Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Kids in School: A Kindergartener

This has been a big Fall for us as we had not one, but two kids start their first years of school. Our oldest began his first year of Kindergarten and boy was he nervous. All summer he had talked about going to school and all the things he was going to learn and do. But, when it came time for orientation, butterflies got the best of him. Although he curiously took in everything about his school and classroom, he refused to speak to his teacher and retreated into this little shell of nerves. On the first day he nervously chewed on his fingernails all the way to school and gripped my hand tightly as we walked to his class. He was terrified. Luckily his teacher was prepared for first day jitters and had placed a sort of welcome package at each seat. It's hard for a kid to remember why they're so scared when they have Play Doh to distract them. There were no tears as we kissed him goodbye and began walking out of the room. He turned around once to watch us, gave us a hesitant little wave, then went back to his Play Doh.

He has now been in school for a month and likes it. He comes home every day with something new to tell us about his day, his new friends or something they did in school. A practice fire drill was a big cause of excitement. In the beginning, he'd talk about "this boy in my class" or "the girl who sits next to me. As the month has gone on it's become "My friend...". One day he proudly announced "I gave "C" she's my friend, my phone number." Five years old and passing out his number to girls already. I may be in some trouble with this one. ;-)

School changes kids. Sometimes it's for the better and they learn great things and habits. But, sometimes the change is not so welcome. For my son, his attitude and behavior at home has changed. I won't lie, he has always been a bit attitude prone, but these days he sometimes leaves me staring and absolutely flabbergasted, rendered speechless by his words and actions. I don't know if is suffering some delusion that makes him think because he's in school he's 'too big' for Mommy now, if he's maybe picking up some things from other kids, maybe he's acting out at home after being 'confined' in school all day...I just don't know. This is all new territory for me, but don't worry, the behavior is being addressed. My hope is that eventually, hopefully soon,  when the novelty and newness of school has worn off a bit more he will settle down, especially when he realizes  this behavior is okay. Honestly, at first this embarrassed me. At first I wondered where I've gone so horribly wrong as a parent. Ok, I started wondering if maybe I was a bad parent. But, you know what? After talking to other moms about this, I realized I am not alone! Other kids do this too! And some of those moms are absolutely awesome parents. I've realized this is not a parenting fail. A parenting fail would be to let the behavior continue unchecked and no doubt get worse. Kids will test their boundaries as they grow, that's normal, maddening at times but normal. As parents, we have to teach them what's ok and what isn't and guide them back to those boundaries when they blow by them. That's just as important as their academic education. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Visit to Egypt Continued

My experience as an American visiting Egypt is very different from a typical tourist, simply because my husband is Egyptian and my in-laws live there. This makes it easy to know where to go, where to avoid and other inside info. We stay with family when in Egypt so in a way, I get pretty absorbed into every day Egyptian life. At the same time, I'm very obviously not Egyptian and it does affect how people react to me. Oddly enough, most people are intrigued that I'm American and are very nice. If we go to a restaurant servers tend to be extra friendly and several of them proudly used whatever English they knew with me. Someone once told me they just think they'll get a better tip out of the American. I really don't think that's it, but even if it was, good service deserves a good tip. Of course on the flip side there's always one or two people that shoot me dirty looks. Strangely enough, it's almost always a woman. I was told that it's very likely they see me as a kind of thief for marrying (or in their eyes stealing) an Egyptian man. Ah well, can't please everyone. Children are very amusing in their reaction to me. For some, I'm probably the very first white person they see up close and their reactions are divided. Many of them smile broadly at me or even wave. Others regard me as if they're unsure whether or not I'm going to gobble them up. The relief on their faces when I simply smile at them is priceless.

That brings me to another point, how Egyptians treat children. Children are very valued in Egypt and treated quite differently than in the US. The 'Children should be seen and not heard' mentality doesn't really exist there. And there isn't a lot of 'Children can't go here, shouldn't go there' either. Children go where their parents go for the most part. No one thinks twice about a child being in a coffee shop because everyone goes. Some coffee shops even have playgrounds and things for the kids to do while their parents sip tea and coffee and indulge in shisha. I lost count of how many people talked to, played with or complimented my kids. A hair ruffle here, a handshake there, even an occasional outstretching of arms. A stop at a bakery never failed to net the kids a complimentary treat or two. One baker became so enamored with my daughter he gave her enough kunifa, basbousa and cookies to last her a month. And if it wasn't strangers supplying them with treats, it was happy to spoil them relatives. My kids loved the seemingly unlimited array of treats of course. Mommy, not so much.

