Friday, May 6, 2011

It's Been a While...

After reading my friends' blog from the US, I always think, I need to sign in and post something! But life doesn't always go that way.

Let's see, what is new? Since my last post, Cairo is back to its normal self.  Today I am trying to remind myself of why I like it here...and trying to ignore all the things that grate on my nerves. I swear I must wear a sign on my back that says honk if you....
-think I'm hot
-see a white girl
-are a taxi and think that every western girl wants a ride
-are a taxi AND feel the need to yell sex out the window at me (yes, I want to jump in your taxi RIGHT now!)
-think you might run me over
-just like to honk for honkings sake

And then, there is the staring/waving/comments....many days I can take it, and really, its a nice compliment as long as it stays with just staring and waving at me.  But really, what do you think is going to happen when you tell me I am beautiful? Seriously!  And bank boy, stop asking me for my phone number.  I am going to give you a fake one every time. 

But then, when I stop complaining about all of this, and get some more patience, I remember.  I remember that I have to give them props for trying! If western men would wear only a bit of their hearts on their sleeves like Egyptian men, well, women would be putty in their hands.  Luckily my heart is claimed and find none of this interesting...perhaps the reason for my lack of patience with them!

And then there are the people themselves.  They all wear their hearts on their sleeves.  They are passionate and caring and generous, and are full of joy, even when things are tough. And this is what I have always liked about Egypt.  The way the people came together during the revolution and finally woke up. 

And I love this city!  It is so easy to get around, the world's most identifiable monument is minutes from my door, and one of the oldest modes of transportation is just around the corner- a felucca down the Nile.  Who would have thought that I would thrive in a city as big as this one?

Since the Revolution, things have changed.  People have changed.  Life has changed. People are still fighting for more changes, there is a bit of fear in the air, jobs have been lost...this country will never be the same again.  I am so happy to be here and be a part of it, teach the Egyptian children about all of the freedoms that we in Canada take for granted, that people in my past fought for.  That these children will be able to say I was a part of this! 

Well, I am going to go to bed, and tomorrow get out and embrace the honking.  Some things will never change :)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Revolution, Egypt

I have had some people ask me to tell them about my time in Egypt when the revolution started.  I know it’s really long, but here it is!
Here I am, a Canadian girl in Cairo, Egypt, thinking it’s one of the safer Middle East countries, people are happy, Mubarak holds his power over the people with fear and the police clean things up. I am aware that people are done with Mubarak, but that there is a fear of what will happen to them if they try to get rid of him.  The police keep everyone in line and are quick to get rid of those who are not in line- or who have different politics and ideas. Many conversations that I have had with Egyptian friends in public regarding politics or Mubarak are whispered…who knows where the secret police are…and if you are caught bashing the dictator, you will disappear forever. 
Quietly, and confidently, on Facebook and Twitter, young people began to find their voices, and demand their voices be heard.  Jan 25 was declared the day that they would take to the streets and protest.  This is normal in Cairo as there are very quiet demonstrations that occur after Friday Prayers.  Jan 25 is Police Day, in which the country celebrates the beloved police force…also a day in which people protest the police brutality that is prevalent in this country.
By drink, by gun, by Facebook…a friend’s analysis of all of the previous leaders of the country since the last revolution to get rid of the king.  Nasser was maybe assassinated by poison (or he was just sick and old), Sadat was shot…Mubarak was Facebooked.  Here are my experiences during the revolution as an outsider looking in.
Jan 25 Police Day (first day of the Revolution…the day Egypt changed forever)
I received an email from the Embassy warning that there are large protests planned, stay away from large groups of people.  We stayed around Maadi, lunch out (it was a public holiday), Ace for the evening.  All is calm.  Extra police at the Saoudi supermarket corner but nothing out of the ordinary. I have had warnings from the Embassy after the Coptic church bombing in Alexandria. 
Jan 26 Wednesday
Off we go to school, none the wiser as to what is happening downtown. The protests continue and get larger.  We hear there is violence between the police and protesters in Tahrir Square.  1 hour before school ends we are notified that the school is closed for Thursday due to planned demonstrations in Heliopolis. We go home and head to the Ace Club, the local expat club.  Nothing happening in Maadi.  Mubarak bans public gatherings and protests. No school tomorrow, yay!!!  Little did we know that this would be the last day for a month.
Jan 27 Thursday
We hear from the news there are protests across the city.  We again have lunch at 55, dinner at Ace- this is how unaffected my area of the city is. Ace does close down early because of the security risk. We get home and find that Facebook/Skype/Twitter all are shut down.  Later the internet is blocked, and doesn’t come back for an entire week.  Vodafone publicly states that the government forced them to shut down.  We hear shots fired at night. It is the first of several nights that I hear gunshots.  Reports that it is people looting and burning cars.
Jan 28 Friday
10 am our cell phones are all blocked.  This loss of communication is, to this point, the scariest part of the whole thing.  I have no way of communicating with my loved ones that I am ok.  It was a loss of some of my rights, and for someone used to all the rights and freedoms being a Canadian citizen gives me, it was scary and eye opening.  PK and Jen and I walk to Ace.  Midan Victoria outside of Ace has planned demonstrations but they don’t happen- Ace does shut early.  Do a bit of shopping.  WE head home around 1:30 and turn on Al Jazeera and see the chaos.  Jen and I watch TV until 1 am in complete awe and disbelief at what is happening 8 km away from us.  The protests start after noon prayers- Christians and Muslims  are all in the mosques.  The protest was planned using Twitter and Facebook, now they can’t communicate.   But it happens in all areas of the city, hundreds of thousands of people out in the streets at Tahrir Square and on the bridges over the Nile. Tear gas is being fired at the protesters, Molotov cocktails being thrown.  Only al Jazeera has any information coming out.  We see the police firing water and tear gas at the protesters, running them down with their trucks and hitting people with sticks.  But still the people pushed back and forced the police to move back.  This is happening across the country.   Nile TV reporting the police have the situation under control.  The police are backing off, police trucks are overturned and burning, cars are burning, and tires are burning.  BBC and CNN are getting nothing out due to no phone or internet. A curfew has been introduced and starts at 6 pm, but none of the protesters leave.  Violence and death is happening but protests are not stopping.  Police retreat sometime this evening. Mubarak speaks at 1245 am-  6 hours after he was scheduled to.  He states he is the one who gave the people these freedoms to protest, but in the same breath issues an order that the people of Egypt are not allowed to protest or stage public demonstrations. Mubarak states that he gave these people their rights and freedoms of speech- but he has taken it away.  They can’t use their cell phones or the internet! He states he is listening to his people, that is why he is firing his government…but he has not left, which is what the people want. I watch the military arrive and they  are greeted with excitement.  Egyptians revere the military. Throughout the night there are more shots fired loud and very close to us. They seem to be coming from around the prison. Raids and looting are happening of shops all over the city.  Rumors that Carrefour, the huge supermarket, has been burned down and the mall looted.  We watch the city burn- I can smell smoke when I open the window.
Jan 29 Saturday
We all decide to head out after the curfew finishes. This is after the phones begin working, and I make the mistake of telling my mother that I heard shots last night.  During another phone call I can hear gun shots in the distance…in the middle of the day. I didn’t say anything.  Then the phones get blocked up, with overuse or they are cut off again.  Head to Ace, and they are closing at 2 pm- reports of looting at grand mall and heading in their direction.  It didn’t happen- and it is very quiet in Maadi.  We go home to watch TV and nothing else to do! Not reporting anything going on in Maadi, thankfully because my family will be freaking.  Curfew today starts at 4 pm. Reports of gangs of looters all over the city.  No police in sight. They have completely disappeared.  5 pm prayers call the men to arm themselves and protect their streets.  Our men all have big sticks and have barricaded our street. They stay out there all night long.  At about 11 pm, a tank drives by, firing shots in the air and these loud sounds- possibly noise grenades to scare away the looters. The tank was huge from what I could see thru the trees.  Absolutely freaky.  I am terrified this night.  But totally bored during the day with being cooped up in the house. 

