Saturday, September 10, 2005

There But For The Grace of God... ?Slideshow

A friend of mine passed this site on to me. They are powerful photos taken by a young Honduran man who was working in one of the hotels in New Orleans during Katrina and the ensuing flood. There are almost 200 of them and it is worth every minute to look at each and read his comments as he tells the story of the storm, the flood, and his escape from the city.

What has this to do with Egypt? Like New Orleans, Cairo lies on the banks of one of the major rivers of this world, a river that has also been dammed for flood control. Like Louisiana, Egypt has been losing land as the sediments that used to feed the Delta no longer come down the river but are deposited behind the dams. Like Louisiana, Egypt has many important sites that would be damaged or destroyed by flooding and even more important we have a lot of very poor people who would have nowhere to go and no way to get there.
Are we likely to have a hurricane and subsequent damage to levees? No. But we have an enormous dam that does have a fault under it. I also daresay that most of the people living in this country have the same assurance that the dam will always be there holding back the waters of the Nile, just as the people of New Orleans were sure that they were safe behind their levees.

Guess what, everyone. Life isn't safe and we humans have been making it less safe on a daily basis. As we "improve" our world with our dams and reliance on technology, we also move farther and farther out of touch with the power of nature and the necessity of living WITH the forces of nature rather than the ability to ignore or override them. I don't think that governments and businesses are likely to heed this warning that Katrina gave us all. But maybe some of us ordinary folk can keep this in mind and be aware.

I remember a margarine commercial in the US when I was a kid, back from the days before they realised that margarine is actually as bad for you, or even worse for you, as butter. Someone gives Mother Nature a slice of bread with margarine and she thinks it's butter. When she realises that she's been taken in, she fries the person who gave her the bread with a lightning bolt proclaiming, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature!"
Maybe we all need to keep that thought, with a slight adjustment, in's not wise to fool too much with Mother Nature.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Making an Election Work

Wednesday was a good day to stay at home for a lot of people. Some were concerned about problems during the elections, others like myself had a virus that seems to be making the rounds in Cairo giving you a sore throat and headache. So I was laying low for health reasons until the evening when I met a group of young friends at the Sheraton in Giza for a going away dinner that was planned for one of the group who is leaving for the US. It was me and five twenty-somethings, and the conversation very naturally was about the election. Three of the others are not Egyptian citizens while two of the young men are. These two had gone out to vote and been unable to. The third young man, a foreign journalist, had spent the day observing the polling. Interesting story.

Turns out that the system here (to use a somewhat inappropriate word since it does imply some organisation) involves having a three week period in which one must register to vote, but this three week period was last November, almost a year before the election. Once the period is over, I'm not sure that it's impossible to register, but it certainly is difficult. Then there is the question of WHERE you can vote. Apparently, you have to vote in the district in which you registered your national ID. So one of the young men who lives in Maadi but works in Dokki tried to go from his office to a polling place only to be told that a) he should have registered a year ago and b) he couldn't vote in Dokki anyway. The other young man made the rounds of polling stations in the Heliopolis/Nasr City area looking for a polling station where you could vote if you had moved from your district, but he never found this fabled polling station. Both of them spent about 4 hours wandering around polling stations talking to people and trying unsuccessfully to vote.

Everyone, fairly naturally, was predicting a win for Mubarak, especially since most of the "helpers" at the polling stations were in Mubarak hats, pins and other paraphenalia. So the first contested election here is over without any major disasters and with the predicted result but the boys had some interesting suggestions to improve the system. They suggested that there should be a major campaign to let people know HOW to vote and how to register to vote and that the powers that be need to begin to take into account the fact that Egyptians no longer spend their entire lives in one district of one city as used to be the case. One semi-serious suggestion put forth to ensure a clean vote was to have the ballot boxes made of plexiglass so that everyone could see that at least they were going into the polling stations empty...though that didn't really help the fact that the general impression was that there was no control over the ballot boxes once they left the polling station.

It's going to be interesting to see the fallout on this election. No one was really expecting much of a change from it and it looks like no one is going to be too surprised. For myself, at my age I can see that sometimes a small change is easier to institute than a large one, but the next step has to be another change to keep up the momentum. Will that happen? Who knows, but let's face it. Hosny is much older than I am and he can't last forever so a change is coming no matter what we want.

Oh, and what does the picture have to do with all this? Nothing at all actually. I just shot it through the front window of my jeep one day because it seemed to symbolise the way a lot of things are done here. More being carried than the system should be able to handle and nothing fastened down terribly well. A lot of vision with the details left flying in the wind.

