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!