Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Learning to Live Without Someone

It's been a bit over a week since we lost Magdy. The riding community of Abu Sir has slowly been recovering its balance and realising just how important he was to our understanding of who and what we are as a community. Community, in every sense of the word, is very important here. Maybe it's because we have no telephone book. That may sound like a joke, but it isn't really meant as one. Keeping track of people takes more effort here and our connections of family and friends are thus more valued, I believe. I have a weird and wonderful backup system of PalmPilot, mobile phones and computers to help me keep track of the hundreds of phone numbers, addressses and emails of people who are important to me.

A new riding routine has developed here. Now all of us make a trip over to the tombs near Abu Sir village to stop our horses for a moment to read the Fat'ha, the opening verse of the Quran for Magdy at some point during the ride. It is a brief stop, but one that the fussiest of our horses doesn't seem to mind although there is no grass to distract them for the stop. I have changed my life routine over the past week. Now I'm getting up early each morning to go out to the horses with my pack of dogs (who love the chance to chase crows out there...almost as much as the crows seem to enjoy leading them all over the paddocks). Each day I take a different horse out to work in the countryside and/or desert, but each day I stop to chat with Magdy and say the Fat'ha. It's made the transition easier.

Friday, December 19, 2003

A Horseman Passes

There was a sandstorm yesterday. The sky was a dirty grey and a bitter wind blew in off the desert. It wasn’t a movie sandstorm, but a nasty Cairo winter sandstorm to make your hair gritty, your lungs ache, and to make you wish you’d never gone out of doors. I was out of doors for work and regretting it, but I listened to the weather forecast and was told that it would be like this for three days. Thinking of a ride and brunch that was scheduled for this morning, I called my friend Magdy to see what the news of the ride would be. He’d been in bed all week with what he called a most “pernicious” bug that was causing him great abdominal discomfort, but we chatted about the weather and I joked with him about his being smart and not riding the next day. I congratulated him on having good sense and told him that the most I was likely to do was to pop by the brunch as I had houseguests over night.
This morning dawned exquisitely beautiful, the only sign of yesterday’s storm being a skin of mud over every car left by rain last night. I headed out to my horses about 10 am and while I was on the bridge over the Nile my mobile phone rang. It was one of my grooms calling to tell me that Magdy Bey had died this morning. The beauty of the morning was lost to me.
Magdy and his wife Janie had been good friends of mine for 10 years and a major part of my sanity since my husband died about three years ago. When I needed wise, honest advice I knew that I only had to dial Magdy’s number at work or at home and I had the best. When I was low or needed help healing myself, my family or my animals, Janie was there. They were there for so many of us, without fuss, pretense or ceremony. The front door was never locked and there was a cup of tea for everyone at any hour.
I took myself in haste to Magdy and Janie’s house in Sakkara, the haven, and Magdy’s dream come true. He’d always wanted to be able to open his bedroom window in the morning and look out at his horses. Until this morning he could do that, open his window and look out to see a wonderful selection. There was La Reine, his half blind Selle Francaise, Bukreya, a pure Egyptian Arabian mare who actually finished Egypt’s first 120 km race with Janie, Bukreya’s daughters, Janie’s stallion Emir el Wadi, offspring of other mares who had grown old with Magdy and passed on, and also Texas, the gelding that had belonged to our friend Jenny who died in a car accident this last year and who had been promised a home for the rest of his life by Magdy and Janie.
Friends were beginning to gather in the garden waiting for Janie and their daughter Zeinab to bring Magdy’s body from the hospital where he’d been rushed the night before. As per Muslim custom, Magdy was washed, wrapped in a white cotton cloth and buried on the day of his death after noon prayers. I didn’t go to the graveyard with them. Someone had to stay and the house to receive visitors and the supplies that had originally been intended for the ride brunch this morning. Despite the change in weather, no one rode today. Magdy was buried in the tombs overlooking the village of Abu Sir, just below the tombs of the pharaohs in Sakkara. As they carried him up the slope the sun gleamed off the sand and sparkled on the palms and mango trees of the countryside. It was perfect riding weather.
After the burial, friends gathered in Magdy’s garden to remember the man who encouraged all of us to follow our dreams, a man who ironically died because his heart was too big. And it was indeed big, big enough to hold all of us from the wealthy and successful horse breeders to the simplest of the fellaheen who walked behind him to the tomb and came in their dark galabeyas to give his widow and daughter their respects.
The old royal flag of a crescent moon and three stars decorates Magdy’s car, his fireplace in the Sakkara house, and various cups and plates. Yesterday I was Christmas shopping and had found a lovely blue bowl with the design on it and I had bought it for him. Magdy came from an old Minya family and learned his love of horses from a grandfather who had been in the royal cavalry. He passed his traditions to all of us. Farewell, Magdy Bey, we’ve lost a horseman.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

"your a kettle of fish arent you?" There are subject lines to emails that absolutely beg to be read, and this was one. I had no idea what this could refer to and I get enough bizarre spam that I thought it could conceivably fall into that category. What I found was a very pleasant email from Trevor in Australia, who has decided that it's time to visit someplace different. I've never met anyone whose life was unchanged by Egypt, for better or worse, and coming here to visit is something that I can encourage everyone to do. Okay, so I don't like it when prices rise because the locals are making so much money off the tourists, but I don't actually hang out in too many tourist locations anyway. "Welcome in Egypt", Trevor....whenever you make it here.

"Welcome in Egypt" is the literal translation from the Arabic welcome to this country. In a very real way, it expresses part of the charm and draw of Egypt. You are not welcomed at the door and then left to drift aimlessly here. No, you will be welcomed again and again and again as you travel through the country meeting people. Every day that I go riding in the countryside, I am welcomed, invited for tea (well, okay, not during Ramadan, although it's often offered despite my hosts fasting...I decline politely.) and welcomed again. It may be a formality of speech, but even formalities express the basic attitudes.

Some of my local friends find my decision to move to a totally rural area puzzling. Who do I know there? How will I manage? It isn't as though I'm moving to the North Pole or something, actually. In 45 minutes I can be in Maadi with all the restaurants, shops and supermarkets that I could possibly need...and a visit with friends over dinner or a coffee is going to be a welcome diversion. I imagine that about once a week or so I will make a provisioning trip to civilisation. There are only the Dahshur village markets nearby for me to buy the basics (vegetables and fruit in season). For anything luxurious, I will head to the fleshpots of being muesli, expresso coffee grounds, dog chow (given as snacks for vitamins), and so on. As for who I know...I guess that soon I will know a lot of different people and that is always an adventure. I'm looking forward to it all.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Sending Things To Egypt

I got a notice from Fedex today that Tim Weber from Accu-Logistics LLC in San Leandro California sent me a blogger sweatshirt. Thank you, Tim. I don't think that this is anything that I ordered, so it must be some kind of gift, and the commercial invoice is labeled promotional item. But the downside of this is that I won't be able to collect it. Unfortunately, to get my sweatshirt will cost me roughly 6 times its value, payable primarily to the Egyptian customs department for importing clothing and some to Fedex. I had a long chat with a nice young man in the main office for Fedex in Cairo about the necessary steps to claim my sweatshirt and I decided that overall, it was probably best left with the customs people. It's not that I don't want a Blogger sweatshirt, but some things are better left unpaid. I'm sure that it will eventually find a good home, and if I see someone in a Blogger sweatshirt, I'll have a good idea where it came from. Items like that are supposed to be destroyed, but I've lived here for a long time and sometimes things slip. That's ok with me in a case like this.

The whole situation is one of the classic Egyptian scenarios. You have to be careful what you ship to Egypt because certain things are, fairly reasonably, protected by tariffs. We produce a great deal of the cotton sports clothes that people buy in Europe and North America. Our cotton goods are fantastic...and luckily some of the best aren't even exported but saved for us. I remember volunteering at an event in the US a few years back and being given a complimentary t-shirt with a "Made in Egypt" label in the neck. Cracked me right up. Sometime later one of my kids swiped it from me.

Book usually come through ok, although there is usually some duty to be paid. But Amazon, Borders, and Barnes and Noble will be happy to know that they do good business among at least a certain segment of the population. Posters and such somehow often get lost, as my son found to his dismay when moving his treasures back from New York to Cairo this summer. Live and learn.

By the way, apologies to those who might check this site occasionally. I haven't written in a long time, but I have a good reason. I'm changing the direction of my life here and moving from a Cairo suburb to a very rural setting over the next few months. I have before me the daunting tasks of renovating the villa where I currently live to rent to others and also building a small house in the country to which I plan on relocating myself and my January. Living in Egypt is going to get interesting. I'll post more on this later because it is a very unusual experience for someone like myself...but right now I have a contractor coming by to tell me how much its going to cost to make this old house presentable.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Life and Death

Reuters | Latest Financial News / Full News Coverage So the doctors save someone's life by inflicting even more pain on them? You have to wonder just what is going on in everyone's mind. I live in a country that is remote from the concept that everything has a cure, that life should be safe and risk free, that disease has no place in life. In Egypt, disease is a fact of life. Death is a fact of life, and once someone has died, in most cases, there are no autopsies or post mortems. The body is collected by the family, washed with respect and love, and placed in a resting place within 24 hours. I don't need to know exactly what killed someone, because sooner or later death will inevitably come for me and all those that I love. It is inescapable. All of the interventions in the universe will not change that fact. And now it looks as though some interventions might indeed not be worth the outcome. If I had a choice between dying from pneumonia fairly rapidly or being made a cripple to live in great pain, I'm not sure that I would vote for the cripple.

