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The Saigon Nails Story

I can count the number of times I have had my nails done on one hand.

That was before moving to Saigon and the lure of the nail salon called my hands in for a visit… not just once this month, but twice! So to paint a picture, I am a beginner at this kind of thing.

So it is Saturday morning and fresh from cleaning my apartment, Jade and I decide to hang a right at the nail salon on the way to groceries. Forgetting I resemble a sweaty sloth, I walk in, only to see about 10 perfectly coiffed and perfectly manicured women waiting to attend to me.

For some women, this is ideal. For me, this is anxiety producing. As they buzzed around and got in closer to inspect said nails, I could feel my stress level rising. I can barely cope with the attention of one beautifier in Canada at a time,  never mind 4 at one time.

As I am ranked a novice, my daughter, who has a higher ranking, chooses my nail colour this time. She did not approve of last month’s choice of hot pink, contrasting with my white skin in my oh so lovely, orthopedic sandals to boot!

So all is going according to plan… Jade has successfully chosen a more suitable colour this time… one that will better blend my over aged toes into the world of Saigon’s well pedicured feet!

UNTIL…

The owner of the salon hones in on me and mistakenly reads my anxious look as one that is keen to try new things in the world of nails! Before I know it, she has pulled out a slew of colours to design my nails… one that involves flowers and the colour gold. All this for the price of free!

Jade looks on as I refuse to watch out of fear. An eternity later, I look down. I am now the proud owner of a multiple of designs now etched onto my finger and toe nails, complete with a bedazzling of gold dust.

As I gaze at these nails, I want to swap my hands with Jade’s!  How come she got the neutral matchy tiny flower and I ended up with the blinding butterfly twinkling in gold?!

Oh well…maybe next time, I will get it right!

 

 

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Getting Cupped in Cambodia

So it has been a few Egyptian moons since I posted last but Jade and I are still living in Cairo and doing well. Not just well…really well. In fact, yesterday she told me that this year in Egypt has been her favourite year ever. Words to make a mom smile when deciding to alter the “normal” course for a high school Canadian teen.

Since my last post (November?!!) we spent Christmas in Cambodia. For those who know me, I used to live in Cambodia many many Cambodian moons ago. I was beyond excited to be able to explore the country this time through the eyes of a tourist who had the time to see and do things that my work existence hadn’t allowed so long ago.

While exploring, we came across a traditional form of medicine that I recalled from years ago. There was no way I could have forgotten the circle marks on my colleagues’ bodies as they came to work. The idea of cupping to relieve different ailments had never been on my bucket list nor was it this time!

However, as it was described as a relaxing form of treatment, something akin to massage, my husband was eager to give it a try. After reporting positively, Jade was eager to give it a try as well. The cups are attached to the back using a little heat and the resulting suction leaves a round circle for a couple of days. I must say that it looks much worse than it is! In fact, they both announced that it was a very enjoyable and relaxing experience. As to whether it works or not to help certain ailments, I will leave that for others to decide. In any case, it was an experience that none of us will forget!

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Life From the Back of An Egyptian Taxi

You know that saying?

My life just flashed before my eyes?

It must have originated somewhere in Cairo from the backseat of a taxi.

Each time you enter the unknown charted territory, otherwise known as a Cairo taxi, a travel advisory should be issued.

Enter at your own risk. Be forewarned.

First of all, you have to negotiate. Meter, meter and meter.

However, taxi driver wants money, money and money… preferably of the easy kind from the easy foreigner who does not understand how much to pay.

When the meter has been negotiated, you now wait in solemn silence to watch as the meter begins to tick upwards praying to the taxi gods that it ticks at the appropriate rate.

Not the rigged one that unsuspecting novices might not notice.

If it is rigged, you can protest, you can demand to get out, you can renegotiate money instead of meter or you can do as we did yesterday, cut the ride short and “not so politely but still polite enough to be Canadian” fork money over and stomp away!

In any case, a taxi ride in Cairo is never boring.

