23 November, 2011

My Little World Keeps on Ticking

Since Cairo is being featured in the news a fair amount lately I wanted to give a quick update on how Scott and I are doing during the protests.

Well for starters, Scott is doing pretty well since he is spending the week in Berlin for a conference.  He was reluctant to go since the protesting seems to be building up and he didn't want to leave his coworker (or his wife) in the lurch.  Back in a few days, it is not clear yet what sort of scenario he will be greeted with.

I've been carrying on with my regular routine as have most of the people around me.  Our little island is quite normal with all the shops and restaurants remaining open.  Other than the traffic seeming somewhat subdued and a few more people walking around during the day, it is all pretty usual.

I have still been going to Maadi to teach dance and nearly all the students are still attending.  Some of the schools are ending early and some businesses are sending staff home early to avoid being out in the afternoon/evening.

The only real "excitement" that I have seen was on Tuesday afternoon when I left home and had to stop by Scott's work (which is about a 3 minute drive to Tahrir Square).  We saw small groups of people walking away from the square with paper medical masks slung around their necks.  Some also had bandaged heads.  A little further along the cab driver and I started to feel teargas in our throats so we rolled up the windows. We saw slightly bigger numbers of people with masks on, bleary eyes, etc leaving the square.

Then we began safely heading away South and towards Maadi and encountered a group of about 600 people marching in the opposite direction.  Our traffic was still flowing pretty well and the marchers were walking mostly on the sidewalk.  There were drums and people fist pumping and chanting.  Not sure what they were saying - we haven't covered that in my Arabic lessons yet but it definitely wasn't "my pencil in on my desk" or "the teacher is at the front of the class", or any other phrase that I have been working on.

The march was peaceful and had very diverse attendance - young men in their twenties in jeans and tee-shirts, older men in business attire, young ladies with their heads covered, ageless ladies in full burkas.

Talking with a few others I have heard that college students have been returning to the square each afternoon, sometimes bringing their parents!  Expats are even going down to see what's up.  Men, women, and youth.  Egyptian and foreign.  Everyone waiting to see what happens next.  Well so am I, but I'll just watch from a safe distance on the news.

29 October, 2011

Gluttony, Reverence, and Chilly Awesomeness

On October 20th to 23rd, Scott and I joined a group of people from his work as well as representatives from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, and Italy (to name a few) to attend a World War II memorial service.

We took a 3ish hour drive to northern Egypt to a small town on the Mediterranean coast called El Alamein.  Now if you are better informed about our history (which assuming you are a 4th grader or more, you most likely are), perhaps you already know all about this place.

Just in case, here's the lowdown:  Commonwealth Forces (and a couple others) fought German and Italian Forces there between 1940 and 1942.  Winston Churchill has an allegedly famous (I'd never heard it before...) quote about the battles fought there: "Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein, we never had a defeat." Well, many people on both sides were killed so there is a war cemetery there as well as memorials for the Commonwealth, the Germans, and the Italians.  There are 37 Canadians buried at the Al Alemein War Cemetery where we went to attend the service.

Before tending to the solemn purpose of our trip, we were treated to a wonderful, marvelous hotel stay.  A rather grand hotel that literally stepped out onto the beach.  Being that it was the ONLY hotel open around (everything else was closed for the winter - yes, apparently even in the dessert this happens), we were awfully lucky that it was so great.

Neither Scott nor I had ever visited the Mediterranean before and truly it was spectacular.  White sand, turquoise waters.  Here is a view from our balcony.  Though the evenings are cooling off a bit, we were able to sleep with our patio door open and fall asleep to the sound of the crashing waves.  Yes, you should definitely feel sorry for us and the time we are having here.


We were actually treated to lots of free time and Scott was needed for only a small part of our time there.  We lounged and walked by the sea, played Phase 10 (it's a fun card game!), chatted with friends, and ate our FACES OFF.  That's right we're talkin' three buffets a day, each and every day.  There were so many salads and desserts that I rarely made it to the hot entrees.  But melon sculptures and banana swans just keep calling me back up for seconds and thirds.

Despite all the eating, when we finally gave swimming in the sea a try, we did indeed still float.  It was freezing, but the blue water and rockless bottom was amazing!  We bobbed in the waves and even did a bit of official swimming to work up an appetite.  Bring on the next buffet...

Staying at the hotel with us were people from all the other countries involved.  It was really pretty neat to see and meet the others and especially good to see people from the historically opposing sides all eating and enjoying the beach together.  What a difference 69 years makes.

On Saturday Scott and another co-worker went to set up for the memorial service while the rest of us lounged a little more.  In the afternoon we visited the El Alamein War Museum that had information and various articles from the war displayed.  Then off to the Commonwealth Memorial site.

The space was pristine and maintained year round by a team of gardeners.  There were pale tomb stones as far as the eye could see, several monuments and a huge archway watched by Egyptian soldiers.  A few other quick facts:  there are 7,367 buried in this cemetery and 821 of those are unidentified personnel.


The service was much like a remembrance day ceremony in Canada with a few hymns, the laying of the wreaths, the moment of silence.  And yet it was quite different because we were actually in the region where the people we were remembering fought and died.  The other major difference was that it was not just the Canadians we were remembering - there were people in uniform from so many countries there to pay their respects and represent their country - Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Kenya were all in the rows right near me for example.  It was a pretty special experience that I shan't sully here with my "deep thoughts" - just that I pondered that the world is a fair bit smaller than I  thought before and that it was encouraging to gather here with this diverse group and remember our common need for peace.  Shoot - I just "thought deeply" didn't I?

It could not be helped...  I must also mention that I was very proud to be there Scott.  A handsome young man in his uniform that came to represent Canada and to remember. 


27 October, 2011

I Got Dizzy Just Watching...

In a city where you can't always walk down the street without someone trying to sell you something, we recently got to enjoy a refreshingly FREE experience.  In fact, our entire evening was choc full of delightful new discoveries in Cairo.

The social coordinator at Scott's work organized a fantastic night for us which included visiting Al Azhar Park, eating some superfly Egyptian food, and watching a whirling dervish show (which was FREE.  I know!  I love free).

First of all, walking around Cairo, one comes to accept a certain amount of physical obstacles.  I am talking about animal poo, sandy dirt, and bits of garbage.  Thus our trip to Al Azhar Park was a lovely brief respite of cleanliness.  The ability to walk in a straight line without having to dart around illegally parked cars and the possibility of keeping your eyes on the sights rather than continually looking down to check for poo were both such welcome treats.

The park was built on a rubbish dump site in the 1980s.  When they built it they excavated tons of debris and discovered an ancient wall and other cool things like stones with hieroglyphics.  It is beautiful, lush, green; has amazing views of the city; and did I mention it is impeccably clean.  There is a lot of neat information about it here:

http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/azharpark.htm

After walking around the park, we went to a rather fancy restaurant within the grounds where we ate delicious egyptian food and watched the sunset over the Mohammed Ali mosque.

We then went on a "20 minute walk" to the theatre for the whirling dervish show.  Our friends who guided us were 7 feet tall marathon speed walkers (I may exagerate here slightly, but honestly they walked really fast) so it really did take only about 20 minutes, but if it had just been Scott and I it would have been pretty near 45 minutes (and/or we would have caved and hailed a cab).

