Saturday, September 04, 2004

Mango Heaven

Mango lady
Mango lady, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
I have a mango problem right now. It isn't a bad problem, I don't think. Actually it's rather nice in a way. You see mango season is in full swing and living as I do in the middle of mango orchards, lots of well-meaning neighbours have been giving me mangos. That was fine as long as I had a bunch of young people under my roof, but my daughter is now on her way back to New York, where she will join Emily who was here earlier this summer. Their other friend now has an apartment in Zamalek, from whence he will venture forth in search of Arabic lessons and volunteer work with some of the refugees living in Cairo. The house is all mine and so, apparently are the approximately eight kilos (almost 20 lbs) of mangos in the kitchen. You see the problem? I'm sure that plenty of you would kill to have such a problem. But be warned: Eating 8 kg of mangos could bring on some fairly ferocious gastrointestinal revenge.

A few days ago we were invited to a Mexican lunch and mango feast at some friends' home. They own a large mango plantation east of Cairo towards Ismailia. Karim brought in a selection of about 10 types of the 32 varieties of mango that he grows. They varied in size from a large tangerine size to some monsters similar to the 1 kg creature being devoured in the photo. Of one variety, he only had two examples so they were cut into small slices to drive us all made with temptation. It had almost no fibers (a failing with some mango varieties) and a rich sweet almost buttery flavour with just a hint of coconut. What a mango! And in about four years when his crop is ready, he will make some very nice money with them.

Mangos aren't cheap by Egyptian standards, though they might seem so with the application of exchange rates. During the three or four months that they are in season, they sell for anywhere from 6 to 15 or 20 LE per kilo. The price varies with the variety of mango (there are hundreds of varieties) and the rarity of the variety, along with how good they look and their ripeness. So far this summer my household has managed to consume about 300 LE worth of gift mangos and about 50 LE of mangos that we've bought.

Mangos are sweet and high in betacarotene, so they are good for you. But what our visitors always have to find out the hard way, they can be a bit tough on the tummy. They are rich and rather acidic, so our summer visitors always have to gradually ease into mango consumption. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Green is good for you

Health News Article |
Every so often, and unfortunately far too often, I see a news item that proclaims something that is so horribly obvious but which we seem to have somehow forgotten. Reuters news service today ran an article about how researchers have found that children with attention deficit syndrome and hyperactivity become calmer when they spend time in green places. Well, duh. What an extraordinary idea. Children need to be out of doors among trees and plants.

I don't know. Probably I've been spoiled by the fact that I lived my childhood in green spaces because my parents believed that children belonged outside of the house as long as the sun was shining or at least it wasn't pouring buckets. I also was able to spoil my own children in that respect and able to toss them outside as much as possible. Egypt's climate, like Southern California's, is great that way. If I have to spoil and be spoiled, that's the way to do it. Better a day fishing or hiking than a day in the mall.

The fact that this story is news is probably even more interesting than the story itself. Humans had best be careful with their living spaces because it is much too easy to live in nice clean concrete than it is to cope with the randomness and mess of nature. But it isn't good for us. I get anxious after a week in Manhattan or London. Some park time calms me, but it isn't as good as going out my front door and gazing over the fields behind my house. I guess that I'm living proof that these researchers know what they are talking about.

My daughter took care of my menagerie while I went to Sharm utterly dogless for 3 days. Her remark when I came home made me laugh. "Staying alone at your house is too much work to be a holiday, Mom." Well, yes. You have to be up in the morning to feed the dogs and parrots and to prepare the dog food for later. The garden needs watering daily in the summer and the animals have to be fed again in the afternoon. Then, if there are any animals sick or injured, the medications have to be administered. No, it is a job, but those days that I can just stay around the house and paddocks to do it, well, they are the best.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Reading about Egypt and the Middle East

The primary activity of our merry band of vacationers has been reading, oddly enough, so I thought that I'd talk about books a bit. The reading list for my visitors has been as follows: Dan Brown's 'Angels and Demons' (Given the Hardy Boys booby prize), John LeCarre's 'The Constant Gardener', Milan Kundera's 'Ignorance', Heinrich Boll's 'The Silent Angel', and a Polish translation of Joseph Heller's 'God Knows'. I also brought along a book edited by Deborah Manley and Sahar Abdel Hakim called 'Traveling Through Egypt' which is a compilation of travelers' tales from Egypt from the ancient Greeks to modern times. It's a perfect beach or garden book because it's organised by topic rather than time period, so you can be comfortable picking it up more or less at random. The accounts of travelers the like of Ibn Battuta, Lucy Duff Gordon, or Gustave Flaubert give a fascinating persepective on the activities of tourists as well as on the country itself.

