Summer 2018 took the Hatfields all the way from the beaches of France to the sequoias of California.
Our son, Benjamin, just turned 1! And being his parents, we documented the entire first year. You’ll notice that while our lives seem really exotic, living in Egypt and all, having a baby here is just about as “normal” as anywhere.
Thank you to all our loved ones who have cared for Ben this last year and will continue to do so as he grows bigger. They say it takes a village and Ben has been blessed with a whole city!
Spring break took us to a not so distant land in terms of geography. It was, however, a fairly distant land in terms of political and social connectedness from our home in Egypt. Traveling around Israel/Palestine has been a lifelong dream of ours and the opportunity to finally visit (for Caleb, Becca had been before), was not disappointing. That said, this blog post will not be your typical overview of our favorite sites but rather a reflection on what we learned throughout the experience. Going into this trip, we both carried with us the influences of our upbringing in conservative Christian homes in America, but also the impact of living in an Arab nation the last 3.5 years. Our curiosity was tempered with an underlying tension that would challenge us to reconsider past assumptions, explore new ways of understanding, and ultimately be open to what the Holy Land could teach us.
While many people living in and visiting the countries of Israel and Palestine have different takes on the meanings of the places recorded in the Bible, the sites nevertheless play host to visitors of all colors and creeds. Seeing the towns that Jesus had preached in or the spots where the Old Testament (the Jewish Tenach) mentioned cast a fresh light on scripture. Overlooking the valley where David fought Goliath brought new life to the words that I have been reading since I was a child. While many of the sites (specifically in Jerusalem) aren’t 100% certain in their supposed location, we were reminded of an important aspect of our faith as Christ followers. If God wanted us to worship rocks, or revere places, we would know where these spots were without any doubt. But we don’t. We serve a living God and He wants our worship to be directed toward what is everlasting, Him.
Learning our Roots
A highlight for us on our trip was staying with a family in northern Israel. They generously opened their home to the three of us, prepared wonderful meals, and spoke with us with sincere curiosity about our lives. The best part was seeing the way they loved Ben! One man in particular really took to him, and in the mornings he’d take Ben from my arms and say, “We’re going to feed the chickens.” And off they’d go, like they’d been lifelong friends. Ben would return after a while, dirty and happy. The fact that it was Passover while we were there made for an extra-special experience. While I had read that Passover week wasn’t the best time to visit, in reality it was exactly the opposite! So many customs and traditions are only celebrated that week, and we were honored to have been allowed to be a part of it. We ate kosher, talked late into the night, and learned the importance of remembering what God has done for His people. The whole experience made us realize just how little we knew about the Jewish faith and provided context for better understanding the faith, its followers, and its connectedness to Christianity.
Just as we have learned a tremendous amount about Islam by living in the presence of Muslims for the last 3.5 years, we appreciated the impactful, albeit brief, encounter with this Jewish family. The whole experience was a reminder that often times, communities are closed and people of different faiths are kept at arms length, resulting in ignorance and misinformation. People unlike ourselves become dehumanized, giving prejudice and discrimination a foothold. We all do it, to some capacity. We push others who are not “just like us” away so that we never have to have those difficult conversations with people, or be caused to actually think about what we believe. But what amazing barriers are broken down when we forego our inclination to be “right”, and simply are there to learn. And in learning, cause our own faith roots to drive deeper and be watered.
Israel and/or/vs Palestine
How does one talk about what has already been described in countless news articles, personal blogs, and unfiltered Facebook posts? The conflict between these two states hasn’t stretched back for centuries, however, it certainly feels like a timeless problem. Fortunately for us, we came in with a pretty blank slate. Without a lot of preconceived ideas, we were open to listen and learn about the perspectives from individuals on both sides of the coin.
Between staying with a an old friend from Korea and her Israeli husband, sharing meals with a Jewish family, and being guided through Jerusalem by an Arab Christian, we feel like we learned about as balanced of a perspective of the relationship between Israel and Palestine that was possible in our brief visit. No, we are not suddenly experts, but we do have a greater empathy for people impacted on both sides. There’s no easy solution, but we do know that communication, or the lack there of, is a critical cause for some of the perpetual conflict. It’s easy to forget that people on both sides are just that–people.