 The theatre where the show was held probably has some cool historical story too because it looked really old and was located in the Khan El Khallili market.  I unfortunately don't know the story so feel free to be less lazy than me and google away.  It was a very old stone building with 4 walls but no top.  For some reason they give the tickets to everyone for free.  Yes, I think I mentioned that.




The show began with fantastic musicians playing traditional instruments with great gusto, huge smiles, and cantagious dancing about.

Then came the whirlers.  Some of them wearing as many as 3 or 4 skirts and twirling for an unreasonable length of time.

It was a feast for the eyes and ears and a must-do for anyone that ever comes to visit me.  Seriously guys, get over here!

26 October, 2011

Pretty much the best trip EVER

Somebody has to call 15 yr old Shannon and let her know I am finally addressing her list of hopes and dreams.  That's right.  I'm talking about Italy:  Been there; done some of that; bought the coffeetable book.

For our 10th wedding anniversary Scott and I visited ROME!  Really and truly, it was all that we ever hoped it would be:  narrow alleys, cobblestone streets, sun soaked beauty and to quote one of our new friends - "a bunch of really old stuff".

We stayed in a boutique hotel that was a converted defense tower built in 1247 and was called Rezidenza Torre Colonna:  http://www.torrecolonna.com/ .  Since we were staying right in ancient Rome we did a lotta lotta walkin'.  Good thing because this was accompanied by a lotta lotta eatin'.

Though there were more quaint little restaurants along the cobble stone streets than any one city should rightly contain, we still managed to visit the same place twice in our four short days there.  Scott was having an affair with the ham they had there which apparently "really does melt in your mouth".   I was content to drown myself in cheese.  Mmm cheese.
We also found it incredibly cool that there was free access to clean, cold drinking water everywhere from fountains all over town. A refreshing change from Cairo where drinking water off the streets is not necessarily a good idea and where restaurants serve only bottled water which is certainly not free.


We truly wanted to have a relaxing couple of days and tried hard not to overwhelm ourselves with too many touristy activities.  Half the time we did not totally know what we were seeing, just that it was beautiful and a whole lot older than a whole lot of other stuff.  One of our two truly touristy ventures was touring the Vatican - namely the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museum, and St Peter's Basilica.  We did the whole bit - tour guide, headsets, hundreds of pictures.  We even got to dress as Roman soldiers where we purchased tickets.  No dignity spared here folks.





That said, a person HAS to be a tourist in Rome.  Everything really does deserve a history lesson and a good handful of pictures.  Scott even nabbed a few in the Sistine Chapel which was strictly forbidden... So of course I can't show them here!

The second full out touring adventure was to the Colosseum. Did I mention we had a view of it from the rooftop jacuzzi at our medieval tower hotel? That's right. Whose life am I living?!

Anyway Scott was all 'touristed-out' by then so I got the headset guided tour while he relied solely on all the information he had learned while watching the movie Gladiator.  Upon comparing notes we discovered the movie yielded about the same information as the audio tour (which lost points due to the decided lack of Russell Crowe appeal... movie wins).


Speaking of movies, we got to put our hand in that face thing like that couple did that time in that movie.  You know the one...  It was actually rather anticlimactic and fairly unromantic compared to Roman Holiday (and later "Only You" for all you non-movie buffs).  The experience consisted of waiting in a 15 minute single file line, snapping one photo each, making sure your hand wasn't lopped off, and exiting immediately.  Checkout the legend for yourself at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bocca_della_Verit%C3%A0

 And speaking of legends, we also visited the Trevi fountain and each threw a coin in.  The word is that those who toss a coin in the fountain will someday return to Rome.  I really, really hope it's true.

Ciao!

29 September, 2011

Ain Suhkna

Our second little escape, about two weeks ago, was also to a red sea beach resort, this one a mere 1.5 hr dessert drive away.  http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/ainsoukhna.htm

We went with our buds Gerry and Randy and their pup Bacus.  Scott rented a van and drove us.  He did a great job!  Getting to the highway is the hardest part and he managed well, honking to let cars in from know he was coming, averting near collisions, and remaining (at least on the surface) quite calm.  Once on the open road, it was like another planet.  Both in terms of traffic (none) and landscape (think moon or mars-ish appearance).  Nothing but brown as far as the eye could see.

We arrived at the resort and we're greeted by the gatekeeper who went to summon "The General" for us.  A friend of a friend who had set up this booking for us.  A very jovial, little-bit-o-English speaking fella came around to take us into what appeared to be a desserted ghost town.  Very pretty grounds with nice flowers and three pools, but dude where were the people?

It turns out that if peace and quiet are what you are after, this is the perfect weekend to get away (all the local kids were getting ready to go back to school for the year).

Well most of the massive resort settlement was privately owned townhome-style units, we stayed in the same villa rental section.  As far as we could tell, we were one of maybe two groups staying there.  We had to head back into the town itself for supper and enjoyed some delicious Egyptian cuisine.  We were probably the only tourists there at all!

We got up for breakfast the next morning and went to the small restaurant building on the grounds.  There was one other group in the place!  Our free breakfast included 6 rather unusual courses with no options to order, just received as they are placed before you:  1. wine glass of mango tang; 2. basket of toasted hamburger buns; 3. plate with 3 kinds of sliced cheese, sliced spam, and a wee bit of tomato and cucumber;  4. bowl of milk and cornflakes;  5. plain fried egg (scrambled); 6. bowl of fool (beans).  It was extremely filling and rather endearing actually.

Our short two days were leisurely and fun!  Again, the pools were not heated, but we braved them and had fun.  There was one desserted pool right by our place where we had a few races, there was another pool by the beach that we never entered, and then there was the PARTY POOL.  At 11:00 am, whether anyone was there or not, a bartender would come hangout at the swim up bar and crank (really, really) the tunes.  We could not resist and decided to have an early afternoon beer to give the guy some business.  Though we did ask him to TURN DOWN THE MUSIC.  PLEASE.

We also headed into town for supper again (this time Kazzu and her man drove down to join us.  We went to Chilis.  Not as good as back home.  Margaritas with no tequila.  Isn't that just a slurpie?  Salad with dirt in it.  Sometimes crunchy isn't a good thing.  After supper we headed into the mall nearby and enjoyed some of their marketing tactics like "healthy" cookies.  Only if you don't eat 'em.  We didn't eat them but did have three kinds of chocolate bars.  They weren't marked as healthy but they were delish!
I managed to fit in copious amounts of beach combing on this trip - two bags full of shells and rocks to take home as treasures.  There was tons of pieces of coral too!  Now I need to think of a craft project to use them up.  I welcome your thoughts...  


Hurghada (aka Her-gotta Lotta)

One of the fun things about living in Cairo is getting to decide how you want to escape it.  It is an exciting and living city tp be sure, but sometimes a girl just wants to be able to breath deeply without her lungs hurting or walk down a street without every taxi that passes by honking at you.  Their car horns are all on steroids here:  So LOUD!  Listen driver, I don't want a ride okay?  If I wanted a ride I would flag you down...

So Scott and I have "escaped" twice since we're been here.  Both quite different experiences.

The first trip was at the end of August.  We went to Hurghada which is a resort town on the red sea.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurghada

We flew with Egyptair there rather than tackle the 5hr drive.  It was a fine flight, the only weird thing was going through security a guy helped me with my bag and then persistently asked for a tip.  He was in a uniform, I thought he was supposed to take my bag from my arm and walk 1 foot to the conveyer and put it down.  I could have done that...

