Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A quick look: My dog

Monday, March 30, 2009

Scenes around Cairo: Fiore della strada

One of the many street children who do not attend school, but spend
all day and most of the night selling tissues. This photo was taken
downtown near Midan Talat Harb. copyright 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Getting married in Egypt (Information for Americans)

My in-Laws on their wedding day - 1970

I come across questions from American women all the time about getting married in Egypt. Not only have I gotten married in Egypt - I lived to tell about it. Provided you prepare in advance, stay organized and follow all the steps in the process in order - you should have no trouble at all getting married legally in Egypt.

First, let me take a minute to clear up a rumor that is circulating online. There is NOT a ban on Americans and Egyptians getting married. It is also not impossible to get married in Egypt. Back in 2007, the US Consular Section of the Embassy did stop issuing the marriage affidavit necessary for a US citizen to be legally married in Egypt. I have heard that the reason for this was due to paperwork backlog at the Embassy but don't quote me on that. Couples were still able to have a religious ceremony, but it became extremely difficult to have the legal marriage ceremony during this time. You would have had to jump through hoops getting documents translated, authenticated by the State Department, notarized, etc. Even with all that, it was not impossible, just extremely difficult. The American would have had to be well aware of what she needed before travelling to Egypt. She would have needed to have her papers translated, stamped and authenticated by various State and Federal agencies. There was still no guarantee that the paperwork would be accepted by the Egyptian Government. This required a lot of time, preparation, and patience. Most people, unaware of this, simply arrived in Cairo without the proper paperwork in hand and found themselves unable to marry here.

By the time I got married in mid 2008, the US Embassy was once again issuing the marriage affidavits. The marriage affidavit is a standardized form that you fill out in English and Arabic. If you have your fiance with you, he can fill out the Arabic side, otherwise they have someone there who can translate it for you. It contains a few simple questions about you: passport number, date of birth, occupation, dates of previous marriages and divorce, etc. Once you obtain this marriage affidavit, get all the proper signatures and stamps on it, you will have no problem getting married in Egypt.

If you know you are coming to Egypt to get married take certain steps to have your paperwork in order before leaving the States. I had all my original documents with me anyway, but I did not have any notarized copies (because I had not moved to Egypt with the intention of getting married). If you want to make extra copies of everything and have them notarized it could not hurt, but my paperwork was accepted without a notary stamp. It will work in your best interest to have the originals with you, too.

Before you travel you should get a file folder and gather the following documents:

  • Divorce Papers if previously married (Original and two copies)
  • at least 10 passport size color photos
  • Social Security Card
  • Photo ID other than your passport (you will need this to enter Embassy)
  • Birth Certificate
  • Passport
  • Notarized statement of religion

You may or may not actually need your birth certificate, but it is best to be on the safe side and have it in the file with you. There is no need to have anything translated into Arabic. If you keep this file folder with you at all times, you have instant access to any document you might be asked to produce and avoid potential headaches and delays.

If you are a convert to Islam, you may or may not have something in writing from a mosque in the US stating your religion. If you want, you can ask for a letter stating that you are a Muslim and have that notarized. Or, if you prefer to have a more official document, you can wait until you get to Egypt and officially convert at Al Azhar. This will provide you with a certificate with your picture on it. I knew a woman in Alex who did this and found the certificate to be an invaluable piece of ID to have as a foreigner living in Egypt, even using the certificate to open a bank account.

If you are Christian you really don't need to worry too much about supporting documentation. Most likely, they will take your word for it. If you feel better playing it safe get a notarized letter from your Church unless you happen to have your baptismal records. I did not have any official documentation of my religion nor was I asked to provide any. You may not want to take this chance. Remember, the process will be much easier if you have all your ducks in a row. It is better to have a document and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

If you are having a religious ceremony this can be done before or after the legal civil marriage. However, if done before the civil marriage, the couple is not considered legally married in the eyes of the Egyptian government. Only the civil ceremony at the Ministry of Justice establishes the marriage as legal. My husband and I had a religious ceremony in April and the civil marriage in July. (The only reason we waited so long in between is because I was attending a course in Alexandria from April to July.) For the Islamic ceremony (which is the same for Muslim men marrying Christian women), we had a Sheikh come to our house. We each needed 2 passport size photos. I needed my passport and my husband needed his Egyptian ID. That was it.