The barricade to our road

Jan 30 Sunday
Didn’t sleep much last night.  The tanks rolled past our house around 11, firing guns and loud sounds- I think they are supposed to be noise stunners.  It went around Road 206 3 times, and returned throughout the night.  Gun shots throughout the night as well.  I wake up to the smell of smoke, something is burning near us.  Gunshots still, and popping sounds.  Our barricade is still up.  The curfew is now lifted but nothing has happened. Reports that our Metro has been looted.  I plan to wander around today, but also reports on TV that 6000 prisoners have escaped the prison here in Maadi…great. 
Been out and about.  No raids at our Metro, wide open.  I stock up on canned food and water, just in case. I also managed to find the one bank machine that still had money to get the last of my money out. There are barricades around the roads, people blocking it and only allowing local traffic.  Molotov cocktails sitting on the edge of the street.  The men have sticks and tire irons, butcher knives taped to the end of a long stick just in case.  Men with knives in the streets.  Protecting their people and buildings.  The vigilantes have white cloth tied to their arms to identify each other.  Still hear a bit of gun fire. Today we hear from friends that the gun fire is warning shots- both by vigilantes and military.  Just shooting into the air warnings that they, the army are here protecting the people, and to scare looters. Fires burning in some areas.  Tanks apparently in all areas of Maadi. 
Get a phone call saying Americans getting evacuated so we raced home.  Not happening, just the govt. advising to leave.  No evacuations.  The Canadian govt. suggesting you be ready, have a bag packed  and always have your papers with you.  Nothing happening now on the news.  Totally bored again!
I am scared from the looting, and the police-less society.  In a society when this happens people rebel and bad things happen.  I am scared when I hear the tanks and gunfire.  I am not sleeping. Tonight 2 men in masks were seen on the hill behind us, and came into our building.  30 of our men chased them in and then chased them out, beating them with sticks.  The army arrived and started shooting.  The people in my building say they didn’t shoot them but were just firing in the air.  We barricaded the door with the table as we hear them inside.  The men protecting us are amazing.