When we arrived in Hurghada, we had to catch a cab to our resort and had to barter our price.  Difficult considering we didn't know what the going rate was or how far away we had to go!  We had read it was about a 20 minute drive (which in Cairo could be about 10 LE) so when he suggested we pay 120 LE we walked away.  Being that we really didn't have any other way to get there, he lured us in and said he would give us the very fair fare of 100 LE.  We didn't like it, but we loaded up our bags and went with this guy.  I told him the price was CRAZY and I wasn't happy and spent the first few minutes sulking in the back seat.  This appeared to be a good tactic because he looked at me in the mirror and said "okay, fine - 80 LE".  This still seemed outlandish but was in the end what we paid for our return cab ride so I guess it is as good as it gets for tourists.


We arrive at the hotel, which had a pretty nice lobby; they look at our printed expedia reservation and disappear with it into the back for about 5 minutes.  When they come back they say that expedia never contacted them and for tonight we'd had to stay in the clubhouse across the highway.  Boo.  We thought we had booked a lovely all inclusive resort getaway and this is what we get: a dangerous run across the highway to what appears to be a vacant building - our room has a lovely view of the highway, a very hard mattress, a broken remote to a small tube tv, and a rather ugly bathroom.  Paradise.

The next morning we hit the breakfast buffet, which is actually quite good, and then go to stake our claim on some lawnchairs with some shade, pool access and a great view of the ocean.  Success on all fronts!  We do get more of a view than we bargained for and thus the title of this entry:  Hurghada is a destination holiday for a lot of europeans... a lot of very underdressed europeans.  Her-gotta lotta bum.  Barely anyone had fabric on their bottoms!  And lots of people were taking special precautions to not get bathingsuit tan lines on their tops either.  Scott and I made a sport of trying to pretend to pose for pictures while our actual subjects were in the background.


Although there were several options for day excursions including fishing trips, snorkeling, windsurfing, and kitesurfing, we had come on this little getaway with the goal of relaxation.  Relax we did!

We read, swam in the ocean (while I did, Scott walked in a little, but the imminent shark attacks kept him from going in too far), tried to swim in the pool (freezing!), and ate what turned out to be some really delicious food.

At 2:00 pm on the dot, we returned to the front desk to see if they could switch us to the beach side of the resort.  This had been what they promised to try to do after they saw our sad faces about having to stay across the highway.  It did not bode well that at least three other couples appeared to be gathering there for the same purpose.  But we were victorious!  I am taking full credit here as I have apparently mastered the disapproving gaze (you know, the one that got our cab fare lowered...)

So we got to move into our new room, which turned out to be just as "nice" as the one across the highway, but hey, at least we were on the same side as the beach!  The rest of our trip was pretty fine.  A couples' spa treatment involving total exfoliation, mud masks, massage, and jacuzzi.  Amazing!  And some lovely dinners with a lovely man.  Okay, the other guests were kind of unthoughtful and rather undressed; okay, the customer service was iffy and there was a serious shortage on rose wine... what was my point again?  Oh yeah - good food, gorgeous beach, great guy!

19 September, 2011

Yup, I Saw 'Em

Well first of all, some serious apologies are in order.  To all five of my followers, I truly apologize for letting you down.  Did I ever drop the ball on this one, being that it is 1 MONTH and 2 DAYS since my last post.  I had pictured my coupla' years in Egypt a certain way involving a fair amount of leisure; let me tell you that I had not anticipated being too busy to talk about myself for a few minutes everyday...

Busy with what you ask?  Well I had an inventory project that I was working on for a little while (okay - a freaky, friggita, fleep of a long while actually... I'm a slow counter), plus I was getting set to teach some dance classes.  Not to mention all of the good times to be had - seriously getting in the way of my on-line recording duties.

But as a result, I have some real catching up to do with y'all.  All 5 of youse.

Yes, I saw the pyramids of Giza.  That's right, the oldest and only remaining of the 7 ancient wonders of the world. Built around 2560 BC... Is it just me or does anyone else find that INSANE?!  It really was truly surreal to be there.  Scott and I went with another couple who had just arrived in Cairo a few days earlier.  They shall forever after here be referred to as Randy and Gerry.  And yes, due to me excessive tardiness, this adventure was a whole month ago!

Getting in the front gate of the pyramids was an experience in itself.  We couldn't help but feel a bit concerned when our cab driver let us out on the other side of the street and said "this is as far as I will go." The level of persistence of the people trying to sell us something or be out tour guide or give us some kind of deal was something the cab driver had no interest in dealing with.

Once safely inside the front gate, we paid for our admission tickets and passed through the token metal detector.  (Those things are everywhere and no one seems too concerned about a follow-up-wand-swipe-and-pat-down if you have the 1 in 2 fortune of setting it off).  We get in and an older gentleman (sans teeth) takes our tickets and starts walking in with us and telling us some factoids about the  pyramids.  I, the trusting soul that I am, just thought he was doing his job and telling us the lowdown before setting us free to explore.  Everyone else was a bit more savvy and realized that this guy was trying to poach us, be our tour guide, and expect some serious tips at the end of it all.
So we demanded our tickets back from his clutches and thanked him, but we didn't want a tour guide...  Honestly, we found out that we actually did need a tour guide since there was no signage, no little brochures, or really anything at all to let us know what we were looking at beyong some really old, cool stuff.  We tried hijacking an official looking tour group going on ahead of us to maybe hear a bit about what we were seeing... unfortunately, closer observation led us to realize that this tour group would not have helped us to be any better informed: They were speaking German!

The first great thing we got to check out was the sphinx.  Again at this point we were aggressively approached by the tourist-hungry vendors.  We could easily turn down little knick knacks and trinkets being sold, but were not able to say no to the kids that were standing next to a good view of the sphinx ready to take our pictures.
There were about 4 of them, all about 10 yrs old or less, and they would  grab you as you pass by and start posing you for pictures with your own camera.  My photographer was maybe 9 yrs olds and was AMAZING.  She could be a professional photographer like right now, anywhere.  She directed me and physically manoevred me into about 10 different poses (kissing the sphinx, being kissed by the sphinx, leaning on him, etc).  She was so confident and authoritative and the whole thing took about 2 minutes.  What a bizarre but humbling experience to be out grownup-ed by a 9 year old.

We had a little success trailing behind a private tour for a few moments and listening to what we were looking at as we entered the tomb of a doctor.  We saw a carved out rock basin used to prepare the bodies and after a steep, cave-like climb/crawl down some steps we got to peek inside where the actual vessel where the doctor had once rested.  The only signage we saw anywhere was inside the entrance to every structure on a plain piece of white laminated paper saying "no photos inside please".  Right beside each of these signs was a dude that would tell you that you could absolutely take pictures as long as you gave him a tip.
The thing that struck me most (besides the offensive poo smell from all the horses and camels that they kept trying to get us to ride) was that there were no areas off limits, nothing behind fences or glass.  I got to actually put my hands on everything, including pictures carved inside of the structures we entered.  We felt lucky to be so free to explore and experience but on the same token, if people are allowed to do this for hundreds of years more, the damage will be truly shameful.

If I were in charge, which let's face it is just a matter of time, I would have a set walking tour, complete with a map depicting what we are looking at.  I would have actual enforcement of what should be touched and what shoudn't; and there would be a single gift shop at the end, rather than random trinkets and their vendors scattered throughout the site.  But first and foremost, I would hire someone to pick up all that gosh-darn camel poo.



