Thursday, July 30, 2009

While you were sleeping...Egypt relocated

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Always a great way to start your day, to wake up and find that not only you - but an entire country have been relocated to another continent. Someone in the Fox News Graphics Department created a map that has Egypt sandwiched right between Iran and Syria and North of Saudi Arabia. Who does Fox have working for them - Miss Teen South Carolina 2007? Mysteriously missing from the map was (the) Iraq which may turn up later somewhere in (the) South Africa. Leave it up to Fox News to provide us with fair and balanced maps. Some of the comments posted on that web page were hysterical. I especially liked this one by bittermary:

"She (Sarah Palin) must have moved Iraq closer to Alaska so she could see it from her house."

But what can we expect from the channel that brought us this:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Adopting a Dog in Cairo

I've been hearing a lot of people lately saying that they want to do volunteer work in Cairo. One organization I always recommend (for those that like animals) is the Egyptian Society of Animal Friends. I don't see the volunteer link on their website now, but the website has been redesigned since I first learned of the organization. They used to ask for volunteers to help out at the shelters as well as for community outreach.

This is also an excellent place for those thinking of adopting a dog or cat in Cairo.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kissing Confusion

The Arabic greeting of kissing on the cheeks is often very confusing to the newcomer in the Middle East. At least it was for me. I did not know you were not supposed to touch your lips to the cheek and I was going around actually kissing everyone. No wonder everyone had horrified looks on their faces when they saw me coming. A fellow blogger over in Amman, Jordan has put together this easy-to-follow guide to Arabic greeting cheek kisses. If you follow the Jordanian model in Egypt you can't go wrong.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Summer Blues

I don't remember being this miserable last summer in Cairo. The heat seems to be draining me of my energy this year. I have adjusted my schedule accordingly - stay up all night and sleep all day. I can't get motivated to do anything. I'm just not used to this. Back in the States I was pretty much an outdoors person. Now I just stay in the air conditioner all day. I miss being outside, but just can't deal with this heat. Good thing I am heading to Florida in 3 weeks - out of the heat and into the humidity!

Is anyone else having this problem or just me?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Quick Look: Elevators in Cairo

Nice video by Jon Jensen, a journalist in Cairo.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Getting from Cairo to Alexandria by train

The easiest way to get from Cairo to Alex is by train. Trains leave from Ramses Station in Cairo almost every hour throughout the day. You can catch a direct train which usually only makes one stop in Tanta, and it will take you approximately two hours to reach Alex. Some of the trains make other stops as well. Leaving Alex it is the same thing. You can go direct to Cairo, or catch a train that terminates in Luxor. You can see the complete train schedule with fares here on the Egyptian Railways website.

I rode this train back and forth from Cairo to Alex every weekend for three months when I was taking the TEFL Course in Alex. However, I had not been back to Sidi Gaber Station in Alex in over one year. They were doing construction and as a result, only the front six cars (out of ten) stopped on the platform. You can hear me say several times on the video "We have to walk all the way back". I usually don't complain so much, but one thing that I had learned is that you should always get on in your assigned car (printed on your ticket). The reason for this is, with the amount of luggage people travel with - especially during the summer season - it becomes very difficult to walk through the train. Anyway, it turned out to be relatively easy this time. We got to our seats for find someone sitting in them as often happens when people don't purchase tickets. Since the seats are assigned on the tickets, if you don't have a ticket you can get on the train and try to find an empty seat. You can pay the conductor when he comes and then hope no one with a ticket shows up to claim the seat. If they do, you will find yourself walking the entire length of the train looking for another empty seat. If you don't find one you can end up standing the whole time, or sitting on the floor - but I don't recommend the latter. Always purchase your tickets at least two days in advance of when you need to travel because the trains fill up fast in the summer time when everyone vacations in Alex. Tickets can be purchased at the Stations of departure and at certain Metro Stations that have Egypt Rail ticket windows. Maadi Station is one of them.

(This video was filmed at Sidi Gaber Station in Alexandria July 2009. First train shown was a local train.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Insha'Allah Air

While out with a Cairo ex-pat group last week the conversation turned to airline travel. Eventually, and inevitably Egypt Air was brought up. Everyone had his/her own Egypt Air story. Mine is this: I was waiting at JFK in the gate area and looking out the window at the plane being prepped for boarding. My attention was drawn to three guys under the plane shining a flashlight on the underside and looking up as if examining something. They kept looking at each other and shaking their heads and shrugging their shoulders. That was the moment I had my first official panic attack. "I'm not getting on that plane" I said out loud over and over. An Egyptian guy sitting next to me briefly glanced up from his newspaper. "This is Egypt Air. It happens everyday." He went back to his paper. I ended up getting on the plane and everything was fine despite the fact that we took off 2 1/2 hours late.

