How to be content

I considered titling this, How to be happy, but that’s a bit presumptuous. We aren’t happy all the time. We aren’t even content all the time, but our time in Egypt has taught us a lot about it.

Moving is hard. Moving far away is harder. Moving far away to a new country where you don’t speak the language is the hardest.

One of the people I interviewed with this past year explained that living abroad isn’t easy and was more concerned about whether we knew how to make the best of things than about my teaching skills. For those of you not familiar with the international teaching scene, it is quite common that people don’t show up, only last a month, or leave mid-contract for one reason: It’s hard to live far away from everything familiar.

There’s also the fact that Egypt is a developing country. People do weird things and the stuff we want is often not readily available. It is so easy (and we are guilty of this) to get together and have a bitch-fest for hours on end about the people, culture, government, etc. It takes actual work to find good things to keep you sane and focus on being positive. And when you can’t find them, you have to make them!

Food

This is a fairly obvious one, otherwise comfort food wouldn’t be a thing. Specific things in Egypt that we haven’t found and have made ourselves include:

  • Butter: The butter in Egypt tastes atrocious, and there is no such thing as salted butter. So I began (and Ronnie has perfected) making butter by hand, and it is a billion times better than anything in the store! I keep telling him to write a blog about it, but he keeps dragging his feet.
  • Cocktails: There are a few bars here, and more in Cairo, but they charge hundreds of Egyptian pounds for one cocktail. That’s obviously unacceptable, so we have learned to make do with what we have available at home. We generally keep ourselves well-stocked (our alcohol store is called “Drinkies”). We won’t be hosting any Drinkology events, but we make do with what we have.
  • Crusty bread: Bakeries are overly abundant here, but they pretty much just sell muffins and maybe sandwiches. If we want, say, French bread,  then we’re on our own, so I’ve begun making that myself. I’ve tried sourdough a couple times, but I haven’t really had any success with that yet.
  • Iced tea: Apparently, this is a super American thing. Not only do Egyptians hardly EVER drink iced drinks, this one is weird to our British friends as well. It’s a trillion degrees outside, and Egyptians are still drinking hot drinks. Not us! Ronnie’s taught a coffee shop nearby how to make iced lattes (he’s the only person who’s ever ordered one), and at home, we’re all about iced tea.
  • Food of varying ethnicities: Bearing in mind that we don’t live in Cairo, the restaurants here suck. We’ve found one halfway decent Mexican restaurant all the way across town, and one grocery store that sells pretty okay pizza (they’re the only place we’ve found that uses sauce!). Even Egyptians’ idea of “American” food is disgusting. So we’ve started trying to improve our Mexican and Italian food, I found a great pizza crust recipe, and our friend left us a bunch of Indian spices when she moved to Bangkok a couple of months ago. This one’s a work-in-progress, but we’re trying. It’s better than anything we’ll get in restaurants, that’s for sure!

Exercise

If you’re an emotional exerciser (when I’m angry, it’s time for a run), this is essential because the culture will frustrate you at some point. However, running outside here is not the best idea. It’s possible, just not very convenient or pleasant. So Ronnie goes to the gym frequently, and I’ve become a lot more serious about yoga both at home and by attending weekly air yoga classes at a nearby fitness center. (This also helps when angry).

Video chat

Technology is wonderful, and a chat with family, friends, or even dogs can brighten our day. It’s good to see friendly (familiar) faces every so often. If you’re reading this we’ve never Skype’d before, let’s do it sometime!

Music

When I worked as a barista, I listened to the latest pop songs on the radio all day. As terrible as some the music was I realized that I missed listening to the radio. Since we don’t drive, I’ll often listen to random playlists on YouTube at home or in the classroom.

On the classical side of things, performing concerts is still enjoyable even though we don’t have close friends in the symphony here. At home, concerts used to involve going out for dinner or drinks afterwards. Now, the night usually ends with a trip to Cinnabon (there’s one conveniently located on the Library of Alexandria campus!) and a couple beers at home (not a lot of places to go for drinks here, and not a lot of musicians willing to join us!)

Pets

A week or two after we moved to Egypt we realized that this was the first time either of us been without a pet (college doesn’t count because we still had pets at home). There’s something about having a fur baby in the house that makes it more like home. Unfortunately, Egypt is overcrowded with homeless cats and dogs. We lasted about two months before we just had to take one home with us and our apartment became a home (aww…how cheesy). Seriously, though. This is definitely “home” now that we look forward to getting back to our pets when we’re traveling.