17 August, 2011

Bottoms Up!

Oh the heat, noise and the dirt have been getting to me!  A tired and lazy girl am I.

I have been a negligent attender of gyms and studier of Arabic.  Even after going to such great lengths as going to sleep before 10:00 pm and taking a multitude of multi-vitamins, I have been unable to locate my energy anywhere.  Where did you go?!  Won`t you come back?

It might sound like this is the beginning of a complainy entry, but actually despite the fact that I am a soggy noodle I am still having a great time.  I cannot account for one useful thing I did yesterday (besides make a pretty delicious pasta dish and study a wee bit-o-Arabic) and yet the day flew by and it was lovely.  Just walking about and visiting with Kazzu and Eneda was the makings of a very fine day.

Plus I got an image for everyone`s viewing pleasure.   This is a common sight on the main road near where we live.  Goats (the dead and edible kind, not the petting zoo grass munching kind) can frequently be seen getting unloaded from the backs of old trucks and then are hoisted up and proudly displayed in front of the shops to be sold.  This is not for the faint of heart nor for those kind of vegetarians who don`t enjoy a bit of veal brains every now and again.  But I thought the look of these upside down goat rumps was too interesting not to share.  Bottoms up people!

14 August, 2011

Khan el Khalili

All done Arabic school for a little while!  It was a whirlwind two weeks but definitely a good start towards being able to communicate.  Give me a few more weeks/months to review and practice and we shall see where I`m at.

For our last day of classes on Thursday we each did a short speech or a skit in arabic.  I played the role of a cab driver and my partner was the cab victim (er - rider).  We were met with rather glowing reviews and even earned some laughs.  And Scott keeps telling me I`m not funny!

Thursday night we went out for Thai food to say goodbye to another temporary staff member from Scott's work.   We're becoming regulars at the Thai Elephant; now if only they would consider using airconditioning - we always leave there soggy with sweat!

Friday began was a  leisurely morning - shoot!  I slept in and missed church.  Still not accustomed to running my weekends with the Sundays first.  Then off to the Gezira club where Scott played basketball with the guys and the girls went to the ladies gym.  You`d think with this fair amount of gym-ing that I would be getting fitter but it seems that the heat (and possibly the pollution?) are no match for a few half hearted workouts per week.  My energy levels are quite low and my buddies seem to be feeling the same way.  Bring on the cool autumn breezes.  Please?

Friday night Scott and I joined Eneda and her hubby to go check out Khan el Khalili market.  This market is one of the must-see places when in Cairo.  It was established in 1382!  That is crazy!  One website I visited even hypothesized that the existence of the the USA can be attributed to this market.  Maybe a bit of a stretch, but here is the link where I read that so you all can decide for yourselves:
http://www.touregypt.net/khan.htm

What an incredible place.  Once again I was extremely aware that we were absolutely in a foreign country.  Completely strange, old, beautiful, dirty and loud.  Scott and I had been reluctant to go (despite everyone telling us that we really did need to see it) because we had heard that the vendors are very aggressive and persistent and would follow you until you bought something.  Well we needn`t have worried:  I encounter more persistent children selling mint or fruit in front of our apartment on a daily basis than anybody we dealt with there.


The overall structure of the market was hard to explain: it seemed like a confusing puzzle of roads, narrow alleys, overlapping awnings, shops, and mosques just stacked up in an elaborate but haphazard configuration. All of it dapled with dust, garbage, rubble and of course CATS.



One major complaint for us by the end of the night was all of the traffic.  Apparently before the revolution the market was for pedestrians only, but since then without the rules being reinforced there were many scooters, trucks, and car trying to honk their way around all of us.  At times it was pretty stressful!
But the noise did not dampen some of the fairly magical sights. The moonlight and the lighting of the mosques was amazing. We could have been there hundreds of years ago and it probably wouldn`t have looked that different.

07 August, 2011

Purification Ritual?

I would like to ask the rule-makers of vegetarianism:  Exactly how far can one stray and still ever deem to call themselves a vegetarian?  I may require some vow renewal or carrot juice shower or something to purify myself after what happened this past Thursday.

Scott and I went out to dinner with friends on Thursday night at 7:30 pm.  This was perhaps a foolish choice of dining time on our parts because it is Ramadan. During this particular time everybody is finishing up their big Ramadan supper meal and they seem to be in no mood to serve us.  We went to La Pacha - a rather large boat permanently docked on the Nile with a wide variety of restaurants on board.  We ate at a nice enough restaurant at the entrance to the boat because there you can order from any menu on board.

There were about 8 waiters and we were nearly the only diners in the whole place.  They all generally stayed in a huddle chatting rather than ya know, waiting on us or something.  In general most places that we have been to tend to be incredibly overstaffed compared to the number of customers.  Try buying a loaf of bread from a bakery with 5 dudes behind the counter waiting for you to choose what you want.  Intimidating.

Anyway, half of our table of 8 ordered from one menu, the rest from another menu.  Scott and I ordered veggie pakoras to start and several other people ordered appetizers too.  When some of the food finally began to arrive our waiter kept putting each dish right in the middle of the table rather than in front of the person who ordered.  I think they were trying to encourage communal eating when really, none of us were interested in sharing what we had specifically chosen with the 7 other people at the table.  So when 4 small golden medallion shaped fritters appeared in the centre of the table I pounced on them (before I could be mistaken for a good sharer) and asked of the waiter: "Pakoras?  Veggie Pakoras?"  He nodded vaguely at me.

We began to notice that half of the table had received their food and half hadn't.  Some main course items were coming out before other people's appetizers.  Weird.  We later discovered that everyone that had ordered from the Indian menu was still waiting for their food while everyone who had ordered from the main menu had received their items already.  Okay, but our pakoras were from the Indian menu.  So by that logic, they should have been one of still to be delivered items.  Unless these were not our pakoras...

My first few bites I trustingly take are good.  "This is delicious".  I tell Scott and the others.  Soft in the centre and a nice mellow flavour. I determine since it is all white inside there must be only cauliflower and potatoes (I can't think of any other white veggies).  By my third bite I'm starting to think "this is not a veggie taste that I know"...  We jokingly hypothesize that perhaps it is the deep fried veal brains that my friend's husband had ordered as an entree.  Ha, ha we laugh.  As if we would be eating deep fried veal brains.  I stop enjoying my tasty medallion as we ponder the possibilities.

Aneda asks the waiter in Arabic what the menu item is in fact on my plate.  He replies in Arabic something that starts with an "m".  Aneda's expression is unreadable to me.  AM I EATING VEAL BRAINS OR WHAT??  Reluctantly she confirms my worst fear:  I ate veal brain and I liked it.

I fight away tears and a total meltdown (I won't even let Scott eat veal, let alone veal brains; forget about the idea of me being the one eating it).  With 7 witnesses at the table watching my reaction, I decide to continue to project a level of sanity and do in the end manage to even see the humorous side of it all.

About an hour later, our actual veggie pakoras arrive.  Too little too late, I choose to take a different tactic:  "What is THIS?" I bark at the waiter as he lays it down.  "Veggie pakoras" he replies.  Well why didn't I think of that earlier?!

04 August, 2011

Has Anybody Seen my Week?

I seem to have misplaced some time somewhere.  This entire week went by in a blur.  I owe my blog 5 full days of recapping and just can't bring myself to dig back that far!  So instead I shall mush it all together in one entry.  I have decided this is not cheating - I make the rules around here.

