Monday, December 21, 2009

Books Are Your Friends


When I moved to Egypt from Canada we packed 48 boxes to be shipped, 18 of which were books. I come from a reading family and bedtime stories were a tradition for us. I knew from visits that there weren't that many bookstores in Alexandria and that they weren't that well stocked, so I brought along what I felt was the essential library for a pair of growing children. This included everything from Dr. Suess to Lord of The Rings. My son was already quite good at reading at 7 years old and my 4 yr old daughter did fine with the Dr. Suess. Every evening they got a chapter of one of the longer books before bed, something from the Narnia series, Treasure Island, The Three Musketeers...whatever. As they grew older they began reading the longer books by themselves and I only read aloud on special occasions such as while we were sailing to Cyprus in the summer or something like that.

One of the objectives of moving to Egypt was to make the children and myself fluent in Arabic. I accomplished this primarily by stumbling through the days shopping and managing a household in Arabic. We specifically DID NOT hire English speaking staff so that I had to learn Arabic to survive. It wasn't easy, and often wasn't pretty, but it was remarkably effective. The kids had daily Arabic lessons after school with a wonderful young woman in Alexandria who was actually a professor of dentistry, but who, with her American mother and Egyptian father, understood the cultural and language issues for my children. I told Mona that she could do anything she wanted with the kids as long as it was in Arabic, be it cooking, watching a movie, or going out for a walk. As someone with a background in language teaching and the study of its acquisition, I didn't think that they would be learning Arabic simply from books.

It was a very good thing that I had this approach because the books in Arabic available to children at the time were simply appalling. I would search through bookstores abroad at every opportunity, but it was unbelievably frustrating. Because there were no interesting easy-reading books in Arabic, unlike their libraries in French and English, the children really never really got into reading Arabic. We had Tintin and Asterix in English, Arabic and French, as well as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comics, but the pickings otherwise were really, really poor.

The result of not having appealing books for children in Arabic has always been horribly obvious to me. The Egyptian school curriculum is brutal with its emphasis on rote learning and the imposition of language learning that is not designed for children who have little or no help at home with their language homework. Children struggle through classes that are intended primarily to get them through exams and at the end of the school day, if they never see another book, they are thrilled. My in-laws' homes had virtually no reading material other than a newspaper and the Quran, unlike our home where each of the kids had a wall to ceiling bookshelf full of favourite books by the time they went off to college. My husband shared the national aversion to literature at first when we were in grad school, but he gradually became more convinced that books could be friendly as time went on.

For the past couple of years I've been tutoring a few of the children in the village next to me in English. I've been quite horrified at the complexity of what they are required to learn, especially since their parents don't speak English and really can't help them with their homework. Nevertheless, they soldier on and are learning. A month ago a friend of mine from Canada, Paddi Sprecher, came for a holiday with me and she got involved in the tutoring, being something of a sucker for charming kids. She's also part of an English as a Second Language organisation in Edmonton where they help immigrants to learn English. Paddi, being something of a high energy individual, went into high gear and we began acquiring workbooks on phonics for the kids to colour, magnetised letters to spell out words, and she hauled out some simple toys, like a xylophone...a word that appears in their workbooks, but something that most of them had never seen or played.

Paddi and I were soon joined by India Martin, a young English vet student who was staying for a month to work with the Donkey Sanctuary, and where we started with three students for English tutoring, within a couple of weeks we were up to almost ten and there were children begging at the farm gate to join. We were doing the lessons in my verandah, a rather chilly location with lighting that wasn't the best, but this didn't deter our students. It was also getting rather crowded as time went on and we had to institute stern hours for the tutoring because the children would show up in the morning on their days off and be happy to work and play all day. Unfortunately, we didn't have all day to oblige them.

As Paddi, India and I were riding through the village on our last ride together, we had children calling from all sides that they wanted to join the lessons and four sets of parents came to the gates to ask for lessons as well. A young friend of mine, who I've known since her childhood in Alexandria, is currently working as a teacher at a fairly expensive private school in Cairo and she was totally blown away by the enthusiasm of these children who begged for homework, in comparison with her more privileged students who really aren't all that interested in learning...yet another convert to the tutoring program. Finally, I spoke to the omda of our local village and asked if we could have one of the empty appartments to use for tutoring. We would organise a library and tutors if they could give us a room for classes and another one for the library with a bathroom. He most readily agreed and we are hoping to organise the space very soon.

Meanwhile riding clients of mine have expressed an interest in the project, as have people back in Canada who work with Paddi, and they have donated money for books for the library in Arabic and English. We currently have about 20 books on our library list and are looking into ways to make it easy for people to buy books for this children's library with the local bookstores. Other riders have offered to help tutor and to find others to tutor, while some of the ESL people in Canada are interested in coming to help teach the tutors how to work effectively. Our hope is to try to get some of the older youngsters in the village to help us with story times in Arabic for the young ones to give them a sense of the fun of reading. Happily, the availability of children's books in Arabic has turned around completely and there are many titles available for very reasonable prices. We also visited a local school and Paddi will try to set up a letter exchange for the elementary classes here and in Canada. It's a wonderful opportunity to open the world for children both here and in Canada.

