Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cairo Re-visited

Well it's been a hectic week, including a trip to Cairo and a visit to Hurghada from my friend LeAnne. It's been quite some time since I've been back in Cairo, I think the last time I was back was in the end of April. Surprising, how quickly you can forget parts of the city, and aspects of life that defined Cairo living.

I was staying in Maadi, and immediately realised that I missed living there. I even asked Karim if he ever had regrets about moving away, or if he thought he would ever move back. My feelings of reminiscence however were quickly replaced by those of frustration, and albeit a short trip back to Cairo, I was reminded of why I left the city in the first place.

Firstly, Smart Village is ready for its grand opening in Maadi. This in itself has changed the dynamics of the once quiet, green, suburb. Now, driving around Maadi there are road signs newly erected, giant billboards that you pray will not topple over and crush an unsuspecting car, actual road blocks and roundabouts that almost appear to be working, and traffic. Oh good god, the traffic. Maadi is beginning to resemble parts of Zamalek during the day when it comes to the amount of cars that are going in and out, and unfortunately, adding a few whistles and bells does little to ease the chaos caused by the massive spike in the number of people entering the suburb everyday. Not only that, but driving around my old neighbourhoods, I see new grocery stores next to the old pet shops, new fashion designers displaying their ware where there was once a small bedouin crafts store. Maadi, once so charming and quiet, is beginning to look like its urban brothers Zamalek and Mohandessin. 

Making the trek downtown is always an adventure in itself, but with the cars on the roads in Cairo multiplying at an exponential rate on a virtual daily basis, the dodge-em traffic style really wears on you after a while. I don't really see very many donkey and horse carts in Hurghada, so although it was nice to see those on the streets again, it reminds you of the abject poverty that runs rampant throughout this country. The people attempting to commit suicide by running across the autostrad, the microbus drivers that have never had a day of driving lessons in their life. Ah yes, the hustle and bustle of Cairo.

I had my first taste of what it really feels like to be a part of an Egyptian family while I was in Cairo though, and that's an experience I can treasure. Karim's family took me wholeheartedly under their wing, and I was immediately adopted in as one of them. Women trying to teach me how to belly dance, and honestly I wouldn't be surprised to find out that some of these women have electricity running through their veins the way they can shake. The atmosphere of eating in an Egyptian family gathering, everyone bringing dishes, the amounts of food endless, reminding you that should you come with anything but an empty stomach, you will have to leave by rolling yourself out of the door. This was definitely the highlight of my trip back to Cairo.

I was also reminded of how difficult getting around the city can be. Not only do you have to deal with mountains of traffic, but the taxi drivers that will go out of their way to rip you off! Don't get me wrong, we have those in Hurghada too, but at least here I'm fully aware of the prices to get places! I actually had a taxi driver try to ask me for 50 LE to get from Maadi to Zamalek, (which shouldn't cost more than 30 LE at NIGHTTIME!), who then volunteered to go and "ask" other taxi drivers coming back how much they would charge. He even promised I would be surprised to hear 60 LE from these drivers. Listen buddy...I've lived in this city before, I know how your agenda works. Take your 30 LE, and be done with it. I'm not that stupid.

So after a long week, it's finally the weekend. And I am ready to hit the sack, and let the hustle and bustle of the outside world be one thing that I don't have to worry about!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Chewy Coconut Cookies! :D

Ok, enough heavy blogs, it's time for a nice and easy, yet delicious, cookie recipe.

I went looking the other day for chocolate chips, in the mind to make chocolate chip cookies.

I went to no less than four supermarkets around me, including Metro, and I could not find chocolate chips anywhere. But a bag of shredded coconut caught my eye, and I figure hey, why not try coconut cookies? I left with the bag of shredded coconut, hoping that the recipes I found wouldn't require any unusual ingredients.

Fortunately it didn't, and this is a great recipe for coconut cookies. I tweaked it after the first batch, and the result was perfectly chewy, delicious coconut cookies.

