Sunday, December 30, 2007

An Endless Task

Everywhere you go in Egypt at almost any time of the day, you will see someone sweeping. Cairo and Giza are in the Nile Valley, but the Nile Valley is in the middle of an enormous desert, so dust is everywhere. The amount of dust that might collect in my house in Canada in a week would be maybe a quarter of the amount of dust that collects in my house in Egypt in a day. Can you learn to love dust?

Now playing: Fathy Salama - Nahawand
via FoxyTunes

Friday, December 28, 2007

Ornaments from Egypt

We have very talented glass blowers in Egypt who make glassware out of recycled glass, perfume bottles and also lovely handblown glass Christmas ornaments. I saw these on display as I was walking down Road 9 in Maadi.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas picnic

Christmas Day in Cairo was sunny and fairly warm. A light jacket wasn't out of place but the sunshine felt great. One of my neighbours in this rather equestrian oriented neighbourhood decided that a ride to one of the hills in the desert near us and a picnic would be a fun way to spend a Christmas afternoon. We rode out to a point where my neighbour's jeep brought some rugs, lunch for us and a snack for the horses. Hope that your Christmas is as nice as mine.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Grey Ceiling

Maybe it's because we have so much sunshine here that makes our clouds so interesting to me. This heavy bank of clouds were bringing some rain to our dusty streets.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Where to Go On The Holiday

Not all the visitors to the Giza pyramids are foreigners. During the Great Feast (Eid el Adha) Egyptians have about 4 days of holidays and some of them decided to visit the pyramids on Friday. The guards seemed to have been concerned about crowds and were restricting the number of visitors on the plateau, so we had a lovely time visiting on horseback. Ordinarily, there would have been about eight to ten times the number.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Cairo Christmas Tree

I had to go to a big shopping mall because Carrefour has much better prices on milk than other stores and my 6 week old filly who has to be bottle fed is going through about fifteen litres of milk a day. Instant bankruptcy! On the way out, we spotted this Christmas tree made up of pointsettia plants. Merry Christmas all.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Beginning To Look A Lot Like....

Christmas trees in Egypt are usually cypress or juniper rather than the pines of North America and Europe. Somehow it isn't quite the same.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

After School

Like boys almost anywhere in the world, this group is wheel-mad. A Saturday afternoon is best spent with friends and bicycles. I watched the tentative attempts at "no hands" while waiting for a friend.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sweet Potato Seller

As the weather cools the sweet potato vendors come out with their carts of sweet potatoes and an oven in which they bake them. The cooked potatoes are sold with a small twist of a mix of salt, pepper and herbs. Great snacks.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Another Brilliant Sunset

The one good payoff from pollution.....

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Our Disappearing Valley

Everyone overestimates the actual size of Egypt. On the map it's pretty big, but in reality, it is tiny. Most of the country is desert, empty and barren. There may be water out there but it isn't readily available. There isn't any electricity or service or even roads outside of the oases, so people build in the Nile Valley, which is narrow enough that you can see across it anywhere south of Cairo. Someday it will be gone.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Man At A Street Light

Cairo's roads are full of entertaining individuals, particularly at the stop lights. In Alexandria, there was a woman who always carried a baby. The baby never seemed to get any older and there never was a new one, exactly. Some people would feel very sorry for her and be quite generous....others wondered how she managed to keep her child that exact age for so long. And then there was a man at another corner (there's a certain territoriality to traffic light denizens) who spent his days talking to the sky and washing people's cars. One day he cleaned my front window so I gave him half a pound. He walked around the car and gave it to my daughter. You never really know what the story is.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The School Bus

I was on my way into town to do some urban errands and school had just let out in the larger village near me. It runs in two shifts, children come mornings and go home just at noon and then others come for the afternoon. Part of this has to do with the fact that there are too many students for the school and part with the fact that these kids usually have to help out with the family farm or business as well as attend school. There are a very few buses around for children, usually for the very young, and the rest of the children get to school and back by any means that they find. These two scamps jumped on the back of a pickup loaded with tomatoes to catch a ride home.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The National Sport

