Feb 22

This Week Sucked.

 

I’m very down this week.   I have challenges in my life and am watching a dear friend go through one of the most heartbreaking times that he will face in his lifetime.

There have been so many changes in my life in the last 10 days, I am just now starting to wrap my head around it.

Less than two weeks ago, my husband and I made the decision that he was going to head out West for work.  3 days later, he had a job.   2 days after that he left.  The next day, I left to travel to the US for work for a week.   So now, after being home for 3 days with just me and the kids (and 6 dogs and 2 cats – that’s a story for another day), it has really started to sink in what a life changing decision this really has been.

I have to cook!  Ahhh.  I hate cooking.  And I especially hate cleaning up after cooking.

I now, apparently, am the resident expert on all the prerequisite tickets you need to go to Alberta to work in the tar sands.  Who knew?  I have our best man (wink, wink) coming over tonight for supper and the low down on what he needs to be certified to join his friend in Alberta.

I have to be the only authoritarian.  Anyone who knows Mr. Alice would know that this is not his strong point to begin with but it is always nice to have backup. Continue reading

Jan 23

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

So off to Egypt we go.  We had arranged to get picked up at 2:30 at home in order to arrive at Pearson for our 7:00 pm flight around 4:00. Immediately after arriving at the terminal, we were told that our flight was delayed “at least 4 hours”.  A missed connection and further delays at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, put us in Cairo 24 hours after our flight was supposed to leave Toronto.  Not a particularly solid start to this vacation but we were there, in one piece and despite little sleep, everyone was in pretty good spirits.  Until we left security.

There is a reason Cairo doesn’t make the “20 Safest Cities to Live In” list, and it is fairly evident why at 2:00 am in the airport.  It was pandemonium.  Hundreds of tired and disoriented passengers filing out of the secured area into a sea of, let’s politely say, “opportunists” was a little frightening.  There are warnings about choosing your taxis carefully and we had been advised before we left home to seek out the limousine stand just outside security and book a cab before we left the terminal.  Said limousine stand does not exist.  Left with little choice, we entered into the abyss of shrieking and pulling taxi drivers and other shady characters. Spotting a “Gap Adventures” sign, we approached the young man, indicated that we were travelling with Gap and could he help us get a cab.  Absolutely he could.  He quickly deposited us with another young man who herded us outside and demanded Ba’sheesh to hail us a cab.

If you are lucky, this is what the toilet might look like.

 

What is Ba’sheesh?  Well, in a word, extortion.  It is the norm and is not only tolerated but encouraged everywhere in Egypt.  You will have to hand over Ba’sheesh to use a public restroom with squat toilets (read hole in the floor over which you squat), then you will hand over Ba’sheesh for the toilet paper which you need after using hole in the floor and then again when you want to use the sink to wash your hands after throwing the toilet paper into the hole in the floor.  You will need to hand over Ba’sheesh when asking anyone for directions, if someone opens a door for you (they don’t do this to be polite) or really for any reason they can think of.  Well, you can now envision us as fish in a barrel.  We are outside of the airport and are unable to get back in so we hand over the Ba’sheesh and he pushes us into a car that came hurtling up to the curb.  A quick stop at a security stand, where we had to sign that we were OK leaving with this stranger in what can very loosely be described as a cab, and we were headed to downtown Cairo with Mr. Alice in the front and me and the kids in the back.

This was NOT our cab. This one is way better

 

 

It didn’t take long for my son and I to discover that there were no cranks to roll the windows down in the back seat or, better yet, handles to open the doors.  Just a little disconcerting. We are in an unmarked “cab”, with a driver who speaks no English and we have no idea where we are headed.  Now, the drive from the airport to downtown (near Tahrir Square) is not a little jaunt.  It is about 45 minutes. Bad enough in the middle of the day with other tourists around but this is the middle of the night. About 15 minutes into this drive, I had convinced myself that we were not going where we had asked to go and that we may, in fact, be in some danger. I have on what I call my “travelling pants” that I bought at Tilley Endurables.  Essentially, they are a pair of pants that has many different hidden pockets that really are invisible to anyone who doesn’t know they are there.  I started to work at moving our passports and some of our money (US and Egyptian) to these pockets so that if we were dumped (if we were lucky!) out of the cab and forced to leave our packs and my “purse” behind, we would have enough to manage to get home.  I truly thought that this is what was going to happen.  We were in a situation that I wouldn’t want to be in in Canada, never mind in a third world country.  My kids saw what I was doing and quickly figured out what was happening.  Though they were a little taken aback, they kept up the conversation as if everything was OK and mom wasn’t putting together a survival kit in her pants.

