Friday, July 30, 2010

Flashback Friday: The Russians are listening!

Due to our impending trans-Atlantic travel, here is a refried Flashback Friday for you. Originally published September 26, 2008.

The US Embassy (on the right). It's not quite like it was in The Saint, is it?

A lot of people have a hard time believing this when we tell them, but it is a fact that we were spied on by the Russians while we worked in the embassy in Moscow. At the very least, it was a fact that the embassy security people (I've forgotten their official name already - although they could be called, informally, "the people in charge of scaring the crap out of you and turning you into a highly distrustful, suspicious, paranoid person) told us we were spied on. All the time, everywhere, we had to be on our guard. Including in our own apartment, because it was bugged, as well as entered and searched on a regular basis.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The verdict on Cairo

Enough about Dubai. Our Egypt time is coming to an end, so let's write about that, shall we?

I'm not going to lie: I am more than a little excited to leave Egypt.

It's not all Egypt's fault. I never quite got over being in Cairo instead of Alexandria. I was so sad to have my Mediterranean Summer taken away from me on such short notice. And before we came here, since I thought that we were going to be in Alexandria, I gave myself license to continue to dislike Cairo as I have ever since my first visit here in 2004. Then, to end up in Cairo after all...well, it was hard to take.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Big News, Part 4

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

(I think this will be the last post about the process of deciding to move to Dubai, but I also think I forgot a lot of details. I'm reaching back to remember things that happened 2.5 months ago during a very stressful and busy time so please ask me to clarify if something doesn't connect!)

Obviously, Jeremy did accept the job, or I wouldn't be writing this post. So I'll just tell you that it was a very difficult, close decision and we considered every aspect of it very carefully. My mind was bursting with a complicated to-do list of tasks that needed to executed almost immediately if we accepted the job, so it was a great relief when the decision was finalized.

That happened on May 5, eight days after receiving the official job offer. On May 6, we started telling friends in Ithaca that we were coming back after our summer in Egypt but that we were moving away shortly after.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Big News, Part 3

(Part 1, Part 2)

At that moment, and for the next few hours, I felt mostly excitement. Whether we accepted the job or not, it was a great honor for him to have been chosen and to even have the option to accept. We got to sit through another Sunday - just like the one a month or two before - of refraining from grabbing our friends by the shoulders, shaking them, and yelling, "WE HAVE A JOB OFFER IN DUBAI AND OH MY GOSH DUBAI JOB OFFER DUBAI DUBAI."

To add to the sense of an emotional roller coaster, the official, written offer didn't come for two days. They had said they would send it the day after the informal, verbal offer, and when it didn't come...well, that was a really hard day. Had they changed their minds? We were both extremely edgy until Jeremy finally got up at 3am on Tuesday to check his email since he couldn't sleep anyway and found the official offer waiting for him in his inbox. So all at once it was very real. Again.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Big News, Part 2

(Part 1)

Jeremy received the interview request email from the university in Dubai* early on a Sunday morning, right before we left for church (Sunday is a weekday in the Middle East). It was all we could do to sit through church and carry on as normal while also trying to keep our minds from going crazy with those "first date to engagement/wedding/house/rest-of-our-lives plans" I mentioned earlier. After all, just because Jeremy was a finalist for this job did not mean he would get it. We went through this in 2009, too. Perhaps we went a little too far in the denial direction, though. We just didn't talk about it. His interview fly-out was going to be sandwiched between two other business trips so to me it was just like one long, continuous streak of his being out of town.

When he got back from the interview (which was not in Dubai, by the way, but in Minnesota, because it's easier to fly an interview team here than multiple candidates for multiple positions there), Jeremy told me a little more about the job and its benefits and then we continued to not talk about it for a few more weeks.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Big News, Part 1

Hmm, where to begin. Perhaps with the fact that in September, we're moving to Dubai.

Did you catch that?


Commence tears of weeping, and also squeals of excitement for lo, there have been many.

But let me back up and tell you the whole story. I've tried to think of all the ways I could write this in one post and be done with it, but there's just too much to say. I've had it all bottled up inside of me for 2.5 months so it's going to take a little while to decompress on the blog. It will probably take up three or four posts over the next week or two.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Flashback Friday: Our Russian "Get out of jail free" cards

(Sorry no picture - they're all back in Ithaca.)