If ever a country was made for photography, it is Egypt. Not only are there so many subjects available, but the light itself is extraordinary.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Camels Yes, Rain No

One of the wonderful things about Egypt to my way of thinking is the fact that we get about 360 days of sunshine in Cairo/Giza. But sometimes we don't. I took some friends of mine to the Giza plateau on camels on a day of storms blowing down the valley leaving us with wonderful patterns of sun and shadow in the desert. When I warned them to bundle up as we were a bit late in the day and the wind by the pyramids could be bitter, I got some pretty patronising smiles. "Poor thing, she's gone soft living here for so long". Those smiles changed to chattering teeth when that wind came blasting past the pyramids and crawling inside sweaters. And when it started raining, well....

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Smoke in the Wind

Cairo has the unfortunate honour of being one of the most polluted cities in the world, which is one reason that I live on the edge of the western desert. Oddly enough, one of the reasons for the pollution can't be seen easily unless the wind is blowing enough of the crud out of the valley for the chimneys of the cement factories of Helwan to be made today.

So nice to be back. I really missed having a camera.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Motor Men

A stable electrical grid is a wonderful thing. An unstable one has the tendency to burn out electric motors with amazing efficiency. One of the nice things about simple electric motors is the fact that they are simple and someone who is willing to patiently rewind cable can bring one back from the dead. Most Egyptians have more time than money and the motor man can become your best friend.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Getting a Ride Home

This sure isn't daily and it's driving me a bit nuts to be without a camera. Telephones are not really cameras even if they have them in them. But today while driving back to the farm after some errands in town, I passed a group of women walking down the road. One of them was carrying this huge aluminum pan and had her daughter happily perched in the pan.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Taking a Watery Break

Canals are a fact of life in the Nile Valley. They were used in pharaonic times as well, although not as extensively as they are now since the building of the Aswan High Dam and the end of the yearly flood. They are slow-moving bodies of water with a lot of decaying plant matter in them giving them the dark colour of peat bogs in Europe. Many of my favourite riding trails wind along them and one of them is the cause for a hopefully brief break in posting to this blog.

Yesterday my young gelding Fagr and I went for a short unplanned swim in a canal when his back leg slipped off the path and he was unable to regain his balance. Though the experience was, to say the least, shocking to both of us, neither of us sustained any real damage due to our swimming adventure. I wish I could say the same of my mobile phone and my beloved Lumix, which I had only just received from the Panasonic service shop where it had spent Ramadan having two motors replaced due to dust damage. During that hiatus, I made due with the camera in my Nokia...but the Nokia was also in the saddle bag that got thoroughly soaked in the canal and while both machines will turn on, they are acting in an utterly erratic fashion. I'm just hoping that Panasonic will be able to fix the camera in something under a month this time.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Weaving Their World

In the early 50's an Egyptian architect Ramses Wissa Wassef began training young weavers in the village of Harrania, not far from my farm. He taught them to spin and dye wool using natural dyes and then he set them to work creating rugs and tapestries that reflected the world around them. The center and museum still exist today and the weavers still work making extraordinary pieces. You can see more at their website:

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Another Roadside Attraction

I don't like to drive during Ramadan. Driving in Cairo is hard enough. Driving on roads with about 10 million hungry, thirsty, tired, nicotine and caffeine deprived motorists REALLY is not fun. I don't know if there are statistics about whether the accidents increase during Ramadan, but the general consensus of the motorists I know is that there is. This particular smashup involved two passenger cars and dump truck. Crunch. Luckily there seemed to be no real casualties. Hopefully traffic was so bad that no one was moving very fast.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Breaking the Fast

We are halfway through the month of Ramadan now and everyone is pretty much into the routine of not eating and drinking all day, and then breaking the fast at sunset, often with friends and family. My neighbour, who manages a landscape nursery, invited me to join him and his crew for iftar in the nursery garden. A long table covered with plates containing roast goat, duck and rabbit, rice, bread, green salad, yogurt salad, stuffed eggplant and zucchini, pickles,dates, and fruit stood in the center of the garden and as the sunset call to prayer sounded, we all sat down to have iftar together. The meal was simple, healthy and plentiful, and afterwards all the smokers gratefully sat with a cigarette or water pipe to enjoy the night sounds in the garden. Ramadan Kareem.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Local Diner

When I was a kid we used to set up a lemonaid stand and then guilt all of our neighbours into buying it. These girls, on the other hand, are helping out their mothers by selling foul and ta'ameya for breakfast on a weekend morning.

