Tuesday, December 29, 2009

One Of The Many Uses Of The Palm

Date palms are useful in virtually any form. We eat the fruit in early autumn for the fresh crisp dates, but dried or fermented they are available all year round. The fiber of the frond can be used to make mats and baskets while the wooden rib can be split and formed to make furniture like this garden sofa. They don't last forever but they are comfortable and inexpensive. Just ask Geo.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Rearview Mirror

The randomness of travel in the countryside...but it's always nice to know where you've been.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Traveling Hardware Store.

What can you say? Egyptians are simply some of the most ingenious drivers on this planet.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Helping Hand

I went out with one of the Donkey Sanctuary crews to a session in Sakkara village the other day. As we were driving along, the driver suddenly stopped the truck by the side of the road and called out to a boy on a donkey. The donkey was limping. Everyone piled out of the truck and the farrier (a vet, a farrier, and a harnessmaker travel on every trip) took out his tools. He looked at the donkey's feet and began trimming the sole of one, revealing a developing abscess in the sole. An abscess is the result of a bruise from a stone that creates a pocket of pus and quite a bit of pain for the donkey. Once the farrier had trimmed down to the abscess, the farrier pulled out a pot of sugar and betadine that had been stirred into a sticky paste. He slopped a tablespoon of it onto a pad of cotton and then put a patch of duct tape over the cotton. The duct tape keeps the cotton dry while the betadine and sugar mixture draw the infection out and sterilise the wound. With the cotton pad, the donkey is comfortable enough to walk.

The Donkey Sanctuary in Egypt works under the umbrella of the Donkey Sanctuary UK and provides mobile services to working donkeys in Egypt for no cost to the owners. They also provide educational services to teach owners how to care for their animals. They are really a wonderful group.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Truthful Animals Cost More

I spend a quiet Christmas with friends usually, doing most of my Christmas shopping for my kids online since they live abroad. But some of the stores here do have Christmas displays and Carrefour can usually be relied on for something entertaining. In this case, while walking through the toy section I found a banner proclaiming that there was a sale on "lying farm animals". Since the animals pictured are a rhinocerus and a tiger among other things, one must assume that the truthful farm animals are still full price.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Father and Son

One of my neighbours hugging his six year old son at a picnic. Courtesy of the photography elf. Note the gorgeous hazel eyes that are a trademark in my neighbourhood.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Spot of Refreshment

Just passing along the Corniche in Giza near Garden City I noticed that someone had set up a drinks stand on the railing. The bright coloured glasses were enticing even if it was a cool day.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Photography Elf

I left my camera in the car the other day while I went into a bookshop and Mohamed, my driver and righthand man, got bored. I ended up with some interesting street shots and he had a lot of fun. He's turned out to have a very good eye for a photo.

Monday, December 21, 2009

On The Way Home

Yesterday was a bit of a mad rush finishing things with a friend who has been staying here for a month. We hoped to be home early but the sun was setting as we crossed the Nile to Giza. The north wind had blown all the pollution away and the clouds glowed crisply in the sky outlined in silver, pink and gold. On an evening such as this it's hard to imagine that all this beauty is just there to enjoy.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Villager's View

Visiting the Wissa Wassef center the other day I saw a tapestry that I'd never seen before. It seems to be the image of an apartment building filled with people. An interesting thing about the people is that they all look quite grim.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


We have quite a few lions in Egypt. The Giza Zoo breeds them and they end up being sent to safari parks and the like. Today we were driving along a back road near Harania checking out a riding trail for a tour group that would be going through in a couple of weeks when we noticed some boys with a very odd looking dog. On closer inspection, it was a young lion cub walking in the sun after its bath. The cub was adorable, friendly, and obviously fond of its handler. It's currently living at one of the country restaurants but will have to find a new home when it grows a bit older.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Flipping It

Last week we held a barbecue for a friend and she specifically asked for us to bake bread in our outdoor oven. It is a bit more work to fire up the wood burning oven, but the bread is wonderful. My housekeeper was showing everyone how to prepare the bread for baking.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ceiling decor

While buying an earthenware cooking pot at a roadside pottery stand I walked out back and saw these pristine white circles hanging on the wall ready for someone who wants to buy a frame for a hanging lamp.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Old Boots

I found these pairs of boots at a shop the other day. They had such character that they almost seemed to have a life of their own.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tea To Go

When shopping in the old style stores of Cairo (the majority of the stores since malls are in the minority) it is very common to be offered a cup of tea by the shop owner. All over the city tiny little tea shops supply tea to the store owners, work men and who ever may be in the neighbourhood.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Flip? Maybe Flop? Unlikely

