Wednesday, March 09, 2005

And The Rains Came

Stranded in a Taxi
Stranded in a Taxi, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
Early March is not supposed to be wet. Early March is when we have some sandstorms, some wind, some warm but not hot sun, and some cool nights. What we got last night was wet. REAL wet.

I was riding with some friends about noon and we were commenting on how warm it was for March. All of us were riding our rehabilitation cases, so it was the countryside for us with the firm footing that the horses who are coming off of tendon problems need. On our travels we ran into a neighbour who commented that we could relax because it was supposed to rain the next day. Rain? Looking into blue skies. Rain? No way. We finished our ride and went home where the electricity that had been nonexistent all day decided to come on just in time for me to prepare the bread for my parrots and take a shower before heading off to Mme. Wigdan Barbare's Shams el Asil stud just down the road for a celebration of her eighth generation of Egyptian Arabian horses. Dany is an old friend and one of the foremost breeders of Arab horses in the world, so this was an occasion that I wouldn't miss for anything. ( if you want to see)

I got back in time to feed the parrots their freshly baked bread, a concoction that I've worked out to ensure that they have the nutritional necessities. It's a mixture of soaked sorghum, black-eyed peas, whole wheat, pasta, vegetables (this time pumpkin, broccoli, hot peppers, and beets) pureed in a blender with whole eggs including shells, tahini, sunflower oil, peanuts, shredded coconut, and corn meal that I bake for about 3 hours in a low oven in 5 kilo batches weekly. I have the fattest sparrows in Egypt living here.

I got the creatures all fed and on a whim took another shower to wash my hair, figuring that it would be enough of a rush in the morning to get to yoga. A brilliant whim because about half an hour later the sky went black and the hounds went crazy when thunder and lightening crashed overhead. The heavens opened and....the power went out again.

Whenever it rains here, the main grid for us farmers dies. Whatever the weakness is, we know that no one is going to fix it until the rain stops for fear of electrocution. I can't blame them. So it was time to light up all the candles and work on a book outline until my laptop died, which it did about 9 pm. Nothing to do then but go to bed like the chickens. The dogs, needless to say, were a great deal less than thrilled that the garden was quickly turning into a swamp.

This morning I woke to a steady drizzle interspersed with more serious rain. Wonderful. Still no power and I was so happy that I'd washed my hair the night before. I fed the parrots and the chickens quickly before yoga, ignoring the indignant looks of the chickens who were wading in puddles left by the night's precipitation. As I left for yoga, I noticed that there were fresh skid marks leading from the road to the canal. I suspect that the rain exacted its toll on our country drivers. My usual 20 minute drive into Maadi turned into almost an hour as the traffic slowed to a crawl to slosh through pools of muddy water that reached to the middle of the tires or above. Thank heaven for a jeep. Not everyone was so lucky as the photo attests.

The power finally came back on about 4 pm today, not before I had time to bring my water to wash dishes from the hand pump and heat it. It was an interesting exercise, one that many of my neighbours do on a daily basis. I couldn't refrain from a cheer when the lights in the kitchen came back on. I don't think that I'm really cut out for a frontier life. At least I never got around to mopping the floors yesterday. Now that would have been a frustration.

Monday, March 07, 2005


Dave and Michael in Los Padres
Dave and Michael in Los Padres, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
I woke up early this morning knowing that I had to compose a business letter to be revised by my advisors for my airline. Not a nice way to start a day. Taking a bit of dry dog food out to the porch to distract the canine members of the household, I stepped out into a world of pearl mists clinging to the palms and a semi-warm stillness that took me back to schoolday mornings of my childhood in Ojai. Now a resort destination an hour or so north of Los Angeles, when I was growing up there, Ojai was still primarily an agricultural valley tucked into the mountains behind Ventura. With a massive population of perhaps five thousand in the entire valley, it was quintessentially rural. Massive oak trees grew in the middle of roads with impunity and the asphalt was lined with broad dirt shoulders for the equestrian traffic. My neighbours here have trouble imagining a place with so few people since the "villages" of Sakkara and Abu Sir contain a population of close to fifty thousand. There's rural and then there's another type of rural.

One thing that I've never talked about has been the fact that when you live on the other side of earth practically from family, you miss them. My brothers and half sister live in California, ten time zones away. One of my brothers still lives in the Ojai Valley and whenever I've been able to visit there, I'm struck by the beauty of the place that I grew up in. A rift valley surrounded by mountains covered with sage, cactus and the fragrance of the desert foliage, Ojai has preserved the wonderful oak trees, orange orchards, and parks of my childhood. There are times when I'm tempted to go home, but I don't think that it would work, and not just for financial reasons even though they are very strong. The home that my parents bought in Ojai in the early 60's for USD 18 thousand is still standing, a small California redwood bungalow, but it would sell for over half a million today.

One of the issues that I had to face when I chose to stay on in Egypt after Diaa's death was that of choosing to live so far away from my family (as opposed to his) and the friends that I'd accumulated over the years in Canada and the US. But the reality of the situation was such that even had I gone back to our home in Toronto, I would have been separated from my brothers and sisters. One of my sisters lives near Chicago, making her the closest geographically to Toronto, but the rest of my siblings live in California, which isn't close to Toronto however you measure it. In fact, I've been separated from my family a great deal since I moved from Vancouver on the west coast of Canada to Ontario in the middle of the country.