Monday, September 24, 2007

And Why Am I Wearing This?

Donkeys are a lot smarter than people think, which is why the donkeys who turn the water wheels have to be blindfolded. If they could see, there is no way in the world that they would continue to walk in a circle. This donkey's blindfold had fallen off and it was having a nice rest when its young supervisor came over to readjust things.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Sphinx Who Wasn't There

Happily, this is not that recent a picture. We get sandstorms in the spring rather than in the fall, and this is from a spring sandstorm. I had to run some errands in the middle of this storm and found myself in front of the Sphinx. There were, unbelievably, still buses loading tourists who were climbing aboard probably chewing sand.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Konafa...The Old Fashioned Way

A big part of Ramadan is sweets and most families make them at home. One of the favourites is konafa, which looks a lot like shredded wheat, but not nearly so organised. It is created from a sort of fine noodle that is made the old-fashioned way on a huge griddle. The konafa man takes a pot with fine holes drilled in the bottom, fills it with batter and in a smooth circular motion lays out long lines of the konafa on the griddle. About the time he has covered the entire griddle, the konafa is cooked, so he then scoops it off and piles it to one side. Housewives come and buy the konafa by the kilo, take it home and mix it with a bit of melted butter, then pack it lightly into a tray. A layer of cream, nuts and fruit, or even cheese for a savoury, might be added and then another layer of buttered konafa. This is then baked until the threads are golden brown and a bit crispy. A sweet konafa will then have a sugar or honey syrup poured over it. One of the posh bakeries in Cairo make a konafa that is crispy but not sweet and then spread whipped cream and strawberries on it. Deadly.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Aerial Act

It's Ramadan and this year date season is right on time. Dates are the traditional food with which one breaks the fast, and it's perfect to have them literally dropping off the trees. But most dates are harvested by men who climb up the palms and cut the branches full of ripe dates and then lower them to the ground in the round baskets that are themselves woven from the leaves of the date palm.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

What Colour Are Dates?

Before I moved to Egypt, I assumed that dates were brown. As far as I knew, they grew in little packages and were sweet, sticky and soft. The reality, as usual, is far from the assumption. Most of the palm trees in Egypt are date palms and they produce fruit that varies from a light yellow, through gold to a deep dark red. Every type has a different flavour, texture and use. All of them eventually ferment slightly to become the sticky brown sweet that most people in the world know. Fresh from the tree, they are slightly tart, crisp, moist and sweet.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ramadan Kareem

Today is the first day of the month of fasting, Ramadan, when Muslims all over the world will be going without food, water, and most importantly, coffee, tea, or cigarettes from dawn to dusk. In Egypt, the mood is most like a month long Christmas celebration with families gathering for iftar, the meal that breaks the fast each day. On the first day of Ramadan, traditionally one has iftar with one's mother, causing any number of problems for married couples who must choose one mother in law for the first day and the other for the second. The Ramadan lantern, or fanous, is the symbol of the holiday and they are hung on gates, in windows, even in trees, sometimes rivaling the Christmas deorations abroad.

Monday, September 10, 2007

For the Artist in All of Us

Out on the Mariouteya Road on the way to Sakkara is a unique art center. Fagnoon is run by Mohamed Allam who decided to give children an artistic outlet in a way that no one else here has ever done. His center is in the countryside and out in the sunlight and fresh air. For 40 LE (roughly $8) a child can spend all day on two art projects and no one will rush him. The projects range from pottery to painting to wood working and staff are on hand to help with materials or an extra hand. The center itself is built in a totally child-friendly fashion with outdoor pottery wheels set in a garden that is reached by a curving bridge that is much stronger than it looks. Patios on the second floors are connected by other bridges and part of the ground floor has a wonderful net made of coloured cotton material for children to climb, slide down and swing from. Activity is the order of the day. A small flock of goats roam the pottery garden and there is a huge pile of lumber for choosing wood with which to work. Open air showers are even available to clean paint and mud from mucky artists before they get back in the car. The name of the center, Fagnoon, is an Arabic joke based on the words for artist "Fanan" and crazy "Megnoon". It's a wonderful place to go nuts, as I noticed the day I visited when a group of college students (probably people who started coming to the center while still in secondary school) were streaking about the upper verandahs with water balloons. Many of the schools in the area use the center for art classes, and it's usually a favourite with students long after they leave for college.