If you get the chance to visit the Holy Land, do it! Is it safe? Yes! Is it life-changing? Yes! And should you stop and visit Egypt on the way? ALSO YES. 🙂
Last month, we opted to stay in continent and travel to the Kingdom of Morocco. The three of us spent hours and miles traveling around the country by car over the course of 12 days. We made several stops along the way and we thought it would be fun to share a memory that stands out about each location.
Potentially the city with the most name recognition, Casablanca wasn’t exactly at the top of our list for must sees while in Morocco. And if that wasn’t enough to keep us from really digging deep into the city, Benjamin was also SICK. The morning of our flight we took his temperature and it was a glorious 102 degrees (that’s almost 39 C, for you metric folk). But did that stop us? For better or worse, no, it didn’t. The memory I will always have of this place is driving around the city, contemplating whether or not we should take Ben to a see a doctor. Between the aspirator sessions (thank goodness we packed it!) and Ben’s crying in the back seat, this was the first time as parents that we really weren’t sure what to do for our son. This made enjoying any part of the beginning of our trip next to impossible and certainly put a damper on Casablanca for us. After much deliberation, we decided to not take Ben to a doctor and instead dosed him with Tylenol and drove 6 hours into the countryside to the “Blue Pearl,” Chefchaouen. Because that’s what good parents do, right? (Spoiler alert: he DID get better within a couple of days. And some Tylenol suppositories.)
Chef, as it is endearingly referred to as, was hands down the most unique city we visited on our trip through Morocco. You’ve undoubtedly seen pictures of the city of blue printed within in-flight magazines or tucked between other remarkable sights on “top 10 places to see” articles online. Despite still feeling ill, we managed to get Ben out of our small Airbnb room in order to explore the labyrinth of narrow alleyways and winding staircases that made up the town. We enjoyed a few hours just exploring and excitedly anticipating what we’d see around each new corner. Chef isn’t the type of town with a lot of tourist sites for visiting. The town IS the site. And of course, being the photographer I am, it was all eye candy from behind the lens of my camera!
If you don’t already know what a “riad” is, then you ought to look it up. They’re all the rage in Morocco and any travel site worth its salt will tell you that they’re a must to stay in when visiting Fez. Our riad, Riad Sheryne, was modestly priced but had a fantastic location within the old city. Fez is one massive pedestrian-only zone (save the constant zoom of motorbikes around every corner), so getting a place to stay in the city is a huge plus for exploring and feeling more a part of what it was like to live there over 1,000 years ago. The manager of our riad was exceptionally kind and went out of his way to make us feel at home. Both mornings we were there, he made us a simple, yet delicious breakfast. Additionally, we had one of the best rooms in the building as it was on the top floor (top as in, it was literally a room built on the roof) with an incredible view of the city’s rooftops just outside our door. I’m very thankful to have had the experience of staying in a genuine riad and getting a taste of traditional style of living that dates back several centuries.
Nador, a northern city on the edge of the Mediterranean, was unexpectedly beautiful. All of Morocco was, but something about the combination of the sea and fresh air does something to make your soul a bit happier. We ended up meeting our friends Stephen and Hannah there, and they even graciously offered for us to stay with their family in their home as they were there spending the Christmas holidays together. It was the most relaxing 2 days of our trip! No plans, no agenda, just bike rides along the coast, walking across the border by foot into Spain for the day, a girls-only henna party, and playing lots of Settlers of Catan. THE best.
