Friday, December 28, 2012

Pink Cloud

Cotton candy seller
The youth market never fails. In this case a man has filled plastic bags with wads of pink cotton candy (candy floss for the Brits) and is bicycling around the villages selling it to children for probably something like 25 piastres, which is a healthy markup on his materials, although not so healthy for the teeth.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Free Market Is Thriving

A Cairo blogger posted this picture of a man who was driving his car around with this sign posted on both sides of it. The sign apparently says:

Hashish "Afghan- Dutch" available
Salah Imbabay

There are pretty strict laws on the books against the sale of hashish, marijuana and other drugs, but the police force has been pretty slack lately. Still..... wonder if anyone called him.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Two Gems Broken

On our last ride from Dahshur we took a route that ordinarily would take us past two lovely limestone sarcophagi near the railway track that runs between Cairo and Fayoum. This time, however, we found two broken sarcophagi. Someone came and smashed them for no apparent reason.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Living In Tents

For years I've noticed a group of people who would appear here in our area with herds of cattle and unusual patterns of dressing. They often split up into small groups of cattle who graze on the stubble of the corn fields and they told me that they were from Zagazig in Sharkeya province. On our ride to Dahshur we came upon this camp under the palms near the lakebed. Our hostess for lunch told me that these were the cattle people, a group of Bedouin who travel throughout Egypt in a huge loop and have a base of sorts near Zagazig. The army apparently rents the lakebed to a man who has been harvesting the reeds from it until the last couple of years when the lake wasn't filled. This year he rented the lakebed as grazing land for a few weeks to the Bedouin.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Rope Of The Pharoahs

We were riding through the village of Sakkara and as we passed this garden, I noticed that the woman here was making a palm fiber rope. We've used this rope for construction around the farm because it is incredibly strong and doesn't degrade from the sunlight. It is spun from the brown fiber that they take off the palm trees when they are trimming the fronds from them. This is the same rope that was used to build the solar boat that is on display at Giza.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Going, Going, Gone!

 We found a gorgeous green chameleon at the farm today. A speedy little fellow and not very shy. He was happy to threaten us with his gaping mouth.
 When placed on a visitor's arm, he made tracks for the wall with the bougainvilleia from which he had emerged.
 It didn't take long for him to figure out how to reach a branch and to scamper up the vine...
and disappear.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Fluffing Up The Pillows

I'd bet anything that most people can't identify that machine. It's a cotton fluffer for pillows and mattresses. The traditional mattresses are filled with cotton and every few years the fluffer man comes around to re-fluff the mattresses.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Everyone Comes To Giza

We went to Giza and were delighted to have to dodge many, many tourist buses.  As it was the last day of the Feast, there were also a lot of Egyptian families enjoying an outing to the Giza plateau and having picnics in the shadow of the pyramids.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


The pyramid, the camel, the sky. What more?

Photo by Cally Stephenson while in Cairo playing tourist.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Sentinels

Getting up to run an errand at 4:30 am is not high on my list of best ways to start the day, but sometimes it happens. So if you are out in the world at daybreak, you might as well admire it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cairo Sunset

And it includes, as most of us see them, endless rows of cars on the road ahead of us.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Walking In Circles

A blindfolded donkey walks alone around the track pulling the wooden bar that turns a sakia, a water wheel in a palm grove near Dahshur.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Who Knows Where The Clothes Go...

 This seems pretty weird to me, but a lot of clothes bought in North America and Europe are made here in Egypt. We have local shops that sell seconds at extremely reasonable prices and you can get name brands for peanuts. But once the clothes have been shipped out, they start their way back here, among other places. Many people tire of their clothing before it wears out and they sell or donate items in North America and Europe. Very often these second hand items are shipped back to Egypt where they end up in Wekala el Balah, an area of Cairo known for inexpnesive clothing and fabric. There they can be bought off racks, as seen above, or in bales sight unseen.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Modern food consumers generally associate farmers with tractors. After all, fields must be plowed somehow. I don't know what proportion of Egyptian farms are big enough to justify owning a tractor, but around here, it isn't a lot. So usually one man in an area owns a tractor, often an ancient Russian machine like this that has probably been repaired with so many odd parts that it's more of a United Nations piece. He's hired by the hour or by the area of land to do the plowing. All the rest of the work is done by hand.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Elbow Grease

People come to Egypt and they marvel at the pyramids, at least 125 or so of them, scattered along the Nile Valley, and they wonder how they were built. Well, when they were built the Nile used to flood the whole valley necessitating many of the farmers living in the valley to move into the low desert around the temple and pyramid sites where they were basically stuck for about four months every year. With pretty much the entire population of Egypt looking for something to do for four months, the labor pool would have been pretty impressive. So they put their backs to it and moved rock.