** Ingredients **
  • 1 1/4 cup of flour
  • 1 1/3 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/2 a cup of butter (softened)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Essence
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt.
I changed this slightly, rather than adding 1 1/3 cup coconut, I added 1/3 cup dark chocolate, shredded, and 1 cup coconut. It's a perfect compliment

** Directions **
  • Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit (175 degrees C) I reduced this heat, my oven cooks too quickly from the base, so I dropped it to about 150 Celsius - helps with a chewier cookie
  • Mix together flour, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
  • Slowly blend in the flour. The mixture will be quite hard, if you're having troubles stirring it just add a dash of milk.
  • Add Coconut (And chocolate if you want ;) )
  • Drop mixture of about a teaspoon full of batter onto your baking sheet. (Here's a little hint...have you ever noticed how some people's cookies come out almost perfectly round every time? Like frustratingly perfect looking cookies? I always had that problem, mine were still delicious, but looked "odd." With this batch, I rolled them in my hands once or twice to make little balls of dough. The result? tell me. :D)

  • Bake the Cookies for approximately 8 - 10 minutes. (I baked mine a little bit longer as the temperature was lower. About 12 minutes) If your cookies are finished, when inserting a toothpick into the center, it should come out clean.


    Saturday, July 17, 2010

    Egypt's Pharonic Rule

    President Hosni Mubarak, or as many have deemed to call him, Egypt's modern Pharaoh, is reportedly very ill, leading many Egyptian commentators and critic to foresee great changes to the Egyptian political stratosphere. Will Hosni Mubarak's son, Gamal, assume the Egyptian crown, or will the conservative Muslim Brotherhood live through their increasing popularity on the streets and gain control over the government in Egypt.

    Many Egyptians have a great deal to say on the matter, but equally just as many are content to sit back and say nothing, having become accustomed to the inability to speak out about politics in their country. I ran across an extremely interesting article in The Economist that discusses precisely that, the changing regime in Egypt, and the changing face of modern day Cairo. I felt it pertinent to share it here for all, and have added my comments in bold.

    The long wait

    After three decades of economic progress but political paralysis, change is in the air, says Max Rodenbeck

    TRAVELLING into Cairo, Egypt’s monster-sized but curiously intimate capital, it is hard to tell if these are the best of times or the worst. Visitors who have long known the city are in two minds. Egyptian expatriates returning home are liable to cringe at the worse-than-ever traffic, the ever-louder noise, the fervid religiosity, and what they often bemoan as a new aggressiveness that spoils their nostalgia for a sweeter, cheerier Egypt. But tourists who came here, say, 20 years ago, tend to delight in the sleeker look of the place, the surprisingly efficient and still friendly service, the far better quality and variety of goods in the markets, and the fact that some taxis now actually have functioning meters. side note: Although many taxi's now have meters, most still don't use them, or for those that do, many will double the cost and overcharge people

    Both impressions are right. The new World Bank-funded, Turkish-built terminal at Cairo International airport is as blandly functional as Cincinnati’s or Stockholm’s. Gone are the sweaty officials and greasy baggage handlers of yore, the taxi touts and shoving crowds. A businessman arriving here may be whisked in an Egyptian-built car to the cigar bar at one of Cairo’s dozens of swish hotels—perhaps one at City Stars, a commercial complex on the scale and in the style of Las Vegas. Or perhaps to another fancy hotel in one of the burgeoning gated exurbs in the desert, surrounded by the lavishly watered greenery of a designer golf course. There, the talk will be of beach houses and yachts on the Red Sea, of hot stocks on the Cairo exchange, and of Egypt’s delightfully low-cost labour. which would then encompass less than a third of Egyptian society. Egypt's social strata is one where the idiom "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer" couldn't be more true. Rich upper class Egyptians have more money than they know what to do with, while for many in the lower class, finding enough cash to feed a family for a week (let alone a month) is a far greater concern .

    A less lucky traveller, however, might instead see these things as most Egyptians do: in the giant backlit billboards that clutter Cairo’s roadsides and rooftops, vividly flaunting the unattainable. The consumer paradise they display, with perfect hair, light-skinned children and men in pinstripe suits, stands in stark contrast to the harried, shuffling crowds below. Such sights will probably be accompanied by an earful of complaint from the driver stuck in a jam: about corrupt traffic cops and the absurd impossibility of feeding and schooling the kids on $150 a month, but above all about politics, the staple of all Middle Eastern conversationalists.