The first step in the process for the legal marriage is to go to the US Embassy in Cairo and visit the American Citizen Services for the marriage affidavit. You should bring your fiance with you. This entire process from this point on is mapped out quite clearly on the US Embassy Cairo web page. Visit that web page and print out the instructions. It details exactly where you need to go and what you need to bring, as well as the costs for each step in the process.

Subway now open in Maadi Degla

So I have to admit - I was one of those people anxiously awaiting the opening of the new Subway restaurant in Degla. Living in Oakland City, Indiana I existed on Subway sandwiches for a few years. It was either that or Denny's since there was nothing else in Oakland City. If I felt like having a little food with my grease I would go to Denny's. As I sit now and write this I realize that I would give my first born child for some hash browns smothered with gravy and shredded cheddar cheese. I would be lying if I said I would not be the first one through the door if they opened a Denny's in Egypt. It could work theoretically - they could replace the All-American-Slam with the Egyptian-Grand-Slam...

But for now, at least, I am pleased as punch to have Subway again. There has not been a decent place to get a good sub since Quiznos on Road 9 went out of business last year. It would have been a great location for a Subway to go in, but it became Garden Foods instead. Garden Foods does offer sub type sandwiches, however, they don't hold a candle to Subway. This is not the only Subway in Cairo either, there is one in Zamalek not far from Diwan Bookstore. We don't get to Zamalek that often. I first noticed the "Subway coming soon" sign on a trip to the Duty Free in January. I'm not sure of the exact date they actually opened, but I paid my first visit last week.

We went in the early afternoon and found a line all the way out the door. We did not wait as long as I thought we would. In typical Egyptian fashion there were way too many employees working. A Subway restaurant twice the size of this one in the States could run efficiently with two employees. I counted six. The second you step through the door you smell the familiar smell of Subway bread baking. However, when I stepped up to order my all time favorite tuna on whole wheat, I was disappointed to learn they were out of whole wheat bread. It is obvious the employees are still learning their jobs and adapting to becoming "sandwich artists" but there were a few minor mistakes that I noticed right off the bat. The first employee cut the bread and scooped the tuna on, and then slid it down the line to the next employee who would add the vegetables. They did not put a wax paper liner under the bread beforehand and as it slid down the counter I watched it glide through a pile of salt and pepper and some kind of sauce (which ultimately got all over my sandwich). After the vegetable guy, it was passed down the line again to yet another employee who wrapped it. In my opinion, way too many people handling one sandwich. The counter should have been wiped clean after each sandwich was made, and the employees should have changed their gloves more frequently to avoid cross contamination. If you think I am being too picky, sorry - but I used to work in the restaurant business and these are all things that would have been brought to our attention by our General Managers.

Arriving at the register with my foot long tuna and my husband's foot long veggie delight we were asked the standard Subway question: "Do you want to make this a meal deal?" Yes, I did. But I did not want chips. Eying the freshly baked cookies next to the register (which are slightly smaller than those in the States), I asked if I could have a cookie instead of chips. No. That is not an option here. Now I'm slightly disappointed. Next came the drink cup. Even though the drink station is free standing in the lobby it is not self-serve. The cashier passed our cups back to a drink employee who's sole job it is to make the drinks. (Like I said - way too many employees.) He asked me if I wanted ice and I asked him if I just couldn't make my own drink. No. That is not allowed either. I will never really understand this culture's need to have absolutely everything done for them.

The cost of two foot long meal deals was LE 68 - about $12.00. This was fantastic considering that is how much I could expect to pay for one foot long in the States. However, kind of average to high for Egypt. If you want to eat there, they do have adequate seating with additional seating available downstairs. As crowded as it had been when we arrived we were able to easily get a table upstairs. I ate my sandwich while staring at the map of the New York City subway system which adorns the walls of all Subways. You will also find the trademark Subway wall art: bright, colorful pictures of vegetables shown 300 times actual size. The place is spotlessly clean. The staff was friendly, eager, and accommodating. The sandwiches tasted great.

All in all I give it a 4.5 out of 5. I will no doubt be a frequent customer. Yes, they do deliver. Have not seen them on Otlob yet though but I'm sure it's coming.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Absolutely unbelievable

I wasn't planning on re-posting stuff from other sites, but I found this one too hilarious to pass up. This article is brought to you curtosey of our friends over at Egypt Search.

