Saturday, December 29, 2007

stuck

It's the Christmas/ Eid holiday, I'm supposed to be in Dhaka celebrating with my family, but where am I? I'm still in Egypt. Masr just won't let me go. The post office, to be exact, wont let me go. I sent my passport back to Singapore to get a special visa for Bangladesh, my mother sends it back to Cairo, and whaddya know, it never arrives.

So I'm still in Egypt.

And try as I might to get out of this country, just for a little while, I really just need a tiny break, PLEASE — nope. No passport means no travel anywhere. No Jordan, Syria, nowhere. I can go to ...Alexandria. Where right now the winds will blow you straight into the Med.

So I'm still in bloody Egypt.

But on a less bitter note, it's actually been surprisingly lovely. Over the 10 days of vacation that everyone (all 8 of us foreigners left in this city) had, we fed, and fed and fed ourselves continuously. There wasn't a night where someone hasn't cooked dinner, there hasn't been a night where we havent strained our voices singing Christmas Carols. I now finally have acquainted myself with holiday weight gain. On Eid, my Christian friends came over, unplanned, and cooked us a five star Christmas meal. Steak, mashed potatoes, green beans — very white food. So on Eid, five days later, Salman (the only other desi around) and I took our revenge. We cooked desi food and forced everyone to painfully dance to bhangra music.

So I'm still in Egypt. Yay!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

blood

All morning, I wondered what that strange moaning sound was. At first picked up by my subconscious, ignored by my conscious — but as it continued, at times more frequently, I realised it was the bleating, braying and moaning of animals tethered to every corner of my neighborhood. All waiting to be slaughtered.

They really weren't exaggerating. The streets really are flowing with blood. Every street corner. I walked to a friends house, passing by a big mother of a cow. I walked back home not more than 40 minutes later, and it was on the ground, skinned, gutted, head lying on the pavement, eyes shut, bloody slowly streaming downhill.

There is a bull tethered to a store window on 26th of July. A big fat bull, tall as a tall man. It stands there waiting, silently staring into the shop windows. Perhaps, he's trying not to think of what awaits him.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

hmm

One day, you stand in your apartment lobby and accidentally catch your boweb (doorman) lifting his galabiyya above his knees — your boweb who seems to never wear anything but traditional egyptian thobes and galabiyyas, usually a turban on his head — and he has blue Nike (fake) tracksuit bottoms on underneath. You wonder if that's what Egypt is all about: a man who appears to be in a traditional galabiyya....with Nike tracksuit bottoms on underneath for comfort. Amused. Troubled.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

thanksgiving

The first time I celebrated Thanksgiving — and it had to be in Egypt. And naturally our adopted country had a part to play — with over 20 friends, too many to sit around one dining table, my first thanksgiving meant not one, but TWO turkeys and tons of beautiful sides including gravy, stuffing and cheesy mashed potatoes. Sometimes, these Americans sure strike gold with their ideas.

PIE!!

Now you see it.....

Now you don't!
I have a lot to be thankful for :)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

arab-versary

It was only appropriate that I celebrate my Arab-versary in Egypt (yep - 1 whole year in Egypt)
watching an exclusive performance by Nancy Agram at Manial Palace.
The biggest (and ever-ubiquitous) female artist in the country, performing at one of the most picturesque properties — and all with yours truly standing next to the richest man in Egypt, Naguib Sawiris, owner of Orascom Telecoms, number one on the bt100, and according to Forbes, #62 on The World's Billionaires 2007.

Perfect, sa7?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

How to Dance Egyptian-Sufi Style

No, no, no — you're doing it all wrong. That's Turkish Sufi stylee. Here's how we do it in good ole Masr.

Relax arms and let them follow the flow of your body. Swing ya pelvis to the right — Thrust. Swing ya pelvis to the left — Thrust. For extra attention, stand solitary on the mosque wall.

So I finally made it to a Mawlid in Egypt. The biggest all year, in fact, in Tanta, near the delta where the Nile branches off. Word of advice if you attempt the same thing, if you happen to be too lazy to get train tickets the night before and turn up at the station 10minutes before the train leaves the next morning, no fear, just hop on anyway and if you're lucky, a rare Egyptian gentleman will give up his seat for you when he notices that the 600 highly sexually-frustrated — highly spiritual too, of course, they're going to a religious festival, yani! — are starting to hone in on your sliver of standing space.

We'd been pre-warned. A million people descending on a tiny city like Tanta spells trouble for us foreign girls. If you go, make sure you sandwich yourself between bodyguard friends. In reality, it really wasn't all that bad. In fact, the only time I got molested was walking out of the big mosque. I love irony, I really do. I regret to say, additionally, this mosque — granted it was because of the crowds — was the FILTHIEST I have ever come across. When I put on my shoes before I was meant to because I didn't want to soil my socks, my friend told me off for disrespecting the mosque. I'm sorry, but I'm not the first person to be disrespecting the mosque, it's already fallen beyond respect.