    Political talk in Egypt has always been acidly cynical, but now a new bitterness has crept in (aided in no part by the increasing access to Internet that more Egyptian youth now have). This has not been prompted by any change from above, since little has really changed in Egyptian politics since President Hosni Mubarak came to office 29 years ago. The sour mood is informed instead by the contrast between rising aspirations and enduring hardships; by a growing sense of alienation from the state; and by the unease of anticipation as the end of an era inevitably looms ever closer.

    It is not surprising that Egyptians should feel rather like driftwood on the Nile, accelerating towards one of the great river’s cataracts. Their current pharaoh is 82 years old, visibly ailing, and has no anointed successor. Most of his people have known no other leader. The vast majority have grown so inured to having no say in the course of events that the reflex is to float patiently rather than try to paddle. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for November this year and presidential ones for September next. As usual, few citizens are likely to take part. They will watch from the sidelines and accept the preordained results with grim humour.

    Losing patience

    Nevertheless, the expectation of a seismic shift is almost tangible in the air, and not just because of Mr Mubarak’s health. Egyptians may be renowned for being politically passive, but the rising generation is very different from previous ones. It is better educated, highly urbanised, far more exposed to the outside world and much less patient. Increasingly, the whole structure of Egypt’s state, with its cumbersome constitution designed to disguise one-man rule, its creaky centralised administration, its venal, brutal and unaccountable security forces and its failure to deliver such social goods as decent schools, health care or civic rights, looks out of kilter with what its people want.

    For some time Egyptian commentators have been noting resemblances between now and the years before Egypt’s previous seismic shift. That happened in 1952, when a group of army officers rolled their tanks up to King Farouk’s palaces and tossed him out. The coup was wildly popular at the time. It had followed a period of drift and growing tension, marked by strikes, assassinations, riots and intrigues between Communists, Muslim Brothers and the king. Egypt was thriving economically, but the spoils flowed mostly to a cosmopolitan elite that was out of tune with the street. It had a functioning democracy, but ever-squabbling politicians seemed unable to get things done. To general chagrin they could not shake off the lingering influence of Britain, whose soldiers refused to budge from the Suez Canal where they had been encamped since 1882.

    The officers’ coup replaced this genteel but dysfunctional constitutional monarchy with one-party rule, fronted by a strongman and backed by secret police, with the tanks idling nearby. Republican Egypt became a model for other Arab dictatorships and forced wrenching changes at home. Its promises of free health and education, land reform and jobs in state factories and offices did lift millions out of misery to mere poverty. The ideology of pan-Arabism trumpeted by the coup leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, gave Egyptians a place of pride in the world, even if his boldness brought ruinous wars in Yemen and against Israel.

    Six decades and four presidents on, the revolutionary regime has metamorphosed into one that encourages private business and allows for some pluralism. Yet it looks to many Egyptians like a waning dynasty—the 45th in the long line of houses that have ruled the world’s most enduring nation since 3000BC. Its promises are largely in tatters. Schools and hospitals are indeed free to enter, but they are grim, bare, crowded places where getting learning or treatment requires cash that many still do not have. The lower middle class of army officers and bureaucrats who rose in the revolution have joined the gentry they were supposed to have ousted, adopted their haughty ways and now share Egypt’s spoils with them. The poor still queue for government-subsidised bread and must scrimp and save to buy a pair of shoes.

    The government’s plan to perpetuate itself in office, via the traditional electoral rigmarole, is likely to go ahead. Predictions of change in Egypt have almost always proved wrong; generally it bumbles along much as usual. This time may just be different. The country now faces three main possibilities. It could go the way of Russia and be ruled by a new strongman from within the system. It might, just possibly, go the way of Iran, and see that system swept away in anger. Or it could go the way of Turkey, and evolve into something less brittle and happier for all concerned.

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010

    So heart warming.

    This is a story that will touch the heart of any animal lover out there. For those of us who are living in, or who have lived in Egypt, the abuse that animals are subjected to here is not a new matter. Seeing a dog being beaten on the street, horses who are thin to the bone, donkeys that are worked to death and still beaten to take that one extra step, it's all heart breaking. Many of us who have lived in Egypt long enough have learned to grow immune to this horrific treatment of animals, but sometimes there are stories that you just cannot overlook, that remind us that there are people out there who really do still give a damn, and will act selflessly just to ensure that an animal has a better life.