I've bought a lot of books from the American University in Cairo, and for people interested in any aspect of Egypt, their website is a useful stop. I was first introduced to Naguib Mahfouz, the Nobel prize winning author, through the AUC press paperbacks for sale in hotel lobbies. I bought one (Midaq Alley), read it and went back for more. I've lost more Naquib Mahfouz novels than I care to remember by loaning them to friends to read and pass on. I'm now the proud owner of autographed copies (hardback this time) of the Cairo Trilogy.

AUC Press publishes books about Egypt that aren't published anywhere else. You can find modern literature, including all of Mahfouz' works, guidebooks to the birds and animals of Egypt as well as the cities and ruins, historical and sociological studies, language handbooks, and the best book that has ever been written about Cairo, Max Rodenbeck's 'Cairo The City Victorious'. Max's book got rave reviews locally and my children bought me a copy when it was first published. In return, I bought each of them the paperback to take to college and read whenever they got homesick. Later, every one of the visitors we've had has been given a copy of the book to remember Cairo by. In almost every case, the reader has dived in to resurface about a week later with a big grin. So if you can't afford the air fare, try the bookstore.

What's an Egyptian?

We are six in the house in Sharm el Sheikh this weekend. One American widow of an Egyptian journalist, one Canadian widow of an Egyptian businessman, two Egyptian sisters who moved to Egypt in their early teens, a Polish architecture student who has lived in Egypt since he was six, and the American/Egyptian daughter of the first widow. It's a good group and the Polish student is handlng being the only male in a group of five women very well. We're pretty entertaining, I think.

The variety of backgrounds, languages, interests and ages (from 18 to 55) makes for some unusual conversation and my friend and I have been having a great time listening to the kids' reminiscences of being teenagers in Cairo. The girls all went to secondary school together and none of them knew the Polish boy, although they are all more or less the same age. But the stories are all similar, youthful adventures in Cairo's souq's, nightlife, coffee houses.

Janie and I have different memories of our youth, hers from Ohio and mine from Southern California, but we share a rural background. Neither of us had anything like Cairo to ramble around in as teenagers, but we did enjoy a time of more freedom of movement and action than many kids growing up today do. The world was a considered to be a safer place then, or something....I haven't really figured out what happened to things other than the triumph of liability insurance.

I was thinking about our little group courting skin cancer under umbrellas by the sea, about questions that I get at least once a week about the welcome that Americans specifically get here. All of us are, in one way or another, foreigners here, although none of us really feels like one. And, on the other hand, I recall the entertainment value that my trail rides in the countryside on my own or with guests or friends provide the local population in Abu Sir. There, among the fellaheen, we are foreign even when Egyptian, but our audience smiles at us with blue, grey, and hazel eyes sparkling in faces that may be as fair as our own or the brown that is usually expected. Everyone, from the ancient Greeks to the modern British, have left their mark on the people of Egypt.

Asking about a foreigner's reception in this light is a kind of funny question. Egypt isn't really that monolithic a country. The cultural/racial/ethnic mixes vary in both type and intensity from the north which has been the landing spot for foreigners for centuries to the south where the Nubians, who even have their own language, were dispersed by the flooding of their lands when the High Dam was built. The "ancient Egyptian type" of individual associated with the frescoes and bas-reliefs of the pharaonic tombs is generally conceived to be found around Aswan more than Alexandria, but he/she is just as likely to be fluent in Italian as Arabic. And, in fact, when you see enough of the frescoes and bas-relief, you realise that even in pharaonic times, Egypt was a melting pot of tribes and people's who were drawn to the Nile Delta for a variety of reasons. Welcome is part of Egypt's history.