Friday, March 30, 2007

Friendly Support

When I first traveled to Egypt I bought a Lonely Planet guide that described Alexandria as the city of hand-holding sailors, explaining that while contact between the sexes was not widely accepted it was perfectly fine that men hold each other's hands. This is still the case, for the most part. Public displays of affection are still mostly among women or men rather than between the sexes.

And the internet is still being difficult.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Trash Collection Take Two

If the government of a city believes that having a group of people whose lives are devoted to the collection and recycling of trash is old fashioned, even if the Ford Foundation believes otherwise, they will likely bring in "modern" techniques. In our case, the city of Giza took a large section of desert between Giza and Sakkara and moved in a dump and recycling plant. Now thanks to willy nilly modernisation we have to put up with enormous trucks hauling in massive loads of refuse along our country roads, a road into the desert cutting the old trails from Giza to Sakkara and making life for riders that much more hazardous, a black pile of refuse that is creeping up to the wadi leading to the Sakkara complex, (a valley still unexplored and containing a number of antiquities sites), and the various aerial byproducts of a dump for a few million people. These include armies of plastic bags that roll inflated in ranks across the desert on windy days and the occasional smoke cloud when something goes wrong and catches fire.

I think I like the old ways better.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Trash Collection Take One

Cairo has had the gift of a unique group of people, the zebaleen, literally "the garbage people", a group of people who originally moved to Cairo from Upper Egypt in the 40's and who took on the job of collecting and recycling Cairo's trash. Eventually they were told to move out of the (then) city limits to areas such as the Moqattam Hills. You can read more about them at the Ford Foundation site Zebaleen Develop Incomes and Community from an Overlooked Asset.

Although in an effort to "modernise" the government has hired companies to collect trash, we still see the donkey carts that carry the soon to be recycled items to the workshops.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Plus ça change

So soon along with your Turkish coffee you will be able to get Starbucks at the mall in Maadi. While changes like this make many expats happy....after all the international brands are just like home....not all of us are thrilled. One day will all the cities look alike and everyone will shop for the same things?

Monday, March 19, 2007


Farmers in Egypt have such small plots, for the most part, that aside from renting a tractor to plow every once in a while, all of the work is done by hand. After the plowing, the seeding, weeding, and harvest is all hand work. The extraordinary thing is that most of our fruits and vegetables are locally grown, so these guys are very, very effective. Some plots of land will support three or more crops a year.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Not Just For Alice's Caterpillar

Water pipes are known by all sorts of interesting names: hookah, hubbly-bubbly, or in Egypt sheesha. There is a small dish at the top where a flavoured tobacco is burned and then the smoke is drawn down through the water and out the hose attachment. The tobacco may or may not be enhanced with other things, but most of the time it isn't. There is also an assumption that the smoke is somehow cleaner for having passed through the water, but that is also false. The smoke from a sheesha burning an apple tobacco is really very nice, however passing a tip from smoker to smoker also helps to pass tuberculosis. That's not so cool. But if you stand watching the departure lounge at Cairo International, you will see lots of them boarding.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Lunch Time Parking

No matter what you might find normal about Cairo and Giza, there are some things that simply aren't. One thing to remember, however, is that Cairo and Giza are, in fact, two separate cities, one on the east bank of the Nile and the other west bank. Giza, on the west bank of the Nile, is the city with the pyramids. Tombs during pharoanic times were always built on the west bank, so now a lot of the tourists are found on the west bank...and you are more likely to find a camel parked for its lunch on the sidewalk in Nazlit Semman, the neighbourhood that grew up around the Sphinx and pyramids of Giza.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Pure Magic

During pharoanic times there were a series of sacred lakes that could be found at the foot of the Sphinx in Giza, between the pyramids of Abu Sir and Sakkara and just south of the pyramids at Dahshur. Today only the lake at Dahshur remains and it exists because every fall the canal to the Nile is opened to bring water in to fill the depression for the migratory water birds. From the south end of this small lake you look north across the shining water and lush green plants to the sands of the desert and the Bent Pyramid, the Red Pyramid and the Black Pyramid of Dahshur. The views are so spectacular and unique that it is a favourite riding trip for clients of mine who travel on horseback down the line of pyramids from Abu Sir to Dahshur through the desert and then return, after a lunch in the palm groves, through the villages that hide among the date palms.