And, all the while, Mr. Alice is chatting up the cabby in some sort of stilted conversation that neither of them understand in some mixture of English, French and Arabic, completely oblivious to the terror in the back seat (he has a door handle and a working window, we don’t). If you have met Mr. Alice, you will know that he is a pretty trusting guy. He gives everyone and every situation the benefit of the doubt. And don’t even try sarcasm on him. He doesn’t get it.  He takes you literally.  The kids and I have some fun with that but those are stories for another day.

Well, all of a sudden we screech to a halt at the side of the street, and there is the Cosmopolitan Hotel.  The kids and I are all but ready to kick the doors open to get out while Mr. Alice and the cabby are all relaxed and refreshed.  I believe to this day that we were very fortunate to have a happy ending to this cab ride as we did everything completely WRONG.   We did the exact opposite to what we have been advised to do and somehow managed to get there safely.   I would have kissed the sidewalk but it was pretty filthy.

I’ll let you check out the stellar reviews of our “joining hotel” below:

Trip Advisor page for Cosmopolitan Hotel, Cairo, Egypt

This isn’t the Motel 6, and they don’t leave the light on for you.

Alice

Jan 09

Pharaohs and Pariahs

After I commented on Birdman’s previous post about my thoughts on consumerism and what holds real value for families, he and Mrs. Birdman asked me to write a little about my family’s trip to Egypt in 2010. I don’t know much about blogging but I know that I love catching up with the adventures of Birdman and Chin, Yvette and Mrs. Birdman (aka the fun police). Don’t worry, Mrs. Birdman, we all need the fun police or there would be anarchy. In my neck of the woods (in the fabled Landing of Gore), the fun police are also regarded as the “fun suckers” – say that 5 times fast. I dare ya.
Anyhoo, I told them I would give it a shot. Here goes.
I will preface this story with some background around our family’s treatment of Christmas since my kids have been very young.
My son was born in October and for Christmas that year, we had status quo. The requisite up early and drive around to a couple of sets of parents, some grandparents, take in a brunch and a dinner. Spend a fortune on gifts just because we were supposed to. Fast forward to the next year. My son is now 14 months old and is really, really into this Christmas thing. He didn’t know it until he opened his gifts from Santa and played gleefully with his shiny new toys but then he was hooked. For a half hour. Then we had to leave for brunch with the first set of parents. Leave all these great new toys here, get in a car and drive around all day. Cue screeching child. This happened again and again, all day long. That was the last year that we did that. Our family (my husband, son, soon to arrive daughter and me) stayed home Christmas Day, by ourselves, every year after that. We enjoy Christmas together without the mania and distractions of those earlier years. Sure, we have Christmas dinner with our families (mine the Saturday before Christmas, my husband’s Christmas Eve) but we enjoy the holiday as a family with some quality time away from everyone else.
Also, about the same time, we approached both sides of the family and had some frank conversations about gift giving. We were buying things for others just because we were “supposed to” and spending loads of money doing so. The result was that we all were in receipt of some crappy gifts that we would never use and credit card bills for all of the crappy gifts that we had bought everyone else. So we stopped. Just like that. No gifts for each other, no gifts for each other’s kids. Nada. The grandparents fail miserably at this but, well, they’re grandparents, so we cut them some slack. So there is your background to how we treat Christmas at our house. We buy quality gifts for our own kids and don’t get caught up in the hoopla that has become more and more overwhelming each year.


Cut to summer 2009. My kids were 12 and 14 and we were looking around for some vacation ideas. Posing the question “Where do you guys want to go for vacation” resulted in an answer that we hadn’t expected – they had decided that they wanted to go to Egypt. Not sure what to think about that, I told them I would do some research and get back to them.
Given that we aren’t typical vacationers and like to have some adventure, I looked to Gap Adventures (now Gadventures), a Toronto based adventure travel company. We had travelled with them before on an Amazon Jungle trip in 2008 and had a wonderful time. After some review of the many, many trips that they offer we settled on the 16 day Absolute Egypt trip.