Then there is the issue of risk of injury. Each time I visit North America I am more horrified by the things that people there believe that they should be protected against. To judge by many of the more ridiculous law suits that receive outcomes favourable to the plaintiff, people now believe that the world should be made idiot-proof. I wonder if this is what killed off the dinosaurs, honestly. The world is not, never was, and never shall be, idiot-proof. Any fool with the tiniest bit of ingenuity can manage to get himself maimed or killed....I mean, what mother in her right mind would tell her daughter that it's a good idea to drive with hot coffee between her legs? I see here the other extreme, I would grant you. Pedestrians routinely step off the sidewalk without a glance, young men ride in microbuses hanging out the door, boys catch rides on streetcars by jumping on to the connecting pin at the back, the list goes on forever. One of my friends when I was growing up in California lost his leg catching a ride on a freight train. His parents lectured him for being a fool and he learned to live without his leg. No one sued the train company for having trains there to tempt idiotic young men into trying to jump aboard.

There are times when my heart leaps to my throat when I see some death-defying act of idiocy. There are times I want to stop parents and shout at them for allowing their roughly 8 year old to stand on the divider between the front seats of a Mercedes with his head out the sun roof. But do I want to have someone telling me who can ride my horses or play with my dogs? No, thank you. I like the fact that Egypt is, in some senses such as in the freedom to be an utter idiot, not a safe country. No one is going to knowingly harm you here, but you had best keep your wits about you even walking down the street or it is entirely possible that you could do something quite stupid and get killed as a result. I think that on the whole Darwin might have approved.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Israel Announces Official Decision to Remove Arafat

I've been up to my ears in visitors, work and trying to keep my life on an even keel lately, so I've been really remiss on blogging. Got to move it up on my priorities. But this article in the New York Times has really ticked me off. I would truly like to ask the American people to re-examine their values that they would support this kind of action. What would they say if the Palestinians asked to have Sharon "removed"....the fact that he'd been very legitimately accused of war crimes in the massacres of Shabra and Shatila in Lebanon by the World Court didn't go over very well. The world is probably not much worse than it ever was in terms of good guys and bad guys, but I really hate watching this kind of thing. I wonder if the minions of the Roman empire felt the same as the non-US/Israeli world feel about the way things are happening. I'm sure that it's not that far off. I'm having many thoughts about those who have lived under the "benevolent" guidance of colonial powers and why they haven't been too happy. Right now, there are a lot of us in the position of having to be under the "guidance" of the American empire, but the guidance seems to be pretty half-assed when it gets a bunch of poor, culturally ignorant American kids stuck in a country like Iraq where they have no idea of the culture, historical issues, or language. This isn't good for anyone.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

A Little Night Music Maybe there is a curse to things that work too well. I sat here last night with my niece from Sudan musing about the horrors of the power blackout in the US. A young traveller was supposed to arrive last night from New York via Frankfurt, but she never took off. She's trying to get out of New York again to catch up. I know that our airports have been shut down for sand storms and parts of Cairo may have no power on any given night, but we have nothing of the scale the US experienced.

We have blackouts all the time, or are they grey outs or whatever....but the electricity in Egypt is so erratic that we are all used to having it fail at random inopportune moments. It's a good reminder that life isn't actually under our control, I believe. Yes, it's annoying. There are plenty of times that I've retired to get a good night's sleep at 8:30 because there's been no electricity for the computer, TV (a singularly lonely object), or for reading. I've even had to walk down 8 flights of stairs in the dark....or had to decide not to walk up them! What a terrible price to pay! The upside to a patched-together power grid is the fact that while bits and pieces of it fail regularly, they are easy to fix and it's unusual to be away from power for more than a few hours. All in all, I think I prefer to have frequent inconveniences to massive failures.

I remember one time in Alexandria years ago when the power was actually out for a couple of days, a strange occurrence. When we found out why it turned out that the main cable was copper and someone had dug it up, melted it down and sold it! This hasn't happened quite so much, but I'd say that we would be good customers for fiber optics for our phones and such. The cables don't melt down and sell.

On the whole, I think that I really prefer semi-reliable with frequent minor problems to perfect with the chance of utter failure. After all, as humans what are we but semi-reliable with frequent minor problems? Perfection is too hard to deal with.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Radio Paradise - eclectic online rock radio I've just discovered a new reason to love my computer, Radio Paradise. It's an interesting online radio that broadcasts from Paradise, California, ostensibly, but they are working out how to broadcast from anywhere in the world with a laptop. Mellow music, and no ads. Not at all bad.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Jazz is not something that people immediately associate with Egypt. In fact, most people have never heard Egyptian music and it is an acquired taste somewhat. Traditional Egyptian music is written on a different musical scale from Western music and is usually based on poetry in Arabic. Once you get your ear tuned into the music, it fits the landscape well.

Last night a Dutch friend of mine who's also been living in Egypt for about 20 years and I went to a downtown restaurant/club with our daughters, one of my son's Egyptian friends, a visiting American, and one of my Sudanese nieces. The music was live and performed by a group of young Egyptian men on base, guitar, drums (local variety of bongo called tabla) and voice. Some of the songs were based on old traditional poetry...I didn't recognise it but the kids did. It was unlike anything that I've heard before (I'm an old jazz fan) but very beautiful. Sometimes the vocal was a call across the desert and in other numbers, it was a laugh among friends. Many of the rhythmns were those of the Middle East and people dancing to the music blended western dancing with the traditional dancing that most visitors only see in a belly dancing performance. Watching girls in jeans and tshirts shimmy and twist to the drum beat was quite something.

When I first moved to Egypt there was a group of women who got together for belly dancing twice a week. The lessons were at my place for about a year or so because I had a villa with an oversized living room that was perfect for this. The fun part of dancing is that different parts of the body dance to different instruments, like the hips dance to the tabla, the hands to the flute, the shoulders to the violins or guitars. Not so easy to learn but so much fun to do. And I appreciate good dancing even more for understanding a bit about it.

Next week the outside theatre at the Cairo Opera House has a performance of another of Egypt's jazz musicians, Fathy Salama. Fathy became friends with my late husband when he was playing with his group in Sharm el Sheikh years ago, and I've been to a number of his performances. I don't want to miss this one as he has a band now that is made up of Egyptian, Senagalese, Brazilian and even a European. Should be fun.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Driving in Sinai - New warning: Electronic devices are suspect Well, this is the second news story that I've seen about more paranoia regarding bombs and so on from the US. I think that I'm going to stay home from now on in the safe old Middle East. I travel with a digital camera and my laptop and a palm pilot and a tri-band phone that can call anywhere in the world. With the new edict, I can spend hours getting checked in, and for what? Not worth it.

I arrived home last night about 11:30 after driving from Sharm el Sheikh to Cairo. The drive takes about 5 hours (maybe less during daylight hours) and the route runs up the west coast of the Sinai Peninsula to Suez, under the Canal by tunnel, and then across the Western Desert to Cairo. The portion between Cairo and the Suez Canal is very forgettable, miles of divided highway filled with homicidal/suicidal drivers and the odd new housing settlement. Once you are in Sinai, however, it's different, although Egyptian businessmen and international hotel chains are doing their best to change that. The peninsula itself is about 300 odd miles wide in the north and about the same distance from north to south. The landscape is modern moon. Sand dunes cuddle up to bare rock cliffs, beige against black, red and grey. Occasional oases pop out of bare rock and sand like a bouquet of roses from a magician's hat, just as surprising and just as lovely.

We left Sharm rather late, stopping at the Marriott Bakery for smoked salmon sandwiches to sustain us on our journey. Sound a little un-Egyptian? Not really, but the pharaohs would have liked them if they'd had them. The first stretch took us over the line of mountains that runs the length of Sinai angling into the point of the triangle that jabs south into the Red Sea. These mountains run right down to the sea at Ras Mohamed, one of the loveliest reef parks around. Barren stark rock, the hills are carved with trenches that testify to years of war in the area, trenches that must have been nightmares in the summer heat. Now they are not occupied but just cast a solemn gaze down on the frivolous cars flying by.

The second stretch of the journey is flat sand run-off from the hills to the north from the western gate of the park to Tur el Sinai. I've never been into Tur, which for many years was the port in which sea-going pilgrims from Mecca rested long enough to determine that they weren't bringing any epidemics back to Egypt. From Tur the road heads inland to a long valley between the main mountain ranges and a coastal range to the west. This valley is virtually featureless other than the odd acacia tree and camel. But if you are not the driver and have the luxury of gazing out of the window, the passing mountains are hypnotic and absorbing. Changes in rock layers bring changes in colour with changes in texture, and the edges are knife sharp against the sky like something created by computer.

The end of this valley is at the junction of the main road with another road that heads off into the mountains. This road, to Wadi Feran, goes all the way into the center of the mountains to the monastery of St. Katherine. The route itself is a trip into time, winding in and out of Bedouin villages in the oases that line the wadi (a watershed). On the way to Cairo, we give the turn off a regretful miss and head west to the sea again. By now the sun was setting and we all were in awe of the sunset arrayed before us. Egypt's dust gives us sunsets to die for, although it's worth living to see as many of them as possible. Yesterday's was a knockout. The sky over the Gulf of Suez was a wine red with a silver strip to mark the edge of the sea on the far coast. The sun was an electric orange through the haze, a bright ball that gradually slipped below the lavender hills behind Hurghada.

