Sunday, December 29, 2013

Turnip seller Abu Sir

 In the fall when they plant the berseem for the winter the villagers plant turnips as well. Sometimes they are planted in with the berseem crop and harvested with the second or third cutting of the berseem. Other times they plant them along the borders of the beds and harvested as needed. Turnips in Egypt are generally eaten raw like the radishes that are closely related. I like to cook the greens but this isn't a common dish. Generally they are cut and pickled in a simple brine solution and eaten as an accompaniment to almost anything.  She was enjoying  the winter sun in Abu Sir and snacking on some of her wares.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Things To Keep Us Safe

Almost every car in Egypt has something hanging from its rear view mirror.  In my case, it's quite a few somethings. The bottom object is a beaded triangle made by the Bedouin women of St. Katherine's which is filled with sand from the desert around the monastery, which is supposed to protect vehicles and travelers. The blue disk at the top is a Turkish evil eye charm which is a circle of blue glass with a white glass center.  And finally hanging from a bracelet of blue glass beads in the Turkish style is the kaf, or hand of Fatima, which is supposed to protect from the evil eye. In Cairo traffic, you need all the help you can get.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Tiring Building

If you are driving from Khan el Khalili to downtown, you see this extraordinary building to your right. Originally built by a Turkish born Austrian as a department store, it only served as such for about ten years until 1920 and since then has been floating in ownership limbo. You can read more about it at 

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Loved Dog

I spotted a dog wearing a sweater barking at passersby in the area of The City Of The Dead that adjoins the Autostrade. Lucky dog on these chilly days!

The Snow in Egypt

 For some bizarre reason these days I can't load photos from my desktop so all my posts are from my phone or iPad. We didn't get any snow in Cairo or Giza at all, just enormous quantities of rain. The snow in Egypt fell on New Cairo which is a suburb up on the desert hill just east of Cairo and in St. Katherine's in the mountains in the center of Sinai. It isn't at all that unusual to get snow in Sinai, but snow in the gated communities east of Cairo was a first. There was no snow at all at the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx, despite photos posted to Facebook. Those were either a park in Japan with miniatures or photoshopped.

Someone else's photos of the snow in Cairo

Monday, December 9, 2013

Stars In Your Eyes

Every time I go to Khan el Khalili I almost have to tie my hands to keep from buying  lamps. These metal lamps with their cutouts are beautiful to look at and cast a lovely light as well. But with the media saying how "dangerous" Cairo is, the three of us women were the only foreigners we saw there. It's tragic as so many families are in desperate straits for the lack of tourism. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Even Egyptians Can Be Tourists

What happens when you put an Egyptian on a camel at Giza and you give him a camera? You get even more funny pictures than you might expect from a foreigner. And oddly enough some of them get seasick. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Kelly's Girls

Yesterday we were doing a mobile veterinary clinic for the Rural Wellness Initiative just outside of Shabramant/Abu Sir, a farming area of Giza that is south of the Giza plateau. With all the governmental unrest and changes in the past few years, agricultural services to farmers have essentially died in Egypt, so members of my farm staff, some veterinarians and members of the Donkey Sanctuary staff have gotten together to provide free vet care for the small farmers in a roughly 300 acre square. Neighbours and friends donate money to buy simple preventative care veterinary medications such as wormers, vitamins,  and antibiotics for wound care.  The Donkey Sanctuary trained our staff in hoof trimming, abscess treatment and also how to flush the tear ducts of donkeys, which when blocked cause the tears to run down the donkeys' faces attracting flies which infect the skin with parasites causing long open sores on the face.
We have found a local craftsman to manufacture sturdy fly masks to protect the donkeys' faces from the flies, more  humane halters that help to control wayward donkeys without causing damage to their noses as is caused by the usual chain halters, and noseband covers to prevent chain damage for people who are using the chain halters.

But a huge part of the fun of this work is seeing the children of the countryside playing, like these two girls who were on their way home from school and hitched a ride on a VERY slow moving truck.  As it slowed even more to pass our clinic site, a little boy joined them on the bumper.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Lonely Sarcophagus

...and a sad comment on pollution. Roughy ten or fifteen years ago a friend of mine was visiting the antiquities at Sakkara and took this photo except that in hers you could see the pyramids of Giza as well as the pyramids of Abu Sir. As little as six years ago the Giza pyramids were visible from Abu Sir more often than not, but it is no longer true. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Flipflop Land

A visiting friend needed some sandals so we went into Nazlet Semman to find them. Most of the poorer Egyptians wear these most of the time  

Monday, November 4, 2013

Do It Yourself Country Style

We must have spent close to fifteen minutes just trying to figure out what this composite truck was made out of!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Haircut Time

We decide that our three lambs were looking a bit shaggy so we called pulp cal sheep shearer who showed up with his entire tool chest, a pair of hand forged steel scissors. Hard wor and better him than me. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Yes, We Have Bananas!