I began Arabic classes on Sunday, July 31st and this is the reason for my negligence.  Today, Thursday, (which again is like our Friday here) brings to a close my first week of classes.  From 9:00 to 11:00 am each day I have been trying to cram as much information in as I can and then hoping like crazy that not too much falls out.

Success: I can now greet people, tell them how I'm doing (as long as the answer is "good!") and tell them my name and where I am from.  With some peeking at my notes I can count to 100, tell time, and tell people my phone number and my address.  I can read the number characters and know about 5 letters.

The only immediate application of my new found skills is that I can properly greet our apartment building Boab and say thank you and good bye.  Our homework for the weekend is to place a food order for delivery in Arabic.  I will write out what to say before I call in and then we'll see what food items I actually end up with.  Our teacher is expecting some funny stories to come out of this assignment and we are to e-mail what happened to him so that he can share it with the class.  The fact that he is anticipating us having tales to tell at all is not exactly a vote of confidence!

Besides school, I have been maintaining my rigorous routine of going for coffee, going to the Gezira club for gym-ing and pool-ing, and being around the apartment on occasion to let in the repair men and housekeeper.  As a result, I am well-caffeinated, my muscles are sore, our apartment is clean, and our airconditioner is FINALLY fixed!  I am very grateful for my pals Kazzu and Edena who are doing a lovely job of keeping me entertained and engaged.  (I have to say nice things about them now since I recently told them about this blog...)

Plans for the weekend once again do not yet include seeing the pyramids: this may come as a shock to some, but it is still a wee bit too HOT!

30 July, 2011

Felucca!

Let's see what we can cram into one day!  May have been ended up being the guiding principle of this Saturday.  Scott and I have a late breakfast - bran cereal as penance for yesterday's NINE cupcakes (okay, they were mini but still).  Then we decide to try our hand at running in Egypt.  A crazy pass time for mid summer in the desert, but ever so much more plausible in an air conditioned gym.

We had to go to separate gym's within the club and I understand from Scott that the man's gym is not wonderful:  Only 2 treadmills, the weight lifting equipment is old, and the airconditioning insufficient.  By contrast, the ladies gym has 6 treadmills, decent weight lifting equipment, and pretty cool airconditioning.  Too bad for the dudes, though nice to see something lopsided in our favour around here!

I found most of the ladies don't run but walk on the treadmills.  Furthermore, the most popular equipment in the workout portion is the 'butt-shaker'.  At one point there were three ladies strapped in to those 1940s machines that "shake the fat out" (at least I think that is the point).  The beauty of these machines was demonstrated as it leaves you free to flip through magazines or text on your phone whilst your thigh, butt, or hips gets their jiggle on.

A quick trip home to change and put our feet up for a minute before our first social engagement of the afternoon.  We met up with a girl from Russia that we have met at a "global mixer" the other night at the Marriott Hotel.  This building is opulent, massive, and just so gosh darn fancy.  Kazzu and her fella join us in a cocktail room there and their coffee is served in beautiful china with a lovely silver pot for their own sugar cubes.  Scott and I split a cheese platter which just not quite as fancy as we were expecting for such a place; but the accompanying bread rocked!

A bit of a tour around the Marriott (we only saw one small part) revealed amazing ceilings, light fixtures, draperies, furnishings.  Wow - you can see why they would charge so much for the cheese plate!

We said goodbye to our first social group and had to race to catch a cab to our second social group.  Unbelievable and so different from our lives in Victoria where we knew only 2 people!

We met two of Scott's co-workers and a friend of a friend at a Thai restaurant in Zamalek.  It was again, very beautifully decorated.  They know how to do impressive here!  I got to order a tofu dish, my first since arriving and it was great.  We all ordered food that arrived on a steaming, sizzling plate.  It was hilarious to see the entire table steaming.  We were all already melting because the airconditioning (despite several request on our part) did not appear to be on.  When the smoke cleared we enjoyed a great meal.  A return visit will definitely be in order.

From there all 5 of us took a cab (1 cab!  He insisted that we squish in!) to somewhere near Zamalek (I was just a passenger, I have no idea) where you can hire small sail boats (Feluccas) to take a ride on the Nile.

For a mere LE60 ( about $10) they took us out for an hour.  The sun was already down (this happens before 7:00 pm here) and the city lights were lovely.  We did not travel too fast or go too far, but this modest vessel with seating room for about 20 people was perfectly suited to the 5 of us.  There were also two crew members, one that stayed at the back with us and one that stayed at the front and worked the sails.  This was like our equivalent to taking a gondola ride in Venice.  People often bring their own snacks and wine on board to make an evening of it, however we classy folk just brought a plastic bag containing a can of beer each.  Good conversation, beautiful views, a mighty fine float in a boat - Happy Saturday Night!


29 July, 2011

It's all about the Display

Friday morning and off to church.  We live right near an Anglican Church that has services in several languages throughout the week, including an English one on Fridays and Sundays.  But since Sunday=Monday here, it makes more sense to partake on Friday.

The church is in a bit of a compound type area with a few fellas manning the gate.  The church building itself is shaped like a pineapple!  Once inside, I wondered if I had the time wrong - I didn't see anybody through the front door.  But rounding the corner, there were about 50 chairs set up in a smaller side part and a few people getting seated.  I helped myself to a bulletin and then encountered the pastor who apologized for there being no greeters there today.  The theme continued as we found there that there was also no one there to play music and also no one there to make the coffee and juice afterward.  Summer in Cairo - everybody is gone!

Despite the mini number of attendees (maybe 30 people) I somehow manage to be in a row hip to hip with my neighbors.  I started off in a row by myself (and I was there 5 minutes late) and then a girl about my age sat a few seats down from me shortly after.  But then about 40 minutes into the service an Egyptian family came in and sat in our row so I had to scoot right into the other girl's lap.  The family had a brand new baby who mostly hung out in a basket that they put on a nearby piano plus two beautiful little girls with long, dark, curly hair.  I caught the littler one (who was squished up against my other side) peeking up at me throughout the service and we kept exchanging shy smiles.  So cute!

Anyway the service was great and it felt comforting to participate in something so familiar while being very much in the minority in this far away land.  Afterward I chatted with my left hip girl as well as the pastor and a few others.  It was someone's last day so that had thought to bring cookies, and the pastor had heard in advance there would be no coffee team so he had at least brought some juice.  We chatted for a bit on the patio outside and I met people from the UK and the US.  They go out for lunch every week so sometime I might join them.  They were advising my on Egypt's most famous dish - Koshari.  Apparently there is some disagreement on who makes the best around here so I will have to try it at several places.  When we went out to eat yesterday one of our table mates ordered it and it kind of looked like one of those "cleaning out the fridge day" meals.  Macaroni, spaghetti, rice, lentils, chick peas, and red sauce.  Apparently you eat this one meal and you are satisfied for the whole day.  As a girl with impressive food consumption capabilities I will have to be the judge of that!