When we lived in Moscow, the embassy issued all its employees and dependents special green identity cards that we called карточка - kartochka. The card had your photo and text on it identifying the bearer as an affiliate of the US Embassy and entitled to residency in Russia.

The cards served their official purpose as a residency permit, but they were also great for getting the discounted price at tourist attractions. You may not realize it, but lots of foreign countries employ two-tiered pricing structures for major historical sites. The higher price is written in English in large, bold text above the ticket window - maybe something like $10. The lower, local price - maybe something like 20 cents - is written in the foreign language and posted some place inconspicuous. At least that's how they do it when they're trying to be sneaky (I've seen it like this in Turkey, Russia, and Egypt). Some places are very open about wringing money out of their visitors and just post it all together in a totally obvious way. I respect that. It makes it all seem slightly more above-board.

But with our magic "get out of jail free" cards, we had the right to pay the local price. It was all fun and games until we entertained guests from America and had to watch them pay $10-$15 each to get into places when we paid 40 or 50 cents.

Besides saving us money, however, the magic kartochkas quite literally got us out of jail free. If we were ever stopped by the Moscow police (people get stopped randomly all the time), all we had to do was show them that card and it immediately became "thank you, sir, good day, miss!" I don't know if it was diplomatic immunity, or simply "don't mess with the embassy" at work, but I mostly took it for granted, until one day when we were walking back to the metro after a church activity.

We ourselves attended a Russian-speaking congregation, but in the entire city of Moscow there was one "international" congregation that conducted services in English. Some of the ex-pat members of that congregations were students from Africa studying who knows what in Moscow. The darker your skin is in many parts of Russia, the more despised you are. Sorry, but it's true. It's a very openly racist place (and the situation is not made better when people who happen to have dark skin take entire theaters hostage). So these poor fellow Mormons from Africa were subjected to terrible discrimination in public.

Now, we were not great friends with these young men by any means - we didn't attend church with them and we knew the members of the international branch only vaguely. But when we saw them getting harassed by some policemen outside of a metro station, we decided it would be a good time to say hello.

We walked up to the young men, all smiles and sunshine, and interrupted the police officers' belligerence. Of course, the surly policemen immediately asked for our identification and seemed ready to make us pay for ruining their fun.

Out came the magic green kartochkas. White went the police offers' faces. Before you could blink, hardly, the policemen sent us and our African friends on our merry way. One of the policemen even saluted Jeremy.

It felt good to do a small service, but it also felt sad, because we knew that next time these guys got pushed around by the police, we wouldn't be there. It wasn't really fair that we had a get out of jail free card when we hardly needed it, while they were left largely defenseless. I hope those young men did whatever studying in Moscow they needed to and then got the heck out of there, to some place where you don't need a magic green card to get you out of non-trouble with the enforcers of the law.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kevin Costner mystery solved

OK, maybe you haven't been wondering all this time, but I have: is that hand-me-down toy we got really Kevin Costner?

I mean, it looks so much like him, but for the life of me I couldn't think of one Kevin Costner movie that would warrant an action figure. The only one I could come up with was Waterworld, but that was made way back in 1995. Surely there was no way this toy could have been making the hand-me-down rounds in Cairo for 15 years, right? RIGHT?

Meanwhile, "Kevin," as this toy has been affectionately dubbed by my girls, became quite popular. He's come with us on lots of outings and almost gotten left in taxis many times. When Magdalena wants to take him on an errand, she walks through the house calling, "Keeeevvvviiiin!" It's very endearing. And it made me more determined than ever to figure out this toy's genesis.

So I did a little Googling and it turns out that this IS Kevin Costner in action figure form. But it's not from Waterworld. No. It's from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Which movie was released in 1991. ALMOST TWENTY YEARS AGO.

Here's the proof:

I am amazed that Kevin survived intact (well, not quite intact, since he doesn't have his cape or crossbow anymore) through twenty years of being handed down. It makes me want to create a small history of Kevin and keep it with him as he is passed on to new families, so everyone can know his story.