Like I really needed another project....

copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Egyptian Onion


As someone whose favourite "news" shows are the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report, I have also long been a fan of The Onion, a American satirical "news" source. My theory is that these things aren't funny unless you have a fairly good idea of what news is the basis for the satire, so they are a reasonable jumping off point for news. Recently a group of young Egyptian writers who are only known by their pseudonyms: Makarona (pasta), Ward Zeyada (extra fried onions), and Subar Lox (a term for a standard size for koshary) have started up an Egyptian version of The Onion. El-Koshary Today is named after an Egyptian dish that is a conglomeration of dark lentils, chickpeas, rice, and pasta topped with fried onions, a spicy tomato sauce and a garlic/vinegar sauce. Cheap and filling, koshary is a streetside favourite in Egypt and this literary version is fast on its way to becoming just as enjoyable. While locals like myself can laugh at their send-ups of Egyptian news, the stories might entice people elsewhere to explore some of the issues brought up in some of the more mainstream sources.

You can make up a batch of koshary with this recipe and giggle your way through the wesite.

Happy nibbling!

copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

When Football Isn't Just A Game


Global Voices Online is one of the most interesting sites for the analysis of blogs from all over the world on any topic imaginable. Recent excitement over the Algeria/Egypt football shootout for a place at the World Cup has been making the news and blogs throughout North Africa and Global Voices has picked up on it.

Egypt won the first match in Cairo after people in the streets attacked the bus of the arriving Algerian team causing some minor injuries. The second game saw a lot of street action in Khartoum after the Algerians won with Egyptians reportedly being targeted, as well as a couple of days of demonstrations with some violence outside the Algerian embassy in Zamalek. As one who was a student at the University of California at Berkeley in the "violent" days of the late 60's when there were "riots" everyday from noon to one in Sproul Plaza, I'm a bit skeptical about news reports of riots. I had a noon class and missed the entire season, much to my siblings' disappointment. I never saw a single "riot". Rats! A friend of mine in Zamalek, however, was able to tell me that things were a bit tense there for a while.

In all the ruckus after the match in Khartoum, Alaa Mubarak, the second son of the President of Egypt who is usually a low profile businessman, called in to some talk shows to express his displeasure at the Algerians who had, on their own turf, taken out their frustrations on Egyptian workers and companies with their own riots. Many Egyptians, apparently, are quite taken with this action and are looking at Alaa with a new light. Marwa Rakha wrote a longish article examining the responses to Alaa Mubarak's outburst as well as looking at the political possibilities presented. After all, in this part of the world (as in most of the world) EVERYTHING is political of course.

Okay, boys and girls. If you can't play nicely, we will have to take the ball and go home.




copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why You Can't Go Home

I went to our family home in Maadi the other day to see the tenants. As I waited in the hallway for Jane, I looked carefully around the house. We lived there for about 8 years. I did some very significant renovations in the house before our tenants moved in, but the sense of the house that attracted us many years ago still live in the house. Our tenants are a lovely Scots family with three children who have been with us for some years now. This is right, as it is a children's home. The house itself feels friendly to kids.

As I stood in the hallway looking into my study, the living rooms, the dining room and the kitchen I had the most extraordinary sensation. I felt as though all my skin, inside and out, had been scraped raw. I wondered if I would want to live back here in "civilisation", if I might want to be more in the center of things. But I realised that even standing in the hallway, I was being dragged back into my former life. I was looking at the front door wondering when my late husband would be walking through apologising for being rather late. I believe that it took a relocation to let me realise the importance of a new beginning of sorts. I know that even now, if I were to be living in our old home, I would stop moving forward and simply go back to waiting the arrival of the lost.

copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Grassroots Movement for Gas Guzzlers




A young friend of my daughter's recently sent me a link to a webpage started by one of her friends to encourage carpooling in Egypt. Cairo reputedly has 20 million inhabitants and I'm willing to bet about 10 million cars. These days any errand at all can take hours. I think that this is a great idea and I really wish them all the best.

Take a look at Egyptcarpoolers

copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Dove Has Flown

One of the wonders of the internet is the ability to keep up with friends of ours from all over the world...and to make these friends in the first place. Many years ago when I first started blogging, Leila Abu-Saba posted some comments on my blog and we became net friends. We followed each other's blogs and when we discovered Facebook we connected there as well. For quite a few years, Leila was battling first breast cancer and then liver cancer as well and just recently she lost her fight to stay with us. I've been having phone line problems and have been just checking my email so I missed the news and this morning was shattered to realise that she was gone.

