top of page


Top of Egypt

Attack of the stinky sludge…

…embracing cross-cultural traumas with a smile…

Yesterday, an hour before going to lead our church service, my husband and I were having a quiet break treating ourselves to a few minutes of reading.  While taking refuge in an air-conditioned room with the air purifier purring we all of a sudden heard a muffled but desperate shriek, “Mom!”  We both ran out to the living room to find the whole area covered in an inch of thick black oily stinky sludge.

            The floor drain in the guest bathroom had backed up due to something drastically gone wrong in the shared pipes of our apartment building.  It was a mess.  We called for the boab, building maintenance/security guard, who called for the plumber, who called in his troops and the drama began.  Quickly we grabbed up all our hand-woven carpets and threw them out on the balcony in hopes of salvaging them.  The boab cleaned and mopped and cleaned some more while the plumber worked with his innovative coat hanger looking wire to unclog the mess, soon discovered to be leftover cement that workers in an upper apartment had tossed down the drain.  Our children agreed to stay home from church to supervise the workers and off we went to our weekly service.

            Thankfully sense of humors maintained throughout the whole affair.  When the boab tried to open the bathroom window for ventilation from the elevator shaft he bumped an original painting into the muck, just a corner of it.  But… that too was salvaged.  The carpet dealer down the street came late that night to collect the rugs for cleaning expressing many ensha’allahs (God willing) that the dyes would not run together.  Over the next few weeks bubbles of stubborn sludge lodged beneath the wooden floor slats of our apartment and tiny volcanoes sporadically erupted.  Through all the shared drama and laughter and wringing of helpless hands the bond of friendships found us all engaged together in the same drama, life.

attack of stinky sludge
landing well

Landing well after life's plunges...

When I was 20 years old and in need of a dose of high-risk adventure, my brother and some of our friends decided that diving out of an airplane from 3,000 feet in the air would be perfect.  I was, and still am, afraid of heights but my thirst for adventure conquered all fear, temporarily.  If only all of life’s challenges could play out on cool summer mornings and in the fields of old airstrips. 


Parachute crash course training promised us the jump of our lives by the end of our boot camp training day.  All we needed to master was leaping off 10-foot stacks of hay bales and untwisting ourselves from mock chutes hanging from the beams of an old barn roof.  First time jumpers were not entrusted with high tech parachutes that would require precise steering skills; that meant no soft landings.  However, radio contact would provide verbal directions from an expert on the ground and guide us clear of unseen clumps of trees or power lines.  But when our bodies did hit the ground, the idea was to soften the blow with a routine shoulder roll.  This we practiced diligently for hours on end.  Good thing I was only 20 years old; I don’t even remember sore muscles the next day.  The skill of untwisting my practice parachute quickly became an efficient automatic response and it’s a good thing because during my “real jump” it was the first required action of my floating descent.


Jump gear provided: professionally packed parachute, helmet with radio communication, goggles, and jumpsuit.


Safety guarantees: 1.) Static line - chute would open automatically when you jumped out of the airplane, 2.) Back-up option one – manual pull lever, 3.) Back-up option two - altimeter controlled back-up chute would open automatically if you got below 1000 feet without an open canopy above your head; really hard landing though.


Goal: aim for earth and wholeness of body.  Don’t bother being a perfectionist and try to hit the painted bull’s eye in the field (although I think my brother did) – let gravity draw you down and above all wildly celebrate the gift of the present moment.


Misc. items needed: courage, trust, and no wind.


Quote of the day:

“If you can walk away from your landing, it was a perfect landing.”

 ….wisdom from my jumpmaster


A perfect landing: Shouldn’t it look just like the trainer’s, or at least like everyone else’s?  Don’t you need to hit the bull’s eye to reach perfection?  No, to survive the experience is the goal; wholeness of person, body in this case.  Show up, put one foot in front of the other, and let go.  Prerequisites: trust your Guide, plunge into the unknown, and draw from any previous training experience. 


I am not going to pretend I wasn’t nervous when I headed up into the clouds all geared up and anticipating throwing myself into the limitless atmosphere.  Actually, the weather had gotten gusty by the end of our training time and all adrenaline reserves had to be stored until a day with more favorable weather.  But, when the long awaited moment finally arrived, I was ready.  My father came along for safety reconnaissance while my mother stayed home praying she wouldn’t loose both her children at once.  After documents waiving rights to posthumous lawsuits were signed, we climbed into our gear and were whisked off in the waiting Cessna. 


