at my two young daughters. Then they ask over and over through the streets of Egypt how many camels I’d like for a dowry for Jade, my 9 year old. That’s when I lost empathy for young Egyptian men. I would save my compassion for the rest of the population.

Husslers surround the Great Pyramid of Khufu, scam central. This is the end of tourist season, or what would have been the tourist season if not for the revolution. You can't blame anyone for wanting to feed their family. When we enter the pyramid hunched over to make it up the narrow inclining passageway into the chamber. What would normally be packed with tourists breathing in each others recycled air, is absolutely eeriely empty. On our way down back to the entrance, a guard quietly asks us if we want to see the Queen's chamber, which isn’t part of the tour and is closed off behind lock and key. We move quickly and quietly knowing he's risking his job for the tip he'll receive. We see the seemingly interminable tunnel descending to the bowels of the pyramid. Of course a woman would get the accommodations in the basement. We hear footsteps and chatter. Someone is coming and we scurry back up the stairs. We baksheesh him. This was ethically and morally wrong. We're horrible parents. But, it wouldn’t be the last time we’d do it.

We did the same at the Al-Azhar Mosque, one of the world’s oldest university. Where I was forced to wear a loner head scarf to enter the courtyard of the mosque. We aren’t permitted in the mosque because we’re not Muslim. Then, a man always approaches us. Do we want to go up to the top of the minaret for a view of the whole city? Only 20 Egyptian Pounds. By this time, we know that price is bullshit because it’s never ONLY the price they say it is. We follow him and quietly skulk through the door into the until spiral staircase ascending to the top of the edifice. We pay his friend at the door 20 EP. Then we’re escorted up for a panoramic view of the mosque, university and city. It's almost sunset and the colors are soft and golden. He takes a picture of our family. One of the few that we will have all together because you don't want to hand your camera to a stranger in Cairo. Often you’ll have to pay to get it back. We figure it's only him and us up here and we can easily take him if he tries to make off with it. We're still at the top when he announces that the tour is over and stands staring at us. Oh, so this is the part where we pay HIM for the tour also. Craig gives him something. It's not enough. It never is enough by the way, no matter how much you pay. Craig turns out his pockets and shows him they're empty. Somehow that satiates our guide.

We descend the dark staircase lit only by a match our guide holds. I'm shocked he's not charging us for the matches. Wow, he is really an honest guy. Oh my god, I can't believe I just said that. We've been in Cairo too long. I think I have Stockholm syndrome. I think we've met all 20 million people who live here and baksheeshed them. I have dry black boogers in my nose from all the pollution. I want to be invisible again. Thank god we get out of the big city tomorrow and take a flight south to Luxor.

Can we make it through the insane Cairo traffic to get to the airport in time for our flight to Luxor?
Will I whip out that one ton statute in my tote bag and go ballistic on someone?
Will we be invisible in Luxor?
Can we buy an invisibility cloak in Luxor?
Do they also speak baksheesh in Luxor?
Or do they have a different dialect?
Will my boogers return to a lovely shade of green in Luxor?
Or is our family devoured by crocodiles on the Nile?

Stay tuned for the final installment of the Egypt trilogy...

Saturday, April 2, 2011

In Transit

You know how you plan for spring break and choose a really great destination and you're so excited about it. Then two weeks after you buy your tickets that country has a revolution and then you need to consider whether to go or not. Is it safe? Isn't it safe? Do you really care if it is or it isn't because you've spent a butt load of money on 6 non-refundable tickets to Egypt. You actually bought 12, 6 for this trip and 6 for the last failed trip to Egypt where you and your family were captives at the Cairo airport for 40 hours before you were deported back to Morocco. I hate when that happens.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned that I am lazy, cheap and very determined before. So first, I've already made travel arrangements for Egypt. I don't' want to research and cancel these plans and make new plans. That's too much work. Second, we've already paid for this trip twice. I would like to actually take the trip that we pay for. And we worked hard to get those illusive special visa that kept us from getting into the country last time. So hell yeah, we're going. Ok, I'm oversimplifying a bit. We did consider not going and the safety of the kids for like 5 minutes in there somewhere. But it was a long agonizing 5 minutes.

