Friday, July 30, 2004

Momentsforeign, by the Rockwell Family

Momentsforeign, by the Rockwell Family

I met Rocky and Sally Rockwell in 1988 when we first moved to Alexandria. Rocky was working with a company that was rebuilding Alexandria's waste water system and Sally was a mainstay of the American Women's Associaton, a group that was infinitely more international than the name shows, being made up of women from all nationalities in Alexandria. This was one of the first contacts that I made in Egypt, and the women in the group were invaluable in teaching me how to get around and manage things for my family in Alex. I soon became editor of the monthly newsletter for AWA and a year or so later collaborated with Sally and other women in producing a guidebook that we called "Coming To Alexandria" for other families who might find themselves moving to Egypt.

Rocky and Sally had a rooftop apartment at the top of the hill in Kafr Abdou, the area of Alexandria that many of us lived in. The view from the terrace was of the gardens of the British Consulate, and it was the scene of many afternoon barbeques and evening parties. The entire old apartment building that they shared was a major social center with the Goulding family (British currently living in Portugal) on the ground floor. Rocky and Ben were co-owners with some other guys of a rickety old catamaran (I believe) and both families joined us frequently for sails from the Eastern Harbour to Montaza on our boat, the Peregrine. Peregrine, a 30 ft cruising boat, is still moored in Cyprus and is carrying her age well under my son's gentle care.

The Gouldings had been in South and Central America before Egypt, working with universities and fishery companies. Ben was teaching at the University of Alexandria. Sally's experience raising her children abroad was an immense inspiration and help to me, as was Rowena's practical knowledge as a nurse.

I remember the time in Alexandria as a special part of my life. Living in Egypt was an adventure that we had embarked on not knowing that it would take the rest of our lives. The children were four and seven and were attending the French embassy school in an old Greek section of Alexandria, Ibrahimayah, while spending Halloween with children from the British School and learning to trick or treat as they did...believe me, it is different. All the children had to be prepared to sing for their candy. For a brief time at the beginning, we had a donkey who lived in the back garden and took the children for rides to the ice cream store that was just opposite the American consul's home. The ice cream was fresh fruit juice prepared in the light Italian fashion, and the donkey (Homer) liked lemon. I would walk through the streets with my kids on Homer, usually trailing a string of local kids who were entranced with the idea of a foreign family having a donkey. Homer, unfortunately, got bored when the children started school and was sent back to the friend's farm to be more active. Donkeys really don't like sitting around alone much.

Sally was sort of a mother for Rowena and I, in a funny non-related way. She had been through it all, in the hard places and during the hard times, while we were relative newcomers. When Rocky retired and they moved back to Pennsylvania finally, she gave me a watercolour of her terrace in Alex. Right now, that painting is hanging in a nursery school run by a British friend of mine in Maadi. I only have so many walls in my rented house and Jo offered to keep and love it for me until I have more space. The children love the painting of the scarlet blooms overhanging pots of flowers on the terrace.

Rocky and Sally weren't any kind of heroic individuals. They were just great salt-of-the-earth normal folk. They did have the sense of humour, much needed when a cab driver's explanation for rear-ending Sally on a main street was that "It wasn't his fault. He had no brakes." The only damage was to the bumper so the story was told with great hilarity. They had the sense of adventure, a willingness to see the world from a different perspective. I think I'm going to have to order the book.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Hey! I made Reuters

Internet News Article |

The article is more about the uses of blogs in business, but I found my introduction quoted at the beginning. I wish Magdy were still with us; he'd get such a kick out of my blog being used even in such a minor way in a Reuters article.

I don't know about using blogs in business, myself. You have to have a fairly thick skin for some of the weird comments that you get, and if they were from your boss or a co-worker, it would be that much harder. I don't know that I'd have had the nerve to write my feelings on the net when I was younger. But I'm not and I gave up guilt and/or trying to please other people a few years back. My skin is thick enough now...getting two kids to young adulthood does that for you.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Cars and Donkey Carts

Donkeycart, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
My car, a 5 year old Jeep Cherokee with sunburned paint, is in the "shop" for a couple of days for an adjustment to the rear differential. Wow...that almost sounds like I really know what I'm doing here. Well, I almost do but I'm relying a lot on the guidance of a good friend, who drives desert rallies and does jeep trekking in the desert. He helps me take care of the car, while his wife helps me take care of my body with her amazing massage skills. The work on the car will take a couple of days but will only cost a few hundred LE, which is good since I have more time than money. The "shop", like many here in Egypt is a shady spot under a bridge where a good jeep mechanic has a small parts warehouse nearby and a light bulb suspended from the bottom of the bridge so that he can work all night during the heat of the summer. Meanwhile, I take some time to work in my garden and get some writing done.