My photos may be a bit spotty for a while as my camera is unhappy and must go in for service. Meanwhile, I'll see what I can do with my Nokia....

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Something Cold?

Temperatures are cooling off but by most people's standards it's still hot in Giza. This gentleman is running what is basically a lemonade/anise juice stand just outside of the Beni Yusuf army base near the pyramids of Giza. Business will get better when some of the soldiers leave the base.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Need A Ride?

Cairo cab drivers are deserving of serious study. Most people swear that they are not entirely sane, and the fact that they spend their days driving the streets of the city is held as proof of this fact. It may be true, but I've also met some very decent cab drivers who may be the exceptions that prove the rule and there are many tales of cabbies hunting down the last fare to return a briefcase, bag or phone. Then there was the cab that had absolutely no interior other than the seats...just the steel of the roof and doors..or the apochryphal "red velvet taxi" that the girls shunned as high school students not just because it looked like a brothel on wheels, but because the driver seemed to feel that it was one. Life is never dull.

Monday, September 3, 2007

A Little Piece of Peace

This is not what one associates with downtown Cairo at all. But it is there and today as I was looking for the shop that would service a broken Swatch and driving through the hot streets, it was like a glimpse of heaven.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Helping To Clean

Egypt is dusty, but we are at one end of the Sahara, so it's expected. When people buy dry goods like beans or rice in bulk, they have to be sifted and washed to get the ambient sand and dust out. Even packaged rice has to be washed thoroughly. So sieves are important and they are made by hand by people like these.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Passing Time

Ramadan was coming and we wanted to get the farm a Ramadan lantern, known here as a fanous. The best place to get one of these is in Sayeda Aisha, an old area of Cairo, so despite temperatures at about 38 C, off we went. While walking to the area with the lanterns, I saw these women chatting together on a stone wall.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Bridge Fishing

It was 2 am and I was beat. My daughter had to catch an early flight to Amsterdam and then on to New York, so she had to be at the airport at 1:30 am. On the way back, the people on the Moneeb Bridge, the southernmost bridge across the Nile in Cairo, were still enjoying their picnics, tea, and fishing, so I pulled my jeep over to the right and took a few photos. I'm obviously not the best at night photography. Balancing car lights, advertising lights and the darkness is pretty much a mystery to me, but I liked the way the light caught the fishing lines.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Greatest Pyramid

This isn't the pyramid that everyone takes pictures of, not one of the "three" that most of the world associates with Giza. The Great Pyramid at Giza is a wonderful sight, but for my money the Red Pyramid at Dahshur is the best. This was taken from the desert at sunset, something that is basically impossible to do if you are on a tour. The buses stay on the asphalt roads and they leave long before sunset. A local like myself with a jeep knows the odd ways in to be able to take this shot.

The pyramid itself was built by Sneferu after a couple of false starts with the pyramid at Meidum about 60 km south and the Bent Pyramid which is only about 300 metres south. It is made of red Aswan granite and somehow sits in the desert with much more comfort and authority than the Great Pyramid at Giza. Maybe it's the lack of all those horrible little men selling bad t-shirts and camel rides....

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Taxi, Madame?