The title to this piece is a link to Leila's blog post which was a meditation on cancer, forgiveness, and politics. I don't know anyone who could have expressed this better. Friends of hers are making sure that her books get published, the task that she was trying hard to finish in her last days. Look for them and let her words, thoughts, and spirit live on.

Leila's manifesto for hope is a good place to start.

copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Monday, October 12, 2009

She Teaches With Horses


The summer's grip has been broken although days are still t-shirt warm. I check the temperatures for my friends and family in North America and I think I'm happy to be here. We don't have the flaming leaves and crisp mornings of fall, but it is here nevertheless. The schools have finally been allowed to open again after a silly panic attack over the H1N1 flu...can't blame it on the pigs and any numbers of how many people have had it as opposed to the ordinary garden variety flu that has been known to kill many more people are unreliable. Sure kids and adults are getting the flu and being told to stay home in bed, but who knows what flavour flu it is?

With a return to normality, I've had my level of busyness go up enormously. We host the American school riding clubs on weekends; high school on Friday morning and middle school on Saturday morning. Some of the high school kids are into jumping so they go off to a stable nearby that specialises in jumping, while the others have a great time here playing games with horses, taking basic riding lessons, and generally getting to know some of the creatures that share the planet with them. I had an old friend come by for a two week stay and Tracy Karbus shared some of her skills with some of the students and friends of mine. She does workshops with horses known as equine-assisted learning, a skill she acquired studying with other practitioners in the US. In equine-assisted learning sessions, the participants work with horses in problem solving situations that test their skills and abilities to communicate their needs and intentions nonverbally. Horses are perfect for this kind of work because they are gentle, kind, and highly social animals who are very skilled at nonverbal communication.

The workshops give the participants tasks such as one leading another while blindfolded and leading a horse as well or trying to get a horse to move to a certain point in a paddock without touching, speaking to, or bribing the horse. Initial nervousness at partnering with something that outweighs them by a factor of five often gives way to an understanding that the horse might be helping them to solve their task. One woman doing a trust walk with a horse under her niece's direction confessed to a secret fear of blindness and the realisation that she could actually follow the horse to a certain extent.

A task that requires humans not to talk or touch brings home to us the enormous place that we give to our voices and hands in communication. I tried one of these tasks and almost died of frustration to the delight of the high school girls who were watching one of their teachers, myself, and a trainer from a neighbouring farm fail miserably in trying the task that they had just attempted. Nothing like seeing "experts" fail to make you appreciate your own efforts. And as one of my neighbours noted while watching, it was a highly unusual sight to see me speechless for five minutes.

We don't have access here to a lot of the kind of teaching clinics that people can pursue in North America or Europe. There you can sign up for a weekend of natural horsemanship, polocrosse, equine-assisted learning, endurance training or balanced riding. A few of us are working to bring opportunities for these things to Egypt to enhance the skills of horsemen and women here. Tracy's work teaches people skills that are useful in horse handling but also in people handling and a portion of her work in the US is corporate where her clinics teach leadership and team-building skills. But she finds that her clients' initial dip into the pool of horse-handling often brings up issues that they want to follow up in subsequent sessions.

In early November we are planning a riding clinic with Zsuzsu Illes, a niece and student of dressage rider Charles de Kunffy. She will be working with riders to help them to ride in a more balanced fashion, regardless of their discipline of riding. There are eight spots for participants in her two day clinic and plenty of room for auditors. In the new year we hope to have Ron Breines coming to do some horsetraining clinics and possibly a return trip for Tracy. Life is looking more interesting for horse people.
copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Watering Place Dries Up

For many, many years Christo, the fish restaurant across the road from the Mena House Oberoi at Giza, has been a favourite place to take visitors for a nice fish dinner and a beer or glass of wine while watching the lights of the Sound And Light play across the pyramids on the hill. Yesterday I met some friends of friends in the US who were visiting Cairo for dinner there and found to my disappointment that the restaurant has been bought by new owners who have decided that they will no longer serve alcohol. Christo was never exactly a riotous beer brawl sort of establishment in the first place, but nibbling on calamari and shrimp while sipping a cool Stella was a lovely way to spend a summer evening. My friends were still happy with the dinner, having no real reference point, but I found that not only did I miss the liquid refreshments, but the food isn't as good as it used to be either. Salads and fish were not as fresh. Another tradition falls by the wayside.

copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Monday, August 24, 2009

Up In Smoke


Ramadan has begun; we are on our second day now. Many people are fasting, refraining from food, water, and cigarettes during the daylight hours and then breaking their fast with tea and a cigarette to battle those headaches that are the result of the sudden withdrawal. After the breaking of the fast, many people go out to spend the evening in the Ramadan tents where they have soft drinks, tea, coffee...and shisha. A shisha is a water pipe, sometimes called a hubblebubble, that supposedly "filters" the smoke through water. An article today in the BBC goes into some detail on why smoking shisha is really not a great idea.