It's a shame I don't know his history up to this point. Because I bet it's GOOD.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Six hours in London

We leave Egypt in about a week and a half. On the way back to Ithaca, we have a layover in London that should allow us to spend about six hours in the city. Jeremy and I have gone into London before on a layover so we know the drill with the tube and the HobNobs and the prices that look about right until you realize they're in pounds not dollars, etc. This time around, I think we want to visit the Tower of London. Has anyone been there and loved/hated it? Anything we should know that isn't on their official website? (But I am already well versed in everything Alison Weir has ever wrote on the subject, thanks.)

Is the London Eye worth it? There is a 4.5-year-old in the house who loves Ferris Wheels.

And in case we have some extra time, does anyone know of a park near the Tower, or near another tube stop, where the kids can run around like crazy before we get back on a plane to cross the Atlantic?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Egypt's own Circumlocution Office

I've been reading Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit for the past couple of weeks. If you've ever read it - or seen the fantastic BBC miniseries adaptation - you may remember a little thing called the Circumlocution Office. Dickens created it as a stand-in for all sorts of ridiculous government bureaucracy. Mr. Clennam walks in there and starts talking about how he wants to obtain information and accomplish a task and all the employees get upset because "you can't just say, 'I want to know,' you know!" There are forms to fill out and different people to give them to and a certain amount of time has to pass before anything can get done.

Well, Egypt has a real-life Circumlocution Office. It's called the Mujamma, and it's a massive, 16-story building stuffed to the gills with bureaucracy. If you need to get something done that is even remotely related to the government, you have to go there. You can't do it online. You can't send someone in your place. You have to go there yourself.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Social experiment

When we were at the Khan al-Khalili last week, we bought Miriam her very own headscarf. She had been begging for one for weeks and complaining that the blanket she was using for a makeshift headscarf at home wasn't the right size, and wasn't pretty enough. So we found a stall selling headscarves and out of all the bright colors and exotic patterns, she chose a beautiful dark maroon one.

For the next few days, she insisted on wearing her headscarf around the house. She even wanted to sleep in it, but relented when we told her that not even real muhajjibas wear their hijabs to bed. First thing in the morning, though, she wanted it on, but she was sure to ask if real muhajjibas put theirs on right when they woke up. That's when I found myself trying to explain the concept of "in actual or potential sight of an unrelated male" to my 4.5-year-old. Secretly, I hoped she would never ask to wear the headscarf outside, in public, because I wasn't sure what I would say.

But of course that time came. She asked to wear her headscarf one evening when we were out walking, doing errands. And we let her.

The only reason I even hesitated saying yes is because I wanted to avoid offending anyone. A friend of mine, who is not Muslim, wore the headscarf in Jordan to avoid harrassment from young men. But one day, she got chewed out by an elderly Muslim lady for being disrespectful. I didn't honestly think that any old ladies would yell at my daughter, but I did worry that people would think we were treating the hijab like a joke, even though Miriam is about as respectful of the hijab as a preschooler can be. She adores veiled women and loves seeing the different colors and patterns and fashions they put together in their headscarves. To her, right now, it's an item of clothing, not a serious religious commitment. When she wore the headscarf outside that evening, it was the same as if she were wearing a tiara, or a long, flouncy skirt, or carrying a purse - she was just mimicking a manner of dress that's a little grown-up for her.

So I was very relieved when I saw that the vast majority of people we passed on our walk regarded Miriam with smiles and gentle laughs. They certainly don't see little white girls in shorts and t-shirts wearing a headscarf very often.

Miriam herself carried on as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

Those who didn't laugh or smile mostly just looked at her in bewilderment. But nobody seemed to be offended, and nobody scolded her, or us.

Social experiment WIN, I guess.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Adventures at an Egyptian hospital

On Thursday afternoon, Magdalena got poked in the eye with a stick. At first I thought it wasn't that bad. Then, after she cried for the entire rest of the day and couldn't open her eye even to play, I thought it was. After a difficult night of sleep, we took her to the hospital first thing Friday morning.