The trip itself, spending money, vaccinations and flights were going to cost us about $12,000 for a little over 3 weeks of travel. Not chump change by any means but not completely out of range (about $1000 each per week- very similar to all inclusive in the south). And honestly, not a great deal more than the $8000 we had spent for a week at Disney in 2006.
Armed with facts and figures, we approached the kids with the offer to take them up on their wish to go to Egypt. In order to be able to afford to give them this trip, we had to outline some things that they were going to need to sacrifice. The choice was entirely theirs whether we went or not and was based on their agreement to the following:
1. They were going to give up all vacation for 2 years
2. They were going to give up birthday parties AND presents for 2 years.
3. They were going to give up Christmas (tree, presents, the whole thing) for 2 years.
4. They had to make all arrangements with their schools and teachers to be away from school for that length of time.


Wouldn’t you know it, they agreed to all of our conditions! Now we were committed.  We were headed to Egypt for Christmas 2010.
It was difficult. It was really hard not to buy our son a really cool present for his 16th birthday or one for my daughter’s 13th. And Christmas of 2009 was pretty short- just opening the travel packs we had bought them for the trip. But the hardest part was the criticism from other parents (those that I knew and those that I didn’t know but felt the need to weigh in on our decision). The mother of one of my daughter’s friends threw her a surprise 13th birthday party because I wasn’t. I had many people express absolute horror that I was subjecting my kids to present free birthday and Christmas. “How could you do that to them”, many would say. My answer was always that the decision had been entirely theirs and outlined all that I have talked about above. It didn’t matter. I was still judged by those that thought I was a terrible parent.

I remember going to a party at a friend’s house not long after we got back and was bombarded by people who had heard that we had been away for a month (A MONTH!) and wondered how we could afford it. Though I’m not sure that I need to explain myself to complete (or relatively complete) strangers, I did. I told them that we were by no means rich. We both have regular jobs and with my husband in construction, certainly times have been better. Honestly, we couldn’t afford to take the trip without giving up all of the other costly things that we did. But we couldn’t afford NOT to take the trip. We had the opportunity to teach our kids about sacrifice, compromise and choices. We had the chance to show them the world and a completely different way of living. We showed them how to spend 3 weeks with complete strangers from all over the planet and leave as friends (Facebook at least) with invitations to stay at their homes if we ever get to New Zealand, Australia or Dubai. The “other Canadians” – the evil ones- will make appearances in another blog about our trip.

And they did learn. I know that it was hard for them to go to school and have their friends talk about Iphones and Xboxes and the cars they got for their 16th birthday. It was as hard as it was for me NOT to give them those things. But they never complained (at least not to me or even that I’ve heard through the grapevine). They GOT it. They understood that this was their choice and they needed to stand by it. They know that money does not grow on trees and that there are consequences to choices, both financial and otherwise. They learned that they are very, very lucky to be Canadian. They CAN travel the world freely. They live a life that is much more modern and carefree than their fellow kids from third world countries.
They sacrificed by not having all of the baubles and shiny things that their friends did. We sacrificed by forcing ourselves NOT to buy the baubles and shiny things for them. But in the end, we got to spend a month together (3 weeks travelling and 1 week when we got home – assembling photo albums and catching up with friends and family). Uninterrupted, unplugged. Just us. Together. There aren’t many families that can say they have had that. It is more valuable than I can tell you. You get to see your kids in a completely different light. You get to have some really great conversations with them. You learn to just BE together. Those that have teenagers will appreciate that this alone is a feat. This is a once in a lifetime trip that we can share memories of forever. My kids now know how to manage international flights, missed connections, train travel, to learn to communicate in a foreign language and how to jockey a camel across the desert. If you can afford to, do this or something like this for yourself and for your family. It is worth every sideways glance and angst at whether this is the right thing. Because it IS the right thing. Or is was for us.
I’ll write about our trip itself in another segment, so stay tuned.

Go with your heart and do the right thing,

Alice