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.

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