The afternoon and was spent lazing about for a bit at home - it is TOO DARN HOT.  Forget what I said before, I am officially uncomfortable!  Then we walked about for a little bit in Zamalek - something we really haven't done that much of.  We discovered a new grocery store a block away that has pretty much everything we need.  It is in a small building and you don't think there is much to it, but a guy there gestures to a set of stairs and so we find there is a second level.  Another guy is following us around and when we finally pick an item off the shelf we realize the reason is that he intends to carry our groceries for us.  He eagerly comes forward with a basket and takes the obviously way-too-heavy-for-us-to-manage packet of raisins from us.  We have no idea what the procedure is for tipping the grocery carrier (who is employed by the store) so in the end we just pay for our groceries and duck shyly away.  The store, like everywhere else around here, offers delivery too.  So a person can go out to shop even if they have no cash on them at the time; have someone else carry your stuff around the store; tell the guy at the register that you are going to stop at the bank and head home; and then they will take your groceries to your house for whatever time you request. Incredible!  We have life way too hard in Canada!



The evening we keep exploring around and I have been noticing that around here they are Masters of Display. The way the fruit is arranged at the stands, the candy in the shops, even the goats hanging from the ceiling. It is all so orderly and attractive (well obviously not so much attractive the meat...)


We stopped at a nut shop whose slogan is "Add Delectation to Life".  What a fantastic idea, we could all use a touch more delectation.  We also stopped at a cupcake shop which I have to say far exceeds any that I visited in Victoria or Edmonton.  We tried NINE kinds and will have to return to try more of the intriguing flavours like yam, chestnut, and mango.  Another trip to cupcake heaven?  Sure!

28 July, 2011

More Ma'adi, More Falafel

Early to rise to make some breaky for the man again. Not sure if this tradition will stick, but it is nice to have a few more hours in the day.

I called the language school where I'll be learning Arabic with Kazzu to find out if we are in fact registered for the class since they have never replied to my application request and "re-request".  They said sure you're in and you can just pay on the first day.  I guess we won't know for sure until we get there since that is definitely not how their website says it works, but anyway I am cautiously excited about starting classes beginning July 31st.

Then a quick coffee with Eneda and Kazzu at a new (to me) joint nearby called Aroma.  It does not hold a candle to Beanos so my loyalty is still in tact.  It is a quick coffee - only 1 hr - which is way too short for a couple of chatty ladies like us, but Eneda has to run to be home for her airconditioner repair guy (mine is still broken - the airconditioner, not the guy) and I have to go to the district of Ma'adi again.

Hailing a cab on my own for the third time only.  The trip goes by without a hitch.  About a 40 minute drive for LE25 (egyptian pounds) equivalent to a little more than 4 bucks.  With my map and a memory of this trip last week, the cab driver and I make it there with no common language but a few silent hand gestures!

I meet with the community centre program manager where I'll be teaching dance in the fall and happily we find a way to hold all 8 hrs of classes per week that I would like to teach.  After only 40 minutes of chatting I make a full hour long cab ride journey home.  Too bad I'll have to commute so long to and from the centre, though on a map it really isn't that far.  Cairo traffic is to blame for the lengthy voyage.

My cab ride home is great - the driver did not turn on the meter which I have been told is a bad thing.  We are supposed to either agree on a price before setting off, or better yet: have them turn on their meters.  Well, head-in-the-clouds girl that I am,  I don't notice that the meter ain't a-runnin until we are 40 minutes into the trip.  When we arrive home (which is becoming easier to find all the time!), I ask him how much I should pay him since there is nothing on the meter.  I realize after that that is not necessarily the right thing to do since he could say anything.  But it is okay, he seems to look sheepish and says "no meter".  So I say tell him that my outgoing trip was LE25 therefore that's what I'll pay him.  I'm not sure how much of that he understood and he doesn't really reply so I just hand him the money and get out.  I did everything wrong and still wasn't swindled!

By the time that Scott gets home, he is completely exhausted.  Still not quite adjusted to that good 'ol 9 hr time change.  He has a nap while I hang out on Skype.  Then we head out to Abu El Sid which is a nearby Egyptian restaurant.

We have a seat and there are not too many people smoking cigarettes, but tons of people smoking shisha.  We order foul and falafel again - awesome!  Then two staff members from Scott's work walk in so we ask if they would care to join us.  They are heading to the pyramids tomorrow and we had been planning to go too, but the promise of incredible heat has us deciding to wait a bit longer.

I know those pyramids have been around for a good long while and they are probably not going anywhere during the few years we are here, but I hope we get there SOON.

27 July, 2011

I get a card and everything.

Hurray!  I am totally a member of the Gezira Sportsclub now!  This last step was the easiest of all - I just swing in past the guards with my little proof of payment paper, go straight to the membership office, and pick up two very official looking member cards (one for Scott and one for myself).

At least there is a picture of me on one, otherwise I would not know it was for me as it has Scott's name on it instead of mine.  Apparently the Arabic text indicates something like "in the harem of Scott Miller".  Interesting.  I always thought I was running this harem of ours.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  The day began many hours before the successful membership mission.  I awoke at a time that starts with a 6 and got breakfast ready for Scott and I.  This attempt at domesticity is a direct result of hanging out with a newly wed whose level of wifely commitment far exceeds my own.

Anyway, after coffee the housekeeper arrives.  We are getting to form a routine already where we chat a bit but mostly I just stay the heck out of her way.  I am progressing with my comfort level of having her there working hard whilst I twiddle.  She cleaned for over 5 hrs so there was lots of time to develop some comfort!  Scott is over the moon at the cleanliness of the kitchen - he opened the stove up several times that evening just to marvel at its gleaming.  Oh dear.

While the cleaning is happening it is Grand Central Station around here - the airconditioner fix-it guy is back since we have some major leaks happening again.  Also two staff from Scott's work are by to inspect all the items needing repair or replacement in the place.  I am starting to think maybe I am employed after all - official apartment project manager for our unit.  Well the airconditioner fella says he already replaced parts and if it is still leaking now, we probably need to replace all of it - the only reason I have a clue what he said is that the housekeeper translated for us.

Eventually everybody leaves (except the housekeeper who is still at it) and I run out to get my membership card before having to return home for another airconditioning fix-it wiz comes to visit.  When he finally arrives he has the previous fella with him and it sounds like they are arguing.  I think it ended with them saying they will come back again tomorrow but honestly have NO idea if that is what they actually said.

Had supper waiting for Scott upon his return (domestic diva - I know - it might have something to do with my being in his harem?) and then we head to Kazzu's house before going to the club for the evening with our spiffy new membership cards.

Is it just me or is everybody else's apartment bigger, cooler, and nicer than ours?  Not bitter, just sayin'.  So we go to the Sportsclub and find it is a completely different place at night.  Families bring their children here as a safe place to hang out; bike; take tennis, gymnastics, or basketball lessons; or play with some rather adorable stray kittens (the cats seem to have tripled since that afternoon).  Kazzu and her man play some B-Ball while Scott and I hang out in the pool.

The evening is capped off with my trying an especially healthy snack which consists of a mars bar cooked inside of a soft pretzel, bathed in butter.  Oh dear I might need to do a few more laps in the pool next time.

26 July, 2011

Hazlenut Icecream and Wine on the Nile

Another leisurely morning - I fear I am wrecked for life for ever having early morning employment and making use of one of those alarm clock thingies.

This time I'm IN the Gezira Sportsclub before that firm 2:00 pm cutoff.  I got past the guards with relatively little hassle too.  One of my new friends, let's call her Kazzu, seemed to understand the whole hoop jumping process of actually being a member of this place so I follow her lead.  She takes me to the membership office where I wait in line for the lady behind the front counter who rejected me on the grounds of being tardy yesterday.  She accepted my form and supporting documents this time and then said something really fast and quiet that Kazzu somehow understood to mean "Take this piece of paper around to another building, give them your money, then come back and see me".  Well okay, that's not what I heard at all.  Thank goodness for Kazzu!  So we visit the money takers, return to the front desk lady, and she instructs (this I understand) to come tomorrow to obtain the official membership cards for Scott and myself.  Success!