And now we have two! Zoe doesn’t have her own blog post yet, but maybe I’ll get around to it. We have no idea how we’re going to take them with us when we leave, but we will definitely do our best to figure it out before the time comes.

 

These are just a few things we do be content when it seems like everything sucks. Of course the most important part is that we have each other…as long as we can remember that we’re in it together.

 

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Drawing, painting, sketching

I’ve never claimed to be an artist, but I do like to experiment with things…especially when I’m stuck in Egypt all summer.

One of the silliest decisions I’ve made is not bringing any supplies for my “hobbies” with us to Egypt. Luckily I’ve been able to find all the supplies I need here.

Other things I’ve experimented with and not pictured are hand lettering and a geometric folded paper piece.

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Colored Pencil: My first time spending time attempting shading with pencil.

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A poster sized music map. A nice idea but it needs a bit more attention to detail and finishing.

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Acrylic Paint: Instagram photo

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Pencil: Because there is no way I could ever get Leo’s unique color right with pencils or paint.

Potty training

Now that our cat population has doubled so has the litter usage, the litter sprinkling throughout the house, the litter smell, the arguing over whose turn it is to do the litter, you get the point.

So we are attempting to toilet train the cats. Hopefully in a few months I can update you all on our success. I have read several articles on how to do it and also several articles about why you shouldn’t do it…mainly because cats are know for their digging and scratching so that’s why I’m a bit skeptical about it working.

Here are the steps we have taken so far. We are lucky enough to live in a place with two bathrooms so obviously the cats get one all to themselves.

Step one is to move the litter right next to the toilet.

Step two is to start raising the litter box up off the ground. We accomplished this with a few long flat boxes, adding another every two weeks until it was the same height as the toilet.

Step three is to move the litter box onto the toilet. This was a bit challenging because they aren’t the same size and the box kept falling off.

Step four is to place a pan of litter inside the toilet. There are kits you can buy to do this, but if you live in a place like Egypt, you have to be creative. We bought a fish-shaped roasting pan and it fits perfectly. We taped it underneath the toilet seat and filled it with litter. (Obviously this works better when they have their own bathroom because that toilet is no longer human friendly. Also it’s quite messy.)

Step five is to cut a hole in the pan and slowly increase the size of the hole until they don’t need the pan anymore.

Right now we are on step four. The main issue we have now is that when you cut a hole, you are supposed to leave a moat for the litter around the hole. I may have to hot glue something around the hole so all of the litter doesn’t just fall in the toilet.

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Leo was a bit resistant at first. He scratched at the tape and most of the litter ended up on the floor, but he seems to have accepted it now. Zoë is still young enough to be flexible and learn new things.

I would be so happy if we could have litter free floors, but we shall see.

 

Books galore

As mentioned before, there are some classic books that I have not read so I frequently go through phases of reading everything I can to catch up. Here’s the list for this year so far.

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. Great book! Makes you think about how you’re living your life.

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. Comedy that I didn’t find very funny, but it was a short enjoyable book.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. An interesting book, I can relate to his middle eastern experiences.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham. A biography about her personal choices in life, I had nothing in common with her but it was an interesting look into someone else’s  life.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I couldn’t remember if I’d read this before or just watched the movie. A good book.

Nineteen Minutes by Picoult Jodi. This was a page turner for me, but also really depressing.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. A funny and honest journey of an old man. I definitely enjoyed this one.

Beloved by Toni Morrison. It was tough to finish this one. Very strange.

1984 by George Orwell. I’m not really sure what to say about this one. I just really hope our future never looks like the books written about it. Definitely an interesting book.

On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers. I’m a huge fan of Pirates of the Carribean soudtracks. Turns out this book was the basis for the movie of the same title. The book is much better. Maybe one day people will write soundtracks to accompany books…

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I wasn’t sure I could make it through this one, but once I knew the characters I just had to know what happened.

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. I love it and will most likely read it aloud to my future classes.

The Shack by William Young. A new, interesting perspective on religious views. I enjoyed it a lot.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. A good book, but I felt like there were too many unanswered questions about this dystopian future.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child  by J. K. Rowling. I get the feeling that she just couldn’t stop writing about her characters. It was a nice little story but I don’t know how anyone could possibly put it on as a play.