Recently had my children and a friend of theirs arrive in Cairo on three different flights over two separate days. Other than visiting with family, I've probably spent more time in the airport than anywhere else. This is pretty much what greets most travelers from outside Egypt on arrival. At least two thirds of the crowd are looking to get you a cab. Can be annoying.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Written On The Waterwheel

One of the astonishing things for many tourists is just how many Egyptians speak languages other than Arabic. Even in the villages students are started on English almost in kindergarten and the kids' attendance to their homework can be seen in the graffiti on this sakia, or waterwheel, in the countryside in Giza. I'm impressed. I couldn't write my name in Arabic on a waterwheel or anywhere else for that matter.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Free Delivery

So what do you do when you really need a wheelbarrow but the store is 20 km away and you only have a motorcycle?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Who Stole The Sink?

There's a new Chinese restaurant in Maadi, a family place with easy-going decor, good food and comfortable prices. It also has a surprise for people visiting the facilities, so to speak. We noticed people head for the bathrooms, go in, come out to wash hands and then look stupified. So naturally we had to see what the shock was. Nice touch.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Community Center

The minaret of a neighbourhood mosque seen through banana trees. Smaller mosques are often built by a group of neighbours and provide a place for schools that teach reading and writing for the poorest children.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

In Breathtaking Colour

I love flowers. I love gardening. While most of the visuals that people bring to mind when Cairo/Giza/Egypt are mentioned are things like sand, camels, pyramids, and maybe traffic, the fact of the matter is this is a place where things grow amazingly. Add water to the soil and the sun does the rest. Many of the plants here come from other places, like this bouganvilleia that drapes lushly over a wall.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Practicing The Old Arts

Mashrabeya is an old art form in Egypt, originally used to cool the air coming through a window and provide privacy for viewers within the house. Now it is used more decoratively for screens, furniture and mirror or picture frames. This carpentry shop on Road 9 in Maadi is one of the places where you can buy items made with this technique or order something to your own design.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Bringing The Water

One of the roads from the Nile to the Citadel at the very edge of the desert under the cliffs of the Moqattam hills runs along the Arab aqueduct. At the river, the aqueduct is very high, perhaps 15 meters, and then it seems to grow shorter as you go uphill. Over the roughly thousand years since the aqueduct was built, the roadbed has come up higher and higher against the stones. Now the city takes better care of things.

Friday, August 10, 2007

And Then Take Them To The Movies...

There's simply something about camels riding in trucks that I really love. That they fold up their legs and sit calmly in the bed of the truck watching the world go by is astonishing. They are such huge and powerful animals striding across the desert.

The title? There's an old joke about a truck that breaks down with a load of penguins bound for a new home at the zoo. The driver calls a friend to pick them up asking that he take them to the zoo while the truck is being repaired. A few hours later, the driver calls his friend, frantic because the zoo wants to know where the penguins are. Friend answers, "Well, they had such a good time at the zoo that we went to the movies."

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Melons At Attention

Egyptians are the fruit stackers supreme. It's wonderful to see how they can pile fruit and vegetables in pyramids and other creative shapes. Getting creative with enormous melons isn't so easy, but they manage.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Technicolor Shops on a Hot Day

Summer afternoons are slow, slow, slow in Cairo. Shopkeepers sit in the shade chatting and drinking tea while hoping for clients. Once the sun sets, the sidewalks will fill with families out to cool off in the evening air and hopefully business will pick up.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

No Need For The Fire

Just what you want on a hot afternoon in Cairo, right? Roast corn. I don't think that his business was that good at the time, but in the evening it surely would pick up. The corn is good and when roasted over an open fire needs no seasoning. The price? About 10 cents US.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Up In The Air

Apologies for my absence but someone decided that the price of copper was high enough to make it worthwhile to dig up a couple of hundred metres of telephone cable, disabling about 500 phones in my area...twice. Welcome in Egypt.

Tents are used everywhere here. If someone dies, a tent is set up for the funeral gathering to listen to Quran. When you have a party, you can call over the tent men to screen off your garden. It's almost worth it just to watch them build the framework, which is lashed together by men standing/balancing on long ladders like stilt walkers.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Houseboats on the Nile

Houseboats, many of them larger than my house on the farm, line the shore along the neighbourhood of Agouza. The houseboats have a reputation of being a rather racy place to live, something to which I can't testify. The beauty of the spot, aside from being along one of the busiest streets in Cairo, is a real attraction.

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