So after all that hard work, we reward ourselves with some pool time.  We chat for a bit but find that unfortunately her creepy admirer from yesterday is back.  Sitting two tables away, he resumes his previous days work of ogling Kazzu.  He leans forward, smokes a cigarette or ten, and continues to gaze at her without blinking.  He even inches closer to take up this practice now only one table away.  Finally, Kazzu has had enough so she reports it to the nearby staff.  The come over and talk to me to find out what the problem is and I tell them that this guys is making my friend very uncomfortable and can they deal with it.  They say "Why you look sad?  Smile.  Everything is fine."  They even suggest that we just move to another table.  I seriously doubt that would help and imagine the creeper would just creep on over.  The one thing the staff will not do is address the guy, ask him to leave Kazzu alone, or ask him to leave.  They don't even turn to look at him.

Disheartened by this lack of support, we head over to the women's only gym where at least we know he will not be a problem.  Some hardcore weightlifting ensues and we still manage to have a nice afternoon.  Kazzu heads home to meet up with her fella and I return to the pool to meet up with our other friend who we shall call Eneda.

Eneda and I get right to the business of pumping out a few laps of the pool just to say we did.  Then we enjoy lounging by the pool (the creepy guy is long gone) and I have some magnificent hazlenut icecream.  Where have you been all my life?  Probably with my newfound ginger lattes.  We have another nice chat before heading home ourselves.

Scott is already back from another long work day - somebody has got to do it - and has ordered some mighty fine pizza for us.  We catch up for a bit before I head out to my next social engagement - an international organization networking event for people living in Cairo but hailing from everywhere.

Eneda, Kazzu, and myself step aboard a beautifully decorated and illuminated boat on the nile.  It was permanently docked, but we could see lots of smaller boats floating down the nile all around us.  My goodness, I can't believe I'm ON THE NILE and that I'm really in Egypt.  Unreal.

We sat down at table outside with a gorgeous light breeze and got to meet people from France, Russia, Egypt, Canada, US and Mexico.  Journalists, researchers, entrepeneurs, embassy workers, teachers, poolside loungers - you name it, we were all there.  I had heard that Egyptian wine tends not to be the best but tentatively I ordered a glass of "red".  It was quite fine actually though I never did find out what kind it was and if it was the exception or the rule in Egyptian wine.  Anyway, several hours were spent chatting, hearing about all the things to do in Egypt and what everybody was up to in Cairo.  All those that I met genuinely like it here and many have lived here for several years so that was encouraging too.

I came home to a sleeping Scott - a first in a long while.  Poor fella has some serious sleep debt to pay off but hey, he'll be lounging poolside in a few days himself.  Let's hear it for weekends beginning on Fridays!

25 July, 2011

I'm in! Well, almost.

What a perfect day!  How guilty should I feel I wonder for how lovely a time I am having whilst my dear husband toils...

A leisurely morning at home and then a THREE hour coffee visit with two wonderful women.  Of course I had to have the ginger latte - try this everybody!  Then off to the Gezira Sportsclub again to try and get the elusive membership.  A hard time again given to me at the gate to get in, even though I have a membership form and accompanying documents and am waiving it at the guards saying that I need to get in to register for the club...

We full out ran to the membership office at the back of the club to try and get there before the closing time of 2:00 pm (lots of places close early like that over the summer months).  But alas, though everyone is still in the office and working, they will not let me hand in my registration form because it is like 2:07 pm.  One of my new buddies who speaks Arabic pleads, but to no avail.  Come back tomorrow and get there BEFORE 2:00 pm.  Shoot, we ran in the summer heat of Cairo for nuthin.

Well, these ladies I'm with are a lot more bold than I am (though this is something I am trying to work on) and we decide that though I am not technically a member of this elite establishment yet, we should stay (since we're past the guards anyway) and enjoy our afternoon.  So we find a nice shady table beside one of the three pools and order some lemonade and continue with our lengthy chatting Part II.  A couple laps to make it seem like we're there for fitness or something and then some poolside lounging until the sun is no longer over head.

Here none of the rules of dress apply - women in bikinis, shorts, whatever - here it is okay.  Unfortunately, one of my friends had an unwelcome admirer.  After about an hour of openly starring at her, he comes over and proposes marriage.  She politely declines, being otherwise committed and also being put off by his high score on the creep-o-meter.  He never did let up with the starring though.

We head home after this lovely day to meet up with our respective sweethearts and I begin to think that being in Cairo may be a rather delightful thing.

24 July, 2011

Mrs Shannon and Mr Scott

Ok, yes: we are now some of "those people".  We no longer need to scrub our tub, mop our floors, or iron our own shirts.  We have employed someone to do these tasks on our behalf.  'But Shannon, you are not working, don't you think that you have enough time in the day to scrub a bathroom now and then?'  Well...yes, but we are helping to fuel the economy and  build the employment rate! Plus, I HATE bathrooms.

Furthermore, I am doing some hard stuff too:  I had to get up at 7:00 am  to let the housekeeper in!  I have been sleeping until at least 9:00 am every day so that was really tough.  Plus then there is the whole question of how do I look busy and keep from feeling guilty for the four whole hours that she is working?!  Truly, challenging business.  Well, I handled the first two hours by returning to complete my required number of zzz's, and the remaining two hours by puttering around doing dishes, laundry, and playing on the internet.  To make me feel even more pretentious, I am being called "Mrs Shannon" and am answering inquiries about "Mister Scott".  This will take some getting used to as well as some personal justifying on my part.

But the end result is a wonderfully clean home, and hey, like I say, we're creating jobs here people.

After a tough morning of observing work, I headed off to try and get a membership at the Gezira Sportsclub.  Check it out at http://www.geziraclub.com/

A beautiful, historic resort type place with 3 pools, 3 gyms, 30 sports, several restaurants, and tha making of some very fine lazy summer days.  The only trouble is getting in!  You first have to get past the guards who don't want to let you in without a pass, even if your objective is to get in to obtain a pass!  Well, luckily I was with a determined young lady who would not take no for an answer and who herself already had a membership there.  We went through only a small portion of this massive place (which occupies the whole southern half of the island we live on) to find the office where one can obtain a registration form.  Getting the form was hard enough, but after that you need to include a referral letter, photos, and passport info.  This is an elite club!

After successfully leaving with the form I made my way back home to tackle the always challenging task of looking busy while people work on the apartment again.  Now there were two fellas trying to repair one of our screen doors.  Over an hour later, it is still not working and there are plans to return another day.  Who needs a screen door anyway?  All the bugs seem to be INSIDE our apartment already!

The last challenge of the day was trying to order some of those big blug jugs of water to go with our new water cooler.  I called up the nearest grocery store that delivers and did not get an English talker.  After being on hold for a good while, they passed me on to one, but it was still hard to communicate much.  Eventually, satisfied that they might know where I live and they might know what I was ordering, I asked them when it would arrive and how much it would cost.  They just said "thank you" and after a few trys I just thought - oh well, surprise me.

