Sunday, July 31, 2011

Diary of a Traveller, part 2

I should have updated this yesterday, but things have been a little hectic here!

So I arrived in Norway, albeit 12 hours later than I should have, but at least I made it. We've had two days of glorious sunshine for the Norwegians, and I'm watching now as the dark thunderheads are rolling in, hoping for a cracking storm!

My flight from Cairo went seamlessly, minus a delay. When I inquired as to what this delay was caused by, I was told that Greek air traffic control were striking (how unusual, Greeks on strike :p) and as a result the airplane had to be routed around Greek airspace on its way into Cairo.

A landscape of clouds
This re-routing caused an hours delay in the plane arriving in Cairo, subsequently delaying us for an hour. This 60 minute delay caused over 50 % of the passengers on my flight to be stranded in Amsterdam, me included among them. Seriously, I think I'm a cursed traveller! At first I dreaded that it was going to end up like the delays I had with Air France, and was expecting hours of waiting time in Amsterdam.

Thankfully however, KLM handled the delay flawlessly. Upon entering the Terminal, we were directed exactly where we needed to go to get our new boarding passes. KLM had already re-booked everyone who had missed their connections onto new flights. In addition, they had already arranged to put us up into hotels for the night. I had my new boarding pass, food vouchers, and directions on where to get my hotel reservation within ten minutes. Nothing like the nightmare I had with Air France last year!

Check-in desk at the hotel. I thought this was brilliant!
Once I got my hotel, I was given a welcome drink and one free hour of wi-fi usage. Unfortunately for me, my computer did not want to recognise the site they had given us, so the wi-fi was of no use to me. I was also given 5 minutes of free calling time, but being the genius that I am, I'd forgotten to jot down the number of my Dad who was meant to be picking me up. :-| Instead I was calling the US, and K back in Egypt, to try and get someone to get in touch with my sister to let her know about the delay. Once I arrived in Norway, I learned that they had both been at the airport the night before waiting for my plane. Ooops :-S

So unlike my previous delays in flying, and my recommendation to never fly Air France, I would eagerly recommend KLM for anyone, including the weary traveller.

More updates on my Norwegian adventures to follow!

Patchwork quilt that is Amsterdam from the air. This was
taken at 9 pm at night!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Diary of a Traveller, part 1

I'm currently sat in Cairo International Airport waiting for my flight to Amsterdam. Usually when I'm flying out of Cairo, I'll take the bus from Hurghada and then make my way to the airport. After my last trip on the bus, which was disastrous to say the least, I vowed that I would never again be sat on that bus.

This morning, I flew from Hurghada. The flight is so short, you literally take off, finish your beverage, and are told to re-fasten your seatbelts. AWESOME. I love short flights, especially when the alternative is a 5 hour (minimum) ride in a bumpy, smelly, sweaty, often times roller coaster take your life in your hands bus ride.

Flying over Hurghada allowed me to take some fantastic pictures. It reminds me every day of how lucky I am to be able to wake up living here, despite its ups and downs. When you live by this, you have to count your blessings.

Birds eye view of Hurghada's coastline

Travelling to me has always been an adventure. I am constantly reminded of the incredibly true sentiments expressed in the film "Fight Club," of the single serving friends. The single serving drinks. The single serving meals. I'm currently enjoying my single serving pizza slice, with my single serving coffee. I have met many single serving friends travelling; sitting in the airport I wonder where in the world they are today.

I think one thing that "Fight Club" film failed to portray in their narrative on airports and travel was the advantage of such 'single serving' experiences. I love the emotional atmosphere in an airport. Name me one other place in the world that you can relish in people watching in such extreme states. Joy at being reunited with a family; fatigue following many long hours of flight only to head into yet another business meeting; tears for those departing their loved ones; and the oh so familiar human sprint for people rushing to their gates before it closes, having almost missed their flights. Or one of my personal favourites: People with carry on luggage that is evidently far too large, yet are convinced with their continued thrusting, jostling, pushing and squeezing that they will morph their bag into a shape that will miraculously fit the overhead bins.

Two things to always remember when travelling - aside the obvious passport and ticket :p - a good book and some good music. I have flown many times in the past few years without the addition of a laptop that runs on batteries, let alone one with wifi access. Today, I am spoiled :D.

