Welcome to the Wandering Drays!

Not all who wander are lost...

Welcome to my blog dedicated to my family and our crazy foreign service life. Never content with staying in one place, we are excited to share our journey. We've survived two unaccompanied tour (Baghdad 2010-2011 and Baghdad again in 2015-2016), multiple TDYs, and enjoyed a two-year family assignment in Cairo, Egypt. The fab hubby is currently learning Turkish for our next assignment...Istanbul, Turkey! We leave for Turkey sometime in summer 2017. I write about what I know. Which is mainly kids, tween drama, gross pets, dealing with lots of government info, our moving adventures, being a nurse, yoga, running, living on too-little sleep, and an addiction to coffee lattes. I hope you'll enjoy this glimpse into our lives.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Always Vigilant, Sadly Weary

If you know me, then you know my love for running.  Of all the things I miss about the States, it's the times when I'd lace up my sneakers, snap on my headphones and iPod and go for a run.  I miss the sun on my shoulders.  I miss the freedom of running on the sidewalk or running trail or beach with little worry for the traffic or concern about the people around me.  I miss seeing other runners.  I miss plunking the baby into the stroller and watching his delight as we'd zoom down the road and enjoy the weather.  The deep breaths, the sounds, the pounding of my shoes on the cement.

There is no tank top to let my shoulders bask in the sun; I have to cover myself here.  There are no sidewalks. The traffic is dangerous. There are no running trails. There are few runners.  There's the questionable looks (What is she doing?); there's the stink eye (Really, what IS she doing?); there's the hateful looks (Why is SHE here?).  This is the look that gives me the heebies.  I don't fit in.  It's not my home. It'll never be my home, no matter how long I live here.  I obviously don't belong.

Always vigilant. I can't just enjoy my music and feel the pounding of the pavement.  I can't get my stride, or find my breath patterns.  Because I have to be incredibly aware of all my surroundings all the time.  Cars.  No stop signs, no traffic lights, heavy traffic - and it's everywhere, even on the side streets, even in the residential areas.  Garbage lines the streets, stray dogs and cats are very common.  People everywhere, and recreational running is not, well, it's just not normal.  It's not a part of the culture here.  People don't run for fun.  They run to get out of the way of cars or to catch a microbus on the Corniche.

Don't go down empty streets; don't run into crowds; keep your distance and watch for eye contact. Is this neighborhood friendly; are Americans welcome?; why is he looking at me?; which direction would I go if that car slowed down and someone tried to grab me?  This is what I worry about now - not how fast or how far or how long I can run.  But how and where do I go if something bad happens.  Because it does happen here.  Vigilant, weary, tired.  That's my run.  There's no joy in it anymore.  And it hurts.

Deep breath.  Slow down.

Because there's hope.  The fab hubby is taking me to Wadi Degla tomorrow.  He's running with me, and you know how much he loathes running.  But he obviously loves to me, so he's taking one for the team and running to make me happy.  He wants me to find my stride in a city that is so runner-unfriendly.

Wadi Degla is eight-ish miles of nowhere; a dry, old river bed and recreational area on the outskirts of the city, for a city sorely lacking in recreational areas. I've heard it's a flat, nice run, with lots of other runners and bikers enjoying the outdoors.  This could mean the tank top is back, and no traffic or stink eye to disrupt my mojo.  

Please, please.  Let it be true.

Because I like it here; despite all the cruddy things I wrote at the beginning of this.  Despite the difficulty in trying to fit in, in trying to live and be a part of a culture that is quite foreign to me.  I really do love it here.  I love exploring and learning and trying new things.  I love the sights and the people and the history.

I just really, really need my running. Quite possibly more than I've ever needed it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Is NOT Too Much!

"Is too much".  This is quite possibly the most common phrase I hear in Cairo.  Usually the conversation starts out like this:

Any person in Egypt: "How much did you pay for X item?"
Me:  "Well, I paid 25 pounds."
Any person in Egypt, in disappointed voice, shaking head:  "Oh. Is too much. Too much."

"Is too much."  Doesn't matter if the person I'm speaking to is Egyptian and has difficulty with English.  Even the Americans I talk to say it. Just. Like. That. "Is too much."

And it doesn't matter if I really did pay too much for it or not.  Bargaining is such a way of life here, that someone will inevitably say "is too much" during the bargaining process.  I've said it.

Me: "How much for these mangoes?"
Seller: "30 pounds."
Me: "Is too much. I have 20 pounds."
Seller: "No."
Me: "Is too much.  I give you 20 pounds."
Seller (removing one mango):  OK.