Years ago I spent a semester teaching health (aka: Sex, drugs, and alcohol) to some middle schoolers who were astonished to see the crud that was washed out of a shisha pipe hose after use...and this was what accumulated AFTER the "filtering"! The smell of the flavoured shisha tobacco is actually quite nice and I like to run across it on an evening breeze. Maybe the fact that I've never been a smoker keeps me from understanding the attraction of shisha, but the health hazards are serious.

So have a cup of mint tea instead. Ramadan Mubarak.

copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Watch For This Film Somewhere

I've been really remiss in my posting to my blogs lately but it's really hard to type with one arm tied to one's body. My shoulder surgery is slowing me down. I am, however, still able to wander the net reading interesting articles. This is an interview with Mai Iskander who created a film about some of the young men in the zebaleen culture here in Cairo. One of the points that she brings up is the fact that the garbage of Cairo is roughly 50% organic and this organic waste was fed to the pigs that the government slaughtered a few months back. Not having pigs has caused the closure of a number of shops where Cairo residents could buy pork products, which is an inconvenience, has cost the zebaleen considerable income, which is a tragedy...but what I want to know is what is happening to the organic waste of roughly 15 million people? And in this summer heat? EWWWWWW!

copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Let's Arrest Car Theives Instead

This is the kind of news story that drives my kids nuts. I don't like it much either. I haven't noticed, however, that any of us foreign type bloggers have had trouble yet.

Global Voices Online




copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Friday, July 17, 2009

Are We Upstream or Down?


The New York Times today ran an article on cities like Seoul, South Korea, that were digging out, or "daylighting", streams and rivers that had been covered over for the sake of automobile traffic. This is an interesting idea here in Egypt where lately a lot of work has been done in areas of Giza in which large irrigation canals have been buried in pipes to make way for roadways. We do have the Nile in Cairo, although building and businesses line the river and don't really give human access to the water and view. The bridges here are crowded all night long during the summer as city residents seek the cooling breeze that persists along the river. Businesses have sprung up among those who rent out chairs, prepare food, and offer tea or soft drinks to the bridge lingerers.

Many suburbs of Cairo have lost their canals to roadways as housing has overtaken farming in the area. Maadi has a wide green space of sorts along Canal Street, named for the canal that once flowed there. I don't know if the canal was filled in or redirected through pipes. While some people say that covering the canals helps to keep the mosquito population down, I would argue that we manage plenty of mosquitoes in areas with gardens but we are lacking the frogs, toads and dragonflies that abound around open water and who are major consumers of mosquitoes. But Egypt has millions of miles of irrigation canal in the countryside that could be enjoyed by walkers and others if they came out to do so.


Living out here in the farmland I have gained a special fondness for the canals that I have to admit is not shared by many. Most people think that the canals are dirty, which in some areas they are, and especially when the water is low, they can have a rather ripe aroma of mud and rotting vegetation. The water in the canals is slow-moving so they tend to be a dark green with abundant algae, but many people don't realise that they are also full of life. They are teaming with small perch, frogs, toads, crayfish, and support a wide variety of birds and animals. One can find egrets, herons, three different varieties of kingfishers as well as bee eaters, rollers, swallows and other birds nesting near, eating from or flying over the canals.


There are problems with the canals, without doubt. They do harbour schistosomiasis parasites and the water is best viewed from a distance, but this is certainly no reason to do away with them. Schistosomiasis, or Bilharzia, is a problem for the farmers who work in the fields and are often wading in irrigation canal water. I don't know that there are any sure solutions to our need for irrigation and the problem of Bilharzia other than the easy access to inexpensive medication for it. I see that my staff (who irrigate with well water on the farm, but who might help in fields on their days off) get dosed with praziquantel twice a year at least. There is also the problem that there is no better place to dispose of a dead donkey or water buffalo than a canal if the farmer lives in the valley. The water table is so high that nothing can be buried in the Nile Valley and most farmers don't have any means of hauling a carcass out to the desert to let the wild dogs and kites dispose of it, even if they wouldn't be subject to prosecution from the Antiquities Service should they do so. The fish, crayfish, dogs, and birds do a pretty good job of disposal in the canals, however unpleasing it may be aesthetically, and the body is generally gone in about 2 weeks providing water soluble fertiliser.