My trusty literature companion today is fitting in many ways.

So far so good, I'm enjoying the erratic writing style, and the familiarity that the author creates with the reader.

Today also marks the first time that I have come through the airport since the Jan 25th Revolution. One thing that struck me were the inspirational posters that are hung up throughout the airport. There were three hanging over baggage claim in the Domestic arrivals. I have yet to see any in the International Terminal. If I do I will be sure to snap some shots. 

Also surprising is the lack of Army or Security in general in the airports. I flew from Hurghada without having my passport checked once; thankfully I really am who I say I am, but that makes me nervous for the security situation in this country. I could have literally been anyone using my ticket! Also here in Cairo Airport is a lack of security. One thing not lacking though are the flocks of people evidently heading to Saudi Arabia for a mini-hajj pilgrimage before the beginning of Ramadan. Women dressed in long flowing white robes and hijabs are everywhere; fortunately I do not yet have to brave the crowd as I have a bit of a layover.

Oh, and for those who are wondering about the system of corruption in Egypt: The very long queues make for prime pickings for those looking for a weary traveller to extort. I was approached by someone who enthusiastically took my bags, assuring me he "knew the line to get in to." He takes me to the second baggage control point, and tells me "the policeman there will take baksheesh (tips) for you to have no line." much baksheesh? "Well, he's boliceman (spelling intended), so nice baksheesh." I politely took my bags back, and went to sit in the cafe. Nice to see some things never change though :)

PS - word to the wise for Cairo airport employees. The free bus shuttle service from one terminal to the next is great. But please instruct your bus drivers to announce where they are stopping. I almost got off in the wrong place THREE times, having been assured that the bus goes directly to Terminal 1. I suppose in some ways I did have to be reminded I was in Cairo, and lucky not to have taken the bus. Rather than the 5 hours in a dank and smelly bus, I had 10 minutes in the crowded, leap while still moving, airport shuttle bus.

Now off to continue the rest of my adventures. In the meantime, feast your eyes on some of these beautiful pictures.

Red Sea morning!

Who said Cairo was in the desert? LIES! ;)

Fertile Nile Valley

Another sign in the airport :)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Update on Hurghada Attack

For those following the previous posting, B has taken the time to create a sketch of the ringleader of the gang that attacked her. Below is this image. If you see this man, contact Mahmoud Awad: 0101640660 (Arabic) or Captain Alaa: 0101322930 (Arabic and English).

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What is happening Egypt?

Since the January 25th Revolution, Egypt has been different. A natural occurrence for a post-revolution state; politicians are resigning, corrupt officials are being arrested, the people feel they hold the power, and criminals run amok.

Oh I'm sorry, is that last option not one that we're supposed to discuss? Because that certainly seems to be the stream of thought in many outlets. Embassies will ignore reports of rape, police will sit with their hands tied when cars are stolen, criminal gangs who have robbed, attacked, shot at, and terrorised people remain free. And where is the coverage of these events? Why are people continuing about their every day lives, all be it a little more tense, as though everything were normal?

The image that people are being fed of Egypt today is a country of progressive change and the natural ups and downs of transition to "democracy." It still seems that for the outside world, Tahrir is the window into Egypt. The reality on the inside is different - drastically so.

Just over one month ago now, I heard a horrible story of a woman, we'll call her B [name changed for privacy reasons], being attacked in the desert near Mubarak 2. B had been out walking her dogs, when a group of 5 men, some with swords for weapons, ambushed her. They robbed her of all her possessions, stole her car, and attempted to rape her. Had these 5 men not been interrupted by another person walking their dogs in the desert, I dread to think what might have happened.

B has been understandably terrified. She went through what she thought were all the right avenues to ensure that this gang would be apprehended. She spent hours in the police station recalling the details of her attackers. Any woman who has tried to report a sex crime in Egypt will know, it is ALWAYS the woman's fault. It does not matter how the attack happened, it does not matter if you were an unsuspecting victim. B was told that she should not have been walking her dogs in the desert and it was her own fault that she was attacked. She was even told "you have a garden, just let your dogs go there." The concept of actually walking a dog for exercise is foreign to many Egyptians.