We only went to the hospital because we're not here long-term enough to have a family doctor, and the one clinic we knew of was closed. I wouldn't even have known what hospital to go to except we called an American friend to ask. I called her in the capacity of her being my friend, and then realized that her husband works in the consular section of the embassy, so hello, perfect source of information. He sent us to Al-Salaam Hospital on the Nile Corniche.

We brought Magdalena in to the hospital and a young man in street clothes sat us down in a small room. He briefly asked us what the matter was and then sent in a doctor to see what he could do. The doctor took one look at Magdalena's eye and then spent a good while trying to pronounce the word "ophthalmologist" in English while telling us that the hospital did not have one present at the moment. Then another doctor came in and had a look. Then both doctors cooed and played with Magdalena for a while. When they were done admiring the little foreign baby, they told us we should go to Qasr al-Ayn Hospital so Magdalena could get her eye properly checked.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Flashback Friday: Yen-less in Japan

I don't have access to my photos from Japan, so just imagine one of me inside Kyoto Eki, the massive train station in Kyoto:


I arrived in Kyoto (with a study abroad group from the BYU) in May 2000, right smack in the middle of Golden Week, a holiday in Japan. All the banks were closed, which meant I couldn't get any money from my planned access point of an ATM (looking back, it seems like the ATMs should have been open even if the banks weren't, but the fact is that I did not have access to money so either they were shut down, or I was too clueless to figure it out. I consider both scenarios to be possible). That first week, before we moved in with our host families, I survived on the Nutri-grain bars and beef jerky I had brought along with me in my suitcase, and the occasional cheap bowl of rice with sauce at a restaurant. They were lean times.

There was one other time I had trouble with money. I lived with a host family in the Nishikyogoku area and took a bus, train, and then walked to class every day in the Fushimi area. I did the reverse on the way home. It cost several dollars each way - maybe as many as six or seven, I can't quite remember. For most of my time in Kyoto, I paid for each leg of transportation as it came. It wasn't until the end that I got a JR pass that was good for lots of trains and buses at once.

When I was paying for it piecemeal, every once in a while I came a little too close to not having enough money to make it. There was one morning on the bus when it was time to get off and I was still scraping together coins from every corner of my backpack to make the fare. I still consider myself very lucky that I managed to find enough.

But the bus had only gotten me as far as the train station. I still had to pay for the train ride to get to class, and I didn't have nearly enough money for a ticket. No matter - there was an ATM right by the train station so I would just withdraw some cash and that was that!

Except the ATM was closed until 10am! Who even does that? What is with these Japanese ATMs? Weird. Class started at 9am so I couldn't really wait, at least not if I wanted to get there in time. What to do...

First I approached authority. I went into the train station to the ticket booth and showed the lady working there how much money I had. I asked if I could, just this once, get a ticket for less. I rode the same train every morning at the same time, so she probably recognized me. But my request was too much for her principles (I don't blame her) and she refused.

Next, I asked someone else in line if they would give me the money. I can't even believe I did this. So shameless. Maybe the fact that I was asking in Japanese distanced me from the social awkwardness. The guy I asked gave me a weird look and just ignored me. That was even more embarrassing than asking in the first place. I didn't try that again, and instead just waited outside the ATM for it to open. When it did, I grabbed my cash and took the first train I could to class.

I never ran out of money again that summer, though there was that time I ended up alone in Tokyo. And it only took me twice to learn my lesson. Well done.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Garbage City

Yes, there is such a place. When you throw something away in Cairo, it ends up in Garbage City.

Those ubiquitous plastic drinking cups? Yep:

Clothing scraps? Yep:

Cardboard boxes? Yep:

Plastic bottles (that's what these huge bags are stuffed with)? Yep:

Mystery items? Yep:

General grossness? OH YEAH:

Not pictured: a dead rat with flies all over it, lots of donkey poop with flies all over it, and trays of freshly baked bread cooling on an outdoor rack amid all the trash.

That huge puddle of nastiness was the worst part. I don't know what kind of liquid it was or what, exactly, the accompanying sludge is, but the smell was GHASTLY. It caught me off guard, too, because this was technically outside Garbage City as we walked to the main road to get a taxi home. I thought we were done with pointed olfactory assaults and then along came the mystery puddle. Ew.