In Egypt it's almost impossible to separate from one's family in any serious way without leaving the country. While Egypt looks large enough on a map, the actuality of a narrow river valley in the Sahara desert means that there are 70 million people crammed into less space that there is in California, I would imagine. Irrigation and desert reclamation have expanded the inhabited area of the country in recent years, but most people still live within twenty kilometers of their siblings and parents. It isn't unusual for a countryside family to set aside a plot of land on which they build a house that ends up being the base of an apartment building with floors for the children and grandchildren. When you don't have the room to build out, you have to build up.

That doesn't get around the fact that I do miss my brothers and sisters. My parents have been dead for some years now as has my father's sister, my only relative on his side of the family. My mother's family in the UK is closer to me in Egypt than they were when I lived in North America, and they've found Egypt to be a lovely vacation destination, so I see them off and on. I have a fantasy that when I win the lottery or something I will invite my siblings over for a Nile cruise together. I've never been on one and I'm sort of saving the experience.

The younger generation, my nieces and nephews, have been to Egypt to visit. My brother Dave and his wife came with their children in the 90's for Christmas one year. We had a wonderful time together and Diaa took time off work to be in Luxor and Aswan with us. Dave's daughter Jennifer joined us for a summer when she was fifteen and needed a break from a destructive social scene in California, and then she came again on graduating from high school. Diaa and I paid for each of the kids to visit Egypt after graduation as our graduation present to them. Her brother Nick came one summer and my sister Sue's son JP was here the same summer as Jennifer and then again the following summer to work with Diaa briefly while on break from college. Both Jenn and JP are parents themselves now, so I guess I'd better start saving for the next batch of graduation presents.

I've been a wanderer for most of my life, moving from southern Calfornia to the San Francisco area and then on north to Vancouver. From there my path took me east to Toronto and further east to Egypt. There is always the bittersweet pang of leaving loved ones goodbye to be combined with the anticipation of new faces to be met. There will always be mornings in Sharm when the salt tang of the sea brings me back to the dawns that came every spring in Vancouver when you knew that winter was over because all of the streets smelled as though the sea had washed through them during the night. There will be nights when the velvet softness of a breeze off the desert brings back other desert nights from my childhood so far away. Like small jewels with sharp edges that can also cut, I tuck these moments away to treasure.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Got The World On A String

Tying horses in the desert
Tying horses in the desert, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
Interesting past couple of days. I thought that weekends were supposed to be when people unwind. But somehow for me that hasn't been the case for a while. Last weekend was a crazy trip to Sharm el Sheikh for business and an airshow, only to lose my old dog Stella while I was gone.

This weekend there was the National Egyptian Arabian Horsebreeder's Association halter show on both Friday and Saturday at the Club just down the road. We had gorgeous weather for sitting around looking at pretty horses, and I actually did it for about 3 hours Friday afternoon. They were pretty but I doubted that a lot of them could have done the work that mine had to on Saturday morning. Saturday morning is the time that my regular riding clients come to go play in the desert and today the trip was about 35 km to the Bent Pyramid at Dahshur.

Thursday was so dusty that I could barely see the desert from my front door. There was just a grey haze with a few greyer palms almost bent double from the wind. Naturally, I was mopping my floors. That is, after all, just the thing to do on a day when half of the Sahara is blowing past your windows. We were worried that the ride on Saturday wouldn't be possible. The horse show probably would happen even if it were the last day on earth.

But Friday and Saturday gave us the kind of weather that makes us say that we can't imagine living anywhere else in the world. After an hour and a half romp in the desert with my neighbour Janie, I headed off to admire high-priced horseflesh for a few hours. Just before the horseshow finished, a friend showed up with her daughter for a visit and some horse time at my paddocks. Patricia is in middle school and looking for fun things to do, so we did some riding lessons after dark in the paddock. I couldn't see much, but Bunduq cruised her through some exercises with flair. Horses see much better in the dark than we do.

The next arrival was another friend with a six year old son. A single mother, she works harder than almost anyone I know, but this evening an old friend was in town from Europe and I had offered to watch the son for her. Ali and I played a few games of Chowder, a fish-eating-fish game that is about at a clear six year old level, watched a bit of Winnie The Pooh and then it was The Bed Time. Six year olds think that they should stay up until the cows come home. Old ladies who could be six year olds' grandmother think that 10:30 is a wonderful bedtime, especially when they are getting up at 6:30 the next morning to feed the dogs and birds before going riding for about five hours. Old ladies are ultimately both more devious than six year olds and more stubborn, so they get to bed on time.

Riding to Dahshur was utterly freeing. I dropped all the stress and worries behind me for a few hours to search the sand on our route for interesting stone chips, fossil shells, flakes of mica and odd looking potsherds. We picked smooth spots for long canters, talked about archaeology, and discussed my clients' summer trekking plans. When we reached the Bent Pyramid, which is a kilometer or so south of the Red Pyramid, a driver was waiting with a cooler filled with apples, sandwiches and cold water, as well as a large bag of berseem and a bucket of carrots for the horses.

It was at this point that I decided to try to solve an interesting equestrian problem. In most normal environments in which people ride horses, there are objects that can be used to secure horses that are not currently being ridden. The best thing that we could find were some rocks that were too small or a pyramid that was too large. Therefore, being innovative, I clipped the three horses together figuring (correctly at least today) that the likelihood of three geldings all choosing to do the same thing at the same time was pretty slim. Well, it worked this time.