Saturday, February 05, 2005

Anniversary Stock Taking

PalMette.JPG, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
It's almost a year now since I moved to Abu Sir. I moved into my house here mid-February 2004 and immediately had guests. Some female endurance riders in the US heard that one of our mutual friends was going to be visiting me and rather abruptly decided to join her. While here they helped the local endurance group put on a 40 km (25 mile or limited distance in endurance parlance) ride from just north of the Abu Sir pyramids to the lake just south of the Dahshur complex. It was a week of unforgettable fun and laughter for five women sharing a house about the size of a bus shelter with roughly a dozen dogs. I was utterly unbalanced from the move, matching their abrupt immersion in rural Egypt. Throughout the year, my home has been the base for a number of visitors to Egypt, most of them college students.

My garden has gone from being a square of sand to relative lushness, with overabundant morning glory vines along the fence, trees planted to shade the grass, and eager holly hocks springing up from seeds dropped last summer. I've discovered that morning glory is not a good choice when your neighbours are planted fields. Morning glory is an aggressive grower and has to be trimmed regularly to keep it out of the corn, beans, or alfalfa just outside the fence. The horse parking lot of sand that was left just in front of the verandah has almost completely been overgrown by lawn, reducing still more the sand that gets tracked into the house. Thank heaven for small mercies. This spring the poinciana and jacaranda trees should be blooming and the small tecumaya bushes almost block the view of my bedroom wall. The parrots have done much too good a job of pruning the bouganvilleia for them to really flourish, poor things, but the cactus planted all around the flight cages to deter the incursions of prey driven terriers has grown enormously. Unfortunately, the terriers could care less about cactus, but the chickens no longer care about the dogs and the parrots never did.

My house still contains boxes that should have been unpacked during the year and weren't, but it has the lived-in clutter of books, dogs, and odd carvings or clay shapes that all my friends associate with me. I've amassed an impressive collection of candles to handle our frequent power failures. Seems to me that if I have to go by candlelight, it might as well be scented and have an interesting shape. I've accumulated a collection of rag kilims and bedouin pillows that form the basis of my decor in the living room, and a string of visitors has left an even larger collection of odd phrasebooks, guidebooks, and maps in the guest room.

My dog population got up to 22 at one point, but thankfully not for long. It's back down to more reasonble levels, well sort of reasonable. The chickens dropped from the initial four to two and are back up to four again, since a 6 year old friend presented me with a young rooster and a hen named after cartoon characters. The rooster so far has shown little inclination to crow, and what crowing he's done has been done at sensible hours like 8:30 am. My kind of rooster.

The horse population has increased slightly with my taking in the aging gelding that belongs to a friend of mine, being given another young gelding by a friend who was being transferred to the United States, and the purchase of a mare. I'm gradually gaining clients for riding tours and lessons, and I'm content that it isn't too many. The income helps to defray the feed bills even, but my life isn't simple enough to allow me all the time that I need for the horse business.

It's been a good year. Most of my neighbours have gotten to realise that my life is just about as unexciting as theirs. Where the path around my garden used to be a favourite gawking tour, now it's simply used as a normal thoroughfare. Not much to see but a woman feeding her birds, mowing her lawn, reading a book in the garden. The thrill is overwhelming. I'm very comfortable being their boring neighbour.

The year has gone by, the circle has been completed once again. Days will grow longer and warmer. The wheat just rising in the fields will grow golden at the beginning of the summer, and the night will become the best time for riding. I don't know what the next year will bring, but I know that I'm looking forward to it.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Beer, Glorious Beer

Beer and Egyptians go way back. Literally. Beer recipes have been found in ancient texts and modern brewers have tried to replicate the Egyptian beverage. In more recent times, I've been told that the Belgian brewery Stella Artois set up shop in Egypt, hence the primary local beer's name, Stella. I can't seem to verify that information, but I can tell you about beer since 1988. When we moved here there were three beers available in Egypt (and a few others imported, but not too many). Most common was Stella, a light lager in a large green bottle. There was also Stella Premium in a smaller bottle for less money, but as far as I could see it tasted the same. Then, usually in the spring the same company sold a lovely dark beer called Marzen beer in even smaller bottles. Marzen Beer was always my favourite.

In the late 80's and early 90's beer drinking in Egypt was to a certain extent for the strong of heart. Quality control could be a bit shaky, but most of the time you got a beverage that was fondly known as "camel piss". When the drive came to privatise all of the previously nationalised industries, including Al Ahram Beverages, an Egyptian investor bought Al Ahram Beverages and made some changes. One of these was the introduction of Meister, my preference in beer. The Sawares family opened another brewery near Hurghada, Gouna Beverages, which brewed Sakkara beer. After a few years Al Ahram bought out Gouna, so now there is essentially a monopoly on the manufacture of alcohol. Al Ahram sells Meister, Meister Max, Stella, Stella Premium, Sakkara, and Sakkara Gold. Unfortunately, the wonderful Marzen beer is nowhere to be found.