Our canals are the circulatory system of the Nile Valley. In the old days we had four months during which the Nile flooded the entire valley, drowning a large proportion of the rodent population, laying down a fresh layer of silt to fertilise the fields, and in essence, giving the valley land a yearly transfusion. We no longer have the floods to clear the valley and I don't believe that the mentality has ever adjusted to the change. The canals are seen as a necessary evil for the farmers and little or no work has been done to educate people in the best ways to keep their canals healthy. We have an astonishing wealth in our waterways and they should be nourished, protected, and cherished.


copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Young Eyes


Each June my niece from California brings a small group of secondary students from Besant Hill School in the Ojai Valley for a two week visit to Egypt. They've stayed at my farm in the midst of Egyptian farmers and visited some of the less touristy sites of Cairo...and naturally the pyramids of Giza. Gotta do the Pyramids. These are relatively privileged American kids and Jen's idea is that two weeks in Egypt will open their eyes to the richness and variety of life in a country that they've previously seen in a fairly two dimensional aspect. The hope is that they will return to assess their own lives and country in a new way.

This year we arranged a minibus for them with a very personable young driver who has learned to enjoy hip-hop music as well as local Egyptian music. They were accompanied on many of their day trips by a young male friend of ours who acted as interpreter and who has taken the kids out to an Egyptian movie and bowling as well as to visit the Citadel and Khan el Khalili. They've spent time at an orphanage in Mokattem and walked around Zamalek after visiting the Sudanese refugee center at All Saints Cathedral there with Reem, a young Sudanese woman. Family dinners Reem and Tamer have alternated with local fast food (koshari and such) and card games in my garden with a refugee film festival tonight before catching an early flight home tomorrow morning. It's been delightful having them and listening to their thoughts and questions. This is Jen's fifth trip here (many previous were family visits) and hopefully far from her last as the trip gets better organised every time. You can read their blog entries by clicking the title. It's a lot of fun.

copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's Here!

Despite all the government's poorly thought out destruction of the recycling program of the zebaleen, the infamous "swine flu" has arrived, like most tourists, by jet. Various cases have been reported in Cairo, including (unsubstantiated as far as I can tell) rumours of one at the drive-thru McDonalds in Maadi, prompting closures and quarantines. AUC's dorm in Zamalek was one of the early victims. Kim, at Whazzup Egypt!!! has an excellent post of recommendations by the WHO on the handling of influenza, whether H1N1 or any other type. Highly recommended reading.

copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Knocking On The Door


It was reported that there have actually been a few cases of the dreaded "swine" flu, much more politically correctly called H1N1, in Cairo. A young woman from Florida and a young man from New Jersey, both living in the AUC hostel in Zamalek, were diagnosed with it and the hostel was quarantined. I'll bet that the other students really loved THAT! So all the pig slaughter comes to naught, but heaven help the politician that suggests that the government proceed to slaughtering 747's and their like...or even that they not be allowed to land. There goes the total economy should that happen.

The New York Times (click on this post's title) had a article assessing the likelihood that this flu would become seriously dangerous rather than a mild discomfort (if one is basically healthy) that spreads fairly easily. They still didn't come up with a really good justification for the pigs.


copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Words In Cairo





Text of President Barack Obama's speech at Cairo University, as transcribed by CQ Transcriptions.

___

I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. Together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I am grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum.

We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world - tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles - principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Quran tells us, Be conscious of God and speak always the truth. That is what I will try to do - to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

Part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.

As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam - at places like Al-Azhar University - that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.

I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims. And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Quran that one of our Founding Fathers - Thomas Jefferson - kept in his personal library.

So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words - within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: Out of many, one.

Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores - that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.

So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations - to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

This is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.

That does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite: we must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not - and never will be - at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaida and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaida killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

That's why we're partnering with a coalition of forty-six countries. And despite the costs involved, America's commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths - more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Quran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism - it is an important part of promoting peace.

We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced. And that is why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon.

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.

Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future - and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq's sovereignty is its own. That is why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq's democratically-elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012. We will help Iraq train its Security Forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.

So America will defend itself respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed - more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction - or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews - is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people - Muslims and Christians - have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations - large and small - that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

(APPLAUSE)

For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers - for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

(APPLAUSE)

That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them - and all of us - to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

(APPLAUSE)

Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

Finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel's legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together.

(APPLAUSE)

... as in the story of Isra.

(APPLAUSE)

... as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed -- peace be upon them -- joined in prayer.

(APPLAUSE)

The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

(APPLAUSE)

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically- elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America's interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation - including Iran - should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy.

(APPLAUSE)

I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments - provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.

Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshipped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways.

Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of another's. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld - whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt.

(APPLAUSE)

And fault lines must be closed among Muslims as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit - for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

Indeed, faith should bring us together. That is why we are forging service projects in America that bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That is why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's Interfaith dialogue and Turkey's leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we can turn dialogue into Interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action - whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.

The sixth issue -- the sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights.

(APPLAUSE)

I know...

(APPLAUSE)

I know, and you can tell from this audience, that there is a healthy debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal. But I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality.