I’m not gonna lie, Marrakech was not my favorite city. For a lot of people it is, but for me it just kinda rubbed me the wrong way (maybe it was the monkeys and squirrels on leashes in the main square? Who knows.). There were, however, some highlights. Like the souq market, or the beautiful park, or the AMAZING lunch spot we found. But if there’s one thing Caleb knows about me, he knows I’m a sucker for pottery. And boy, did Marrakech have a lot of nice pottery! Mugs, plates, bowls – you name it, they had it. Caleb already knows I have too many random pieces of pottery as it is, but I had my eye on this onneee ceeerrrrtain thing I wanted. I promise, Caleb really tried convincing me I didn’t need it, but I DID. (Isn’t that how marriage always goes?) And I told him that only if I could barter down to a specific price and get the EXACT one I wanted would I buy it. And then I DID (Picture: Me – standing in the shop really excited I’ve just bought more pottery; Caleb – off to the side, downcast eyes, shaking his head, handing over the money). And that is my Marrakech memory. Walking around scouting out the perfect salad bowl. I love my salad bowl.
Howdy family and friends!
Here’s a little video update to give you a glimpse into our 2017. You’ll probably figure out pretty quick who the star of it all was…we’re looking forward to new adventures ahead in 2018!
Our son, Benjamin, just hit the 6 month mark a couple of weeks ago, and it prompted me to think, “Maybe the world is curious what life is like raising a baby in Cairo?” So here you go, world! We each took turns to give you a glimpse of Cairo with our new little babe.
Getting Around (Caleb)
Getting around can be pretty tricky for parents with a little in Cairo. First of all, side walks are more of an afterthought here. That is to say, they’re often existent in some fashion, however, they’re commonly covered with a variety of obstacles such as parked cars, piles of trash, and gaping holes that would test the most durable of strollers. Therefore, strollers are often only used in malls or at the airport. Another interesting aspect of getting around is how we transport Ben in a car. We don’t own our own vehicle, so we usually take Ubers.
This means lugging a car seat around – which is certainly the safer route, but not always the most convenient once you get to where you’re going. And pointless anyways, if the car doesn’t have working seat belts. So, (look away mom!) we’ll simply strap Benjamin in our baby carrier and hold on tight while he chews away at the straps to keep occupied. As you probably guessed, there are no car seat laws in Egypt. It’s not uncommon to see a family riding on their motorcycle 4 or 5 deep with the youngest straddling the fuel tank between the dad’s arms.
Thankfully, we have a baby that loves people and will go to anyone (for now, at least!). As long as SOMEONE is feeding him, he is a happy boy. And I’m incredibly grateful for that, as we live in a country that LOVES our child. My mom always told me that having a kid would make me more friends, and now I understand why. Everyday as I walk places with Ben, people are stopping to say hi to him, strangers will give him kisses alllll oovverrr his face, and people that I’ve walked by every day for the last two years who have ignored me, now make silly faces at Ben just trying to get him to crack a smile.
It’s not uncommon that people will ask to hold Ben or want to take him from me. And I’ve gotta be honest, I don’t mind in the least. “Why yes, I’d love a 5-minute break!” I’ve gotten used to being at restaurants and the servers picking Ben up, walking around with him, taking him back in the kitchen, watching them take selfies of the two of them, and then reluctantly hand him back. It’s nice to know that people like your kid.
Just the other day I was sitting having tea with the person who watches over the apartment building I work in. A woman came up, speaking only Arabic, and asked to hold Ben. I handed him to her, and she exchanged a conversation with my friend that I wasn’t following too well. She then looked at me and asked if Ben belonged to me, which I answered with an emphatic, “yes!” Only she wasn’t asking if he belonged to me. She was asking if he could
COME with her. And I had just responded “yes!” So before I knew it, or knew how to stop it, Ben was in the elevator and going up with this woman to her apartment. As I stood in the lobby, now alone, I asked the person I was having tea with, “Where is she going with my baby??” “To her apartment on the 5th floor,” he responded, “I invited you to go have tea with her.” “You did? But I don’t want to have tea with her. I don’t know her!” He looked over and said, “Besma (my Arabic name) – five minutes. Just spend five minutes with her. You will have tea and brighten her day and then you can go back to your work.” So I sat in her living room, chatting in my broken Arabic with her, her two daughters, and her daughter’s children. And all the while they’re so happy to be playing with Ben, and that I had stopped in, and asking that we please come again soon. It was a lovely time.
These Egyptians, I tell you. They can humble you. And make you realize the importance of saying yes to tea with strangers. Egyptians know that. And I am learning from them.