By the way, 20 Egyptian pounds is the equivalent of less than $4USD.  For that, I got 3 mangoes and a big, juicy cantaloupe  I thought I did well.  I beamed.  I strutted.

I bragged to a friend: "I paid only 20 pounds and got 3 beautiful mangoes and a juicy cantaloupe!"  Friend: "Oh, is too much."
Me: [Insert confused look]
Friend: "Is too much. You shouldn't have paid more than 15 pounds."


But every money conversation follows this general pattern here in Cairo. So when it came time to make plans to visit the pyramids, EVERYONE chimed in.  Especially when we agreed to pay $120US for a private tour (and driver) for a half-day tour.  Everyone practically sang "IS*TOO*MUCH!

Yet, we'd heard the horror stories of people heading to the pyramids alone.  100 pounds to get in to see the inside of a pyramid.  200 pounds to get out.  15 pounds to get your kid a camel ride.  500 pounds to get him back.  Lots and lots of horror stories.  Lots and lots of exhausted, icky faces when telling their stories of the pyramids.  We didn't want that.  At all.

So we forked it up front (and for the record, I don't think $120 for a private Egyptologist tour guide, car, and driver plus admission tickets is too much.  If anything, I'd say we got a deal!).  We made arrangements with our nanny to keep Kellen (most of Cairo is NOT baby-friend, not even the tourist destinations) and our driver and guide arrived at our home this morning and drove us to the pyramids.  Along the route, the guide gave a nice history of Egypt and answered many of our questions.  When we arrived, he got our tickets for us and helped us navigate the guards.  We went to the first pyramid and he gave us the history.  And then encouraged us to enjoy some free time roaming around the pyramid.  He helped us navigate the sellers and the camel rider offers.  We took lots of pictures and then went back to the car and drove to the next two pyramids and the panoramic view site.

Here our tour guide offered us camel rides with a merchant he knew personally.  We happily agreed (50 pounds per person, plus 20 pounds tip for the boys leading the camel).  No camel riding off into the distance with our lovely munchkins with ransom for return.  Nope.  We had a lovely, lingering camel ride.  The boys used our cameras and took our pictures.  We thoroughly enjoyed this trip.

Then our tour guide navigated us through the merchants and gave us some simple tips:  buy it if you want it and know that you may or may not be overpaying for it.  Or we could leave and shop at a gift shop later.  We opted to browse the merchants and Abby found a sweet 3-camel jeweled trinket set.  I got a scarf. Owen got a keychain.  We didn't worry if "is too much" (although we did hear it and say it just for the fun of bargaining).

We hopped in our car again and drove to the Sphinx.  The tour guide pointed out nearby tombs and where mummification took place.

All of it was breathtaking.  And I'll be honest - the Pyramids and Sphinx were never on my 'bucket' list in life.  If you'd ask if I wanted to go there, I'd say sure, I guess so, but it wasn't something I felt I HAD to do or even really wanted to do.  But I am so glad I got to see this today.  It really is awe-inspiring.

We finished out our day with a trip to a papyrus museum and a gift shop.  The shopkeeper was knowledgable and we purchased some lovely items for ourselves.  The best part? All items had actual price tags on them, and we didn't have to bargain it down.

Our driver and tour guide returned us to our home in the early afternoon and we thanked them profusely for the wonderful time we had.  We hadn't experienced the anxiety that others had on their trips, we'd learned quite a bit about Egyptian history, and we'd enjoyed the sites.  Stress-free.  Really.  $120USD?  Is NOT too much.

If you'd like the contact name for our tour guide, please let us know.  We'll be using him in the future for other tours around Cairo, too!

Enjoy the photos.

Most pictures I've seen don't show just how close the
pyramids are to Giza.
And Cairo is off in the distance.

Super Strong.
Super-duper strong.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Home Sweet Home and Adjusting to Life in Cairo

Maadi, Cairo at sunset.  I love the skyline.
Cairo.  Two weeks later, I'm still jetlagged.  No idea why, but I am.  2pm is like the death knell for me.  I want to sleep so baaaaaad.  But I grab a latte and chug through it.  Or I work out at the gym (since running here is more a game of chicken than running).  And later in the night, it's all I can do to stay up past 9pm.  Makes me feel old.

Other complaints?  I'm gonna throw it out there - "Mummy Tummy", "Tut Gut", "Pharaoh's Revenge".  All of these amusing slogans do NOT do the local stomach bug justice.  It is horrible, it is painful, it is gross.  We've all served our time and served it so well that I hope we never have to serve at the whim of the porcelain god again.