I'm asked many times why I don't just fly to Sharm from Cairo, and I always answer that I enjoy the decompression time that the drive gives me. The hours that take me from Cairo to the moon let me relax when I'm there and let me postpone the crash landing when I get back to Cairo.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

Damaging The Reefs

Time can get away from me sometimes. I think of things that I want to comment on and then find that a week has gone by....or maybe two. I'm back in Sharm for a few days before my daughter goes back to college. August may seem like an odd time to go to Sharm el Sheikh as it is the hottest month and Sharm is only cooler than Aswan by virtue of the wind off the sea. But it is one of my favourite months. The Perseid showers come at the end of August and light up the skies with falling stars. The sea is so warm that it feels like a hot bath for the first ten centimetres or so. Snorkeling has a sensation like drinking coffee with ice cream in it. The sun is burning, the water is bath warm to about half way down the ribs and the cold water chilling the front of your body. Amazing.

Not all of the aspects of snorkeling are wonderful though. If you've never been to the Red Sea, it is an unforgettable experience to be swimming among brilliant fish of every size and shape. But it was even more incredible when I came here the first time over 10 years ago. The last time I was here I went snorkeling at Ras Um Sidr, near the Sharm lighthouse. The reefs are greyer than before, the product of the dust that has blown into the sea as the building has taken over the shore. Sand and dust kill coral. Tumbled stands of old fan coral lie like Roman ruins along the edge of the reef. Looking for some of my favourite fish, the clown fish, was disturbing because I didn't see a single pair. Neither did I see any anemones, the territory of choice for clown fish. Today I looked for clown fish along our reef at Coral Bay. I only found one pair. Not good.

There are some signs of hope, however, even though they may be somewhat tenuous. Last year I saw millions of crown of thorns starfish along the beach hiding under rocks and coral outcroppings. This year I can find none. Crown of thorns starfish eat coral and are a serious pest. They are also rather creepy looking with long, snake-like spiny arms. One of the difficult things about collecting these predators of coral is that if you should accidently break off a piece of one arm, the piece can regenerate a whole starfish. Where those starfish have gone is a mystery. As my snorkeling buddy noted, they might simply have moved to another bay having exhausted what they wanted to eat here.

Another sign of hope is rather more heartening, however. Among the dead corals there are new soft corals growing and some new hard corals as well. Soft corals are less spectacular than hard corals, but if you take the time to examine them closely they are lovely. Some are shaped like bells that open and close with the current. Others are pastel colours, long like grass or short as velvet. Hopefully now that the building boom has slowed the reefs will have a chance to come back.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Light of Egypt

Light in Egypt is a location's signature. Alexandria light is soft and gentle with a playful aspect of the breeze that wanders in from the sea. The glints of the sun on wavetops are reflected from homes and even pedestrians along the sea wall. The light of Sinai is ascetic, almost hard. Sunlight shatters on the rocks and sand of the desert, and flings itself against the clear turquoise of the sea. This is the sunlight of the cave-dwelling saints, the sunlight of 40 years wandering in a wilderness, and shade is man's friend, even in the cooler winter months. The night sky of Sinai is black, deep, untouchable black, with diamond stars scattered through it. Cairo's light seeps through a curtain of dust, softening the sun's glare and diffusing the light that crashes into the city's walls. The pyramids slide into the horizon and pedestrians wander out of the haze into view. Night skies outside of Cairo are a true midnight blue with stars more like candles than diamonds.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Peace Through Disco

It's been a long time since I posted. I've been working too hard to reflect on life; I guess that in itself is a reasonably important observation. But now I'm in Sharm el Sheikh skipping school and hiding out from phone calls. Sharm is quite an extraordinary place. The Sinai Peninsula was returned by the Israelis with the Camp David accords, and the first people other than the Bedouins to live in Sharm were divers. The reefs here are extraordinary, even now after way too much building and development.

I first came here with my children and some friends from Alexandria in about 1991. At that time the facililties were still a bit rugged, although there were about 4 or 5 hotels. Now Naama Bay is almost a small town. The good points are that there are doctors and dentists and grocery stores, but the bad points are quite a few thousand too many visitors for my taste. I have the luxury of a house on a hill in an Italian time share compound with a lovely garden and a view of the island of Tiran in the middle of the Gulf of Aqaba. My late husband bought the villa from the plans of the compound and we had it built to specification with enough bathrooms that half the Egyptian army could take showers at once, very useful when you have a houseful of salty teenagers who have to make themselves beautiful before heading off to Naama Bay's disco's.

When we first had the house, I used to have to carry most of my food down from Cairo. Now I come down with the minimum and can pick up reasonable fruits and vegetables, fresh bread and even the sorts of non-necessities such as halloumi cheese that are so nice while on holiday. Usually, I stock up on my way into Sharm and head for the house, where I install myself on the lawn to watch the colours of the island change all day long. The sea may be still as oil or choppy with the wind off of the Saudi desert. The island is pale beige in the morning and grows darker through the day reaching a rose pink in the evening. I can see the water just off the beach below where sometimes dolphins and manta rays play just off the reef.

There is a strange trans-national aspect to Sharm. Although it is nominally Egyptian, our European tourists outnumber the locals, and the topless tourists afford endless entertainment for the waiters and beach boys from the villages in upper Egypt. It's extraordinary how quickly they learn Italian and German! One of the most amazing things to see is Sharm el Sheikh on the October 6 weekend, however. This is the same weekend of Yom Kippur in Israel, and the Egyptians are celebrating the October 6/Yom Kippur War in which they came the closest to actually winning a conflict with the Israelis. So what do you find on this holiday but Sharm absolutely full to the brim with the less religious Israelis and holidaying Egyptians. Maybe the UN could learn something here. Peace through restaurants and discos.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Being an Outsider

I know that "civilisation" and "progress" have brought improvements in life style and quality for many people, but I have to also wonder at what cost. I look at Egypt and I see so many different societies. The extremely wealthy live much as the extremely wealthy live in other parts of the world. Let's face it, once the assets reach a certain point, the rules that everyone else is expected to play by can be bypassed. This is a fact of life everywhere. After all, if Chelsea Clinton had other parents would she have gotten such a lucrative job right out of university....even if she did go to Stanford. The truly wealthy have no more idea of the stresses and pressures on the less wealthy than they do of space travel. The upper middle class in Egypt are probably more comfortable than the upper middle class in many countries because the wages are low and household help is readily available and very affordable. Middle and lower middle class are caught in the same catch as I remember in the US when I was young. They have enough money to try to educate their children beyond the parents' level, but often are caught very tightly actually carrying this out. The poor in Egypt are much more poor than in the US, but they aren't likely to starve to death. Food is available, especially for the rural poor but extra money for things that have to be bought is likely to be hard to come by.

Each of these groups have their own sorts of tradition/social rules. The extremely rich have the choice of what types of rules they wish to follow, and on the whole, many of them are more liberal and westernised in some senses. The older traditions and rules hold a stronger sway among the middle and lower classes. Many of the fellaheen (the peasant farmers) live very much as their ancestors did centuries ago, with the additions of pumped well water and electricity.

It would make sense to assume that as a foreign woman I would be most comfortable among the least tradition-bound group, but that isn't always the case. As a foreigner, obviously, to the members of any of the groups, I am an outsider. I am an outsider to my way of thinking too. I will never have the easy, automatic responses of a genuine group member because there is so much that I never learned as a child. I learned this through my marriage. Although my middle-class family from North America had much in common with my husband's Egyptian/Sudanese family in terms of income, employment, and education, there were fundamental differences that could never be ignored. Some things they could never really understand and some things I could never truly believe enough to make them the basis of action.

So, if I am an outsider, what is it about Egypt that makes me feel at home? It's a very reasonable question, and, actually, one that I ask myself quite often. In fact, it may be that it is my very position as an outsider that is appealing, along with the fact that many of my friends are also outsiders in some sense, by birth or marriage. Our fringe positions in this society give us some fudge factor in people's expectations of us, since we are not "native". The vantage point of the outsider is an interesting one, from my point of view. I can observe situations without the emotional/cultural baggage that many people carry. At the same time, I do not feel that I am locked out of any of the segments. One of the most important things about Egyptian society is that it welcomes strangers. It may not understand them, but it does welcome the novelty from beyond, and it is willing, for the most part, to try to explain itself to the newcomer. But it may take a VERY long time for the newcomer to catch on.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Thoughts After Work

Have I mentioned that I have a rotten job? It isn't really a job, I guess, but more a mission. My late husband was one of those odd creatures that we call an entrepreneur....what it boils down to is a passion for creating new businesses and, hopefully, having the insight and luck to hit the right niches. He had the passion and a lot of the luck, at least until the end. He was in the process of building a massive factory here for the processing of animal feeds, when he had to make an emergency landing while flying his private plane home to Cairo from Germany. He told me that afternoon that if he was going to stop in Greece to refuel, he would call me about 10 pm. He didn't call, and I went to bed at 11 or so, assuming that he'd be arriving about 12:30. He wouldn't be home before 1 or 2 am, following a usual pattern for such trips. When the phone rang at 12:35, I knew there was a problem. He ordinarily would never call.

He had tried to make an emergency landing in a field just northeast of Cairo, only about 20 minutes from Cairo International. He landed, but his wingtip caught a palm tree in the corner of the field and he was killed instantly. His factory was only a month to start-up and everything we owned was invested in it. We were over $200 million in debt (as I soon found out), and Egypt is not a nice country to be in debt in. My son was home from his first year in university and my daughter still had a year of high school to do. Leaving Egypt was out of the question. My home and my friends were here. My children's grandparents were here (my parents had died years before). Shocking doesn't really cover it.