Jan 31 Sunday
Canadians are being evacuated.  We are to wait until we are called by the embassy. Walked around town today.  Road 9 opening up- we had a coffee! The police station had 6 tanks and army in it!  Exciting.  I touched a tank. The police return, actually while we are in the police station midan and things are quite tense!  We get asked what we are doing and where we are going by an army man.  There are about 30 military men lined up in front of the police station as the police officers begin to return. We head home. Then we just watched some movies, hanging out. Kind of waiting to see, each day, what will happen.  Very quiet night.  My family is freaking out.  My dad has called everyone short of the Prime Minister!  I finally decide to leave although I am very torn- I want my Egyptian friends to know that I support them and would be beside them in Tahrir Square if I was Egyptian, but I am also scared and want to feel safe.  
Feb 1 Tuesday The Million Man March
I get my evacuation call today.  No guarantee I will get on the plane, but I was to leave within the hour to the airport for the 5 pm flight.  I said no, since I already have a flight out. Jen and I visit a friend from work, and she is very scared, terrified of anyone with a stick.  We walk around. Nothing new to see.  Water is slowly being turned off around Maadi.  We see one of the boys from Metro supermarket.  He is so happy we haven’t deserted them- he said you have stayed to support us!  He is very disappointed we are leaving.  We say we support Egypt, and we will be back. Today is when the fighter jets begin to fly over Tahrir Square and over Cairo.  They last for several hours.  5 pm and heavy machine gun fire right next to our apartment. Machine guns and what sounds like return fire.  Large tank sounds, continues for over an hour.  People looking out their windows. The men are running up and down the street.  I find out later that people were breaking into the telecommunications centre and trying to steal computers. Later that evening we take pop and chips to them at their guard post. It feels so insignificant to say thank you for risking their lives and staying up all night.  We talk to everyone.  Funny under stress how people who have never spoken to me are now chatting like we are family.  I have even been told more than once that we are their family, they are ours.  Ahmed from my building comes to say goodbye. Again a disappointed Egyptian that we are leaving their country. He says stay to support us.  We say our government says get out.  We support you, would be in Tahrir square if we were Egyptians.  We are not leaving, just going to Europe.  We will be back, but it’s not good here for foreigners.  He said we are his only friends and his family in this building.  We are together in this.  He said Mubarak is a f@#khead and needs to leave.  At least while he had his dignity.  Mubarak appears on TV defiant that he will not leave. Now he has no dignity.
Wednesday Feb 2
Jen, PK and Amita gone.  Airport drive about 1.5 hours.  Our driver Ayman is sad about his business, its killing him. Today is the day of violence.  Today is the day when the Mubarak thugs attacked the protesters in Tahrir Square. People believe it is the police who are in street clothes attacking them. The garbage collector in our building was actually offered money to go to Tahrir Square to attack the protesters. The protesters defend themselves by making barricades and throwing rocks.  I am so proud of Egyptians.  Of what they are doing and the changes they are trying to make, and of the normal people!  The men who have banded together and are staying up all night long, protecting us.  Regular men. I spent 2 hours sitting outside talking to several of the men in our building. It is their duty they say when I thank them.  They say we are safe. I have an amazing conversation about what is happening.  There are young guys just out of university, no job prospects, who are so angry and dejected that Mubarak didn’t step down the night before. These young guys now fear what will happen to them because what is on their Facebook pages, and the way the government can find you.  They do not accept Mubarak’s decision to not run again and to select a Vice President.  My friend is disgusted that people would turn on each other.  He doesn’t want to be an Egyptian any more.  The men who are my age and older, feel that it is acceptable that he will step down in 6 months and they are willing to believe that things will change, this is enough.  Then there are the teenage boys whose father is a police man.  They are Mubarak supporters and feel he is being treated poorly from the people.  They think it is the government who cause all of the problems. They haven’t seen or heard from their dad in 4 days.  I talk about what Egypt will become with these men.  They want more money and more equality for the classes.  They think it will be a long road to recovery but that it will happen.  The people are proving they will not back down from fear, from losing their rights, from threats, from injury, from attacks…from anything.  We also discuss having more than 1 wife and that us people from the west cannot understand it until we understand all sides.  I still don’t agree! 
 It is amazing how quickly you get used to gunfire, even though the sound of it terrifies me. I am so mixed about leaving. I am sad the Egyptians are disappointed in us.  This is where we live, but it’s not our fight.  It’s not our place, as much as I support them and would be in Tahrir square along with all of them! I feel knots in my stomach about this, I want out, I don’t feel safe when the political situation is so messed up.  I don’t feel safe with looters all around.  But I want my Egyptian friends to be reassured that I support them.  I don’t want to disappoint them. I am sad to go.  I am sad that I might not see any of my friends or my Egyptians again.  These passionate, loving people.  They are still happy in light of all of this.  I am ready to go, but I don’t want them to think we are deserting them. I can’t wait to come back.  El Jazeera has a picture of a boy with a sign that said “Tourists don’t go we will protect you”.  I cried.
Thursday Feb 17 BACK TO EGYPT
Wow!  18 days and a new Egypt is born.  Mubarak steps down,  the army takes control and changes are being put into place. I got a phone call from a friend in Tahrir Square the night he stepped down, and the sound from the crowd thru the phone was inspiring. Even getting off the plane, the taxi drivers are all saying welcome back to the New Egypt!  People are so happy about what has happened.  Mubarak leaves with around 70 billion dollars…those who were supporters are not feeling so strongly about him anymore. 
There are still a few tanks. Apparently the police are resigning at huge numbers.  The military remains in control of the country, and are keeping security as it was before.  There are tanks around the prison, as well as out near the police Academy.  But in Maadi the police have returned. Today they tear down the Mubarak sign at the Mubarak Police Academy, including the Arabic sign.  Now it is just Police Academy.
One of the biggest things I have seen are people cleaning up.  I think it has been encouraged that the people begin to take better care of their country.  I have even seen people picking up rubbish in the streets!  There are bins everywhere and I can even see the ground- no more bottles, bags or papers on the floor.  I wonder how long this will last!  Apparently people are lining up- and if you have ever been to Egypt you will know it’s usually a scrum to get anything- as a man said to me the other day, we don’t know how to line up, please go ahead of me!

I can still see fear.  I can see the stress this has taken on people.  They are tired, some people aren’t sleeping, and some are worried that Egyptians will settle for the status quo.  Some are writing books and joining groups to keep this forward movement going.  People are losing their jobs, and the tourism industry is almost non-existent.  There is sadness as well, for people that were lost.  It hits home even more that I was here and people died in this revolution when I hear from a friend that her friend was shot in the head. Dead. Or loved ones are missing- disappeared completely from Tahrir Square. And no way to find them.
So back to normal.  Taxis are honking, men are still making inappropriate comments, and the driving is still crazy!  All the things that are a part of living in Cairo are still there…but there is hope in the air.  There is a very tiny step in closing the social gaps between the classes, as the rich and the poor stood beside each other in Tahrir Square and fought for the same thing.
This is my experience, this is what I saw and heard through my own and my friends’ eyes.  Maybe what I heard and saw is not completely right, but this is it.  This is my experience. As a friend said to me (on Facebook!) I now have a great intro story at parties…so, you know the Revolution in Egypt?  I was there!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone!  Wow, its been a while...I think since November!  I made a New Years resolution to stay in better contact with people, and this is one way to do it! I hope 2011 has started off well for all of you!