    As a dog owner myself, specifically an Egyptian Baladi dog owner, this story really warms me. As much as Orien can be an asshole sometimes (and really, sometimes he takes the cake - and eats it too haha ), I would never ever dream of letting him grow up in the streets. There are times when I am walking him, (and he is on a leash!!) and I've had little kids throw stones at us, or grown men chuck buckets of water at us. The same thing used to happen with our family dog Mirella, who couldn't hurt a fly, would also get pelted by rocks when down at the stables with us. Fortunately for Mirella, I was usually on horseback when this would happen, and you should SEE those kids scatter when you chase them down on a horse. lolol. Hopefully soon I'll be able to do the same thing with Orien, until then, it's only me shouting and chasing these kids down...I should carry my own rock supply with me lol.

    When you take all this into consideration, you'd imagine that the street dogs here would be vicious, aggressive, biting any one who comes close to them. But this couldn't be further from the truth. Most just want a kind word, and if you show a baladi dog the slightest bit of affection, expect a companion on your walk. It can be heartbreaking to have to say goodbye to some of these poor animals.

    Josh felt the same way. After staying in a hotel in Cairo, he noticed a stray dog that was living outside on the street by the hotel. He befriended this dog, but unfortunately his stay in Egypt came to an end. Josh did not forget this dog, and he made every effort possible to ensure that he would at least be able to save one street dog from Cairo. His quest began with a youtube cry for help.

    His story was seen by a pioneering animal rights group in Egypt, the Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals, or ESMA. They found the dog, now known as Sphyncus Nagat, and began the process of getting her to Josh in the U.S. After months of efforts and fundraising, Spyncus Nagat is one of the lucky few street dogs in Egypt whose story really does have a happy ending.

    Josh, with the combined help of ESMA and their dedicated volunteers, has brought Sphyncus Nagat to her new home in the United States. Their reunion was even broadcast on the cable channel that Josh works for. This story just goes to prove that if one person were to commit themselves to making a difference in the life of one animal, think of what we could do if we were to all strive to do the same thing. And take a lesson from Josh, next time we see an animal being unfairly abused in the streets, DO something about it.

    Nagat and Josh, I wish you all the best for a happy and long life together!

    To see the video of Nagat arriving in her new home, check here.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    Cairo Craigslist Warning

    This is a repost for my journo buddy LeAnne. Apparently the people mentioned in the blog are fully aware of it, and are even aware of the fact that what they are doing is a sham and should be stopped immediately. One of the best defences we have against this is awareness, so please, if you are seeking a job in Cairo, take the time to read this article, and take care with any new job offers (which you should do even if you're not in Egypt :p).

    !!! Cairo Craigslist Warning !!!

    As mentioned on the previous blog, I was waiting to get more information on a scam luring females from other countries for supposedly great jobs in Egypt.

    Jane** was looking for a job in Egypt in order to do research for a project. In the meantime, she still needed supplement income in order to finance herself without delving into savings. She looked on Craigslist and was applied for a news anchor position with EZZ Media. Although a Google search will be inconclusive if you search the keywords EZZ Media Egypt.

    This particular media segment was supposedly a part of EZZ Steel, a major giant in the steel/mining industry in Egypt, with the contact person even using the name of one of EZZ’s executives. EZZ Media was allegedly a start-up station looking to get native English speakers.

    Jane came to Cairo where she conducted her interview shortly upon her arrival. On her way out to the Sandpit, she met an Egyptian American who was also interviewing for the same company but as a translator. Both women met with two men named (or at least that’s the given name) Ihab Isisi and Ahmed Ghazi. Ihab was very persistent in trying to get the women to meet him after midnight at After 8 in Downtown.

    Other jobs that were posted by this falsified company were for translators and assistants to travel to Dubai.

    A good friend of mine that is a casting director here even encountered a supposed director attempting to get one of her actresses to come audition for a play. The “director” used a famous director’s company and name and continued the ruse. It wasn’t until my friend became suspicious and called the actual famous director and found it to be a hoax.

