Takin' It to the Streets: Cairo From the Ground

I have a theory that the more you walk the streets (paths/beaches/bridges) of a place the more you can love it. Something about the sweat and mild leg cramps just ties you to a physical location in an emotional way. So I've been pounding the pavement around downtown Cairo in hopes to crack this city open a little wider.



And Also

Out and about with baby guy
A few weeks before I gave birth to our son Felix, Max discovered a well-worn vinyl of the soundtrack to the movie Shaft in my Mom’s basement.

I know, that’s a sentence with a lot to unpack.

If you know my mom, you probably can’t imagine her grooving to Shaft today or any day in the past. But people are complicated, aren’t they?  

And yes, we came home from a gloriously long home leave with a perfect baby boy. Honestly, I was worried a new baby would be boring. Just being real. They don’t talk politics or play guitar or make books with you. I thought he would grow on me as he got older and more fun. But I have been completely delighted with everything about this baby. I love all of his baby noises, every sweaty walk through the neighborhood and his adorable fat feet. This kid is great and being a mom is great.

But I’ve also had moments of identity crisis. Pretty mild, since I was expecting them, but still. Moments when I’m not sure quite how to integrate this new role into my old self.

These moments usually occur during one of the many harried sitcom mom scenes I have found myself enacting since returning to Egypt. Last week I answered the phone with dog poop in one hand from my apparently newly un-house-trained dog who was barking maniacally at the phone, a squirmy baby rocking a gnarly spit-up beard in the other hand, and most of my chest covered by the dripping spit up beard. I then tried to put on my shoes hands-free before walking down three hot flights of stairs with the baby for a delivery where they almost never have change and I either have to trudge back up the stairs and search for small coins or find an ATM outside with a baby on my hip.

So, as much as I hate TV Mom stereotypes, sometimes that’s me.

Is this who I am now? My former self, suffocated by drool? 

But before we left home, I had a moment of clarity at the local Target. (Not the first of these moments to occur at a Target, I’m sure. It’s a magical place.) I reached for my wallet to pay for a box of diapers and the contents of my purse spilled out onto the counter in front of the red-vested cashier. I picked up my keys and also a handful of Egyptian pounds, a package of wet wipes and also a water color pencil, a stick of  gum and also a guitar pick, a tube of chaptsick and also my three day pass to see the temples at Angkor Wat from last spring.

And Also.

I am a mom, and also a person. A mom, and also a traveler. A mom, and also an artist. A mom, and also a mediocre-but-getting-better bassist.

I’ve been a little gun shy about blogging because I didn’t want to drift into the land of boring, naval gazing baby poop stories. Sure, it’s a large portion of how I spend my day, but the circle of people interested in my baby’s poop is very small. And said poop doesn’t define me anyway.  

The mothers in my life knew this. I’m lucky.

So here’s to writing, to making art, to living, and also, to momming.    



Taking a breather at Horus' Temple in Edfu

On our first trip to Egypt, we visited an old house with a whale bone affixed to the floor.

"Walk around it 7 times and you will be sure to have a baby!"

Well, I didn't because...that's dumb. 

Now here we are in Egypt again, almost nine years later, finally getting ready to welcome a wee baby in March. A boy. It wasn't easy for us to start a family, and it certainly took a lot more than a whale bone.

I've heard a lot of advice over the years. 

"Put a thread of saffron in carbonated volcanic water. Drink it while you are at the Hammam and then make sure to stay wrapped in blankets after you...you know...chika..chika" came from Morocco. 

In an incredibly kind gesture, someone brought me water from the Zam Zam well of Mecca after attending Hajj for the first time.

"Each morning, for seven days you should eat two dates and drink the Zam Zam water and ask Allah for a baby"   

Taxi drivers from one end of the Middle East to the other have offered many unsolicited opinions that Max had the foresight not to translate for me. 

People often recommend that you quit your job, or get a job, or take up Yoga or quit running. Adopt, don't have kids, try every treatment available as soon as possible. 

Here's what I say. It's personal and everyone will figure out what works best for them.

When someone in the Middle East asks you why you don't have a baby, and they will, all of them will, the best Arabic response is to say "Illy begeebu arrabb kuweis".

What God gives is good enough.  

And it is.

We are thrilled for this baby guy to join our family and to show him the world that we live in.



Saying Yes

Islamic Cairo
 Saying yes has gotten me pretty far in life. 

Saying yes to my husband when we were barely old enough to give our own consent, saying yes to moving to the Middle East with basically a suitcase and a smile, saying yes to graduate school one afternoon after doing some pondering but not that much. 

So when the blind man sitting in front of a Mamluk mosque off sharia khayamiya (tentmaker's street) in Islamic Cairo invited us to come inside, I said yes. Many great adventures have started this way for us. 

This was not one of them. 

I hadn't brought a scarf to cover my head, but the nice man offered me his own neck/armpit scarf. Who could refuse such a gift? Max took it from his shaking hands, wrapped it around my head and whispered "It might be a little soggy". 