This is where B had her car parked in the desert by Calypso

One would hope that the police, with B's accurate description of her attackers in hand [see below], would canvass the neighbourhood. Canvass they did, but not to uncover the gang of men. They went around to Bs housekeeper, asking if it was common for her to have male visitors. They wanted to establish a pattern whereby in Egypt B would be considered a whore, thereby ensuring that she herself must have somehow prompted the attack.

B did not give up there. The day of the attack, while B was still stuck at the police station, her friend phoned the German Consul Peter Ely. B was then informed via SMS of a meeting that she should attend, which she was unable to as she was still stuck in the police station. B herself sent an email to the German Consul, who then forwarded her complaint to the German Embassy in Cairo. The embassy was impudent; they blamed B for not having attended the meeting that she was clearly instructed to attend by an embassy employee. Yet no such employee ever contacted her.

Many people would call it quits here. B did not. She tried to contact media, nobody would pick up her story.

She has taken her story to the internet, and a group was created for people residing in Hurghada to tell their experiences here. The group is designed to shatter the image that has been created for people intent on visiting Hurghada, "All is well, all is safe, have no fear."

As long as it was only local residents being attacked - and let me note that B's incident is not isolated, there are many reports of burglaries, car jackings, purse snatching, and theft that run rampant in the streets - the government saw no reason to alarm tourists. Local residents have continued to post their information in the new Hurghada news group, and were sadly not shocked to learn that the gang that attacked B struck again two nights ago.

This time is was a German tourist and his 17 year old daughter who became the victims.

The 2 were being driven on the outer Ring Road of Hurghada when a silver Hyundai Elantra approached their car on the side. They attempted to get the car to pull over. When the driver did not stop the car, the passenger travelling in the Elantra pulled out a gun and attempted to shoot out the tires of the German's car. The Elantra continued to try and push the car into the desert. After an 8 km chase, 2 trucks appeared in the distance which prompted the Elantra to speed off.

As soon as this information was posted in Hurghada news, it became evident that this gang was the same gang as had attacked B. Down to the final details: one of the 5 men wears a white and checkered headscarf.

Sadly, as the reality is in Egypt, both stories have already been warped by rumours. I have been told that B was attacked in any number of locations throughout Hurghada. Having just spoken to her, I can confirm that she was attacked in the desert between Mubarak 2 and the street that Calypso lies on.

This blog is a message. To those living in Egypt and those hoping to visit. Despite what the media might be trying to tell you (or rather, not tell you), do not forget that there are still many criminals unaccounted for. The trade in illicit guns has spiked drastically since this time last year. Egypt is not the safe haven it once used to be. Don't be stupid, stay alert and aware. Keep your doors and windows locked at night, and do NOT engage anyone in the streets.

Here is B's description of her attackers.

Description of the perpetrators of 13 June 2011.

5 young men aged around 20 -25 years.
Size: 1.75 - 1.80 m; slim
4 of the criminals were wearing normal casual wear, jeans and T-shirts, very clean.

1 - probably the boss of the gang - was wearing military clothing (camouflage French or American) and a beige vest. His head was covered with a headscarf Palestinian style (Yasser Arafat wore this pattern). It was bound as it is often seen on quad safaris. His skin colour: light brown, large hanging eyes, thin face, thin beard around the mouth and chin.

2 of the criminals were armed with swords. The swords had a length of 90 cm and were wavelike jagged, Color: matt silver.

Model of the stolen cars: Daewoo Lanos, built in 2004, with anthracite bright sun spots on hood and trunk lid, car license plates: ط ر د ٢٥٣٤

Below are some links with more information on the current situation in Egypt: 

Interior ministry: Police cracking down on crime, searching for 110,000 suspects and fugitives

Gun policy and figures [these figures start from a few years back - pay attention to the government figures, many of these guns were stolen during the revolution]

Arms thriving in Upper Egypt [and the number of Upper Egyptians living in Hurghada has increased exponentially..coincidence?]

You may request an invite to the Hurghada news group here.

And for women, find information on how to avoid harrassment and MAKE YOUR OWN PEPPER SPRAY here

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Re-blog "Letters from Egypt: Tahrir, in Itself, a Nation"

Reblogged from my fellow blogging buddy, this echos my sentiments exactly of how I interpreted this piece. Change in Egypt starts in your own neighbourhood. Continuing to go to Tahrir to "assess how the situation will pan out and therefore can be applied to Egypt" is the most mundane reason to continue protesting. Obviously the social problems are evident, obviously protesting now will not change these underlying issues. Change takes time Egypt; I only hope that more people in Tahrir will come to see this viewpoint.

