Sunday, December 13, 2009

Soup for the soul...sort of

Christmas also comes at the time of year when many of us are getting sick. The same is true in Cairo, people drop like flies as soon as the temperature drops below 20 degrees Celsius. And truly, how many of us don't crave Chicken soup?

I always mix and match with my soup, but there's still a general pattern that I follow. It's really easy to make, very filling, and full of good stuff :D

What you'll need:

1 package Knorrs instant chicken soup (Or anything similar - instant chicken or veggie soup package)
1 Chicken stock
3/4 cup rice
3 large carrots, chopped.
2 potatoes, chopped.
1/2 cup sweetcorn.
2 Chicken breasts, sliced.
1/2 tablespoon olive oil.
1 tablespoon oregano.
Salt and Pepper.

The package soup with generally call for 1 litre of water or so. Add an additional .5 litre or so (if you don't want a chunky soup, add a little more water). Stir well, and set to boil. While this is boiling, add your olive oil and chicken to a saucepan. It's important to add the meat and the oil at the same time, although many of us have let the oil warm up in the pan. Truth is, it won't cook through the meat if they are not added together. This help keeps the meat lovely and tender ;).

Add the oregano to your chicken, and let cook until whitened around the outside. By this point, your soup mixture should be boiling. Stir in your chicken stock to the mixture to make sure it's completely dissolved. Add your chicken and remaining ingredients to the soup, let simmer over a low heat until the potatoes are cooked through. Usually takes about 40 minutes or so. And salt and pepper to taste.

I also love adding some peas to this soup, but of course, that depends on if you're into your greens or not :p

Rice Pudding!!!

This has always been one of my favourite desserts. I remember when I first started trying to make it in California at the ripe age of 18 lol. The threat from Dale to "not try that," and "do NOT leave the rice alone," ended up in me using the wrong rice and burning it all to the bottom of the pan. Fortunately since then, I have wizened up a little bit (just a little ;) ) and can now make a deliciously tasty rice pudding.

It's important to not use instant rice in this recipe, it doesn't cook long enough to absorb the milk. Most rice pudding recipes will call to boil the rice in milk from the get go, but I don't see the point burning off so much milk.

I take about 2 cups of rice, and 3.5 cups water or so. Cook the rice until fluffy (but not fully cooked), then drain. Add about 2 cups of milk to the rice and finish cooking until tender. You may or may not want to add more milk depending on how creamy you like your pudding. I prefer using full cream milk for this, it's a creamier taste.

Once the rice is cooked, add about 1/4 a cup brown sugar, and 1/4 a cup white sugar. Mix into the rice, with about 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Voila, perfect rice pudding! :D

Sweeten to taste, but one of my favourite ways to eat this is with Jam, or with melted chocolate! Can't go wrong, and a little bit of warm rice pudding can be the perfect comfort food for a cold night outside.

Ginger goodness :D

Ok, as promised, I've been baking all week. (Ok perhaps slight exaggeration, but you know...lots of cooking in one night should count too :p). Friday this week rolls around, and as per usual, most of us had stayed out too late on Thursday, and didn't want to go anywhere on Friday. I fell back on my trusty plan B, head to someone's house for a night of cooking and movies, and maybe throw in a glass of wine there.

Friday night the venue was Charlotte's house. Optimal, because not only does she have a lovely large kitchen, and sound system for Moby to play around on ;), her two dogs Vicky and Bennie provided the perfect training tool for my new wonderdog "Sookie" (I'll have to blog about her too! lol). Sookie is a gorgeous Belgian/German Shepard cross, and now that she's gaining some weight, looks quite healthy. Looking at her, you'd think tough dog. That's the farthest from the truth though, Sookie is a huge "Fraidy cat." lol. I figured the over-excited antiques of Charlotte's "Dober-hund" Vicky would help quiet Sookie down around people. (Plan executed...plan 50 % success rate >.<) Anyhow, enough about the dogs. On to the recipe. On tonight's menu, we had Sparkling ginger cookies. Deliciously spicy, they are definitely a Christmas tasting cookie. Definitely a huge success on Friday. I found this recipe online, but made a few changes to it. Having already made these cookies, I think that coating them entirely in sugar takes too much away from the ginger flavour. Next time, I would only coat one side. :D The ingredients are as follows.

1/2 cup / 3.5 oz / 90 g Brown sugar
6 ounces / 170 g bittersweet chocolate (We forgot to get this at the store - haha - so substituted with regular chocolate chips - 3/4 a bag)
2 cups / 8.5 oz / 245 g whole wheat pastry flour ('m in Egypt...totally only used regular flour ;) )
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/2 cup / 4 oz / 113 g unsalted butter
1/4 cup / 2 oz / 60 ml unsulphured molasses (black honey)
2/3 cup / 3.75 oz / 100 g fine grain natural cane sugar, sifted
1 1/2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger, peeled (We didn't grab this either, so just used ground ginger again)
1 large egg, well beaten

We also added around 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, Moby is a cinnamon addict. :p

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Whisk together the flour, ground ginger, baking soda and salt (and in my case, cinnamon). Set aside.
Heat the butter until it's just barely melted (ie. slightly more melted than "soft") and mix with brown sugar, molasses and fresh ginger. Whisk in the egg.

Pour this mixture over the flour. Stir until mixed.

Fold in the chocolate (I learned here that folding it in is important, if you "mix" it with your hands, the butter gets too warm and the mixture too sticky).

Now take your white sugar, and put it in a bowl. Scoop out small portions of the mixture (about a teaspoon full) and roll in your hands. Roll this mixture in the white sugar, and place on the cookie tray. - This is the part that makes the cookies really sweet, next time I won't coat the whole cookie, i.e. roll the whole thing. Instead, I would dip one side. Depends on how sweet you like your biscuits ;) )

Bake in the oven for 7-10 minutes, is what the original recipe called for. But, working on an Egyptian oven, is slightly different lol. We baked them for about 15 minutes. Once cool, grab a glass of milk, and enjoy!!!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Christmas in Cairo

Christmas in Cairo is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Whereas the Holy Month of Ramadan is accompanied by music, decorations, traditional foods, and gift swapping, Christmas is a silent affair in Egypt.

When I first moved to Egypt, my experience during Christmas living in a Muslim country was unique. I had grown up in many different countries, but all with a Christian background. Christmas was always everywhere, it exploded in front of your eyes in supermarkets, street lights, people's houses and gardens, Christmas music was on every radio. I was lucky enough to have been living with my family in Cairo at the time, so I still had the traditional big tree, and our Christmas day celebrations were always the same. It was just lacking the image of Christmas outside.

Now that I'm on my own in Cairo though, Christmas is of a different sort. I still fly "home" to the family for two weeks over Christmas itself, but until then, it's as though the season has almost disappeared. I actually walked into Metro supermarket the other day, and was surprised to see a small display of overpriced Christmas decorations. It was a sudden, "Oh yes! Christmas is coming!" My friend Charlotte and I were discussing her experiences in the Christmas Bazaars in Cairo yesterday, at which point she noted her surprise when realising that Christmas Day is only 20 days away! Presents! I have to get presents!

In the spirit of this time of year, I try my best to recreate at least some of the traditions I was used to in my house growing up. I have a Christmas tree, albeit a whopping 0.5 meter tall little thing. I have a set of Christmas lights up (woohoo), and hopefully this week I'll be venturing out to find some tinsel that's both decent and affordable. I'm also making it my goal this year to fill both mine, and my friends time, with copious amounts of baking. This time of year goes hand in hand with good food, so in keeping that in mind, I'll be baking, and subsequently posting, some of my favourite recipes on here! Yummmyyy.

Anyhow. With this in mind, Happy Christmas to everybody, for those of us surrounded by it everywhere, and for those trying to remember that here in Cairo!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Lets play nicely now.

I have intentionally waited a while in writing this blog. The tensions that were simmering just below the surface in the minds of many here in Egypt needed no fuel added to the fire.

The match between Egypt and Algeria on the 18 of November was the final determining match in the World Cup qualifying rounds. After an Egyptian victory on the 14, pushing Algeria into a final showdown so to speak, the Algerian team beat the Egyptian 1-0, giving Algeria the spot in the 2010 World Cup.

I watched both matches; Nov. 14th provided an exciting experience, rushing into the streets to get caught up in the pure euphoria that erupted following Egypt's nail biting match. The final goal, scored in what were the last few minutes of the game, caused an explosion of sounds in the streets. Drummers, firecrackers, singing, shouting, flags waving, all of Egypt coming together to celebrate their teams victory. The tension and excitement that was coursing through the air on Wednesday in anticipation of the match in Khartoum made your hair stand on end. Everybody was going to be watching the game, it was all people could talk about.