Moms Don’t Matter (Becca)
Now I should say, moms DO matter here, as they do almost ALL of the child-raising, but let me explain myself. The Egyptian culture is a very male-dominant society. Maybe not as much in the big city, but especially in the rural communities, once you have a son, your life as a mom becomes all about that son. You identity changes. When I work out in these rural villages and meet women there, they won’t even identify themselves by their own name anymore. When I ask them what their name is, they’ll literally tell me, “Mother of Mohamed,” or “Mother of Khaled.” They don’t use their own name. One lady I met knew that I had a son, and when she asked me what my name was, I told her my name – but my actual name. “No, no. What’s your son’s name?” she asked. “Oh, my son? Ben-ya-meen (as they pronounce it here).” She then proceeded to call me “Mother of Benjamin,” or “Om Benyameen” for the rest of the day. Because that’s where my identity is now.
Even taking Ben to his first doctor’s appointment, when I went to check in, the man asked for Ben’s name. I told him. He then asked for the father’s name (Caleb wasn’t even present). I told him Caleb. “Okay, go sit down and we’ll call when it’s your turn.” “Yes, but what about me?” I asked. “Don’t you want my name?” “No. We don’t need your name. Just the boy’s name and the father’s name.” Perplexed, I found my seat and spent the next few minutes thinking about how different things are here from the States!
Day to day, I have to keep shifting my mindset from a “Western” one to an “Eastern” one. Because they are so vastly different, and I have so much yet to learn.
Aside from his mom and dad, Benjamin doesn’t have any family, in the traditional sense, living anywhere remotely close to him. Therefore, his family, his caretakers, and friends, are the people that have filled our lives since before Ben was born. Many Egyptians and expats alike know that living in another country away from your original support network is hard. You have to lean hard on the people around you for help. So our landlady, our coworkers, our fellow church members, our security guards, and our friends all have become Ben’s one big family.
Raising a baby in Egypt comes with some concerns, but mostly it comes with a lot of benefits. And with the right attitude and the ability to say “malesh” or “don’t worry about it,” having a baby in Egypt is one of the greatest adventures out there!
Love you all,
This summer was Benjamin’s first time on American soil, so naturally we had to take him coast to coast to show him the real deal! Barely 2 months old, he was a trooper as we tossed him from state to state, plane to car, and Airbnb to guest bedroom. Family and friends in Indiana, Michigan, Virginia, Colorado, and California got to hold our little guy and smother him with love. We also had our own fair share of cuddling with new babes and growing kiddos. This was indeed the summer of “the kid!” Enjoy this little montage of some of our favorite moments, places, and people along the way.
If our son, Benjamin, could speak, he would tell you he’s from Egypt. No, he will not be an Egyptian citizen and likely will not speak Arabic like the locals do (although that would be nice!), but from his first few months in the womb, to birth, to his first 2 weeks breathing this polluted city air, he has spent all of his young life in Egypt. Having a baby in Egypt felt a lot like having a baby anywhere else in the world, only without the IV pumps and intermittent blood pressure checks. Of course, we have nothing to relate it to as this is our first child, but through each step of the way, we felt confident and prepared to bring this child into the world here. So, how did it all go down?
An interesting thing to note about childbirth in Egypt, is that most women here have c-sections. They are predictable, can be planned, and the mother doesn’t feel any of the pains of labor. Because of that, we actually had to seek out a specific doctor who would be comfortable with letting us have a natural delivery, as it’s just not a normal thing here! Thankfully, we found one pretty quickly who we felt would do a good job bringing little Ben into the world. So since September, we’ve been meeting every 3 weeks with our amazing doctors, head doctor Dr. Cherif and his assistant Dr. Karim. At each appointment they would do an ultrasound, a general check-up on Becca, and a brief consultation to talk about the progress of Benjamin. Each appointment cost us 250 LE or about $14. We also managed to find an Egyptian midwife, or “doula”, here named Dina. Midwifery has been on the decline in recent decades as the profession isn’t seen as an important asset in a doctor-heavy country. She was the perfect addition to our team as she provided a lot of important information before the delivery, as well as acted as our advocate with the nurses and doctors. In the hospitals, only the doctors speak English – all the nurses and staff speak only Arabic, so it’s helpful to have someone there to translate as well. Rounding out our “dream team” were Becca’s parents who flew in a week before Becca’s due date to provide emotional support as well as lend a helping hand around the house. Becca’s mom, Ruth, was also right by her side throughout the labor and delivery.