My dad visited me here over the Christmas holidays and we had an amazing time. After getting all caught up in the snow and major delays in Europe, he finally landed 1 week late here in Cairo, and we headed off to Upper Egypt to explore Aswan and Luxor.  It was amazing- for the first part to get out of Cairo!  Cairo is such an assault on your senses, the constant noise, smells and crowds can be intense, so it was nice to head south to the calmer waters of the Nile and where the Nubians are not pushy- they actually take no for an answer!  We did our own trip, I booked a few tours but we caught taxis and trains.  Don't think I would advise travelling on your own if you have never spent time in Egypt- its intense!  My dad would not have done it like this if I had not been there.  I have a basic understanding of Arabic so I could at least get us around, and I am starting to understand the people! 

We started at the Philae Temple in Aswan, the temple dedicated to Isis.  So many of the temples were moved in this area when they build the Low and High Dams that just standing at these places and thinking about how they moved and entire temple made of stone, with hieroglyphics covering the walls and there was barely any damage done is almost too much to comprehend.

Philae Temple


The next day we ventured off to Abu Simbel...on yet another terrifying car ride! To get to Abu Simbel you can fly or drive. If you drive you have to go in an armed convoy- yet another way the government is protecting the tourists here (although they didn't protect the bus that crashed and killed a few the day before...) The rules of driving to Abu Suimbel- don't pass the lead vehicle. And that's it!  You can drive 140 km/h, you can pass pop and tea thru the window from another car at this speed, you can drive 5 across the single lane highway, and if someone is coming the other way, the lead vehicle signals so everyone gets back in line. Oh and at night, when you are driving back, don't use your lights!  After this ride Abu Simbel was almost a letdown, since I had devoted most of my energy to trying to make the backseat driver brake work!  Really, Abu Simbel was fantastic, and was another temple that was completely moved from its original position.  It was a beautiful tribute to Ramses, who loved himself so much he had numerous temples built to himself!

After our visit to Aswan, and 2 marriage proposals (we turned them down, I felt that 200 camels, a house and a felucca boat weren't worth it!) we took the staring train to Luxor.  I say the staring train, because I was one of the few white women on board, and men here, well they like to stare.  A lot.  I have gotten used to it here in Cairo, its usually a stare in passing as my bus goes past them on the motorway or when I walk past.  But there was no escape on the 3 hour train ride!  My dad was afraid to leave me alone!  But we made it, without any holes burned into my head or anywhere else, and after an argument with the taxi driver we arrived on the Corniche at our hotel.  We never stopped here in Luxor!  We visited Karnak Temple, which is actually a temple that was built on and built on by different pharaohs. 
Karnak Temple, East Bank

The Ramesseum, another temple dedicated to Ramses 2

The next day we visited the Valley of the Kings where all of the Tombs of the Pharaohs are, as well as Hatshepsut's Temple, the most famous female pharaoh- look at the nice straight lines of her temple!

 After a great week, we finally returned to Cairo, and I headed back to work while my dad explored the city!  It was a great trip and finally, after so many years of both of us wanting to see this history I have learned so much about, I got to see it.  I can't wait to see it again!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Silence of the Lambs...and the Value of Communication

Let me set this one up for you. It is Thursday.  Day before school holidays.  Day before Eid Adha and the hajj to Mecca begins. A few days before the sacrifices begin.  We have a lovely day at school, with a simulation of the Pilgrimage performed by my kids (they circle the kabah and walk between the mountains, drink from the zamzam well). After an afternoon of Eid art (glittery fireworks and cotton ball sheep) I decide to take the kids out for a play before going home.  We can't go to our garden as they are putting in the playground.  I decided to go to the soccer pitch. We begin our game, and as the children are playing, I finally notice the large group of higher ups from the school- the director, the owner, the accountant, all looking at something.  I figured it was construction related (which is what this group is usually sorting out when I look out my window!) I didn't think anything of it, until the kids all stopped playing all at the same time, to stare in that direction.  "Look mees! Look mees!" I look, and see something black laying on the floor, about 7 metres away from us, in the school yard.  I thought at first it was someone hurt, so I just said oh lets go inside.  Then I looked a little closer and saw it was a cow laying on the ground...with its throat slit and blood everywhere!!! When I finally figured it out, the kids had seen it all- some had even seen the sacrifice actually happen- the knife to throat, blood spurting...well, I ran, dragging the kids with me, absolutely traumatised at what I had seen.  Once we got inside, the kids were showing me what the cow looked like- its neck was twisted and its tongue was hanging out and eyes bulging.  We had a little talk about the meaning of the sacrifice (see below!) and what a dead animal looks like.  They were not upset...I was!  I sent the kids home, and I returned to see the cow.  By that time the butcher had already done his work, and the meat was being given to the matrons and maids at the school.  Afterwards, I went to the director and was so embarrassed about the kids seeing a slaughter in the playground...she laughed and laughed and said they have all seen it before, and will all see it this week!  So, the moral of the story, I am running away to Cyprus so as to avoid the slaughter...and once in a while communicating to your staff about the slaughtering of cows (2 sheep were to follow!) in the playground is sometimes a useful thing! 
Cows being delivered for the sacrifice (seriously.  There are a tonne of animals on the road for tomorrow!)
Its been a while, but lets just jump right in to the slaughtering that is going to happen this week...Its Eid Adha, the holiday that also marks the pilgrimage to Mecca for millions of Muslims.  Here is a little religion lesson.  Ibrahim was going to sacrifice his son to God, and God stopped him at the last moment and gave him a sheep to sacrifice instead, to show that he knew Ibrahim was serious about sacrificing his son.  On the spot where he was going to do the sacrifice, God ordered Ibrahim to build a temple.  This temple is the kabah, the black box that Muslims circle 7 times at Mecca (forgive me if this is not quite correct, this is the children's version that I learned at school on Thursday). So people are now on their pilgrimage, but people who are at home celebrate Eid.  This is when people buy a sheep, goat, or if you are of high status, a cow and sacrifice it in representation of Ibrahim's sacrifice.  The whole point is to give 1/3 of the meat to people less fortunate- your doorman, the maids and matrons and security guards, 1/3 to your family and 1/3 is kept by you.  This happens on Tuesday (thankfully I will be in Cyprus then!) and apparently there is blood throughout the streets...