Islamic Cairo
What's a soggy armpit scarf in pursuit of a private tour of a 14th century Mamluk mosque with who knows what treasures inside!

Our new friend led us to a small prayer room and beckoned us to sit on the chairs. At this point I realized the mosque was mostly non-existent. A few stone walls, generic carpets and mish mash roof. Maybe it was from the Mamluk period, it probably wasn't.

He took Max's hand and blessed him. After some time he scurried around to take my hand and bless me. His body stood between us and the exit, holding us, perhaps, just a bit hostage. My knuckle cracked under the weight of his grip. He was not unkind, just a little overly familiar. I gave Max the bat signal. Everyone should perfect their "let's scram" face for moments just like this. We thanked the man, paid him and went on our way. 

This is a pretty common tactic to coax a bit of cash out of wide eyed dummies...of which I am sometimes one. I should have seen it coming.   

"Sorry" I said to Max as we stumbled out into the sunlight.

But really, I'm not sorry. You can't let one sweaty armpit scarf get in the way of potential awesomeness.

And yes, Mom, I could see the exit at all times.


Arriving in Cairo...And There Are Birds

It's a pretty intimidating drive. From the Cairo airport to downtown. Hours through hundreds of people sardined together and as many cars and busses just as close. The buildings raise up from every direction, most half finished and surrounded by rubble and sand. 

This is the time of year when pollution swarms through the city and gets trapped between brown cement buildings. Combined with street exhaust, transatlantic jet lag, and car sickness, my first foray into Cairo was a little overwhelming. Where will I get food? Walk the dog? Get fresh air?  

When we reached our new apartment, I took a bath, lay down and fell immediately to sleep. There is only so much you can take in in a day.

But I woke up just after dawn and made my way to the balcony. The streets were empty, but I could hear Cairo slowly waking up. Small radios flickering to life, buckets of water sluicing over sidewalks, motorbike engines sputtering.  

And birds chiriping. When I looked up into the trees framing our street I saw flocks of birds soaring between branches and resting on rooftops. Birds. Lots of them. 

And I remembered the look on the face of the Egyptian woman sitting across the isle from me in the plane as we made our descent. She beamed with pride as she gazed out over the city. Fierce pride. For some reason it almost brought me to tears. 

The birds flourish and the people are proud. Certainly, I too can thrive. 


Buying Bangkok

Chiang Mai Night Market

I hate sentences that start with "I got this beautiful "X" and it only cost me this much!" or "Have you been to "Y"? It has the most amazing "Z" and it's so cheap." When conversations start this way I usually discover an urgent need to pee. Or get a drink. Or "Hey look! Someone I'd better say hi to on the opposite side of the room."  

I firmly believe that places are more than our purchases. 

And yet, here I am in Asia's biggest open air market with more bags than I can carry. I've purchased a painting that I have to come back for at the end of the day and I've already made plans to have a Thai silk dress made before I leave the country in 24 hours. 

Chiang Mai Night Market
These beautiful this's and amazing that's will later stuff my suitcase to the point of seam bursting proportions. I will have to negotiate with the baggage handler to get them all on board, shifting things from one bag to another in the airport lobby. But I have to because now I'm committed to my tiny Buddha amulets, triple pack of paper lanterns, sack of scarves, new printed tablecloth, wooden candlesticks, woven bag, tacky t-shirts that I love, ubiquitous baggy Thailand pants, and two new watches. 

To consume means to use up a resource and in some cases to completely destroy. As in a fire. I imagine myself a blazing, sucking ball of greed prowling the streets of Bangkok. Flaming lassos reach out for shiny things in my periphery. All of the shiny things. Consumption was once defined as a "wasting disease." A wasting of. A wasting away. I don't want to waste, to be wasted. Will I cherish all of these things in my hands or lose them, break them, become embarrassed of my pillage and hide them? 

I think about all of this wasting, this consuming during a massage later that week. Yes, this is true. The irony of contemplating excess while relaxing through your second massage of the day is not lost on me. 

But then I have these glowing moments where the haggling, the inspecting, the exchanging of money for goods and services so firmly root me in place. I snuck out one afternoon and found a busy noodle shop full of after work Thais. Not much more than a shop face, I squeezed past the steaming cart of broths and delicate rice noodles stuffed in a glass window. 


I point. 

"Tom Yum? Spicy?" 

I slurp and enjoy and savor and panic when I hit a pepper. It's so delicious. The sun is streaming in through the tiny, open store front and people flood the streets to buy things. Peeled durian wrapped tightly in plastic wrap to mask its gasoline smell, sacks of broth and noodles to feed the family at home, toasted peanuts, fried duck chopped on a wooden cutting block, fresh juice. T-shirts, flip flops, toys, DVDs, office supplies. 

Pink Pad Thai! 
And I realize it's not just me out there eating and spending money - all of Bangkok seems to be buying and selling, squeezing melons and demanding lower prices.

After my throat of fire is soothed by a Coke, I push back onto the busy street. My shoulders brushing against Thai shoulders. All of us carrying something in our hands.