Eleven days after the due date, we headed to the hospital for Becca to get a check-up to see if things were progressing. To Dr. Karim’s surprise, Becca was already 4-5 cm dilated without registering any contractions! Becca was admitted around 11 a.m. and put on a slow drip to help her start the contractions and get them going on a regular basis. Our room was comfortable and large enough to fit all the busy bodies that would eventually be coming in and out of it. For now, in likely our very last moments alone, Becca and I prayed together for the afternoon/evening ahead, taking one last moment to remember what it was like to be “just us.”
Midday turned to late afternoon, and slowly the contractions increased. To help get things going, Becca walked the halls of our floor and did squats on a medicine ball. By 7 pm, the contractions were getting pretty intense and Becca was ready to move onto the next stage, the water birthing room. No, it is not common to have a water birth in Egypt. In fact, we were told that our hospital was the only hospital in the city that had a water birth facility (And by facility, I mean they have one water birth room to serve the 20 million people of Cairo). We didn’t always want to have a water birth, but once our midwife had talked to us about the benefits of it and the fact that our doctor and hospital were equipped to handle such a delivery, we decided to go ahead with it.
Becca was wheeled up to the water birthing room just after 8 pm. By this time the contractions had gotten to be almost unbearable for Becca, who didn’t have any pain meds, so the pool seemed a good solution to help with the laboring. Dr. Karim in this moment really encouraged Becca to get into the warm pool, as Becca could barely manage to get off the stretcher, telling her that the pain would be reduced by 60%. I’m not sure to what percent Becca’s pain went down, but she did feel instant relief by getting in the water. The water itself was very warm, so Ruth, myself, and Dina took turns rubbing ice cubes up and down Becca’s arms and draping a cold rag on her forehead to keep her from becoming overheated. Becca began trying to push little Benjamin out around 10 p.m.
As her husband, I felt incredibly helpless at times. It was all I could do to not break down and cry during such a trying time. As she pushed, I held Becca’s body up in the water by wrapping my arms around her from behind. I prayed with her, I encouraged her with my seemingly weightless words, and just stayed by her side throughout every minute of the night. Becca was amazing. She was gracious towards everyone in the room, determined between contractions, and strong when she had to push over and over again. I will never forget how in awe I was of this woman I had married.
Around 3 1/2 hours and an immeasurable number of pushes later, Dr. Cherif decided to pull Becca out of the water and have her try pushing from a bed. Benjamin just wasn’t coming out and he was getting worried about Becca’s endurance. About 15 minutes later, at 1:24 am on May 4th, Benjamin was born. Finally.
As I type this, Benjamin lies just inches away from me cuddled up in his favorite blue wrap, healthy as can be. In fact, he went on his first felucca boat ride just last week! Of course, our lives’ have been flipped upside down, but we knew that going into all of this. He does all the things a baby is supposed to do and is a full-time job to his Mama and Daddy. We are so in love with him already. Becca continues to recover well and is quickly adapting to being his primary care-taker while I’m back at work.
So having a baby in Egypt, would we do it again? Yes! We understand that everyone is different and there are certainly some specific issues that might concern some expats away from their home countries. However, for us, it was an incredible experience that we wouldn’t trade for anything. In the end, our hospital bill was right at $1000 for the entire thing. It was possible to do things cheaper, but we decided to spend a bit more to have a few extra comforts (like those cappuccinos 😉 ).
Of course, all you parents out there understand that the adventure has just begun for our little guy. There will be challenges ahead for sure, but we are overwhelmingly thankful for how God has provided for us in so many ways up to this point. We ask that you would continue to pray for us as we navigate these uncharted waters as we raise our firstborn in this wonderful and wild country. Benjamin the “Egyptian.” It’s kind of got a ring to it, don’t ya think?
