Monday, June 29, 2009

Swine Flu and After 8....

The recent outbreak of the H1N1 (swine) flu virus, has created a great deal of turmoil on the global scene. With new cases continuously being reported, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been urging countries to adopt preventative measures in an attempt to stem the spread of the epidemic. Their recommendations include avoiding crowded areas, frequently washing one's hands, and avoiding contact with individual's suspected of carrying the deadly virus strain. Egyptian authorities however, took one step further in announcing the slaughter of thousands of pigs throughout the country, a move that has raised wide-spread criticism in many circles. The decision to cull 300-350,000 pigs in an area of Cairo known as "garbage city" under the pretense that it will help stem the potential spread of the H1N1 flu strain raised many eyebrows, notably, the WHO who has stressed that the virus is not contracted by exposure to pork products or pigs themselves, but that it is spreading through person to person contact. I have read many opinions on this decision by the Egyptian government, ranging from people who claim that it is a means of damaging the income potential of the mostly Christian farmers raising the pigs, to others who allege that the Egyptian government is merely going about eliminating pork and pork products from the country, as pork is considered haram (forbidden) under Islam. Regardless of what the motivations behind the decision, it remains that culling the pigs is an unnecessary step, especially when you take into consideration that the first case of swine flu in Egypt was a girl coming from the U.S., and further confirmed cases came from the American University in Cairo (AUC) - not "garbage city" where the majority of pig farmers and pigs reside. Things that make you go "hmmmmm."

I digress. The whole swine flu epidemic has hit the world hard, but in my little Cairo cocoon, I haven't really experienced first hand much of what is being done to combat the disease. That is, until this past weekend. A group of us decided to head down to a small bar in downtown Cairo known as "After 8." While this bar has a decent atmosphere, I disagree with their table minimum charge policy, where you have to have a table to get a drink (despite there only being, oh, 8 or so tables in the entire place) - and should you try to buy a drink (even if it is non-alcoholic) from the bar, expect to pay 80 LE. Absolutely outrageous. Anyhow, my rants about their pricing and management aside, I was quite impressed with After 8 this weekend. To set the scene, imagine a crowded Cairo street downtown, and a discreet looking Kiosk selling cigarettes and chipsy on the side of the road. Did you not know it was there, you would miss the aged "After Eight" hanging over this Kiosk. You actually have to physically walk through this Kiosk, into a dark and grimy alley behind it. Roughly 30 metres down, on your left you'll see After 8 (seriously...don't try finding this place if you don't know where it is haha).

The doorman greets our group, and pulls out this extremely invasive looking mechanism, which turns out to be a thermometer to stick in your ear. To ensure the "cleanliness" of the strange looking device, which i shall call the "ear probe," they stick a strange condom looking thing on the end of it, and replace with each use. When first approached by the bouncer with his ear probe, i had no idea what he was trying to do, and flashed back to the days of school, when sent to the school nurse for a "routine check-up" with the ever present false promise of "I swear the needle won't hurt." My friend Kat was the first one to go, and her expression was priceless - jaw dropped, eyes watering, fingers massaging her ear lobe once the probe had finished its job. Her ear was violated, but one beep later, and she was cleared to go into the pub. I questioningly look at the bouncer, who in his broken English points to the ear probe, then at Kat's ear, and mutters "swine flu....Inside very hot!" I was having a difficult time keeping a straight face at this point, which was only further made difficult once it was my turn for the ear probe. Anybody that has been to After 8 can understand the humour in this situation, as you're really more likely to catch the virus standing outside the bar in the nasty dirty alley way than you are inside. But hey, our temperatures were cleared, and inside we went for a night of good music, combined with terrible karaoke! There's something about karaoke nights, that bring out the part in people that just crave singing songs that you could hang yourself to, it can be so damn depressing. Until of course, you have that person that thinks they can sing grab the microphone, blast out their song, wait for the applause which never comes, then question "hmm, maybe I was "off" today?" Which this weekend, would have been me and Rena. YES for bad singing and Ear probes! But seriously, hats off to After 8 for doing their little part in trying to prevent the spread of swine flu. I'm doing my part in having developed an OCD like obsession with hand sanitizers....

A little piece of paradise, and the road to Hell

Cairo, with all its hustle and bustle, makes for a fantastic city to live in. There's never a dull moment, and I still see new things everyday, it never ceases to amaze me. The crowds however, result in traffic, which makes the air downtown unbreathable at times, and the noise from the cars constantly beeping their horns giving you a never ending pulsation in the back of your brain. Should you reach this point, it is time to get out of the city limits, even if only for a day. And for this, there is only one destination that I prefer to go to. Ain el-Sokhna is a little piece of paradise located just under 2 hours away from Cairo ( should be 2 hours, i'll get to that point in a bit :p). Sokhna is located on the Red Sea, and offers a few beaches that you can go to, I prefer the Stella del Mar, but for that you'll either need to have rented a villa, have a friend who owns a villa there and can give you a beach pass, or (as i witnessed this weekend) be a very smooth talker and throw a couple pounds here and there.