Sheep on the side of the road, waiting for families to come buy them

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Marriage Proposals and CEGs

I don't want this blog to be about work, but you all know how much I love teaching and love being around the kids.  So this is a post about my day since it was crazy and exhausting, with the usual Egyptian flair to it!

Today was Sports Day for elementary.  It was a lot of fun, but i have never had so many kids cry!  I did not organise the day, so perhaps the organisers can take credit for the tears.  But it was full on lay on the floor and cry like a baby day.  By the end of it, that's all I wanted to do!  And it was bloody hot again, so everyone had a hard time.

Next, parent teacher interviews.  Egyptian parents are VERY overprotective and very involved in their children's education.  I have 18 children and they ALL complete their homework every week.  ALL of them.  I have never had that once in the last 2 years of teaching!  At least they are over and parents and kids are happy! (hamd el eh la- thank god).

Next, the ride home.  We find a taxi since our bus took the load of people home earlier.  The road is bumper to bumper, and it takes 1.5 hours to get home (usually 45 minutes).  I guess I am getting used to the traffic since the 7 cars across 4 lanes didn't bother me! I only cringed once when I thought we were going to get sideswiped-  I used to just cringe all the time...But of course a few things happened (oh this morning, I saw 2 camels in the back of a truck). A motorcycle wizzed past us at 110 km/h with no helmets on and the girl riding sidesaddle (it must not be modest to straddle a guy on a motorcycle)  with 5 inch stiletto heels on!

After our near miss accident (and believe me, these are a dime a dozen) the driver decided to start talking.  After many translations from the Egyptian teachers in the car, he tells me and the American that he loves Americans and Canadians and they are number 1.  He wants an American wife because he is very rich and looks at me.  I say I am a Canadian.  Then I get the whole spiel of you are beautiful and kind and you have beautiful eyes.  Will you marry me? Yes CEG (CEG= creepy Egyptian guy), I want to marry you, who drives a taxi and smells and doesn't speak English Canadian girls don't fall for that!  Thankfully we had pulled up to our drop off place and I could make a run for it...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pyramids Galore!

Remember when you were a kid, and you really really wanted something for Christmas?  And you wrote Santa a letter, and you were good the whole year round, and your parents warned you that Santa is very busy and he might not be able to bring you your present?  And on Christmas day you wake up super early, and just hope you find that Barbie house under the tree? And you walked down the stairs hoping for a glimpse of the tree, and there it is, under (or beside) the tree is the Barbie house of your dreams?  Remember that feeling of seeing something you wanted for so long?  Well, that was what I felt like the first times I saw the Pyramids.  And they didn't disappoint!  I have wanted to see the Pyramids all my life and there I was, going to the Opera to see Aida with the Sphinx and the Pyramids in the background.  It was awe inspiring! 

Not the best pic, but this is the return of the Egyptian army in Aida with the REAL
Sphinx and Pyramids in the background!
The next day, I returned to the Pyramids with a carload of Canadians (and an American) to go for a sunrise camel trek- which was so fun!  I felt like I was travelling thru time- no cars, just us in the desert. We did trek along side the pyramids, but the smog levels were pretty high that day, so I couldn't see them until the sun burned it off. When I finally saw the pyramids up close, it was something like a spiritual experience.  The feeling of awe at the immense work that went into building them 3000 years ago is mind boggling.  It was amazing.  Words can't describe it, but a photo is worth a thousand words...

A few photos of our adventures! As well as a few photos of the Red Pyramid at Saqqara and the BEnt Pyramid at Dahshur.

Camels and Pyramids

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

You Know You Are In Cairo When...

So, one of my earlier posts was about fighting the expat bubble- trying to embrace the culture and see past the Ace Club or the expat circle. This post is all about the fact that you will never forget that you live in Cairo because of the following...

1. They drive like there is a woman giving birth in their backseat...all the time! Zoom in and out of traffic and squeeze 7 cars into 3 lanes.

2. Donkey carts

3. The language- its hard to forget you live in a different place when you hear and see Arabic all the time

4. taxis...everywhere...all the time

5. The sweet smell of sheesha

6. camels and pyramids

7. packs of dogs everywhere

8. Piles of garbage that people just toss on the ground

9. breathing air you can see its so dirty
10. cat calls, hissing, kissy sounds and general ways to get your attention- that could go to a girl's head if she wasn't so creeped out by it!
11. people used to walk down these streets 1000's of years ago
12. People try to cross the 100 km/hour 7 lane highways
13. I see dead people twice a week on the 100 km/hour 7 lane highways

14. Signs like these.  This sign was found on the stall door of the women's toilets at the Hard Rock Cafe!

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I like to talk about my experiences, but I don't usually like to brag about myself...but this time I am!  I usually have a good sense of direction, I can follow a map and directions someone gives to me to get me places at home or in NZ.  I get to Cairo and it turns out I have a great sense of direction- and those of you who have been to Cairo know how hard it is to get around and not a single road goes in a straight line.  I just seem to have a sense and know where to go.  I am the one giving the taxi drivers directions, and I am the one that tells our latest (we are onto number 7) driver to school which turn off of the Ring Road to take.  I figured out how to get to school after the first few drives- a few of the other expats and the Egyptian girl who comes with us STILL don't know how to get out there!  So I have earned the nickname Sacagawea after the Native American girl who was a guide for the Lewis and Clark expeditions in America. 