We recently decided to drill a new 40 meter well on the farm. The actual drilling was done with the aid of a diesel motor that pulled up a weighted pipe into the air and then dropped in to pound it through sand, clay and layers of some of the hardest stone I've ever seen. And then when they were putting in the actual pipe, the well diggers and some of my staff took the handles to push the pipe in circles to disengage the digging pipe. Hard work, but they did it.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

All Packed And Ready To Go

One of the aesthetically pleasing aspects of the date industry in Egypt is the way that the farmers mostly  utilise the products of the palm to harvest and ship the fruit. The boxes are made of the ribs of the palm fronds, the mats on which they are dried are made of the leafy portion of the fronds, the ropes that the pickers use are made of the fiber found at the base of the frond.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Edge

The images that come out of Egypt tend to be too selective for my taste. Dusty cities, camels by pyramids, people fighting against security forces downtown, stones in the desert.... they only catch small parts of our country. One of the most important things to know about Egypt is the dichotomy between the desert and the Nile Valley. Although geographically, Egypt is roughly the size of France, in terms of usable land space it is more  the size of the Netherlands. We have close to 100 million people with their cities and industries jammed into a tiny sliver of land running along the Nile. This photo shot from a hill just south of Sakkara's Step Pyramid highlights the knife-edge break between the desert and the lush valley.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Helping Farmers By Helping Animals

The Egyptian Society for Animal Friends is doing farm animal clinics at our farm every Thursday afternoon. Farmers can bring their donkeys, water buffalo, goats, whatever, to the doctors to have wounds checked, animals wormed and generally checked out. This is important for the farmers because many of them live too far away from a vet to be able to get their animals to one. We enjoy it as my grooms get to assist and learn more about animal care. And sometimes we get a visitor who has an ingenious solution to a problem. For some odd reason, the flies LOVE donkey blood and will bit the donkeys until they have raw wounds. This poor lady has wounds on her face and on her legs, so her owner cut a pair of pants and tied them on her legs so that the flies can't reach them.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Three-wheel Haulers

So what do you use if you need to haul things in a city that was built a thousand years ago for donkey carts? How about a motorcycle dump truck?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Last of The Harvest

On October 1 I rode to Dahshur with a visitor to Egypt and at our lunch stop they were drying the last dates of this year's harvest. Generally the harvest continues through at least part of October, but this year's heat accelerated the ripening and everything finished much faster. It also spoiled some of the date crop as well. I haven't heard how well the sales of dates have done this year but the mango sales were down, primarily due to people not having money to buy them.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How It's Done In The Village

This is a photo trash collection in my village.  The women and children sort trash collected by the recyclers and put it into these huge bags which are themselves recycled feed bags. Most people have poultry to take care of organic waste. The inorganic gets collected.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

International Language

A visitor at a veterinary clinic day held at our farm decided to do some simple disappearing coin magic tricks for the village children. He speaks no Arabic, they speak no English. But everyone understood.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Waiting Their Turns

We hosted a vet clinic at the farm today. Doctors from the Egyptian Society of Animal Friends came and treated our neighbours donkeys, cows, and water buffalo for free. Most of the work was pretty easy going, worming, hoof trimming and so on, along with a lot of talking to help the farmers and their children learn to care for their animals better. We'll do it again next week and expect an even better turnout.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Geometry of Irrigation

When I was a kid we had a big garden in Southern California and one of my chores was watering the vegetable patches. I liked nothing more than designing irrigation ditches and directing the water throughout the growing plants. I still love watching the irrigation in the countryside of Egypt.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Palm Work

Palm trees are a type of grass and they have to be trimmed regularly. At least twice a year men climb the date palms to cut off the older fronds. These are then hauled into the villages, often either by camel or if there is broader access, by mule and wagon. In the village, people do the initial processing by trimming off the softer leaves and then drying the rib that supports them. Later the ribs will be cut and made into furniture, boxes, or used in walls. The soft leaves may be shredded for upholstery material, woven into baskets, or mats, and so on.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Another Sign Of The Times

Well, after all, the MB are also known to be shrewd businessmen.

