Saturday, February 11, 2006

Sometimes Mobbed Streets Are Okay

BBC NEWS | Africa | Egypt rejoices at record Cup win

After a week of news scenes of protesters angry at the lack of discretion and consideration by European newspapers publishing cartoons of Mohamed, the mobs in Egypt were a delightful change. To be sure, I made certain to get out of Maadi and back to the relative quiet of the farm as soon as the game was over. The streets everywhere filled quickly.

I'm not a big football (soccer) fan, but we've watched every one of Egypt's games in this series with wonder and delight. Last night a group gathered for standard football food (homemade sandwiches, chicken wings, beer, and brownies) to cheer on Egypt to a longed for victory. I sent messages to my daughter's mobile phone in New York with updates of the game because she had to be at work cataloguing books in Columbia's Butler Library. Her brother, soaring along on a cloud of adrenalin-produced euphoria, suggested that she should have told her boss it was a national holiday...Egypt was in the finals of the Africa Cup. Hmmm. Boss wasn't going for it. So there were ecstatic messages and whoops of joy when the last kick slammed home to give Egypt the win.

As we drove back out of the city, we were getting phone calls from friends who were estimating that they were going to be stuck in other places for hours...but no one seemed to really care. In the village of Shubramant on the way home, farmers were drifting back to their homes having gathered in coffee shops to watch the match. During the game, there were almost no cars on the road and very, very few pedestrians. Virtually the entire country was glued to television sets to watch the match.

Congratulations Egypt! It was a great series...and now back to our regularly scheduled programming, but with a smile that will surely linger for a while.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Abu Erdan, An Early Terrorist? Not Exactly

I'll bet you never knew that Audubon Society and some of the other conservation groups started with women's hats. Not the connection that most of us make, but that is true. At the turn of the century it was the fashion to decorate women's hats with feathers, parts of birds and even whole birds, the more exotic the better. The fashion reached a point that birdwatchers could rack up a better spot list sitting on a fashionable corner in New York or London than they could in the field. One of the birds that was most in demand was the egret for the graceful sweep of the snowy feathers and feather collectors went to work on the little egret and cattle egret population of Egypt as they did in North and South America, with the effect that there was general concern that the birds being hunted might become extinct.

The methods used by feather hunters were brutal to say the least. The plumes desired were most attractive during the breeding and nesting period, so this was when the hunters went to work. The result of their efforts was not only dead adults lying about under the trees, but starving young who were still nestlings dependent upon parents for their feeding. Concerned birdwatchers began a media blitz and formed such groups as the Audubon Society to try to turn the tide. Women members lobbied to have feathered hats outlawed and some of the British in Egypt began an unusual public service campaign to inform the people of Egypt of the dangers of killing egrets. Matchbooks, train cars, and posters on buildings proclaimed in Arabic "Abu Erdan saddiq el fellah", meaning "The Egret is the friend of the farmer". Abu Erdan means "father of beaks" in reference to the long beak sported by the egret, and they do assist the farmers of Egypt by eating the grubs, worms and even young mice that might be turned up in the tilling and cultivating of the soil.

The saviour of the egrets was not so much the written word as it was the hairdresser's scissors. Bobbed hair suddenly became fashionable and the extravagant feathered hats that had previously adorned the longer hair were no longer in demand. Gradually the egret populations regained strength. These days cattle egrets are no longer in the least bit endangered. Just before dusk they can be seen gathering in the trees along the road that borders the Cairo Zoo, tall shady eucalyptus and casuarinas where they will be nesting during mating season. In the countryside they can be seen in flocks following a tractor or examining freshly turned soil for bugs and other avian-oriented goodies. Sometimes they will be resting quietly in the sun along a trail as I'm out riding only to take off in a huge white cloud when the horse disturbs them. The cattle egrets still outnumber the little egrets, but sometimes I catch sight of some of the more unusual water birds such as night herons or grey herons. Sometimes life should be for the birds.