Running.  It's a bust here.  Like I said, it's more like a game of chicken.   Or Russian roulette.  Or Frogger.  The cars here don't look out for pedestrians; there are no traffic laws (as in NONE - no stop signs, no street lights, nothing).  It's dangerous, especially if I get lost and end up in the wrong part of town (and that's happened).  So, I'm looking into other options.  The gym at work is great and the kids' school has an outdoor track.  There's a running group that meets weekly and goes out to the Wadi Degla (dry river bed) for a run.  It'll work out somehow.

So, how about some good stuff?  Our house.  (Thankfully, three bathrooms!) Gorgeous hardwood floors.  Lots and lots of space.  The kids take the baby for a walk in the house.  In his stroller.  Or they chase the dog all around, who scooby-doos across the hardwood floors (very amusing).

Our housekeeper/nanny is the top of awesomeness.   I have no idea how she gets it all done.  The house is organized, spotless, and the kids adore her. She'll take the few groceries I have left in the kitchen and come up with an actual meal (when I would have looked at what we had and just ordered out!).  She is amazing and makes life with our kids and two full-time jobs manageable.  I don't know what we would do without her.  Our time at home is enjoyable and not spent catching up on laundry or trying to pretend to cook.  Really good stuff.

Our community.  It's tight and close-knit.  There's a community center here with a pool and playground and a restaurant (that carries American foods - which we were craving; you know - nachos, chicken wings, etc.).  There are lots of families with kids our age.  And the people I work with at the clinic are great.  We've made some great friends already and it's comforting having so many people we know living nearby.

And the city.  It's beautiful. The people are gracious, the customs are often beautiful.  I love exploring the area and seeing the different types of architecture on the buildings.  I love the fruit stands and the bakeries, and the cafes.  The food is amazing, and you can get anything delivered to your door.  Jason and I are planning some day trips sans kids so we can explore some markets and do some tromping through history.

The weather.  I love it hot, the hotter the better, and it's nice and dry and sunny.  Some people complain about the air quality but it doesn't bother us.  We've lived in L.A. and I did a 4-month stint in Bakersfield, CA - home of the worst air quality in America, so no biggie to us.  I'd actually say the noise pollution bothers me more than anything...what exactly are they honking at at 11pm at night!?  But the weather rocks, all the time.

And so there you have it.  We're settling in, meeting people, and getting out and about.  We didn't get lost AT ALL this week, and I'd call that success.  Here's some photos of our gorgeous home, as previously promised.  Sorry, no outside photos for security's sake.  The master bedroom is not in these photos - the awesome hubby was catching up on some sleep while I was taking photos.  And please, please, look away from the generic linens - our UAB is in-country awaiting customs, and should be to us next week.  But for now, these are all we have.

Still, how lucky are we?!  We've only been here 2 weeks and we've already got word on our UAB!  [Happy Dance] And our HHE and car are set to arrive around early/mid-October, so we'll have that soon enough.  [Insert Another Happy Dance Here]

Massive.  Both Owen and Kellen are in this photo.  Oh, and more
lamps than we could ever use.   Plus there's not enough outlets to
plug them in to.  So.  We're sending them back to housing.


Little area off to the right will be Kellen's play area.
If my freaking baby gate would ever arrive!!
I mailed it just before we left Ohio.

Everyone who's ever worked for State recognizes this table and hutch.

The storage capabilities are awesome.

One of the details I love here.  This is the light fixture in the
downstairs' bathroom!

Downstairs bathroom.

Love the kitchen!

Staircase rules require shoes.  Because if you wear socks,
you slide and fall on your tuckus.

Gawd, it's so huge.  It's fun watching the pup scooby doo across the floors.

Second living room.  We're turing this into guest room and office.

The upstairs landing.  More sleek wood to slide on and fall on your tuckus.
You can guess what I've done, huh?

Abby's room.  Perfect for our little princess.

Owen's room.  Check out the amazing storage closets.  We have them
in every room!

Owen's rockin' lego projects.  He can't wait until our UAB arrives with
the rest of his booty.

One of our three bathrooms.  No more fighting!  We only
had one in home in Ohio.

The baby's room.  Obviously a work in progress.  Note the
car seat on the left.  K-Man has been sleeping in this since
we've arrived (waiting for a safe crib from housing).  He's
honestly never slept so well.


Another gorgeous sunset view - this of Maadi Towers.
The Nile River is on the other side of the buildings.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I like it here in Cairo, but I worry. A lot. I worry about crossing the street with the crazy traffic; I worry about the kids adjusting to school; I worry about my new job; I worry about not being able to communicate my food order at a restaurant; I worry I'll never feel comfortable running in this city.