Zooming down the highway, way beyond the means of a broken down beat up taxi, we whip in and out of lanes barely missing the rear view mirrors of fellow cars. Jade and I exchange looks of panic and grasp for something, anything to hold onto as taxi driver dreams of winning the race, a race we didn’t know we had entered!

Yes, there are lines on the road. Yellow, like in other countries. Someone went to the trouble of painting them on the road. But why?

Maybe Cairo wanted to be like other cities. It wanted to fit in. It wanted lines, rules and drivers who follow rules.

But this is not what Cairo is.

Cairo is Cairo. The lines look nice. But mean nothing. Not one single thing.

I think they are meant as practice. To learn how to straddle them. To learn how to cross them going any and all speeds, as many times as you can. The crazier, the better.

So lines are out. And the horn is in.

To drive in Cairo is to honk. Simple as that.

So if you want to ride in taxis, hold on, pray a little and put the ear plugs in.

Armed with our Arabic taxi, small bills and a fierce determination to fit in, Jade and I have passed the beginner’s level in taxi and have now moved onto a more advanced one. Little did we know that this level meant driving right into oncoming cars!

 

My First Egyptian Hair Cut

So it was time.

I entered with some trepidation and a bit of hope.

My hair was pretty bad. It really couldn’t get worse.

I looked around at the organized chaos and wondered if I should walk away. Another look in the mirror and I knew I couldn’t.

I sit down in a sea of a beautifully made up women, decked to the nines from head to toe. I glance at my flared jeans and red t-shirt and wonder what I had been thinking. Clearly it had not been about my wardrobe.

As I gather my wits, I glance around at the system. I am sure there is one but it is as foreign to me as Arabic is. I notice looks being exchanged as one woman “demands” something, clearly amusing to those who understand her. I wish I understood.

I am signaled and soon the hair wash begins. So far so good. I am directed to my chair and my guy shows up. He looks at me with the towel on my head and says:

Volume! Big Volume! Lots of Layers!

And I wonder how he knows when he can’t see my hair.

Off goes the towel and then the shock or is it horror is revealed.

You need to colour your hair!

I look down sheepishly and meekly say that I want to see how this goes first.

Dismayed, he shakes his head and the scissors come out.

My head is yanked in every direction as he surfaces and resurfaces all around me as he gets the right angle for each and every strand. My hair is screaming for attention and attention it receives. Almost embarrassingly so.

I wonder how much more he can cut. I wonder how much longer he can cut.

I stand up. He jumps in front of me and cuts. I sit down. He crouches down and cuts. All the time, his perfectly coiffed hair never moves and nor does his chest hair, popping out from his half buttoned shirt, perfectly appointed to reveal.

I think I am getting too old for all this.

The manager walks over. Words are exchanged. Not nicely. I think my guy has been told to hurry up.

And there is no hurrying up my guy.

The posturing begins, looks are thrown and I am no longer under the radar. In fact, I am now on center stage and I don’t know my lines!

Now my guy has slowed down even more.  The classic oppositional defiance has set in and each strand gets cut for the zillionth time.

And then I hear. My name is Mar Juana.

Seriously?!

I will colour your hair next time.

Next time?!

It appears he is done. He walks away. I sit there. I don’t know what to do.

Slowly, or so it seems, I slink out of my chair and go to pay.

Oh and the tip? I am motioned to put it into the pocket of his shirt. The final act!

I walk out, sweaty and stressed, thankful it is over.

Jade takes a look at me and announces she can fix it.

Need I say more?

 

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A Day Trip From Cairo

It was confirmed yesterday that I am the world’s worst history student.

I am living in Egypt and despite a very talented tour guide, I struggle to retain historical facts. So as we ventured outside Cairo to visit more pyramids in the Saqqarah and Dahshur areas, I was probably more enamoured with the green fields, the date palm trees, the camels, the goats, the sheep and the donkey carts of everyday life in Egypt. Do I have pictures of those? Of course not. But someday… I will manage to get a few.

In the meantime, we saw a lot, we learned a lot and well… I retained a little. Jade braved the “bent down steep incline into a pyramid” while I waited outside. I did venture into one pyramid that involved “less folding over” and was rewarded by my first sighting of hieroglyphics. The pyramids are far from the hustle and bustle of Cairo, set quietly and elegantly in the desert.