One day Sacagawea decided to go to Road 9 and do some shopping at the teacher supply shop.  4 of us took a taxi there, did our shopping and decided we would eat at Lucille's, a local burger joint (very good!) We were all tired after a long day at school, someone had a sore hip and I couldn't remember how far back Lucille's was on Road 9 (this is a road about 2 or 3 km long, with a lot of bars and restaurants on it as well as shops!) I was pretty sure it was in the middle, and we were at the end.  So we walked to McDonalds which was about 10 metres away from the teacher store and hopped in a taxi.  I said keep a good watch, I think its close!  Away we went, did a big loop since the road is a 1-way and travelled along...and kept going and going and going.  We finally saw a sign...for McDonalds (remember, we just jumped into the taxi at McDonalds)! and right across the street from McDonalds was....Lucilles! The restaurant was literally right across the road from the teacher shop. We just went around in a big circle. Needless to say, the taxi driver must have thought we had lost our minds...or how naive these "American" women are! (I can hide behind that when it is convenient!) I did lose a bit of standing as the compass of the group, although I have redeemed myself a bit after our driver got us lost in New Cairo! Lead on Sacagawea- most of the time!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ana gate...and Sand Storms, Arabic and McDonalds!

Ana gate- I have arrived!  Really, I just mean I am back.  I really like this term, and use it in the bus when we arrive at school, as the driver honks like mad to inform all of the residents, guards and teachers that we have arrived. I fell of the blogging wagon since school has started, there just aren't enough hours in the day!  So this is just a big mish mash of a post. I have also been taking Arabic lessons, so that eats up even more of my time.  But I am really enjoying them, and trying very hard to learn it.  Arabic is such a difficult language, and Egypt has its lingua franca (basically its own dialect of Arabic- they can understand the rest of the Arabic speaking world, but the rest of the Arabic speaking world can't understand them- meshy? that means ok?)  I am practicing with the dedas at school (our maids) but they are a lower class so their language is different again...but more on the class system later.

Last night was the first sand storm I have ever seen!  We were sitting having a wine and dinner out on the patio at the expat club Ace and the wind picked up.  We all thought it was going to rain, instead it sanded on us!  I think half the desert ended up in my eyes and the other half was in my lungs.  Trees blew past and I am sure a camel or 2 flew through the air as well.  I wiped my face off in the bathroom and the tissue was black!  Needless to say, I had to have my third shower of the day!  Certainly not something that I really want to experience again, but we have been told to be prepared for March, as that is when the African winds blow and we will be sanded over!

Today I have been shopping at Carrefour (the big French chain) to get classroom things as well as groceries.  We always have lunch or dinner after braving that shopping experience, as it seems like all 20 million people from Cairo are always there at the same time.  There are many choices at the food court, but for some reason all I ever want is McDonalds.  Its not like I eat McDonalds a lot at home, but here I think its the comfort food thing, it tastes the same wherever you are (Canada, NZ, Egypt!). I rarely eat meat here, so sometimes I just like a crappy Macca's burger (if you can call their burgers meat!) It does taste the same, but of course has the "local" special meal- NZ had the kiwi burger, here they have the McArabia burger.  I haven't tried it yet, but then again I never tried the kiwi burger either!

Recognised the world over!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Miss B Can we go Swimming?

I am back!  We finally have internet in our flat, so I can start posting any time I want! 

Today was the first day of school!  It was a very exciting day.  The last month has been very exciting, as the group of people who started the school have tried so hard to squeeze their vision into the physical building!  International schools are backed financially by a very rich person, or a group of rich people.  There is a group of 10 people who are the founders of the school, who have all be part of the process from the beginning.  They are a very inspirational group, and I have to say that with all of the stress and chaos that has surrounded us this past week with working in a construction zone, and with the Egyptian bureaucracy (more on that in another post!) we have all remained friends and have a very close feeling of family.

Our classrooms were finally finished last Sunday (the work week here in Egypt is Sunday to Thursday- something that is very hard to get used to!) and we were all supposed to get into our classrooms that day.  I arrived to find that I had half of a floor and no furniture.  It took until Thursday at lunch to finally get my floor in place.  The marble under the laminate had cracked and needed to be replaced.  So Thursday afternoon, the dedas (maids) and I cleaned.  Then I spent the entire weekend at school working to get set up.  The end result is good, but I sure am tired! 

The floor until Thursday!

The finished product!

I had a great day with the kids!  I have one of the largest classes in school, with 17 children.  So far so good!  I am glad to be a part of this school, and to be starting out something new.  I took the children for a tour of the school and we had a look at the pool...
Miss B, can we go for a swim?

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Expat Bubble

I have heard about it, but after my first few weeks here in Cairo I never thought much of it.  At first, the 8 expats at my school were the only Westerners I had seen!  We were the only ones here.  So we kind of circled our neighbourhood, and hung out with each other at the local sheesha place.  Until the other Westerners started to arrive.  Turns out they are smart, and head home for the heat of summer until school starts (the majority of expats work as teachers or in oil here) Now, there are Westerners everywhere!  Wearing everything from booty shorts and tank tops to long pants and head scarfs.
The expat bubble happens when you live with other expats, and socialise with other expats, and go to expat clubs (there is a nice place called Ace down the road that serves booze and pub food, a little live music and a great patio!) and workout at expat gyms. And maybe look down your nose at the culture and its nuances, or not even bother to look at the culture. Or trying the language. Its so easy to do this when you live in a neighbourhood like Maadi, where the expat population is so high.  It is easy to miss, or dis, the culture around you when you are moving only in these circles. 
But how do you move out of these circles?  I can't speak Arabic, so its hard to find Egyptian friends.  Doing something I might do at home alone is sometimes not appropriate here (like go to a movie).  Joining courses and classes is an easy way to meet people, but I would be joining language classes, with other expats.  I have become friends with Egyptian people at work, but the male/female friendships here are very different (as in they don't happen- when I am with my guy friend here, everyone assumes he is my husband), and the work people don't live in Maadi.  I guess the question is, how do you make friends?  Its easy to say, but hard to do!
I am going to fight the expat bubble! I am still fascinated by the culture, and learning every day the way to do things (and not do things!)  and trying the language. I am going to start taking some courses (Egyptian food! Arabic!) and meet other expats, outside my circle, but also work hard to hang out with work friends, and get to know them and their lives. But I have to say, I will still enjoy that nice cold glass of wine at Ace!