    I think the lesson here is to be extremely cautious of “name dropping,” as with the two above cases, that seems to be the common theme. Name dropping is like the country’s favorite pastime anyway.

    As scams and dubious actions such as this happen throughout the world, it is important to use your head. For each potential job, always look up the contact person and company. For instance, if you have been contacted by Drew Brees, HR Dept for Saints Unlimited, type into a google search engine these particular suggestions:

    “Drew Brees”
    “Saints Unlimited”
    Drew Brees HR
    Drew Brees Saints Unlimited
    Drew Brees Cairo
    Drew Brees Egypt
    Saints Unlimited Egypt

    The quotation marks narrow down your search, but you can just pick some relative keywords to jumble them all together and comb through a higher number of search results. I understand some of you may be reading this thinking that I’m talking to a pre-schooler, but the fact is, many of you don’t know or never thought about doing a search. And for the most part, employers are googling you, so I suggest you get on board. Also, make sure to constantly check your privacy settings on sites like Facebook and Myspace as it appears they like to revert to default settings which open up your page and pictures to EVERYONE (and ah hem, no potential employer needs to see you doing a keg stand).

    I researched my last employer before accepting the position. I even found blogs that discussed the work atmosphere, which might be helpful if you’re trying to decide between numerous offers. The important lesson here is to do all the research you can and if all else fails, use your instincts.

    Once again, if it sounds too good to be true – it is, MOVE OUT OF THE WAY!

    * Name changed for privacy purposes

    Sunday, July 11, 2010

    Talk about Dirt

    I was reading an article the other day in a new magazine in circulation here in Hurghada. Although most of the magazine consists of ads, no, wait I take that back, the entire magazine is made up of ads, some of them have articles attached.

    One such article was done by a home cleaning company, and their idea to attract customers was to completely disgust you by how many beasties are potentially living in your house, sleeping in your bed, chilling on your kitchen counter. Well, for me it worked, I was grossed out, but not jumping at the gun to call this amazing cleaning company. Instead, it inspired me to find out for myself what I can do to eliminate, or at least reduce, these pests in the house. (Did I mention that the article only detailed the beasties, not how to get rid of them? lol. Let's just call up these cleaning people, they must have miraculous means of eliminating mould spores and dust mites from my house. hahahaha).

    Let's consider this blog a follow up to the previous beastie blog. :D And before reading, a collective **EWWWWWW** please. ;)

    Anyone living in Egypt is fully aware of the fact that it is DUSTY. It is almost impossible to keep your house free of dust, particularly when you're living in areas like Hurghada or Sharm. With the sea and sand on one side, and desert on the other, even the lightest breeze will flick up dust into the air. No big deal, until you consider the beasties that accompany dust, the dust mites.

    These things are frigging ugly, not to mention alien looking. And they live pretty much
    everywhere. Considering over 80 % of the dust in your house is made up of human "dander" (which is really just a polite way of saying discarded skin), these dust mites have a smörgåsbord of human buffet lying around everywhere. They feast on our dander, so thrive in areas such as couches, beds, cushions, etc. In fact, it is estimated that the weight of a two year old mattress is no less than 10 % dust mite feces and carcasses. (I'm grossed out again already :S).

    So what can we do to get rid of this critters. Well, firstly, toss out your feather and down pillows. These provide the perfect environment for dust mites to lay their eggs and nest. Replace them with synthetic material pillows and covers, as these are less "hospitable." Next, make sure you're
    changing your bed sheets at least once a week, and that you're washing them in hot water. For those of us with pets, keep the pets off your bed, as dust mites are just as happy to feast on animal dander as they are on human dander, and really, do they need MORE dust to feed on here? :p

    For those of us less inclined to make our beds in the morning (as lets face it, talk about a pointless job, you just mess it back up at night haha), leaving your bed unmade in the morning actually helps to dry it out. Dust mites love damp areas, so a dry bed is a "cleaner" bed. Wash curtains, or replace them with vinyl shades and blinds.

    But after all this, really what's the deal with dust mites? Although they do not pose any serious health threats, they do contribute to wheezing, and are suspected to worsen asthma in many people. So get rid of the dust mites, and breathe easier.