You can change a country’s leader, but until the people change everything will remain the same. However, what Egyptian is going to listen to this when it comes from a foreigner? After all, what would WE know about Egypt? So when it comes from a fellow Egyptian finally realizing this, you have to hope that the words will sink in to his fellow Egyptians.

It seems international media attention has dismissed the present demonstrations in Egypt as secondary stories at best, and it might surprise you to know that I completely concur. It is not news worthy considering the battles waging in Libya, Yemen and even Bahrain; however, this is my life at the moment. A good friend of mine passed along this blog from which details one Tahrir Square sit-in’s perspective.

I felt the blog was incredibly too long and wordy to really captivate and hold reader attention, but nonetheless offered very valid viewpoints as to how Tahrir sit-ins are an experiment as to how Egypt really functions. The excerpt also has the author coming to the conclusion that the sit-ins are pointless as those participating are just creating the same environment within the square that they are supposedly fighting to ban (yet at the end he still urges others to join Tahrir which is a little mindnumbing).

The author and friends created a tent community, but after having various onlookers asking intrusive questions and leering at the females present, they organized the tents in a circle only allotting for one entrance/exit and created a safe-haven in the center. The Sandmonkey said, “In essence, without noticing, we – the people judging suburban compounds as being elitist and classist – created one without noticing.”

Sandmonkey also posed other parallels like allowing three children into the safety zone, and while offering snacks, later expecting the children to partake in helping keep the area clean, putting up supplies, etc. (child labor) or the volunteers at the security check points into Tahrir eventually bowing down to accept bribes from street venders trying to gain access (security breaches and corruption).

“For some people, what I just recounted will be heartbreaking, but to me it’s brilliant because it’s a learning experience in governance unlike anything the world has ever seen. And it gives all of those new parties and movements that aim to rule the country a chance to take a much closer look at the issues facing us and figure out the limitations of their solutions and cracks in their organizational structure.” The real heartbreaker in this is that very few will recognize these points.

The author also noted that while searching people at the checkpoint, even if a few “bad apples” were present, that people act right if an “imposing figure shows up and treats people decently no matter how much they abused him with rudeness.” Well, I can parallel this story on my own: Have any of you left Egypt to go to Europe or the US? The simple concept of a line is lost in translation here, but when leaving the country, these people somehow find the meaning of a line and other proper mannerisms. However, upon leaving these destinations traveling back to Egypt, you find that the lawlessness that they seemed to have momentarily put aside, is back in full force. When I flew back to Cairo on Delta from JFK in NYC in November 2009, I was astounded at the lack of courtesy, simple adherence to basic rules and just complete disrespect for everyone. Egyptians tried to cut one another in line over and over again, five different ticket holders at once tried to bombard the Delta representative, the two bag carry-on per person apparently didn’t apply to them, etc. The same occurrence happens each year I travel to the UAE. Egyptians can act right, but they just choose to ignore the rules and see how far they can get by doing so and with no real government or police force in place, you see the anarchy that has loomed (please note this isn’t all Egyptians as a few anomalies exist, but this is a big chunk).

“But the ultimate lesson came from one thing: ‘No Military Trials for Civilians,’” said Sandmonkey. “We might never control this country or rule it, but that may not be our role. Our role is to frame the debate and the demands, push and advocate for them by explaining to people how they relate and benefit.”

To view this long-winded excerpt, you may click “Tahrir: An Exercise in Nation Building


While reforming the nation seems to be at the top of everyone’s list, something else that should be added is the ban of selling underage girls to Emiratis, Saudis and the like. I've known of this existing for awhile, but I was just informed that a hospital in El Bardrshen falsifies documents to say that a young girl is 16 when in fact she is younger (and often times much younger) for these “Gulfies” to marry. The age in Egypt for legalized marriage of a female is 16 and what happens to these girls?

