As I was eating breakfast in front of the television—a nice piece of Lebanese baklava with a cup of Earl Grey tea—the weatherman for Good Morning Egypt was standing in front of his map of the country, pointing toward the Nile Delta.
“Today will be partly cloudy, with a 20% chance of frogs.”
Suddenly, from the window to his side—you know, the one where all the adoring fans stand outside waving signs that say things like, “We love Goshen,” or “Ahmed, will you marry me?” — a small green object splattered against the window pane.
“Make that a 90% chance of frogs.”
I shut off the television. Things had been pretty weird since the Nile turned to blood last month. Back then I was stuck drinking whatever was left over in my fridge for seven days straight: beer, lemonade, tomato sauce, pickle brine, it made no difference. And none of us got to bathe for a week. It had gotten ugly. And to make matters worse, all the fish had died. People did what they could, but after a few days of bass ice cream, pike preserves, and freeze dried mackerel, we started losing interest. All the fishermen were out of work, and they had families to feed. It was a mess.
Everyone seemed to take the frogs in stride. I must admit, I found it hard to sleep, what with the frogs here, frogs there, frogs jumping everywhere. And a lot of public events had to be canceled, including a soccer game that I had been looking forward to for months. It was hard to get anything accomplished, as the whole countryside was covered in amphibians. But, after a while, you kind of got used to it. The only people making a living that week were the pest control companies. While the Cairo Stock Exchange had plummeted, Scarab Busters was up fifty-percent.
There’s no denying that the lice was unpleasant. The pharmacies ran out of Nix, Rid, Lice-Be-Gone, and every other lice treatment within an hour after the infestation started. At first, all the schools were closed, but they soon reopened after the Board of Health realized that everyone was infested. For me this plague really hit home because even if you lived in an expensive condominium, or were an important politician, you had lice. It was an equal opportunity plague.
Pharaoh decided to address the nation on the second night of the lice. The newspapers had played up the fact that the King’s sorcerers couldn’t duplicate Moses’ trick, so clearly this was the work of a powerful deity. Pharaoh’s numbers were dropping in the polls, and more Egyptians were starting to think we should just let the Israelites go.
I got a bunch of friends together that night to watch Pharaoh’s speech on my big screen TV. I called it the “Scratch Your Itch Party,” and a lot of people came, despite how uncomfortable they all were. Pharaoh wore a gold head dress—most likely to hide his lice—and looked visibly uncomfortable. He spoke of staying the course and of national pride. “No, no, no, I will not let them go,” was his catchiest sound bite that night, and it was all the rage the next day at the blood-free water coolers.
People were pretty demoralized when the swarm of wild beasts came. Everyone just locked their doors and stayed inside. The media kept alternating between footage of some Animal Kingdom show and Pharaoh’s speech from the week before, but no one wanted to watch. Finally, a story broke that Pharaoh was in negotiations with Moses to give the Israelites limited worshipping rights, but apparently the plan fell through. Moses stated it was an all or nothing deal. Still, every time a plague ended, the Egyptian people had hope. Then rumors would start of the next plague, and the next thing you knew it was upon us. It was then that people really started to lose it.
They were calling the next plague Crazy Camel Disease, but it wasn’t just the camels. The cows, horses and sheep died, too. At this point a national malaise fell over Egypt. I lost a camel and two horses. With the help of some friends, we dragged their carcasses out to the street for the garbage men to pick up, like we did with the frogs we had swept up from all over the house in the earlier plague, but the sanitation department was having trouble keeping up with the enormous volume of dead animals. It felt like the garbage strike of ’29 all over again.
O.K., I’m going to be honest with you. The boils? They were the worst. I mean, I thought the lice were bad. But boils? Just awful. The papers carried the story that even the sorcerers of Pharaoh had them. But for me, I started to worry when I heard my dermatologist was stricken.
Actually, if you don’t count the property damage and the idiots who stayed outside during the storm and died, the hail was kind of cool. I mean, hail that turns to fire when it hits the ground? There’s a story to tell your children someday, assuming you live that long. We tried to scoop it up with oven mitts and have fireball fights, but it just wouldn’t make good hail balls. I guess you need lighter hail for that, or perhaps just not of divine origin.
That’s where we are now. Pharaoh has come up with a new plan to handle the “spate of unnatural occurrences,” as he calls them, and he still refuses to let the Israelites go. Personally, I don’t get it. I’ve heard of stubborn, but this is ridiculous.
There are rumors of some great darkness coming. Sounds good; I could use the rest. And yet, after all that we’ve been through, and despite the threat of impending blackness, I’m starting to think I can see some light at the end of the tunnel. I mean, how much worse could it get?
Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics and the author of the parsha story blog themaggidofbergenfi eld.com
By Larry Stiefel