Monday, April 26, 2010

Free and an extent

My years of experience in working with the Voices of Iraq (Aswat al-Iraq) have really helped me to develop my instincts and writing abilities as a journalist. On top of that, it really gives you an insight into what extent our media is manipulated, how it is achieved, and what types of people are targeted with each new article that is posted. This of course included in the added bonus of knowing what's going on in current events (or at least that's the theory :p).

Today, I posted a story about the elections in Iraq, specifically the results. Now, the process of holding the elections in Iraq has been a point of debate for quite some months now. I love to hackle about the dos and donts, the positives and negatives, with my journalist friend LeAnne. It's advantageous to be able to discuss things like this with someone who is also intricately familiar with how the media is run, not to mention also up to date on current events.

I know that the elections were not "free," but I would always bleat to LeAnne about how it's a great step forward, the people have been granted the ability to express their voice, and are being granted new political freedom that was unheard of during the time of Saddam. She believes it's mostly a farce. I can't disagree, but I maintain my original belief that a corrupt election, while still a huge issue, is better than no election at all.

So my story today, 52 (yes that's right) 52 politicians were completely stripped of any votes they won. Their votes were cancelled. Entirely nullified. And why? Because of their quote unquote "ties" to the former Baath party.

Does this seem ridiculous to ANYONE else but me? That's like discluding politicians in Germany for their rumoured ties to the Nazi party during WWII; who wasn't connected to the Nazi party! The article fails to mention how they were connected, just that they were. This could mean that they were on speaking terms with politicians in the Baath party, once went to a Baath rally, any number of menial things that could be seen as "ties" to the Baath party. Semantics aside, just look at what this says about the elections in Iraq. 52 politicians. It's a staggering number.

It makes me wonder what is going to happen to the votes originally cast for these politicians. Their political parties are not getting the where are they going? Are they just disappearing? As though they never existed? Or, as is sadly more likely, are they being funnelled into the ruling parties total vote count. Perhaps slightly short of a majority victory?One can only wonder.

What's even better, is that the Iraqi authorities mistrusted the original results of the elections. So what are they doing about it? A manual recount. I'm sure there are NO chances for ballots to slip in there unnoticed. None at all. Manually recounting the votes, totally maintains the elements of a transparent elections. Just to make sure that these votes are correctly counted, the Iraqi's brought in the experts. Representatives from Florida to oversea the voting process. Representatives from the very state that botched the elections that brought George W. Bush into office in the first place. The irony just smarts.

Sadly, Iraq is not the only country to be experiencing this quasi-democracy, Sudan is also a prime example. But that's an entirely different topic.

It's a cruel and sad truth, Iraq appears to be a quasi democratic state , that really is teetering on the brink of civil war caused by sectarian unrest. Most Western news outlets fail to report this, as who to bear the responsibility for destroying a country which ultimately led to the eruption of a civil war. Would the Obama administration do something about it? Would Tony Blair or Gordon Brown? Or would history repeat itself, and watch the Western "peacekeepers" again pull out, and let the Iraqi's deal with the Iraqis? long as we have our oil contracts right?

So while I maintain my original belief that to be able to hold an election in Iraq is a monumental step forward, the lack of freedom, let alone fairness, just goes to show how much is left to be done.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tis a tickling white sensation...

One of the great things about living in a touristic area are the large parties that are thrown to keep the nightlife fresh and alive. One such party is held at Hurghada's Ministry of Sound three times a year...White Sensation. Moby has friend's visiting from Cairo, and as the White Sensation isn't a party that happens every week, many other Caireans also decided to make the trek up to Hurghada. But I'll get to that in a bit :p

I didn't realise that White Sensation was such a huge party, I thought it was another monthly themed event at MoS. Nor had I ever been to any type of white dress code party before. The effect is quite incredible. It's one of the few times I've seen up to 90 percent of the people dressing according to the theme, and this combined with all the white decorations and white costumes floating around give the impression of partying on the beach, in a snow palace. The music was awesome, the atmosphere was lively, and it was an overall great experience!

As is typical though with most big parties in Cairo, insert Cairean young men with high testosterone, and you're usually gonna end up with a bar fight. It happened during the Sham el-Nissim, huge bar fight at Buddha Bar, at a time when Hurghada was full of men on holiday from Cairo. Last night, same thing. Enter lots of pumped up guys, psyched to be outside of the city and surrounded by scantily clad women, it gets their blood pumping. Of course the MoS bouncers cleared them out pronto...but it really got me thinking.

Hurghada nightlife on a regular basis is a jovial environment, and most people living in Hurghada are extremely laid back. I've never witnessed a fight here other than at times when a lot of people from Cairo are visiting. It really goes to show the psychological impact that living in Cairo can have on you, not to mention the higher levels of aggression that many men in this country suffer from due to the inaccessibility of many women, the restrictions and costs to marry, and the completely frowned upon pre-marital sex. Now don't get me wrong, men in Hurghada often suffer from the same problems, although the influx of foreign women means that they are quite able to find a "partner" for a week, who will conveniently disappear once they leave, who never have to be introduced to either friends or family, you get the picture. And this is a story heard many many times here. But regardless of this, men in Hurghada, and Sharm, and Dahab, are surrounded by Westerners all the time, and Westerners clad in bikinis and beach gear. Not the "conservatively" dressed expats of Cairo.

Is this an indication of what the future holds in Egypt? For those who are more used to the open lifestyle evident in the beach and party towns of Egypt, a life of if not acceptance of a woman's sexuality, at least a tolerance thereof. Whereas should the trends from Cairo increase, a country where women, particularly Egyptian women, are rarely seen out and about, expat women will suffer from jeering and cat calls should they decide to wear even a remotely small tshirt, let alone bikini top, and men run around over-testosteroned and aggressive?