A cool, clear cobalt ceiling of sky drew us higher.  No strong gusts of wind to deter the mission.  The day was perfect.  I do remember being suitably nervous but the jumpmaster yelled words of encouragement over the roaring propeller, probably a panic prevention method, while the pilot climbed the plane higher and higher.  Finally the anticipated moment arrived.  I stepped cautiously out onto the under bar of the airplane’s right wing and plunged into the sky. 


I was flying.  It was even more magnificent than I had imagined.  Cold air rushed through my lungs; my eyes widened to take in the enormous horizon.  Before I knew what was happening I had effectively untwisted my partially opened parachute, thanks to good ground training.  Soon I could hear a crackling in my helmet and then the voice of my ground instructor cheering me on.  If only gravity wasn’t so greedy I could have stayed up for hours.  When I eventually landed, oh so hard on my backend, I attempted a half-hearted roll and scrambled to my feet.  Limping ever so slightly, but wearing an uncontainable grin, I heard a loud shout from the sideline, “perfect landing!”


More than once over the years I’ve drawn on this experience.  When it visits my thoughts it makes me smile.  Occasionally when I’m in need of a boost of courage I go back in time and ponder the event.  It’s amazing that foundations laid through a variety of life experiences can still offer guidance when called upon.    


Many challenges provide the opportunity to drudge the depths of inner resources, your own and anyone else’s you can lay your hands on.  After years of ground training the “jump” moment arrives.  No need to strive for perfection; you are ready for what lies ahead.    Trust your Trainer.  Plunge into the unknown.  Listen to the voice of your Guide cheering you on.  A perfect landing awaits.

The largest rats in the Middle East...

I discovered last week that a rat, or rats, had stealthily chewed through the dryer vent in our kitchen after what must have been heroic climbing performances up the sheer elevator shaft walls.  They had ripped open a bag of birdseed and probably sorted through the garbage bin on more than one shadowy night.  My husband carefully put screening over their hole and that was the end of the battle, until last night.
I arrived home from choir practice after dark and found my husband greeting me at the door with news that he had returned home to a “major emergency” he had been working on for the last hour.  He dramatically narrated his version of walking into our bedroom that evening and finding a HUGE RAT on top of our curtain rod, looking down at him with beady eyes.  If he says, HUGE RAT, after all the rats he’s encountered in his international exploits from India to Timbuktu then I know he’s not exaggerating.  Yikes!  Panic!  His exact words at the time of the encounter, according to his eyewitness children, were “Oh!  Oh my!”
I screamed appropriately upon hearing this while everyone broke into peals of laughter.  As the story unfolded I learned that my husband had bravely solved the dire dilemma by calling for the building boab, building maintenance/security guard.  The boab asked for the nearest household weapon available, a broom, and locked himself into our bedroom; the rest of the family listened to swinging and swatting noises from the hallway.  Eventually the attempt at extermination was pronounced a successful failure.  The rat had disappeared.
However, moments later the largest rat in the Middle East was seen back outside our bedroom window slinking along the ledge railing, having retraced its agile rodent steps.  Apparently it had crawled inside our room through a hidden hole in the shutters after scaling three stories up the outside of our building.  Order was restored and holes in the shutters securely blocked off.  Kindly, my husband has been turning on the light for me whenever I get up in the middle of the night, and whenever the familiar scratching sound etches its way into our midnight dreams.  What a city!

the largest rats in the middle east

The seamstress and the zipper repair...

Last week my husband kindly volunteered to drop off a pair of my khakis with a broken zipper at the local seamstress.  He was surprised to learn that their business had recently moved – unfortunately downgraded for economic reasons.  This morning, at noon, I went to pick up the finished khakis but I could not find the new shop.  Soon after asking a few questions around the area I found myself crawling over sleeping bodies, and the smell of extremely pungent odors, with the generous help and guidance of a shopkeeper nearby.  The tour to the bowels of the damp dim building brought the discovery that Madame, the seamstress, was still not awake for the day at noon.
How completely culturally clueless my assumptions had been.  I apologized and agreed to return in several hours.  Three hours later I appeared again and found to my surprise that the khakis were ready, zipper perfectly replaced and for only about $3.  The only catch in the drama was that she had carefully stored them crumpled up in a corner with a bottle of leaking sewing machine oil.  Madame, the seamstress helplessly tried to brush off the black spots, she smiled, I smiled, and then I paid and went home.
After hours of soaking, scrubbing and two tries in the washer they were officially pronounced ruined.  If only all life’s disasters were as simple to embrace.


The taxi driver and the near bunny rescue...