Believe it or not, people do import bananas to Egypt although I can't imagine why. Maybe some shoppers like fruit that will sit unchanged on your countertop, but my preference is for the tang and flavor of the local fruit. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Doing It The Hard Way

This is a sakia, an old fashioned metal water wheel that runs on donkey power. Usually they blindfold the donkey so that he doesn't know that he's walking in circles. Donkeys are much too smart to do THAT willingly.  This donkey, however, is sporting a nice fly mask rather than a blindfold, so the boy gets to walk in circles as well to keep the motor running. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Cairo Sunset

If you are driving in Cairo in the mid afternoon, the odds are good that you will see one of these, the fiery yellow ball settling into the west over miles and miles of cars crawling in second gear down the road. Of course it helps to be crossing one of Cairo's bridges across the Nile to the Giza side.  We all hate Cairo traffic!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Vegan Lizard

I spent the day today at the New Cairo British International School as part of their community service program. Groups from all over Cairo were there explaining their activities to students who were looking for something for the school year. I've been working with them for a while providing educational programs and horseback riding so a young friend decided that since I couldn't bring my goats as I did last spring, she'd Lian me her Egyptian Uromastyx lizard whose favorite food is hibiscus flowers. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Treats For Crows Too

Every summer a pair of Hooded Crows raises a couple of hatches at the farm, so we go from two crows to about a dozen by fall. The first batch help to raise the second. Since the dogs at the farm are free fed a local kibble that is primarily dried fish (dogs love it and the Omega oils help keep them young!) the crows have essentially an inexhaustible buffet. I find them perched on the feed tray every morning. Today a neighboring butcher gave me a bag full of veal bones for the dogs and the crows are nibbling on any unoccupied (dog wise) bones. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cleanliness Is Next To Zucchini

These are loofah, used for scrubbing dishes, floors,and even people. They are sometimes pricey items in upscale pharmacies and makeup shops in Europe and North America. People sometimes think they come from the sea, thinking, I suspect, of sponges. But they come via brilliant yellow flowers from a vine much like that of zucchini.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Move Over, Nutella

Meet Datella, an invention of some chocolate lovers living in Egypt. Wanting a natural product without additional sugar so they mixed date syrup, dates, cocoa powder and a bit of oil.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Baladi Air Conditioning

On a hot afternoon, the dogs really appreciate the fact that we have an old refrigerator that needs defrosting every now and then. Our puppy, Mozza (which means a very cute girl in Egyptian slang) decided that the best thing was to alternate licking the ice and sleeping on it. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Staff if Life

We are having the first anniversary party of our veterinary charity, Rural Wellness Initiative Egypt, and did our grocery shopping in Abu Sir. The baker there makes some of the beat pita bread I've ever eaten. We knew we'd be waiting for a big order so Um Ali bought a couple of lia es from the oven directly to give her kids a treat while waiting in my car. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Mystery Sticks

You see piles of them around town in any Egyptian city. It looks like bamboo and is closely related. Sugar cane has been grown in Egypt for thousands of years. Egypt was exporting cane sugar during Europe's dark ages. Now it is often crushed in the mother if all juicers to make sugar cane juice, a green juice that oddly enough isn't that sweet. The pulp retrieved from the crushing is dried and chopped to use as cattle feed. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Simple Pleasures

One of the things I love about living in the villages is the sense of familiarity I get watching the kids play. They don't have electronic toys. They play with marbles, sticks, wheels, or, in this case, by pasting stickers to their faces. They found it very amusing. My horse found it quite odd. 

Not Quite Pretzels

You see them along the streets in Cairo generally at a corner to serve a quick snack to a motorist of a boiled egg and one of the pretzel shaped pieces of bread. The cart owner here was finishing up for the day and taking his bread down from the rack that would ordinarily be covered. But this is more a morning treat and by 2 pm he was ready to move on. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Murder Of Crows

Hooded Crows are not loved by Egyptian farmers but I really like them. They can be destructive of crops and they will capture and eat the hatchlings of other birds, which can be less than endearing. 