One thing that is hard for me is street children. It's heart breaking to see them dirty and begging on the streets. And I can't quite find the words to describe how I felt watching a particular pair attempt to pick pocket people passing by. The kids, a boy and a girl, couldn't have been more than 5 and 8, yet there they were. A favored trick is to grab onto a person's hand and pull off their rings or bracelets as the person tries to pull away. It's sad and appalling. But it's also a reality. There are other street children who go around peddling tissues and other wares, either with their mothers or for some sort of 'boss'. There was one particular boy that I will never forget. We were sitting in a street side coffee shop in Alexandria when he appeared. He was maybe 6 or 7 at most dirty and skinny with huge brown eyes and a mop of curly dark hair. He was selling tissues and eyed us hopefully as he stopped at our table. He stood there for a minute peering at me uncertainly until I smiled at him. His face literally lit up and he smiled the sweetest smile. I don't know what it was about him in particular over all the other street children I had seen, but something about this little boy touched me. He seemed more innocent somehow. The mother in me wanted to scoop him up and take him home, but the most I could do was give him some money and hope it was used to feed him. As I type this I'm tearing up and wondering where he is now and how he is. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Visit to Egypt

As I mentioned in my previous post, we spent 6 weeks in Egypt over the summer. Let me tell you, that's a long trip with three kids. Luckily we were able to leave at night so the kids slept most of the way to our connecting flight in London. The flight from London to Cairo was filled with "Are we there yet?" and "How much longer?" but was otherwise a decent trip as well. Once we landed, and finally made it through customs and luggage claim, we were greeted by nearly half of my husband's family. No, seriously. It felt very much like a homecoming. As soon as we stepped through the doors we were greeted by cheers and whoops of delight as my brothers-in-law swooped in to pluck my sons right over the ropes. We were all passed from relative to relative with handshakes or hugs and kisses on both cheeks. My boys grinned from ear to ear through it all as my daughter, who was meeting her relatives for the first time, eyed everyone suspiciously. Once the bags were loaded, we were off into the city, my boys climbing into the car with their uncles with barely a wave. I was seated in the potentially intimidating position of right between the woman who for all intents and purposes is my mother-in-law and my husband's third mother/Aunt. And then began the attempt at conversation. Despite my best efforts, my Arabic is really lacking. I can understand quite a bit but just can't convince me mouth and tongue to form the words. This is a problem when most of your in-laws have limited English. There are a lot of smiles, hand gestures and simple one word answers in a conversation like this. But we managed mostly.

As for Cairo itself, it's as alive in the evening as ever. There are people and cars everywhere. Daring pedestrians take their lives into their hands and dart across streets as cars zip by without slowing a bit. Cars battle for position, turning two lane streets into six, horns blaring all the while. Did I mention traffic laws in Cairo are pretty nonexistent? On every corner there's someone selling something. As we stopped to pick up food, more street hawkers and pedestrians strolled, toddled or streamed by as people went about their business. In the scorching heat of summer in the desert, most people only venture out at night. As we continued driving, I stared out the windows taking in the familiar landmarks. Even in the dark of night it's easy to see that some things have changed since the revolution, a fact that would become more clear as the trip went on.

As I mentioned, the heat of the desert is brutal in the summer months, especially during the day. It felt very much like stepping into an oven set to broil. And being a Muslim country, there are no shorts and tanks allowed for women. That was a hard adjustment. The evenings, although still very hot, usually cooled off enough that you didn't feel like you were suffocating. Mostly. I would say I don't know how Egyptians stand it, but in reality they're used to it. If it dips below say 85 they think it's getting cold. It takes some getting used to. We did venture to the beaches of Mamoura in Alexandria for several days and it was noticeably cooler there.

Although I didn't feel unsafe in Cairo on either trip, before or after the revolution, there are obvious changes. People seem to be more cautious now. People in Cairo have always had their worries, but before the revolution, in general, the feeling was more relaxed and happier. Now, there's a feeling of people being on the edge and uncertain of their future and the future of their country. Which is really understandable. Despite being more subdued, life does seem to go on as normal in most of Cairo. Tahrir Square, the main sight of the protests, is still active, although calmer than before.

This is Tahrir Square at night. 

There was some damage during the revolution that can still be seen on some buildings such as the one below.

The rumor is that this building was burned by one of former president Mubarak's sons. Directly behind this building is The Egyptian Museum. There's some damage to the side of the museum (the side that houses the mummies) as well. Luckily, it's very minor.

In Alexandria it was a bit more relaxed. The city has a large tourist and visitor population so many people are there on vacation. We stayed in the private beach area of Mamoura right on the ocean. I literally spent hours sitting on the balcony, enjoying the breeze and watching the waves and passersby on Mamoura's version of the boardwalk. 

This is the view from our balcony just before dawn.

And a Mamoura sunset.

Another view from the balcony. I'm not sure of the exact story for this building. I was told it was a castle for a former King of Egypt but I do not know the details.

Early morning fisherman working just off the beach. 

We were in Mamoura for the start of Ramadan. In America, people put up lights to celebrate Christmas. In Egypt lights are put up for Ramadan. 

We didn't venture to any of the usual tourist attractions around Cairo during this trip, but I managed to get some quick pictures as we passed by. 

A view of the pyramids at Giza. 

Another look. Most people don't realize that the pyramids are actually in the city. Most pictures only show them in the desert. There is desert on two sides, but on the other two sides there are buildings and roads. 

This is Cairo Tower. Trust me, it is very very high. Venturing to the top once was enough for me. 

There is more I would like to say about being an American visiting Egypt, but I'll save that for a future post. Stay tuned for Part 2.