The Arab man marries her, takes her virginity and leaves after the summer. Paying a one-time fee is all that’s required by the families (around LE 17,000 or approximately $2,900). And what happens to this young girl? If she does get pregnant, well – it’s her own responsibility. She will never see the man again not only to regale the abuses that she will suffer in that month to two months of torture. In this society, once a female has lost her virginity, she will more than likely remain unmarried and an outcast (or worse, forced into a life of prostitution).

So Dear Egypt, you want change, look within.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A zoo on the edge?

This article sheds light on the infamous Lion Village located on the way to Alexandria. I'm actually surprised that the reporter was evidently shocked by the amount of garbage littering the place. Obviously they have never visited Giza Zoo; the trash there, as I pointed out in my blog post about it, was one of the biggest problems they had to face.

I also wonder why the reporter mentions nothing about visitors' ability to have their pictures taken with the "tame" lion cubs and lionesses.

The report is shocking, and begs the question as to why the zoo is being granted a new license, but when you see who is overseeing this licensing, it's sadly less surprising.

Taken from Al-Masri Al-Yawm, the report is below.

Lion Village: A zoo on the edge

In recent years, the environmental office has been regularly asked by visitors and activists to take measures to improve the state of the zoo at the Lion Village, located an hour and a half from Cairo, at Km 59 of the Cairo-Alexandria desert road. After two inspections over the past month by the environmental office, the license should be renewed shortly even though the zoo’s state is far from being ideal.
The first thing customers notice when they step into the zoo is a big cage in which a lion and a lioness are lying down. Although the zoo is located in the middle of the desert and experiences scorching heat in this season, the lions’ cage is obviously devoid of a water trough, and none can be spotted anywhere nearby.
When justifying himself, Ahmed al-Timsah, the owner and captain of the Lion Village, is full of contradictions. At one point he says that “every now and then, a worker puts water in a bucket and then removes it because otherwise the lions spill it”, but later asserts that there is a trough in a corner of a cage attached to the first one, which provides unlimited access to water all day. Black, filthy water fills its bottom.
When night comes, the lions retreat into inside compartments, where they cannot reach the water trough, which according to Timsah is fine, as “they are not thirsty at night anyway.”
As the zoo tour starts, one might notice how low the ostriches’ fence is, enough to let them approach and bite you.
“Ostriches, just like camels and dogs, are all predators but they’re not dangerous,” explains Timsah. Laughing out loud, he exclaims “Bite? Ostriches don’t bite!" but does not say what they do with their famous, harmful nozzle move that people fear so much.
Next stop: the hyena’s cage. One on each side, they walk back and forth. They do not stop. They do not pay attention to each other or the visitors. Timsah comments that “they’re just playing because it’s breeding period." But hyenas do not usually walk back and forth when breeding - on the contrary they tend to approach and court each other.
Around the corner, trash covers the animals’ cages. A monkey is playing, chewing a plastic bag as if it were a branch, while his neighbor has to deal with three plastic bags and some burger packaging on the ground of its cage. A bit further along, plastic cups and more trash are stashed in the cavity of a tree in the dogs' area. This tree is out of reach for customers, and Timsah says that “a little kid or a worker” must have put the trash there: “the place is usually very clean, it’s just not today.” He apologizes and adds “Egyptian people are very bad, as well as the people who work here.”  
Talking about misbehaving, some might have fun opening the cage door as there is no lock. "Bad" people who enjoy themselves by throwing trash in cages - or climbing a fence to hide a cup in the dogs’ area - might find it hilarious to free rabbits, dogs or other mammals.
The tour reaches the eastern side of the village and roars become louder as the tiny cages in which breeding lions lie becomes visible. The narrow cages don’t enable stretching in width, only in length. In the tiniest, two lion cubs sit next to each other, unable to move far from each other. Timsah justifies this by saying: “They were small when we got the cages.”
Despite the state of the zoo, Abdelwahab Khaddam, who inspected it on the behalf of the Wildlife Department of Giza Zoo last June, insists “it’s a very good place, and as long as the animals look happy and the standards are respected, the Lion Village can have a license.” Later mentioning the public complaints about it, Khaddam comes back on his comment : “it’s not that bad but it’s not very great.”
The Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) came on 13 July to renew Timsah’s yearly license, which expired at least five months ago. He requested a new one in October 2010, but no one from the environmental office showed up before June 2011.
According to the EEAA report and Timsah, their recommendations deal with the trash, the lion’s sleeping area, and the care given to water treatment, as most of the troughs were filled with dark and dirty water. Nothing else. They promised him that he would get a license within four days, while he promised that those changes would be made within seven days. In other words, he will be granted his license before starting any improvement work.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Egypt to fire 700 cops