The Black Pyramid is only accessible by four wheel drive, foot or horseback and is unique in that it was constructed of millions of handmade mud bricks and then encased in limestone. The limestone casing has long since been scavenged but the sheer number of the bricks has ensured the survival of the pyramid.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


One of the things that I love about living here is that you never know what you will see next. I was driving from the farm to the city with a young friend and as we turned onto a main road, she cried out "Stop up here!". I did and turned to look what she was so excited about and saw a donkey cart tootling up towards us with the back end of a Toyota pickup truck loaded on the cart. Once the cart had passed and I could look closely at the cart instead of at the traffic, I could see what had delighted her so. It looked as though the cart were labeled as a Toyota. Wonder what the Japanese would think?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Everything Old Is New Again

Egypt is an old country but when people think of old Egyptian items it's always pharoanic statues and pyramids and things like that. But there are lots of wonderful antiques to be found here from the days when Egypt was wealthier and was modernising. When Mohamed Ali founded the last dynasty to rule Egypt before the military coup in the 1950's, he decided that Egypt should have all the things that Europe did. He took advantage of the American Civil War to push the Egyptian cotton crop and increase the country's revenues drastically. He brought in European architects and workmen to build Cairo and Alexandria in the images of European capitals with new railways, metro systems, and schools. With the military coup, Egypt was transformed into a socialist state and many of the wealthier families with ties to the Europeans who had come to change Egypt found themselves under scrutiny. Many left for North America and Europe, leaving behind many of their belongings, which are now to be found in shops all over the country. Now people are going back to find these old treasures.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Scrub a Dub

Ever wonder where they get those bath scrubbers that are sold in health food stores and even in pharmacies...loofah's? Well, a loofah in the wild looks rather like a large zucchini and is usually found hanging from a vine that might bear large yellow flowers earlier in the year. The part of the loofah that is used for scrubbing is a sort of cellular formed fiber that is the inside of the loofah. When they are ripe, they are left on the vine to dry, the skin is peeled, and voilá a loofah. Sometimes they are further refined to fit into glove shapes or the fiber is used to make a fabric. Very pretty flowers.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Every Colour in The World

Egypt is a big fan of recycling. There are men who drive around the cities and villages calling out "Roba vecchia", which in Italian means old clothes, but they are not looking for old clothes at all. They will take broken machines, metal that will be weighed out for purchase, almost anything that you want to get rid of. Even the trash here is picked over and the glass is recycled, the paper, the plastic, the metal and so on. Then in the case of the glass, it goes to the glass blowers' district where they melt it and re-use it to make glassware in lovely colours. A lot of this is sold in Khan el Khalili which is an old market area that encompasses many city blocks in Old Cairo. It's a major tourist destination but it is not just for tourists. Cairenes go there to buy brass, glass, herbs, and other items needed in the house.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Shave and A Haircut

One of the interesting things about Egypt is that it is one of the probably few countries where horses and donkeys still do a significant amount of work on a regular basis. There are areas of Cairo where the streets are so narrow that only a horse drawing a long narrow cart can pull loads in to building sites. Donkeys are the base of the pyramid and they carry everything imaginable anywhere in the country. I remember being told in 1976 as I was driving with friends through downtown Cairo and we found ourselves behind a donkey cart in a tunnel, that I wouldn't see that much more. Thirty years later, I still see the donkeys and their carts all over. Of course it doesn't do to drive a messy donkey, so a couple times a year the donkeys go to the barber for a trim. Clipping is done with hand clippers, not electric. After a couple of dozen donkeys, the barber must have a handshake to end all.

Monday, March 5, 2007

An Advantage to Polllution

So the trick is that when your computer is bad, you shut it down and give it some time out, I guess. I shut my laptop to check the serial number of the battery (it's one that Apple is supposed to replace before it explodes) and when I turned it back on I can upload photos again. I give up.

Cairo is one of the world's most polluted cities and just last year I read that we'd edged out Mexico City for the top spot. Happily living at the southwestern edge of the city, I get the wind that blows from the northwest bringing clean air from the Mediterranean to the Nile Valley. We escape the worst of the pollution most days, but in the evening we get to enjoy the one advantage. The dust particles hanging in the air do give some spectacular sunsets. I have a brick/concrete mounting block of about 5 stairs that we built for our less athletic riders, but it's secret function is to provide a sitting place for a person and a number of dogs in the evening to watch the sun disappear.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

I wish I could post a photo

I don't know whether it is the fact that I have to use a dubious Vodafone internet connection because I have no land line out here and thus no broadband, or whether the gods of Blogger are asleep at the wheel, but for two days now I've been unable to upload a photo to this blog. I'm going to rattle the Blogger cage and see what is going on, but I am so totally not a happy camper at this point.

Welcome in Egypt, as we say when nothing works.....

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Egyptian Fast Food

It beats MacDonalds by a mile in my book. There are stands everywhere in Egypt selling foul sandwiches, felafel sandwiches and variations on the theme. Foul is known elsewhere as fava beans or horse beans and they have to be soaked for days and then boiled gently for hours as their skin is so tough. Major roughage. The same soaked beans may be ground into a dough with onions, garlic, cilantro, parsley and maybe other herbs. These are then fried in patties and are known as felafel or ta'meya. The smell from these places is almost impossible to resist, but I usually warn visitors to do so. If the oil hasn't been changed often enough, it's pretty hard on an unconditioned stomach. And there are plenty of more reliable places to get this wonderful food. Cost for two sandwiches is about 20 cents US. Eat your heart out, Ronald.

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