Friday, December 31, 2010

Best Holiday Wishes

Tomorrow begins a new year and we wish everyone all the best in the coming year. My post today is a silly photo of the farm staff and visiting friends in Santa hats and the preparations for a couple days of camping and sandboarding in the desert near Fayoum.

Monday, December 27, 2010

I'll Just Stop For A Snack

Donkeys are really smart. They can be sent on errands from a farmer's house to his fields and will reliably deliver things, in this case a load of manure for the fields. They do, however, have their own ideas about when and where they can stop for a break.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


It's Christmas and all over the world people are trying to get home to their families. My daughter was on her way home to Egypt for the holidays and got stuck for two days in New York when Frankfurt airport was closed. We finally got her back from the airport today and the dogs who had grown up with her were ecstatic to see her.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Making The Promise

Last night one of my grooms got engaged. His fiancee has been to university apparently. The engagement party was held in the neighbouring village of Abu Sir and involved a gift of jewelry worth several thousand Egyptian pounds to the prospective bride followed by dancing and general celebration.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Going Christmas Shopping

Who says that people in Egypt don't believe in Christmas shopping? This mural at the entrance to the Dandy Mall near the entrance of the Alex/Cairo desert highway. I think it gets the message across.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rube Goldberg in Giza

This fascinating machine consists of a diesel pump that pumps water from a well and also turns the wheels that move the belts to run the machine that shreds palm leaves into a fine fiber that is dried and then used in upholstery. The water from the well cools the moving parts of the machine and then is pumped into a tank that then is used to irrigate fields. All in one.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Trees

I was driving in Maadi when I came to a screeching halt in front of this florist shop with a display of real Christmas trees. Most green Christmas trees here are cypress trees as pines don't grow in the Middle East much. I asked the shopkeeper the prices and was told that a 2 metre tree would cost about LE 1500 (around $300) while a smaller 1.5 metre tree would cost LE 750 or about $150. But they don't smell real.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fussball At The Harley Shop

Harley Davidson and Cairo don't usually roll off the tongue together. After all, with our traffic roaring down the highway isn't usually an option. Be that as it may, there is a Harley Davidson shop in Zamalek and another in Mohendessin. And the one in Zamalek has a nice fussball game to play with.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Shopping at the Fair Trade Shop

We have a lot of choices of places to shop for handicrafts here but my preference is for the shops that make sure that the artisans get their fair profit. This is a shop in Zamalek near 26th of July that carries fabrics, clothing, jewelry, baskets, rugs, pottery, embroidery...just to name a few.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Deck The Walls

Christmas celebrations around the farm are usually very low-key involving visits to friends for dinners, small exchanges of gifts and so on. With my children in the US and my busiest working season being around Christmas, I don't generally bother with decorations. But this year I have some Canadian and British friends spending Christmas with me and they are very much into decorations. Paddi brought a bunch of Santa hats for some of the village kids, which were a big hit, and they've begun decorating the farm with the help of my village neighbours who find the whole exercise a bit odd but quite entertaining.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sometimes A Pillow Is Nice

When Finn, our over-sized baladi dog decided to nap with the others on the bench by the tack room, he used our oldest Rat Terrier, Terra, as a convenient pillow. His head is almost the same size as her body but she didn't seem to mind.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Not Quite a Harley

Motorcycles are becoming more and more common on Cairo streets. This one, however, probably dates back to the revolution.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Just To Get The Shot

It's amazing how you can get caught up in the immediate project and forget where you are and what you are doing. The young lady taking the photo has only been riding for a couple of months. Happily, her equine partner is a really lovely reliable mare.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Where's Waldo?

I was taking a Canadian rider for a spin in the desert yesterday and I noticed this round white object on a pile of sand and rock in the Boneyard. Can you spot Waldo?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Still The Old Days

I was out riding with some really delightful Brit visitors and we saw a man plowing his tiny field with a pair of cows hitched to a wooden plow. Taking photos from an antsy horse isn't so easy so this isn't brilliantly focused but when I downloaded from my phone and tinted it sepia, this looked like a postcard from the 1890's.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Old Friends on A Norag

These two gentlemen were enjoying the autumn sunshine on a norag, an old wooden bench used for threshing with oxen.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Bone of Contention

I'd seen this building coming up next to the highway and admired its lines, but I had no idea what it was. Then the riot police took up residence on the edge of the highway and the pieces fell into place. This church was ordered to stop building because of an incorrect permit, (Since when do people actually pay attention to building permits in Egypt?) and the congregation were seriously ticked off. Since it is a common practice in the countryside to build a small mosque and then attach a house to it to get past the rule against residential buildings, there's some room for discussion here, to say the least. Yesterday afternoon, the guys on the highway looked more bored than anything else, but there was some serious rumbling in other areas.