The options for the banks who were involved in a project to build a $200 million factory that was about a month to soft opening were to either take the assets, such as our house, that were pledged to support loans, or they could try to work all the companies, take shares and cover their debts in that way. I really didn't care. I'd already lost the part that was important to me. I'd been working editing an English language magazine for three years and had only a passing acquaintance with the business. No matter what, I knew that I had money saved for the children's education and that I would probably have to be self-supporting, another reason to stay actually, since my skills are much more in demand here. So I stayed, and to help the bank settlement, I became involved in the management of my late husband's businesses, as my children and I were the majority shareholders. It was three years of hell. Two of his businesses were being run by "friends" of his who gutted the companies in the first two years after his death. I regained control, but by then at least one of them was a hopeless case. It's hard, however, to close a business in a country where the unemployment is so high. You have a real responsibility to your employees to try to keep going to provide the hundred or so families a living. We haven't done too badly.

Now, I've finally gotten to the point where most of the problems are worked out and I can begin to raise my eyes from the road and think about doing the things that I want to do. One good thing that I've done for myself is to lease about an acre of land to use as paddocks for my horses. They are just local Arabs, but very decent honest horses for riding. Now they live outdoors and have room to roam in when they aren't under saddle. Eventually, I want to be doing trail riding with them. The "farm". as it is somewhat grandly called, is simple. Pipe corrals with either grass or sand, a fiberglass-roofed shelter for the sun and rain, a bathroom, the grooms room and tack storage. Not much, but there is a patch of grass under a shade from which I can watch my horses graze and play, while the farm dogs (two female balady dogs just recentlly neutered) chase crows and egrets.

All of this is a roundabout introduction to the joys of doing absolutely nothing about 6 pm on an Egyptian summer evening. I'd just escaped from meetings with lawyers and the horses needed to have some carrots bought, so my driver brought me out to the farm where I plonked myself down with a notebook, pen, bottle of water and a kilo of warm apricots bought from a donkey cart on the way. The driver and one of the boys wiorking for me at the farm went off to the market to buy about 150 lbs of carrots, and I began to let real things take place of all the nastiness that I'd been dealing with all week.

Apricots have to be eaten warm. Just the dust rinsed off and the juice sliding out of the golden orange halves.

Night blooming jasmine (Malaka el Lil (Queen of the Night if you come from Alexandria), gradually fills each of its buds with the thick sweet perfume that will flood out just after dark. I'm convinced that the buds begin to leak fragrance as the sun goes down.

Swallows stitch lines ove the floofed right paddock as the horses work away at their evening meal. At dusk they will be replaced by the smaller bats.

Egrets and crows stalk the flooded field in search of insects. The dogs will charge any one of them if the girls think that they have caught something interesting.

While the horses were waiting for their evening mix to be prepared, my oldest mare came over to investigate the rumour that new carrots had arrived. Having just pinched a handfull of basil buds, I offered them to the mare. Horses don't like basil, I guess. For that matter, most Egyptians use it to repel mosquitos rather than to enchance their chicken.

Pigeons, crows and doves rotate over the small piles of spilled grain; one taking off, one landing, one circling.

The sound of the muezzin and the soft laughter and shout of the village children blend into a very local melody.

This is worth any amount of aggravating work.

Monday, June 09, 2003

Losing Jenny

Tonight I'm going to the American Research Center in Egypt for a memorial for a good friend of mine, Jenny. She was one of those wonderfully odd, flaky people that seem to end up here. Originally she was from somewhere in New England, from one of those semi-impoverished genteel, well educated, horsey families. She never lost the accent. Jenny was an artist who came here to do archaeological illustration and along the way was married and widowed a couple of times. She used to say that she was afraid to try it again for fear of losing another one. She converted to Islam and usually wandered around in long skirts, long-sleeved shirts, and a funny brown hat. I thought for years that her style of dressing had to do with her work illustrating at digs, but I think also that it may have had to do with her religion as well. However, it was so idiosyncratic that no one could accuse her of not having her own look, and in her tones of desert beige, it was extremely practical and comfortable.

She lived in a tiny apartment in the village near the farm, that she rented from one of the grooms at the Country Club. She just had room for her painting equipment, a bed and two cats. She kept her horse, Texas, at Morad's barn, where my gang used to live and she was within a 5 minute walk. Texas is about 23 or so and probably has one of the worst dispositions of any horse I've ever seen. For some bizarre reason, Jenny was devoted to this chestnut monster who was gelded finally at about age 18, not that it improved his temperament noticeably. I remember watching her jumping him at the Club. They were quite the sight. A rangy, evil-tempered chestnut stallion and a similarly rangy sweet-tempered rider....he often got the better of her and she always forgave him.

I guess I knew Jenny for about 10 years, having met her shortly after moving to Cairo from Alexandria. I watched her go through periods of trying to sell work in galleries, of doing lovely hand-painted murals and accents in houses, to being offered a job by the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Most of the time she was dead
broke, being a fantastically bad business woman and an unrepentant animal-lover. The two really don't mix.

She was killed about a week ago as she was being driven in a taxi around dusk on a road that goes from Sakkara to the main highway into Cairo. A minibus hit her head was going the wrong way down the road, the driver didn't have a license, and he ran from the scene. The cars are still beside the road and seeing them is a horror. There was another car just behind her taxi that contained a couple of British women living here who were on their way back from riding. One of them is a nurse and tried to help, but Jenny's injuries were much too severe, and she died of massive brain trauma and internal bleeding soon after she got to the hospital. The taxi driver will likely never walk again.

Like most of you, her family couldn't just pick up and fly to Egypt to take care of her affairs, so friends here have been taking care of Jenny for them. She was buried according to her wishes in a cemetery just between the farmland and the desert that I ride through all the time. Lark and Kelly will know which one. Her cats have homes, and her art has been protected for her family. Texas has a home for the rest of his life at Morad's and tonight people will be told that if they want to do something in her memory, they can contribute to a fund for his upkeep. He was Jenny's closest friend.

Her death was a horrible shock to all of us, and it came, for me, at a rough point in the year. Tonight at midnight is the 3rd anniversary of my husband's death in a plane crash. I haven't really allowed myself to feel anything about Jenny until I started writing this. I'm going to miss her a lot.

Saturday, May 31, 2003

Been two weeks since Koheila was found paralysed. Nagat and I nursed her for the first week and then I was booked to travel to New York for my son's graduation from university. When the children and I got back, it was to find a much recovered Koheila flinging herself around the house on three legs. We can't tell if the useless front right leg is damaged by a stroke or perhaps dislocated. Local vets are hopeless with figuring out what is wrong with an animal if the problem is the slightest bit unusual. Finally I was lucky enough to find a wife of a faculty member at the American school who is a vet and could give me some instructions on what to do to check for a dislcocation. This is how Iearn veterinary medicine...the hard way.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Where is Raed ? No more comment on Americans and Iraq. Salam says it all much better and he's on the spot.

For me, life has been turned upside down recently by a medical problem for my daughter's dog. Koheila, a rescued Dalmation, is one of the most beautiful creatures I've ever known. She is movement personified, a delicate spotted streak through the fields, and joyful chases of the egrets at the farm.

On Thursday morning, we found her paralysed in the study, the victim of a spinal embolism or a slipped disc. I took her to one vet, who gave her something for shock and some IV fluids, then arranged for her to have a spinal x-ray taken at my family doctor's clinic. We have no vet clinics or labs here and you have to rely on the kindness of human doctors. Over the years, our family doctor has done blood analyses for horses, dogs and cats as well as cultlures for parrots, and who knows how many x-rays. One of the good ones.

Koheila lies on a big cushion in my study and has to be coaxed to eat and drink. She has to be carried out to the garden very carefully to go pee and so on. We hope that the medications she is on will help to allow her to regain her movement. It's so difficult to see someone who should be flashing by lying immobile on a bed. My housekeeper and her son have moved in with me to help out and Nagat sleeps next to Spots on a bed that we put away in the morning. All day we are tempting her with anything that will keep her eating and drinking, because otherwise we have to feed her by syringe in the mouth and give her fluids under the skin. This is an easy procedure, but a bit painful as she gets stuck each time.. Hope she drinks today.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Where is Raed ? Getting referred to this site was the thing that first got me interested in blogging. If Salam could post his thoughts directly from Iraq, then "normal" people could actually find out what was going on there in real time, so to speak. I've tried to talk about the differences in what is portrayed about the Middle East by the media and what is really happening to the email lists that I belong to. Most of them are not political and more aimed at veterinary or equine subjects, so it's sort of a transit from the topic line. With a blog you can say whatever you like and whoever happens across your blog can read it. Sort of like a cybernetic note in a bottle. My dad would have loved it. Raed is definitely worth a read.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

I've been without a phone for a week and trucking my laptop to friends' houses to download essential mail, so I haven't been writing here at all. Got the phone company and the guys who installed my new digital line for ISDN together finally and now have a phone. About time.

I had a question from Raymond in Quebec about the status of women in Egypt and whether we are Sunni or Shiite. Egypt is mostly Sunni, although there are likely some Shiites living here as well. One of the things that many people don't realise is the number of people who move about in the Arab world. They think that only Egyptians live in Egypt, but in fact we have a huge variety of nationalities living here, people from all over the world living, working and studying in Egypt. People who come here from Iran or parts of Iraq or even other Arab countries are possibly Shiite.