When the ball was kicked off, fans settled in for what they hoped to be an exciting and fast paced match. It certainly was fast-paced, with the Egyptian side desperately trying to score a goal, keeping the ball in their offensive possession for the majority of the game, but the shots on goal were just not there. The Algerian team's goal came out of nowhere, nobody could have anticipated it, the stillness that blanketed Cairo was a thick muffled sigh. When the game ended with a 1-0 victory for Algeria, dashing the Egyptian hopes of any place in the World Cup, Cairo mourned.

The reactions to Egypt's loss however, were quickly covered by the anger that was stirred as a result of the violence in the Sudan against Egyptians. The first match, on the 14th, was marred by reports of Egyptian fans hurling stones at the Algerian buses transporting the team. This the precursor to what followed the match on the 18th. Egyptians were beaten down, attacked, murdered in the Sudan by the ravaging Algerian fans. A story that has been partnered by rumours, some claim that the violence was carefully orchestrated by the Algerian aggressors to subdue their Egyptian rivals. Others claim that the 9000 fans flown into Khartoum for the match were in fact ex-convicts, many of whom were armed with knifes when entering the stadium. Other accounts from within Cairo have expressed the belief that the Egyptian government was also privy to the planned violence, as a means of keeping the Egyptian population distracted by ongoings outside of our borders, rather than the problems from within.

For me, what is most interesting about this entire situation, is the media coverage of the incident. To find a report that is seeing the Egyptians as victims is difficult, unless you are searching through the local Egyptian papers. Most Western media outlets are reporting on the Egyptians as the aggressors, somehow downplaying the brutal violence practiced by the Algerians against the Egyptians in the Sudan. This alongside the reports of Egyptian offices being ransacked in Algiers, yet the predominant focus of any reporting centers on the Egyptians being the aggressors, citing the stones thrown at the Algierian teams bus as evidence of this. Further reports point to the protests in Zamalek outside of the Algerian Embassy as further evidence of the Egyptian aggression.

This really irks me. Not only is FIFA taking disciplinary action against the Egyptian team due to the stone's thrown at the Algerian bus, they have not yet announced any disciplinary action to be taken against the Algerian team. Where is this double standard coming from?! If the Egyptian team is bearing the responsibility of the actions of their fans, why are the Algerians not being held to the same standard?! The Egyptian decision to withcall their Algerian envoy is wholly understandable, the Egyptians have the right to stand up for themselves, and show the world that they are not solely responsible for the attrocious actions that followed a football game in the Sudan.

It begs just one question...can football really be the uniting force that FIFA wants it to be, or is it now being used as a tool to fuel resentment between different peoples, just one more means of distraction.

And don't even get me started on the handball that lost Ireland the qualifying spot...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Get Your Game Face On!!!

Tonight is the night. The anticipation for this game has been building over the past few weeks - tonight will determine Egypt's fate in the African World Cup. The game...Egypt vs. Algeria... The setting, Cairo's Nasr City. The rivalry...Through the roof.

So people have been talking about this game for the past few weeks, but today, it's pretty much all anybody has to talk about. My ride to work this morning was, lets say, a unique experience! I was asking around yesterday as to where the heated rivalry between Egypt and Algeria comes from, but it seemed as though nobody was able to provide me with a satisfactory answer. Instead it was more along the lines of "well, we're told we're supposed to hate them, so we do!" Of course, I can't handle such a vague answer, and after one simple Google search found out that the history of this rivalry dates back twenty years, when Egypt beat Algeria 1-0 and a riot ensued. Since then, neither team has qualified for the Cup.

To proceed directly forward in the Cup, Egypt must beat Algeria by three goals. Should they only beat the Algerian team by two goals, a re-match will be held in a neutral country. But enough about the logistics behind the game, I'm here to talk about Cairo!!!

The last time that I was in Egypt for a huge football match was the infamous match against Italy, and for this I was in Hurghada. This of course, means that I didn't really experience the fervour of the game as I can see it today. Driving around the streets of Cairo at the moment, the air is electrified. It is one of the few times where class and distinction in the city dissipate, and everyone joins together as Egyptians. Cars are adorned with flags, ranging from the white microbusses and 1970 Lada's, to the new and expensive Mercedes CLK, BMW's, vegetable trucks and vans, and regular family vehicles. Everywhere you look, you're met with Red, White and Black. On my commute along the commute, I saw a microbus that was covered from front to back with a flag that must have been about 8 meters long, as it drapped the entire thing, leaving the only point of visibility the windscreen. People were gathered in the streets, groups of boys were waving their flags at oncoming traffic and banging tabla's, adding to the extreme electricity that is coursing through the city. Beeping has intensified three fold; Cairo is now a racously loud place - brimming with nationalism and pride in the Egyptian team (I swear - even the horses pulling carriages looked PROUD today!!!).

Of course as is typical in any anticipated game, scalpers are abound. The original ticketed price to the match was 15 LE (a meager 3 dollars or so). Naturally, tickets were selling like hot cakes, leaving a window of opportunity wide open to profit on them. By Wednesday of last week, tickets had increased in price to 100 LE, by yesterday they were selling at upwards of 300 LE. Talk about a massive spike! I won't be braving the 80,000 capacity stadium today, but will be showing my support for Egypt from my friend's living room, cheering on the TV and succumbing to the overall excitement that accompanies any Egyptian match.

So for today I say, YALLA MASR!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Crazy Crowded

So as I mentioned in my last blog, I have been working in downtown Cairo for oh, about two weeks now. Minus a few days of being really ill, I've been making the trek down here everyday. And all I have to say, is Good God.

I thought I knew what traffic in Cairo could be like. I did, but never really had to experience it constantly. I guess it's like a tattoo, once you're getting it you wonder why you would ever subject yourself to such torture, but when it's finished you look at the final product and think "hey, not so bad, what shall I get next?!" Unfortunately for me, my working hours correlate to what seems to be everyone else's in downtown [I know, I know - round of applause for Suz finally getting a "real" office job. :D] leaving me with no window to avoid the congestion. You know it's a grimy day when you're looking out across the Nile, and cannot see the buildings on the other side. Now THAT'S smog for you .

So, now I have a good, oh, an hour and a half in a car on a daily basis. Thankfully I am not the one driving, I'm sure driving this stretch everyday takes years off your life - and leaves you with no fingernails having bitten all of them off. I have to admit, despite my years of living here, I have had some hair raising taxi rides that cannot compare to any others in the past few weeks. Cars in Egypt should be renamed, into "my so-called indestructible vroom vroom machine, that will fit into that space smaller than the size of a matchbox." (On second thought, that name is perhaps a little too long. Lets stick with cars :p).

While anywhere else in the world you would look at the two inches between two trucks and think "hey, I'll stay behind these trucks and patiently drive along," people in Egypt in their "cars" will literally shove their vehicle forward, essentially mounting the car/truck in front, the whole time blowing their horn like there is no tomorrow. Then, should you dare to question them or their driving (as insane as it is), look at you as though ready to rip your tongue out and feed it to the stray cats on the street. (I wish I was joking lol :p) Other times you may be "lucky" enough to find an antique taxi circa 1804, held together by pieces of metal and ropes and God knows what else, with a man behind the wheel who could have been best friends with Caesar, squinting over his steering wheel as he putt-putts along. Times like these you hope your taxi even lasts the journey, let alone any "kisses" from other cars. Only the other day my antique taxi broke down in the middle of crossing Nile street (for those who don't know - four lanes of non-stop traffic), leaving me the pawn in the back praying for enough "putt-putt" to get us to the other side of the street.

So yes, ultimate tale of this story. Traffic downtown. is. nuts. Maybe after a few months of navigating quietly from the back of my taxis (or on days when I'm lucky from the front seat of moby's car lol), I shall try my hand at driving down here. Road Rage...move over....Suz is behind the wheel now!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Egyptian Branding

Living in Egypt renders the possibility of finding cheap products almost endless. Whether you are looking for a knock off pair of oakleys, to faux designer purses, the markets and soukhs scattered throughout Cairo are sure to fulfill your needs

For someone like me who likes to shop on a budget, it's perfect. Of course I have learned the hard way that sacrificing price generally requires accepting your lower quality product, but hey if I'm only talking about ship ships (flip flops) that I will wear around the house, do I really need an 80 LE pair? No, the 18 LE pairs readily available from places like the Grand Mall do just fine.

It was however, with this in mind, that I was discussing with a friend the other day about the knock off's available on the market. Perhaps the most noticeable would be "designer" brands such as Gucci, or rather, Gucy/Guccy/Guci, etc, or as I recently saw, Dolce and Gabbana shoes with the "D" reversed (lol). Now, when it comes to purses and accessories and such, I don't mind the knock offs. They look great, and most of the time it's small things that would indicate it's a fake...which generally you have to be searching for. My "Chanel" purse has lasted for two years now, and still going strong.