Egypt is so much more than its pyramids but it is its pyramids that make it unique and extra special. Overall, a fascinating country with a history that amazes and confuses me daily!

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5 Reasons Why Sri Lanka Is A Favourite

1.The people make this country. Everywhere we turned, there was someone willing to help us find our way or give us a seat on the bus. Sri Lankans are some of the friendliest and kindest people I have met travelling.

2.The food is delicious. Despite being forewarned that the food would be ultra spicy, Jade and I managed, quite easily, to eat our share of curry dishes,  quite happily.

3.The tea hills are spectacularly beautiful. I thought I had seen “green hill beauty” in Colombia, Vietnam and Indonesia but tea hill country in Sri Lanka is breathtaking too. Keeping our eyes focused for the women working in the tea plantations kept us amused for hours. Although we did find a few, we never managed to take a photo that rivaled any of the postcards we saw.

4.The tea was special. Maybe it comes from drinking tea in the place where it was picked or maybe it was just that good but Jade, a non-tea drinker, has now been converted to a tea lover. Cozy is the word that comes to mind as I reflect on our hours drinking tea out of real tea cups as the monsoon poured around us.

5.Taking the train in Sri Lanka is really a one of a kind experience! We took the train from Ella to Colombo and yes, it was a mere 4 hours late by the time we finally arrived but who was really complaining? The views from the deck (the part that was open between the cars) were beyond words. We stood for hours watching Sri Lankan life fly by. I would go back to Sri Lanka for that experience alone.

(As we were only there for a week, we had a limited sampling of all the beauty Sri Lanka has to offer. Highlights for us were Ella and its Little Adam’s Peak, the train trip from Ella to Kandy, visiting a working tea plantation outside Ella, and The Dhambulla caves outside Kandy. Needless to say Jade’s first experience in Asia was very positive and Sri Lanka just reinforced why I love this area of the world so much.)

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New Cairo: Shades of Brown

I live in New Cairo and yes, it is new. But sometimes it is hard to get my head wrapped around that.

When we think “new”, we imagine shiny and clean.

These aren’t the 2 words that pop to mind when I look at my neighborhood.

Shades of brown, dust, dirt, garbage and touches of colour scattered amongst is what I see as I walk daily to school and to my shops for much needed water, bananas and bread (oh and the odd Milka bar as well).

But with the shades of brown comes smiles, high fives and the odd person who stands out from the rest.

Once while looking for a restaurant, a lady offered to drive us there so we could find it. We got inside and she happily drove us to it.

Once while shopping, we paid too much for our vegetables and the man happily told me and returned the money.

Once while waiting for Jade to join me, the parking man offered me his seat so I could sit down.

Small gestures that mean a lot when adjusting to a new place.

So although shades of brown dominate my landscape, I see the colours and the vibrancy of the people who encompass it as well.

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Adjusting to Cairo?

I have lived in 8 countries. I have worked overseas before. This time, however, “adjusting” is taking longer.

Why?

Other times I was less (or not!) reliant on computers, the Internet, or anything else electronic!

This time I am. And it is a game changer.

As I have limited to no wifi at home, my life revolves around my phone and/or my school computer. Both have their good days and their not so good days.

As a result, any ideas of “perfection” when it comes to my blog and/or keeping in touch with other bloggers through their blogs, have sadly gone down the drain. At least for the moment.This has been my first lesson in adjusting.

Adjusting is hard work. In fact in Egypt it can be very sweaty hard work.

I literally sweat all day! Living on the third floor and working on a fourth floor means walking up and down stairs all day long. Especially when you teach Grade 4s who need to be taken and returned to the classroom numerous times throughout the day. So the gym has become my flat and my classroom. It saves money and it saves time!

I have been teaching for one week now. A typical day begins early for me (my choice!) as I like to beat the sun and get to work before I officially become one hot sweaty mess. Walking to work is minutes away so I am very fortunate in that regard.