On my Google calendar, April 23rd reads “D-Day”. That gives us under one more month of just “us.” When friends and strangers ask us the proverbial, “Are you ready?”, our answer seems to always float between, “What does ready mean?” and “I think so?” That said, things have really been coming together in the last few months as we gear up for little baby Hatfield’s arrival!
So many wonderful friends living with us in Egypt have been overly generous. We have had countless items gifted and donated to us, and have felt very taken care of and loved here. Our spare bedroom has been spruced up with a fresh coat of paint thanks to some helpful friends, and baby furniture has been moved in. This alone has made the reality that “this is happening” feel more like “THIS IS HAPPENING!” Of course, our baby room will still accommodate adult people too, so please don’t feel like we can’t host in you Cairo any more…we can!! (Maybe just bring your ear plugs ;))
(On a side-note, if you’re wondering what it’s like to paint your apartment in Cairo, let’s just say it’s not quite the same as America. A man comes to your home and you bring to him the 5 gigantic buckets of white paint that you’ve pre-purchased from a small, hole-in-the-wall shop from a man who speaks no English, and to whom you’re speaking yourbroken Arabic while also making “painting gestures” with your hands to try to explain to him what you want. You also needed to have purchased small concentrated bottles of whatever color it is you want on your walls. And then you get to mixing your wall color – right there in your living room. You want beige? Add a little brown, pour in some yellow…and then watch as the man puts his entire arm in the paint bucket and proceeds to mix it all up. Apply to the
wall. Let it dry. Stare, decide. Still not right? Add some black, more brown, stick your arm back in, mix, mix, mix…put it on the wall. Stare, stare at it some more, until you’ve got just the right color you want. Give them the final okay. …And so was our experience a few weeks ago when we had some men come to paint our living room, kitchen, and bathroom! I originally thought this was a crazy way to do things, but I’ve got to admit, for a person as indecisive as me about paint color and who ALWAYS seems to pick the wrong one, it was great to be able to just “add some more color” if things weren’t quite the way I wanted them!)
So Mom is healthy, baby is healthy, everything seems to be heading in the right direction as far as we know. 🙂 We’re excited to have Becca’s parents here for the big arrival and we feel very comfortable with our astute doctor and sharp-as-a-tack midwife! I really feel like we’ve got the Dream Team on our side. Of course, with the unknown, there are still some nerves. Will there be loads of traffic – per the norm – while we’re driving to the hospital (which is at least a 45 minute drive away)? How long will Becca be in labor? What will it be like giving birth in a hospital where no one but the doctor and our midwife speak English? We trust that God has brought us this far and will lead us all safely the rest of the way!
Life as we know it will change once we have a little one to look after. With a bigger family comes bigger responsibilities. And then there’s the fact that we live in Egypt…That said, we have an amazing community of friends here that we know will continue to support us throughout each step of our family life. It’s tough to do this whole parenting thing (at least, that’s what I’m told), but when you’re surrounded by so many helping hands, the load certainly can become lighter.
In these last weeks we plan on going on lots of dates, nailing down a name (nope, we still haven’t decided yet!…), and going skydiving. Alright, we’ll do that last one AFTER the baby gets here. Just seeing if anyone was still reading. 😉
In other news, it’s Caleb’s BIRTHDAY today so we’re excited to celebrate his 29 years of life! Caleb spent his birthday weekend camping out in a nature reserve close to where we live with some of his friends. And by nature I mean mostly desert, but still! It’s nice to get out of the city and do things that seem a bit more “normal.”
We’ll try to update again soon (maybe even before the baby arrives??), but we just want to say how appreciate and thankful we are for all of you in our lives! We certainly continue to feel incredibly loved by our friends and family, both near and far, on a daily basis. Love you all!
This past Thanksgiving we traveled to Lebanon with some friends of ours here in Cairo. We had an incredible time. Here are some of the sights and sounds from our trip.