We a bit over an hour later, two guys arrive at my door with 4 things of water, but they are just boxes filled with normal water bottles.  The guys obviously had to load and unload this heavy lot on this exceptionally hot day.  I felt terrible to tell them that it was not what I wanted!  As a gesture of apology (and to lighten their return load) I bought one box, though that too was hard to find out the cost.  They still looked annoyed but what can ya do?

So our cooler still sits empty and waiting, but we do have a mighty full fridge of water.

23 July, 2011

What if I want to get my own T.P.?

Boy, do the days fly by here!  It could be because the sun sets early, or that it takes 10 times as long to drive somewhere as one would think necessary, or maybe because we can't quite stop sleeping in, but at any rate, we generally find ourselves eating supper at 9:00 pm and wondering where did the day go?

Today we finally set out at about 1:00 pm in search of a cool, low effort activity - aka - to the mall.  Not quite the adventurous first weekend out that I had thought we would go for, but the truth is we were tired and in search of something familiar.

So, to Citystars Mall in Heliopolis.  By far the hottest, longest, slowest cab ride to date.  Those streets were packed.  But we got there and it was HUGE:  6 floors, plus floor zero, several cinemas, hotels, amusement park, not to mention stores, restaurants, cafes, etc, etc.

We started off with a Beanos where the staff there spoke wonderful English and I got to introduce Scott to the now legendary (in my mind) Ginger Latte.  Yum.

Then with only having to cover half of the mall to find it, we found the Golden Stars Theatre. We went to the "VIP" section to buy our tickets. For the same price as seeing a movie at a Cineplex in Canada we got sit in a private little lounge area until the show began and then once in the theatre there were only about 20 seats - all big recliners with mega leg room! It was only us and 2 other couples there. They even have an intermission for us to go to the bathroom or grab some more popcorn.
Speaking of bathrooms, I have not been able to use one in any of the malls that we have been to so far without being serviced by a bathroom attendant.  I don't know how anyone else feels, but I feel neither pampered nor comfortable with someone standing outside my stall as I unfuel, waiting to give me toilet paper.  I feel quite comfortable with tearing off my own squares and decidedly uncomfortable with this level of assistance.  "VIP" recliners - sign me up; "VIP" toilet service - I'll hold it until I get home thanks.

22 July, 2011

Dandy Mall

 Had a late start today which is too bad since Friday mornings are a chance to move about easily through the empty city streets.  Fridays here are like Sundays back home, Saturday is like Saturday, and Sundays here are like Mondays - got it?

While most people are attending church on Friday morning, that is our chance to go for a walk, a bike ride, a drive (if we get a car - which yes is a possibility), grocery shop, or other errands.

I might lose this opportunity if I join a church that meets Friday mornings but am still working that out.

Anyway, when we finally left the apartment at 1:00 pm, things were just beginning to come alive in the streets again.  We did have the fastest and safest cab ride here so far though since we did beat the rush.  Our cab was beautifully clean and the driver spoke enough English to understand my exclamation to that effect.  We went to a place called Dandy Mall which besides some familiar shops like Toys 'R Us, Second Cup and Body Shop offered all the comforts of home should we ever decide we need comforting!  They even had a movie theatre playing at least one English Movie - currently Harry Potter.

There were many restaurants to choose from to eat at at the mall including Hardees, McD's, KFC.  We chose a more traditional type restaurant because I had yet to try local Falafel.  Fuul, cucumber yoghurt dip, falafel, and pita was our meal.  It was all DELICIOUS, though the Fuul (fava beans with some delicious seasonings and green peppers) was the best.  Lots of easy recipes for this on-line if anyone wants to try it out.

The Falafel was super different than we've had before - they looked more like little doughnuts rolled in sesame seeds.  Yum.

The pursuit of how to effectively order a black coffee continues.  This time I ordered an Americano, they asked me "Nescafe?" (which means you get instant coffee I think), I said "No, like espresso with water".  So naturally, we get a little shot of espresso and a bottle of water!  Still good, but not quite what I meant.

By now it was 5:00 pm and we decide to go to the Carrefour in the mall for more groceries.  It was just as packed as when we tried the previous Saturday and both of us were too tired to attempt to navigate the cart traffic.  So we abandoned cart and got the heck out of there.  But after some thought, we decided that was the main reason we made the trip out of Zamalek in the first place so with our shoulders squared in determination and without cart (carrying items only we thought would be easier) we tried to reenter.  Lots easier without a cart.  We returned home successful but exhausted.
Maybe the heat, maybe the crowds.  But anyway, we survived week one!

21 July, 2011

Another Malfunction?

I had plans for a delicious ginger latte and some errands with my new buddy for this day, but instead was met by a leaking roof.

I called downstairs to the Boab (apartment front desk person who oversees the building) who spoke some English and within about a half hour there was a repair man at my door.  He had a ladder and no shoes (maybe he left them at the front door or something, but I never did see them).  He spoke no English but I gestured about what the problem was.  We think our air conditioner was leaking, but it was a fair amount of water and the ceiling tile was saturated and slightly warped.

He worked for about an hour before letting me know that he had to go out and get a replacement part, or fix a part, or something - I don't know because it was Arabic!  He returned within the hour and worked for at over an hour more.  No water is coming out anymore and the airconditioning is running!  I am confused however because I think he told me he would come back on Sunday.  Maybe it is a temporary fix?  This language business is frustrating.

I spent the afternoon researching stuff to do here (including the Arabic lesson options) and blogging.  I think I am caught up with the latter now!  One blog a day is a lofty goal, but hey - I've got time.

20 July, 2011

Lady Who Lunches

Three Social Engagements!  In one day.

I started off the day with a 10:00 am coffee visit with one of the spouses living in Zamalek.  She has been here a little bit longer and I found it so encouraging to see how well she has navigated her way around here.  I had possibly the best coffee EVER - a latte with fresh ginger grated on top.  Whoa - write that idea down Starbucks.

We had a really good time, she had lots of incredible stories and has been just about everywhere.  I am by far the least travelled of everyone I have met here (okay I haven't been very many places by most people's standards, but I tell you these guys have got it covered!).

Then off to Ma'adi by cab again, this time by myself with a map. We somehow got there in about 40 minutes with only one wrong turn.  There are not very many street signs and lots not in English so I was counting roundabouts and intersections on my Ma'adi map.  I can do this!  This time I went to the Community Association Centre (they have a gym, a library, a store, a language school, and a cafe) where I met the outgoing dance teacher for the program I'll be taking on in the fall.  She had set up her own recitals there and had classes with waiting lists.  Big shoes to fill.

I was picked up by the first cab I asked to go back home.  He went a different way that I could not figure out, but I had only a Ma'adi map so had nothing for reference.  He tried talking to me, but of course my complete lack of Arabic was a bit of a handicap.  By the creepy smile he kept shooting back I think it was just as well.  At one point he pulled over beside a restaurant, gestured towards it, and asked me something.  I don't know if he wanted us to go eat there or if he was just telling me it was a good place.  But he waited for a response from me (No?) before driving on again.  I did get home in one piece but I don't think I like taking cabs by myself here.  Until I learn some Arabic at least!

Third engagement - drinks at the Marriott Hotel.  What a fancy place.  Gorgeous building, gorgeous garden and pool at the centre.  We met the other Zamalek-ers plus two people from France.  All organized by my new latte buddy from the morning.  Again the conversation was divided between English and French.  I might leave here a much improved French speaker and a very wee-bit-o-Arabic speaker.  Again everyone was so interesting and friendly.  I could get used to this.