This story ran today in the BBC. Having spoken to a friend of mine who has been in Tahrir this past week of new protests, the fact that the police would be fired had already circulated. Accordingly, they are not satisfied with this, and protesters still wish to see the police who were accused of killing protesters tried in a court of law. Recent rumours from Tahrir also indicate that pamphlets are being handed out by an unknown group, pushing for the formation of a presidential council in Egypt to include al-Baradei and leading Muslim Brotherhood members. I cannot imagine that the SCAF will welcome such news, as they have already made it very clear that they have no intentions of relinquishing power.

May it also be noted that critics and analysts have noted that the Egyptian elections may not even occur until 2013. With the SCAF's recent announcement that September would not actually see a vote, this date may not be far off.

Here's the story from the BBC:

Almost 700 senior police officers in Egypt are being removed from their jobs over the killing of protesters during the revolution earlier this year.
Interior Minister Mansour Essawy said 505 generals and 164 officers would end their service on 1 August.
The move comes as protests continue in Cairo's Tahrir Square, calling for the speedy trials of police officers and corrupt Mubarak-era officials.
The military also confirmed that polls set for September would be delayed.
"It has been decided to hold [parliamentary elections] in October or November," an official from Egypt's interim ruling military council told the Mena state news agency on Wednesday.
Many of Egypt's new political parties have called for the vote to be delayed so that they can compete against better organised and more powerful opposition groups, notably the Muslim Brotherhood.
On Tuesday, the military said it would draft guidelines for selecting the 100-member assembly that will write a new Egyptian constitution. That could make it more difficult for any Islamist-led legislature to choose the body and thereby give the charter an Islamist slant, analysts say.
'Biggest shakeup'
As protests in Tahrir Square entered a sixth straight day, the interior ministry - which oversees the much detested security services, known for their brutality under the Mubarak regime - unveiled what it termed the "biggest shakeup in the police force's history".
Among those dismissed were 505 major-generals, including 10 of the interior minister's top assistants, 82 colonels, and 82 brigadiers, the report said.
Egyptian state TV said that 37 of the dismissed officers face charges of killing protesters.
More than 800 protesters were killed during the 18-day revolt that led to the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak on 11 February.
The move seems to be a victory for Egypt's embattled Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, says the BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo. An earlier announcement by him to take similar action was blocked by the interior minister.
Protesters have vowed to keep up pressure on Egypt's military rulers. They are calling for a new government, limited power for the military council, the release of civilians being tried in military tribunals, and speedy public trials for former regime officials.

Old story, but worth rehashing

I don't actually remember writing this piece for the BCA, and stumbled upon it while running a Google search for my name. That being said, it is a piece that still rings hauntingly true in Cairo today, and I felt pertinent to repost the link on here.

So check it out!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Round two...Fight!

I'm starting to think that Hurghada's Ministry of Water Resources secretly plants testosterone into all water coming through the city. I cannot find another rational excuse for this debauchery. 

From what I was able to gather - the owner of the Mercedes pictured was absolutely furious that our street had been dug up again. (to be fair, it is dug up on average once a month - you would think that after the first time they'd check what other pipes have to be laid, and do it all at once. Unfortunately, such logic evades Hurghada engineers).

His reaction was anger, and in my humble opinion, brash arrogance and immaturity. I saw no need for him to start cursing at the construction workers; evidently karma agreed, and this was the end result. Might I add, that my bowab Mohammed is in green, and obviously still sore from his encounter the other night. As you can see in the video, at the first sign of trouble he hightails on out of there. Good for you Mohammed! 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Egypt's cops at work

K and I were woken up abruptly last night at 1-30 a.m. by shouting in the street just underneath our window. At first we figured it was the usual weekend night party-goers returning home after one too many drinks from the club. When after a few minutes the noise still had not dissipated, we both began wondering what was going on.

K went outside to check on the situation and to tell the rowdy people to kindly 'stfu' as there were people trying to sleep. Initially, it appeared his request was heeded, as the shouting quietened down. Briefly.