'G', who is British and living in Egypt just under one month, told of a similar delayed take off on his first Egypt Air flight. He had been sitting in his seat for quite a while still on the runway. The flight crew were no where to be seen. The guy sitting next to 'G' asked him if he wanted some juice, then he disappeared into the galley and came back with two cups of juice. "This is how you have to do it here - serve yourself" he said handing 'G' a cup.

We compiled a short list of things you will say on other airlines after flying Insha'Allah (Egypt) Air

1. What do you mean I have to put my seat back in the upright position for landing? I've done plenty of landings with Insha'Allah air with my seat back, the tray table down, and while talking on my cell phone. And nobody died.

2. What do you mean I have to stay in my seat with my bags stowed until the plane comes to a complete stop at the gate! How else am I supposed to be the first one off the plane?

3. Why isn't anyone applauding the landing?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Christmas in Colorado

I'm so excited. I'm already planning on spending 5 weeks in the States in August and September, but today we booked our trip for December. Christmas in Colorado! My husband and I met in Colorado two years ago at Christmas. Last year we spent Christmas in Florida with weather hotter than Cairo. So you can only imagine how thrilled I am at the chance to spend Christmas with snow. Actually, I'm just thrilled at the chance to be in some nice cold weather again.

Next month I will leave Cairo and fly to Indiana where I will spend one week visiting my son. In addition to this I am looking forward to driving, having a real cup of coffee, Taco Bell, a frozen margarita, walking up and down the aisles in WalMart and Lowes, and hanging out in Borders. Just to name a few.

Then from there I fly to Florida and spend one month there in Sarasota visiting my mother and grandmother. I will probably do what I did when I was there last year and run out to the mailbox everyday to get the mail. (You would do it to if you spent the last year and a half in a country with no mail delivery.) I will head back to Cairo at the end of September.

In December I get to turn around and do it all over again. The trip in December will be so much better. For one, my husband will be going with me (but I'll miss the dog and cat). It will be Christmas (our favorite holiday). And it will be COLD in Colorado. We will fly from Cairo, looking like idiots carrying our heavy winter coats, to New York. Now, I mention this because there is a funny story behind it. Last December we flew from Cairo to JFK in New York, were supposed to have a short layover in New York and then fly to Florida. We decided that even though it was cold in New York, we had no reason to leave the airport so decided to leave our winter coats at home. After all we would not need them in Florida. I was wearing a long sleeve shirt and my husband was, too but they were light. Well to make a long story short, we ended up missing our connecting flight to Florida and got rescheduled for the next morning on a flight out of LaGuardia. So we had to move from JFK to LaGuardia in a taxi freezing our asses off. As if that was not bad enough, when we arrived in LaGuardia at 10 pm, we found all the counters closed and were told we could not move into the gate area until 4 am the earliest. So we had to spend the night sleeping on benches in the entrance lobby right next to the doors that kept opening and closing all night. Since we only had carry-ons with us and had not checked any luggage, we put on 2 or 3 of the shirts we had packed. The cleaning guys came through and passed out airline blankets (paper thin) to everyone who was sleeping on benches and luggage carts. We had been given some by the guy at the counter as a consolation prize for missing our flight. We wrapped ourselves up in the blankets and then put more t-shirts on top of that. We really looked like a bunch of assholes. People must have been wondering "who the hell flies to New York in December wearing only a cotton shirt"? All the restaurants were in a different terminal and the one thing that was in our terminal - Starbucks - was closed.

Being the tough New Yorker that I am, and being so happy to be in cold weather I decided that I would brave the elements and go out for a smoke. I didn't feel a thing. I was frozen solid in 30 seconds flat. At about 4 am I found Starbucks open and bought 2 Venti Lattes for us to sit in. We managed to finally get out of New York after being on standby for 3 flights and barely making it onto the one we ended up on. (Unfortunately the airline made a mistake and cancelled our boarding passes. We had to bump 2 other people off the flight to get back on.)

So this year, needless to say, we won't make the same mistake again. We will be bringing our winter coats, scarves, gloves, blankets, and pillows. After we arrive in New York we will be flying to Salt Lake City, Utah. From there (Insha'Allah and weather permitting) we will fly to Denver. In Denver we'll rent a car and drive to Colorado Springs.

We'll spend Christmas in Colorado Springs with a colleague of my husband (and she is a fantastic cook, I might add). After that we will drive south into New Mexico. I'm hoping to meet up with my best friend from high school who is living there now. After that we will drive through New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia into Florida.