    Next up...your kitchen sink. Keeping in mind that we prepare our meals in the kitchen, in my mind it ranks as the priority place in any home that MUST be kept clean. Bacteria lies in wait for any unsuspecting individual to leave out their bread, or cheese, and voila! Green bread, Crusty Cheese! (Ewww).

    While most of us think that regularly wiping down the counter tops and stoves will help keep the beasties at bay, one of the more filthy parts of your kitchen is actually your kitchen sponge. Yes, the sponge that you use to clean your dishes with, may in fact be dirtier than the dishes were in the first place. So what to do?

    Firstly, replace your dish sponge every other week, ideally every week if you're doing a buttload of dishes. To sterilize your dish sponge, you can do the following:
    • Rinse sponge in dish soap (anti-bacterial if you can find it)
    • Throw in the microwave for 1-2 minutes (and make sure you watch for it burning haha)
    Voila, sterilized dish sponge.

    If you're like me, you do not have the amenity of access to a microwave (ahh the wonders of "furnished" apartments in Egypt). But not to worry, just rinse your sponge in a water/bleach solution, and that will do the trick too.

    Last but not least, and this one might shock you...

    Your computer on average has 400 times more bacteria living on it than a toilet. (no, you did not read that wrong).

    This was probably the most disgusting thing I learned. So what can you do?

    Firstly, wash your hands. The old idiom that always seems to return to haunt people. In this case, it's true. By ensuring you have clean hands before using your computer, you will help reduce the harmful bacteria that have made a home of your computer.
    Next, to clean the keyboard turn it upside down, and shake gently to dislodge stuff stuck underneath. Use compressed air to push out the extra junk. With a cotton swab, use either computer cleaning solution, rubbing alcohol, or a solution of two parts water to one part dish soap, dip your swab in, and run along your keys. Make sure you get to the bits in between each key. Finally, run over the keyboard with an antibacterial wipe.

    Now I know that freaking out about every beastie or bacteria that you may encounter is a little excessive, but if you can go just that little bit extra, you may end up improving your overall health, and breathing easier! Now who needs inspiration to clean?!

    Wednesday, July 7, 2010

    Things that make you go "WTF?!"

    This morning I settle in to work, and get ready for the long day ahead. As per the usual routine, browsing the news and checking my email is always one of the first things to do. I'm glad I did this morning!

    Check out this article, posted on the Huffingtonpost. Seems that Egypt is quite popular in the news at the moment, first with the bus shooting yesterday, and now this. Only thing I can say, is if there is a cow with two heads born, then there must be a Blinky living in the Nile. lolol.

    (AP) CAIRO -- A farmer in northern Egypt says his cow has given birth to a two-headed calf that he calls a "divine miracle."

    Sobhy el-Ganzoury said Saturday it took two hours and much pulling to deliver the rare calf. He said the difficult birth has weakened the calf's legs.

    El-Ganzoury said the veterinarian informed him that the calf, which was born this week, is now in stable condition and is expected to survive. He said he intends to keep the animal as a reminder that "God is able to do anything."

    The calf still can't stand up because of its heavy heads and weak legs, and is being fed her mother's milk with a baby bottle.

    Tuesday, July 6, 2010

    France and Veiling

    It's been a parliamentary debate well over one year in the making, and this week, the French Parliament is finally set to discuss the issue of the niqab (face veil) and its permissibility in public areas in France. Last year, I wrote a blog which highlighted the situation in France, and the rising tide of Islamophobia that was accompanying cries to ban the niqab entirely. In May, the French cabinet approved a bill dealing with the niqab in public places, however before it can be enforced as law, the French Parliament must also approve the bill. The debate is set for this week, and should the French Parliament pass this bill, it will change the face of France, and potentially ignite a domino effect in the rest of Europe.

    Should France outlaw the bill, it will join Belgium as the only other country in Europe to have banned the face veil, but the trend will surely not end there. Spain has already expressed a rising interest in banning the niqab in the country also, and were France to make this ruling, it will spur forward the notions of other nations who have mentioned they may take the same action.

    So what does this really mean?