Otherwise, it was an awesome evening. The hundreds of colourful tents, the sufi singers who sang like rockstars, the unimaginable amount of sugarcane! For the first time in over a decade, I got to chew on raw sugarcane bamboo. If I hadn't know this was a mawlid, I would've thought it was some sort of celebration of a sugarcane deity. Families were literally picking bamboo strewn about on the streets and taking them home to eat.

I asked this man if I could take a photo of him — he was just so rad
with his big green turban and big, colourful flower lollipop —
but he refused. So I sneaked one of him. Badass paparazzi-style.
Crates of shisha tobacco.

Shisha pipes for sale.
All day there were people streaming into town from all over Egypt,
sitting and waiting in cafes, sidewalks, the streets. This man was particularly
enthusiastic when I asked him if I could take a shot.
One of many tents.
What I dubbed the "Inside a Human body" tent.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

song

I had a lousy night. Went to bed early because I was so exhausted, but got woken up an hour later because some dumbo decided to call me at the indecent hour of 12.30am (Alright, fine I'm the dork here but who cares). Ended up not being able to sleep until 4.45am, so I did some arabic, cooked some asparagus and gave Pookie some company. At around 4.30am, I finally started feeling tired so I turned off the lights and prepared my brain for sleep...But then the adhan for the morning prayer started, and so I stayed up until the 10 minute long cacophony of 15 different mosques within the vicinity finished calling the faithful to prayers.

Now, I love the call to prayer. Sung well, I think it can be incredibly moving and atmospheric. It's an art.

Unfortunately, my experience of muezzins in Egypt has been sour — most of them sound like they have frogs in their throats. At my downtown apartment, the mosque speakers were right next to my window — imagine the nightmare of being woken up by a really bad muezzin at 5am every morning, croaking out on extra loud speakers, pausing in between lines to violently cough out whatever bullshit has accumulated in his throat due to living in downtown Cairo.

So as usual, last night (or rather this morning), I prepared myself for the usual onslaught of ear ache. All of a sudden though, this beautiful voice rang out amidst the relative din — I'd never heard this guy before, but he was good. He sung the adhan in several different octaves, he stretched every note lovingly, he SANG like I've never heard a muezzin in Egypt sing before. I couldn't tell how far away his mosque was from my building, but the quality of his performance actually set his voice apart from the others.

I literally lay there in the dark, still as a mouse, with my eyes wide open for five minutes, stretching my ears as much as I could to listen to this guy. It was over before I knew it. Regretfully, I closed my eyes and fell asleep in peace.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

one year

Wow, I would’ve complete missed this if a good friend hadn’t reminded me.

One year ago today, I left England. October 23rd 2006 was the day my life changed forever. I left behind what had been home for six years, probably the most formative period of my life.

My heart broke that day, in a way much worse than had a man instigated it. I didn’t lose any man, but I did lose my entire life in that city, a life I loved every single day for six years. I spent the day at my sisters, said goodbye to her on Coram Street, sobbing as I got into the taxi, after which my bestfriends accompanied me to the airport. Even the downpour on the city as I hugged my sister goodbye, made me feel like the City was crying with me. (ok fine fine! it rains in London practically everyday). Never have I wept as hard saying goodbye as I did that night in the airport, that goodbye will probably haunt me for the rest of my life.

One year on though, I have to admit, I’m glad I left.

Initially it was a move back to Singapore, something I have dreaded since the very idea of it popped up (by mother dearest). To me, it was like going backwards, and I was terrified (I hated growing up in Singapore). But two weeks into moving back to Singapore, I moved away again, this time to Egypt. And that essentially is what has changed my life.

In the last year, I have come across opportunities I doubt I would ever have found in the UK so early in my career. I’ve been an editor at a monthly magazine for 8 months now, I have written features, I’ve eaten at and slept in five star restaurants and hotels for free and most shockingly, I’ve managed to hold down 9-5, 5 days a week for over six months! (I’m still in shock about that)

I have learnt a kind of independence that I never got to experience in London. I have no family in Cairo to run to in times of need — although my friends here have become my family. In London, I had a sister and half my extended family, and even my parents for awhile. This is the first time I am completely supporting myself, paying my own rent, my own bills, and living in a city as challenging as Cairo. It was also the first time I arrived in a city to live where I didn’t know a soul.

In the last year, I have met some wonderful, fascinating people, I have traveled to some beautiful destinations (No.1 being the Western Desert) and I’m even grateful I adopted my little baby, Pookie.

I learned patience — I learned to live with tons of people and not get annoyed. I learned to sleep with the lights on and the TV blaring. I learned to clean and cook on a daily basis and actually enjoy it. I LOVE my life here, and I’ve realised I LOVE being an expat. It suits me.