I'm really looking forward to that part because I am dying to get out on the open road and drive. You just can't enjoy driving in Egypt even if you can find an open road. Also, I've never been in New Mexico, Texas or Louisiana so even though I lived in the States my whole life, I will actually feel as if I'm in a new place. We'll spend the last week in Florida and then fly back off to Cairo. We will have an 11 hour layover in New York and plan to go into Midtown for a few hours. This time we will be properly dressed for sure.

What a great way to start the New Year.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Effectiveness vs. Efficiency and Zero Days Without an Accident

First, read this article Decoding Egypt: On Effectiveness and Efficiency by Nael Shama from the Daily News Egypt website July 15, 2009.

I think this quote sums it up best:

"These intense emotions are, however, hardly felt in other vital fields,
which makes one wonder: is there no national dream in Egypt other than winning a
football cup? As a Third World country, Egypt faces serious economic and social
problems, the least important of which is more crucial to the wellbeing of
people than the performance of the football team. If the time and effort
dedicated to supporting the team was used to eradicate poverty, develop slum
areas, or increase production, we would have had a very different Egypt."

So, when it comes to matters of human rights, Egyptians are pretty much apathetic unless the matter is related to football or an isolated attack on the "sacred veil". Case in point: this article from AlMasry AlYoum (July 16, 2009) Bulldozer Squashes Worker:

Bulldozer squashes worker
A worker died on Tuesday, squashed accidentally by a bulldozer, during a tour by the housing minister and the Giza governor of development work at the Maryoutiya bridge. The worker's name was not released by the authorities or the Hassan Allam Contracting Company where the worker served. Madiha Hussein, an eyewitness, told Al-Masry Al-Youm residents were shocked to see the worker dying during drilling work in front of Al Mashrabeya Towers on Felfela Al Maryoutiya Road. "It turned out one of the bulldozers ran over the worker and killed him instantaneously," she said. "The company officials ignored the accident completely, and left the dead body on the side of the road covered in a blanket." For his part, the hea(d) of Haram district, Sami Abdel Fattah, denied knowledge of the accident, saying the minister and governor had visited the top of the bridge, but didn't tour below it, where the accident happened. "This accident has got nothing to do with the visit," he added.

Am I supposed to believe that because the accident had nothing to do with the housing Minister's visit that it was OK to leave the body on the side of the road covered in a blanket? Never mind that because of the lack of common sense and infrastructure, accidents like this (and others) are just waiting to happen on a daily basis in Egypt. However, it seems to be easier to let accidents happen and cover them up than it is to put simple safety standards in place that would help prevent them in the first place. Think about that for a minute.

Now, consider what would have happened if the guy who had gotten squashed had been a football player with the National Team. Kind of scary, isn't it?

An American woman's opinion on Egyptian's women's rights

I am an American woman married to an Egyptian man and living in Egypt. I answer some questions about women's rights in Egypt that were posed to me by an Egyptian journalist.

1. How did you see the Egyptian women's rights?

I think in general Egypt is about 20 years behind the rest of the world - namely the United States. With regards to women - it's 50 years behind the times. While I think women in Egypt have a long way to go to get to where western women are, they are still far better off than women in other Islamic countries. Egyptian women can drive, go out by themselves, work, and dress the way they want (even choosing not to wear hijab if they desire). However, Egyptian women still lack a very important right - freedom. They are bound by cultural traditions. For example, a girl who is 20 cannot go out and get her own apartment even is she has a job. Most families would forbid their daughter from doing this. She is therefore, not allowed to become self-reliant but must bide her time until she can be appropriately married at which time she goes to her husband's house. In her husband's home she may gain a certain freedom she lacked in her family home, but this often comes at the high price of sacrificing her career in lieu of having children and being a wife. Even though they might not admit it, this practice over time, wears away at a woman's self-esteem. She is never really free to discover who she is and what her role in this world is. She simply become a caretaker for others while her own hopes and dreams may end up being neglected. Many Egyptian women have become passive that this is their assigned lot in life and feel there is not much they can do about it. The more religious her husband - the worse it is for her. If she was unveiled before marriage, she may suddenly be faced with tremendous pressure from he husband to veil.

However, as an American, I can say that this problem of lack of rights and lack of freedom is not only limited to women in Egypt. In my opinion, Egyptian men have limited rights and freedom as well. First of all it is difficult for them to get visas to travel, difficult to find a job and what job they might find may pay very low. This begins the cycle of making it impossible for him to save the enormous sums of money necessary to get married. The men as well face tremendous pressure from families to live at home until marriage, to marry a girl of their choice, etc. Egyptian men are not encouraged to learn independence and self-reliance either. Then they get married and have no idea how to treat their wife, other than the examples they see set forth by society and culture.

