Friday, November 19, 2004

Not Passed Over This Time

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Locust swarms advance into Egypt

Yesterday was overcast, but not all of the clouds were just water vapour. Enormous swarms of locusts, huge red grasshoppers longer than a man's finger, roughly the size of a house sparrow though lighter, were traveling through the country. Reports from local radio mentioned locusts landing throughout Cairo, but I saw none in my immediate environment. Friends of mine who had been riding in the desert just west of us told me that they saw quite a few in the desert, and this morning another friend who has a farm south of Dahshur reported that he spent the night with his neighbours burning tires, banging drums, and playing loud music to keep them from landing on their fields.

It's not clear where they are all headed. News reports say that they are headed for the Red Sea, where the fish will undoubtedly be delighted, while the tourists will be less delighted. On the other hand, other reports suggest that they are headed down the Nile Valley towards Sudan and Ethiopia, two countries that can little afford the visitors. Now if my gerbils will allow me to connect to the net for news....

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Another Wedding; A Different Style

I went to another wedding last night, this time one for a couple of young people who are living in Dubai. The groom is Egyptian while the bride is Palestinian/Jordanian. They were actually married a few months ago in Dubai but they groom's family wanted to welcome her to the family with a wedding celebration here. The party was relatively small, maybe a hundred people, and held in the Abu Nawas room at the Mena House Hotel.

The Mena House is an amazing hotel. It was built as a hunting lodge for the Khedive during the 1800's, and it was a getaway where the royals would go to hunt the quail that would land at the no longer existing lake at Nazlit Semman. Nowadays it's fairly impossible to understand why the urban sprawl at the base of the pyramids of Giza would be called "Quail Landing" since runaway construction has long since obliterated any spot that a self-respecting quail might want to land. Now a muddle of brick low-rise buildings with stables for horses and camels for tourists on the ground floors has crept up to the gates of the hotel and the foot of the pyramids. Inside the gates of the Mena House, however, a wonderful time warp occurs. Grassy gardens shaded with elegant imperial palms and other shrubs invite barefoot walks in the moonlight. The interior has been preserved with cool marble hallways, enormous hanging lamps and complex carved woodwork. The Abu Nawas nightclub was named for a poet and was fashioned of mahogany paneling and beaten copper walls.

While we were waiting for the festivities to begin with the procession of the singers, dancers, drummers and pipe player to escort the bride and groom into the room, Janie and I decided to wander in the gardens for a few minutes. Egypt doesn't have the strict non-smoking laws that you find elsewhere, so the evening was going to be a bit tough on us nonsmokers. We opted to fill our lungs ahead of time, while admiring the crescent moon in the palms and the play of light from the Sound and Light show on the Great Pyramid just beyond the garden. Tarek and Ranya (the bride and groom) had been staying at a small hotel near us at the edge of the desert, but no one could blame them for staying a couple of nights at the Mena House after the wedding party. I can't imagine a more romantic setting for a honeymoon.

It may seem a bit odd to be having a wedding party and honeymoon six months after going through the legalities, but watching the celebration of the young people who were dancing with Tarek and Ranya to both western and oriental music all evening, it made sense. The couple are both working in Dubai but with their families in Egypt and Jordan, a big party in Dubai just wasn't a possibility. Waiting a few months to enjoy the party in Cairo made more sense, since Jordan is just a hop away. Having gone to more Egyptian weddings than I care to remember, as well, I noticed that both the bride and groom were comfortable with each other and able to relax to enjoy the evening more than many other couples who were employing more traditional timing.

All in all, it was an unusual evening but very satisfying to me. I've watched Tarek's best friend Morad grow up since he was about 17. Now he and the rest of Tarek's friends are almost 30 and they are beginning to settle into their lives. Most of them are young professionals of various stripes with Morad being the odd one out in his obsession with working with horses. But it is at Morad's house that they usually gather and many of them come riding with us. Janie and I watched the zeffa (the wedding procession) as it began with the group of Morad and Tarek's young male friends dancing at the beginning of the procession before the dancers came into the scene. She turned to me and laughed "So there is the future of Egypt" and there they were dancing in celebration of the union of young people from two different countries who were making their home in a third country. A number of traditions were shattered last night, but I don't see that it was a bad thing. Maybe their future will be brighter for it.