There are however, Egyptian knock offs that cannot be mistaken as anything but. My favourite (aside from the variety of alcohol wannabes like Johnny Walking, or Red Labal, or Finelandia - lets not wake up blind please) woud be the painted on "chevy" or "toyotas" on the sides of cars, or the infamous "Abibas." Yes, that's right, it's not a typo...It's "Abibas."Generally you would witness Abibas worn by the poorer Egyptians, and to even suggest to a wealthier person here that they may wear Abibas is a mortal insult :p. It got me thinking though, in the West those who wear designer items are marked as the 'social elite,' and flaunt their designer wear so everybody knows that they can afford a 500 dollar pair of jeans. In Egypt, can the same be said for knock offs? Are we isolating ourselves as "cheap" when we chose the "fanel" over the "Chanel?"

Thought for the day...hmmm.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Maadi Bubble

Cairo is a city of suburbs. Ranging from the bustling suburbs of downtown, Zamalek, Mohandessin, to the quieter more picturesque suburb of Maadi.

I live in Maadi, and have done so now for quite a few years. My friends for the most part live in Maadi, and up until last week, I also worked in Maadi. Now, I am working close to downtown, and it has truly opened my eyes. My friend's and I live in what we like to call our little "Maadi bubble." It's a syndrome that doesn't take long to infect Maadi'ites, everything you would ever need is just down the road. Sheisha bars, cafes, pubs, restaurants, schools, work, recreational activities, malls etc are all available within the small area that comprises Maadi. One of the least densely populated areas of Cairo, Maadi gives you a sense of stepping out of the urban sprawl, and traps many people inside it's bubble.

With its quiet streets and greenery, it's not hard to see why people are reluctant to leave Maadi

I have often heard many of my friend's grumble when you suggest we head downtown, a brief 15 minute taxi ride should traffic permit. "Why should we go downtown???!! It's so farrrrrr, lets just stay in Maadi." It is a haven for expats, with many embassies allocating family housing in the suburb. Even its history is indicative of its "expat friendly" environment, having been one of the areas the British colonisers moved into - Old Maadi's streets are actually laid out in the shape of the Union Jack. This of course is a bone of contention for "downtowners" who come to Maadi, and claim our streets are the hardest to navigate with all the medans (roundabouts) and small alleyways. Maadi'ites will defend our turf, and fire back that downtown is impossible to get around in due to all of the one-way streets, and Maadi is exceptionally easy to get around.

Anyhow, to get back to my point. I now work downtown. And I can now honestly say how sheltered us "Maadi'ites" are. We take for granted the extra liberty granted you as a foreigner living in an expat haven. Shops and businesses here are catered towards the foreigners, rarely will you find businesses here that do not speak English. We are also granted more leeway in abiding by Egyptian customs, where having parties in your apartment is not necessarily frowned upon by your neighbours or landlord.

*Enter downtown here*

Downtown Cairo, is a world in it of itself. The streets are crowded, there is minimal green surrounding you - a fact that many living in Maadi take for granted - the bountiful number of trees that line the streets. The air is heavy with pollution, the traffic almost nonnegotiable. Driving downtown is a sport itself, dodging horse carts, donkey carts, vegetable stands, fruit vendors, tissue boys, microbusses racing from one end of the city to another at breakneck speeds, all combined with an exceptionally densely populated area.

The view of Cairo you see from Maadi, is not really Cairo. But to understand this, one must actually step outside of our comfort bubble, and this does not mean a trek into the Wadi Digla with the Hashers, or a trip to the Golf Course in Katameya ;). The intensity of downtown Cairo may prove too much for many, but the excitement and high energy that you feel upon crossing
into this turf, is unrivaled. I will be sure to update you on my stories from downtown, as perhaps now, I will truly be able to say I have seen the 'real' Cairo, and not the sugarcoated bubble that Maadi has become for so many. :D

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What a Week!! III

So I last left off on Ras Shitan. Let me reiterate, that the escape it provides from everyday life is so spiritually and mentally fulfilling, I recommend everyone visits there.

Moving back to civilization, after a few hiccups in planning, we head to Dahab. I had never been to Dahab before, and was unsure what to expect. I'd heard stories that it was similar to Sharm, so naturally I had the image of a mini-Ibiza in my mind, precisely the reason I do not like visiting Sharm. Dahab however, resembles Sharm only in scenery and structural architecture.

It is, a divers haven (Now I'm not a diver, so I was limited in my ability to see Dahab from this perspective - but as a snorkeler I can still comment ;) hehe). Stretching along miles of shoreline, Dahab boasts sea-views, and unbelievably gorgeous beaches. White sand, red sand, rocky beaches, you name it, you can find it here. The two main beaches we visited were the Lagoon, and Blue Hole. The lagoon in itself is a site to behold, a small peninsula of beach surrounded by aquamarine water, with 2-3 meters of shallow water, and then a drop-off. The contrasts that the dramatic drop in depth offers is truly astounding. Even as a snorkeler, you can experience the underwater world in its natural element, without venturing too far out (which is always one of my fears). Water sports are abound in Dahab, where para-sailing and windsurfing, as well as surf-boarding can be seen everywhere. I fulfilled one of my life dreams at the Lagoon, being granted the ability to ride the most beautiful Arabian mare right along the water front. Beach riding is truly an indescribable experience, and for 15 Egyptian pounds, you can't go wrong. Of course, I used the cheap price as an excuse to ride more than once ;).

Our first night out in Dahab opened our eyes to the night-life offered. Unlike Hurghada and Sharm, Dahab does not thrive on clubs, and instead boasts a variety of sit-down pubs, and bars with small dance floors. This of course combined with the plethora of restaurants, serving anything from sea-food to Chinese and Thai. After a satisfying meal, we started our night at a small bar "Yalla," which offered mixed cocktails for 35 LE...a steal for anyone familiar with Cairo pricing. As typical Caireans however, we questioned what exactly 35 LE entailed, and were told that the cocktails were made from Egyptian liquor (which, for anyone that hasn't tried or heard of it, is essentially Egyptian moonshine - pray you wake up with your vision lol). Our dismay obviously showed on our face, as our waitress promptly informed us that they also offered "imported" liquor, and that the price stayed the same. Naturally we decided to stay and try it out, and to our great amusement found out that the "imported" liquor, is not in fact imported. ID Vodka...made in Egypt, licensed out of Germany. So at least you won't go blind, but it is certainly not imported hehe, and, generally leaves you with a vicious hangover. Anyhow...moving on. :p

Day two in Dahab, we all agreed to head to the Blue Hole. Famous as being one of the top ten diving spots in the world, it is literally a hole in the coral reef, with depths upwards of 20 meters. Our original plan was to head to Blue Hole, snorkel, then make the 7 km hike to Abu Ghaloum along the beach front. As is the case in Egypt though, our plans changed, and we ended up going straight to Abu Ghaloum.

The start of our trek to Abu Ghaloum. The Blue Hole is behind us.

It is a 7 km trek along the water's edge, with precarious cliffs to climb, narrow paths to follow, and blazing sun overhead. It offers panoramic views of Dahab and the Sinai, and there was a lovely breeze along the way I have to say. There is the option to ride camels, but we all decided to rough it (Ras Shitan influence maybe?) and walk. Sadly for me, I failed to take my delicate Irish skin into consideration (lol) and ended up quite toasty and resembling a lobster by the end of the 7 km. Our destination, Abu Ghaloum, is a small Bedouin camp in the middle of nowhere (literally...there's no road leading to this "village" - we clearly didn't have enough of the remoteness in Ras Shitan :D ). We spent a few hours on the beach front huts, eating traditional Bedouin food and drinking tea. I will however, say that the prices we were charged were extortionate. 25 LE a head, for rice, a small salad, and one fish to split between 6 of us, as well as 10 LE a person for tea. Overall, a bill of 175 LE, for a meal that could have been purchased for 50 LE in Dahab. You live, you learn, the Bedouin's are really so remote, that they can charge what they want. :p

So the voyage back from the camp, the return 7 km, was looming over our heads. The two drivers agreed to take camels back, rather than wear themselves out, we didn't want them falling asleep on the road back to Cairo! :p Me however, in all my lobster glory, managed to get a case of sun-stroke. Spending the two hours at the Bedouin camp asleep and drinking copious amounts of water, I decided also to take a camel back. Now, for those unfamiliar, I have a very verbalised dislike of camels. I don't like the grunting sounds they make, I don't like the way they look at me, I HATE riding them, and just in general, I will avoid riding them. (Although interesting FYI that i learnt while on this trip - Camels see us as ten times our normal size - it's one of the things that stops them from attacking us - that was a little fact that kept me giggling for hours..."not the nasty scary human thing! get that monster away from me!!!!!! ahh if only the camels knew).