It's probably a good idea to never answer your phone in Egypt when it is from a number that you do not recognize. Egyptian "boys" have been known to play games randomly dialing numbers. If they find a woman answering, they will never leave you alone. I had to buy a new SIM card after learning this lesson the hard way. As if that was not bad enough, now you have to worry about getting the killer SMS. Are you kidding me?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Scenes around Cairo: Dogs on cars

There is a very funny scene in the movie Zarf Tarek when Tarek (Ahmed Helmy) finds a dog on top of his car. He throws rocks (not recommended) at it trying to get it to move, but ultimately ends up smashing all the windows. Finding dogs on top of cars is common in Cairo. Not so funny when it is your car. Fortunately, this is not my car.

Street dogs are a big problem in Cairo (and all of Egypt for that matter). They congregate in packs sleeping all day so they can stay up all night and bark. I have a friend who lives in Zahraa with a big empty lot next to her apartment. Every night there are anywhere from 15 to 20 dogs barking all night long. This was never much of a problem in Old Maadi until about a month ago. Now there is a pack of street dogs who have taken over an abandoned villa on Road 14. The barking at night is not the only thing that concerns me about this. A few nights ago, my husband and I were taking our dog for a walk, and the dogs came charging at us as we walked past their territory. My Rottie looks really mean but she is a big chicken and was once attacked by a stray back in the States. She pulled me in the other direction as my husband chased away the dogs. I have walked by them many times by myself, and they never seem to go after people.

It is already hard enough having a pet in Cairo. There are so many hazards on the streets. For one, the piles of trash. My dog would love to go and explore around in them. I had heard that people sometimes put poisoned food on the street to get rid of stray cats and dogs. I watch her very carefully when we are out to make sure she does not pick anything up. Cats are another problem when you have a dog who loves to chase cats like mine does. Cats are constantly running out from under cars. Traffic is a huge hazard also when walking a dog. Old Maadi has very narrow streets and cars often park on both sides leaving only one narrow passageway for cars to pass through. With no sidewalks, I often find myself having to quickly duck between two parked cars when a car goes flying by.

I knew my dog's life would be drastically different here in Cairo. Back home she had a fenced in yard to run freely in. But even with all the stress associated with taking her for walks, I would not change my decision to bring her with me. And Old Maadi is still one of the best neighborhoods to live in if you have a dog.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Living in Egypt: Anti-smoking efforts a few decades behind the times

I'm happy to say I quit smoking almost one month ago. For some reason it is not that hard for me. I have smoked on and off since I was a teenager. I would quit for a while, start again, quit again, start again. Cold turkey every time - no patch, no gum, no hypnosis. I'm just fortunate I guess.

The last time I picked up the habit full-time again was when I moved to Cairo in February of 2008. It's hard not to smoke in Egypt - everybody smokes. Well, not everybody, but almost everybody and they are all too willing to share their cigarettes. Just show a taxi driver a cigarette and ask "momkin?" (may I?) and he will insist that you take one of his cigarettes even if you have your own. If someone offers you a cigarette in this situation - just take it. It is virtually impossible to politely refuse an offer in this culture especially when food, drinks, or cigarettes are involved. However, if someone gives you a Cleopatra cigarette you should just slip it into your own pack, or purse, or pocket. Do not, under any circumstances, smoke it. Unless you are already a seasoned Cleopatra smoker, if you smoke it you will soon learn why Egyptians have nicknamed these cigarettes KILLERPATRA. Cleopatra cigarettes are Egypt's generic brand. Aren't generic brands made with the tobacco they sweep off the floor at other cigarette factories?

In Egypt you can smoke just about anywhere. I was in the bank the other day and watched an employee behind a desk light up. People smoke in offices, movie theaters, hospitals, and even on school buses. Prior to my leaving the States, Vanderburgh County in Indiana had passed new no-smoking laws. Smoking was no longer permitted in restaurants. In Florida, smoking is banned in just about every indoor location imaginable with the exception of your own home (although it was not on the list). Even that won't be safe for long - several states are trying to pass laws making it illegal to smoke in your own car if you have children with you. In the last year in Cairo I have only seen one place officially advertising itself as a smoke-free environment - the CIC (Canadian International College) campus. There is a big sign posted by the entrance gate declaring that smoking is prohibited on the campus. A quick glance down at the ground and the piles of butts in the vicinity of that sign is indicative of the fact that they mean business. That doesn't mean there aren't other smoke-free places in Egypt, they are just few and far between. Even if a place has a no smoking policy it is often not respected, not strictly enforced, and there are infrequently penalties for violators. The one exception to this may be the Metro (subway), one place that I can actually say I have personally never seen anyone light up.

