Sunday, April 29, 2007

Hold Your Horses

One of the first things to hit me on my first visit to Cairo in 1976 was the sheer number of horses that I saw working in the streets, pulling carts, pulling carriages, even being ridden. And on top of that they all were Arabs. To a horsenut from North America, this was better than heaven. Later I learned that most of the Arabian horses in many parts of the world passed through Cairo at various times during the discovery of Arabs by horsemen in Europe and North America. The Egyptian Agricultural Organisation is probably the worst-named stud in the entire world. In the Ain Shams area of Cairo, its shady paddocks contain hundreds of beautiful Arabian horses who can track their ancestry back to the deserts of Arabia. Some of these ancestors were captured in battle during the 1800's. These days the EAO is the site of a horse show every fall that attracts horses from Europe and the Arab countries each trying to win a trophy in its age group for being the most beautiful. That much loveliness is hard to take.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Coffee Break

Coffee shops in Eygpt are more than just a place for a cup of coffee. They are a way of life. There are coffee shops in Cairo that specialise in lawyers and if you want a cheap lawyer, you go have a cup of coffee and find a young lawyer who doesn't have enough money to set up office except in a coffee shop. Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt's Nobel prize winning author, had his favourite coffee shop, Fishawy, in Khan el Khalili, which was known as a writers' coffee shop. These shops serve the thick sweet Turkish coffee, tea with milk, mint, or lemon, and various kinds of fruit juice as well as providing water pipes with tobacco flavoured with mint, apple, cantaloupe, strawberry, and so on.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

You And What Army?

There is often a strange assumption that wearing a headscarf is somehow disabling to women. I personally don't wear one and am unlikely to ever wear one, but it certainly isn't a sign of diminished capability or of subjugation. Some women simply like to wear it or are more comfortable in it. Just one look at this wonderful face is enough to tell you that anyone who crosses this woman is likely to come off the worse for wear. It's all in the eyes.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Camel At Work

Most of us think of camels as denizens of the desert, but naturally since they do have to eat and drink, most of them live in some kind of farming situation. They are still used a great deal in the Nile Valley for carrying heavier loads than donkeys can carry. This poor soul is one of the camels used by a date palm trimming crew. The fronds are loaded on the camels back with the wooden ends towards the head. When you see the camels walking down the road, they look like enormous peacocks with their long green tails waving behind them.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Mother's Heart

Cairo, as a city of that name, began with the conquest of the old city of Fustat by Sallah el Din, better known in the west as Richard The Lionhearted's foe Saladin. He established the the heart of the old city of Cairo in his Citadel overlooking the city in the late 1170's. Sallah el Din was a Kurd, the first of the Ayyubid rulers of Egypt, just one of the many ethnic groups to come to and be absorbed by The Mother of The World, as Cairo has been known. Subsequent rulers added on and changed the Citadel, but it is the home of the mosque of Mohamed Ali and the site of some marvelous music concerts in the summer. The music festival sells its tickets for about LE 2 each, well within the reach of working class Egyptians who will hear everything from folk music, to classical Arabic music, to modern Arab jazz while sitting under the stars and looking out over the city.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Silver Lining

A day of dust was followed by a night of rain, complete with thunder and lightening, which the horses found exciting and the dogs found frightening. Who knows what goes on in the animal brains? The result for humans was that anywhere we hadn't cleared the dust, we now had clay. Brilliant. But it was back to our usual wonderful sunsets like this one behind the Bent Pyramid at Dahshur.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The View From Here

Okay, hum along with me....April in Cairo, sandstorm is blowing, no one is knowing, their way......

This shot is of the dirt road into my farm. It's about 60 metres from the gate at the end of the road (which is to my neighbour's monstrosity rather than to my place, by the way) to where the car was when I took this with my phone. Visibility was a bit low. So was air quality. All you could do was huddle down inside and sweep the floor two or three times to keep the gerbils from digging tunnels in the living room. Life in Egypt...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Free For The Taking?

There are a number of basket sellers in Maadi. I can think of at least three right off hand, and the funny thing about them is that they are always leaving their baskets stacked on the side of the road even when there is no one there to watch them. I needed one of the rectangular chests from a sort of rattan last year and I passed by the basket man at least six times before I found him there to buy one from him. Funny thing is that no one just helps themselves to the baskets. Sort of an honour system.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Messing About in Boats

During the summer's heat when you think that you are simply going to sink into the tar of the asphalt streets and never be heard from again, the best remedy is to go down to the Nile and rent a felucca with some friends. If someone brings beer, someone else brings pizza and someone else brings some fresh fruit, you are set for a heavenly recovery. These lateen-rigged wooden sailboats will float you away from your problems for about the equivalent of ten dollars US for an hour and they seat roughly 15 people on the benches along the gunwales. The feluccas are nothing less than wonderful and if you've ever done any sailing, watching the captains dock them gently with no assistance and no motor...just the wind, inertia, and the river's a sobering experience.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Beam Me Up Scotty

This method of delivery used to be much more common than it is now when the buildings were less likely to have elevators. A basket on a rope would be lowered when the vendors came by with vegetables and fruits and such. The vendor and buyer would agree on the products and price, the money going down in the basket and the products going up.
Sorry for the gap in photos. We are having an internet problem in the countryside these days.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Carrying... taking it further

The other day I passed a woman who was actually carrying a stack of things on her head that almost equalled her height. I was without a camera unfortunately. This is probably much healthier for your back than hauling things around with your arms.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Carrying...step one

Egyptian women are amazing carriers, and it is the village women who are the best. Everywhere you go, you will see women carrying objects on their heads as they walk along serenely. To be fair, they often will roll a scarf to form a pad that helps to balance the load on the head.

When I was a kid, I used to practice balancing books on my head on the way back from the library. I was never in this league. A friend of mine and I spent a week photographing women all around Cairo carrying things. Fascinating.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Hi Kid

There simply is something about Egyptian kids that really grabs you. This little guy didn't look too thrilled at whatever he was going to do with his mom, but the big brown eyes...what can you say? You see babies being carried all over Cairo, sometimes in interesting fashions. Egyptian women are big carriers...

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