If I really need to go somewhere, I can always call a neighbour in an emergency. There aren't any cabs out here, but on a casual basis there is always Zuzu's cart. Fresh cut forage is a basis of the feed for my horses, donkeys and water buffalo, so I invested in a cart that a steelworker made for me and that my daughter and some friends spent a hilarious afternoon painting last summer. My daughter is the arm at the right of the photo, her friend Rana is helping to pull the wagon, and Ganja, one of our baladi dogs is supervising. Driving that cart is one of the supreme joys in my life, believe it or not. I am the occasion of a great deal of mirth for my neighbours, since who ever heard of a foreigner driving a donkey cart? And every kid who sees the cart has to ask to hop on for a ride...I don't mind. I just tell them that it's 50 piastres from my house to the mosque and they all fall over themselves laughing. Zuzu is a white donkey who came to me skinny and covered in sores about 18 months ago. She's now sleek but with a bit of a belly still after the birth of her son, George, who appeared a snowy white, but has mellowed to a dusty beige. She trots along on automatic pilot, knowing the way to my friends' homes and staying to the side of the road so that the huge dump trucks full of sand don't run us down.

We have to share our roads with all sorts of creatures here, a wide variety of vehicles as well as the usual livestock (camels, donkeys, goats, sheep, horses, chickens, ducks, geeese, and children!) and Zuzu and my horses have learned to handle a myriad of situations that many other equids would freak out at. It's currently wedding season, as most village weddings are held outdoors in the summer, and every so often we encounter a parade of trucks...pickups, dumptrucks, you name it...all loaded with men, women, children, and the furnishings of a newly wed couple's house. Horns honk, women's a joyous occasion and one that almost sent my mare and I into a canal the first time she saw it! But country drivers are much more courteous that city drivers and they slow down for beasts. There are five geese down the road that I swear wait to cross only when a car is approaching...and we all slow down so that they can go for a swim in the canal.

Driving in Cairo proper is not for the faint of heart. As many visitors to Egypt have noted, Egyptians are warm, friendly, welcoming people....until they get behind the wheel of a car. Then the monster within awakes. Actually, it isn't really their fault I believe. Most have never formally learned to drive. The rules of the road are not published in neat little handbooks to study but are mysterious pieces of esoterica only for the initiated, whoever they are. Cairo traffic reminds me of those shots of fish schools on the Discovery Channel. You can never see what the signal is, but they all change direction at once. Well, sometimes the signal for the cars is the horn, but often you have to ponder the fact that there are much fewer accidents than one might expect with such creative driving.

One of my most terrifying experiences was that of having my son and daughter finally reach the age at which they could get a driving license. They were thrilled and I chewed my nails to my elbows. I had taken quite a bit of time teaching them both to drive, but what could I do about all the others on the road? So far, so good and they both seem to be good drivers. The trick is to assume that everyone else on the road is a homocidal/suicidal maniac who is probably going to do something to kill himself/herself while taking out as many others as possible. Cairenes are by necessity amazing defensive drivers.

But for two days, I can relax and depend on my own two feet or Zuzu's four.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Morning Laughter

Most mornings I get up about 7 or 8 and I connect to the net to download my email while I shower before I have a cup of tea, prepare parrot and dog food, and feed the avians. This morning I did the same, why not? but I peeked at the email before I made my tea and got distracted.

First, I wish I did speak Portuguese, but I don't. French and Spanish, yes, Portuguese no. I have some very good friends, originally Brits who lived in Alexandria with us back in the 80's who are living outside of Lisbon. Their extremely fair, blonde or red haired kids who grew up speaking Arabic with the gardener and housekeeper are now perfectly fluent in Portuguese and I'm quite envious. So, Mundomeu, my apologies.

The next two posts left me chuckling. First, there are probably many Portuguese-speaking Muslims in the world. Arabic is, after all, only required of those who want to read the Quran in the original. If my daughter can speak Italian, French, and Spanish, does it mean that she's not Muslim? Oh, the possibilities of entertainment here are endless.

Then there was Jo who was incensed that I "gave up" my religion for inheritance..... Uh, where did I ever say that I was Christian? In fact, I was raised as (as my good friend Ameeta, who was raised a Jain, put it so well) as a non-aligned monotheist. Let's face it. Whatever power may or may not exist, and people are qute free to insert anything that they might like, I doubt very much that he/she/it's primary concern has been the labels that humans wear. I don't recall anything in the New Testament in which Jesus is alleged to have said "And you shall call yourselves Christians" fact, I bet that he'd be horrified. Most of the advice in the Bible and Quran is about how to be a better person, rather than how to wear a team t-shirt. I happen to think that labelling humans as Christians of whatever flavour as opposed to Hindus or Muslims is rather silly and counterproductive. My whole point was that I didn't give up anything to be called a Muslim, I just let some people who are fascinated with labels be more comfortable. I suspect that I'm a better Muslim than many label-conscious folk are, but I was before too. It's how you live your life that counts.

No wonder Anonymous posts are anonymous. Now to feed the birds and chat with AliBird who truly understands God and the universe and everything.