This group was happily digging bugs out of our lawn, though their favorite food seems to be the dogs' kibble.  A murder of crows is what a group of crows would be called and the two large beige hairy things are two of my dogs. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Ice Cream Break

I went into Maadi today with a friend who needed a ride in and some moral support. On the way back we stopped at a locally famous shop that sells honey and products made with buffalo milk. The sign's spelling is amusing, but the ice cream is simply wonderful. It's the only place in the world that has a soft chocolate ice cream that I really like. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mean Streets

This is a street in the "village" of Abu Sir. This "village" houses about forty thousand people. It has no mayor, no town council, no police, no sewage, no trash collection, no running water...among many other things that it lacks, like paved roads. This is rural Egypt, the place that the government never thinks about. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Tapping For Freedoms

This isn't a photo but a video done by some of the Egyptians who are not happy with the military coming in and running Egypt (not that they ever really left) after everyone took to the streets to declare their total disillusionment with the Muslim Brotherhood government (which was really only for the Muslim Brothers and not for the rest of Egypt). This video is to remind those who remember the brutal excesses of the security forces and army in putting down protests both under the initial military rule and under the Muslim Brothers (who had no objections as long as they were ruling, oddly enough) and to encourage them to protest in a peaceful way daily.

Most Egyptians live in apartments, no matter where they live, since usable land is so scarce here. We only use about 4% of our land and the rest is empty desert with sand, more sand and still more sand. So if you get people every evening leaning out of apartment windows and tapping on pots and pans in protest, it could get quite noticeable.

The film is  well-made and the tune is very catchy. Nice idea. If you want to borrow this for your own protests, I'm sure no one would mind.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Market Smile

If you are sitting in a car in Egypt you may find yourself the object of children's curiosity. The easiest way to entertain them and yourself is to haul out your phone and take pictures. The children will be delighted and are dying to see their photo, and you get something like this little girl in Abu Sir. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sesame and Little Girls

They call out "Saa kam" "What time is it?" because, I believe, it's such a novel idea that someone wears a watch and knows all the time. So I tell them, knowing full well that it is utterly irrelevant information. The tepee shaped things behind them are stacks of this summer's sesame crop drying for a month before they harvest the seed. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sad Commentary

For the first time in Egypt I've seen a situation where a gas station had to take in the display if such valuable items as Kleenex and window cleaner.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Quick Look Is Plenty

I'm not entire sure what the guy owning the truck had in mind, but I'm pretty sure that misspelling "ingestion" wasn't it. Still, with all the aggravation of driving in Cairo traffic, it gave me the giggles and I was delighted to catch it.

Monday, August 5, 2013


This is a detail of a door at Rifaii mosque in old Cairo. The mosque was built during the late 1800's and early 1900's. It houses the tombs of the royal family of Egypt and also the tomb of the late Shah of Iran.  The door is made out of small pieces of wood and ivory that have been fitted together to form the pattern. If you touch it, you can feel each piece of wood or ivory move independently.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Light My Fire

I've barbecued a lot of ribs, hamburgers and chicken in my time, but I never stopped to think where the charcoal came from, other than from a nice bag at the grocery store. Out here in the farmland, however, there are small corners of land where the owners of trees that have to be trimmed can sell their wood to the charcoal burners. These people layer the wood carefully and then cover it all with wet straw. The wood and straw are then covered with a layer of dirt and old charcoal and the wood is set alight. It burns very slowly over a number of days and then the fire is put out. When everything is cool, the mounds are opened and the charcoal is taken out and put into bags, but usually old feed bags out here.  And that's how they do it.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Signs Of Uncertain Times

Signs for a nursery school and a store selling BB guns share a tree in Maadi. BB guns have always been legal in Egypt although regular firearms are not. But over the past few years both have become more common. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Location, Location, Location

Passing by the mosque on Road 9 in Maadi one morning I noticed that a shoeshine man had set up shop there. Since those who enter the mosque to pray remove their shoes, this is a perfect place for his business. Why not get your shoes cleaned at the same time?

Monday, July 29, 2013

King Of The Mountain

During the summer, especially during Ramadan that is our July this year, the farm is a great place to relax and enjoy the denizens. Google, our Nubian/Alpine buck likes to regard his domain from the top of the wall. Mindy, the Dane, on the other hand, is either curious about what he's doing or trying to encourage him to get down. Google, quite clearly, is having none of it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Water Tree

Wood is expensive in Egypt so many things are made from wrought iron. This rack carries earthenware jars that keep water cool by evaporation through the clay. During Ramadan these jars would be upside down and empty until just before sundown.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Everybody's Bruce Lee

The perfect playground for some twelve year old boys...a plain white plastic drop cloth for a stage and someone with a camera! One of Jan Nikolai's photos of the Abu Sir children.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Fading Into White.