I have also learnt to get by on very little sleep [without wanting to murder people].
[Still haven’t managed to cut down on the homicidal tendencies when hungry, however, that might need a move to Sudan next door]

And the most important thing I have learnt is this: Despite living in so many places, moving from Singapore to London, and even Dhaka, this year was the first time in my life where I truly accepted that home is no longer a physical destination. I think I spent a good 22 years feeling a little emptiness in my life, never feeling like Singapore was home, always being a ‘foreigner’ in London, always the ‘beedeshi’ in Dhaka….but after the Cairo stop, I think I have given up on pining for ‘home’. Not because I think I will never find it, but because I don’t think I need to find it.

I feel comfortable knowing I will leave this city behind someday, that maybe I will never see a lot of people I’ve met here ever again. I understand now that those who have mattered will stay in my life, even if not physically on a day-to-day basis. I accept that when I do move on to my next destination, I will have to start all over again, but this time, I’m not scared anymore.

So now, the most amazing thing is, I’m no longer terrified about moving back to Singapore, when I do move back. I know that things will be different, and I am now armed with the confidence that I can start from scratch, over and over again, without losing myself, or what I have known and loved for 23 years.

Be in this world as if you are a traveller,
a passer-by, with your clothes and shoes full of dust.
Sometimes you sit under the shade of a tree,
sometimes you walk in the desert.
Be always a passer-by, for this is not home.
- Hadith

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Eid

13.10.2007

I was supposed to be in Jerusalem but sadly it didn't work out. The Egyptians decided I have been here on one too many tourist visas and that its time I got residency. Which takes 5 days to process and seeing as how we planned the trip on Tuesday, I went to renew my visa on Thursday and it was the Eid weekend...there was no way this trip was going to happen.

So Eid in Cairo it is. Zamalek at the moment feels like a ghost town. My street is usually brimming with people: all the bowebs (doormen) huddled in a group whiling away the hours, the worshippers going in and out of the mosque next door, the shop keeper boys eyeing every lady walking past (me). Today the street is empty and dimly lit. All of Cairo has got up and left to celebrate Eid with their families, especially the working class who mostly come from outside the capital. It almost has me suspecting that my street, despite being in Zamalek, is composed purely of bowebs. Even my building's boweb is off in Aswan, leaving my bloody lift broken and with noone to fix it.

In spirit of Eid in Egypt, my friends and I stayed up all night last night, and headed for Old Cairo at 4 am. People here literally stay up all night on Eid, shopping, eating, hanging out on streets doing nothing in particular. One peculiar practice is that of numerous groups of young men loitering about on streets or driving about ferociously to nowhere in particular — we can't figure out what it is about Eid that brings them outdoors like this, displaying more-than-usual aggressiveness. I understand the concept of jobless men loitering about and I recognise its a day off — but what do they do the rest of the year? Weekends?

Talaat Harb was blindingly white, with masses of people everywhere — one wouldn't imagine it being 3.45am. Got to Islamic Cairo and had feteer at the amazing Khan El Khalili Egyptian Pancakes joint (try the banana and cream, Tom describes it as 'transcendental'). We did a mini mosque hop from Hussein to Al-Azhar to Sultan Hassan. We were told from before that Hussein is the scene of some-quarter-of-a-million worshippers on Eid morning, but at about 5.30am, it seemed like these worshippers had decided to give Eid prayers a miss this year. Walked across the street to find them in Al-Azhar instead — droves of people continuously swept into the big courtyard of this mosque for at least 45 minutes. People were still making their way in as prayers started, and I ended up not even having enough space to prostrate fully. I just about managed to touch the floor with the tips of my fingers.

If you've been to Islamic Cairo before, you'll know what a human jam it is. This morning though, it was peacefully beautiful. A sharp contrast to the Old Cairo walk I did just a week before, right before iftar broke (which I will get around to blogging about later). The market leading up to the tentmakers bazaar was empty, not a single stall in sight. Everything was bathed in the haze of dawn. Buildings, mosques and streets I've seen a hundred times before looked incredibly poetic.

We ended my first Eid morning in Cairo with some tea near Sultan Hassan, listening to the ranting of a crazy old lady next to us. Eid Mubarak dear world.

Monday, October 15, 2007

shoot me

11.10.2007
We took Harrison to pierce his ears in Mohandiseen today. They do it in gold shops here, although I was a little surprised that the guy didn't use any alcohol whatsoever to clean Harry's ears, nor wore gloves. Just a small (almost toy-like) gun.

Both Sarah and I were very proud of our boy. After the first bang on the right ear, we asked him how he was feeling, to which he responded with a calm voice and contained smile, "Just tell him to hurry up and finish the other ear so I can go out and scream," he said as one eye twitched, giving his agony away.