Ultimate result, we ended up on the beach, and spent a lovely afternoon in the sun, next to what started off as cheesy elevator music, and morphed into trance-like beach hits. Course we forgot our cooler, so the challenge was to drink your beer before it got too warm, giving you, oh, 30 minutes to polish off 5 beers? I failed, and attempted to resolve the problem by throwing a couple ice cubes in a cup to cool the beer that way. I ended up drinking the semi-warm beer, as adding ice to beer is possible the most insulting thing you can do to it, and it tastes foul! Sokhna provides the perfect reprieve from Cairo, fresh air, fewer crowds, and of course the sea right in front of you. It doesn't get much better than that. Really makes you appreciate how lucky you are living in this part of the world, now if there was only skiing here...hmm..

So the trip to Sokhna is roughly an hour and a half from the first toll booth to driving into Sokhna. I say 1.5 hours under the assumption that you are not travelling at break neck speeds, and doing the posted 120 km an hour speed limit, so we can include, oh, 15 % of the cars driving on this road. For some reason, insert car and driver onto that sokhna road, and the long stretches of tarmac prove too tempting for many, who end up doing 200 + flying down this road. Now, were you on the autobahn in Germany, 200 wouldn't be a big deal. Here however, you have to factor in very large lorries, also doing break neck speeds, microbuses that are jam packed with people, often times being so packed that people are hanging on to the side, or over-loaded with packages on top. I've always wonder how they manage to stack them, as having watched people pack the backs of their trucks, there's only one thing that crosses your mind, "I hope to God I'm not behind that thing when its load goes flying." It's unbelievable to see packages, furniture, clothing, and all sorts of other oddities, packed 2 meters high on top of these microbuses. Oftentimes I can't help but wonder how they don't topple over. Combine all this, with the few patches of road that either are in dire need of repair, or simply don't have sufficient lighting, and you've got yourself the Sokhna road. It's like living in a game of Gran Turismo, drive as fast as I possibly can, and dodge the cars like some perverted form of frogger. What baffles me more, is the wrecks that are left on the side of the road, where the car is visibly totaled, do not provide a deterrent to people driving like a bat out of hell. Driving is a privilege, not a right, WHY do people seem to forget this? Suppose I prove to be a pain in the ass passenger, as I have no qualms in telling people to slow the eff down, my life is worth the extra half hour drive to the beach. So for those who sit there and boast about being able to make it to Sokhna in 30 minutes, I ask of you, is it worth the possible price?!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Egypt, what happened?!

So yesterday I was watching with bated breath, waiting for a repeat performance of Egypt's playing against Italy. The Italian game was phenomenal to watch, the goalie was making unbelievable saves, there was energy rippling through the air as people watched. So when I sat down last night to watch the match against the US, i was expecting an easy victory. Much to my dismay, my hopes were dashed within the first 15 minutes of the game. Egypt was playing horribly, there was no team coordination, their defence was non-existent, and the poor goalie getting nailed in the head in the first few minutes of the game certainly did little to boost the team's morale. The US team was not much better, goes to show that in sports, it really is true. When you're playing a great team, you man up, if you're playing an average team, your playing level drops. Needless to say. I'm quite upset with the result of this game!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My First blog! :D

My first blog ever! I've finally been inspired to finally start my own, after years of deliberations and promising i was going to do so.

Where to begin...hmmm. I'm a 25 (almost 26 ) expat living in Cairo, Egypt. I've been out here now for just over three years, and i absolutely love it. Once you have drunk from the Nile, there will always be a little bit of Egypt in your veins. Of course, should you literally drink from the Nile, i recommend seeking medical assistance, as God only knows what you've swallowed. :p Egypt provides the best blend of both worlds in my mind, a perfect combination of west and east, thrown together into one huge melting pot. Throughout my time here, i've experienced joys, sadness, wonder, worry, and above all, fascination by a culture that is so vividly different but yet close to my heart.

I hope with my blog to share my experiences living here, as well as provide my own insight into what I see going on day to day here. Working in the media gives me the added bonus of first hand access to issues related to arab-west relations, politics, religion, among others, and Insha'allah (God willing) I will be able to share my opinions on similar issues too.

So sit down, buckle up, and join me for the wild ride that Egypt has proven to be so far :)