Our camel ride...Mine looks crazy already :-o

Anyhow. I decide to ride a camel, and did what I thought was the smart thing, and chose the smaller camel. Very bad idea Suz. I had one of the youngest camels, so not only was it at the lower end of the pecking order, my friend was riding an older camel, that saw fit to remind my camel of this frequently. I think it bit my camel's butt at least 5 times, each time resulting in my camel flying forward and me hanging on for dear life. Just to egg my camel on, my friends decided to up the excitement level. As I'm praying to stay on this crazy camel, I hear from behind Moby running up, flapping his arms, promptly followed by my camel pulling a horse-racing bolt forward, running along the beach. It's hard enough to sit the walk, I thought I was going to break my neck flying off of this camel! Now this, was along the beach front, where there were no rocks creating obstacles for my camel. The precarious cliffs though, on a camel, were a "crap your pants" moment, where all you could do was mumble under your breath trust your camel, trust your camel ... thankfully, I was not the only one mumbling this lol.

The ride did give us a great opportunity to ride along the water again, and the views and scenery really were spectacular. We all managed a short snorkeling experience in the Blue Hole when we returned from our very long hike, I do wish that we had some more time there however. Dahab is definitely on my list of places to go back to!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What a week!! II

So my week long excursion through the desert of Egypt began near Nuweiba. Ras Shitan to be precise, in a small camp run by local Sinai Bedouin. What makes this camp unique, is that it has yet to be touched by the over-commercialized tourist oriented world that lies just a few kilometres down the road. Just a hop, skip and a jump away from the border-resort town of Taba, our little camping haven was absolutely beautiful, and perfectly peaceful. It provides the ideal reprieve for anyone looking to clear their mind.

We arrived early in the morning, having battled the roads throughout the night. Check points however, were made quite easy considering the size of the German Shepard that we brought with us...who really looks nasty, but couldn't hurt a fly. Of course the guards at each check point were too mesmerized by the size of the teeth and the bark to notice much else... I digress... Anyhow, pulling into our camping grounds, I'm struck by the simplicity of everything. Our huts were not much more than wooden reeds strung together, with more reeds forming a simple roof over the top. (Thank God it doesn't rain in Egypt...I can't imagine what they would do hahaha – quiiiiiiick! Our huts are floating away!!!!!!!!). There is no electricity in any of the camping huts; electricity instead is limited to the main hut, where you can sit and listen to live music until 1-2 am (when the owners shut those lights off too), and order food from the main hut's restaurant, offering traditional Bedouin styled meals as well as Egyptian staples.

Our first night was marked by the tabla, a traditional drum, singing, camp-fires and a great deal of food and tea. Vigorous games of Scrabble ensued, resulting in quite the Scrabble rivalry. Endless entertainment need I say. Once the lights in the main hut have been extinguished, the night sky is astounding. You truly forget how awe-inspiring the star filled sky can really be when you're limited to a speckling of 10 of the brightest night starts in Cairo's skies. With minimal light pollution in Ras Shitan, you can truly admire the heavens, and next time I'm definitely bringing a telescope.

Loads of food...

The days are spent relaxing by the water, reading a good book, drinking more tea (spot a pattern here? lol), and sleeping. The complete isolation from the world outside is compensated for by the friendly atmosphere within the camp itself, where mingling and chatting reign in the main hut. It was truly an amazing experience, but after three days of “roughing” it on the beach, I was ready for a real shower. As let me tell you, as “earthy” as I may try to be, there's certain things that I cannot do. And showering next to a hole in the floor one of those things. Can anybody really feel clean after that?!!?!?

That would be my only gripe about our entire camping experience. However – if you venture out to camp on the beach – remember to bring your own bed sheets lol. And whatever you do...unless you want a good hour long work out, don't try and park your car next to the huts :-p. Thank God for the Bedouin expertise with desert driving, we were too remote for a tow-truck, I can't imagine what we would have done without them – and of course the power of manly brawn. But, we got the car out, and got a few great snapshots along the way too! (By we of course – I mean they – while the girls stood by and observed hehe).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What a week!!

So it's been a little while since I've updated, mostly because I've been jetsetting around Egypt. I have decided to split this into three postings, rather than bombard you with one long rant ;).

Eid al-Fitr (a three day holiday to celebrate the end of Ramadan) was last week. As is customary, Caireans fled the city in droves. Not me though, I spent the first two days of Eid in Cairo. And it's incredible how different the city feels when empty. Running from one end of Maadi to the next can take upwards of 20 minutes (if not longer) during peak traffic times, yet I was whisked from my house to Road 9 in under 10 minutes. Most store fronts are empty, having closed for the holiday. Vendors are not flooding the streets as they usually do, and it finally allows you the time to sit and truly appreciate the beauty of Cairo for what it is, without the distraction of noise, pollution, and traffic bombarding your every sense.

After two days of quiet Cairo, I was ready to get out and about. Our timing was perfect, not only did we get to enjoy the quiet of Cairo, but we left late enough to avoid the crowds and rush in the resort areas of Egypt - thereby also avoiding traffic. Our choice of destination? Nuweiba, near the border of Egypt and Israel. An area that stretches along the beach front in the mountainous Sinai Peninsula. Standing on the shores of Egypt, to your left you can see Israel and Jordan, in front of you lies Saudi Arabia, separated by a small stretch of water that's maybe 4 km wide. It's a phenomenal site to see, and one of the more peaceful areas I have ever been too.

The Sinai Peninsula has a reputation of being extremely dangerous to travel through. Our trip thankfully, was hallmarked by no more than Bedouin encampments and lone camels striding along the road. We were actually forced at one point to come to a complete stop as our path was blocked by a procession of camels crossing. Only in Egypt...only in Egypt. "STOP the car! Don't hit the wild camel!!!"

No joke, THIS was our roadblock

For anybody that has never entered into the desert before, the Sinai can be a breathtaking experience. The sand stretches for miles, to be met by towering mountains that separate desert from sea. You can't help but marvel at the Bedouin's who have made this rough terrain home, and know the desert inside and out. We met some of the nicest Bedouins at our camping grounds near Nuweiba, who were more than happy to share with you their famous Bedouin tea (really, I don't know what is different about it, other than the fact that it's doused in sugar hehe), their traditional Bedouin jewelry (of course I had to get some), and tell you stories about their life and their family living, eating, and breathing the desert. It is truly and unforgettable experience, and combine it with the peace and serenity of camping near Nuweiba, and you can't go wrong!!!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A taste of Egypt

Ramadan is coming to an end, and the Eid feasting holiday is about to begin. But to experience the end of Ramadan to its fullest, I've been a busy little bee over the past few days. From sunset falukas on the nile, to Khan el-Khalili at night, to Sufi dancing, it's been an amazingly hectic week, to be topped off by a delicious dinner tonight at the famous Abu Sid restaurant.

The Khan el Khalili (a bazaar in Cairo popular with tourists, where you can find almost any knick knack from Egypt you could possibly ever want) is an experience even when it's not Ramadan. Walking through the tight alleyways bursting over with shops and stands selling everything from necklaces, rings, wallets, food, juice, among others, you're constantly met with cries of "Please! let me show you my shop!" Should you choose to enter the shops, prepare yourself for bartering, and any attempts possible to sell their products. "You look like a Spice Girl! you are so beautiful, you must buy zis scarf!" For you my friend, i'll give you a special price. It's a high energy atmosphere at the best of times, but during Ramadan there's just that little bit of extra flavour added.

During the day in Ramadan, the Khan is pretty much limited to tourists and a spattering of locals. Come night time however, the place explodes into colour and life. Everywhere you look there are fanous lit (traditional laterns for Ramadan), glittering lights are strung everywhere, vendors walk around trying to sell anything imaginable. I found hours of entertainment with a spinning whirling top, that when turned on would flash colours, pull the bottom string and send it flying into the air. Needless to say, I was not the only one playing with this...i'll call it whirling helicopter thingie...and the open area in the front of the Khan was turned into a duck and dive zone, with all these "thingies" flying around. On more than one occassion my friends and I were forced to rush over to someone, humbly ask for our "thingie" back, and apologize profusely for having "beaned" them in the head. lol.

Moving further into the Khan, my friends and I took refuge in a small sheisha shop. As the shops began to close around 1 am, chairs materialised out of nowhere, and our small quaint "quiet" shop, turned into a human traffic jam corner with everybody scrambling to find a place to eat their Sa7our (final meal before the fast starts again, usually eaten around 3 am). Fol, Tameya, Beef, Kofta, Schawerma, smells wafted in from every direction, excitement levels rose, and more vendors appeared selling bits and bobs of anything you could hope to find at an amusement park. It was with a full belly, and satisfied smile that I walked out of the Khan. And it is an experience that I would recommend to anyone.