Grossness aside, I enjoyed our visit to Garbage City more than I thought I would. I didn't even really want to go at first because there is a little bit of Garbage City on every street in Cairo, you know what I mean? I wasn't sure I really needed to see it in its concentrated form. But what made it such a neat place was the people. Here they were, living in literal filth, piled up to and beyond their doorways, and they were doing just fine. I saw a grandma sorting trash with some young children. Teenagers were driving donkeys and their carts down the streets. The boy a couple pictures up was eating a fly-covered bun as his parents worked on sorting trash deeper in the alcove.

And they all waved and said hello to us as we walked by. A little girl ran up and tried to grab Magdalena away from us to show to her family. A man took a moment off from his trash duties to give Magdalena a big kiss on her cheek. Some people even invited us in to see what they were working at. All this, when there were flies swarming everywhere and the stench of garbage was inescapable.

From now on, anytime we throw away something out of the ordinary - like my insulated water bottle that's on its way out, or our Camelbak with a leaky valve - I'm going to be really excited for the inhabitants of Garbage City. I almost wish I could see their faces when they find it. Almost.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Book Review: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

I've put off writing this blog post for almost three years. It's just as well, I suppose, because if I had written it three years ago, it would have been a different post. I would have told you that I loved The Book Thief but it was kind of weird and be sure to give it fifty pages before you give up on it, and did I mention that it's narrated by Death? I did allude to the book briefly on this blog a few times, when I read it in 2007, when I talked about books that made me cry, and when I said it needed its own blog post (this one).

So now that I'm finally writing a review of The Book Thief, what do I say? Well, it was kind of weird and be sure to give it fifty pages before you give up on it, and did I mention that it's narrated by Death? But people, it is no longer adequate to say that I merely love this book. I more than love this book. I read it for the second time a few months ago and solidified its place on the short list of my all-time favorites.

The reason I read it for a second time is because I had started to wonder if it really was as brilliant as I remembered. Some people whose opinions I respect had read it and given it a 'meh' review. When I re-read it and loved it more than ever, I was confused. Were they wrong? Was I wrong?

Then I realized that this is not the kind of book that can be loved by everyone. It seems to me that the "narrated by Death" issue (some would call it a gimmick) is a stumbling block. You either embrace him in that role and go with it, or you are jarred out of the story every time he calls attention to himself, which is often, because he's narrating. Personally, I thought having Death as a narrator was brilliant. It lent depth and humanity to what would otherwise have been only a moderately moving story, unusual perhaps for being told from the German point of view, but nothing more.

I read somewhere that out of all the characters he's written, the author had the hardest time saying goodbye to the people in this book. That's how I feel, too - from time to time I think about them as if they actually existed. I think about the choices they made and the lives they lived and what I might have done had I been in their shoes. I have images from the book in my mind that are almost like real memories of real events, so profoundly did they affect me. I had thought I had read every kind of World War II/Holocaust book there is out there, but The Book Thief is so novel, so genuine, so different.

So I understand if you've read this book and you didn't really like it. That's fine. But if you haven't read it, or you want to give it a second chance (as my dad did, and he can correct me if I'm wrong but I think he liked it more on a second reading), please do. I hope you will find it is the same beautiful, life-affirming book I love so much.

(One last note of interest: in its native Australia, The Book Thief was released as regular old adult fiction. No Young Adult about it. In the US, it is a YA title (and won the YA Printz Award). When I read it for the second time, I paid particular attention to what, specifically, might make this a YA book. And I didn't find anything. In fact, several attributes of The Book Thief recommend it to the adult category of fiction, namely its length, subject matter, complexity, and amount of German swearing. The only thing that puts it even remotely in the YA category is the age of its protagonists. Go figure.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Non-pictures of the Khan el-Khalili

When you're out sight-seeing, it's really hard to take pictures of anything but your kids. If your kid is not in the frame, that means they're out of sight while you're taking the picture. Yesterday, when we were exploring the Khan al-Khalili (ancient bazaar), our kids being out of our sight wasn't really an option. The narrow alleyways were packed with masses of people all pushing their way through to where they needed to go. All of the shiny, fragile, and carefully organized wares for sale were placed on low tables, completely within reach of impulsive 2-year-olds. And oh yeah, those crowds I mentioned? Lots of them were pushing huge carts precariously and heavily loaded with tall stacks of goods and they wouldn't let anything as trivial as a small child stop them from getting through. Seriously - Miriam got shoved into a shop stall by a lady wielding a huge load of plastic bouncy balls and the lady didn't even notice her.