We tried asking the other guy in the shop, the owner, how Harry should maintain his new ear-holes, when he could take them off etc etc, but I guess the guy thought hygiene wasn't an urgent priority because he slapped his hands angrily to imply "khalas", saying, "After five days, take them off and never put them back on."

Oh yes, we forgot Egyptians don't take too kindly to men who pierce their ears. Of course, the geezer had no problem taking LE 60 off us for it, while he rushed his employee to give us our money quickly so we would get the hell out of his shop.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Pookie minus 1 tooth

"If your cat was a human being, he would be an abusive boyfriend." — Yassir Bhai


I came home today and found this on my bed.


The mind boggles as to how this came out of his mouth. Do kitties naturally shed their milk teeth and grow new ones like us? Did he have an especially enthusiastic battle with my blanket fibres and lost a tooth in the process?

Whatever the case, the little devil will be getting a visit from the Kitty Tooth Fairy tonight. Who knows what he will find — a can of premium beef leftovers or a lifetime ticket to gnaw on my left toe?


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cairo Champion

It's a hot, polluted day here in Cairo — the Black Smoke is in town, its that time of the year when the farmers, factories and garbage guys burn everything in their possession, from the stubble from rice and cotton harvests, to tyres. The taxi ride home is taking especially long today — traffic here in Cairo is so unpredictable. There's no certain time or street where you know there wont be traffic.

And everyone is fasting. It's been 28 days since Ramadan started and as it gets closer to iftar time, tempers are peaking, patience is wearing thin everywhere. Except, it seems, in the case of my taxi driver:

1) While on the road, cars start moving and very promptly, our taxi bumps into the pickup truck in front. It's the other guys fault mind you, he shouldn't have stopped as suddenly as he did. Minor bump but you hear my taxi's headlights get smashed. My cabbie gets out, and instead of smashing the doofus's head in (as we were secretly hoping he would) he hardly says a word to the guy, merely examines his headlights, picks up the broken glass from the road, gets back into his seat and drives off.

2) Fast forward to 25 minutes later. Stuck in traffic near Midan Tahrir, we're rounding a corner, and some loser, with painfully slow precision, gloriously scrapes the side of my taxi (My poor taxi driver, it just wasn't his day). The taxi halts to a stop. The other guy drives off. My cabbie examines the scrape, no angry mutterings, no flailing fists in the air, only — and would you believe this — only a smile at a passing taxi, when his colleague on the road makes a comment about the scraping.

After getting his car screwed TWICE in half an hour, this guy smiles.

Now that's what I call a Cairo Champion.

Note: Before feeling alarmed at the extreme laxness of handling traffic mishaps, readers should be aware that most vehicles (in particular, taxis) on Cairo roads are so beat-up and ancient that a scratch and a bump here and there doesn't really make much difference to the overall exterior of most cars.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Filastin beckons

It's funny. Living here, sometimes, I feel so inexperienced and wide-eyed at times. I constantly meet people who are doing way more interesting things than I have, who have lived in far more cities than I have, who have travelled to far more destinations and far flung places than I have. A lot of my friends here are older, many are journalists, people working in human rights, development — and everyone has such fascinating stories to tell. I now know several people who have lived and worked in Palestine (someone was just telling me about getting shot at by Israeli soldiers), and suddenly being a journalist in Cairo just sounds pussy.

But then I remember that, this is Cairo. This is where all the interesting people come to. This is where interesting things exist to be DONE. Back home (wherever that is) I'm practically the only person in my friends circle who isn't working in a bank or in law school, let alone being a journalist. I remember that nearly everyone back home is still living in the city they were born in, or went to college in. I remember that a lot of people's idea of traveling is a run to New York or to some random Turkish beach.

So in the normal world, where normal people live — I'm a little exotic, well-travelled and wild. But here in Cairo, I've met my match and beyond. But isn't that what life's all about? Traveling far and beyond to constantly CHALLENGE yourself. To not sit around and be comfortable and assured, that Oh, I'm so exotic and experienced. To go away from home and to feel vulnerable, to feel dumb, and to constantly learn to keep up with higher and higher standards of experiencing what the world has to offer?

So I think I'm glad that sometimes I feel like a bimbo. Or that I feel like I haven't really done anything with my life. Because thats when you realise how much more there is to discover.

Thursday I take the road to Palestine myself. I will head to Jerusalem, then to Ramallah, Bethlehem and back. Pray for me.

Monday, September 24, 2007

argh!

I'm generally a fan of anything or anybody who opposes the hegemonic dictators of this world, but what? what the HELL?

"Sayed Askar, an Al-Azhar cleric and Brotherhood MP, says the bloc will also oppose any law that might aim at banning female mutilation. "Cutting must be upheld because it is an Islamic practice," he said. [http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2007/860/eg5.htm]

Where does this idiot come from? Al-Azhar itself has deemed the practice un-Islamic. So where does this idiot come from?