Two nights later, it was off to Sufi dancing. Held in the Beit al-Ghoreya near the entrance to the Khan el-Khalili twice weekly, it was an unforgettable experience. My friend Sunje and I braved the crowded streets, and began the hunt for the entrance into al-Ghoreya. We obviously looked slighlty discomboblulated, as within 10 minutes, an extremely kind older lady came over to us. I couldn't have asked for a better example of Egyptian hospitality. "Are you looking for the Sufi dancing?" Why yes, we are in fact! "You must ask! Come with me! I shall show you the way." Sunje and I were in for a treat. She was there with her sister, granddaughters, cousins, aunts, essentially the entire family. They had managed to reserve four rows right in front of the stage, you couldn't have asked for better seating. The fact that it is a free show requires that to actually get a seat, you should be at least 30 minutes early. Sunje and I in true Egyptian style, were there 10 minutes prior to showtime. Had we not run into this woman, we would have ended up sitting on the cold stone floor (course however, I don't think we would have been complaining once the show started).

Sufi Musicians in Traditional Garb

The architecture upon walking into the Beit al-Ghoreya is absolutely striking. Tall high vaulted ceilings are surrounded by stone walls and adornments that could have been plucked out of the Middle Ages. And this is just the breathtaking building. Once the show had started, Sunje and I were left speechless. The dancers enter the stage, playing solo's on the variety of instruments that they play. My favourite has always been the tambourine man, and this show did not disappoint. His fingers moved in a flurry of symbols, and his eyes captivated the audience, leaving you spellbound. Once the actual dancers entered the stage, I could not stop smiling. Not only were they all evidently having a blast, the Sufi dancer in the middle danced and whirled for no less than 20 minutes, spinning and flying around in a trace-like state of colours, drums and music. Should you ever be given the opportunity to see this show, don't miss it!

Whirling Darawish!

Lets hope dinner tonight proves to be as eventful and exciting, of course, with my group of friends this is essentially guaranteed! Good eating and good entertainment!

*Edit* Abu Sid is pretty good, the prices are a little high but the food is ok. Not the best Egyptian food, but the location and the ambiance is very enjoyable.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Interactive Journalism...

The World Wide Web has become synonymous with research and a source of information. It has impacted the spread of knowledge, and expanded and increased global communication. The Internet has equally impacted Journalism, and has revolutionized how people read and are exposed to media events from around the world.

One of the most impressive aspects of the Internet is the cross cultural information highway that it has created. Individuals from around the world can meet in one local median to discuss and exchange ideas. In comparison to newspapers, the Internet is not restricted by printing overhead costs. Unlike many print publications that are suffering due to the current economic crisis, many online news outlets are watching their business expand and grow. Undoubtedly one of the more impressive impacts that the Internet has had on journalism is the voice that readers have now been given.

Online blogging, social networking sites, interactive news-forums have all given users a means with which they can be heard. Readers are given a greater opportunity to impact the news that they want to read. Global communication channels have opened up to smaller societies and cultures throughout the world, allowing greater access to what may have once been deemed obscure news. Journalists themselves have commented on this change in Journalism, as seen in a report published by the Online News Association and the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism . “A solid majority of those [Journalists] surveyed (57%) say the Internet is “changing the fundamental values of journalism.” The biggest changes, the respondents said, were a loosening of standards (45%), more outside voices (31%) and an increased emphasis on speed (25%).”

While users now have a greater say in what they want to see reported, has it affected the integrity of Journalism? The need to be the first to break a story will push many to quick, aloof writing, and often times this leads to mis-reporting, or just downright stupid mistakes that are allowed to slide through in the “heat of the moment” (check out the Iraq has vanished blog – even the bigger news outlets are not immune to this). It also seems that with the increasing number of users who are logging into news sites on a daily basis, we have created a culture of “enlightened,” or at least those who consider themselves such. I laugh out loud at some of the comments that people leave on blogs, or have your says, where blatant stupidity has also accessed this information superhighway. Sure, Internet research has facilitated the access to information, but this really does not mean that you should advertise the fact that you still know nothing. :p But hey, what can I say, I’m just as much of an Internet junkie, and I’m sure that I’ve had my moments in blogs… “suz….really, what were you thinking?” hehe. And this, is my thought of the day.

Me working hard!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Virtual politics

This is a short blurb that I have written for a new project I'm working with, "Change by the People." Short, but certainly something that is worth considering, particularly in this day and age of technology. The "Age of Reason" if you will ;) Plus, it's an easy way to update the blog! hehe


The Internet has truly revolutionized the transfer of information. What once used to take months to travel from one side of the globe to the next can now be sent within seconds. Email, chat forums, social networking sites have all combined to make the Internet the newest tool in communication, education, entertainment, and grassroot campaigns. With this growing technology, many have turned to the Internet as the newest political tool.

President Obama's election campaign differed from previous presidential election campaigns in one very crucial element. He utilised the power of the Internet to mobilise and encourage the youth to vote. As the youth tend to fall into the lowest voter-turnout bracket, President Obama's grassroots Internet campaign was truly revolutionary. Through his campaigning, people gathered together under one collective cause. The energy spread infectiously from one individual to the next, resulting in a massive overturn of political ideology in the States. Obama's ability to affect people on a personal and individual basis was the shining light of his election, as he proved that by impacting and motivating people individually they can become the change they want to see around them. His “yes WE can” slogan was visible literally everywhere, from t-shirts, to TV ads, to Internet banners, and the belief that it inspired was truly extraordinary. As a result of this collective movement of people, voter-turn out soared, and finally, the people were the ones speaking for themselves and pushing forward with the change they themselves desired to see.

Learning from Obama's example in his ability to mobilize and motivate a group of people, many political parties and activists are now spreading their ideals through the Internet. Egyptian political activists are no different. Facebook has become one of the primary means of organizing the political youth, with calls for demonstrations and strikes being posted on the social networking site. To what extent Internet political activism will impact the Middle East remains to be seen. It can, however, be heralded as one of the great leaps forward in spreading understanding and dialogue around the world, allowing people from entirely different cultures to meet and exchange ideals. Using the U.S. Presidential campaign as an example, it clearly points to the tremendous impact that people themselves can have. What difference does one person make? Only all the difference in the world.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ramadan Kareem!

The first week of Ramadan is almost at an end, and Cairo is bustling! Having landed at the end of August, the beginning of Ramadan signaled the end of the Summer for many Caireans, who rushed to return to the hub-bub of the city. Streets have swelled with the surge in drivers on the road; coffee shops and sheisha bars that were only speckled with customers during the summer months are now jam packed with people at night time.

Ramadan is a unique time to be living in Egypt. The first few days of the Holy month are accompanied by fire crackers, parties, and generally jovial spirits all around. As the month drags on however, tempers flare, and the strain of fasting becomes evident in many people. Many ex-pats in Cairo see Ramadan simply as a month where streets are deserted for an hour around sunset, alcohol is hard to come by, angry drivers populate the road, and the month is culminated by three days of non-stop partying that is the Eid. The true meaning behind Ramadan is unknown to many foreigners in Cairo. I will readily admit that the first two Ramadan's I lived here, I was grossly unfamiliar with the traditions behind the religious holiday.

Ramadan takes place in the ninth month of the Islamic year. As the Islamic calendar does not match up to the Gregorian calendar, the dates for Ramadan change every year according to the lunar calendar. It is a Holy month during which all adult Muslims are expected to fast from sun-break to sun-down, a process ordained in the Qu'ran to cultivate piety in believers. It is documented as the month during which the Qu'ran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, and is a month of faith, understanding, generosity and spiritualism.

Fasting in the summer heat of Cairo is not an easy task. It's easy to see why people become more irritable during the day, as the lack of water really puts a great deal of strain on your body. It is all worth it though at the end of the day, come sun-down and the iftar meal. Breaking the fast is a social affair, where family and friends gather to eat and drink, followed by prayer and time for reflection, and more eating and socialising. To truly immerse yourself in the Egyptian experience of Ramadan is so eye-opening, and gives you a phenomenal perspective on the culture and the traditions. It's like a month long period of Christmas dinners lol. :p I am loving the experience of breaking the fast with close friends, the nights out enjoying traditional entertainment (whirling dirvishes this weekend! I will definitely post pictures), and the overall "festive" atmosphere that surrounds this Holy month. So on this note, I wish you all a Ramadan Kareem!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Netiquette netiquette

The number of people who use the internet now is phenomenal. It never fails, when you are bored, log into MSN, Facebook, Gmail, any median of social networking, and there will be at least one person to talk to. Net lingo has evolved rapidly, with many being able to boast of speaking a new language fluently, net-speak, chat lingo.

Now, I won't lie, I chat all the time. But one thing that I have never grasped is the "short-hand" language that many use. Perhaps it's because I'm not exactly a slow typer, but the shorthand has never appealed to me, it makes my head hurt trying to read it. Not to mention you look stupid trying to write like that. Would you speak like that? NO, then why the hell should I suffer reading through that?!