(APPLAUSE)

And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well- educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now let me be clear, issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, we've seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead.

Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life and in countries around the world. I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons.

(APPLAUSE)

Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity, men and women, to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal. And I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice.

That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim- majority country to support expanded literacy for girls and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.

The issues that I have described will not be easy to address, but we have a responsibility to join together to behalf of the world that we seek, a world where extremists no longer threaten our people and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes, a world where governments serve their citizens and the rights of all God's children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together. I know there are many, Muslim and non-Muslim, who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort, that we are fated to disagree and civilizations are doomed to clash.

Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There is so much fear, so much mistrust that has built up over the years. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith in every country. You more than anyone have the ability to reimagine the world, the remake this world.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart or whether we commit ourselves to an effort, a sustained effort to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It's easier to start wars than to end them. It's easier to blame others than to look inward. It's easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is one rule that lies at the heart of every religion, that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

(APPLAUSE)

This truth transcends nations and peoples, a belief that isn't new, that isn't black or white or brown, that isn't Christian or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization and that still beats in the hearts of billions around the world. It's a faith in other people. And it's what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written. The Holy Quran tells us, Mankind, we have created you male and a female. And we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.

The Talmud tells us, The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.

The Holy Bible tells us, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

(APPLAUSE)

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.

Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you. Thank you very much.

Thank you.

END




copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Shutting Out the Neighbourhood


I've been a little less than thrilled with the Supreme Council for Antiquities for a while, and last night I got even more reason not to be impressed. I heard from a fairly reliable source that they'd decided to go forward with the wall that they've been talking about for a while in this part of the desert and are starting out with building it in the Abu Sir area, specifically from the pyramids of Abu Sir to just a bit beyond the Sun Temple. I actually understand the building of the wall in Giza, although they didn't have to make it so ugly. There is a densely populated area surrounding the plateau there, but down here the desert is bordered by large houses and gardens belonging to people who are keeping people out of the desert quite effectively. We've had to negotiate a close by access, which if the story is true, will no longer be available after the summer.

So what's the problem other than the fact that I wll probably be inconvenienced? One of the problems is the fact that the edge of the desert that will be closed off by the wall is where the local kids play football (soccer to you, Mericans)in the afternoons. There aren't any open spaces for a football field for these kids. Sure, they are better off than city kids in many ways having much, much more space and less pollution, but it seems pretty raw that a government that can't seem to upgrade the electric power, provide enough telephone lines, provide running water, sewage and trash collection to the people out here has money to toss away on a wall that isn't really going to do anything but make life difficult.

But if the point of the wall is to protect the antiquities in our area from unauthorised digging, how is it going to do this with an open area of sand and gravel mining immediately to the west? Sure the farmers live in the valley, but the Sahara extends all the way to the Atlantic Ocean and they can't possibly wall off all the the area...it's huge! When I first began riding out here about 16 years ago there was a large sandy plateau just west of Sakkara Country Club. Over the years the mining families have dug up that plateau creating a moonscape that is even beginning to spill over the edge into the desert leading down to the pyramids. Naturally, the SCA has been aware of this activity just as they are aware of the Giza dump that is also on the plateau and crawling towards the wadis that lead down to the pyramids of Abu Sir and Sakkara, the same dump that so graciously sends us all the extra plastic bags every time we get a strong northwest wind.

Now THAT'S something that they could wall off. But, no, it's much more important to wall off the homes and farms bordering the desert, places that have a vested interest in keeping the desert clean and enjoyable. It's also interesting that while they could be building their wall between the cliff face housing the archaic tombs and the very crowded village of Abu Sir, they did not move on that option. They've also chosen to leave the Sakkara Country Club an access to the desert so that they can send out their marvelous, noisy and intrusive dune buggies into the desert to be driven by teenage Cairenes through the antiquities areas. Those things do more harm to the desert than any of our horses and football players.

So not only are they dumping the trash from the archaeologists (at least I assume that it is dig trash) out in the desert just west of Sakkara, but they want to keep the people who have been noticing this and commenting on it out of the desert. I don't get it. These are supposed to be people who care about the area, not people who want to trash it. But I guess that one can be mistaken about the responsibilities of government.

So for now, the village kids and I will be enjoying our summer evenings in the desert waiting for the concrete to be poured walling us off from our desert neighbourhood. The wall won't stop people from going out in the desert. There are too many ways to go in even if they do build the wall here blocking all the homes off. And the dune buggies from the Club will still be running all over the pyramids as they wish since they seem to have been considered less harmful than a few football playing children and some riders.

copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Getting a Grip on Ourselves

Now that everyone's forgotten the panic over pigs in the astonishment that one of the better connected businessmen in Egypt has actually been convicted of murder, the World Health Organisation has decided that swine flu probably isn't a pandemic after all. In fact, the word "pandemic" simply means a disease found everywhere like the common cold or tonsilitis, but it sounds too much like epidemic, a word associated with people dying of cholera or typhoid or bubonic plague although it really just means "found everywhere" as well. So now the WHO has to find a new way to categorise things in a way that hopefully will not spread the panic that the "swine flu pandemic" has. Overall, swine flu has barely killed anyone and is probably a great deal less dangerous than the "just the flu" that everyone gets every winter.