They have been using wooden sandals in the baths of Cairo for centuries. Shagarat el Dohr is said to have been murdered with a pair in Mameluke Egypt by a rival. These are very rough and look to me like something that could cause splinters. But some friends of mine saw them being worn by workers at a brick kiln.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Brushing Things Aside

It isn't easy to keep things clean when you live in the middle of the world's biggest sandbox. We are surrounded by desert in Cairo and it blows in with every breeze. We have the normal plastic brooms, but also make some interesting local ones. These are garden brooms made from the stems of the dates that are harvested every fall.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas Decorations in Maadi

Christmas is celebrated in Egypt not once, but twice, once on December 25 and again for the Copts and Eastern Orthodox on January 7, so we have an even longer Christmas season. While out shopping for presents for my annual Egyptian/Canadian/Finnish/Lebanese Christmas gathering with friends on December 24 we spotted a group watching one of the store clerks adjusting a present in a Christmas display.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bales of Cotton

Huge bags hold clean cotton to be used in stuffing mattresses and pillows. Households that have these types of upholstery will have men come to the house every so often to remove the cotton stuffing, fluff it up and restuff. These bales were photgraphed in Old Cairo.

Monday, December 7, 2009

When You Can't Find a Garden

I was walking along Road 9 in Maadi the other day and noticed this lovely grey cat curled up in a plant pot in the sunshine. Not having a patch of grass, he decided to take his nap in the pot for a Ficus benjamina tree. Smart kitty.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Argument For Slow Food

I LOVE our vegetables. They make cooking an almost spiritual experience. These are all fresh, less than a day or so from the fields, and there isn't a speck of wax on them. Yum.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Tools Of The Trade

These are a saddlemakers basic tools. The curved knives are for cutting hides and the more complicated object is for cutting strips of leather. The tools were made about 60 years ago, though the saddlemaker using them is much younger.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Moonrise at Abu Sir

The full moon has an orange tinge from the dust and pollution of the valley but it is still a lovely sight rising above the rather peculiar house next door. Somehow, it seemed much larger by eye.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Afternoon Coffee

There's something comforting about watching two old friends meet for coffee on a warm winter afternoon.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Rows in Wood

Mashrabaya screens are rightfully expensive. They are created by hand of thousands of pieces of individually shaped pieces of wood. This particular screen isn't finished and the wood is still bare, unstained and unvarnished.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Are You Allowed To Park Here?

Baladi dogs are amazing creatures. Mine have the desire to climb onto the highest point to check out the horizon and in the city you often see them happily resting on the roof of a car. This one very carefully examined the car from front and back before hopping onto the roof. The owner of the car probably wasn't too pleased, but I found it entertaining.

Monday, November 30, 2009

So Many Rugs

Even the tiniest rug store here carries an extraordinary assortment of types of carpets. Some goat and sheep wool kilims are perhaps more suited to hanging on a wall, while others would make good throw rugs. I use a lot of the rag rugs in my place because they wash so nicely in the machine.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Weaving In Silk

My visiting Canadian friend is a sucker for the little roadside shops out here in netherlands of Giza. There are huge carpet schools where children learn to weave rugs and such, but we stopped into what is essentially a walk-in closet filled with rather dusty rugs. I needed some of the rag rugs to cover the sofa's at my house so that the dogs can loll about with impunity and she was interested in some of the goat wool kilims. The owner of the shop was weaving a silk rug.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

From Bag To Rope

While out riding the other day we encountered one of the elderly fellaheen sitting making rope out of strips of feed bags. Many people sell the whole bags to recyclers and the plastic recyclers will take torn ones, but this is the first time I've seen them turned into rope.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Seats Three

Donkeys are a way of life in the countryside. Most families out here don't have cars so the family donkey is the mode of transport. These gentle, intelligent creatures don't have such a great life among the poor farmers, but Brooke Hospital and a donkey sanctuary on Faisal Street in Giza try to help them to keep them safe.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Staff of Life

Bread is a hugely important part of the Egyptian diet. These are two halves of one loaf of bread that was baked by the village housewives. They dry the bread to preserve it because they use no preservatives and usually don't have freezers.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Weighing the meat

There is a nice little market in Maadi near the American school, Kimo Market, where you can find all sorts of great treats as well as the more normal fruits, vegetables, milk, bread and meat. We were shopping when a couple of large portions of meat were being delivered. Of course the butcher had to verify the weight of the legs, but he did so with the aid of a brass weight and a simple bar scale.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Queen and Her Attendants

There is a regal quality to water buffalo. They stand and wait for their farmers to bring them piles of fresh green fodder to eat, enjoy the sun and fresh air and the careful ministrations of the cattle egrets who pick any passing flies or other insects from their skins. As we pass the tethered buffalo, she looks at us with calm interest as though we might be bringing news of some sort...or even better food!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lost Elegance