Just some of my thoughts for the day... hmmm...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Just when you can forget you're in Egypt

So I've been living in Hurghada just over two months now, and I love it. I love being just down the road (or up the road rather :p) from the beach, and the fresh air, and the overall feeling that you have left the crowded "Egyptianess" of Cairo.

Or so I thought! LOL. Minus the fact that Hurghada is still under construction in a lot of areas, it really is like a Mediterranean beach town. Just two streets down from us is a major road leading down to the main tourist strip Shara Sheraton, Moustafa Kamel. This is one of the few roads that is tarmacced all the way down, and can actually accomodate two way traffic. The rest of the streets around the area are being ripped up down the center to make way for the pipes.

Now, I'm not a construction worker, nor am I an architect. But in my limited experience with development (hahaha) it makes sense to place any pipes, water, gas, whatever, before tarmaccing the road. I'm sure I'm not alone in this mindset.

So keeping this in mind, I would have thought that Moustafa Kamel street had all the pipes placed underneath it already. But some genius in the Hurghada construction business, decided it made more sense to tarmac the road, and then put the pipes underneath it. A big WTF moment. Going out the other night to fetch some fresh veggies, about to walk down Moustafa Kamel, and was met by mountains of dirt, and NO TARMACCED ROAD.

Please, someone explain to me where the logic in this lies. It's so frustrating! WHY, WHY WHY WHY!!!! Needless to say, I've been reminded that I am still in Egypt, and that some decisions here just make no sense. Here's betting that Moustafa Kamel remains a dirt road for the next few years, until someone else in the construction business decides that it would make sense to tarmac it again. Talk about a waste of money....

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cinnamon Swirl Cupcakes

Who doesn't love cupcakes? A delicious little treat, that you can make as sweet as you like, and virtually any flavour under the sun. My last attempt at cupcakes was plain ol' vanilla, so I decided this time to spice it up a little bit. I've combined two different recipes here, to make the perfect Cinnamon Swirl Cupcake. And let me say, they are delicioussssss.....

**Note...I have cut the recipe in half, this yields 12 cupcakes in total. :D**

Here's what you'll need:

For the cupcakes:

113 grams of unsalted butter, room temperature

2/3 cup white sugar

3 large eggs (If you only want to use the whites...then 4 egg whites)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups of all-purpose white flour

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup milk

1 teaspoon lemon zest

** Preheat your oven to 170 degrees Celsius (350 Fahrenheit). **

Whisk together your flour and salt. In a separate bowl, beat your butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add your eggs one at a time to the butter mixture, mix well. Beat in your vanilla and lemon zest.

Add your flour mixture to butter and egg mixture, adding flour and milk alternatively to ensure a smooth consistency. Set the batter aside.

For your cinnamon swirl, you will need:

2 tablespoons white sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon cocoa powder (unsweetened)

Combine all three ingredients in a small bowl.

Take your batter and add one tablespoon of batter to your greased muffin tray (Or if you have cupcake papers, into the papers :D - I didn't, so I improvised lol). Using a teaspoon, sprinkle your cinnamon mixture on top of each cupcake. Add an additional 1 tablespoon of batter on top of each cupcake.

Finally, take a toothpick, and swirl your toothpick through each cupcake. I like to add a little extra cinnamon mixture on top, if you do, make sure you swirl that through with your toothpick too.

Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Once you've taken out your cupcakes, set them aside and use the time that they are cooling to make your frosting.

For your frosting you will need (**again, remember I cut this in half... and it still makes a LOT of frosting**):

2 cups of icing sugar
113 grams of softened butter (unsalted)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk

Combine all of the ingredients, and beat well until smooth. Spread on top of cupcakes! and Voila!

If you want a little added "pizazz," add a dash of the cinnamon mix (if you have any remaining) on top of the cupcake. They are sure to be a hit, no matter who you're serving to :D.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

One month later and 4.5 kgs heavier!

Time flies by when you're busy. Especially if you're busy trying to settle in and get started with a new environment and everything. One thing you're waking up wondering what to do with the day, next thing you're stressed about what to eat for dinner, something quick! Don't have time to make a huge meal! Rice and stuff it is!

Fortunately, I'm not talking about me. Ahh what it would be like to live the life of a dog. Wake up, eat, sleep, play, sleep, go outside, eat, sleep some more...maybe play a little bit again. Not only that, but if you're like the dogs I've known, you're fed extremely well. :p

Last month, Orien was a mere 8 kg. At 2 months old that is. Now, just a little over a month later, he appears to have lost his puppy chub. Or at least that's what I thought. "Doesn't he look skinny to you Karim? Maybe we're not feeding him enough," I'm sure this conversation has been had in many a dog-home. Lol.

Orien certainly gets fed quite well, kibbles, rice, meats, fresh veggies. He's not lacking (of course this leads to a picky eating dog...Lesson learned CHECK). I was still convinced he was losing weight, until yesterday that is.

Enter vet's office here. Final round of jabs for Orien, make sure he's ready to brave the new world outside. Chuck him on the scale there vet-old buddy old pal. Lets see if he has lost weight. No joke, I was expecting him to have dropped to 7 kgs, or weigh no more than 8.5 kgs at most. I couldn't have been more wrong. 4.5 kgs later, and I now have a 3 month old at 12.5 kg. Goodness, and I thought that he wasn't going to get that big :-p

Fingers crossed he hasn't noticed he's getting bigger yet, he's still convinced he's a lap dog. hehe.