Anyone who wasn't sidelining foreigners with their cargo was often balancing a large tray of cups of tea or coffee to deliver to vendors in their shops. That made me feel really safe, to have tiny vats of boiling water weaving in and out of the crowd around me and my children.

So, yes, not a lot of pictures were taken. But I had plenty of "ooh, I wish I could take a picture" moments. The actual pictures that somehow made it through are as follows.

One (1) picture of the general splendor:

One (1) picture of a store containing hair scrunchies, and that's it:

And one (1) picture of a massive wall o'bras:

As for pictures with my kid in it, here's one:

and here's another:

But believe me, I took great pictures in my mind. Lots of them.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Movie Review: Eclipse (Twilight)

Jeremy and I went to see Eclipse on Saturday. We sent the girls over to a friend's house and then hopped in a taxi to the movie theater. Along the way, we thought of all the things that could go wrong and ruin our date, because that is the way things roll here. We tried not to get our hopes up too much because:

-the movie schedule shown on the internet might be incorrect.
-the theater might be randomly closed.
-the power might go out.
-smoking might be allowed in the theater (that would be a deal-breaker)
-we might get caught in traffic and miss the movie.
-the movie might be in Arabic.
-the theater might be a piece of junk not worthy of our business.

Miraculously, everything came through and we actually got to see the movie in relative comfort. There was even an intermission, wedged right there in the middle of the movie where it didn't really fit! So classy.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Flashback Friday: Intramural soccer drama

My older brother Blair and I overlapped at the BYU for two years. I started college in the fall of 1999 and he was done in the spring of 2001. It was great fun to have him there with me - a reminder of all things familiar and someone to help me (and give me rides) when I needed it, but entirely away from the restraint and rules of home. Blair did things like put on long-haired wigs and thick glasses and speak in an accent when he came to pick me up at my dorm for a Macey's run or just a visit. Of course he somehow managed to make these ridiculous appearances during the times when the most people were around for maximum embarrassment.

On certain days after class, I'd go over to his house south of campus (with a distinctive door dubbed by him and his roommates as "die Tür mit den drei Streifen," which, if you get the reference, I promise is clever). I got to be really good at Diddy Kong Racing there. At the end of my freshman year, we drove back to Oregon in his 1988 (?) red Toyota Corolla full to the brim. We got a late start and sometime in the middle of the night we had to pull off at a deserted freeway exit to check a strange rattling sound coming from the roof and we admitted to each other our mutual fear that there was an axe-murderer riding on top of the car, creating an opportunity to kill us. (There wasn't.)

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Getting to know you

I can tell that Miriam and Magdalena have finally reconciled themselves to some of Egypt's idiosyncrasies. They no longer startle at cars honking non-stop, or blanch at the sight of copious amounts of garbage on the street. Miriam knows to avoid stepping in puddles of foul-smelling mystery water that collect on the roads here, and the roads are where we walk since there aren't functional sidewalks. Miriam is getting really good at walking through traffic here. Almost too good - she's not afraid of the crazy driving habits anymore and she sometimes prompts me when there's a break in traffic long enough for us to cross the street.

Yesterday as we were climbing the stairs to our apartment, she kindly asked me if I could walk ahead with her "just in case there are any street kitties or dogs up there."

I had to teach her the word nargileh when she told me, "sometimes I see people smoking a little pool with plates stacked on top and a little string coming out."

But the way it really sunk in that my kids have adjusted to Cairo was yesterday when we went to McDonald's. The last time we were there was back in May, just a few days after arriving here. The girls took one look at the kids' play area there and were absolutely not interested. It was all a filthy mass of cracked plastic, exposed bolts, and empty, disheveled ball pits to them.