2. Did you find it close to your expectations..or less or worse??

I can't say I had any expectations. I've had an interest in sociology since I was a teenager and I also grew up in a multicultural environment so I already had a great deal of exposure to other cultures and things that were going on in the world.

3. What was the most astonishing thing to you ? or weird or surprising wether in a good or bad way

Well, I made many Egyptian friends online before moving here. I was really pleased to see so many Egyptian women freely speaking their minds. When I first visited Egypt, I was happy to see a new generation (mostly 20 somethings) of Egyptian men and women who were pushing the envelope (so to speak) on the cultural practices and traditions of their parents generation. They hung out together in coffee shops, went on dates with their boyfriends, didn't wear hijab, and most importantly - didn't care what other people thought of them for doing so.

4. How do you see the veil? as we've different kinds of veils such as "hejab" and the whole black veil "away from religion..from a social perspective"

I will probably have many people in Egypt hating me for saying this, but I don't believe the "veil" (even hijab) is required by God. I see it as a fashion statement in Egypt and a cultural practice in Gulf countries perpetuated by uptight sexually frustrated men. I see the entire concept as oppressive for women, However, I can understand how women feel it gives them more freedom. In Egypt, where a large percentage of men harass women on a daily basis - the veil can in fact, make them feel protected. Like a security blanket. It just makes me sick that the women have to take responsibility and cover and the men and boys don't take responsibility for their actions and learn how to respect women.

5. What's so common between women in your country and women in Egypt?

That is a difficult question to answer, because in the end we are all more similar than are led to believe. An expression comes to mind: "We all put our pants on one leg at a time." Unfortunately, it is easier for me to point out what is different between Egyptian and American women.

6. How can women take their rights in Egypt in your opinion? what do they need? what do they miss?

Like I said before, Egypt is decades behind the times. It can take decades more for things to begin to change and for any progress to be made in this area. I don't think it's a matter of women taking to the streets and protesting. I think what needs to change first is the cultural attitude that began to take hold in the late 1970's. The movement that confused culture and religion. It is my belief that this is what caused the standstill in progress with regard to women's rights. In fact, this movement may have caused things to begin to move backward. One only has to watch old black and white Egyptian movies to see how different Egypt has become. What needs to happen in order to move forward with women's rights is for the attitudes of men to change. Boys need to learn to respect women and see them as equals. Egyptian society must let go some of the taboos and stifling traditions with regards to sex and marriage and encourage young boys and girls to become independent and self-sufficient. To allow them to grow into productive adults free to make their own choices of right and wrong and decide their own level of morality on the inside - instead of through outward symbols such as hijab.

7. What are the negatives of women's rights movements in your country?

Women's suffrage movements started centuries ago in the States. Even the last wave in the 1950's and 1960's happened before I was born. I was born into a society that placed very few limitations of women - so to me, I never knew anything different. My own personal experiences leave me with nothing to compare before and after to because the way things are for in the US today was always a reality for me. However, many studies have been done that there is a breakdown in the family unit with women in the workplace leaving their children in daycare to be raised by someone else. In the US when a woman has a baby, she is expected to return to work after 6 weeks. It is true that many working mothers are spending less than 2 hours a day with their babies and children.

Monday, July 13, 2009

What scent is this?

Car Freshner or Freshener?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Where are the peanuts?

A few weeks ago I was in Maadi Metro trying to buy peanuts. This turned out to be a difficult venture. Having forgotten the Arabic word for "peanuts" (actually it's highly unlikely I ever knew it to begin with) I approached an employee and asked where the peanuts are. He just shook his head letting me know instantly that he did not understand. He motioned for a female employee standing near the cash register to join us.

"Where are the peanuts?" I asked her as she approached. It became instantly obvious that she thought I said something else that sounds like "peanuts" (but is a bit more vulgar) when she began to blush and asked me if it was something to eat. Thinking it may be easier to understand if I say it another way, I said "yes. Nuts". This produced yet another blank stare and the summoning of yet another employee.

I asked the new employee, once again, where the peanuts are. He immediately nodded his head and took off down an aisle. Finally, now we are getting somewhere. I followed close behind. He stopped in front of a can of kidney beans, taking them off the shelf and handing them to me. This was obviously going nowhere, so I decided to name any and all kinds of nuts I could think of - cashews, almonds, walnuts, etc. You know - NUTS! He nodded his head and moved down to the end of the aisle where there was a few cans of mixed nuts. Victory at last!


Just for the record the Arabic word for nuts is almksrat.