Friday, December 30, 2011

A Truly Imaginative Tour

Businesses in Egypt often get rather whimsical names to say the least. While dropping her father at the airport this morning, Catherine noticed this bus. Harry Potter? Really? Does it come with Quidditch or an invisibility cloak?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Girl and Her Dogs


Christmas is chaotic anywhere anytime. My daughter and I decided that a walk in the desert would help to clear our heads. A couple of the dogs agreed.
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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Water Work

Just a few metres from a busy road traveled by tourists visiting the Sakkara Pyramids a canal flows behind houses and apartment buildings to carry irrigation water along the farmlands and eventually out to the desert for reclamation projects. In the canals there live fish of various sizes, frogs and toad pollywogs, birds of all types and a newcomer to the area, crayfish. An enterprising fish farmer thought he was buying fresh water shrimp but when he saw his purchase, he dumped them into the river. Since then, about 15 years ago, they have multiplied like rabbits with a lovely side effect. The crayfish are especially fond of snails and have been devouring the snails that have carried bilharizia with the result that this parasitic organism has decreased 95% in parts of the canal and river system. But the crayfish are tough on the nets that the farmers set out for perch, so one of the men working in a boat is fixing his nets, while the others by the bridge are fishing water hyacinths and the ubiquitous plastic bottles out of the water.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


My sincere apologies for not posting for a while but my MacBook got attacked by a Trojan that was hijacking programs on my computer and using up all my internet allowance. I've had to have technicians clean it out and we are now trying to reconstruct my data which was saved but I worry might be infected. Bear with me.

Meanwhile, yesterday was the birth date of young Khaled Alaa Abdel Fattah, whose parents are Alaa and Manal, two of the first Egyptian bloggers that I found when I started my own blog. Most of their work is in Arabic and they are second or third generation activists who have been working to improve life in Egypt most of their lives. Alaa was arrested by the military on charges that are so obviously false it hurts to even think about it. He is still in detention and missed the birth of his first son, just as his father missed the birth of Alaa's sister Mona, another activist here. So everyone wish Khaled a happy birth day and a speedy reunion with his father.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Don't Mess With Egyptian Women

I generally post my photos from Cairo/Giza, but today is very special for all of us in Egypt and when I saw this photo I knew it was the perfect photo for Egypt today.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Black Pyramid on a Winter Day

Riding near the Black Pyramid at Dahshur is an amazing experience any time, but yesterday was one of those crystal clear days with high rain clouds passing by. Truly incredible.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

When Is A Cloud Not A Cloud?

Riding back from Dahshur today with friends we found the sky full of black and silver rainclouds that, happily for us, did not end up soaking us thoroughly. Looking to the southeast, I noticed a thick black cloud roiling across the cities on the other side of the Nile. It was the cloud of pollution from the brick kilns and cement factories of Helwan and the pressure of the clouds above was keeping it low to the ground.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Blending In

Beige and black sheep against the beige desert with the Step Pyramid in the distance. I spotted this flock in the desert just after Eid el Adha, so the sheep were probably very relieved to be ambling through the desert. A pair of grey baby donkeys chased each other through the sand alongside.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Open Sesame!

These are sesame plants. They are planted in Egypt during the summer and the stalks are saved after the harvest to use for fencing and thatching.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Think of this young lady the next time your dishwasher is on the fritz. When all you have is a hand pump, doing dishes is pretty complicated. Soapy water in one pot, clean in another, and enough dishes for a huge family.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Taking a Rest

A street cleaner in Giza rests on his palm broom as traffic crawls by in the usual afternoon snarl.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Urban Cow

Not exactly the sort of thing you expect to see inside an iron railing in Zamalek. The cow isn't real and neither is the grass...or there would be one very overworked gardener at the Dutch embassy.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Cleaning Crew

My housekeeper has been bringing her now almost 6 month old son to work since he was two weeks old. I was worried at first about how the dogs would handle a baby since this is really the first one they've had much contact with. There have been visitors with babies but this little guy lives with us for about 6 hours a day. As you can see, I didn't have much to worry about. Our newest dog, 5 month old Dillah ("shady" in Arabic) has appointed herself the after meal baby car cleaner and is not averse to quickly wiping a spot on his cheek as well. The baby, in turn, babbles away at her and buries his head in her cheek. This is one village boy who won't be afraid of dogs.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Life on The Top Floor

Yet another random architectural wonder from Giza. This peculiar building is on Pyramids Road and I'm honestly not sure what it is other than an amazing waste of space. Will they ever put something on the many?...floors? My daughter suggests that it must be governmental, the wazeeret wazayer? For you non-Arabic speakers that would be the mythical Ministry of Ministries.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ped Xing

I shot this through the front window of my jeep (I wasn't driving!) because I simply couldn't believe the sign. But it is a pretty good representation of the best ways to cross the road in Cairo/Giza.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Something Interesting

I was in a village buying some medicines for my palm trees that are being attacked by palm weevils and I saw this group of men squatting together by the side of the road obviously fascinated by something, but I have no idea what. One of them seems to be a shoeshine guy. After I took the photo, my phone rang and when I looked back up they were all gone. Mysteries!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

It's Interesting!


I have no idea whatsoever what these men were finding so fascinating. One seems to be a shoeshine man. I saw them huddled together near my car in a village near home, got the photo, then my phone rang and when I looked up they were gone.

This is another trial of the Picasa/Blogger mix. Hopefully the photo will come through.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Highway Robbery

Horses don't have the same ideas of ownership as we do. To them, a donkey wagon full of fresh green grass is like a tray of canapes being passed around at a cocktail party. What can you do?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sweet Prickliness of Summer

The prickly pear cactus bears its fruit in the summer, flowers giving way to bulbs that ripen to a red yellow on the oval leaves. Farmers harvest them and bring them into the city where they sell them one by one to passersby who want some of the sweet, sticky fruit. The seller peals them for the buyer so that thorns aren't an issue. Interestingly, no one seems to use the leaves in salads as the Mexicans do. One of these days I will collect some leaves to make nopalitos.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hiding Place

I was up until 2 am last night reading Twitter for the news of the protests and the late break in at the Israeli embassy. The embassy is just across the road from Orman Gardens and the Giza Zoo, so fires, bullets and tear gas are quite concerning in the area. There were only a couple of people in the embassy when the protesters broke in and they were promptly turned over to the military. Contrary to Israeli statements there were no Egyptian commandos involved...Jeez. A lot of people were injured especially by over exposure to tear gas, not the least of them were soldiers who kept getting tear gas blown back at them when the security forces fires canisters. So this morning, I'd really like to be sitting in this little boat sipping some ice tea and maybe trying to catch a few of the perch that hang out in the canal. Someplace quiet and far, far away of the confusion that is Cairo right now.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Not Really My Machine

This is a photo of an industrial sewing machine that is used for making equestrian equipment. I'd been talking to my daughter the other day about how it would be nice to have one to repair bridles and such around the farm, but honestly, I never wanted this particular machine. It used to belong to my friend and saddle maker Mohamed Ibrahim el Said. He's about 42 years old. He'd gone to get papers for his brother who was shot during the revolution by the police. This was just before Ramadan. He'd just been to my farm to talk about making me a new lovely harness for my donkeys. No one has seen him since and no one knows where he is. His wife asked if I wanted to buy the machine because she needs money and most people were offering her peanuts for it. I gave her a decent price and told her that if Mohamed comes back he can get it back from me. I really don't want it. I want Mohamed.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Family Motorcycle

Motorcycles are becoming more and more common here as life is more expensive and cars and gas move out of reach of many families. There isn't much point in worrying about safety when you see a family of four on a motorbike. At least the girls are wearing baseball caps to keep the sun off.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Road To Hell

I went to Sakkara Country Club with a friend today to arrange a stay for him and his wife next weekend. While there the manager opened his drapes and waved at a dark line in the desert next to the Club. Apparently last night a group of local sand and gravel miners trucked in tons of clay to construct a road coming in from the asphalt road to the Giza dump to the north, along the edge of the desert and then up the hills just behind the Club. Apparently the goal is to mine and truck away the hills behind the Club that hid the sight and considerable stench of the Giza dump from the rest of us. And this is on antiquities land. The dump is not but the road most certainly is, and it's highly probable that the workers on this endeavor will enjoy a bit of moonlight archaeology. So who are they paying off? The Army or Antiquities? Or both?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Weighing Okra

On a hot day during Ramadan we were riding along the canal and came to some trees where a primitive scale was set up for the weighing of the okra crop, one of our summer crops. The buyer wasn't there yet so the farmers chatted and dreamed lazily while waiting for him.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Blessed Eid

Tonight it was announced that Ramadan officially ended today and the four day Eid el Fitr (known in our family as "The Cookie Feast) will begin tomorrow morning. After fasting from food, water, and cigarettes from dawn to dusk for 30 days, families will spend four days on a sugar high eating lovely powdered sugar covered shortbread, sometimes filled with dates, nuts, honey, or turkish delight. There are about four other traditional cookies for the Eid, but the kahk is my favourite. Virtually everything will be closed with the exception of the odd gas station or 24 hour pharmacy. This young girl from the farms near me looks like she's more than ready for some cookies.

The traditional greeting is "Eid Mubarak" or blessed eid. I figure that we've had more than enough Mubaraks, so I used the English. It will be understood too.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Moringa Trees

The Moringa tree is a miracle. Almost every part of the tree is edible and it is well-suited to our climate. A friend of mine brought seeds from east Africa and another friend with a nursery is growing seedlings to be planted in the countryside here. The only specification is that they cannot be sold but must be given as a gift. Their lacy foliage is beautiful and will be a welcome addition to our farmlands and gardens.

Moringa Trees

The Moringa tree is a miracle. Almost every part of the tree is edible and it is well-suited to our climate. A friend of mine brought seeds from east Africa and another friend with a nursery is growing seedlings to be planted in the countryside here. The only specification is that they cannot be sold but must be given as a gift. Their lacy foliage is beautiful and will be a welcome addition to our farmlands and gardens.

Monday, August 22, 2011

If Ever There Was A Bridge For Trolls

Houses along the Mariouteya front on the road, but a drainage canal runs behind them. This family made themselves a bridge across the canal but I don't know if I could ever walk across it. Aside from the distinct possibility of a troll living under it waiting for one of the family goats, I'd be terrified of falling into the canal.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The End of Africa

I"ve been out of touch for a bit. My daughter arrived back in Egypt for a two month visit but we immediately flew off to South Africa for the wedding of one of her best friends from school here. So, while we are used to hanging about the northern end of Africa, last week we were exploring the Cape area of South Africa. Beautiful, beautiful country.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Sign of Normalcy

I suspect that Egyptian boys could find a place to play soccer ANYWHERE. This young man was getting in some good kicks to a barely inflated ball in a blocked street near Tahrir. A silver lining to any cloud.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hot Tea on a Hot Day

Egypt runs on hot sweet tea. That's one reason the first couple of weeks of Ramadan are so hard on everyone. This tea shop was impromptu, set up on the sidewalk outside of the Mogamma while the people were living in the tents on the lawn there. It probably isn't there after the army's sweep yesterday.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Water Cooler

In a country with heat like ours, water is very important. Traditionally it is something that people provide for others. During Mameluke times people built sabils throughout the city where people and animals could get a drink. This tower contains terracotta jugs that absorb some of the water and then cool their contents through evaporation through the walls.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Street Art

After years and years when anything like street art was illegal, the wellsprings of graffiti have burst their boundaries and I love it. We found this on Road 9 today. Wonderful stuff.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Don't Point Your Fingari!

A graffiti portrait of one of the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces generals whose name is Fingari. The pun is pretty obvious. This is from Tahrir. Finger pointing is considered very rude in Egyptian culture and he gave a speech in which he did that a lot.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Colourful gardening

Wheelbarrows are quite simple to make and despite the cheap factories of China, most of them in Egypt are still made here. And Egyptians like colour. So why shouldn't your wheelbarrow match your flowers? The wooden poles in the barrel are handles for tools that are also made by hand by our blacksmiths

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Managing Summer

Our fields are amazingly fertile and supply Egypt with its vegetables. This is all done with irrigation since essentially it doesn't rain. Summers are hard here for my work, riding and teaching, because they are so hot but shady trails and the cooling effect of evaporation help a lot.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Best Bread

We needed to stop for some bread today. There is a bakery near a friend's place that makes really beautiful bread...whole wheat pita bread of course. I decided to take a picture of the bread on a rack, fresh from the oven and still puffed up. The baker's assistant also wanted his photo taken, so here he is. We almost died on the way home from the wonderful smell.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


A year or so ago some friends gave me a fleece blanket for Christmas that happened to be white with black spots. Oddly enough, I have a dog just that colour and when she crept onto the bed on morning for a nap, I almost didn't see her.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Etfadalu! Welcome!

This is one of the wrought iron statues at Fagnoon. Most, if not all, are created by the owner Mohamed Allam. The bridge goes over the canal so that child and adult clients can wander back and forth to do pottery, painting, or maybe play in the mud pit. What a wonderful place!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Political Pottery

I've been gone for over three weeks now, having taken my annual holiday to visit my kids in New York City. It's pretty much the only traveling that I do and I'm always sort of stuck trying to find a reasonable present for them. New York apartments are notoriously tiny, so I have to come up with something useful, enjoyable and small. This year I found some Palestinian pottery at the Bedouin Market in Maadi. The owner imports Palestinian pottery from Hebron in the West Bank and I decided to combine my political inclinations with gift buying so they got some lovely tile hotplates and a bowl.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Fire Season

The flame trees (poinciana) are in bloom now and they light up the roads, countrysides and gardens. They provide beautiful shade all summer and then the leaves fall in the winter. A perfect Egyptian shade tree.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Wake Up Call!!

I really hate posting ugly pictures of Egypt when there is so much beauty here, but every now and then I have to in hopes of helping people care for our country. The government (old government) built an extension of the Ring Road to connect the end of the Moneeb coming from Kattameya to the part of the ring road that circled around to the north of the city. Originally the road was intended to go around behind the Giza Plateau but UNESCO blocked that route arguing that the construction was not good in an antiquities area. Just last fall someone put up some tent material along the canal just where the extension took off from ground level and began dumping garbage there. Now every day trucks come and dump load after load of smelly gross garbage under the overpass while bulldozers dig it up again and put it in big trucks to move somewhere else instead.

All of this is incredibly stupid. Instead of investing money in the Zebaleen who recycle roughly 80% of the waste they collect, we are paying people to move it around in trucks, using gasoline and polluting the air further. And it goes to landfills, which as might be expected, FILL UP!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Black Land

In the time of the pharoahs Egypt was divided into the Black Land of the Nile Valley and the Red Land of the desert. Most of the desert near the valley is a reddish colour. You can tell where the antiquities were by a slight white tinge to the desert where the stone chips still cover the sand after the limestone was cut up. The black soil of the valley used to be replenished by the silt from the Nile during the yearly flood. Now it is replenished by the addition of the manure from the water buffalo, silt dug out of the canals during dredging and the careful rotation of the crops by the farmers.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Liftoff in Ten Minutes

This looks like a UFO parked on a roof but it is actually the cover for an air vet in an old house in the old section of Cairo. The cover helps keep rain from coming in on the off chance it may rain, but lets the hot air escape. This is probably about 100 years old and was constructed of wood covered with stucco.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Workday Tools

I believe my friend Elaine Jaques took this while visiting from Canada. These are the tools of the trade hanging on the tack room wall. The mastaba bench is for rest.

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