As for the status of women, in many ways women have a better status in Egypt than they have had in North America. You find a higher proportion of women studying medicine, engineering and law in Egypt than in North America. Women in the middle and upper classes have the same access to jobs, education, and so on that one would expect from anywhere. The poor here are in many ways poorer than people expect in North America and have to live without things such as running water, and as such none of them, either male or female have a very easy life. There are so many aspects to Egyptian life and culture that it is hard to generalise. You can go out to restaurants and be among people who would not seem out of place in any city, and, in fact, they would fit in well as most of them speak at least two languages. The farmers in the countryside seem truly foreign to non-Egyptians as well as to many Egyptians. Having lived in both North America and Egypt for many years, I would find it hard to generalise about how much power women have. An older woman in Egypt has a higher status than an older woman in North America, because the cult of youth hasn't yet taken over. For my money, I'd rather be an old lady here than in Los Angeles or even Toronto.

Friday, April 25, 2003

People-watching in Mohendessin

I live and work in a suburb of Cairo, an area that was a planned community of big lots with houses and beautiful trees that was built in the 20's and 30's. The houses are disappearing and there are more apartment buildings with the attached decreasing parking, but it's possible to be here and almost never go into downtown Cairo at all. Having to work at the family businesses since my husband's death, and having my kids living in Manhattan to attend university, I've tended to go to meetings, offices, and so on until the end of the day, and then go home to my dogs and parrots and computer. Much of my socialising is online with my friends and family scattered all over the world. Last week, though, a woman friend of mine was downtown doing errands as I was finishing a meeting and she suggested that we meet for dinner at a restaurant in Mohendessin that has wonderful salads.

I was finished first and my driver dropped me off at the place where I would meet Mona. We were coming back together so I sent Mohamed home with the car. (Driving in Cairo can be terrifying to the novice, but parking in most parts of the city is absolutely impossible, so one needs a driver to drive the car while you are in the bank, embassy, whatever.....they really should be called parkers.) We were meeting at a Danish coffeeshop/restaurant on the main street of Mohendessin, another section of Cairo that had been farm plots for engineers in the 50's(hence the name: Mohendessin=engineers). Now the main streets are filled with shops and restaurants and automobile showrooms. The ground floor of Trianon has small tables that look out onto the sidewalk, while larger tables are upstairs. I decided to wait for Monah downstairs and have a glass of iced tea. It was a perfect spot for people watching, and I realised how much I've missed just sitting and watching the theatre that is Cairo.

There I was in a perfect European coffeeshop, looking out at a busy street that could have been Los Angeles, or Athens, almost anywhere warm....but the mix was pure Egypt. I sat there for about half an hour and recorded in a notebook the characters that passed by my table. First to note were the sunglass salesmen, just like the ones in New York or any other big city, with a table filled with a million varieties of eyewear, most of which wouldn't protect your eyes from a lightbulb....but very nice looking. Business wasn't too bad. A balloon/inflated animal salesman ambled down the street in a cloud of sharks, birds, balls, and dolphins. He'd wave them at kids to tempt them, but wasn't having much luck. He'd probably do better later in the evening when the kids were crabbier and the parents desperate for anything to quiet them down. A group of young mothers wandered by windowshopping. My eye was caught by one of the group, a girl in her early 20's in a long pink skirt, a pink blouse and a pink headscarf and draped over her shoulders. She had a baby in a Snugli, one of those carrying pouches like kangaroos have, and the baby was tugging at her scarf as she walked along chatting with her friends. Something about hegab (wearing a headscarf and long sleeves and skirt) in pink with a Snugli....I don't know why, but it really delighted me.

The next person I really noticed must have been a student. She was likely the same age as the young mother, but she had sort of tossed a white scarf over her hair and around her neck as if in an afterthought. She was wearing a light blue shirt, a long denim skirt and black sneakers, reading a book as she strode a hurry to be somewhere. At 6 pm, the sidewalk was empty enough to do this. Four hours later, it would be full. At the same time, families were wandering by that could be seen in any shopping mall in the US. Teenage girls in jeans and t-shirts, mothers with toddlers and strollers, all in totally "western" clothing (since when does denim have a location?). A totally Egyptian individual came swooping along the sidewalk then, a tea seller in a pale green galabeya and a white turban, balancing his glasses of hot dark amber tea on an aluminum tray. He obviously had his tea stall somewhere to my left and his clients to my right. About 10 minutes later, he swooped back with his tray filled with empty glasses. Meanwhile an itinerant shoeshine man wandered down and set up shop for a few minutes by a group of motor scooters with boxes for delivering pizza. He squatted on one box that he carried on a strap, while the customers placed their shoes on another box that was lined with pots for various polishes. A boy on a bicycle came by with a basket fastened to the back filled with bread and pretzels. The basket, made from palm branches, was much wider than the bike and he had to be careful of his path. Finally as Mona arrived at the coffeeshop, there was an old man hobbling along with a cane, dressed in a slightly dusty whitish galabeya, about the same colour as his beard. He was muttering to himself and taking little notice of people around him. Later, as we had our salads at a window table above, I saw the old man again, working his way back down the street, and the boy with the bread basket was weaving among taxis and other cars. I have always been in awe of the bicycle bread men who weave through traffic, sometimes with palm racks of bread balanced on their heads.

Caesar salad, cobb salad, ice tea and a lovely piece of cheescake for dessert since we'd been so good at having salads. We paid downstairs at the register, joking with the cashier because our waiter was new and having a hard time getting his checks sorted out. Then we left to go back to Maadi. After five minutes I realised that I'd left my mobile phone sitting on the chair next to the cashier and we returned in a panic. Cairo, a city of 18 million people, has no telephone book, so a mobile phone with the numbers entered into the memory is worth its weight in gold to the owner....but is just another phone to a finder. The cashier had found it and was waiting for me to show up. "Don't worry," he reassured me. "People leave all sorts of things here, but they can always come back and find them." I love this country.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

From Dave Francis who apparently has a radio show in Russia:
I will spell it out for you.  Apparently some of the people in the Arab
world don't quite get it.

The US supports Israel.  It does not want to see Israel destroyed.  It will
not, under any circumstances, allow that to happen.

That may be wrong, it may be unfair, but in case you haven't noticed, the
world is unfair.  Get over it.  It is the world you were born into.  Make
the best of it.....

Israel says that it just wants its physical integrity protected, and that it
is only protecting itself.... We believe them because the face we see of the Arab in the
Arab world is an ugly, screaming mob, burning flags, cheering bin Ladin,
supporting Saddam, and killing Americans. ....

If you want to see Israel's support in the US cut back, take my advice.

1-Come out against terrorist acts.  Killing civilians, guerilla fighting,
all of it.  Come out against violence.  Don't allow it, don't spread it, and
don't do it!

2-Show that you are thoughtful, instead of just some disgusting, bad
smelling, nasty mob screaming in unison.  Be a group of individuals, come
together for a single purpose, and make that purpose the establishment of a
peaceful existence for Jews and Arabs alike.

3-Denounce the hate mongers among you.  Cut them loose like they are your
ex-wifes relatives.  Get them far away from you.  Do not let them be on TV.
Or radio.  Or magazines.  You get the idea.

4-Take responsibility for yourselves. ...

5-Apologize for the past....

The west in general, and America in particular, are very kind, forgiving
places.  After you do these five things, you will find that your lives will
get better, America will begin to pay true respect to you and your
societies, and your social structure will finally be worthy of some respect.
Dave Francis
"When I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun." -Hermann Goering

Well, Dave, it was pretty long so I cut out some of the extra stuff and just included your main points. You're right. I don't agree with all of it. Some of it you may be surprised to hear that I do agree with. Sure, the US is going to support Israel and no kidding....the world is unfair. There are problems in the Arab world and I don't think you'd find many here who would disagree. But do I think that the reason the US sees the ugly face of Arabs is because that's all there is? No...that's only all there is on television, and, as anyone with a brain can calculate, a 30 second news clip is just that...30 seconds. So what is the Arab world like for the other 23 hours, 59.5 minutes? My kids went to an American international school here where about 40% of the students were from the US. Many of them bitched and moaned about the dust and the lack of shopping malls and no Oreos when they first came....and most of them didn't want to leave when their parents' contract period ended. They must have liked the "disgusting, bad smelling, nasty mob screaming in unison".....or maybe for the first time in their lives, they actually got to know some Arabs and found Cairo to be an exciting, safe, fascinating city, something that it's been for over a thousand years. Hmm. Interesting thought. As for the hate-mongers among us....well, who do you think is propogating the charming view you expressed above? We watch Larry King too, you know. Give me a break.

Finally, about America being so kind and forgiving....not too damn likely. America forgives and forgets according to its pockets. Was Iraq a threat to the US or just to Chevron, Shell and Exxon? And what better way to revive a sagging economy than to rebuild a wrecked country with your own companies and their money? If that is forgiveness, may I never see it. What kind of kindness and forgiveness has eroded your own constitutional liberties until the Americans are no better off than people in the "underdeveloped countries"? What is worse is the fact that this has to be pointed out to them by Canadians like Margaret Atwood because they are walking around clueless as to what has happened to their own country.

No, Dave, we aren't all that worried about being loved by the US, especially after watching its performance over the last couple of years. The US has gotten by with Uncle Sam and being the good guy for so long that it forgot to watch that the mask didn't slip. And it slipped...oh boy, did it ever slip. Americans only watch American news, so they don't realise that the rest of the world has watched the American news and other people's news and sat there appalled at the level of national self-deception. With a friend like the US, who needs an enemy?
It's okay, Hermann, you can put away the gun. There's no culture there.