So with the ban on smoking in public places just now catching on in Cairo, other anti-smoking campaigns may soon follow suit. Take for example printed warning labels on cigarette packs. As a teenager (in the 80's) stealing cigarettes from my parents, I was very familiar with the - WARNING: The Surgeon General has determined that cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health. Over the years the warnings got a tad bit more morbid and scary. The point is, in the US warnings have been printed on the side of the packs for years. According to my husband, the only warning ever to appear in fine print on a pack in Egypt was: Not to be sold to anyone under 18 (and even that was only in the last few years). Last summer all that changed and pictures like this started appearing on every pack and brand:

As of August 1, 2008 cigarette packs in Egypt were required to display graphic images depicting the dangers of smoking. The photo above is the newest one, arriving on the scene about a month ago. It replaced the one that showed a man, who appeared to be no more than 30, laying in a hospital bed looking rather pale and sickly, with a non re-breather hooked up to high flow oxygen. Do you know that feeling you get when you see the same person everyday, perhaps on a tv show, and you start to feel like you really know them even though you don't? Am I the only one who felt this way about that man? I saw this poor man day in and day out, laying there in that bed. Each time I purchased a new pack of cigarettes and saw his face all I could do was shake my head in disbelief. "Is this poor guy still in the hospital?" I would wonder to myself, "I should send flowers."

Now he's gone. Replaced by this poor boy being smothered by second hand smoke. Second hand smoke is most definitely not fun to be around (aren't ex-smokers the worst). But each time I see this picture I wonder why this kid just does not leave the room. I also wonder what school he goes to and what his hobbies are. He's only been around a month and I already got attached to him. Now that I've quit smoking I will really miss him.

To be completely honest here, the pictures did have a small effect on my decision to quit - the guilt got to me after a while. Of course I knew that the pictures were not real. Just cleverly staged advertising shots using professional models. Or were they? There is an urban myth about the photo of the man laying in the hospital bed. I call it an urban myth because I have heard this story by word of mouth from more than one person in Cairo, but I can't find anything about it in writing. Maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places, I will keep looking, but in the meantime I'll tell you the oral version.

The story goes that this man was actually a patient in a hospital, however, he did not have any smoking related illness. Some photographer took his picture and somehow it ended up as a stock photo and was used in the graphic for the cigarette pack. The man has allegedly sued over his image being used and allegedly won. Good for him.

It didn't take long for the comedians out there to come up with a satire of the original image.

(Translation: Smoke...and leave it in God's hands.)

EDIT: Within the last two years, some cigarettes packs did carry a printed warning but it was not standardized with all brands. People simply switched brands thinking that only the brands with the warning labels were hazardous.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Is this cool or what?

The last time I talked to my best friend from high school was sometime in 1999. We had lost touch and then each of us had moved making it difficult to find one another again. About a month ago I found her thanks to the internet and Facebook. Over the last few weeks I have also found other friends that I had lost touch with, and my son's half sister on Facebook. Facebook is great. The internet is great...

...and it just got better - check out this website that I found last night. This is the coolest thing ever. I have always been a HUGE SCANNER ENTHUSIAST and selling my scanner broke my heart. I always had a scanner on in my house. When I moved out of New York City in 1993 I missed listening to NYPD and NYFD. I quickly got accustomed to Dutchess County radio. Then when I moved to Evansville, IN I missed New York but quickly found new frequencies. But when I moved to Egypt - I knew I would have to give up the scanner altogether. Really, I knew that if I ever moved back to the States I could easily buy a new one at Radio Shack and I did not think I would have much use for it in Egypt. But now, thanks once again to the internet, I can sit in my living room in Cairo, Egypt and listen to the New York City Fire Department or the Evansville Police Department (Evansville, IN).

This has to be the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I spoke too soon

Yesterday I wrote about the weather and noted that it had not been a cold winter and had not rained much this year. I spoke too soon. Last night at about 1 am it rained. This morning we woke up to find a cold, windy, and grey day. Take a look:
And it rained again. I absolutely LOVE IT!!!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What happened to Winter?