Tonight we floated peacefully down the Nile River on a sailing felucca watching gusts of wind fill out our tattered canvas sails and guide us along against the current.  It has been less than two weeks since we had arrived as a family in Cairo, Egypt, now our home along with 20 million other near neighbors.  The quiet zone of this great ancient river felt essential for renewal today after a near scrape with a Cairene meat butcher.
After the trauma of leaving our family dog behind in the U.S. we decided the logical solution upon arrival would be to adopt something small and furry into our family home.  As we had joined the ranks of apartment dwellers the smaller the better made perfect sense.  A soft cuddly bunny rabbit hopped up to the top of our young daughter’s “dream list.”  We’d heard more than one report of unhealthy pet shops that dabbled with black-market dealers so we decided to cleverly overshoot the middleman and go to the breeders ourselves.  We assumed such an endeavor was in the realm of possible so we hired a friendly taxi driver we’d met earlier in the week and started painstakingly sputtering the Arabic word for “rabbit,” long-eared sign language and bouncing up and down gestures naturally thrown in for clarification.
Our first stop in pursuit of the bunny met with under nourished guinea pigs, not bad for a start. After a few more dead ends it was clear that our hired pet hunter was on the right track. Eventually we found ourselves winding through dusty urban alleyways dodging barefooted children and clucking chickens until a big smile appeared on Mustafa’s face, “Here we are!” I glanced out the window and saw the focused face of a sweaty butcher surrounded by stacked wooden crates of rabbits. Oh no. Before our eager vegetarian daughter could decipher the looming signs of impending death, my husband yelled for the taxi to move on. A split second decision in the sea of emotional mayhem: should we let our daughter rescue a fluffy rabbit from death row and know such a thriving business existed in her new home? Bad idea. There was no way we’d be able to leave with just one caged bunny.
Although completely confused at our reaction to his successful find, our taxi driver sped off just in time.  We of course tipped him generously for his tireless efforts in carting around such odd foreign acquaintances and headed to the Nile River to regroup.

taxi driver


One tension filled day in Cairo when stress levels were registering off the charts, I sat myself down to ponder life for a while.  Pondering life led me straight toward abstract literary parallels and my mind found its way into the fairy tale, “Little Red Riding Hood.”  Such an innocent sounding story at first glance.  But then just a page or two in and you see a mother sending her little daughter into the depth of a deep dark forest, unaccompanied.  What was she thinking?  Shouldn’t she have held her hand all the way?  Sent along an older brother or hired a bodyguard?  Think of the life trauma of encountering the big bad wolf all by yourself.  Her mother could have, should have, been there to soften the ordeal. 


But then, just when my analytical literary skills were waning, a brilliant thought hit me.  Little Red Riding Hood was not so little; she was a teenager.  Who else would have been able to converse with a lurking wolf?  Who else would have been able to uncover such deception and carry out a resourceful rescue? 


Although one of the goals of parenting is to see independent children emerge from a nurturing home, sometimes the process is as treacherous as sending beloved Little Red Riding Hood off toward Grandma’s house one sunny morning.


Pursuit of happiness, perfection, or anything close to it, must now be set aside for a while as you all simply strive for survival.  A good starting point would be to refresh your memory of the Ten Commandments.  Trudging to the top of Mt Sinai one cold winter afternoon on camelback and staggering up the final steps to Moses’ summit gave me a new appreciation for the origin of these ancient guidelines.  Imagine yourself standing dramatically on top of Mt. Sinai receiving the Tables anew.  Focus in on number six, “Thou shall not murder.”  Personalize the others as necessary, “Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s … perfect child, or thy neighbor’s … perfect parenting skills,” for example.


Life this time around, with you on the parenting end of teenagehood, may seem even messier than when you first faced those years.  Maybe by some stroke of luck you were fortunate enough to glide through your teenage years like my husband, who has no memory whatsoever of a single incident of insubordination.  All these dramatic genes have apparently oozed down through the ages from my feisty pool of ancestors.  One of my Egyptian friends empathetically shared with me that the Arabic word for “teenager” literally means, “one who tires.”  Not a phenomenon limited to the West apparently.  


Regardless of your starting point, it’s time to dust off your “Best and Wisest Advice to Self” book.  Is it like facing an unknown invasion or a temporary disease?  Temporary: meaning 3-6 years.  Only time will tell.  Perhaps a family court could pronounce a verdict of temporary insanity for all members aiding and abetting the emancipation process.  Would that make the crimes of lurking mutiny more palatable?  Whatever works for you is what you need to embrace.  Familiarizing yourself with the symptoms of “in the range of normal” may not necessarily be of great comfort.  Yet its truth may subconsciously soothe the tightening tension invading your now faux-peaceful existence. 

bottom of page