Sorry — but my general frustration at the warped gender relations in this country, coupled with this migraine brought on by hunger is causing me to feel extreme fury at the slightest thing, but unable to express myself more articulately than mere repetition of angry questions.

ARGH!

Friday, September 21, 2007

ram kareem

It's my first ever Ramadan in Egypt. I approached it with excitement, and so far its meted out nicely. The first day started off with a big bang, after an entire day of starvation, my colleague and friend, Tom and I cooked a big South East Asian iftar for like 20 of our friends. I did Tom Yam Squid Noodles and Tom did Peanut sauce chicken with nasi goreng and fried noodles. I scoured 3 separate supermarkets in Zamalek trying to find all my ingredients, and by the end of it all, when everyone had been nicely fed, I just collapsed. Went home, fell asleep early and totally missed sohoor with my friends.

But since then, it's been more low-key. Eating with friends at 6pm everyday is quite nice, leaving work early at 3pm is even nicer. Trying to plan your day around the increased traffic isn't so nice. Before Ramadan, all these horror stories kept circulating about how the grabbings and hassle increases proportionally to the hunger of men in this country. A friend of mine apparently got grabbed more during the holy month than any other time of the year. Clearly, the frenzy must have culminated with the hushed up mass assaults that occurred downtown last year. What is it about Ramadan? Does the hunger make you more desperate? Is it boredom from not being able to fuel up on fuul? I say it's quite disgraceful, but with an air of nonchalance — I've never been physically assaulted (except for that 10 year old running past me and slapping my ass) myself, so maybe its hard to feel the fury until it becomes personal. Or maybe I've just become numb to the cancer that clearly exists in a society which attempts to hide mass sexual assaults on its streets rather than confront the deep-seated problems it needs to deal with. Bah humbug. Not really a topic I wanted to get into in my 'Ramadan post,' but I guess its a given. Note to oneself: Don't go downtown during Ramadan and definitely not on Eid.

Anyway, really, so far, the horrors of Ramadan I was warned about, traffic/molestations haven't really materialized. If you're clever and time yourself right, you dodge the traffic. If you live on Zamalek with all your friends, you walk everywhere. It's been great really. Fanous lanterns everywhere (still dont get their purpose), the mosque next to my house (which btw I only noticed when they started building the tent) started building its Ramadan table tent 2 days before Ramadan and now it serves free food to any passer-by. Even the Marriott sets up tables on its sidewalk! Ramadan here is definitely a different experience. People are so much more conservative here than in Bangladesh, and eating is a serious no-no on the streets during the day, something I haven't really come across (or am i just experiencing amnesia? Nabilah, is Ramadan this intense in Dhaka?)

And best of all, the weather has eased up. There is a chill in the air in the evenings, and even wearing a cardi, I no longer leave puddles behind everywhere I walk.... A little sad to say goodbye to the summer and hopping about on beaches, but its temperate-season-weekend-getaway time! Beach time is over, but it's time to go to the desert, where the night will be not too cold, but the days are not too hot, and the freshwater lakes dont turn your hair into straw! wahey!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

lucille's


My levels of gluttony in Cairo have reached new heights.

Yesterday, we went to Lucille's for lunch from work, and had probably the most spectacular burger I've had so far in Egypt. It was also humungous, I couldn't finish it, so it was packed up and brought back to the office to be reheated and chomped on some other hungry time. Unfortunately, me being me, I forgot to refrigerate it and left it on my desk overnight. Woe befell me for the rest of the evening. Tom Gara and I analyzed what could possibly happen to a spectacular burger overnight on an office desk where the temperature we estimated couldn't possibly get as high as it did outdoors, and would perhaps (luckily) hover around 15 degrees.

I come back to the office today, and lo and behold, the burger is still there, and a sniff or two suggests all may not be lost. I dump it in the fridge and count the minutes until lunchtime. 12 noon, and the half eaten, probably half-decomposed, pound of meat goes into the microwave and is zapped beyond recognition. It scalds Gara's tongue, its smoke raises noses in the office. I wait to see if Gara the guinea pig keels over dying from his minuscule bite, and when he doesn't, I chow down the rest.

It sits in my tummy now. With every churn and turn, I await bravely any possibility of doom. If I survive this, and live to blog tomorrow, it will be the ultimate test and indication of whether my tummy has reached peace with the parasites of Cairo.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

kent

Last night, I fulfilled an 8 month promise. In December, when Mum was here in Cairo visiting, she made me one of my favorite dishes, her prawn curry. Later that day, I was gushing to Kent about how awesome the lunch I'd had was, and I was promptly berated for not inviting him over for a taste. I felt really bad after that, and the guilt over selfishly devouring my mothers divine cooking all on my own made me promise my friend that I would invite him over for mum's curry soon. Mum left soon after, and this promise never materialised. After that I made another promise to Kent that I would get my mom's recipe and make this curry for him myself. January, February, March.....August went by and still, I didn't cook no prawn curry.