Within two minutes it had erupted again, accompanied by loud banging and aggressive, gruff voices shouting out insults and threats. K went back outside to assess the situation, which had evidently escalated. One guy was outside shouting up and down that our building was harbouring a man who owes him 3,000 LE (505 U.S. $). Our bowab (doorman) Mohammed and the doorman of our neighbouring building Gomaa were preventing these men from accessing our building, who were threatening to break into the building and break down the door of the apartment that was "allegedly" holding the man. The situation escalated, as any similar situation would in Egypt, and what was initially two bowabs preventing 3 men from entering our building, ended up with no less than 15 guys downstairs.

One was carrying a long stick, with which he hit our bowab Mohammed. Fearing that this brawl would come into our building, K did the smart thing and phoned the police, then promptly phoned the building landlord (who up until that point had no idea what was happening outside of his building). The police showed up within 5 minutes (talk about rapid response!). While I was expecting the police to begin arresting people, instead they started getting the stories from the multitude of people outside. During this procession, our landlord showed up with a car full of men. These guys got out, stormed up to the crowd, and found out that our bowab had been attacked. This resulted in them jumping the guy with the stick, and at least three people kicking him and thumping him. I'm sure he ended up with a few broken ribs.

It's not until today that we got the truth of what happened. The police have interrogated everyone, and it turns out that these boys were only owed 75 LE (12 U.S. $), and had exaggerated the figure in an attempt to legitimize them breaking into our building to beat up some guy who DOES NOT EVEN LIVE HERE, and merely cleaned one of the apartments downstairs. He had allegedly showed up shortly before the "gang," and had hidden on our building's roof.

Needless to say, you can see in the video the crowd that ended up outside our building. Unfortunately I didn't get the fight on camera, what you see is the immediate aftermath and you can hear the guy crying out "get me my civil rights." (I'm not a video whizz, so although I could adjust the contrast of the video watching on Media Player, I don't know how to save those changes.)

I am shocked that firstly the police showed up as quickly as they did, and although didn't rapidly dissolve the situation, did end up getting the story straight and taking the thugs into custody. I am thankful that our neighbourhood have bowabs that are not afraid to stand up for people, which really made us feel secure in our choice of location to live.

Never a dull moment in Egypt!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

ESMA Adoption Campaign Information

Compassion – noun: A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

When you think of compassion, what images come to your mind? Many of us associate compassion with a kindred human spirit; to see suffering in another human being is often unbearable. But there’s a special kind of compassion that can be found deep within; compassion for the animals that share the world around us. 

The Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals (ESMA) survives on this compassion and a deeper understanding of the bonds that can be shared between man and beast. ESMA is a non-profit animal rights organization based in Cairo which began its operations in 2007 in response to the mass shootings of dogs and cats. Surviving on a group of dedicated volunteers, ESMA has helped to change the lives of many a person and animal alike.

The streets of Cairo are notorious homes to many a stray cat and dog. These animals are often forgotten victims of the rush of city-life. ESMA has taken in hundreds of critical cases in need of urgent veterinary care and compassionately helped them on the road to recovery. At this time, ESMA’s shelter is home to approximately 600 cats and dogs rescued from the streets. These animals are looking for their forever homes, and this is where you can come in.

Rescuing an animal not only means you have given them a second chance in life.  The rewarding feeling that comes with rescuing an Egyptian stray lasts for years and years to come; each day, you can wake up knowing that you have truly made a difference in the life of one animal. This in stark contrast to the increasing trend of “designer dogs and cats” that is sweeping the country; where has this sentiment come from? Sadly, this is only increasing the number of animals that are left without homes as many people will take in a purebred only to later realize that they are not equipped to deal with the special needs of these dogs and cats. ESMA has seen it all.

Deputy Adoption Coordinator for ESMA Alaa Sharshar comments on the growing number of abandoned animals in Cairo, saying “In Egypt we have just experienced a Revolution. Everyone is proud to be Egyptian at the moment. Shouldn’t this mean that we should also be proud to give the Egyptian animals a kind and loving home?” Hauntingly true words spoken by this dedicated ESMA volunteer. Mr. Sharshar explains that he has overseen the adoption of a number of animals, cats and dogs being adopted within Egypt, and even some lucky cases being flown outside of the country for international adoptions. He assured me that ESMA is fully prepared for many adoption and foster home scenarios. ESMA animals are fully vet-checked and microchipped, and the animals that are old enough are safely spayed and neutered in an effort to prevent further overpopulation. Mr. Sharshar encourages people to get in touch with him directly to see what it is that you can do to help improve the life of one of Egypt’s animals.