Taking into consideration how frequently we all use chat medians, the 'netiquette' that comes with it bears its own intricate rules of language. CAPS is of course seen as 'shouting,' your virtual bitch out if you will. The manner in which we interpret netiquette was put to the test for me the other day. One of my friends was attempting to chat with me, while her Caps lock was broken. Rather than a friendly conversation, I was reading her typing as shouting at me, as if from across a ravine...."SUZ. HOW ARE YOU? IS EVERYTHING OK?" Why are you shouting! I'm only on the other side of the monitor! Turn your virtual voice down! gah. Fortunately, she has now remedied the problem, and our usual "inside voice" conversations can resume. It truly makes you realise however, how much our communication skills and conversations have taken on an "internet" aspect if you will, where having a conversation on MSN or the likes, is just as stimulating, emotionally involved, and interactive, as a face to face conversation. Imagine what the communication medians of the future will bring us, and what new levels of language will evolve to support the new system...

And my thought for the day.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Woman. The pillar of life.

"The loneliest woman in the world is a woman without a close woman friend." This quote, taken from George Santayana's 'The Life of Reason,' is so profoundly true that it has inspired me to blog about it. Specifically, the women that I have met throughout my journey in Egypt, and the amazing strength and wisdom that we can learn from their experiences.

Living in Egypt as a single woman can be very hard. Of course, it can also be extremely liberating, but I would say that generally speaking, single women in Egypt are faced with a heavier burden than many would expect. When I first moved here, I was blessed to be living with my family, and having the strength and support that being "at home" comes with. When my parents moved out of Egypt however, my entire life shifted. My closest and dearest friends, the two women who understand me better than anyone, who will tell me what I need to hear, even if it's not what I want to hear, my sister and mother, were no longer right at home and it is here that this story begins.

Women are often faced with the difficult choice of career over family, or visa versa. This trend of choice is particularly evident within Egypt and the Middle East, where the establishment and development of a family unit is still highly valued. Women here are often not given the choice to pursue a career, which is why when you are blessed to meet a working Egyptian woman, you know that you have found a pillar of strength. I have been privileged to work with many strong and inspirational women throughout my time here, and each of them has impacted me in a certain way. One of my online co-workers and I frequently talk about the challenge of finding the right man in Egypt, and finding a man who will not only be able to fill the cultural expectations of "providing for the family," but to find a man who will support and encourage your own career goals. We have frequently discussed the expectations that fall upon her shoulders from her family, the need to see her married and to start her own family often dominating the conversation. Yet despite the pressure that she is subjected to, she has remained strong in her desire to further her career, and strengthen the amazing talents that she has already demonstrated, and should a husband fall into the path she is treading, then all the better. If not, she refuses to sacrifice her values to adapt to the expected cultural norm around her. How can you not learn from and respect this belief!

If you are ever lucky enough to be granted the opportunity to sit down with a group of Egyptian women, I highly recommend that you take it! It quickly becomes apparent that despite the appearance of being a misogynistic society, women are the powerhouses behind closed doors. While men are the ones expected to protect a family's honour and be the main bread-winner, Egyptian women exhibit true strength in the family. She becomes the focal point of a family, women are expected to bear the burdens of a household, and do so with a smile on their face. Women are expected to ensure the fluidity of any working family environment, and ensure that all the household affairs are in order, children are raised well, and a woman's problems pushed to the side. When you consider the women that do all of this, AND raise a family, you cannot help but stand back and smile, and respect the devotion and love that it takes to achieve this. But to carry this weight around all the time can take a toll, and it is the women that surround you that will help you bear your burden. Be it through witty banter, small talk about friends and family, or true compassion and understanding when things get tough, there truly is nothing better than a strong female companion.

Two of my closest friends I have met in Egypt

My friends in Egypt have become my adopted family. My female friends are the rock that keeps me solid here, without them I would have lost myself a long time ago. Of course it is not only the Egyptian women that I have met here who have greatly inspired me, the ex-pat women that live in Egypt also provide an eye opening perspective on Egypt. I know of quite a few other single ex-pat women living in Egypt, some who have only been here for a year or so, and their perspectives on Egyptian society is fascinating. Many ex-pats find that it is difficult to develop a friendship with Egyptian women, and consequently find that most of their circle of friends consist of men. I won't lie, I also have quite a few male friends here, but there's just no replacing the connection between women, the underlying understanding that we have of one another. Men here for example, approach relationships with women in a very different manner than many Western women are used to. As a result you see many female ex-pats who recently moved to Egypt fall head over heels for an Egyptian man, believing that they have a true future together. What many Western men lack in chivalry and romance, Egyptian men make up for two fold. Yet what many ex-pat females forget to take into consideration is the motivation behind the relationship. Egyptian women are far less likely to date without the promise of marriage on the horizon, and as marriage is an extremely expensive affair in Egypt, many Egyptian men and women are simply unable to afford marriage. Western women however, will enter into a relationship that won't necessarily turn into a long-term commitment. We provide the perfect alternative for many men here, the convenient girlfriend, who when push comes to shove, can easily be pushed aside - as is often the case with relationships between ex-pat females and Egyptian men. It is a shame to see this happen, and it is times like this that you truly appreciate your female friends, particularly Egyptian females, who can easily point out the "Egyptian" behaviour in the man, and how to deal with it. Many ex-pat females will notice that their Egyptian boyfriends become overly possessive and dominant in a relationship, demanding the last say in many decisions a woman makes, a trait that is often bred into men here. Listen to your Egyptian sisters, and how to deal with this behaviour becomes easier, giving you the opportunity to draw from their own experiences and examples.

Often times I think that as women we forget how important we are in each others lives, and forget how significant an impact that our "sisterhood" can have. When it comes to the intricacies of a female mind, only another female can hope to interpret it. I know that for me personally, when I have been confronted with times of great personal stress, pushing me to my limits, it has always been my girlfriends who have stood by me, lent me a shoulder to cry on, and nudged me back onto the right path when I have strayed. For this, my hats go off to you. We women are truly an inspirational creature, and should learn to see that within ourselves! Until then, I am here to say "I am woman, hear me roar!"

Monday, August 3, 2009

Summertime Fun

Ramadan is fast approaching, and as is normal in Cairo, Caireans are leaving the city in droves, in an attempt to enjoy the few weekends before the holy month begins. The North Coast (or Sa7el) is one of the more popular destinations being only a few short hours away from Cairo, or for those willing to make a longer trek, the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. For me though, it's all about Hurghada.

Cairo is such a busy and bustling city, that it becomes almost impossible not to sit back sometimes, wanting to rip your hair out, and scream "Get me out of here!!!" But as much as I want to get out of Cairo, I don't want to lose the feel of being in Egypt. This in my mind, immediately excludes Sharm as an option, as it has become the Ibiza of the Middle East, and feels like stepping in a tourist perfected resort in Europe somewhere. Nama Bay has lost the Egyptian touch, and the prices there are through the roof...Hurghada provides the perfect median - a beach resort that remains intricately Egyptian, and is constantly changing and adapting, it is truly an example of a dynamic atmosphere.

Last weekend my friend Charlotte and I decided to head up to Hurghada. We both had a long weekend, and she hadn't been back in ten years. Needless to say, she was shocked. Last time Charlotte was in Hurghada, there were maybe two hotels. lol. Being the simple (and budgeted) travelers that we are, we opted to take the bus, rather than the 45 minute direct flight from Cairo. So, Wednesday we pack up our gear, and head down the bus station in Tahrir, downtown. In an attempt to ease the strain on traffic down there, the bus no longer pulls up directly in front of the station. Instead, you wait patiently for a smaller bus to navigate the traffic (which, big surprise, has not been eased), which then takes you literally across the road to a parking lot.
Who wouldn't want to escape this? :-/

The 15 minutes it took us in our mini-bus to make it to the big bus, having to navigate through the traffic, could have been spared if people made the 30 second effort to cross the road. Naturally however, the "I'm on holiday" mentality takes over, and any extra effort on your part is non-negotiable. Making it to our bigger bus, Charlotte and I safely stow our luggage underneath, in exchange for a tiny ticket which i usually end up losing anyhow. "I swear sir, the huge black bag is mine!"

As we both had to work on Wednesday, Charlotte and I took the 5 pm bus, for a very reasonable 75 LE. Our departure was delayed due to the "minibus" extravaganza, but eventually we settle down for the 6 hour drive to Hurghada. Let me tell you, travel scrabble is your best friend on long trips like this, particularly through the long stretches of desert. When you reach the coast line though, the view is absolutely breath-taking, with 4 or so hours of your trip being made along the Red Sea's coastline, with fantastic sea views, sunsets, and if you're lucky enough, the shot of dolphins breaching the surf. Arriving in Hurghada, a cheap 5 minute taxi ride takes you straight to the main tourist strip, where most of the hotels in Hurghada are situated.

Charlotte and I were staying with a friend in Hurghada, who lived right behind the Burger King off of the main street, Shara Sheraton. The amusing thing about Hurghada, is how rapidly the tourist street has developed, yet step one foot behind it (such as we did), and you find yourself in an area filled with half-renovated houses, buildings under construction, the beginnings of a foundation, and the occasional completed villa. It is truly a town under development, I just hope that it retains its Egyptian identity, and doesn't fall prey as Sharm did to the overtly "resort type" town.