4 Women With 1 Man = A Man With His 4 Wives

Or, Harassment

Before I left, I had read so much information about western women being harassed in Cairo, and it is a very common thing. The Lonely Planet and the blogs I read said some men will even be so bold as to grope you- since us westerners are all “loose”. I have been quite cautious about what I wear- long sleeves and cover my legs. One day I wore a t-shirt and a woman hissed at me when I walked by, but I am comfortable enough to wear a t-shirt and capris around my neighbourhood. And many Egyptian women who are not veiled wear tight t’s and short dresses. At this time (and its only been 3 weeks) I have not experienced near as much harassment as I had prepared myself for-only 1 day of it. The day we took the Metro to the embassies was the worst day as 4 of us women and 2 guys got on the mixed sex carriage of the train. Inside it was a wall of Egyptian men who blatantly stared…for 20 minutes! The women from work who wear “normal” clothes said its also our skin colour that attracts the unwanted attention, even if we were wearing the same clothes, and our hair- many men are not used to seeing unveiled hair, especially blond hair.

We stopped for a drink in a ahwa, a traditional coffee house and that was a mistake…those places are full of traditional Egyptian men. It was outright staring- some men even leaned off their chairs to look at us (we were wearing t-shirts). We then took the train home, and after watching groups of men push each other to cram into the last tiny spot on the train, us girls decided that it would be a prime groping opportunity so we took the women’s carriage (usually a carriage in the middle of the train that only women and children can ride in). It was much more comfortable! We met our male friend, who had been befriended by a greasy looking Egyptian man, at the end of the ride and decided to go find some booze (which is few and far between!) As we walked along, the man tried it on each of us- you wife? I said no (stupid me!) cause I thought he was asking me if I was my friend’s wife. He then told me “you beautiful” and said he would like to marry me…and grabbed my arm. I told him to go away and I walked up to the boy in our group, while the greasy Egyptian tried it on everyone else! Only after he left our male friend told us that the guy had asked him if all of us were his wives…only in the middle east!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Help, I’m lost!

We got a little lost on a visit to a mosque and Islamic Cairo. We stopped at 1 building and we were unsure if it was the mosque we were supposed to meet the others at. We decided to call them to find out where they were, but as we went to dial we realised our friend could not help us, because the landmarks are all similar-
I’m next to a sand coloured building;

There are lots of taxis;

There is a mosque;

There are lots of people;

There is a market.

These things do not help anyone in Cairo! EVERY building is sand coloured, every 9 out of 10 cars on the road is a taxi, there are 1000’s of mosques, there are 10’s of 1000’s of people on every street corner and in that area of town is a market everywhere! Luckily we figured it out and didn’t need to send up smoke signals, and made it to our tour.

Playing Chicken in the Roads of Cairo

I thought the roads were crazy in Maadi, where I live. Cars everywhere, horns honking, no break in the traffic to cross the road...I was mistaken. They are crazy downtown! I have told you about being in the car commuting places, but not about trying to cross the road! We ventured downtown to visit the US and Canadian Embassies and to see the Nile. As we got closer to the Nile, a large road was between us and the Nile Corniche. We thought we could wait for a break in the 5 lanes of traffic, but not a chance. It turns out you just have to go, and sometimes stand on the dotted lines between the cars. Once you start, you cannot hesitate. The cars will go screaming around you or aim right at you. Its like playing chicken (or Frogger, the Americans say!) with the cars. To get back across that road, we paid off a policeman to help us across…not much help as he nearly got killed and no one stopped for him! After this, we headed to a huge round-about and decided to get to the other side (only after we dodged cars we realised we could have gone underground thru the subway!) Again, we had to just go to get across, or if you can follow the Egyptians. The cars don’t stop for red lights or any crossing guards, so you just have to go and pray that someone will stop before they hit you (my handbag got clipped!) Then, the actual crossing sign is a person RUNNING, not walking!
The Nile
We also took a ride on a felucca, a traditional Egyptian sailboat down the Nile. I felt like Cleopatra…of course she wouldn’t have been surrounded by pollution or honking cars, but it was amazing!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Ramadan Kareem

Or, Prosperous Ramadan
Ramadan is the Muslim holy month when Muslim people fast from sun-up to sun-down. This is the first Ramadan that has occurred in summer in 32 years, so it is harder on everyone. I have heard many different reasons and meanings for Ramadan, and they are all lovely. Just as in any other religion, there are people here who have stronger faith than others. Women choose to wear the veil (hijab- a head scarf) for 2 reasons. Many women are un-veiled (I work with many women who don’t wear a head scarf unless they are praying). Some because it is culturally expected, and others because they have reached that level in their religion. So people take their fasting more seriously than others. During the fast, people abstain from 5 things- water, food, sex, smoking and impure thoughts. Young children, old people, unwell people, pregnant women and women who have their period do not fast. They are supposed to make up for the fast another time- some do, some don’t (I work with a girl who owes about 2 years!) Ramadan is a time for reflection, to reflect on what you have and to be grateful that you have it. Also to think about people who don’t have food or water. This is also a time to prosper- people give money and food to the poor (it is a Muslim’s duty to give to the poor all the time) and give food to passing cars when they break their fast.

The fast is broken with a feast (iftar) at evening prayers, and then again in the morning before the sun comes up (around 3:45 am). While walking thru Islamic Cairo just before the prayer call, people were setting up their food on the streets and getting ready for iftar. As soon as the call to prayer happened, people immediately had bottles of water to their mouths and started eating and smoking. And it was so quiet- eerily quiet in a city so large. At work today, us expats found a quiet room to eat in. We are all uncomfortable to eat in front of people who are fasting, although they say it is ok. It reminds them to be spiritual…I still don’t want to watch someone else eat when I am hungry!