    Firstly, many people greatly misunderstand what the Islamic veil really is, and why women wear it. There are many variations of veiling, while the two that people are generally most familiar with are the hijab, or head scarf, and the focus of debate in France, the niqab. The BBC has provided a great article detailing what the hijab is and its history in Islam, as well as advocates for and against veiling. The niqab is interpreted as a more extreme version of veiling for women, whereby the entire face save the eyes is covered. The Burka is even more extreme, with women covering their entire face, with a small netted area for her to see through. The question often raised by scholars and individuals alike, is whether or not Islam actually call for a woman to cover her face entirely; for that matter, does it even call for a woman to cover her hair?

    The answer is unfortunately not a case of Yes or No. Islam, and therefore Muslims, does not have a ruling religious figurehead such as the Vatican for Christianity. This leaves verses (surahs) in the Qu'ran open for individual interpretation, and various interpretations of the versus dealing with women exist. There are Islamic advocates that believe the Qu'ran explicitly directs a woman to cover at least her head and neck to conform with the Islamic requirement of modest dress. More extreme interpretations see that the Qu'ranic surahs direct women to cover their entire body's, including face, when in the presence of men that are not directly related to them or their family. For many women raised in the West, the mere idea of covering one's entire face seems extreme. However, for women that choose to wear the niqab of their own volition, they truly believe that they are following the will of God, and abiding by Islamic doctrine. A simple explanation for this reasoning can be found here.

    Now this brings us to France, and Muslim women in France.

    France has always boasted about being a secular nation, and one that respects an individual's freedom of expression and human rights. Despite this, France has previously ruled that religious
    symbols and iconography should not be explicitly displayed, lest it offends those of different believes or secular ideology. This seems fair enough, no outright religious iconography. But does the niqab fall under this umbrella definition? Many would disagree, however French President Nicolas Sarkozy sees the niqab not as a religious symbol, but as a symbol of the segregation and suppression of women. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon even went as far to say that Muslims who wear the niqab are "highjacking Islam,"while providing a "dark sectarian image" of the religion. Quite an extreme statement to make, and certainly an assertion of the underlying French views on the niqab and full face veils on women.

    Having lived in an Islamic country for four years now, I still cannot wrap my mind around a woman's decision to wear a niqab of their own volition, but I still advocate that as a Muslim woman, it is her right to make that choice, particularly if she believes it strengthens her commitment to God. There is no doubt that the Islamic religion advocates modest dress, but does this modesty extend to entirely covering your body and face? I don't believe so. It should, however, remain a choice that Muslim women are free to make.

    The self-proclaimed secular state is preparing to pass a law that will strip women of the right to this decision. The legislation will also include fines for brothers and husbands found to have forced women in their family to don the niqab. All well and good, a woman should never be forced to wear something, but isn't forcing her NOT to wear something essentially the same thing?! One party that opposed banning the niqab in public places, the opposition Socialist Party, has now announced that they will abstain from voting this week, meaning the one party that opposed this grievous violation of a woman's right to free expression is sitting back and keeping their traps shut. Congratulations on solidifying your government's efforts to hinder free expression and right to religious doctrine.

    Studies in France document that there are approximately 5 million Muslims living in the country, and of this, only 2000 or so wear the full face veil. Is it really so offensive to the "open minded" European nations to permit these women to wear the niqab? Now I understand that one point for banning the face veil is a level of security, as if a woman has her entire face concealed, how can her identity be verified, or how is it even possible to know that it really is a woman hiding underneath. For these cases, such as when re-issuing ID cards, or employment and security checks, by all means outlaw the face veil. But to do it merely because of the belief that it is further segregating women shows an arrogance that far supersedes security.

    It would seem, particularly if this bill passes this week, that secularity is out, and Islamophobia is in. Only time will how if this trend will continue to spread throughout the rest of Europe, and how long it will take for governmental officials to finally realise that this is not a matter of protecting the rights of women, it is a matter of stripping followers of one religious doctrine of their human rights, and right to free expression. A right, that many in our history have died to preserve, upset by the ruling of the elite in France for the "greater good."