And the parrot soap opera came to a close when I moved the nest box from Ali's cage to Mona and Fritz YB's cage. The pair had chewed theirs to bits and wanted Ali's unused box. Guess that birdbrains are smarter than we think.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

As The Bird Turns

My female African Grey parrot has lost her little feathered mind, I believe. Mona used to be Ali's mate and lived happily with him for about 5 years. Then one day she sneaked out of their cage in the aviary at the house in Maadi (I still don't know how) and she moved in with Fritz You Bastard. Fritz YB had been given to me because he'd plucked every feather out of his body and was walking around his cage in utter nakedness driving his poor owner to distraction. We popped him into the aviary in the cage next to Mona and Ali, ignored him other than to give him my parrot bread and fruit and veggie mix daily and all his feathers grew back in. He's quite the handsome parrot now but his personality hasn't improved even a tiny bit. Fritz YB and Mona have been living together now for about 2 or 3 years and although I wondered sometimes what Ali thought of all this, he's never said a word.

The other day as I was cleaning food bowls and distributing breakfast for the birds, Mona climbed out of her cage and headed for Ali's cage that he's been sharing with a nice little Cuban Amazon called Alba. Huh? What's this? Maybe she's having second thoughts? Her greeting to Ali was received with rather less than a "Welcome back, darling" however and she wasn't all that sweet in her interactions with Ali, so I encouraged her to go back to Fritz YB if she wasn't going to play nice. Ali seemed happy enough with that solution and I didn't think much more about it. Then today in the morning she did it again, moving in on Ali's cage, while Ali fled her presence. She seemed to be mostly interested in the nest box which is in pretty good shape in Ali's cage, while hers is rather chewed up. This time I decided to leave her with Ali to see if they could sort things out. When I came back from riding this morning, however, Ali was looking a bit frazzled and Mona was looking rather predatory. The words "rape, pillage, and burn" came to mind although they are not the usual sort of things that I would consider with regards to my parrots. Again I encouraged her to go back to Fritz YB who did give her a "Welcome home, darling" clinch with the beaks, so I have to imagine that her forays into Alidom are more for the nest box perhaps than poor Ali.

Tomorrow I'll move the nest box from Ali's cage to Mona's and see if they are happy with this solution. No one ever told me that parrots could be so bloody complicated.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

What Are These People Reading?

You can't escape the news of Hurricane Katrina even here. We are listening to coverage on the BBC, EuroNews, even (saints forgive us) CNN sometimes. The images and stories are appalling and everyone sends prayers from the heart for the poor people who have been wiped out. My email lists are equestrians of various flavours from all over the US and much of the concern has been how to mobilise resources to send aid.

At the same time, there has been a great deal of valid criticism of various aspects of government in the US that contributed to the magnitude of disaster. Many people are questioning why, if such reasonable publications as Scientific American and National Geographic have run articles detailing the capacity for the destruction of New Orleans in a storm such as this as early as 2001, the budget for the maintenance of the levee's was cut over the past few years and the wetlands around the south coast are allowed to degrade. Other people are asking why FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Authority) is being run by a person whose last job was the management of IAHA, an Arabian Horse registry and horse shows (and who left this position under a very dark cloud). You have to wonder about the quality of decision-making in the US these days. If the US has all these resources to spare in terms of the military efforts in Iraq, why did it take them almost a week to get people on the ground in their own country? I mean, after all, the storm was coming for some time and men and equipment could have been (but weren't) moved into strategic areas for later movement into needy areas. The failure of government bodies at all levels in a country that loves to trumpet how they are the model for democracy in the world leaves those of us who are as yet unblessed by such brilliance immensely grateful.

We have our own impending doom in Egypt in the form of the Aswan Dam. Built in the 70's before serious environmental impact statements and the like, it provides Egypt with electrical power, stable water sources, but at the same time has changed the weather in Upper Egypt, displaced an entire nation (the Nubians) and is built over a layer of limestone and a fault that could conceivably slip causing the dam to release the contents of Lake Nasser, the largest manmade lake in the world, into the Nile Valley. A Scientific American article from 1997 (can be found on the website if you search) details the scenario, which includes a thorough scrubbing of the entire Nile Valley. I take some hope from the fact that that they estimate about 6 days for the flow to reach Cairo, by which time I could hopefully get my family and livestock to higher ground in the desert, but the risk is there nevertheless. And then there will be the aftermath to deal with....

Are there plans in place to deal with such a catastrophe here? I doubt very, very much. Judging by the Minister of Agriculture's pronouncement over the locust swarm that passed through here a year or so ago, when he declared them to be harmless (Huh! Ask the people of Niger and Mali how harmless), the level of information being used by our government is pretty much on a par with the Americans. Congratulations, boys, you are as good as the US in this department...scary thought indeed. I guess that God will continue to to help those who help themselves, so get out there and read people. Know what's going on around you, what you need to deal with in the real or hypothetical future and take good care of yourselves.