Monday, September 29, 2008

Catching A Ride Home

At least once a day I see something that takes my breath away having spent years as a mom trying to keep kids in one piece. But it's very much a case of beggars being choosers. If all you have is a bicycle...a bicycle is what you use.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Waiting Room

With all the dust and sun in Egypt, eye problems have always been endemic. For myself, it's a simple matter of getting old and needing glasses to see anything closer than about a metre and a half (yeah, that's getting pretty old). For other people it can be cataracts caused by too much sunlight. I was utterly delighted to be introduced to the Maghrebi Eye Hospital by a friend when I needed my most recent check up. For LE 50 (less than $10 US) my eyes were checked by a technician with the latest computer exam and then I saw a doctor who checked what I needed for corrective lenses, checked the eye for any signs of damage or disease, and then offered suggestions for the best care of my eyes. What a bargain! And if they find a problem, the hospital is fully equipped to handle it. This place is a gem. They have one hospital in Dokki near the Shooting Club and another in Saida Nefisa square. And at those prices, most people can afford to have proper eye care.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Collecting The Crop

The farmers here have very tiny plots of land, usually less than an acre. The miracle of the Nile Valley is that it grows so much food in so little space. One of the primary summer crops is okra which grows on stalks that get taller and taller all summer while bearing lovely cream coloured flowers with deep burgundy centers. The okra plants are covered in fine irritating prickles, necessitating the women and men who pick the okra pods to be covered almost entirely in the summer heat. The okra then is carried to a central weighing station where it is bought on its first step to the market or to the processing plant to be frozen or dried. After the last harvest to go to market the remaining pods are kept for seed for the following summer and the woody stalks are cut to be dried for firewood during the winter.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cleaning The Drain

Many of the larger farms have huge diesel pumps to draw water from the irrigation canals with inlets set in concrete. While out riding the other day I spotted this man squatting on the concrete box of the inlet while fishing bits of vegetation out of the inlet hole. From the other side of the ficus trees along the canal bank, he was spotlighted against the water.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ramadan Decorations

In the villages and the more crowded sections of Cairo and Giza streamers of shiny paper or cutout shapes are strung from house to house during Ramadan, reinforcing the resemblance to a long Christmas holiday. A friend recently told me that during Ramadan in Jordan being caught eating or drinking in public, even for a foreigner, can result in jail time. I guess they must not have much tourism during the month. Not so here where life is rather more easy-going.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Garden City

Garden City is one of the neighbourhoods of Cairo, a district filled with randomly curving streets, old (often crumbling) villas, huge trees, impossible parking, and naturally gardens. It is the area of embassies with the British, Americans, and Canadians, among others, being located there and many banks. There is a story that Garden City was designed to be confusing so that thieves would not be able to find their way out of the district should they choose to rob a bank or villa. While the confusing layout certainly confuses me, I suspect that an enterprising thief would have no problem with them, should one be so foolish as to try. With all of the important residents, however, the level of security is quite high.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fender Bender

We are moving into the second half of Ramadan, and you might ask what the picture of a traffic accident has to do with a month of fasting. Well, during the first week of Ramadan when our tea-drinking and cigarette smoking population is suffering from some very nasty caffeine and nicotine withdrawal, you would likely see much more heat from the gentlemen discussing the damage. The first week of Ramadan one of my friends reported seeing four fist fights among cab drivers during a 45 minute drive. Now, however, bodies are used to waiting until sunset for caffeine and nicotine...and two weeks of late night visiting and entertaining while working during the day are taking their toll and most people are too weary to think of fighting. Unfortunately, weary drivers are also more likely to have accidents. Not a good month for driving overall.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Molokheya For Breakfast

A huge pile of molokheya plants lie on the right and the women are sitting in the shade plucking the leaves from the stems. The leaves might be dried for use during the winter or simply washed and chopped finely to be added to a chicken or rabbit broth for a rich green soup. Many foreigners find molokheya to be a bit weird and slimy. The plant, swamp mallow, is basically a weed to everyone but Egyptians. Like many other plants in the mallow family, molokheya is a medicinal herb useful for stomach ailments. I've heard stories that the Japanese were so taken with the medicinal properties of molokheya that they made a soft drink from it. I love the stuff.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Samy The Fish Man

Samy sells his fish from baskets filled with ice on Road 9 in Maadi. He's known for having some of the freshest, best fish in the area. While you might wonder how this can be without a refrigerator, as it was pointed out to me...he has to sell his fish fresh because they won't keep and if anyone doesn't like them, there goes his reputation. And the shrimp? They are about 95 LE per kilo, or USD 8 a pound. Not bad at all.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Actual Karkade

Visitors to Egypt are often taken with a deep red drink that is served either hot or cold and has a tangy citrus taste. It is a tea made from a variety of hibiscus flower and it contains a lot of vitamin C. For years I would look at the flowering hibiscus bushes in gardens wondering if they were the source of the tea, because the petals used to make the tea are heavy and thick. Finally I found this small bush that looks a great deal like a peony and has rather small pink flowers. After the bush flowers, a seed pod develops with thick dark red petals covering it...the Karkade!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Meal On The Run

This photo was taken before Ramadan. During Ramadan no one sells food at intersections but ordinarily this fleet of bread sellers fans out through the cars stuck in traffic selling an Egyptian version of pretzels.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Waiting Game

A fruit seller sits on his cart of guavas watching for a customer in the passing traffic.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Siesta Time

Ramadan has started in our still summer weather and fasting from both water and food while doing physical labour is difficult. The farmers are rising early to work soon after the last meal of the night and then napping in the heat of the day.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Meeting A Neighbour

The weather here has finally gone from being blast furnace hot to just pretty warm and we are working the horses again. Horses have a hard time cooling off so we don't work them when it's too hot. Yesterday a friend of mine and three of the grooms went out for a ride in the desert and met one of our neighbours, a juvenile Egyptian cobra only about 15 cm long. The horses, despite people thinking that they are instinctively afraid of snakes, didn't even notice it and had to be guided around it. I suspect that my grooms, most of whom are afraid of snakes, were VERY happy to be on horseback and at least a meter or so above the young snake. The snake was not at all happy to suddenly be surrounded by large creatures and flared its little hood trying to look scary. I quite like snakes as a rule, though I'm not stupid and wouldn't dream of befriending a cobra, so I just took a couple of photos and we moved on. This is only the second cobra I've seen in Egypt in 20 years and I strongly suspect that this youngster was lost. Most of the cobras prefer to be near the canals where they hunt frogs for food. Not much to eat in the desert, though it was probably a good place to hatch eggs in the warm sand.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Putting The Rubber On The Road

The cart horse has gone the way of the dodo in much of the world, though if gas prices keep going up, they might come back. Here we still depend on horsepower. To provide traction on the asphalt the cart horses are given hoof pads made of old car tires. This is the hoof of a mule that a friend of mine bought from a carter and it shows how they do it. Hang on to the could come in handy.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Pharaonic Way

We needed a shade for the foals this summer and my handyman offered to build one that wouldn't be very expensive. We bought some wood (actually young trees that had been cut and dried) and some fabric that is used to make shades for nurseries. First we dug holes in the center of a donut shaped feeding bin in the paddock and around the bin to place support poles.

Then we used some lighter wood to build the framework for the fabric making a sort of tent. The entire structure was tied together out of palm rope that was soaked and then wrapped around the wood to hold it in place. If you ever go to the Solar Boat Museum, you will see the same construction technique of rope and wood used to construct the pharoah's solar boat...but much nicer of course.

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