The teaching day is busy, loud, slightly chaotic and sometimes resembles what I have previously experienced in Canada. And sometimes not. It depends on the day.

I have a classroom with desks and 22 students. I have 22 students, some who love to talk and others who don’t. Those who love to talk are entertaining at times but of course, need to be managed. All teachers know the thrills and the lows of September teaching but how is it that I tend to forget what September feels like each year?

As my school has a Ontario curriculum this means some changes for me as expectations and procedures are of course different. And of course, this school is set in a desert like setting in the suburbs of Cairo.

Students get to swim each week in the school pool! For those who teach like myself in schools without pools, this feels like a weekly field trip! Our first visit went fine until the girls needed to primp after to get ready to return to class. Yes, another adjustment for me and one that will involve some creative solutions in the future.

Each day after school, Jade comes to my classroom. For the first time, I am teaching at a school that she attends. We love this! Her adjustment is extraordinary. She was meant to do this. Her classmates are curious and friendly. A perfect combination for a teen in a new country. Jade even loves her uniform and the food in the cafeteria. And of course, one week into school and she is already sleeping over at a friend’s house. Can you hear me sigh with relief and gratitude that she loves it so much already?!

Usually after school, we walk to our local market and stores to run our errands. We have our fruit man and our bread man that we buy from daily. We have our store now that delivers our water and our heavier groceries to our flat. Delivery for the cost of less than a dollar! We have our pizza take out place and our Italian restaurant for more relaxed occasions.

We are slowly but surely finding our rhythm.

And as we do, we will change it all up next week when we fly to Sri Lanka to backpack for one week. Now that is the adjusting that I can get used to pretty quickly.

Take care all and thanks for bearing with us as we find our Egyptian feet.

Cheryl and Jade

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Adhan: The Call To Prayer In My Neighborhood

Last night when I was skyping my husband in Canada, the call to prayer began.

I took my computer to the bedroom window and opened it so he could share in my experience of listening to it.

A beautiful magical sound was emanating from the mosque beside our flat (pictured above). Although I was unable to understand the words, I imagine someday being able to comprehend a few of them.

As I write this at 3:35 PM it has begun again. Now more wake awake, I realize I can not only hear the mosque beside my flat, but also another a short distance away. The sound echoes through out our flat.

I love this reassuring calming sound five times a day that speaks “community” to me. Even if the “community” sounds sometimes begin around 4AM!

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How To Survive The Pyramids And Stay Sane

Strange title eh?

My dad, a world traveller, hated Cairo because of the pyramids. Why?

The pyramids come with an army of touts and for those who don’t know what a tout is, they are people whose living depends on tourism but their approach can vary. Some touts will listen to you and others simply won’t. The touts at the pyramids have a reputation for being some of the most persistent in the world. For travellers who don’t enjoy the hassle, this can be concerning.

So I have wondered how I would manage the touts and still admire the pyramids in peace.

Tuck away any desire to politely respond and simply ignore them completely.

Do not look at them. Do not look at what they are selling. Do not respond. Move away from them if necessary.

Kind of surprisingly, this worked for Jade and I.

We saw the pyramids in peace albeit a very hot and sweaty peace!

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It was a surreal experience that hasn’t really sunk in yet. All of a sudden, you emerge from the urban sprawl of Giza on the other side of the Nile River from Cairo and there they are. Just sitting there, famously, waiting to be admired. Despite having a guide to explain the history of them (or the many versions of stories attached to them) the information didn’t sink in as I stared at them in wonder.

The pyramids, right there, in front of my eyes and I couldn’t seem to absorb them.

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Maybe for the first time, I have found a tourist site that really needs returning to after having researched them thoroughly. Maybe this will help to “take it in”. Maybe the pyramids just need to be seen more than once to fully admire their grandeur, their presence, their age.

At least Jade and I now know one thing. We are definitely in Egypt!

(And for those of you who have heard the stories of the garbage around the pyramids, I am very happy to report that the garbage has mostly been cleaned up thanks to the government’s decision to implement such needed changes.)

Have you experienced touts before? What was your worst experience with them?