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.

Making New Clothes

FabricMarket.JPG, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
Last year when I was in New York I bought some very comfortable t-shirt fabric jogging pants at the Columbia Bookstore. Naturally, they were on the expensive side, but they were wonderfully comfortable, especially in the Egyptian summer, so when they began wearing out I took them and another favourite pair of pants to a tailor in Maadi to have them copied. I explained that they were working pants and I wanted them copied in dark coloured t-shirt material, I paid a deposit for them to buy the material and was told that the pants would be ready the next week.

Well, that was about a month ago. Ah, the timelessness of Egypt. Today I went to Said the tailor for about the fifth time this month and two pairs of pants were ready. They weren't the jogging pants that I really wanted and they weren't made of t-shirt material. Said and Maher, his son, had copied the other pants in another fabric that is more suitable for more formal occasions than feeding the chickens and exercising the horses. They will be a welcome addition to my wardrobe nonetheless.

The jogging pants had been totally forgotten and had to be dug out of a closet. Once we got them out, I explained once again that I wanted the pants copied in the same sort of material that they were made from originally. "But, Madame, that is very inexpensive material!" Yes, boys, it is but how expensive do chicken-feeding pants have to be, after all? We went through the same old I-live-on-a-farm routine that I so often have to do explaining that I'm no longer a city dweller. This time, hopefully, it sank in.

Maher assured me that he will go personally to the Wekelah to buy the fabric himself, so hopefully sometime in the next month I will have some local copies of some rather ridiculously expensive jogging pants.

The market that they will visit to purchase the material is one of Cairo's best bargain centers. Fabric that is 85 LE per metre in more upscale locations such as Maadi or Mohendessin costs about 45 LE a metre in the Wekelah. The stores elsewhere are bigger and usually airconditioned, while in the Wekelah they are tiny, cramped and open to the air. Just finding one's way around the narrow alleyways is a serious challenge. The day that I took the photo a friend of mine was in the area and although we could describe landmarks to each other, we never did exactly figure out where the other was.

The market is fascinating in its extraordinary diversity. There are stalls selling some of the sleaziest underwear imaginable, red chiffon nightgowns trimmed with feathers, sequined thongs, you name it. The patrons of the stalls are often women whose heads are covered with black scarves and sometimes they wear full Islamic regalia with their faces covered to the eyes. The mind boggles with the thought of what they wear underneath all of that!

Other stalls sell children's clothes or uphostery fabric or towels and sheet material. You can buy the cotton for your sheets and have them hemmed there in the market in one of the stalls where a man sits behind an ancient sewing machine making things up for people. One fellow I know there sells used scarves and if you dig through the piles there are some wonderful bargains to be had. Lovely silk scarves or sarongs for as little as LE 20 (about $3.25) that look like new.

Naturally in a place like this parking is an utter nightmare. I've found a yard in the area of the market where they sell used iron for fences and pipes where I can park for LE 5 for a few hours. The real price of parking, of course, is in fear as you try to maneuver a Jeep Cherokee in a space that is more suitable for a Mini Cooper and the tragectory for getting out includes at least 4 right angles to be taken in reverse. THEN, you have to make your way through the alleys to the main street. All in all, going there is a major expedition, but one that is usually well worth it. I actually know people who are addicted to the fabric souq and go at every opportunity....but most of them have drivers so they don't have to deal with half of the insanity. They must change their curtains about once a month.