Kent was pretty much my first friend in Cairo. We bonded quickly over our love for food, taking pictures of every dish we cooked, random wanderings around Cairo and Supermarket Sweep. He even bonded with my mother, cooked with her and plotted against me all at the same time. When I first met him, he was the one supposed to be bidding me farewell from Cairo, as I was planning on going home after 3 months. It turned out that I ended up staying longer than him, and am bidding farewell to him tonight instead. After 11.5 months of being here, Kent goes back to Canada for a month, and then is moving to Azerbaijan to work for a year, maybe more.

So finally yesterday, the day before he flies off, I made him his prawn curry. It was my first time cooking this particular dish of my mother's so I hope you enjoyed it buddy. Here's to my one and only Number-One-Baladi-Slash-Desified-White-As-Hell-Canadian-Friend-Who-Knows-Every-Word
-to-Goldigger-And-Uses-Water-To-Clean-His-Ass-(apparently)-and-Can-Squat-Like-a-Desi-
Way-Better-Than-I-Can.

I'm going to really miss your presence here in Cairo. I hope we meet again, hopefully to intensely devour some food in Singapore someday.

ps. Sup. :)

Saturday, August 04, 2007

dahab

Everyone's always amazed I haven't been to Dahab, despite being here for 10 months now. It's one of the most popular destinations in Egypt — beautiful Red Sea waters without the tourist traffic of Sharm. So for my long weekend in July, me and two colleagues decided to catch the bus down finally. It was also my first time in the Sinai, which by the way, I discovered has some incredibe landscape — the entire peninsula is just all huge, rugged mountains, lord knows how the Israelis waged a war here.

The bus down was a little grueling. Scratch that, it was a MIND-PUCK. I think we must've been the local bus service for the entire western coastline of the Sinai — we kept stopping to pick up randoms off the road, and halfway through, our bus was up to its neck with people everywhere, people standing, people leaning into me trying to hold on for dear life. And annoyingly, instead of taking the shortcut straight to Taba and then down to Dahab, the bus went to Sharm first. By the time we got to Sharm, we were just tired of the whole thing. We got off and tried to hail a taxi at the bus station. We finally bargained down a ride for 150 LE to Dahab, which wasn't too bad, considering its an hour and a half ride, and if we had to get back on that bus we'd have to kill ourselves.

So we got into the taxi. About ten minutes down the road, we get to a checkpoint, and the guards tell us this taxi isn't allowed to go beyond that point as it didn't have a permit. For a few minutes, we were just like, what do you mean? How can a TAXI not be allowed to go from Sharm to Dahab? And whaddya know, that demonic bus of ours was very patiently waiting by the checkpoint. Suspicious right? Pissed off, we got out of the taxi, got our bags out of the trunk and proceeded towards the bus when the taxi driver asks us for 20 pounds. Are you joking? You give us a 10minute ride, you dont even take us to our destination, and then you ask for money? We ignored him and got on the bus, but then what happened totally convinced us this was a big conspiracy from bus-to-taxi-people-down. The GUARDS got on the bus and started harrassing us for this 20 LE — when we refused, they asked for one of our passports and promptly got off the bus with it. Eventually, we had to give the money to get the passport back. Bastards.

Despite the bad start, the rest of the trip was pretty awesome. We got a room in Octopus for 40 LE a night. I finally snorkelled in the Blue Hole and Lighthouse Reef, ate at the legendary indian restaurant, Nirvana, which by the way to my ecstatic delight, had the most amazing luchis (poori). That just MADE my entire weekend.

Dahab is all about chilling. The corniche is lined with breezy little outdoor cafes with cushions on the floor to laze about on. You sit with your back to one, cold drink in one hand and stare out at the Red Sea, and Saudi Arabia, which is clearly visible from Dahab. It's interesting, at night, when you stare out at Saudi Arabia, all you see from their coast is one tiny light blinkering out at you. Clearly, the Saudi's are not big on banking on the commercial opportunities a Red Sea coast can provide for a country.....I also realised that this part of the Red Sea is where Moses split it! You know the story, he splits the Red Sea and walks down to the other side with his people, and once they're safe, he releases the water, killing the Pharaoh who was coming after him. How awesome that it was probably here. Or to even imagine it being here. :P

Anyway, the entire trip mainly consisted of lots of sleeping, snorkelling and searching for the coldest drink in Dahab. For a hot, summer destination, this place has a serious lack of ice-smoothies. Everytime i ordered a juice or an ice coffee, they'd come out barely cold. Where are the ice-blenders people?! Food was generally mediocre, except for our dinners at Seabride (amazing seabass) and Nirvana. I was also reading the new Harry Potter book on this trip, albeit the pirated internet version, which was awesome until i ran out of pages to read (I only printed out half the book). Bugger.

