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!

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.


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?


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.




Adjusting to Cairo?

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


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

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!

Cairo: Walking Home

Jade and I just walked home from our school. It is about a 2 minute walk from our house.

It doesn’t get much closer.

For a teen, she can roll out of bed, get her uniform on and dash to school in no time. When school starts that is… the countdown is on… Aug. 31.

She snapped this picture as we walked in the dark. We love the dark here. Dark means cooler and cooler means less than the 40+ temperatures we have been experiencing.

And if you don’t regularly feel 40+ temperatures, it feels like a hot yoga class that never ends!

In fact, last night when we walked home from the store with our Ikea rolling basket full of water bottles, mangoes and a chocolate bar for Miss Jade, we glanced at a few puddles on the road. Longingly, we considered stepping in them and even playing.

Dirty water puddles have never looked so good!

Arrived in Cairo: First Impressions

We have landed! After so much time thinking about and preparing to leave for Cairo, it seems surreal to actually be here.

Air Egypt was very good to us. No one looked twice at our massive carry-on luggage and one poor flight attendant even survived lifting it above his head to get it into the overhead bin. Jade and I together had massively failed to do the same!

I cursed at myself a few times as I tried to manage the luggage cart leaving the airport.. 5 huge bags leaning off to the side as I maneuvred the cart through sand, dirt, potholes, cars honking to get me moving faster which of course, made me falter and begin to drop said bags onto the ground.

Sweaty and tired, Jade and I managed to find our way onto the school van, pleasantly pleased with ourselves to have finished stage 1 of moving. As we glanced at the terrain from the airport to our new home in New Cairo, we both thought of Morocco. Hot (like heat wave hot, like “I forgot to turn the oven off on the hottest day in Canada” hot), sandy, slightly windy, dusty and yes, dirty at times, was what it looked like from the van’s windows. All this was immediately confirmed in minutes when we arrived at our flat.

Glancing up at the building, I reminisced of places lived in the world. Other than my home in South Africa, I haven’t lived in such a grand looking building. Elaborately designed and coloured to melt into its surroundings, homes seem to be one colour in our neighborhood…a light brown that makes home and earth look like one.

Trudging up the stairs to the second level was a work out. Second level being a misnomer as it feels much more like 5th level. If I decide to “cheap it out” and not join a gym, I think I could leave my flat and return to it various times through out the day and call it “even”.

As Jade and I entered, we were slightly blown away. Appearances wise, the flat appears decadent, spacious and cool. Air con will do that! Marble floors, huge oversized furniture, deluxe heavy curtains reminiscent of castles in Europe make our flat far from any hardship posting I might have encountered in my past!

Our landlord seems “hands on” in a good way. Available when you need him and with the added bonus, of being able to speak English. Immediately Jade and I collapsed onto our beds in a sweaty heap. Nothing elegant about how we felt or looked by this point.

After a few hours of sleep, we ventured out to do some shopping in a loopy kind of comatose state. Struggling with the currency (never my strong point), we found some basic items (plastic containers for our food to set parameters for any future insects who desire to eat their way through our home, adapters that didn’t work, and plastic cups because one can never have too many plastic cups!) Satisfied, I ate my first Egyptian veggie burger with some other teachers and enjoyed our first dancing water fountain that came complete with Michael Jackson tunes.

So far our suburb doesn’t come with camels, too much noise or too much chaos. In fact, it seems safe, quieter than expected and very manageable. The mosque is next door but because our building resembles a castle with fortress walls, we can only vaguely hear the call to prayer. The dogs are much louder but then again, dogs in the countries that I travel to, always are!

Contemplating going outside to take a picture of our building, I realize that I have to go through 3 sets of locked doors and the “which key is it?” as well as the numerous stairs…uhmmm…we will see.

Ciao from Cairo! I know Italian seems strange but it is short and I know how to spell it as opposed to my Arabic which consists of 1 word at the moment! Yes… it is on my To Do list 🙂