Friday (March 20th) was the first day of Spring. According to one of my Facebook friends it was snowing in New York. It's not that uncommon - it snowed in May one year - not enough for a snowday from school, but enough to be remembered all these years later. I love winter, I love the snow - but nothing beats Spring in New York. The flowers, the rain, the birds chirping and building nests in my roof (well that happened in Indiana), the fresh air and sunshine....So maybe I'm a little homesick, and as if someone knew, I came down the stairs in my apartment building on Friday to find these beautiful flowers on the window ledge. Perfect. Spring has arrived in Cairo, too. But what happened to winter in Cairo this year? It never got cold enough for us to wear our heavy coats. Not like last year. I remember freezing my ass off standing out on the playground with the kids. But this year the coat never came out of the closet except when I took it out on the roof to shake the dust off of it. It hardly rained this year either - once, maybe twice. I can always hope that next winter will be colder and wetter. Until then I can enjoy these lovely days we are having before the unbearable heat arrives and I seclude myself in the air conditioning.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Chocolate cake with what???

There are many things I miss eating since I moved to Cairo. American breakfast foods for starters. Pancakes, waffles, toast, etc. What I wouldn't give now for a Denny's grand slam or an IHOP short stack. Or how about a steaming hot Belgian waffle with butter melted into every nook and cranny drowning in hot maple syrup.

I have always liked maple syrup. As a child growing up in upstate New York, I learned how to tap a maple tree and make my own maple syrup with the help of the local 4H center. I proudly brought home my little jar of homemade syrup. Aunt Jemima would have been proud. Visiting my best friend in Danbury, CT always meant a trip to a country store down the road from her house for some maple candy.

As far as chocolate cake goes - I can take it or leave it. I would not call myself a chocoholic (that would be my husband), but I like a slice of chocolate cake every now and then. But what is the deal with this cake on the menu at Beanos?

This just does not sound good to me. Has anyone actually tried this? Let me know.

Friday, March 20, 2009

There WERE many steps...

As a child growing up in the Bronx, we lived on the 4th floor of a 5 story walk up. I never noticed the stairs - I was 5 years old. Our apartment could have been on the 20th floor and it would not have mattered to me. We moved from that apartment in 1976 into a 2 story colonial upstate. I never lived in an apartment again until I moved to Egypt last year and I found myself, once again, on the 4th floor with no elevator. I know the stairs are great exercise, but I am horribly out of shape. Here is a quick look at my daily workout:



Two down



Almost there



By now I am about to pass out


All these stairs remind me of one of my favorite quotes of all times:

"There were not many steps. I had counted them a thousand times, both going up and coming down, but the figure has gone from my mind...Memories are killing. So you must not think of certain things, of those that are dear to you, or rather you must think of them, for if you don't there is the danger of finding them, in your mind, little by little. That is to say, you must think of them for a while, a good while, every day several times a day, until they sink forever in the mud. That's an order."

- Samuel Beckett

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Living in Egypt Series: Walking around Carrefour

The video quality is a little poor because I filmed this while I was walking. Carrefour is a French chain with several branches in Cairo. It is a Super WalMart type shopping center offering shoppers a one-stop place to get everything from a washing machine to a loaf of bread. Carrefour is the anchor store for this shopping mall - Maadi City Center. Inside you are offered the standard fare of extremely overpriced retailers, tourist-trap kiosks, and run-of-the-mill fastfood court that you are probably already accustomed to.

So what makes walking around a shopping center a different experience in Egypt than it is in, say - Kentucky? Well for one thing the crowd. No one in Egypt goes shopping alone. The entire family goes and it is a major event. This makes navigating the aisles slightly difficult.

This is not really evident in this video. We were there on a Wednesday (slow day) and only walked around in the mall area ending up in - of all places: Starbucks.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Living in Egypt Series: Inside an Egyptian Apartment

One Fleeting Glimpse is now giving you a quick look at life as an ex-pat in Cairo, Egypt. See Egyptian living through my eyes in the new Living in Egypt Series. This series will bring you a glimpse of the Egyptian experience through videos, photos, and articles. This series is aimed at North Americans who are thinking of relocating to Egypt, anyone who has a desire to learn about life in modern day Egypt, or those with general voyeuristic tendencies. Have a specific question or topic you want covered - email me and I will do my best to accommodate your requests.

Before I moved to Egypt I had so many questions about what it would be like to actually live there. One of the big questions in my mind was about housing. To kick off the Living in Egypt series I am offering a tour of our apartment in Cairo.

Click on the "Living in Egypt" link in the Labels section to the right for more.

Sunday, March 1, 2009