Monday, September 3, 2012

An Egyptian Cattle Drive

 While driving into Maadi yesterday I encountered an Egyptian cattle drive of sorts. The farmers from the eastern province bring their cows and some of their sheep and goats into the farming area here around Sakkara and Dahshur every July/August. The animals graze from fields that are being harvested and avoid some of the spraying of the cotton plants in their home province. In the old days, they used to walk them here but now they use trucks.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


A traditional component of most village homes is a mastaba, a bench on the front of the home where the family can sit in the cool of the evening or in the morning sun. Many of them are simply painted concrete, but the owners of this home took fragments of tile to create this image of lotus flowers.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Colours of Home

Light shining in from upstairs highlights the bright lime green of the entry way. The villagers love their colours.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Street Battles

Today was the first day of the Eid, the holiday after Ramadan, and we went for a ride in the villages near us. We went quite early, partly because of the heat and partly because of the children. The kids have been up since early and have breakfasted on kahk, bisquits and petit fours....which are essentially shortbread cookies filled with jam, dates, honey, or nuts. Long before noon, the sugar high is building and kids are out buying Eid toys from small shops. Like pretty much every year, the boys' favourite toy seems to have been various types of plastic pistols. Most of them will be broken before next weekend. Some Chinese factory has made a fortune today.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Bling For the Carters

Egypt is a country that still relies on real four legged horsepower for transportation. Harnesses are both important and mortal, but where do you go to buy harness fittings or ornaments? We went to the Sunday souq at Menawet to find things for our donkey harnesses. Most of the pieces are handmade.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Colourful Cleaning

Village families don't own cars for the most part and there are no shops out here so salesmen come out and wander about with pickup trucks, donkey and horse carts and motorcycle trucks filled with goods that households might need. This man is the local version of the Fuller Brush man.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Neighbourly Behaviour

This arrived this afternoon, a box with about eight to nine kilos (about 20 lbs) of fresh mangoes from a neighbour's orchard. Guess what I'm having about 2 meals a day of.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Important Addition To The Neighbourhood

We have much less pollution out here than in the city and more room, at least technically. But most of the land in the countryside is spoken for and used for farming or housing for the most part. The true stuff of life for male Egyptians under the age of about 50 is football (aka, soccer for North Americans) and it is played in any place that it can be played. In the villages along the desert there are football pitches lined up along the edge of the desert that are filled every Friday afternoon. Near my farm, an enterprising individual leveled some land, fenced it and laid out a football pitch that can be rented by the hour. If everyone playing chips in a couple of LE, the cost of a game is minimal for each. There are even lights for a night game. This is going to be a busy place.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Truth In Advertising

I bought a case of white vinegar a few days ago to use in cleaning my lawn sprinklers. We have a lot of calcium in our water and it gums up the valves and outlets. But I love the carton. The brand name is Ganna (heaven, I believe) and it is almost 5% degree vinegar, whatever that is. But even more important it must be new, as it warns us to "Beware tradition"...... or maybe that just means it won't clean my sprinklers?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Ramadan Decorations

In the days before the start of Ramadan, the villages begin decorating with bits of foil glued over a string or stars cut from paper and glued onto a string.  The beginning of festive nights.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cooling Off

It's been hot lately and after trailing these stupid sheep around all day while they trim the foliage along the canals. So what's a guy to do? Let them eat their heads off, I'm going into the water.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Are You My Mother?

 A mother crow was feeding her baby on top of the hay pile. Mom had to go find more food and the baby decided to ask a passerby for a meal. She's lucky that she found Buffy who is a sucker for any kind of baby.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Life with Islamic Government

This sign was in the window of a pharmacy in Maadi. I don't find it terribly repressed...much less subtle.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Not Fisher Price

My housekeeper's son is figuring out walking but he wants to move faster than he can reasonably do so on his own. One of the villagers took some old nails and scrap wood and made this tricycle walker for him that he pushes around the garden. He still falls over but it's sort of slow motion.

Friday, July 6, 2012


My housekeeper's son was playing in the garden this afternoon and I noticed that four of the dogs had lined up next to each other and were watching him carefully. I couldn't resist the photo, but my moving over to take it did distract his oldest watcher at the left end.

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