That was two months ago. Yesterday, they BEGGED me to go play there once they saw it and they played happily for a long time. When it was time to go, Miriam told me she wanted to go play there "not every day, but almost." Even Magdalena had been brave enough to go in the faded plastic labyrinth, which was mildly terrifying for me. I couldn't see the inside of it so I had no idea how or if she would get through. But Miriam went with her and they both emerged down the exit slide eventually.

I just hope there wasn't a dead cat in there or anything. Not that it would have phased them at this point.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

My top six worst nights of sleep

All this talk of trying to sleep while essentially being on speed has reminded me of this post I've been meaning to write. Namely, my worst nights of sleep EVER. I'm limiting these to adulthood, by the way (but you can read about a couple of childhood sleepless nights here and here). I'm not putting them in any particular order because then I'd have to recall them in too much detail. Shudder.

July 2002, Slovakia. We were staying at my Slovakian cousins' house and their hospitality was warm and heartfelt but not exactly comfortable. At night, Jeremy and I shared a couch whose middle cushion was missing so our bodies were contorted in an awkward sunken V shape as we "slept." Also, my parents were in the same room, and they snored, and also the roosters woke up really early and made a racket.

November 2002, Siberia. Jeremy served his two-year Mormon mission in Siberia and in early November 2002 we took a trip there to visit Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk. We took an overnight train between the two cities and it was so, so very HOT inside the compartment, and impossible to sleep. We asked the train worker lady if she could turn the heat down a bit but she replied with a seemingly unrelated rant about not getting paid enough. After the fact, we realized she must have been making a veiled request for a tip in exchange for turning the heat down. In retribution, she cranked the heat UP a notch. Increasingly crazed by lack of sleep, it was all we could do to restrain ourselves from breaking the train compartment's windows to get at the frozen, -40 degree tundra outside.

June 2009, Tucson. You remember this one. Right around midnight the night before Jeremy's long-awaited dissertation defense, I started throwing up. It was bad enough puking all night long but it was even worse because I realized I was going to miss his defense. It just about broke my heart. To this day, I still have nightmares that Jeremy did not, in fact, finish his PhD. (And if I thought about it hard enough, I think this one would be my number one worst night of sleep.)

September 2005, Tucson. This was not a single night of bad sleep, but rather a whole week of almost no rest. After an unexpected, unplanned induction and 36 hours of labor, Miriam was born. I was so exhausted and so new-mother-worried that I couldn't sleep for days, even when the baby slept. Then she was re-admitted to the hospital with jaundice and since she screamed when she was by herself under the bili lights I had to hold her in an awkward hospital chair for hours at a time...Yeah, it's been almost five years and I am STILL tired from this.

May 2010, Cairo. We were staying at our friends' house and the girls were going crazy at night from jet lag, as in, they wanted to wake up at 3am and go play in the living room. Obviously we couldn't let that happen. Meanwhile, Jeremy and I had almost adjusted to the new time zone so it really felt like 3am to us. Not a fun time, let me tell you. I'm sure our hosts adored us for letting our kids fuss all night.

March 2004, American Fork. I had a UTI that hit its worst stage right when I was about to go to bed. Instead, I sat up all night and alternately peed and watched the special features of the movie Miracle. The next morning I had to go to work and act real chipper as I taught my LSAT prep class. I haven't watched Miracle since, by the way.

What are your worst nights of sleep? Please share. It's therapeutic.

Edited to add: I guess comments are broken...? I'm getting email notifications for them as usual but they aren't showing up here...

Monday, July 05, 2010

An Egyptian cold

I don't know if this a scientifically correct observation, but it seems to me that when I catch a cold somewhere other than where I normally live, it's a different cold than what I'm used to. In Tucson, when I caught a cold, I could pretty much predict which symptoms would be worse on which days and I was almost always right.

I recently caught my first Egyptian cold and so far it's agreeing with my above hypothesis: it's different than any cold I've had before. There's the sore throat and the cough and the runny nose and the general feeling of malaise, but thrown into the mix for fun is a random gummy eye. That really caught me off guard. And it's such an awkward symptom because while you can cover up a cough or a runny nose well enough - or at least expect general acceptance of such by the public as a normal cold symptom - a gummy eye sneaks up on you and is kind of gross. I'll be having a pleasant conversation with someone and then go home and realize that there was a huge ball of eye goo clinging to my eyelashes the whole time. Nice.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Flashback Friday: Revenge of Royal Jordanian, Part 3

Just because we got our precious carry-on suitcase back didn't mean I was about to let Royal Jordanian keep our $800. Especially because they took it for no good reason. There was no way I was buying the check-in desk agent's explanation that the extra surprise super bonus fee was because the price of our tickets had changed since we bought them. That reason didn't make sense for a minute, certainly not when you considered the fact that $200 of that fee was for Miriam's "ticket," which didn't exist since she wasn't two years old yet.

