Saturday, July 17, 2004

The Well Diggers

Welldiggers, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
A month or so back I wrote about getting a new well dug, since the old one was producing some pretty bad water. It's taken me until now to figure out how to post photos to the blog. Now I've figured it out, I can share this shot of one of the guys who spent four days digging my well, while he was doing something or other on the drilling rig.

The pipe that pounded out the hole was raised and lowered by hand, smashing out a hole in the ground for about 25 metres. Every few metres another pipe would be dropped down the well that would pull out extremely fine sand, sand that is prized for gardens and arenas.


This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.

Stranger in a Strange Land

One of the most common questions that is posed to me is from women who are planning or thinking of marrying Egyptian men. Will they be accepted by their husbands' families? Can they work? An infinite variety of questions...

To give a fairly unsentimental view of marriage with an Egyptian, I must note that many Egyptian men would like to marry a foreigner to get a foreign passport. One can hardly blame them, since travel on an Egyptian passport is incredibly difficult these days, and there still is the old idea that somehow life outside of Egypt is better. Another reason to marry a non-Egyptian woman has to be the current culture of marriage in Egypt. When an Egyptian woman marries, she will move into a fully furnished house or apartment and she is felt to be assured of her security. The process by which a young man gets to know his future bride is largely concerned with proving his ability to provide for his wife in the appropriate manner. When I married my late husband in Canada, we paid for our own wedding and were living in an apartment that we were both gradually furnishing from IKEA and other low budget shops. I certainly never considered his earning power in the equation. Marriage for us was a partnership that was embarking on an unknown journey...this willingness to undertake a life together as partners is appreciated by many Egyptian men.

Most Egyptian mothers are not keen on having their sons marry non-Egyptian women. The resistance initially can be quite strong, but after time they can become used to having a foreign daughter-in-law. I found that the best way of getting along with my mother-in-law was to basically let her do whatever she liked when she was in my home and to agree with her in her own home. Avoided a lot of problems that way. She and I did have disagreements about childrearing since I didn't allow my kids to eat sugar in their food until they were old enough to start buying the garbage, and I didn't feel that sweet tea was an appropriate drink for an infant. I also was more strict about my children's behaviour than most Egyptian mothers that I knew. My kids went to bed at a reasonable hour and learned very early that throwing a fit over something was the fastest way to lose an argument. Years later, she admitted that she'd thought that I was nuts but the results were very good. My father-in-law and brothers-in-law all seemed quite in favour of our marriage.

I thought that my relationship to my husband's family was very good until he died. At that point, I found otherwise. Once my husband was gone, I reverted to my state of "foreigner" and they were quite upset that I didn't leave Egypt after his death. Part of this has to do with inheritance laws in Egypt and I would have to emphasize the importance of understanding the laws that could affect any marriage between Egyptians and foreigners. For example, an Egyptian woman who marries a non-Egyptian may not pass on her citizenship to her children, although this may change sometime in the future. If a non-Muslim marries a Muslim, it is extremely important for the family to sort out the religious basis of the family in order to deal with inheritance in the case of death. Bad relations are not always the case after the death of the husband, but they are unfortunately very common.

My best advice is to sit with your prospective partner and examine carefully the legal aspects of the marriage. Egyptian marriages have wedding contracts in which the rights of the partners are spelled out. Find out about these contracts. Discuss the issues of inheritance and safeguarding the security of the wife. Many men don't like to think about these things and are quite reluctant. But they are very important.

And then, may you live happily ever after....

Friday, July 16, 2004

Changing clothes

I decided to change the look of the blog and came up with this new one. It's simpler than the old skin and I like it better. Hopefully sometime I can figure out how to put pictures with it. Tough being technologically challenged.

One of the reasons that I'd like to be able to post photos occurred the other night. I was standing on the roof of my house enjoying the evening while one of the many passenger planes that land at Cairo International circled overhead on its pass over the Pyramids as it was descending to bring yet another load of visitors. The dust and smog over the valley (I hate to admit it, but we have a real problem there) made a peach background to the silhouettes of the palms and mango trees, and the apartment buildings of Maadi across the river. Below, in the fields my neighbours were leaving their work with their donkeys, cows and water buffalo. Dogs trailed groups of children along paths back to the homes that line the path behind me. The greens of the corn, zucchini, the summer hay, with the warm glow of the sky where a silver jet curved in the air....I don't know how to express it but I wanted to share that image with everyone.

The sheer beauty of Egypt is breathtaking. It was the therapeurtic night rides the summer that my husband died that truly opened my eyes to the loveliness of my chosen home. I would amble along the paths in the farming areas, usually alone with my favourite mare, listening to far off village weddings and engagement celebrations. With all of the lights in Cairo, it's never really dark out and the palms are always black against a slightly lit sky, but the stars can be seen clearly in Sakkara. Every so often I would ride past some of the farmers' houses where the family would be gathered on a mat in front of their house often watching some old Egyptian movie on a black and white tv. Gentle "good evenings" and "Peace be with you" would float out into the air in welcome. I knew that summer that I would never want to leave this place.