Go tell it to the poor pigs.

copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Friday, May 15, 2009

Observing The Pilgrims


I had a nice couple from the UK staying at the farm for a weekend not long ago and they wanted, naturally, to visit the pyramids at Giza. Even more, they wanted to go inside the Great Pyramid, a trip that takes some organising these days. We got up at 6:30 am to be at the pyramids at 7:30 so that we could be first in line for the tickets to the area and the pyramids. In the old days things weren't nearly so organised and it was just a matter of showing up, but now you have to buy a ticket to the plateau and another to go into either the Great Pyramid or the Middle Pyramid at the entrance. There are two entrances, one down by the Sphinx in Nazlit Semman and one up the road from the Mena House. Once you are wandering around the plateau, it is a long dusty hike back to the ticket offices to get entrance tickets to the pyramids. We were first in line, and they got their tickets to see inside the pyramid.

They wanted to wander around for a few hours and I said that I would amuse myself at the pyramid while they did whatever it was they wanted. Sometimes my visitors want my company, but they were very independent, so I settled down to watch and photograph visitors to the pyramid. It didn't take long for the crowds and buses to begin arriving and soon I had more than enough to watch. It was a Friday morning and there were people from every nation on earth, along with Egyptian families and some school trips towing crowds of children around the area. At first I sat on the stones facing the pyramid and taking photos of people having their pictures taken. I find people posing next to one of the wonders of the ancient world to be utterly enchanting. Their delight in being there is written all over their faces and the poses are marvelous.

The photographers in the groups were so intent on their shooting that no one noticed the fact that I was shooting people rather than stones. Their subjects would climb up a few steps to stand on some of the lower stones, or they might pretend to push. Some people would simply stand quietly at the side of an enormous block of limestone resting their hands on it, as though feeling the pulse of the stone.

Moods varied from solemn and awed to hilarious enjoyment of the experience. As someone who has been visiting Giza for the past thirty years, watching the visitors awoke the delight and awe that I felt the first time I came and gazed at these unbelievably enormous structures. The first time I came to Egypt my husband brought me to the Sound and Light the first evening and the next day we came out to the pyramids with a group of his teen-aged cousins. They had all seen the pyramids before and their enjoyment of my delight was obvious. We had bought a good camera for that trip and were having a marvelous time taking photos of everything...everyone assumed that my husband was a foreigner since why would an Egyptian take pictures at the pyramids? Times have definitely changed.

As the morning progressed, I took shelter in a shady niche about three stones up the pyramid from which vantage point I watched the visitors as they faced me. It was almost ceremonial. The footing at the base of the pyramid is quite uneven and the SCA have built a wooden walkway over the rocky platform along which many of the first time visitors approach. It's a lot to take in and there is a moment for each one when they stop and try to take in the enormity of what is in front of them. From a distance they must turn their heads from left to right to see the expanse of the one face and then they must lean back, back, back to try to see all the way to the top. After a few moments of orientation, the group photographer begins to motion people to stand in front of the pyramid to commemorate the day.

I was there about four hours and have to say that I never had a moment to get bored. The parade of visitors was unending, the buses filling the parking lot never thinned out, and I took about four hundred photos that one morning. I did a lot of critical trashing of bad shots but I was left with almost one hundred that I felt were worth keeping. I always feel that there is a peace in the pyramids that tolerates our human foolishness. They have seen it all over the millenia. They had their centuries of glory, of neglect and even abuse, but over all they persist. I'm quite aware of my anthropormorphising large piles of stone but when you live with them as neighbours, it's easy to do. So a Friday morning watching the endless games of the pilgrims who come in wonder and delight to play out the ancient rite of celebrating these ancient observers of our history made a perfect day.

copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Monday, May 11, 2009

Definitely a Haven


Our world is a messy place although in many parts people tend to be able to hide the messiness better than in others. North America or Europe with its leash laws, humane societies, and animal rights activists almost makes one think that everything is more or less under control. It isn't, of course, since the very nature of life is change, but when North Americans and Europeans come to Egypt where normality is simply more chaotic than normality elsewhere, they are often rather shocked at the stray animals and working horses and donkeys. In some respects, Egypt is still living in the 19th century. The only working horses in New York City are the police horses or the carriage horses in Central Park, and there are plenty of interest groups that feel that it is inhumane to make horses work in any way and would like to see them abolished. My personal experience is that horses like working with people when the work is reasonable and the care is good, so that is not a great solution.