But all of this seems insignificant right now.

I actually don't know her; in fact, before this past week, I'd never even read her blog.  But my friend Jill knows her, and asked that we say a prayer for Anna.

Anna at An Inch of Gray lost her 12-year old son in the flooding in Virgina last week.  I can't even fathom the depths of her pain right now.  No one should ever have to suffer the loss of a child.  It tears at my heart.  I am so lucky to have my children here, right now, in this massive city with all my small and insignificant worries.  Nothing else matters but my family.

Please take a moment today to be thankful for what we have - bring it into perspective.  It can all be lost so quickly.  And then take a few moments to say a prayer for Anna and her family.  Every prayer, every kind thought, every one of them counts.  I hope our prayers will help to bring her peace and comfort.

Friday, September 9, 2011

First Week in Cairo

Magnificent view of the Nile.

After a long, but thankfully uneventful 24 hours of travel from Pittsburgh International to JFK to Cairo International Airport, we arrived in Cairo, Egypt on Monday.  Disheveled, cranky, hungry and truthfully a bit stinky.  As soon as we exited the plane, we were greeted by my husband's awesome sponsor - who helped us navigate the airport, deal with all 19 pieces of luggage, and load everything into two vans.  We then traveled to our new home.  Jason and the kids all fell asleep in the van. I was too anxious - taking in all the sights, trying to mentally accept this as 'home.'

Amazingly, it's felt like a perfect fit from day one.  So much of this has to do with our friends who have gone out of their way to help us get settled.  Groceries in our kitchen, beds with linens, internet connection at the ready.  A nice warm meal on the day we arrived with a beautiful dessert.  I can only hope that I'll be able to pay it forward next year when we're sponsoring an incoming family!

Introductions to our doorman were made, and he's been so helpful each time we've stepped out of the house.  And the house!  It's beautiful (and I promise to do a blog on it next week!) - 4 bedrooms, 2 living rooms, a ginormous formal dining room, beautiful kitchen, and 3 bathrooms.  I couldn't ask for more. But wait! There IS more --- A POOL ON THE ROOF!  With a gorgeous view of surrounding Cairo.
Not a bad place for a run!

On our second day here, our housekeeper/nanny arrived and I can't express how relieved I was to find out she is as amazing in real life as the recommendation we received.  She is easy-going, thorough, and absolutely loves the baby.  Who loves her in return! Within an hour of meeting her, the baby was giving her big sloppy kisses.  Jason started work the day after we arrived, and I start work at the Embassy clinic on Sunday, so having someone we could trust with the kids was essential - we've hit the jackpot with her; she is the perfect fit for our family.

I went with a new friend to the kids' school and we met with their teachers and got IDs for their school.  THE KIDS' SCHOOL IS AWESOME.  A beautiful international school, with kids who have been through so many of the same things our kids have dealt with.  The munchkins were immediately at ease (!!) and made friends easily.  We made arrangements for busing and then went for a latte.  Yum! It's not my usual Starbucks from the States, but it's definitely good enough that I won't feel deprived.  I can more than live with that.

On Wednesday I rode with the same friend to a local grocery store and then to the Embassy commissary. Both are great!  I will have no problem getting the groceries we'll need.  On the way back home, we stopped at a local market and picked up some fresh mango and canteloupe.  They smell so good. So fresh, so wonderful.  And they taste far better than any mangoes I've ever had.  Plus, I got to try my hand at price bargaining at the market. Considering my lack of Arabic, it's even hysterical.  But I did end up getting what I wanted for what I felt was a reasonable price. That's the most important thing in bargaining, right?!

Later in the week, I braved a solo taxi ride, and asked for the Metro on 9th.  I MEANT the Metro Supermarket, but didn't realize that metro also meant subway, and the taxi driver spoke as much English as I speak Arabic. [Bahahaha! I know about 4 words in Arabic: "hello", "thank you", "coffee" (of course!), and "market."]  I managed to squeak out 'souk' (market) with the word metro and he thought I meant Market at the Metro.  To his credit, he dropped me at an outdoor market right near a subway entrance.  I tentatively got out of the car, but realized immediately it wasn't the area I was familiar with.  And honestly, I can also say it wasn't an area I was comfortable with.  The roads were narrow, garbage piles lined the streets, and the sewage smell was nearly unbearable.