Private Celebration

Yesterday I went out to my horses and saddled up Dorika, my first mare, my love above all, and my truest buddy. She's been on R&R for almost 2 years now, first for a broken sesamoid, then an abcessed hoof, and finally a pregnancy that seriously depleted her reserves making her too thin to consider riding until recently. We ambled out the gate leaving my gang of dogs whining miserably behind and went out to see that the countryside was still there. After 2 years without riding, I wondered if we would still have the same connection, would she have gotten spooky or silly? It was like the most perfectly maintained lock and key. I thought and she did, and her delight in encountering the donkeys, camels, dogs, children and chickens was visible. We circled through some familiar farms and then entered the desert at Abu Sir to walk back to Sakkara Country Club, a place that was her home for many years, and that just recently got its horse-loving owner back from California to bring it back to life.

As we entered the desert just below the pyramids at Abu Sir, a group of Japanese tourists waited for us to go through the gate, smiliing at Dory. She's a tiny thing, but the second she sees the desert, she seems to grow in size. She arches her neck, flings up her tail and a shiver of excitement runs through her body that her beloved desert is STILL there after two years. I kept her to a quiet walk for our two hours of country and desert but both of us were dying to just take off and soar again....Thank heaven one of us understands delay of gratification. The air was crystal clear and you could see all the blocks in the pyramids of Giza, but there were rainclouds blowing south from Alexandria so that the palms, eucalyptus, and cassuarina trees along the desert edge were a grey blue against the black and the berseem fields gleamed a green that defies description. It is the very essence of green fertility and nurture.

When we got to the Club, I rode her back to the stables where we found Ibrahim standing in a group of people looking over a big chestnut jumper. Dory walked up behind him and laid her head over his shoulder...gave him quite a shock, but it was so good to see him again and welcome him home. I tried to chat for a while but Dory was back in Dory-mode and wanted to be moving again, so I mounted and headed back towards our paddocks down the road. A group of my friends were sitting at a table on the grass by the pool ordering lunch, so Dory and I walked in between the tables to say hi and order a sandwich for when I got back. There are signs saying "no balls and no dogs" by the pool but nothing saying no horses, so...... Ibrahim thought it was funny, as I did it to tick off his mother who is a very non-equine sort of person who has made our lives miserable over the last couple of years. As he said, I could probably ride Dory right into someone's living room and she wouldn't knock over a table.

We went home through the village by the club through the soccer games and laundry. Only two hours of heaven but worth the wait. This is the mare whose love of movement and exploration led me to find endurance, the mare who has taught my children to ride and been utterly trustworthy with them, while taking me on some hair-raising gallops through the desert. She's the mare who will go anywhere with me and do anything, and who has given me two of her beautiful sons who are as strong, kind and honest as she is. I am blessed indeed to have such a friend and to have been able to spend a magic afternoon with her.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Mulberry Season

I decided to stop reading the news...or at least to forget about it as soon as I read it. There is nothing I can do about the political insanity, so I might as well concentrate on saving my own sanity. So I went out to ride today in the countryside. It's toot season in Egypt. That means that the mulberry, or toot, trees have berries that are becoming edible. My first encounter with mulberries was in Canada where our neighbours had a couple of lovely mulberry trees that formed small bowers where my children would cover themselves in purple juice. We soon had a set of special "mulberry clothes" each year that simply became more and more stained until the season was over. When we lived in Alexandria, our villa had an absolutely enormous mulberry tree in the garden outside the kitchen and I learned about the true joy of mulberry season. I've never had so many flies in the garden in my life. The trees were too tall to harvest the ripe berries and they would fall to the ground where they would form a sticky past on the patio. The gardener spent most of his time picking up the good berries and putting them into a bowl to take home for his children and the housekeeper's. Even so, there were plenty for the birds and the flies.

When we moved to Cairo I was relieved to see that we didn't have a mulberry tree in the garden. We have four mango trees and those have proven interesting the time that the top half of one broke off bringing down an easy 100 kilos of unripe mangoes in the garden. Luckily no one was under the tree at the time. However, May rolled around and lovely white mulberries began dropping onto our car as it was parked outside next to our garden. We didn't have a mulberry tree but the neighbours did. At least it wasn't purple. But I believe that all the children in Egypt go slightly mad during toot season. While riding today, my usually calm bay gelding was rather shattered by the sight of arms and legs up in trees and little voices calling out greetings from a point way higher than he would usually expect. At one point, as we passed a boy of about 10 years standing on the back of a donkey to pick berries to high to reach normally, I really expected poor Bunduq's eyes to drop out of his head.

Now it's dark and the children can't see the berries, so we have a bit of peace in the house. Afternoons, however, are chaotic as children on their way home from school stop at every known mulberry tree, including the one outside our garden gate. My dogs spend the entire afternoon warning me of encroaching intruders, while the children begin barking back at the dogs. Not really much I can do except to hope for a light crop this year.

Saturday, April 19, 2003

Reuters | Latest Financial News / Full News Coverage Not just the museums have been hit by looting. Even the zoo has been emptied by people, with animals being stolen or simply let loose to roam the streets. The only animals left are the lions and tigers who are starving to death because the zoo vet has no money to buy food for them. Each of the animals needs 5 kilos of meat a day, a total of 40 kilos per day or about 100 lbs. I would think that surely the army could help out. What were the Americans thinking of? That the army would walk into Baghdad and find everything in place and a welcoming population? No thought in advance.

Friday, April 18, 2003

U.S. Gives Bechtel a Major Contract in Rebuilding Iraq Anyone who believes that the US is acting in the best interests of the Iraqi people needs to consider such actions as this awarding of contracts to US firms and their non-defense of the Baghdad museums that were looted and destroyed. Any fool could have predicted such destruction and prepared for it. And this way, with the awards to Bechtel and Halliburton (can anyone see Dick Cheney here?) the cost of rebuilding the Iraq that the US destroyed will not only be born by the Iraqi people, but will enrich the US. There are perfectly good construction firms in the Middle East that are not American...but the whole point has nothing to do with helping the area, only the US. Am I bitter and cynical? You bet....and with damn good reason.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Abdellatif Laâbi - The Academy of American Poets My daily life is not one of ease, trying to deal with businesses left leaderless by my husband's death three years ago. I turn from the work beneath me to the world around me and find that it is preferable to think about the immediate problems with the disasters facing us regionally. Every now and then something comes along that helps to ease the burdens.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Pillagers Strip Iraqi Museum of Its Treasure Many years ago I was a freshman at the University of California at Berkeley, and not having a strong sense of what I wanted to study, I spent a year studying ancient Middle Eastern Art History. I remember spending hours pouring over wildly expensive books full of beautiful photographs of statues, jewelry, and other artifacts. We had to know the name of each one, who it represented and where it was found. Today, reading this article in the New York Times, I can see that many of the pieces I studied in awe so many years ago are now lost, mostly due to the irresponsibility of men who go in to wage a "war" in which they face little or no opposition and who don't stop to think about the consequences of destroying the local legal forces. Again, the Americans show themselves to be so utterly ignorant of other countries and cultures.

Friday, April 11, 2003

CAC High SchoolSomehow last week the world seemed to come unbalanced. Maybe it was the televised destruction of matter how bad the leader is, I find it hard to watch war on television like some mini-series. It definitely was unbalancing to go to my children's old school for an art show in the high school to see that the administration of what was a very good international school has fallen victim to the worst sort of Americans. The sort that think they know the absolute truth and who are totally unafraid of manipulating their environment to achieve their aims. The teachers are afraid to talk to parents or students about anything more interesting than the weather. A mix of local politics and international politics...the same push to support the US president even though what he is doing is so wrong. When did politically correct come to mean staying clearly in line and not deviating from the set path?

Saturday, April 05, 2003

My late husband's ex-English teacher, an American who was living in Cairo during the difficult years of the early 70's, passed this letter on to me in memory of my husband. She remembered his open heart that she knew in his mid-20's and that I knew much longer:

"The Halhoul Peace Plan - A Humanist's Plea"

I can end this war - but, I need your help.

If I manage to persuade the Arab League to convince Saddam Hussein to go into exile, will you tell Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories and retreat to the 1967 border?

If I succeed in having all Arab states recognize Israel, will you succeed in dismantling all settlements in the West Bank and Gaza?

If I promise an eternally demilitarized Palestine, will you provide international peacekeepers to forever enforce and honor the historic peace between two formerly warring people?

Are these concepts so unachievable, so unattainable? Laughable, even? Are we so jaded, so defeated that we are incapable of a bold, imaginative vision - one that fosters brotherhood rather than one that sows destruction?

Can we turn back time?

In the weeks that led up to this Iraq War, a horrified world watched as the United Nations crumbled, alliances folded, and any hope for an agreement withered under the insurmountable weight of intransigence and belligerency.
Countries were made to choose between only two options - war or diplomacy. Before the debate ended, unilateral conflict triumphed over dialogue, pre-emptive strikes shattered Baghdad, and war dashed any lingering hopes for diplomacy.

To give up now, will only invite future conflicts - larger in scale, more destructive, more divisive. The line has been drawn in the sand - literally and figuratively. Only a monumental perspective shift will save the day for future generations. Unfortunately, at this moment, it seems a lost cause - for there is not a single, peaceful, dissenting voice loud enough to be heard over the "shock and awe" bombardments, the podium propaganda, and the daily reports of the dead and dying.

There does not appear to be one man alive, powerful enough to challenge the status quo, and, announce a humanistic philosophy guided by the principle that in order to gain, we must all lose. Not everyone will be allowed to see the promised land. Through loss will come healing and hope.