We filled our time with the multitude of activities that Hurghada is known for, first and foremost the beach and sea, and the nightlife. With clubs, pubs, restaurants, cinema's, outdoor entertainment, and games, there's plenty to do. I somehow was convinced to try the "Gladiator" game, and I'm sad to say, I had my ass handed to me, with Charlotte managing to knock me off my post I think at least 8 times. Pitiful; I blame it on the beers that were coursing through me. Friday gave us the opportunity to party it up at Hed Kandi, where there is a pool party every Friday. I have to say, when I first heard of the pool party, I imagined a large number of children, it being one of the few days where children were actually able to get into Hed Kandi. Instead what we experienced was the anti-thesis, I felt like I'd stepped into an MTV spring break party. Volleyball, swimming, great music, great food, surrounded by the beach, the sea, and a fantastic pool right in the center of the club. For anybody heading to Hurghada soon, I highly recommend that you stop into their pool party, it's an unforgettable experience.

Hed Kandi's pool

As with any vacation, it must all end eventually. Our last day, Charlotte and I barely made the bus, but decided to spoil ourselves to the 100 LE Royal bus. By spoil, what I really mean is that we were both already late going back to Cairo, and needed the next bus ASAP haha. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the "royal bus," it's a faster trip, you are given water along with the little bread pieces and juice box, and the bus' bathroom resembles something that can be called clean (as let me say, the toilets on the other buses are atrocious :p). Overall, I give Hurghada two thumbs way way up, and I cannot wait to go back there. It truly is a little gem on the Red Sea, and I hope that it remains as such. For us Caireans, a beach resort on an Egyptian budget. Does it get any better than that?!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Iraq has vanished!

So I've been sitting at work today, browsing online because it's just one of those days that you can't focus. Thank God for not focusing, or I would have missed this little gem, courtesy of Fox news. Just when you think they couldn't lose anymore credibility, I find this.

Was anyone else aware that Iraq had been wiped out, and replaced with Egypt? Hehehehehe....

Monday, July 20, 2009

Publish or perish...or don't publish at all??

The nature of Arab-West Report, and therefore most of my job, is fair and balanced reporting, ultimately working towards a greater understanding between cultures. Topics such as religion will remain a sensitive subject, particularly when there is such a level of misunderstanding, leading towards mistrust, between the varying cultures and religious beliefs. To achieve this understanding, the media has an obligation to present any story in a fair manner, with the facts present, and thereby allow the reader the option to form their own opinion of a story. To not do so, would appear to presume the ignorance of any reader "don't worry guys, they're too stupid to do their own research", or highlight the selective bias in reporting that many journals and publications employ. Sadly, last week I witnessed a blaring example of this.

On July 15, news broke of a report prepared by Breaking the Silence, a campaign group which includes former Israeli soldiers. The 110 page report presented testimony collected from 26 Israeli soldiers in which they detail the abuses they were ordered to commit against civilians during Israel's strike on the Gaza strip. Among the abuses were employing Palestinian human shields, firing on water tanks during a dramatic water shortage, the use of white phosphorous in residential areas, among others. The Israeli government has dismissed the report as slander and hearsay, urging officials to take the "official accounts" as factually sound. Yes, because you know, if you're just a regular Joe Schmo soldier, you bear no credibility. But those high ranking generals, that are paid enough to keep their mouths shut, yes, they are completely and unequivocally reliable sources. Uch. Breaking the Silence is not the first group to cry out for infractions of human rights, claims of war-crimes carried out by the Israeli army have been made by Amnesty International, the United Nations, and other human rights organizations. This 110 page report is unique however, in that it presents testimony from Israeli soldiers who themselves were carrying out these acts.

When I first read the story on the BBC, I posted the link to the story on Facebook. Awareness begets understanding and tolerance. The story received comments almost instantly, many from Egyptians or people living in Egypt, applauding the efforts of these Israeli soldiers in exposing the truth. I then received a request from a friend of mine, another expat working in journalism here in Egypt. She wanted to see the perspective that the U.S. media was giving to the entire situation, bearing in mind that the U.S. media (well...the U.S. in general sorry), is notoriously pro-Israeli (but hey, who am I to judge). I was intrigued to see the spin that the American media would provide to the story. What I found however, greatly shocked me. Searches run on the Web site of the New York Times returned no results. Fox news (the voice of any self-respecting neo-con) also returned no results, there were no reports whatsoever mentioned of Breaking the Silence. Through CNN I was able to find a report yet the Israeli military's statements rejecting the report and denying its credibility received more coverage than the report itself. Sidenote: The report is now available on CNN's site. However, when I ran my initial search on the 15th, I was unable to find anything on CNN's site, and only on their affiliate site The only news publication, other than AP and Reuters, that I found which deemed this story news-worthy, was The Washington Post.

Publish or perish; the number one survival method in journalism. Yet if you pick and choose which stories to publish, and which stories to completely ignore, is that still considered fair and balanced journalism? If both sides of any account cannot be equally reported on, is there still no spin on media reporting? It would be ignorant to presume that there isn't manipulation of the media, yet to be confronted with it in such a blatant example shows just how far there really is to go in fair and balanced reporting. It is shameful when such outright examples of "censorship" are evident - I use that term lightly, as I'm sure that many can agree with me that this is not an issue of censorship, but rather an issues of who is paying who's bills....

"I have one hand in my pocket...."

To veil or not to veil. That is the question.

So it's been a while since I've last updated my blog, I've been swamped with work! One of the main issues that I have seen in the media at the moment came after French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his opposition to the niqab [Full face veil] in France, noting that it further segregates society. Sarkozy has done his utmost to ensure that his statements are not taken from a religious perspective, pointing to the fact that he is not attacking Islam, but rather the dignity of women that he sees as being jeopardized in donning a niqab.

I have read many varied responses to this issue, and thought that I would clarify my perspective on the entire subject. Western Europe, and France in particular, pride themselves on their policies of secularism and a democratic society. Freedom to practice one's creed is considered a cornerstone to any truly "democratic society." Of course, France has been notorious for their attempts to maintain an entirely secular approach, with debates having brewed about the permissibility of wearing a crucifix in public. Don't you DARE let me see that piece of wire around your neck! My intolerant atheist brain cannot handle it! I'm clearly FAR smarter than you are, as I know that when we die we just rot in the ground, keep your silly mumbo-jumbo religious iconography to yourself. Pfft.

France's close geographical location to a blend of various cultures, Mediterranean, Arab, and Anglo-Saxon, and its role in "exploring" these territories however, has resulted in a melting pot of cultures that reside both within Western Europe and France. This has lead to many "indigenous" Europeans to beg the question “at what point does assimilation end, and maintaining your own cultural identity begin?” The population of Muslims throughout Europe is increasing, and with this increase many are seeing shifts in their country's demographic. Veiled women are becoming more and more frequent on the streets, which has brought with it a wave of mis-understanding and heightened Islamophobia. I would just like to add as a side note here, that this increase includes European Muslims, and Muslims that have emigrated from the Arab peninsula.

While the origin of the veil in Islam has no definite answer, Islamic scholars agree that modesty is elemental for any Muslim, male or female. It is the interpretation of this modesty that has brought with it a variety of solutions. The hijab, a covering just for a woman's hair, is a popular form of veiling. The niqab however is a growing phenomenon. An increasing number of women are choosing to wear the niqab in Egypt, with an estimated 17 percent of women in the country opting to don the niqab. Women are said to be attending mosque classes, and are there being convinced to wear the niqab. While this form of covering a woman's body is not seen as a part of Islam, its popularity surged in the 1970s with the rise of the Islamic groups, and continues to stir debates among Islamic scholars. If the issue of the niqab can create such heated debate within a Muslim country, it is easy to see why it is creating such a buzz in Western Europe.

President Sarkozy has been spearheading a campaign against the niqab in France. He has expressed his belief that it is a sign of a woman's “subservience” to men, stressing “that is not the idea that the French republic has of women’s dignity.” A belief shared by many is the difficulty that issuing a law that can enforce a certain dress code would bring, as it will indirectly end up isolating certain groups, in this case the Muslims. "Sorry madam, you cannot have your face covered, but please feel free to remove your shirt and walk around in your bra and panties...that's completely acceptable." Of course, should the niqab interfere with legal proceedings, such as the issuance of identity cards etc, then there should be legal parameters in place to overcome this problem (such as female security at airports to search female plus one is two - very good!). While the niqab is seen as an extremist interpretation of a religious conviction, fair enough, intolerance alone should not be the basis of outlawing it.