We had a young German couple come to stay at the farm a little while ago. They do photographic art and went out to the Rural Wellness Initiative Egypt's mobile vet clinic with us. Jan Nikolai set up a white plastic drop cloth to shoot portraits of some of the farmers and children with their animals. The results were amazing.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sailing With Your Lawn

Despite the fact that everyone thinks of Egypt as a barren desert (which in fairness, much of it is), anywhere you have water, almost anything grows. Still, I was surprised to see grass growing on the rudder of a felucca sailing near us on the Nile the other day. At least the captain isn't bringing a goat along to mow it.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Just In Case You Were Wondering

Life in Egypt is just a teeny bit schizzy these days. On one hand we have a bunch of bozo Salafi parliamentarians who want to ban ballet because it is pornographic, and on the other hand we have mannequins modeling outfits like these in a normal upper middle class mall in Maadi. Are these the new Salafi militia uniforms?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Wondrous Sound

I generally post a photo here but a while back I was visiting the mosque and madrasa of Sultan Hassan in Cairo with a friend when one of the men offered to show us how the construction of the mosque facilitated the transmission of sound from the area where the sheikh would be preaching to the people sitting in the large courtyard. This mosque was built in the 1100's long before anyone could dream of microphones, but the effects are extraordinary.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Summer Evening

Egypt is hot but the temperatures drop quickly when the sun sets, and even more quickly if you are lucky enough to be on a felucca, one of the old wooden sailing boats, on the Nile.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Taking Care of Younger Ones

Out here in the villages you often see younger children and babies in the care of their older siblings. It isn't something you see so much in the city, especially with middle and upper class families who might have staff working for them to take care of the kids. But I remember being the oldest of four and essentially being responsible for my younger siblings when my mother had something else to do. I guess it's a bit of a lost art some places now.

Friday, May 10, 2013


The mosque of Ibn Tulun is one of the largest mosques in Cairo and also one of the oldest. Built in about 880 AD it was attached to the royal palace of the Abbasid ruler of Egypt at the time, but it is the only building of the era that still exists. It is one of my favourite mosques, its clean lines and open spaces give a sense of isolation from the chaos outside. Click for a larger version of the picture and you will have a better sense of the size when you see the two people in the upper left corner of the courtyard. The Gayer-Anderson museum is attached to that corner of the compound.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Riverfront Property

Along the riverside that parallels the island of Zamalek are lined old houseboats, one of the more exotic and romantic varieties of housing available in Cairo. These are near the northern tip of the island along the Giza shore. It looks more like a resort than one of the craziest cities on the planet.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Little Things Mean a Lot

Most farming families in rural Egypt don't own a car, a tractor, or anything more complicated than a bicycle or a motorcycle. The family donkey is a vital and not always well-understood part of the farmer's equipment. Flies can cause eye and skin infections and flies are endemic in farming areas. Most of the farmers make a sort of makeshift halter/bridle using chain across the nose area. Chain is cheap and unbreakable but hard on the skin so there are a number of lovely women who make these nose fuzzies to cover the chain and shield the donkey's nose. The Donkey Sanctuary distributes locally made flymasks (thus also providing jobs in an economy that really needs them) when they join The Rural Wellness Initiative Egypt's mobile vet clinics on Tuesday afternoons. The Rural Wellness Initiative is a group based on Facebook that provides free medical care to farmers in the area near our farm. Our staff works on these trips as donkey hoof trimmers, cow wormers and chicken holders, while I am the chief goat hoof trimmer. These clinics are making a difference in the health of the farmers' animals and thus with their productivity.
I want to apologise for not posting for a long time but my internet has been so terrible for the past month it's been really hard to get online.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Opposite of a Post Card

In the villages, when a member of the family has made the pilgrimage to Mecca, a painting is often added to the front of the house, sometimes showing the means of transport, but always showing the Kaaba. Rather than taking photos there, they come home and then record it.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pyramids Make People Silly

 The panoramic point at Giza always has bizarre photo opportunities.  Maybe a Japanese tourist jumping high into the air from a wall. I don't know why.
Or people standing posed to touch the top of a pyramid...or maybe a tourist bus. At the correct angle you get the shot of someone touching something untouchable but at another, complete nonsense.

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