Monday, November 22, 2010

One Of The World's Great Balconies

We went to collect a friend of mine who was visiting from the US so that she could come have a late lunch. While she picked up her stuff, we went to admire the view and were totally blown away. I've gotten used to seeing the Giza pyramids as I drive in and out of town, but just sitting there being gorgeous on the horizon...well!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Winter Feluccas

Although it's mid to late November, it's still warm enough to enjoy sunset on the Nile. So people rent these wooden sailing boats for an hour or two.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Perfect Place to Buy Antiques

The same dry air that is responsible for the preservation of mummies, also helps to preserve other objects in Egypt. The fact that the turn of the 20th century saw a huge building boom in the country also leads to there being some amazing antiques here. The wheels and the norag (the benchlike object) that was used for threshing grain are often bought to decorate gardens.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tis Almost The Season

That's right, it's mid-November and time for all good residents of Cairo and Giza to prepare for the Christmas Bazaar Barrage. We have at least half a dozen Christmas bazaars (or is it bizarres?) here to help everyone out with their Christmas shopping. And we need them! Egypt celebrates Christmas twice, on Dec 25 and on Jan 7, to accommodate all flavours of Christianity and because no Egyptian can pass up a good party. Artisans, small businesses, and charities sell items at these bazaars and a portion of the sales go to various charities. And for all of you in snowy climates, sorry about the sunglasses and tans, but what can we say?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Only Fifty Pounds

First he walks up and greets you politely as you are about to take your son's picture. Pulling a faux Arab headscarf from his pocket, he wraps it on your son's head and tells you how much better the picture will be with it. You smile, bewildered a bit but also a little touched by his interest. Then he takes his scarf from around his neck, wraps your head with it, and offers to take a picture of the two of you. You smile and nod. Picture taken, he then asks for 50 pounds for the scarves and photography services. Hmm. How exactly did that happen?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Beginning a Batik

A staff member at Wissa Wassef explains how the batiks that they make there are prepared. This one is floral and starting in a startling orange.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ali Baba Wuz Here

The Egyptians invented potshards. They used to bake their bread in pots and break them to get the bread out, then leaving the bits of pots around. We have tons of mud so the making of pots is still a major activity.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Living Colour

There are no building codes in Egypt, at least not that I'm aware of, and people are free to use their whims and imaginations when it comes to decoration. The villagers seem to have pretty colourful imaginations.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hey! Look What's In Here!

The boy was leading his sheep along a trail towards us. They were on their way home and the donkeys were leading the way as they usually do if the trip (like home to dinner) is important. He stopped to greet us as they were passing a gate to a fenced plot of land and the lead donkey took advantage of the distraction to check out the grass on the other side of the door.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Palm is actually a grass and is probably the first plant domesticated by man. The hard ribs of the fronds are used to make boxes, the leafy part of the frond is used for mats, baskets and the like. The brown fiber that covers the base of the frond makes some of the strongest rope I've ever used, though pretty scratchy, and is formed into brooms and other cleaning implements. The wood is quite soft and porous but in our dry climate can be used for some building purposes. Unprepared, the logs are often used for informal bridges across canals or for walls. The prepared logs are often used in house construction.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bessy's Other Job

This farmer has two cows yoked to a wooden plow and seems to be on his way to work in his fields. I found him walking down a road. The plow is actually turned backwards with the wooden blade between the two cows.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ancient Engineering

While riding through Sakkara village I noticed something that I'd ridden past over twenty times previously without noticing. Look between the palm trees and you will see a tall pole with a stone ring around the end of it near the ground. The stone provided the counterweight to ease the job of hauling the water bucket attached to the other end out of the well. The chopped off palm trunk provided the fulcrum for this simple lever. The machine was known as a shadduf and it was one of the earliest machines.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Who Was That Masked Man?

I was escorting some visitors on a ride through the village of Sakkara yesterday and when we came around a corner we found this tiny little boy with only a tshirt on standing in the middle of the path. I called everyone's attention to our small obstacle and we very carefully passed by him. His mother was just up the way sitting on a step so he wasn't without supervision, but kids in the villages are assumed to be the responsibility of everyone so she wasn't too worried. We are always careful on the horses around any buildings.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Automatic Vegetable Washer

As we rode past a hand pump, I noticed that the spout was blocked with radishes. Odd. As a young man approached he put another radish with the first two and pumped fresh water over them to wash them. Healthy snack.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Street Crossing School

Anyone who has ever tried to cross the road in Cairo will have enormous respect for the survivors of the attempt. So how do they learn to do that? Obviously, they start very young.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fall Plowing

In North America, the growing season is in the spring and summer. Here the best growing season for many things is in the winter because the intense heat is too much for many crops. So in the fall we have a lot of field preparation. These men are preparing a field for planting berseem clover and breaking up the dirt clods by standing on a palm log that the tractor is pulling. Sort of like mud skiing.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Working Against The Heat

A sweet potato vendor in the city, while offering healthy fast food, finds not too much interest in his hot treats. You can see the sweat on the tshirt of the man striding past without a look. He'll have better sales after dark when it cools off.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Yet Another Use For Duct Tape

The Donkey Sanctuary isn't a place; it's an idea. The parent organisation is in the UK but in Egypt it consists of a group of trucks fitted with drawers for medications and tools, a farrier, a vet, a harness maker and a driver. They go out in to the villages where donkeys are the main form of transport or they go to the brick kilns where they haul the bricks around. At each visit they check working donkeys for signs of worms, sharp teeth, wounds from bad harnesses or hoof abscesses...among many, many, many other things. The donkeys are treated on the spot and the owners are coached on how to care for their furry partners. Farmers and brick kiln workers simply can't do without their donkeys. In this case they were driving along on their way to a regular clinic visit when the driver noticed a limping donkey. They stopped, examined the animal and found an abscess in the hoof. This was excavated a bit so that it could drain and a mix of sugar and betadine were packed into the clean hoof, covered with cotton to pad it, and then secured with shiny silver duct tape. All for free.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Souq After The Feast

A couple of weeks ago I posted a photo of the Maadi souq on the last day of the feast. We needed a few vegetables, but mostly we wanted to get out and wander around, so it was off to the market....which we found almost totally empty. This is much more normal.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

In-Road Market

A couple of young men were selling fish, shrimps and crabs in baskets of ice one furnace-like day in Giza last week. I guess this takes a drive-through to a new level.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bedouin Carpet with Kitten

An ethnic craft shop had spread some of its Bedouin carpets on the sidewalk in the sun and a wandering kitten decided to take advantage of a nice spot for a nap. The carpets are woven on narrow looms and then sewn together to make a larger carpet. The Bedouins generally use a mix of wools: goat, sheep, and camel.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Woman Waiting

We were out for a morning ride in the countryside and on our way back we found her sitting in the shade watching over a pump that was helping to distribute the irrigation water. I asked if I could take her picture and she nodded yes. I wasn't surprised at her agreement as she's one of my neighbours and they've all gotten used to me photographing all sorts of thing. The women here are so beautiful in their simplicity.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Fairy Tree

I have one of these trees in my garden here because they are simply magical looking. Although they are often called acacias, they actually are Albizia julibrissin, commonly called a Persian Silk Tree. They aren't terribly large trees and here are dwarfed by the enormous mangoes behind them.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Just A Trim

Palm trees need a lot of maintenance. The extra fronds must be trimmed about 3 times a year. The brown fiber must be removed, and the trees must be inspected and treated for the palm weevils that have invaded from the east.

Friday, October 8, 2010

When Was The Last Time You Saw One Of These?

When I was a kid my father kept all his scraps of lumber in a huge box and we had access to hammers and nails. We built all sorts of things from battleships to float in a wading pool to forts and vehicles. One of the things that I truly appreciate living in the villages is the fact that kids here still build their toys most of the time. A swing may be constructed from a rope and a chunk of plywood tied to a tree. All sorts of wagons and carts abound. Great for the imagination.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Makwagi

This man has saved more marriages than any psychiatrist, counselor, or religious advisor. You can take any or all of your clothes to him to be ironed for almost nothing. I know a lot of little boys who thought that being a makwagi was the perfect job because you got to see what was going on all day. They usually outgrow the idea.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Band On The Run

Another uniquely Egyptian traffic photo. While crawling along in some heavy traffic the other night we saw this band casually sitting on top of their equipment in a pickup truck. That's one way of keeping an eye on things being transported.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

We're All Here

We had to go visit the Sakkara Country Club where they have been renovating their hotel rooms. The rooms were originally horse boxes but they have been seriously transformed a couple of times now. The new embodiment is pretty nice.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Got The World On A String

I was going to the first terminal of Cairo International today to pick up a friend arriving from Bahrain for a riding holiday. As we walked into the old terminal we spotted two young men suspended on ropes while they wiped down the front of the building. As far as I can imagine, that's a totally endless task with all our dust.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Walk-by Shooting (with camera)

Schools have started again in Egypt so when we were driving home from doing errands downtown we were blessed with after school traffic. The bright murals on this primary school and the flags flying gaily along the fence seem very inviting, but to be totally honest the inside is probably much less welcoming due to poor teacher training and salaries and overcrowded classrooms. A pedestrian walking down the road in the street is not an unusual sight. The roads are generally more smooth and even than the sidewalks, unfortunately. So you worry about being run over rather than falling and breaking a leg.

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