Watching Saudi Arabia from Dahab. The moon lights up the Red Sea in this incredible way, the light reflecting off the water lights up the entire coast.
Sitting on one of Dahab's 'taxis' i.e a small pickup truck which you hop onto from the back.
One of Dahab's many cushioned restaurants. The ultimate lazy holiday. I can't remember the number of times we fell asleep sitting on these cushions.
A memorial has been erected at the Blue Hole dive site for the many divers who have died doing dangerous things down there. This is the tomb of a guy whom my ex-housemate Alicia know. Apparently, he was an amazing diver, but clearly even the best diver is no match for the sea and its dangerous depths.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Zamalek

So I finally moved house! I am now officially a Zamalek resident. To people unfamiliar with Cairo, this should sound totally romantic. I live on a tiny island on the Nile that sits between the two sides of Cairo (Giza and Cairo). In huge contrast to my previous neighbourhoods in Cairo, this one is a bit of a yuppie area, with mostly foreigners, rich Egyptians and a plethora of foreign embassies. I am very proud to announce that I live 100m from Baskin Robbins, across the street from Jo Sushi, and the Nile is a 90 second walk from my building.

It’s interesting to see how simple my needs become. I am currently ecstatic because in this new apartment:
1) I have air conditioning
2) I have a lift (that goes both up and down)
3) I have a television (bonus being it was made in the last century)
4) I have proper couches you can lie down on.

It's definitely about time I lived it up here in Cairo — my friends here can attest to the rough living I’ve done here — nearly a month on someone’s floor, 2 months of climbing 6 flights of steps, and 2 months of sharing a flat with 5 people in a 3-bed. And all without any air-conditioning (you may think I’m a princess, but try spending an evening constantly trickling with sweat, and you’ll be kowtowing to the air-conditioning people just like I am). And yes, currently, what with living in Zamalek, working in Maadi (two of the most foreigner-heavy areas), you could call me a typical expat out of touch with the realities of Cairo — but damnit, I've done my time. Hell, I've LIVED IN Sayeda Zainab (the ghetto). My little white Persian kitty is GREY most of the time. Hmph!

In fact, so far, I have lived in Dokki, Mohandiseen, Sayeda Zainab and now Zamalek. I like the variety, its what keeps life in Cairo interesting. This move was also the easiest, I did the smart thing — borrowed suitcases from a friend, got a lift from another, and had it all hauled up in my beautiful new lift (and I didn’t even have to do any lifting!). How's that for living the bourg-lifestyle, eh? :P

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

hospital

Short holidays in a country rarely encompass much of an all-rounded experience of life there. So, I consider my living in Egypt for 15 months as providing me with a comprehensive set of experiences you cannot come across on a 2 week or even 3 month stay. Add to that comprehensive list this month: getting sick and having to go to hospital.
Forced to leave work early because of the immensity of the pain I was going through, I headed straight for the Emergency Room at Al-Salam Hospital (don’t worry, the situation wasn’t all that bad). There, the doctor saw me within 5 minutes of my arrival, gave me a bed, and put me on an IV drip to relieve me of my pain. For me, the event was epic; I cant remember ever having an IV drip being inserted in me (except of course, age 8 when I was put under total anesthesia for the simple procedure of removing two teeth — yes, full anesthesia — the idea of getting my teeth pulled out frightens me to no end). And really, I have discovered that the IV drip is a miraculous thing. Apparently, its purpose was to just wash out my organs and remove the toxins that were making me see stars and double up in pain. And it worked! Why don’t women have these things installed in their bedrooms during that time of the month?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Sokhna's got me izzmiling, (izzmiling)!

Thursday 6pm after work. Wondering what to do over the weekend. It's my last weekend before the magazine goes into production, and obviously, I would like to make the most of it. Mohammed Ali club for a day by the pool? Dinner at a restaurant by the Nile? I made a booking for that evening at Sequoia, so that was an option.

And then Fawzy calls and asks us if we want to go to Ain Sokhna for the weekend. Fawzy's family have a villa up there, and would we like to go spend 2 nights there, frolicking in the Red Sea?

HELL YES!

Cancel all plans for the weekend, and an hour later, we're in Fawzy's lovely jeep cruising down to Sokhna, which is a mere hour away from Cairo. Spend two nights there, lazying around, watching Satellite televison until 4am, eating KFC, sleeping in, wading around in the compound pool, and swimming in the BEAUTIFULLY warm waters of the Red Sea [which btw, is swarming with wildlife, we spotted a gazillion starfish, sand dollars and sea urchins without even venturing beyond knee deep water, and one of my friends also got stung by a sea urchin's needles, and had to be taken to hospital to get them razor-bladed out, a story for another time.....].