For now, we see only hardline proponents whose doctrine of ultimate victory over completely vanquished enemies will lead us to further calamity. More frightening and disappointing are those that sit idly as a few men make decisions that adversely affect the majority - they invite fatalism and despair.

The Middle East crisis was not created yesterday, last month, nor last year. It is not simply about one man and his ruthless regime; it is not about one country and their brutal occupation; and, it is not just one superpower's quest to democratize a region. The Middle East is too complex to be summed up by mini "embedded" sound bites somewhere in Western Iraq.

It's about decades, and decades, and decades of disgusting misguided policy, corrupt governments, greed, ethnocentrism, religious extremism, apartheid, discrimination, tribalism, oil, fear, democracy foes, tin pot dictators, illusion, freedom rights trampled, expression rights thwarted, armies, covert operations, birthday cakes, warfare, colonialism, anti-semitism, double standards, lost opportunities, murder, suicide bombers, settlers, hegemony, unilateralism, crises, hypocrisy, starvation, embargoes, revolutions, hostages, road maps to nowhere, and, always death over humanity.

Caught in this muck are millions of people, not only in the Middle East, but, worldwide, that want nothing more than peace - that want coexistence with their neighbors, that want to love their brothers, that want to express
their shared commitment to a shared humanity - that want life.

Opposing these majority millions are those that have usurped our right to these basic human desires - they have sent us spiraling downwards into an evil future. Whether it's a regime that is oppressing Iraqis or an Operation Iraqi Freedom coalition, both capably add fuel to the flames of hatred, strife and suffering.

These evil men, these dominating few, come in all forms - they are not just American and Iraqi - they are also false preachers of a twisted Judaism, an evil Christianity, a devious Islam; they can be any nationality, they profess all types of political superiority, and, eloquently champion death's cause.

Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, "I think that people want peace so much that one of these days government had better get out of their way and let them have it." Today, many leaders could learn from his wisdom - following the recent Camp David war summit, George Bush and Tony Blair defiantly expressed that the war would take as long as it takes to achieve "total victory." But, what if it takes nuclear weapons? What then?

Are they oblivious to the anti-war protesters, the servicemen killed and captured, the young Iraqi child whose intestines were spilling onto the stretcher in an ill-equipped hospital? Is this "total victory?" Are these the costs? Can I not have Eisenhower's promised peace? Must I always be caught between governments and fanatics?

What alarms me most is my own self-transformation. While I am and have always been an ardent supporter of non-violence and peaceful resistance, I begin to understand why terrorists and evil followers of distorted men are born. Given the choices that exist in the world today, weak, powerless, young kids feel worthless, they have no promising future, no promising environment - their government's deviant actions or listless inaction, their
corrupt leaders, and their beaten communities reinforce this view. All it takes is a manipulative whisper in their fragile, naive ear, "fight back, even if you must kill innocent civilians, you will find salvation, you are not meaningless in my eyes."

These past few weeks in Cairo have been frightfully enlightening. Egypt, a country with a peace treaty with Israel and a government closely aligned with the United States, seems a place that could lose control. Not only in
the arab streets, where the largest protests in the nation's history erupted - but, also, and more importantly, on the arab couch, where civilians of all walks of life scream at their television sets - retired army personnel, senior bank executives, students, newlyweds, doctors, lawyers - no supportive cries for America's version of freedom and justice, no pride in their Arab government's strength, no condemnation of Saddam Hussein - only defeatism and a sense that this war is wrong, that Palestinians are occupied, that Israel is the real enemy, and that Arab unity is lacking during these trying times.

How many terrorists will be born?

Earlier this week, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw admitted that the West's Middle East policies contained "double standards" - one policy directed towards the Arabs, another towards the Israelis. No similar statement was forthcoming from the world's only superpower. In fact, Straw's statement went largely unnoticed, except for strong condemnations from the Israeli government. They declared that no double standard exists - only Security Council resolutions must be enforced - not general UN resolutions. Even more troubling was the Israeli assertion that such statements would not forward the peace process, and could harm it. Apparently, the continued Israeli occupation is the only way to further peace and understanding.

So, the people in this region continue to cry out against a perception of injustice - painfully unsure of their future. Meanwhile, Tony Blair emphatically states that, "our primary focus now is and must be the military victory, which we will prosecute with the utmost vigor." Did he not hear Jack Straw?

Again I ask - how many terrorists will be born? How many more children will be lost?

My plan is not super-sophisticated, it is a humanistic plea. It is not 1441 or 242 - it's not meant to be. It's designed to expose those that would create war rather than wage peace, worship land over man, hate over love.

The Iraqi people deserve freedom, the Israeli people deserve security, the Palestinian people deserve a state, the Arab people deserve governments more focused on their needs than on empty rhetoric, and, the American people deserve the days before colored alerts.

So, I challenge the men on my television set - George Bush, Tony Blair, Colin Powell, Jack Straw, Kofi Annan, Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak, Amr Moussa, King Abdullah, Yasir Arafat, Abu Mazen, Ariel Sharon, Tommy Franks - who among you is brave enough to carry this plan out, who will save us, and who will expose our true enemies?

Who am I? I am an American citizen, born to Egyptian parents, a father who lived in Canada for over twenty years, a mother living in America's heartland (my name, surely and hopefully unbeknownst to them, means "eternal
grief"). I was on my way to Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories to work towards peace when this war broke out - for now, I am temporarily sidelined. Halhoul, apparently a small Palestinian town close to Hebron - is a place I can not go without risking my life, my best friend is Jewish, I
am a former federal employee, a former civil rights advocate, I am a business owner, a writer, a photographer, a world citizen - 36 years old, discouraged, and sad.

I can end this war - but, I need your help.

Friday, April 04, 2003

The news that the web consultants who work on CNN and MSNBC, Akamai Technologies, cancelled a contract with Al Jazeera for its website is hardly surprising, but rather sad. Around here it's felt that you get the opposing propaganda from CNN and Jazeera, with each at the opposite pole. If you want balanced reporting, you go to Reuters or BBC even, which despite the British involvement in the war, is maintaining a reasonable level of sense. Both CNN and Jazeera, on the other hand, are so busy grinding their axes that you can hardly see from the sparks.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Ha'aretz - Article Ok, so maybe a Canadian living in Egypt and reading Israeli papers (among other things) is a bit odd. But this is one of the advantages of living in a country with terrible read a lot.

Ha'aretz is, as far as I can tell, one of the more unbiassed of the Israeli papers. Or maybe I should say balanced in the sense that whenever I have read it, I have found a wide variety of opinion and coverage in it. Today while talking to a friend about, I used it to look up news coverage as an example and I came up with a review of three films on Iraq. I would have expected a viewpoint less critical of the US from an Israeli paper....since their state is essentially supported by the US...but found an interesting attitude. Worth reading.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Matt's Mindless Musings - just because I could There's something really schizophrenic about my life these days. I spend Sunday or Monday working on the business things and weekends doing things I love. I guess that's what a lot of people's lives are like, but I think that until recently I've been lucky to be doing something that I loved. The best it gets if I can't sneak out to the horses during the day is to think about what photographs I'd like to be shooting if I weren't late for some meeting.

The news reminds me more and more of Vietnam. This is a disaster, no matter how it's sliced. The worst possible outcome for the US would be some kind of victory because eventually all the dissatisfied Iraqi's will grind them into dust. You can't run another country from the other side of the world.

Saturday, March 29, 2003


MSN Hotmail - Message" Unfortunately, the middle-east is very keen to make any disagreement or conflict to be a fight between muslims and/or christians, "infidels" or the "great satan". This is once again evident in the speeches broadcast from Baghdad, where every other word is "God is willing?", every casualty is a "martyr", and "america is intent on killing all muslims". If these religious connotations didn't fall on willing ears, they wouldn't be using them. "

I don't want to argue points of "fact" regarding how many Iraqi's have died under Saddam's leadership or anything like that...Facts are used by both sides to bolster arguments and often it is more a question of how they are used. What concerns me more are assumptions and generalisations. These, I have found, are usually disastrous.

You point out that you have never been in a mosque but you are sure that they are hotbeds of fanatical outcry against the US. I have been in mosques and for all but 45 minutes of a week, they are places of peace, quiet, tranquility and prayer. There are Friday sermons in mosques, just as there are Sunday sermons in churches and Saturday sermons in synagogues. In some mosques (those that make the most interesting news) there may be the sentiments you decry expressed. In most, there are commentaries on how to lead a better life. As for the opposite, I've seen the religious right on TV plenty of times going on about how Islam is a religion of hate. If you believe that, then you have listened and heard them too.

The Arabic language is one that has an unusual feature. It has a benchmark against which the quality of language is judged and that benchmark is the Quran, a book of truly extraordinarily beautiful poetry, no matter what you may think of the content. You are right. Every other phrase in Arabic is "Inshallah", "if God is willing" and this is only to remind us that at the end of the day, we may not actually control the outcomes. I can say that definitely I will come to see you and be hit by a car....shit happens, to quote the stickers in the US. The presence of God in Arab life is meant to be very real. The prayers five times daily (exactly like the Christian prayers in the Middle Ages and those still observed in churches and many religious communities) are meant to bring one's thoughts back to our relationship with God or whatever one believes to be a central force in the universe. Many Muslims are not particularly religious, just as most Christians aren't. I'd even go so far as to say that most are not. However, to speak of God as part of the language is just that, part of the language. Just as many phrases in other languages incorporate religious images, Arabic incorporates a lot. People need to understand that.