When I moved here in the late 80's finding a veterinarian to treat a cat in Alexandria was a major feat of detective work, and to be honest the first vet I ever found was pretty awful. Twenty years on things have changed quite a bit and we have a fairly good sampling of decent veterinary clinics in Cairo and Alexandria. Another change that I've seen has been an increase in the number of animal relief associations and animal shelters. Since these are a relatively new idea here, most of the population of Egypt is still trying to understand how they work. Keeping dogs and cats as pets is not that common in the general population, although it's often the case that a doorman will have a local cat or dog who knows where it can get a free meal in exchange for some guard work or ratcatching. These animals are not "pets" in the usual sense, but are more free-roaming partners who live without benefit of vaccinations or neutering and are subject to the stresses of random breeding. This is also the case for the farm dogs out here in the countryside. While this seems tough to people raised in orderly cities abroad, it is in fact the way of the world in less controlled environments.

I've visited quite a few animal shelters over the years and to be honest, most of them give me the willies. Quite a few end up housing large numbers of randomly "rescued" dogs and cats who have no hope of ever being placed in a comfortable environment and who are left to live in pens and cages that are often overcrowded, noisy, dirty and stressful. The low levels of funding for shelters have something to do with these conditions as do the wishes of the keepers to "save" these animals from life on the streets. I understand the problems of keeping large numbers of animals, having fifteen dogs myself (not by choice, believe me) and just visiting some of these places is enough to send me running for a calm place to collect my thoughts.

I have a group of high school students coming to stay at the farm for two weeks in June and was looking for some opportunities for volunteer work in the area, so I went to visit a few of the local shelters. One of them was eliminated immediately as I had some very real concerns for the safety of the students with the way that the dogs were kept. The tension level in the pens were quite sufficient that I could see fights breaking out quite easily. I went on to a new shelter primarily for cats and was quite delighted to find Animal Haven's new spaces. Noura el Daly had been working with her cats in Maadi for years but recently her sister offered her space out near our farms. A compound was built consisting of a series of rooms built around courtyards that afforded cats their choices of rooms in which to sleep and sunny spots for relaxation. The cats, and there are quite a lot of them, are not necessarily confined to one room and courtyard, but if they are sufficiently well-socialised, they can move among a choice of rooms, including one that has a ramp leading to a space on the roof.

There were more cats than I've seen in one place in a long, long time. Every possible colour and hair length was represented. Many of these cats are adult but rather than being frightened of humans and trying to escape attention, they sauntered over to purr against legs and offer heads for scratches and stroking. Dishes of food, rice with chicken, stood around for the cats to be able to eat at their leisure, and wooden benches covered in toweling, baskets, shelves and other interesting structures provided places for the cats to curl, sprawl, groom, and cuddle. The entire area was spotless and the attendants made a point of introducing us to their favourite inmates. The cats are neutered, vaccinated and available for adoption, but all too often people are wanting the cute factor of kittens and not interested in adult cats. I've had a lot of cats in my life and have had no problems adopting sympathetic adult cats. In fact, not having to put up with the crazy running around of kittens that almost inevitably leads to broken objects and torn curtains has been a real plus. One of our cats when we lived in Maadi was a totally blind female who wound herself around my daughter's legs just outside our doctor's office one afternoon. We called her Amelia and she presented us with four kittens as well in fairly short order. We were fortunate in being able to find homes for all the kittens and for Amelia as well, since we didn't think that it was fair to a blind cat for her to have to deal with a household with dogs as well.

Animal Haven isn't a dog shelter but they have a few dogs who have been left at the doorstep, so to speak. The dogs are baladi dogs, the street/desert/farm mutts that are ubiquitous here. They are also the smartest, most loyal, healthiest dogs that anyone could find and make the best possible watchdogs. I have two who patrol the farm every evening while my terriers find the best spots on the bed. The dogs are also given enough room, cleanliness, food and attention to make them delightful companions. I spoke to Noura after my visit suggesting that the students could come to help care for the animals, repair benches and baskets, and perhaps to do some rudimentary dog training to help make the dogs more adoptable. We'll see how things work out, but this is really a wonderful effort and hopefully more people will find their way out to adopt cats and the odd dog from Animal Haven.

copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Friday, May 01, 2009

Watching out for Influenza A (H1N1)

Having watched the drop in trade in pork (a perfectly reasonable meat when prepared properly) and the slaughter of many innocent pigs, the WHO has changed the name of this version of influenza to the slightly less inflammatory Influenza A (H1N1). Probably a case of closing the barn door after inviting the butcher in, however. My condolences to the pigs who really have nothing at all to do with anything. No pigs have been ill from the erstwhile "swine flu" and forcing the slaughter of them is a serious hardship for the zebaleen of Mokattam who are one of the best recycling services in the world.

copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani