Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I'm Going to Kick My New Neighbor and the Good News

For the last six months we've enjoyed being one of only three occupied apartments on this 6-apartment floor. The best part is that we had no one living on our side of the hall but us. Until about 4 days ago. And of course the new tenants want to renovate before they actually move in. But in typical Egyptian fashion, they are FRIGGING NIGHT OWLS and I have kids in school who have to get up at 0530 hours every morning and there's not a lot of sleep going on at night around here thanks to these ass-clowns banging on the walls to all hours of the night.  So I may welcome them to our floor by stomping them with my husband's new steel toe boots. WELCOME (stomp) TO (stomp) THE (stomp) NEIGHBORHOOD!

I'll move on to some Good News now.

It's getting colder here in Alexandria. And humid.  And I'm wondering if I'm part labrador or something....my nose is kind of damp and cold lately. Weird.

Anyway, I've been attempting to write a novel...no, SEVERAL novels for the last ten years and I always start out with a bang but then my computer crashes and I've not backed anything up or I lose the notebook I was scrawling in or I develop writer's block or I'm just interrupted by that annoying thing I sometimes call "my life."

So I've completed pretty much about 14 chapters of several stories that add up to bird cage lining.

Until this week.

I've FINALLY got a fantastic idea and it's a subject matter that I know quite well.  My teachers always told me to write what I know. So I finally am doing just that.  I may slow up a bit on blogging for a while, but I'm still writing. Just in a different place. I will try to get something on here every 5 days or so just because I really like others patting me on the back more than doing it myself. Less cramping that way.

May all my Christian friends have a wonderful Christmas.  May my Jewish friends have a Happy Chanukah.  May my African friends have a Blessed Kwanzaa. May the peace, love and force be with you.

Friday, December 16, 2011


My daughter is 12 years old. She's always been relatively helpful, albeit with a little prodding. But eventually she does help out with cooking or dishes or whatever I ask her to do. She's pretty smart, too. Samiya wins at dominoes, chess and any video game EVER. She's a righteous goalie and has a pretty devastating right cross. Lately, she has been involved in about 2/3 of the altercations happening in the house. If she's not fighting with Aiman, then she's fighting with Ismail or crying because Mohamed kicks ass now and takes names later. Most of the fighting (I'd say about 74% of it) she's involved in, is the fault of her big mouth. She IS her mother's daughter. I've been working on the whole "name-calling" thing forever, it seems. We've determined that her Indian love names for her brothers are "Jerk," "Stupid," and "Idiot." We're confused as to whether or not they actually like these names because while they protest them, they still answer to them.

Anyway, after the 4 zillionth fight to be broken up yesterday, I was cooking and  pissed off and slamming things around the kitchen. Samiya was made to wash dishes to keep her away from her brothers who were united in wanting to kill her. So, intelligently she let me cool off for a few minutes before she attempted any conversation. Finally I cracked wise with her about something, and she looked at me and asked, "When we all grow up and get married and move out, God willing, aren't you going to be bored?"

"WHAT?!" I asked in my Barbara Walters meets McCain voice.

"Bored. You know, when you don't have all these teenage fights and arguments to keep you busy. Aren't you and Baba going to be bored when we move out?" I looked at her to see if this was an attempt at humor but her face looked completely serious.

I started to laugh. I laughed one of those hearty, loud laughs that eventually turns to silent laughing facial gestures with a struggle to get oxygen to your lungs as tears stream out of your eyes and urethra simultaneously. She got pissed and slammed the sponge down onto the counter top and stormed out of the kitchen. I regained my composure and called her into the kitchen while I fanned the flush out of my cheeks with a tea towel. "Honey, I apologize if you felt like I was laughing at you when you were asking me a serious question. You just have no idea the hilarity of your question. Your father and I have been patiently surviving your teen age fighting, desperately WAITING to be bored in the silence of you all moving out."
She got mad again and walked out. Guess I'm up for MOTY Award again....in the Sarcasm Genre.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


She was a freshman when I was a senior. I knew who she was. I said hi to her when I saw her in the hallways at school. Her brothers and I were all friends. They lived on the court behind ours. Years go by and I read on the internet that she and her young daughter had died. I sent my condolences to the family. I didn't know how and something inside me kept me from asking about the circumstances. Today I read an article online that detailed the incident and I felt sick to my stomach. She was shot by police after refusing to put down a knife that she was using to repeatedly stab her four year old daughter. Now at first, I thought, "Oh my God! How could she?" but then I read on. She had been suffering from emotional and financial distress, probably not in that order. She'd lost her job and hadn't been able to afford to pay her rent for 5 months or more. The water had been shut off for failure to pay the bill. Apparently the state had been threatening to take her children. No one knows what they will do in such a situation. I mean, it's easy to say, "I know I would never" but how do you know? I would HOPE that I would never feel such hopelessness and fear as to take the lives of my children. I have to hope that my belief that God controls all would get me through.

I have been in some seriously dire situations financially. I lost a house to foreclosure. I had wages garnished for 6 weeks once (not just some...the entire 6 weeks of pay...$zero income.) And were it not for WIC and the kindness of friends and our ability to eat canned beans and bread, we may not have made it. And it was hard, but we did it. A lot of you know that we returned to Texas from Egypt last year to make a go of it there. After four months, I packed the kids back up and came back to Egypt. We just couldn't do it. We applied for food stamps and I was training to go back to work as an interpreter. My husband was working and applying all over the city for more work. But no one was hiring (except illegals) and we didn't have enough money to pay rent. When we finally decided that I was going to move with the children back to Egypt, my mom and sister and various extended relatives all had their opinions and emotions over the issue. But you see, none of those who were angry had been in a desperate place or lost a  home or had stared the inability to feed their kids in the face before. And we listened and tried to explain but they didn't "get it." And we left anyway, with a lot of hurt and angry people in our wake. Some blamed me. Most blamed my husband and assumed that he "sent me away." (Anyone who truly knows me, KNOWS that I am rarely forced to do anything against my will.) Whatever their opinions we had to do what was right for us and our situation. No regrets.

I look at the situation of my former school mate and I wonder what she would have done if she'd had the option we did. If she was able to take "the out" that we were, would she be alive today. God knows. I do know that through my grief for her surviving child and brothers that I again see a lesson reiterated. Judge not that you be not judged. We cannot judge her actions. God knows her heart and the desperate place that she was in. I pray God forgive her her sins and grant her His mercy. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

My Little Sister

She is the third child of four, the youngest girl. She has bright red hair and if you ask her where her daddy is she will wiggle her pinkie and tell you, "wrapped around this finger." And if she's laughing, you're going to laugh, too. She was the tattle-tellingest, teasingest kid I ever knew growing up. She was Dad's favorite. We all knew it. But I think she was our favorite, too...at least out of us girls. I mean, come on. Look at this face:

Who could not love this kid? Monika was born when I was five years old. Denise and I were so close in age that we just referred to her as the little one. When Lloyd was born two years later, they were "the little ones." Sometimes they still are.

Monika flew up to Baltimore to visit me when she was in high school. I took her to Lollipalooza '92. We had a blast. We went to the show in Reston, Virginia with a friend of mine from work. Tony brought some friend of his from his barracks named "Roach." I never did know Roach's real name. It had rained four days straight before the concert and the whole field was covered in mud. Monika lost her shoes in it and partied on barefoot. We bailed when the headline band came on. They were drunk. We decided that they should be called "The Luke Warm Silly Peckers" vice "The Red Hot Chili Peppers." They sucked that night and got outplayed by Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.

Monika flew out and spent a month with me after I had my second baby and I had orders to move to Georgia AND my husband flew to Greece to visit family there. She had been working in Alaska for the Summer, stopped for a week or so in Texas to be in our step-brother's wedding and then flew out to Baltimore to stay with me during my hectic, postpartum pack out. (Say THAT 5 times really fast.) We had such a great visit and she bonded quickly with my kids. And the month flew by so fast, even with a 16  hour road trip to Georgia. She was gone before I knew it. And I missed her terribly.

While in Texas last year, I got to go out to her house a few times and hang with her kids. They are super awesome and she is a fantastic mom. I love how laid back she is with them. Probably not as laid back as I am with mine...but you know, she's only got two. I have five and by now, I just don't give a shit to get involved in every tattling detail. I figure by the time hers are teens her policy may change.

Monika has introduced me to some of the coolest music ever made and funniest writers ever born. She is an over-achieving, volunteer addict and recovering lawyer. She is a creative, hilarious, spiritual, sensitive, caring
member of MENSA, who will still dress as a super hero in order to attend a friend's costume party and somehow convince her husband to take the kids to Paris on holiday. She loves me with all my flaws and embraces my crazy with hers. She and I have grown so much closer over the last two years. I am truly inspired by her and I look to her as one of my heroes.

I love you, Monika!

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Sad Day

Death is part of life. It is inevitable. We take our first step toward it with our first breath immediately after we're born. Nobody looks forward to it. Nobody escapes it. Some fear it. Some welcome it. Some just don't think about it. Some wait for it.

One of my best friends from high school just lost her big brother to cancer this morning. He was 45 years old. He had flu-like symptoms a year ago and then about 6 months ago was diagnosed with cancer. He had several treatments and operations. But eventually, it was just his time to go. I never knew him well. What I did know of him, I always liked. He was smart and handsome and extremely funny. He and his sister were close; the kind of siblings who could look at one another and say, "Do you remember when I went to the..." and the other would say, "and then you pulled on the...." and crack up laughing at a mutual memory without ever actually saying what it was they were remembering. They had a lot of these moments.

When my father retired from the Army and moved the rest of our family from Maryland to Texas, my sister and I stayed behind. We had an apartment in Laurel about a mile from my friend's house. My sister and I worked several jobs to pay bills while going to school part-time. We rarely saw each other. And when the apartment got too quiet and I missed the hullabaloo that only life in a large family can bring, I would go to visit them and listen as I ate spaghetti at the kitchen table while they joked and laughed and their mom raised hell about the youngest turning off the kitchen faucet and how the pipes would burst since it was snowing outside and my friend and I would crack up while her older brother was mimicking her behind her back. He always made us laugh.

And as close as my brother and I are, I think that she and her brother were closer. I rarely get to see my brother or talk to him. She spoke to her brother nearly every day. I am certain that she and her siblings and mother and his daughter are all devastated that he is gone. I am so grateful that they got to spend his last days together laughing and loving one another and saying their goodbyes. We, the friends, stand on the outer circle looking in to them; waiting patiently for them to need us for support. We await their need of hugs and tears and help in any form. Because that's what we must do. We are there for them as an extension of their family. And now that their time of being strong for him and supporting him is done, they will definitely need us to be strong for them and support them.

God please bless this family with patience and strength during their time of mourning.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Customer Service ... Another OXYMORON

"Customer Service" is a catch-all phrase coined by salespeople and middle management in Corporate America to make customers think that their patronage is actually valued. It really isn't. Now the salespeople will schmooze you and suck up to you long enough to get access to your money and then they never want to hear from you again. I used to think that Customer Service meant something....maybe it actually did. It did when I worked at the customer service desk at Sears Surplus in Laurel, MD. I was such a good customer service rep that I even ran around from behind my counter to hold the door open for a customer carrying out an air conditioner. It took a few seconds before I realized I'd helped him out the "in door" and called security who promptly tackled the shoplifter rendering him unconscious and the air conditioner destroyed. But being the good customer service rep, I promptly slapped a RECONDITIONED/REFURBISHED sticker down the side of it after super-gluing the knobs back on it and discounted it by $10.

Today I've been running nuts with "customer service" issues. At least in the US there's someone with a Stepford Wife-like honey sweet voice to calmly blow smoke up your ass when it comes to "challenges or issues" you have with whatever product that you're dissatisfied with. I mean, eventually you're going to get a refund or an exchange or an apology or a coupon or even just a "customer service survey" where you can say "Your company sucks ass!" and feel better about the whole situation.

Here in Egypt, the customer is always WRONG. No matter what. The school administration secretary misplaced my child's permanent records? It's my fault and I have to replace all SEVEN YEARS of paperwork....myself.....at my expense. A taxi driver plows into my son while we're walking on the side of the street....it's HIS fault for not walking on top of the parked cars on the sidewalk. The ultra-pasteurized milk with a shelf life of 3 months that I purchased 2 months before the expiration date is spoiled and comes out like cheese on the DAY I purchased it......I must have stored it wrong....in the bag that the store owner put it in while I carried it up to my apartment ONE BLOCK AWAY and immediately opened. ???? Those three letters W.T.F. keep popping up in my head today. But these are things that I've come to expect in Egypt. With the exception of ONE place:  the American Embassy in Cairo.

I've had NOTHING but good experiences with the American Embassy in Cairo over the last ten years. (With the exception of the FBI agent in charge there calling me and asking me to drive to Cairo so that he could grill me about my possible involvement in the September 11, 2001 incidents. Asshole. My family and I were inconvenienced as hell that day. Granted, we didn't die or anything but we were supposed to fly out to Greece that day (a permanent move) and we became homeless immediately with all the airports closing and hotels filling up, etc.....and with 5 kids under the age of 7 at that time....the odds of me being involved were slim and none and I know for a fact that it was racial/religious profiling that got them to call me in the first place because you know Arab/Muslim last name MUST mean terrorist. Needless to say, I told him I'd be more than happy to meet with them in my mother-in-law's living room and he could feel free to drive up at anytime but I will NOT repeat NOT go to Cairo. Ahem.....I digress.)

Anyway, so I've been trying for weeks to get an appointment with the Consul when he comes to Alexandria because driving to Cairo (3 hours away) with 5 kids is a bloody nightmare. And of course, their appointment making website (acuity.com) is jacked up for the last 2 weeks and all the appointments are now full for December. So I try for the end of January. And it works fine until you reach the "confirm your appointment by clicking FINISH" step....and then you get the HTTP 500 error.....that means INTERNAL server error for those of you are not in the know. I contacted the embassy via email. They said, as though my clicking abilities are faulty or something, "Sorry for the inconvenience, many other US citizens managed to schedule their appointments.  Please try again."   My response of course is, "WTF?"

I emailed them again and explained what HTTP 500 is. They said the same thing....try again later. So I called the American Cultural Center here in Alexandria and asked if there was something I could do here. She said no that it was via the embassy. I called the embassy, wasting 2.50 pounds hearing that I should call back between 1pm and 3pm. I explained that I really only want to make an appointment but the link is down. She transferred me to a guy who transferred me to another guy's voice mail.....who, as it turns out, doesn't subscribe to voice mail and I was disconnected. "WTF? ...... G.D.S.O.B. M.F. piss ant!
So I fired off another email, taking care to correct the MR. to MRS. which only told me that it's a foreign national worker that I am dealing with and not an American employee. Americans know that the name NIKKI spelled like that is a GIRLS name.  After several email exchanges, I think it got passed to an American employee because the acuity.com link went off line completely and I got actual timely responses asking me what I wanted and they've tentatively scheduled me for the appointment on the day and time that I want but I have to follow up with them later for confirmation. Yay.

But still--- acuity.com is on my shit-list, the gas tank salesman who overcharged me by 15 pounds for a desperately needed gas tank has been handed over to God for revenge, and the guy who sold me rotten milk has permanently lost a customer. No. I'm NOT happy with my long distance company and Customer Service is an oxymoron.