I set to work just as soon as we had settled back into our lives in Tucson, maybe even a little before. I developed a plan of attack which consisted of dealing entirely with US Airways, the airline that had issued the tickets (RJ was their "operated by" partner for the flight). I called into the generic number and got bounced around from department to department as they tried to figure out what to do with me. Each time I told my story, I got a long silence on the other end and then a variation on the response, "Wait, what??" I got the feeling that this kind of thing did not exactly happen all the time.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Summer doldrums & World Cup

I think we've hit the summer doldrums around here. We've settled into our routine. World Cup games are taking a hiatus for a few days. We've got about a month left in the country. We don't have any big trips planned for the next little while.

It's the lack of World Cup games that has really thrown me for a loop. We've been overseas for the last three World Cups (in Russia, Jordan, and now Egypt) and it's great as far as societal awareness goes - pretty much everyone is following the games to some degree, so you can always count on a lively crowd if you go to watch the games in public. However, maybe just once it would be nice to be in the US for the World Cup because there, at least you get to watch all the games for free (on if nowhere else) (and yes, it's blocked outside of the US. I tried. Several times).

There are fancy satellites here that broadcast the games to your home television, but you have to have a certain one and even then you have to pay extra for the World Cup package. That wasn't going to work for us, so Jeremy and I thought we would be stuck taking turns going to cafes to watch the games and possibly giving up a few years of our lives to the lung cancer we would certainly contract as a result.

Jeremy took the first turn going to a cafe to watch the game and an employee there told him he could buy an antenna for two bucks and tap into the Egyptian terrestrial channel, which, out of the kindness of its heart, bought the rights to a few dozen games and was showing them for free to the masses.

He came home at halftime with the bunny ears, and it worked! Sure, the picture quality was terrible to the extent that at times each player had one or two duplicate shadows chasing after it, but we could watch the games at home, together, without choking down second-hand smoke for two hours (hubbly bubbly smoke is INTENSE).

Egyptian TV doesn't show every game, but you can pretty much count on watching whichever one is on at 9.30pm (Egyptian time). Last night, when there was no game on for the first time in weeks, I was suddenly aware of a gaping void in my life.

So we flipped over to our satellite and found a channel showing the old Time Machine movie from 1960. It was so weird and so mesmerizing that we watched it for a good hour before thinking of turning it off. Needless to say, I'm excited for World Cup games to start up again.

In the meantime, discuss:

1. England's non-goal against Germany. UNBELIEVABLE. If FIFA does not take action and institute some kind of video review or at least a simple, immediate appeals process, I don't know. The game could become irrelevant. It's all well and good to have the game be just as the ref calls it, real-time, but when they start not noticing goals that are actually scored, something's got to change. And for those of you claiming that, well, Germany won 4-1 so it's not like that goal mattered anyway, I beg to differ. That goal going uncounted changed the whole feel of the match. Though I admit that 4-1 is about as good of an outcome as you could hope for in that case. And I do think Germany was the superior team on the field, but still, the injustice of it all!

2. Argentina's entire team sporting 1970s hairdos. Their uniforms are a bit 70s-ish, too. Every time I see a group of them together I feel like I'm seeing pictures of that rugby team that got stranded in the Andes in 1972.

3. Japan's heartbreaking loss to Paraguay. On the one hand, I think it's really exciting when a game comes down to penalty kicks. On the other hand, it doesn't seem fair that the game can be decided that way. I was really cheering for Japan to pull through, but even though they didn't, I at least wish that FIFA would let them complete the penalty kicks so their "score" could have possibly been a more respectable 5:4 instead of the official 5:3.

Are you watching the World Cup?


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