Somewhere over the Mediterranean sea I was pondering why it is so freakin' hard to go on vacation with 4 kids. I mean it's vacation it should be relaxing, fun and whine-less right? Isn't this why we go on vacation? And then it occurred to me, we're not taking our kids on the quintessential Disney family vacation. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It's just that I don't think they have Space Mountain in Egypt. Not only are we not going on your typical trip, we're also retro parents. Which means we stay out of touch on vacation (like way back in the 80's dude) and our kids don't bring electronics on our travels. They bring books, playing cards, markers and paper. They are forced to be together and try to get along for 24/7 for the duration of the trip. This of course is impossible. So it results in lots of family togetherness, squables, insatiable questions and curiosities, whinning and every now and again maybe 10 minutes when they are all happy at the same time. And we haven't even gotten anywhere yet. Huh. Why do we travel again? And again?

So we arrive in Madrid where we have the world's longest layover. Don't ask me why Iberia has us flying from Africa to Europe to get back to Africa. But then again, we're in Europe for a few hours. It's clean and there is no garbage spewed on the floor of the terminal. There is no bathroom attendant to pay, no head scarves, no djellabas, no starving stray cats and no smoking in the airport. And the best thing is we blend. We're not a Caucasian spectacle. It's like we're almost invisible. And it's so blissful. We walk to a new stand and there are magazines in English. In English I tell you! The boys somehow miss the prominently displayed Playboy magazine, not wrapped in plastic, at the news stand. Thank god. I score a Marie Claire, which I normally wouldn't read in the states. But it's in English and there is something about holding the written word in your hands that is so tactile and intimate. Especially if you're holding Playboy I suppose.

Then I spot Vinea, the wine bar. A wine bar at the airport? Brilliant! I love Spain! Can I convert to be a Spaniard? Probably not. I can't speak Spanish, make paella and I definitely can't wear high heels daily like a real Spanish woman. Damn it. Instead I'll just forgive Spain for giving us Antonio Banderas. That's how much I love Spain. Or maybe I just love rioja.

So the kids choose their generic airport food and scarf it down in 5 minutes flat. And then Craig and I split an incredible bottle of red accompanied by some cheese, salmon and bread. Craig and I linger and decide travel is always worth it, we have incredible kids and Spain is the best place on earth. Revelations all owed to that bottle of rioja.

The kids wander down the hall of the terminal. They return all chewing gum. Wait, I didn't give them any gum. They have made the best revelation any kid can make. They have discovered that they can get the gumball machine to work without money. Spain has free gum! We all agree. It really is the best place on earth. They probably learned how to jimmy the machine from that Spy Kids movie. Wait who was in that Spy Kids movie? Oh yeah, Antonio Banderas...

It's time to board our flight to Cairo. Our mini vacation to Spain is over. We settle in and recline our chairs that one centimeter back to the fully reclined position that makes you feel oh so much more comfortable. No sooner are we airborne and it's time for dinner. I'm always intrigued by what airlines serve. And I'll eat just about anything. But, oh my god, it looks like spam. And yet they have so thoughtfully included a card to declare that this "meat" contains no pork. I really don't want to eat something that needs a special card to identify what it isn't. Curiosity got the best of me and I tried it, but still don't know what the hell it was. And you must ask yourself WWABE? What Would Antonio Banderas Eat?

I pull out my Marie Claire and read it cover to cover. And yes, I was fully reclined with one bite of non-spam in my stomach. I find out Miley Cyrus smoked some kind of natural herb from a bong that wasn't pot. That I have dreadfully unfashionable footwear, that it's now very hip to wear eyeshadow all the way up to your eyebrows and that I don't have an eating disorder. Wow, what an incredible waste of $10. Maybe I don't miss magazines after all. On second thought, I'm sure that the articles in Playboy would have been better. That's what I hear anyway.

Finally after hours of travel we arrive in Cairo. We're all tired, but so excited and anxious all at the same time. We deplane and wait in the long line at customs. Our immigration form, passports and visas all neatly arranged in hand. Finally it's our turn. We give him our official passports and visas. And he rejects them.

To be continued...

Recommended reading:
Bringing Up Geeks by Marybeth Hicks
Alone Together by Sherry Turkle


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