What would you do?

I’ve had a number of cleaning women come a go, at least five.  Most of the women who clean house in Egypt (they are called shaggala) are not professional housekeepers.  The more well-off Egyptians will often hire women from other African countries to clean, and they are usually more expensive (and so I’ve heard, better at cleaning). 

I’ve had a lot of people warning me about trusting cleaning ladies (or workers in general).  Most people feel you should basically keep a watch on them at all times.  I don’t have the time or inclination to do this.  If I hire someone to clean, I don’t want to have to trail them around the house.  I’ve also been told you must be pretty firm, or else they’ll walk over you.  I’ve found this to be true also.  Most of the women started off cleaning excellently, but slacked off as time went on.  I’m just not a very good task master (or whatever you’d call standing over while they work). 

On two occasions, I’ve had stuff disappear from the house.  The first time, dh, made excuses for the person (suggesting maybe I lost the items in question, I didn’t), although no one else could have possibly taken the things that had gone missing.  For me however, the trust was basically gone, and our relationship changed.  I ceased to offer her food with us, and certainly didn’t feel like any chit-chatting.  We eventually asked her to stop coming. 

This latest time, several items have gone missing from my kitchen.  Minor stuff, two new packages of Dove soap, a full jar of honey, baking chocolate.  I’m in the middle of a move and the shaggala had been helping me to  clear the kitchen.  I noticed the soap gone right away, and the kids said ‘the cleaner must have taken it!’ (they’ve never liked any of the cleaners, but that’s a different story.)  I brushed it off, till I noticed the other items missing.  Finally I called her and asked what had happened.   She suggested that the things had gotten thrown out accidentally, and actually told me to look through the garbage for my things!  Allah knows best, I think it’s much more likely that the stuff found it’s way out of the house in the full bag of stuff she left with.  I did offer her some used clothing, and old toys.  I realize now I should have looked through the bag, but I’m just not that kind of person.  I guess I’d never make a good supervisor :).  I know that we should not accuse a muslim of theft without positive proof, and I didn’t accuse her outright.  But I can’t believe that she ‘accidentally’ threw out new items, and left empty jam jars on the counter.  It just doesn’t make sense.  I’m a pretty easy-going person, but I don’t take  kindly to people trying to walk over me.  She’d requested a few other things and actually wanted to buy some things I’m selling, but the deal is off and I don’t want her back.  It is always possible that she really did throw out a full jar of honey, but if she did, I still don’t want her back.  What would she throw away next!

The kids were complaining to our neighbor about the incident, and he told them to just forget about it and be patient.  That Allah has blessed us with more and them with less.  It’s not the stuff that really bothers me so much, it’s the idea that someone may have felt they had a right to it when it was mine.  Also the feeling of being made a fool of by trusting someone. 

Third Culture Kids

I got that term from an expat homeschool group I belong to.  It refers to kids who’ve traveled/lived overseas most of their lives.  I wonder if my kids will end up like this.  Global citizens with no ‘home’ culture.  They are biracial Americans, living in Egypt.  They are familiar with three languages and somewhat fluent in two of them.  Dd loves America.  Our last day there, she was singing ‘good-bye America’, ‘good-bye clean streets’.  My son refers to America as a ‘kafir’ country, but he doesn’t necessarily favor Egypt.  My youngest hasn’t really expressed a preference as far as I can see.  But our experiences have certainly changed them.  They never saw poor people in America.  I mean REALLY poor, dirty clothes, homeless, type poor.  Here it’s in your face.  They are unfamiliar with typical American names.  My dd pronounces Barbara=Ba-bear-ra.  Once my youngest was reading a book, and she kept referring to a character as Tris.  I told her to let me see it.  It was Chris.  I corrected her, but she insisted on saying Tris, cause ‘Chris doesn’t sound nice.’  They don’t understand American slang (no big lost there), and sometimes copy the British venacular (thanks to being friends with a British family). 

A former friend of my husband’s claimed that they will grow up as outcasts.  Both for being raised outside of America and outside of public schools.  They won’t know how to deal with race.  I certainly don’t want them to be outcasts, but not sure what it means to ‘fit in’ to American society.  Could be a good or bad thing, depending on how you are defining it.  I don’t want them fitting in with a lot of what I’ve seen in the blogging community, both from muslims and non.       

I don’t think term is necessarily suitable to the children of immigrants to America.  America has a way of swallowing foreigners, and by the second or third general, they are completely American.  At least in my experience. 

Egypt was not our first stop and I don’t know if it well be our last.  A return to the US is entirely possible.  Inshallah I hope they will be suitably prepared spiritually and educationally for whatever realities they face.   

Ein Sukhna

We tried to take a vacation recently to Ein Sukhna, or hot springs.  It’s a spot near the Red Sea, where mostly Egyptians vacation, as opposed to tourists from outside of Egypt.  That means it’s more affordable, and with a more Islamic atmosphere. 

We basically went on the spur of the moment, because that’s how dh is.  He gets it in his head to go somewhere, and he wants to do it that day.  Unfortunately it was Friday and we couldn’t find a driver.  We did find one Egyptian brother, Usama, someone I’d dealt with before to go to Rehab.  He seemed pretty nice.  Dh makes the arrangements for the brother to show  up at 9am Saturday.  I shop, prepare food and get the kids ready.  Well, 9am Saturday, no Usama.  Dh calls him.  He apologizes and says he was out late.  Dh is like, ‘And?  We had an agreement.’ So he says he’ll call “Muhammad” to come get us in an hour.  Dh told him to call and confirm that “Muhammad” would actually be showing up.  We didn’t hear anything, so dh calls around and finds someone else, who shows up about 10am.  We’ve been traveling for an hour, when dh cell phone rings.  It’s Usama to let us know our driver is downstairs waiting!  Dh is like, brother, we left.  They go back and forth, dh letting him have to for breaking his agreement.  Finally Usama says, ‘Cancel my number from your cell phone.’  I think he meant erase, but his English is shaky.  Dh was like, shukran, wassalam. 