Open your hearts and your doors to rescuing an animal, and you’ll wonder why you have not done so earlier. For more information, contact Alaa Sharshar on: 019 082 4552 or visit

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Auction for the Animals

Horses are one of my passions. I love riding, I love being with them, I love their majesty, basically everything about them. This is one of the reasons that the ongoing crisis with the horses in Cairo breaks my heart in so many ways. But at the end of every tunnel there is light. The continuing horse feeds with ESMA have managed to revive animals close to death, and although there is a long ways to go, the road seems less tiring with the multitude of support and generosity that has poured in.

The continued horse feeds are now watched with anticipation around the world. Indeed, there are two stories of human generosity and the unimaginable will to survive of a horse. Prince Fluffy Karim (PFK) and Na3na3 (which means "mint" in Arabic) are names notorious with the ESMA horse feeds. Rescued by one selfless student, Na3Na3 and PFK were in some of the worst conditions that the horse feeds have yet to see. Marte, the student, had to do something, and immediately set wheels in motion. She bought Na3Na3 and PFK over a 4 week period, and has tirelessly worked to getting both of them healthy, and happy, again.
Prince Fluffy Karim on the day that he was rescued
Na3Na3 on the day she was rescued, not even
enough energy to stand

Marte has not been alone. Facebook has generated a phenomenal amount of support for these two horses, and the buck does not stop here! The next big event for PFK and Na3Na3 is one that we can all participate in; an auction for the animals. All proceeds will go towards ESMA and the horse feeds, in the hopes that perhaps we can ease the burden of life for more animals than just PFK and Na3Na3. Here's how:

ESMA, who we raise awareness for, have only enough funds for ONE more feed. Ramadan is nearly here and because of fasting no one will hand out feed for four weeks – meaning our horses will die of hunger. We are holding an online auction, where team members donate an item for sale with the full sale proceeds going to ESMA. and I am asking all of you to help.


Take a picture of an item you wish to DONATE (clean/working order please, if not new)

  • Write a concise description of it.

  • Find out the postage cost to post within your country and tell us what country you are in.

  • Find out the postage cost for overseas. (other side of the world)

  • Send this information with a photo to      (Colin Ball is admin for this)

When the auction goes live, if you would like to bid on other peoples donated items, look through the items in the album on PFK’s face book site and to bid just use the comments box underneath and type the amount you wish to
bid. I.e., …..I bid £2.50 …..This will continue, possibly with others out bidding you, until the date and time arrives for the auction to end.

Colin will email who has won the winning bid with instructions on how to pay, we have set up a special account within Colin’s own on-line shop for this – you can only bid if you have Paypal, please do not bid if you cannot use Paypal.
Once you have paid you will be put in touch by email with the seller of your item and between you decide how you send the postage money to them, Paypal, Chq, Postal Order etc. Once they receive your postage money they will
send you the item.

My suggestion therefore is smaller items that you maybe bought and never used but will suit someone else a treat. It’s for a fantastic cause and I hope lots of you join in. Other charities do this al lot and its good fun and very helpful for the charity. Quite frankly this is the horses’ only hope at the moment so PLEASE help. I try not to ask directly for money on the site because I think the site is about more than that, we are a family but we do need your best foot forward right now TK’s.

 As you can see we are all working on a huge amount of trust, so please behave in a genuine and honest manner if participating in the auction. We can only put you in touch with each other the rest is up to you.

Thank you Teamsters

Come on guys, I know that you have at least one or two things lying around your house that you look at and think "hmm, I should really donate that," or "Why did I never use this?" And all you have to do is take a picture. That's it!!! Come the end of the Auction you will find out who has purchased your item, et voila! The expression "one man's junk is another man's treasure" couldn't be more true in this case. And who knows, maybe you'll uncover some treasure of your own in this auction!

For more information or to learn more about the heroic stories of Na3na3 and PFK, visit their facebook page.

Prince Fluffy Karim and Na3Na3 say thank you!