Saw this friendly guy while running.
Hoping his fate isn't what I witness in the market...
Despite the amazingness of the city, please also understand that I fully recognize that Cairo has an enormous population that lives in poverty that most of us cannot even fathom; that there are some who do not welcome Americans in their country; that there are plenty of areas which are not safe.  I don't speak the language; I have short, vibrantly blond hair; I dress conservatively enough for the culture, but I don't wear the local garb; truthfully, I probably couldn't stick out more I tried.  I decided I wasn't ready for exploring this area, so I hopped another taxi and this driver spoke quite a bit more English and he laughed at me and drove me to the area I was looking for.  In fact, he spoke English, French, and Arabic, so I ended up having a great discussion with him about politics in Egypt.  Good stuff.

At the market, I purchased some more mangoes and some persimmons; found some trinkets for the kidlets; and saw a butcher shop with donkey meat for sale.  I mean literally donkey butt meat.  The tail was still on! I make no judgments on meat, and I would actually try it in a restaurant, but buying a piece of butchered donkey is so not my style. I wouldn't even know what to cook it with!  I also found a "Cilantro" coffee shop and got a tasty espresso drink with Nutella.  Nutella is really popular here, so I thought I'd embrace it in coffee drink; that's definitely Heather-style.

That's right! Donkey tail.
Today I decided I'd brave the traffic on foot and try a little bit of running. I mapped out a run to the Nile, wrote out my address and Jason's cell phone on a piece of paper, and headed out of the building. I spoke with the doorman using some of my patented foreigner communication - English mixed in the few words I knew in Arabic, making wild waving motions with my hands and arms.  He's always amused by me.  He understood I was going running (easy charade to figure out, right?) and confirmed my suspicions that the Nile was in the direction I thought I was.  About 25 minutes into my run though, after playing many a game of 'frogger' on the road with the million honking-not-following-any-traffic-law cars, I was LOST. Super lost.  And the road I was on trapped me between garbage and cars.  So, I hopped a taxi.  Who drove me to the Nile and dropped me off!  Success!  I ran for about 15 minutes more and just as I was giving up all hope --- spotted a STARBUCKS!  Exactly what I was looking for!  Oh, happy day!

But I have to say, the latte I got was an afront to all lattes.  It had no espresso taste.  Only heavy sweet soy milk and overly sweet hazelnut syrup.  Oh, well.  I'm actually not heartbroken.  I've found another coffee shop I like to buy my latte at here in Cairo.  And of course, I'll be with my BFF latte again in the States someday.  I played another game of frogger and took some pictures across the street with the latte and then grabbed a taxi back to the house.  I spent the rest of the day with the fab hubby and the munchkins at the roof pool.  Perfect.  So far, Cairo is a good balance of what we'd consider "regular life" mixed with a new culture.  That's really what we've been hoping for.

Quite possibly the ONLY Starbucks latte I'll
drink in Egypt.  Has been added to our world
latte page as well!

End of run in front of the magnificent Nile River.

Rooftop pool.  Dude. How lucky are we?!

Some views of Maadi (our area of Cairo).  It's a beautiful residential area.

Maadi towers in the distance.  They are huge!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

One Last Night

One heinous day of packing our airline luggage, two days of packout, and now I sit in an empty house in Ohio, save for three beautiful children sleeping upstairs. Jason is out enjoying some much-deserved time with some friends; I got to enjoy time with my besties last night. Everything is suddenly real. We are moving. 14 hours to wheels off the ground; our year-long dream of moving to Cairo now a reality. Jason's assignment in Iraq now seems so long ago. He's been home for six weeks and one day.

We'll hit the airport tomorrow with 10 checked bags, 5 carry-ons, and 4 personal bags. A dog, a stroller, a gigantic baby car seat, two kids, one baby. One very excited family.

Both Owen and Abby spent the day with friends, tromping all over our small town. I think they are ready now as well. It's hard saying goodbye, but the lure of adventure is pretty exciting and hopefully makes up for it a little bit.

I'm thankful for our neighbors who helped out so much with the kids today. I didn't have any mouths to feed at lunch or dinner, and they had a blast with their friends. The baby got to spend a special day with his grandparents, and didn't risk any chance of getting packed up or shipped to storage. Whew.

My espresso machine is one its way to Cairo via USPS, as are two baby gates. Here's hoping our UAB arrives as within 2-3 weeks! But no worries, because in our 10 bags, we have enough to get by without more stuff (except groceries) for at least 6 weeks.

Pittsburgh airport hates me - no Starbucks! But we're also traveling through NYC, so fingers crossed they'll be one at the airport there. Otherwise our 5-hour layover will seem even longer.

Just one more day to our arrival in Cairo. I can't say I'm looking forward to the 11 hour final flight, but I am looking forward to our adventure.