Monday, May 23, 2005


While driving into Maadi this morning, we noticed an unusual number of police on the Moneeb. It wasn't just some extra traffic cops out to nail some speeders. These were security police accompanied by some of the mohabarat (secret police who broadcast their existence by wearing sports clothes and carrying walkie-talkies). We figured that someone important must be on his/her way to the pyramids and hoped that they'd be gone by the time we were coming back. On the way home, we decided to stop at the chicken man in Shubramint for some roast chicken for dinner. Egypt is full of these roast chicken stores where a gas barbecue inside a sort of metal cupboard roasts small chickens on a spit. The chickens are seasoned with herbs and salt, and they come with some salad, tahini and bread for a very reasonable price. Sliced warm over a salad of fresh lettuce, tomato, cucumber, pepper, and onion and seasoned with a nice oil and vinegar dressing, this is fast food to die for. As we sat waiting for the chicken man to finish wrapping up our dinner, a policeman approached the car and asked very politely if I could just pull around the corner to be off the road. Someone very important was apparently coming through, although he wouldn't say who. Okay, why not. Chicken was collected and as we drove on home we noticed tow trucks hauling away parked cars and leaving them along the side of the cross street that leads down into our village. Now that is unusual security efforts and piqued our curiosity even more. After dinner, Tracy was headed into town with a cabbie that I know well to hear a talk by Paulo Coelho, the author of The Alchemist, who was speaking in Zamalek. Eid told us that the bigwig for whom streets had been cleared was none other than Laura Bush. Hmm. Hope she had a nice visit, but I'll bet that the owner of one Peugeot we saw being towed wasn't too happy.

I decided to take my favourite mare out for a wander around the neighbourhood after Tracy left. There was still daylight at 7 pm and the various shades of green glowed in the sun's last rays. The berseem is being dried now, so it's a greyer colour than before, while the young corn crop is a clear dark green. The summer grass feeds are coming up vibrant and light green while the date palms are their greyish sea green. Dory may be pregnant, as we bred her last month to a stallion down the road, and her appetite was certainly in full gear tonight as she stopped at virtually every dusty mulberry tree to pull down some young leaves, at every clump of alef el fil (elephant grass), and every stand of young bamboo. She'd just finished dinner but anyone would think I never fed her at this rate. I had plenty of time as the light faded to contemplate the extraordinary richness of "green" that exists in my neighbourhood.

My rides in the countryside are much more peaceful after dark because most of the farmers have gone home. During the day every few seconds a greeting is passed. "Salam aleikum" "Wa aleikum salam wa rahmat Allahi wa barakatu" (Peace be upon you. And upon you peace and the mercy of Allah and his blessing.) Or more casually "Zayik? Enti tamel eh?" "Ilhamdullilah" (How are you? What's happening with you? Thanks be to God...I'm fine) Tonight instead of speaking to about 50 farmers, I probably only spoke to 10. A friend asked me if it was safe riding after dark, and I told her that as far as I could see, it was as safe as during the day, if not safer because I was less likely to have to share the trail with machinery.

The full moon was just rising as we headed on the homeward leg of our round. Huge, orange and with the pattern of a rabbit (as Pauline pointed out to me the other night), it barely hung over the palms at first before it began to lose the colour imparted by our lovely pollution and rise above the thermal inversion layer. Sometimes it's just not as romantic if you understand air flow. There was a strong breeze blowing south up the Nile so the air was cool and refreshing as Dory hoovered her way along the trail. Not a mulberry tree was safe tonight. I wonder if that is the equine equivalent to pickles and ice cream.

The farmers resting by their houses often are surprised when I come upon them in the dark. On the dirt of the trail the horses make almost no noise, so I guess we just sort of float up out of the dark. Nevertheless, there are the inevitable invitations to stop for tea. If I took up every invitation, my two hour round tonight would have taken days.


kenju said...

You write it so well that I think I'm there on the horse with you!

lynn wilson said...

This log is so very special. It brings back so many memories of doing exactly what Maryanne did, all those years ago, when I lived at Abu Sir. The crickets, the mosquitoes, the locals with their broad grins chuckling behind their whiskers at the khowagaiya (foreign female) in their midst, but somehow in awe of the sheer in-your-face attitude of someone who chose to live the life in the depths of Egypt. Wonderful. Lynn

Æmilius said...

This was interesting. My father was born in Egypt, but I've never been there. I'd love to go some day. Thank you.

styro said...

thanks for the mental vacation... :) I feel as if I'm back in Giza! :)

Habu said...

Maryanne, what a great description of life and living in Egypt. You have inspired me to follow with something similar. My wife and I live on the Island of Okinawa. Although too modern in many respects I still enjoy the friendliness and polite nature of traditional Okinawan culture.

Steven Milroy