Wednesday, September 22, 2004

From the Mango to the Apple

Tomorrow, if I can remember where my suitcase is, I will get on a flight to Vienna where I will get a much needed night's sleep in a hotel across from the airport. Then on Friday I will fly to JFK where some friends will collect me to deposit me on my daughter's doorstep for a couple of weeks in the Big Apple. I haven't been in the US for over a year so two weeks away from the Big Mango will be a change.

Not all of the trip will be vacation, however. I have a daughter at Columbia who wants some administrative help, bank account management and the like. I want to see some friends in Massachusetts if the transport can be arranged. And finally I have to travel to Toronto to go through some things that were put in storage in 1988 when we moved to Egypt "for two years". My husband was always saying that he'd ship the stuff over here, but somehow it never got done and now I doubt that I will bother to ship most of it. I mean, really, do I need 48 wine glasses, even if I do have 18 dogs? Or maybe it's especially since I have 18 dogs. And there is an entire box of decanters that were given to us as wedding presents and they have never had anything decanted into them. I guess this is where I find out about eBay or something like that.

There are things that I'm really looking forward to, like dinner at La Taqueria, a hole in the wall Mexican restaurant on Amsterdam Ave in the upper westside that serves brilliant Mexican food and Oso Negro beer. Bookstores are always lovely, and fresh bagels. But one of the things that my daughter wants help with is figuring out how to make plastic fruits and vegetables taste real. Don't know if I'll be much help there. Still, as my mom used to say, a change is as good as a rest.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Child Labour

I was the oldest of four children, and when people commented on how much work four children must be my mother used to say that she had four so that she would never have to do housework. She and my dad had us organised so that every morning before we went to school the house was vaccuumed, all the trash emptied, laundry collected and put in the washer so that it could be hung after school, breakfast was cooked, consumed, cleared and dishes washed, all the animals (and there were always lots) fed and cared for, and all the beds made and bedrooms tidied. I have two children who, bless their hearts, were raised with a housekeeper and a gardener and a driver, all of which made my life easier but left them rather ill-prepared for fending for themselves in university. To their credit, they have learned despite the disability.

In Egypt, among the lower middle class and on down, the children work. Education in Egypt is supposed to be compulsory and most of the children go to some sort of school, whether a government school or a mosque school. In the countryside children work quite a lot, as they have for centuries in most rural areas. I have a roll of snapshots in my head: a girl about 5 with her galabeya hiked up around her hips squatting by a tub of soapy water scrubbing dishes while her younger brother helps to carry a bucket of water from the pump; a boy not more than four years old solemnly, and rather inaccurately, sweeping the sidewalk in front of his mother's shop next to where I'm sitting with two friends drinking coffee; a pair of sisters who guide their slowly increasing flock of sheep and goats down the road to the shelter by their father's field and back home each morning and evening before and after school.

I'm very much in favour of education, no question about it. As well, I think that a bit of work done to help in the family is a good thing. There is very much an attitude in more "developed" countries that children are too young to do any work and that somehow childhood should be dedicated to school and play. While I'd like to boost the quality of schooling for the kids around here, I have to admit that they are learning a lot from helping out around the house and fields and that they seem to have plenty of time to play as well. They don't have much time for television, their football games are likely to be in the desert or a fallow field or even the street rather than a mowed field. But it's common to see a group of children sitting in the shade of a mulberry tree working on their homework together.

I'm not sure that this is such a bad childhood.