Catch 22  by Joseph Heller. I couldn’t read this. I tried starting it over 2 or 3 times. I had no interest whatsoever.

Nobody is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey. I started this one but it was very slow moving and I gave up. It just seemed like a depressing book anyway.

Phone cases

It was time for a new case. First I went shopping and bought this cute mandala one. I have the green iPhone 5C. I always thought, why did I bother buying a green one if you can’t even see what color it is? This case was perfect! A cute design on something transparent…except the fact that it was for a 5. Turns out the 5C is just slightly curvier and they don’t have ANY cases for 5C’s in Egypt (well not at that store). It fits, but it is also not protecting the phone and the screen was getting scratched up.

Some of you may have seen those cute little videos of all the amazing things you can do with hot glue, including making your own phone case. So I bought a glue gun and began to watch videos to find all the amazing things I can now do.

I followed the directions carefully (for once in my life). Wrapped my phone in baking paper. Marked the sides where the buttons are. Put it face down to go around the edges. Go around the holes for the buttons, and then I tried to make a design on the back, but hot glue is quite messy and not a precise instrument. Once my “design” was finished, I checked the edges to make sure they were covered and all the parts were attached to something. I let it cool a bit and began to peel off the paper. Except it didn’t come off. It just ripped. I got as much off as I could, unwrapped the phone and tried it on. Hideous, too big, and already falling apart.

I hate to waste things so I re-wrapped my phone and tried to reshape what I had made. But this time I covered the wrapped phone in packing tape which doesn’t leave bits of paper attached. I smoothed out the extra lumpy bits of glue with the hot metal tip, added a bit more glue to fill in the cracks and make it a bit more sturdy, and tried to make it more form fitting…oh well…

Since I’m a brilliant person I thought, why not paint the one you already have that already fits?! Okay, well brilliant but a bit slow…

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I didn’t really intend for it to look space-y, but it kinda does. Anyway I’m happy with it now and my phone, even though you can’t see the green, will be protected for the rest of it’s life.

Moral of the story. Don’t make a phone case from hot glue. I can’t see it working out for anyone.

Crocheted

My handy dandy giant shopping bag is starting to fall apart. So I decided to make one. I used this pattern with a just one change. I made the handles a bit longer than the pattern said so they could fit over my shoulder. And so far my only complaint is that the handles aren’t very comfortable. My original chain must have been too tight because that’s the only part that bears any weight.  I also wasn’t too excited about using white, but I ran out of the blue and that’s the only color I had left.

Then, while I was at it, I crocheted this charging cord cover with a scrap from another project. I believe this is one of our original iPhone chargers (from 3 years ago?) and it is obvious. It is literally down to the wire that sometimes I imagine I get shocked from. I taped it up and used it at school, but now it may last a bit longer. If only I can convince the cats that I did not make it for them to play with.

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I started crocheting a blanket during Christmas break. However, I hugely miscalculated the amount of yarn needed and went through the 3 skeins I bought in 3 days. That project is on hold until we make our way across town to the yarn shop again.

 

Catching up

Besides teaching and performing in concerts, there are a few new things we’ve been doing. We have to do something to keep ourselves busy.

I mentioned previously that I started an Air Yoga class. It is basically yoga in a hammock. It’s quite different than yoga on the ground, but very enjoyable. It’s a lot like being a little kid again when you were allowed to jump, swing, and flip off of anything. I imagine the older you get, the more awful these things sound. I never wanted to grow up or get old. I loved being a kid and remember crying because I didn’t want to grow up. I have since come to accept the inevitable. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to let my body get stiff and old too. Any type of yoga helps you to be younger and more flexible. Okay, I’ll stop preaching at you.airyoga

Ronnie has been making his own butter. Maybe he’ll tell you about it.

I tried baking sourdough bread and was partially successful. Then my starter began to smell funny and I tried to revive it but promptly forgot about it. I may try again this summer.

This is the perfect pizza crust recipe. If anyone has the perfect red sauce to go on the pizza, I’m still looking.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading because I often feel ashamed that I haven’t read certain books. For example, I had never actually read Charlotte’s Web. Can you believe it? Of course I knew it was about a pig and a spider, but I had never read it. Now I have. Maybe I’ll write a blog of books later.