I was like, hold on one minute.  He’s in the wrong and is telling us not to call again!  As if we did him wrong!  The problem is that there are so many foreigners in Egypt now, that some people have started to have it a little good.  They don’t have to worry about giving good service, cause hey, someone new will come along.  But I just had to put our experience out there and we will definately not be calling that brother again. 

 On to the trip, the driver who actually took us was a brother dh had met previously while taking a taxi to the Cairo International Bookfair, two years ago.  The brother had welcomed us to Cairo, and actually treated us to a lunch of falafel.  He tried  to refuse the fare, but dh insisted on paying.  Fast forward two years.  He lets us know his rates, they turn out to be a bit more than the previous brother, but he says he’s giving us a discount on his normal fees.  Ok.  On the way he offers to rent us a tire from the car for 5 LE to swim with.  Dh is like huh?!  Later dh related the sad reality that the brother had changed.  From treating us, to trying to make whatever money he could.  The price even ended up changing at the end of the day, but we’ll get to that.  The point was dh knew an Egyptian that seemed different from the many that try to fleece you, but now he’s joined the mainstream, mashallah.  I viewed it a little differently.  The brother has married and has a kid, now.  He, probably feels he has to make every dime, or piastre he can.  I wish he could treat us like ‘normal’, but who knows how I’d act if the roles were reversed.

On to Ein Sukhna.  I’d heard you could rent a place for a reasonable amount, and have a good amount of privacy.  Try as we might, we could not find any place to rent.  We ended up just paying to sit on a crowded beach, which was none too clean.  Dh first refused to get out of the car.  When he finally did, he just sat there, cursing Egypt and Egyptians, and vowing never to travel again, lol.  He really likes many aspects of living here, but he hates getting burned.  LOL, when we got home, the brother upped the price of taking us there, reasoning, well, you didn’t have to pay for a hotel, so you may as well give it to me! 

We are used to just picking up and going someone in the States, but obviously it’s not a good idea in Egypt.  Plan in advance and prepare.  Alhamdulillah, all was not in vain.  The kids had a good time in the water.  The scenery on the way was beautiful, the roads cut right through the mountians.  Here are some pics. 

The Red Sea

Red Sea

The beach

beach

On the way:

A masjid on the road

A visit to ‘Mugamma’, or how to get a visa in Egypt

mugamma 

We went to get our visas renewed today.  In case you didn’t know, many people live in Egypt for years on tourist visas.  You can usually renew them every year with no problem.  This is our third year going.  Iqamas are usually applied for at Mugamma, a central government building in Al-Tahrir Square.  It is a humongous building, with a humongous amount of bureaucracy.  Incredibly, the workers process the thousands and thousands of tourists visas by hand.

You can get an initial entry visa at the airport or in your home country.  However, I believe it’s only valid for about 6 weeks.  If you are going to stay longer, then you gotta go to Mugamma.  If you are here to study arabic, some centers may help you take care of this step.  I know there used to be police officers who’d take your stuff and help you out for baksheesh, but I’m not sure if this is still going on.

The longest tourist visa available is for one year.  It cost 90LE this year, and the cost goes up each year (last year it was 83LE).  It can be a frustrating process.  You take a taxi through lots of traffic, go through the throngs up the stairs, and stand in line for the applications.  After filling them out, you are told to get x.  You get x, then they tell you go somewhere else and get z.  And you are wondering why the heck can’t tell you all that you need at one time. 

We have it figured out after three years.  To save time and headache, here are some tips.  Go early.  The least rush is about 9am. You can get your application in and be back to pick it up by noon.   Try to pick up extra applications for the next year.  That way you can fill them out before you get there, cutting out the standing in line and the time to fill them out at Mugamma.  DO NOT forget to bring a picture of each family member, your passports, copies of your passports (first page and the page with the entry visa on it), and a pen, cause nobody will give you their’s to use!  You can get the copies and pictures on the main floor of Mugamma, but everything is overpriced there, plus it adds more time to the process.  Also don’t forget money.  Take more than you think you’ll need, just in case. 

If your family name is different, as ours is, you may want to troop everybody down there to avoid being told to come back.  I went one year to get visas just for me and the kids.  Since they have their dads last name and not mine, the police officer demanded to see the kids, whom I’d left at home. 

The picture above is one I found on the net.  I took my camera to get a picture myself, but dh yelled, ‘put that thing away!’  I wanted to capture how huge the building really is as well as the hustle and bustle surrounding it, but probably not a good idea to try to photograph government buildings, lol.  Especially since they have tons of uniformed and plain-clothes security. 

Since it a long process, you may want food or drinks.  We pack our own water (frozen the night before so it will stay cold).  Water and other drinks are also sold (at higher prices).  For the two hour wait, after you turn in your application, there is a KFC and Pizza Hut across the street.  They are great for using the bathroom also.   

Be patient.  Be thankful you are from the west (if you are).  Americans, Brits, French, ect. have much less trouble getting their visas than people from poorer countries.   Dh usually tries to get a yellow taxi home after the heat and stress of the day.  They are much rarer than the black and white taxis, and slightly more expensive, but they are air-conditioned, clean, and quiet.  Go home, rest, and say alhamdulillah you don’t have to go again till next year.