    Monday, July 5, 2010

    Water, it does the body good

    I read an article a few weeks ago about the health benefits of water, and why it is so crucial to make sure that you are taking in enough of the clear stuff. Since reading this article, I have objectively tried to make sure that I am drinking at least three litres of water every day. End result? I really am seeing my belly shrink, my hair is shinier, and my skin is much healthier. Not only that, but my energy levels are up, and I feel great! It seems tough at first to be drinking so much water, but, you really do get into the routine of it and it becomes normal. Only problem is...getting up at all times of the day to have to pee, constantly. Hahaha. Anyhow, let me share the wealth.

    Health Benefits of Water
    How 8 Glasses a Day Keeps Fat Away

    Incredible as it may seem, water is quite possibly the single most important catalyst in losing weight and keeping it off. Although most of us take for granted, water may be the only true "magic potion" for permanent weight loss.

    Water supresses the appetite naturally and helps the body metabolize stored fat. Studies have shown that a decrease in water intake will cause fat deposits to increase, while an increase in water intake can actually reduce fat deposits.

    Here's why: The kidneys can't function properly without enough water. When they don't work to capacity, some of their load is dumped onto the liver. One of the liver's primary functions is to metabolize stored fat into usable energy for the body. But if the liver has to do some of the kidney's work it can't operate at full throttle. As a result, it metabolizes less fat more fat remains stored in the body and weight loss stops.

    Drinking enough water is the best treatment for fluid retention. When the body gets less water,it perceives this as a threat to survival and begins to hold on to every drop. Water is stored in extracellular spaces (outside the cell). This shows up as swollen feet, legs and hands.

    Diuretics offer a temporary solution at best. They force out stored water along with some essential nutrients. Again, the body perceives a treat and will replace the lost water at the first opportunity. Thus, the condition quickly returns.

    The best way to overcome the problem of water retention is to give your body what it needs -- plenty of water. Only then will stored water be released.

    If you have a constant problem with water retention, excess salt may be to blame. Your body will tolerate sodium only in a certain concentration. The more salt you eat the more water your system retains to dilute it.

    But getting rid of unneeded salt is easy -- just drink more water. As it's forced through the kidneys it takes away excess sodium.

    The overweight person needs more water than a thin one. Larger people have larger metabolic loads. Since we know that water is the key to fat metabolism, it follows that the over weight person needs more water.

    Water helps to maintain proper muscle tone by giving muscles their natural ability to contract and by preventing dehydration. It also helps to prevent the sagging skin that usually follows weigh loss -- shrinking cells are buoyed by water which plumps the skin and leaves it clear, healthy and resilient.

    Water helps rid the body of waste. During weight loss, the body has a lot more waste to get rid of -- all that metabolized fat must be shed. Again, adequate water helps flush out the waste.

    Water can help relieve constipation. When the body gets too little water, it siphons what it needs from internal sources. The colon is one primary source. Result? Constipation. But when a person drinks enough water, normal bowel function usually returns.

    So far, we've discovered some remarkable truths about water and weight loss:

    • The body will not function properly without enough water and can't metabolize stored fat efficiently.
    • Retained water shows up as excess weight.
    • To get rid of excess water you must drink more water.
    • Drinking water is essential to weight loss.
    How much water is enough? On the average, a person should drink eight 8-ounce glasses every day. That's about 2 quarts. However, the overweight person needs one additional glass for every 25 pounds of excess weight. The amount you drink also should be increased if you exercise briskly or if the weather is hot and dry.

    Water should preferably be cold. It's absorbed into the system more quickly than warm water. And some evidence suggests that drinking cold water can actually help burn calories. To utilize water most efficiently during weight loss, follow this schedule:

    Morning: 1 quart consumed over a 30-minute period.
    Noon: 1 quart consumed over a 30-minute period.
    Evening: 1 quart consumed between five and six o'clock.

    When the body gets the water it needs to function optimally, it's fluids are perfectly balanced. When this happens, you have reached the "breakthrough point." What does this mean?

    • Endocrine-gland function improves.
    • Fluid retention is alleviated as stored water is lost.
    • More fat is used as fuel because the liver is free to metabolize stored fat.
    • Natural thirst returns.
    • There is a loss of hunger almost over night.
    If you stop drinking enough water, your body fluids will be thrown out of balance again, and you may experience fluid retention, unexplained weight gain and loss of thirst. To remedy the situation you'll have to go back and force another "breakthrough."

    Happy Drinking!!!