Finally, a group of people should never be judged by the rhetoric of their leaders. What comes from the mouths of any leaders is almost always self-serving and designed to have some effect on the listeners. If all Americans were judged by the speeches of George W., you'd probably be unhappy....especially considering how many hysterically funny blunders he makes when speaking.

"My reference to "mullahs" isn't about "mullahs" per se, but any such authority figure, that incites the populace based on fiery religious propaganda. While other religions have their own problems and imperfections I have yet to hear of any church, temple, or synagogue preaching the destruction and full annihiliation of another people. I'm sure they exist, however, I would venture to say there is a larger proportion of them within the Islamic faith."

Again, Bob, take care how you generalise. When you think "mullah" try saying "Pat Robertson" or "Jerry Falwell"
and consider what you are saying. I wouldn't say that Christians are warlike based on their remarks, nor would I generalise that most ministers and priests are like them. The Pope isn't. You are generalising from grossly inadequate and skewed data.

Arabs aren't scary people. Arab men are, on the whole, very polite, decent people...until they are behind the wheel of a car and they turn into New Yorkers. There are nasty, evil people in any country, any culture and in fact, I believe that they inhabit their own culture that is outside of the usual world that we live in. That they inflict their harm on our world is wrong.

Friday, March 28, 2003

Not Watching The War
I think that I'm becoming allergic to televison. After two days of peace while my cable TV box decided not to work, my housekeeper (bless her ingenious soul) managed to get it to work. I can't blame Nagat, since after all her 9 year old son Ahmed comes to my house after school until she finishes work. He gets to watch the tube as a reward for doing his homework while she is here. With a 9 year old, I'd want the TV working too. But it was nice to be able to say honestly that I hadn't been able to watch the news because the set was out of order. It meant that I was going to a bit of extra effort checking my newspapers and wire services online, but that is preferable to having the damn war force-fed to me from CNN or something.

"Watching the war" is becoming an international pastime and this really bothers me. At what point does this become some kind of twisted entertainment like Joe Millionaire or Survivor or something? The news itself is depressing enough. I can neither cheer on British and American troops who I really don't feel have any place in Iraq, despite all the protestations of their leaders. There are all sorts of countries with weapons of mass destruction (Pakistan, India, Israel, North Korea to name a few...or France, Russia to name some others) but Iraq has obviously got some special charm, black and oily I suspect. As I said before, I have no love for the Baathist regime in Iraq and I can't think of anyone who does, but I question the propriety of moving vast quantities of men and materiel halfway round the globe to invade a country that as far as I can see (and I DO read a lot of news coverage from all over) has no real, substantive links to anything that has happened in the US or Britain. The whole scenario absolutely stinks of self interest, and raises the hackles of a veteran of the Viet Nam disaster. As the troops move into Iraq, I watch with dismay the increasing number of civilians and soldiers killed in what is likely to be a messy quagmire.

Today I opted to escape from the modern world and take my favourite mare out into the countryside near Abu Sir to explore some new trails. The farmland in Egypt is cut up into millions of tiny farms, especially in the areas of the Delta that have been cultivated for a long time. Many of the farmers live in villages some way away from their plots, and each morning they walk to the fields with their donkeys, goats, sheep, water buffalo, cows and camels in various numbers and combinations. There are usually mud brick shelters for the animals at the edges of the fields where the farmers and their families take a break for tea and some bread and cheese. Dirt roads and trails cut through these fields along the irrigation canals, and it's possible to ride for hours through some of the lushest fields imaginable.

At a reasonable distance from the more densely populated villages, the chance to observe the wildlife is excellent. Egypt has always been a haven for migratory birds who travel down the Nile to other areas in Africa, and there are a lot of birds that make their homes here year round. Along the canals, we have black and white kingfishers that hover over the water at about a height of a 6 or more metres like little black apostrophes until they plunge into the canal to snatch a minnow or a frog. Even more spectacular are the European Kingfishers that are turquoise and bronze and zip about in pairs playing in the trees over the canals.

An afternoon in the 1800's is a good cure for today.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Bob Mith suggested "The fact that Iraq will be liberated from Saddam, that we will have a government that is hopefully pro-american in the future, which will result in 1.Favorable oil deals, 2. Reduce the middle-age based "mandrassas" and islamic fundamentalism that teaches all that is not islam must die.  If the governments in the middle east took responsibility for the hate preaching in the mosques and mullahs, than quite frankly we wouldn't feel the need to defend ourselves."

How many mosques have you visited, Bob? There's probably one on any street corner here and very, very, very few preach hate. Which is unlike many of the television programs that have been broadcast in the US over the past couple of years. A sheikh in any one mosque might have an audience of 20 or 30 people, but the television programs have an audience of millions and many of the speakers have been filled with hate and misinformation about Isam. Likewise, Egypt has no mullahs. Mullahs are found in Shi'ite Islam, not Sunni, and Egypt is primarily Sunni. Do you know the difference? It's pretty major. And what makes you think that the Middle East is rife with fundamentalism? Have you been here? Or are you taking someone's word for it?

This is the point of the sadness on the part of many who watch this tragic war. If the US wanted to pay out the cost of the war effort to the citizens of Iraq, most of them would be happy to take the money, and many would be happy to move to, say, Florida, which would mean that the US funds would end up being spent in the US....even better. For USD 90 billion, you could probably buy the whole bloody country and it would be yours, lock, stock and oil barrels. And no one would lose a child or parent.

On the other hand, to take the analogy of the car-chasing dog, what in heaven's name will the US do with a country full of ticked off Iraqi's should they have the misfortune to succeed? Just because many Iraqi's didn't like Saddam (and to my knowledge no one, even his family, is all that crazy about him), this doesn't mean that they will prefer to be ruled by total strangers who understaned nothing of their culture, language, religion or history. Not likely. What can you put in a situation like this to run the show other than another dictator? Except this time he/she will like the US for a longer period of time than Saddam did, hopefully?

And how about the Kurds in the north of Iraq? Last time, the US set them up to revolt and then pulled back and left them hanging in the wind. Do you think that they will trust the US government again? It's possible, but I would say unlikely.

I've seen many, many situations here in Egypt when foreigners were either intimidated by locals simply because they couldn't understand the questions that they were being asked in Arabic...things like "Where are you from? or How old is your child? or Are you enjoying your time here? or What are you doing?" Not speaking the language is a serious disability that leads to anxiety and the assumption, often wrong, that someone means them ill. On the other hand, I know of other situations where the foreigner has been courted by an English speaking person, who at the same time is laughing at the foreigner behind his back...or even to his face since the foreigner has no idea of what is being said. But the foreigner in question has his/her own agenda and doesn't necessarily want to hear that he's being strung along. Most of the time, these situations arise in the course of tourism and the worst outcome is a slightly more expensive t-shirt. But the US has proposed to run post-war Iraq, and I would suggest that they are highly unqualified as well as frankly undeserving.

The reaction of the average Iraqi to invasion is no more than what I would expect if, for example, Iraq were to invade the US (assuming it had the resources, which it doesn't) to free the poor 50+% of the US population from the tyranny of George W. After all, they didn't vote him into power and look what he's done to your economy. Poor Americans....yet I seriously doubt that any of the Americans would welcome invaders of any type. It's always worth it to turn the situation on its head to see how things look.
Thanks, blogmom Diana, (when I figure out HTML enough to add links I will) for the push. I've been reading Gotham for a while and while in many ways the content varies between us, I suspect that much of the spirit is similar....and New York is the only city that approaches comparability with Cairo in so many ways. That is why both my children are there for university. I love visiting in New York for a few weeks, but begin to miss the randomness of the Middle East after that.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

edit your blog:
Talking to a friend today, an Egyptian woman. She was watching the news on Iraq and wanted to call me because it reminded her of the Christmas that she and I spent with my children in Germany watching the Berlin Wall being dismantled. She was watching some news footage of some of the captured American soldiers and wanted to know what the US citizens could be thinking of to pay so incredibly much for a war at a time when living is so hard for us all and to send children away to fight it. How can oil be worth sending your children halfway around the world maybe to die?
What can I say? It makes no sense to me. No matter how much many Iraqi's hate Saddam...and I've never heard anyone, anywhere ever say a good word about him...they are not going to be happy about having strangers from the other side of the planet taking over their country. There's an old Arab saying: "Me against my brother; my brother and I against our cousin; my brothers and our cousins against the stranger" This is going to be an ugly war. And where are all these "weapons of mass destruction" that we've heard so much about? Not that I really want to see them, but were they ever there?
After two days of showers (it could only be called "rain" in Cairo) the trees in Maadi are beautiful. We are coming into spring here (such as it is with so little difference among the seasons) and the poincianas, bauhinia's and jacaranda's are coming into bloom. They bloom on the bare trees so that the trees are covered first with purple blooms from the bauhinia's (camel foot tree), then the jacaranda's and poinciana's come out with purple and red respectively. Once this storm passes, the trees will have a year of sun and dust to take them back to their usual faded beige colour. I live in what was once a planned community south of Cairo proper. It was planned in the 20's and 30's to be large garden lots with houses and is gradually being taken over by apartment buildings as the population pressure increases. In the 10 years I've lived here I've seen enormous changes in traffic (for the worse) and availability of services (for the better). Once you had to go into Cairo to buy anything other than food, but now it's entirely possible to live in Maadi and almost never actually go into Cairo itself. Not being much of a city person, I don't really mind not going into Cairo, but as cities go, it has to be one of the most interesting in the world. Every second of the day, something is's like living inside street theatre.