Ramadan lantern and decorations at an apartment
During Ramadan, the time goes back 1 hour, so sundown happens earlier! Ramadan lasts for 1 month, and finishes with huge feasts. During this month, it is very family and friend oriented. People socialise and visit a lot, and have iftar at their houses. In many ways it is similar to our Christmas with eating and spending time with family. Some houses even hang lights with their Ramadan Lanterns. The lanterns are an Egyptian tradition. In old times, the Ramadan man would come to the houses with his lantern, and he would wake up the family to eat before the sun comes up. Now, every house hangs a Ramadan lantern during Ramadan to remember old times.
Ramadan lantern in the lobby of my building
So far Ramadan has been a positive start…tune in later on this month and maybe I will be singing a different song (people get grumpy and hungry!) when stores are always shut and I get nothing fixed in my apartment!

**This is what people at work have told me and what I have read. This may or may not be completely what happens- its just my perspective!

Funerals are Easier to Attend when you Attend the Right One!

This is a funny story, mixed with tears.  Our lovely Egyptian friend lost her father last week.  Very sad.  We went to the funeral to pay our respects, as you do.  We took our bus there, all of us expats from work.  The driver got lost many times, but we finally we found the mosque (it was one of thousands).  We all kind of looked at each other, and the Egyptians looked at us white people, and we took a deep breath and walked in.  When you go to a funeral, the room is divided with a wall, and the women sit on one side, and the men on the other.  The 2 men went to the men's side and we went to the women's.  Us white women sat in a row, facing about 6 Egyptian women, nodded and sat quietly. Our friend wasn't there, but we thought, its just the way here (by the way, it was about 930 at night!)  They begin whispering and poking each other, and finally, one comes over to tell us we are in the wrong place. (afterwards, my friend's said that would have been me if the situation had been reversed- I seem to be the spokesperson for our group!) The wrong place!  It is not Dalia's father's funeral, its someone else's!  Now that I look back, I laugh, because we went to the WRONG FUNERAL!

We left, and our friend's from work came to get us.  It turns out we were at the right mosque, but there were 2 funerals that night.  We just couldn't read the Arabic signs. So that was an interesting cultural/language experience!

Once we arrived at the funeral, it was very sad. It was more of a memorial, as her father had been buried the day before, on the day he died.  It is a Muslim tradition to wash and wrap the body in a certain way, and to bury it immediately.  I wonder if it also has something to do in the past from the heat.  
It was silent the entire time we were there, except for the man reading from the Quoran. It sounds beautiful.  I wish I could understand it.  We hugged our friend, and then sat down and it was a time to reflect.  And it was so deeply peaceful and heartbreaking to sit in silence and reflect on loved ones and loved ones who have passed, and to hold my grieving friend's hand. I found I really focused on the Quoran reading and it was such a profound experience, to sit in silence in a holy place and reflect on life and the passing of life. 

A Mosque in Islamic Cairo

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Doors of Hell Opened, and then Opened Again

Or so the people here say…I haven’t talked about this yet, but the heat is intense. I arrived during a heat wave, and I have never felt anything like it. It was about 46 degrees Celsius out, with humidity of about 30%...the Internet says feels like 52. So you can see how the doors of hell have opened! I didn’t deal too well with the heat that week, from being dehydrated and jet lagged. I had heat exhaustion at one point which just goes to show how bad it is. I make sure now that I drink about 3-4 litres of water a day!
The heat is constant, but the heat wave broke…to a lovely 36 degrees Celsius! This is actually manageable, most days.


(mom, this is just from my friends telling me all about it- I would never try it ;)
Think of the fat caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland who always has a sheesha (hooka) pipe in his mouth, smoking lazily from it and blowing smoke rings...well, that's it! Sheesha is a favourite past-time here in Egypt. It’s available everywhere, from the ahwas (traditional coffee houses) to our local hangout down the road. Sheesha is a water pipe with tobacco that is mixed with molasses. The tobacco is also soaked in a flavour, like apple juice for apple (You can get mint, watermelon, melon, lemon, orange, strawberry etc). There are coals placed on top and a pipe part to smoke from.  When you breathe in the smoke goes down the pipe, thru the water and out the mouthpiece- which is plastic and hygienic! Sheesha smells really lovely, and not at all like cigarettes and the taste is whatever flavour you choose.  Its still bad for you, even though people have told us the water is a filter...I read its like smoking 5 packs a day.  But once in a while, its a nice way to wine down--although a glass of wine would be much better!

No Problem, no problem!

The school is so not finished. It’s a beautiful school, with marble everywhere (black and grey and white) and all the amenities- apparently we are lucky and have more grounds to play in that many other schools- and there is not a lot of grounds for our western standards! They will still be doing construction around us as we teach. We mention that there is still work to be done, and the answer is no problem, no problem! This is the answer to everything, and we are learning that it’s the answer to things when people want to avoid dealing with something or don’t have an answer. There is dog poop on my stairs- no problem! We have no water- no problem! (we still have no water) We want to go to Maadi in the taxi- no problem! (driver can’t find where we live) We want to sign our lease- no problem! (we still haven’t signed it)
**I typed this a few weeks ago, before I had internet access...
The school- still not finished!  Still no problem!  We have no grounds finished, no pool, no basketball court etc.  I could go on and on!  I did manage to have a map in my bag to show to the taxi driver, there is still dog poop on the stairs in my building (a new pile), we did get our water back (but it goes away at dinner time!) and still no lease...but this has been explained to us- Egyptians will do it in their own time (we can add Egyptian time to Island time, and other "times" we have heard of- I think maybe its just us North Americans who have set times and we follow them!) and because it is Ramadan it takes even longer to get things done!