Sarkozy however, has repeatedly noted that he is not targeting Islam directly, that he is rather addressing the social cohesion of French society. Surprisingly, this belief is echoed by many French youth online, who see the niqab as an immediate factor of isolation, and an obstacle to true cultural assimilation, without any reference to the religious element whatsoever. [I'm sure I'm not alone in finding this belief rather laughable, as France has proven to be one of the main hotbeds of Islamophobia in Western Europe] Other opinions stress that should a woman choose of her own free will to wear a niqab, that no governmental institution should hinder her decision. There has not yet been open Muslim opposition in France to Sarkozy's statements; some expressed the belief that it may in fact help weaken the extremist movements in France. This is a topic that will certainly be one to watch in the future.

Ultimately, if you chose to wear a niqab, knock yourself out. As long as it's your choice. As a woman however, I cannot understand this decision, as I would agree with Sarkozy that it is a sign of a woman's subserviance to men. Why is it that we, as females, are the one's responsible for controlling the sexual urges of any male that we pass on the street? And lets be serious here, if a man is already a pervert, and already has those thoughts on his mind, no amount of flowly black material is going to prevent him from his little mental picture show....

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Gaming Geek and Google's masterpiece!

What a news day, the geek in me has been wholly satisfied. With the date announced for the release of Dan Brown's new book, "The Lost Symbol," Google's new operating system scheduled for release in 2010, Harry Potter only a few weeks away, and an awesomely new interactive application on the iPhone, the inner nerd sits back and smiles.

So, first comes first. I have loved Dan Brown since I first laid my hands on a copy of "The Da Vinci Code." I ate the book up, literally couldn't put it down. I followed up with his prequel, "Angels and Demons," which proved to be - if even possible - better than the Da Vinci Code. Robert Langdon, Brown's central character in both novels, is an engaging, charismatic, intelligent leading man, and Brown promises nothing but a great read. I have read his other works as well, but there's something special about Robert Langdon that just adds to the story. The Lost Symbol's storyline has been kept under close wraps, but rumours abound that it deals with the Freemasons in the US, the original "old boys club" if you will. September 15, PLEASE get here soon!!! My hands are itching to get a hold of this book!

Google. You are my hero. I have long been bleating about gmail, in my opinion, the best free e-mail service offered out there. Built in chat, loads of space, very easy to navigate and manage, I was instantly hooked. Fortunately now, many other people have fallen prey to the power of gmail, so I'm no longer alone in my enamour for it. Google has truly revolutionized the Internet, and what better company to develop a web-based operating system than Google! Chrome OS is set for release in 2010, and I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy! Take that microsoft. What is certain to set this OS apart, is the process in which it was developed. Rob Enderle, industry watcher and president of the Enderle Group commented that "Google is coming at this fresh and, because it is based on a set of services that reside on the web, it is the first really post web operating system, designed from the ground up, and reconceived for a web world." I couldn't agree more. Finally, no more Vista! No more Microsoft bugs! I wash my HANDS of XP.

Ok so check this out. In this day and age of techno-savvy youth, and constant access to new and innovative technologies, it's not surprising that many children's lives revolve around the computer or tv screen. Now, in my personal opinion, I believe that it is the responsibility of the parents to monitor their child's TV/Computer time, and encourage them to get outside and about. I had limited TV time when I was younger (course, there wasn't the channel selection back then that there is now, so really there was only an hour a day when something was on that I would actually want to watch :p). Most of my days were spent outside, either in the wood behind our house in the UK, or out in the fields in Germany. That rant aside though....squeal I want an iPhone! "The Hidden Park," is an interactive application for the iPhone, designed by Australian company Bulpadok. Using the built-in GPS on the iPhone, users can take to the streets so to speak, and explore their alternative reality game. Getting around requires solving riddles and puzzles, pointing your iPhone at certain locations to reveal secret clues, creatures or objects. Scavenger hunts while avoiding dragons, finding hidden treasures, solving riddles and puzzles....who wouldn't want one of these!!! (Image courtesy of Popular Science)

Finally, I just think this is really cool. A group of Spanish scientists have successfully managed to isolate a protein that allegedly increases your visual memory. Their subjects thus far (all mice :p) had a memory increase from roughly one hour, to around 2 months! ( do you possibly test that on a mouse...does anybody know? haha) Either way, effin sweet! No more written directions, just take a peek at your map and VOILA. Instant visual memory retention. Taking tests would be so much easier. Why couldn't this have been developed, oh, 5 years ago or so. :p

My inner nerd is smiling today :)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I say what I want! But should I?!

Democracy. A government of the people, for the people, by the people. Considered by many Western nations as the only way forward, as the only means of rendering any political entity or country a success. Democracy grants citizens fundamental privileges such as the right to free speech, the right to vote without fear of suppression, the right to practice your own religious creed.

These are all values that are inherently part of the democratic structure. Or are they? Through working with Arab-West Report, I have witnessed a variable of cases where this does not hold true, both within Egypt, and in the West. Freedom of expression, and the freedom to practice one's creed, are values that are hard to argue with. Yet there are clear examples of when these traits have not been upheld (such as the recent Facebook scandals involving censorship and arrests carried out by the Egyptian government - but lets save that for another time, I'm not here to point fingers). The right to express yourself freely is crucial in building a society that is based on equality and understanding, but sadly many take this right for granted, or wholly abuse it. To make accusations and place blame on another party or person, purely because it is your "right" to do so, and without having any evidence to support your cause, is wrong, immoral, and should never be tolerated.

To use this freedom to fuel any strife or sedition only leads to further tensions and potentially aggressions. I see this frequently with AWR - it's a constant game of he-said she-said, and as is often times the case, it generally involves either political or religious factors. One of the more outrageous examples of abusing freedom of speech that I have personally witnessed was the crisis of the monastery of Abu Fana. For those unfamiliar, I'll explain. Abu Fana is a Coptic Orthodox Monastery located in Upper Egypt. Last year, tensions erupted between monks of the monastery and Muslim residents of the village. The dispute centered around the monastery's construction of a wall, which local residents claimed to be on land that did not originally belong to the monastery. This resulted in a vicious cycle of blame game and a highly tense atmosphere. This tense atmosphere was manipulated by many, who through their employment of the freedom of speech, attempted to stir the rumour mill causing people to believe that this was a pre-empted attack against the monastery, further evidence of Coptic persecution in Egypt, among other claims. I do not wish to downplay the severity of the situation that evolved, but the allegations that were proclaimed (often times print in "reputable" publications) stoked the fire of sedition, and are evidence that freedom of expression, while a right, should NOT be manipulated to serve your own needs and/or desires. (Btw, anybody wanting further information on this, contact me :) )

[**EDIT 20 JULY: After discussing this posting with my sister, she informed me that my position on this entire situation is unclear. While I am talking about governmental infractions on freedom of speech being wrong, I am also commenting on about people abusing it, which may seem like a Catch-22. Either governments are going to hinder freedom of speech, or people will say whatever the hell they want. I am not discussing individual "people" in this case, I am referring to media outlets, who are supposed to have a responsibility to check things they are reporting on. If some dude wants to run down the street, screaming "The moon shines of out my ass," he has every right to do so. However, the media should not then present his rantings as a credible source...**]

As is the case with many cases of "sedition," troubles arise from a lack of understanding, or an unwillingness to accept differences. I'm not naive, I don't expect sunshines and butterflies to shine out of everyone's orifice, but I do believe that people have the ability to at least open their minds a little bit, and try to understand. When I first moved to Egypt, I was shockingly unfamiliar with Islam. I have always considered myself to be a worldy person, but I was forced to face the reality that I really didn't know as much about Arabs, the Middle East and Islam as I had first believed. I had been sheltered in my "post-9/11" media bubble, which notoriously played the blame game, pinpointing Arabs in general, and Muslims specifically, as the terrorist enemy. There were countless occasions when I would be asked, in all seriousness by my friends in the U.S., if I was afraid to live in Cairo. "Why?" I would ask. "Aren't they all a bunch of terrorists there?" Sad, truly sad, that people actually believe that everybody walking down the streets in Cairo has a hidden agenda against crushing the Western nations and ridding the world of evil! Having been here for three plus years, I can honestly say, I feel very safe in Cairo - so let me dispel that right now.

When I started my work with AWR, I was barraged by articles on Muslim-Christian relations, Islam and the interpretation of the Quran, the Coptic Church, religious dialogue, you name it, I've probably read about it. Yet one thing that I passionately and whole-heartedly support, particularly when I take my own experiences into consideration, is inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue. Many Muslims living in the West are faced on a daily basis with the same misguided impressions I used to have. Recently, the German Federal Minster of Interior Wolfgang Schรคuble delivered a lecture at Cairo University, discussing inter-religious co-existence in Germany. The minister pointed to a number of factors in Germany that are supporting the democratic ideal of "freedom of creed," and I truly applaud his efforts. Similar initiatives are the foundation blocks of building a better understanding between the Arab world and the West, and only through a greater sense of understanding can we remove the veil of suspicion that has erupted between the two cultures. I feel that I have only touched on how important this subject is to me, so for now, I'll say "food for thought," until the continuation....