The countryside is dotted with old family holdings from the period before the revolution. This lovely gate with its intricate wrought iron lamps is just one such property. I have no idea who it belongs to but the sight of the gate itself is one that brings a rush of nostalgia.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Better Than Hay

A friend of mine and I rode over to deliver a mare to another friend today. Walid, the young man in the photo, rode the mare over and then caught a ride back with my driver who met us there with some foul and ta'ameya sandwiches. Obviously the chestnut gelding thought that the sandwich looked much, much better than his clover hay.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Football Mania

The Egyptian national football team is playing Algeria for a chance to go to the World Cup this evening in Sudan. A good portion of Cairo was totally blocked by celebrations after the Egyptian win a few days ago and sales of flags for supporters has been brisk.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dancing Horse

As many have enjoyed the photo of the mare and photographer, this was shot at the same exhibition. Egyptian dancing horses are usually stallions, the work taking a lot of muscle. They dance to the music of local musicians.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Photographer and His Subject

The Arabian Horse Breeders' Association held a noncompetitive show at Rabab Stud today afer four days of the Egyptian National and International competitions. Some of the horses were shown at liberty, meaning that they were simply turned loose in the paddock for people to watch and admire. After playing around in the paddock for a while, this lovely black mare came to a stop next to one of the photographers for her handler to place the halter on her so she could be led out.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Wooden Bridge

The farmers here make pretty much everything they need themselves. In this case it was a bridge to get to the other side of the canal. Sometimes they are made from palm logs, sometimes concrete, sometimes from random scraps of wood.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Saddlemaker's Workshop

Probably most of you have never seen the inside of a saddle. Most of us hadn't either until Zsuzsu Illes came to visit for a couple of weeks to do clinics on riding and saddle fit. One of our local saddlemakers has been trying to learn to do a better job so he was invited to a saddle fitting session where I translated for him and then he invited the group to his workshop so that Zsuzsu could give him ideas and suggestions for his work. These are some trees for saddles that haven't been built yet. They are not something that I'd put on any of my horses but they will likely end up on horses at the pyramids stables. Unfortunately, most of our good saddles have to be imported at considerable cost and without being able to be sure that they will actually fit our horses. For people who can't afford this, a local saddle is the only solution but it isn't good for the horse. We are working on getting some saddlemakers to come and work with the locals to improve the quality.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Cleanup Crew

The stalks are those of last summer's okra crop. They are allowed to get quite tall and woody and cut down after the harvest of the last pods which will supply next summer's seed. The sheep will trim off all the leftover leaves and twigs after which they will be left to dry to be used for firewood for the farmers to boil their tea water over while working in the fields.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Housewives' Helper

The women living in the villages don't usually have cars or access to supermarkets so enterprising young (and old) men drive carts around with the more commonly used cleaning supplies, such as simple soaps, detergents and the old fashioned rusts-away-in-your-hands steel wool to clean the enormous aluminum cooking pots they favour. These things and a bit of elbow grease leave the pots glistening in the sun.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tea Break at Dahshur

Some of the tourist police and their camels take a break in the afternoon in the shadow of the Bent Pyramid at Dahshur. This pyramid is interesting for its sort of squashed shape (the builders used too steep an angle initially and then had to lower it) and for the fact that it is one of the only pyramids that still has its facing stones.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Coffee Break

Many years ago before Cairenes went totally overboard over lattes, there was a nice family owned Italian style coffee shop on Road 9 in Maadi. Cafe Greco was an instant success among the expats and soon was filled with both local and foreign residents. For my money, it's still the best coffee in Cairo, despite Starbucks, Cilantro, Beano's and any number of other competitors.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Intersection Market

They are everywhere, I know, not just in Egypt, those guys selling kleenex and and steering wheel covers and pop-out sun shades to put in your car window. This guy caught my eye with the wonderful colours of his dusters.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A New Pyramid???

I was riding in the desert the other day and spotted a bunch of men digging a neat, tidy square hole in the sand. Thinking that perhaps they'd found something interesting, I rode over and greeted them to be told that they were, in fact, digging up sand. Okay.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Just Look For The Orange House

What can I say? If you wanted to sleep outside, the colour would probably keep you awake. The villagers do like their colour!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

AAA Can't Take The Call

I do like photos of our eccentric driving practices, but this is a bit different. While out riding the other day we noticed a group of men standing staring at a canal and a water buffalo bull. There were long silences and then vigorous conversation. As we passed we saw that a cart had gone into the canal and the men were trying to haul it out with the bull. At least no one was hurt.

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