Egypt can drive you crazy, especially living in Cairo, and the frustrations can build up until breaking point. But only in Egypt can you also go on super-spontaneous weekend getaways on the Red Sea and forget you ever had to live in that dusty ole city named Cairo...

Theme song for trip: "What can I do my baby? For Joying (for joying), for dancing (for dancing), for szmiling(izzmiling!) Izzmiling (izzmiling!) Izzmiling (izzmiling!)"

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

London

Back from London yesterday. 10 days of epic eating, shit weather and one mini trip to Manchester. Two chance encounters with two of the most cherished people in my life when I least expected it. Kashfi was flying Dhaka-Paris-Toronto, and made a quick detour through London to see me. My lovely girl and I spent my first 2 days there together, before she jetted off to gay Pareee to catch her flight. On my last day, I managed to catch Minal who'd only flown in the day before from Mauritius, gave her a 2 minute hug before saying bye once again. Was pissed off that I didnt get to take any of my favourite walks through Central like I used to back in the day, but nevertheless came to a reality-biting type of realisation that when you lead a nomadic existence like mine, very very few people in the world end up really mattering to you. I envisioned a big hungama of meeting tons of friends and catching up, but really, after a day or two, I realised I didn't really care. That small handful of people you cherish the most are the ones you end up seeing on any short trip, on every trip, year after year.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

nelly

On three separate occasions, Egyptians have told me I look like one of their actresses, Nelly Kareem.

The first time, within 3 days of arriving in Cairo, someone I met told me so.

Then, once on the metro, some girls poked me while I was engrossed in my iPod to ask me if I was an actress. I looked at them a little strangely, and just said no, meanwhile thinking, “If I was an actress, I would definitely not be riding this metro..."

Then, today, in Al-Omda, while ordering a sandwich, the guy behind the counter babbles some Arabic to me, and as usual I'm staring at him clueless, while he gestures towards my face, "Same, same..." then in the midst of the babble I catch "Nelly" and I finally get it. I aiwa'd myself outta there, go home, go online, and here's what I find:


I really don't think so.

.....Maybe its the big cheeks and way too much eye-liner?

Monday, June 25, 2007

cocktail

Now, how often do you get the above mix of people in one house?
[top to bottom, left to right: Venezuala, Singapore, Nigeria, USA]

Saturday, June 23, 2007

byebye nomadlife

so the old address had to go. It's time to get rid of a blog that has my first name on it, and it was also time to change my template which I was getting really tired of. Although I'm not sure why i bothered, I don't seem to have any time to blog anymore these days.

Whatever the case, this is the new URL. Created in the name of my child in Egypt. Change your links.

~Image courtesy of my friend, Sagar Ghoting, from a trip in Siwa

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

scissors

I finally decided to get a haircut — my first in Cairo since I moved here 8 months ago. I’m very, very fussy about my hair and I cherish my tri-yearly visits to the stylist, where I relish in getting my long mane washed by someone else, feeling their fingers massage my skull, and then getting a bangin’ blowdry and walking out feeling like Beyonce. I think these experiences are worth the money I pay for them. In London, I had my salon. Biba’s on Marchmont street, the only place I ever trusted with my hair, in the entire 3 years of living in Russell Square.

So, I asked a colleague for a recommendation, and she pointed me to Villa 36 in Messaha Street, Dokki. She warned it would be expensive, but seriously, compared to 40 quid in England, what’s expensive here in Cairo?

I make the appointment, show up at 3pm and true to their name, it is a villa, a pink one at that. The place is decorated luxuriously, with dark rosewood tables and satin-cushioned chairs (not wheelies, actual solid wooden chairs). The washing room has a mere 3 basins, and is divided from the rest of the boutique by wooden Japanese translucent doors. I’m offered a lemon juice upon arrival, and a Marie Claire, and I immediately love them (I haven’t read a magazine in months!).

I get my hair cut by the head stylist, I presume the owner, a French-Lebanese dude who makes me stand up (now that’s never happened before) as he chops my tresses. The guy is a riot, as camp as a head stylist in Cairo should rightly be, and he beckons his employees with a curled index finger should they happen to slip up. He looks at my hair while cutting it, and asks me in his uber-french accent, “did yoo kolor your hair?”. I nod sheepishly. “At home?” I nod even more sheepishly. Everyone is dressed in plain crème-coloured uniforms, and the simplicity and taste is endearing. They even make me wear a matching crème jacket.

In the end, I am LE 250 poorer (70 for a protein conditioning, 160 for a haircut, 10 for the drink) — but the feeling of being pampered is priceless. And yes, I bounce out feeling like Beyonce, this time, every time.

Friday, June 15, 2007

wedding

Soad was looking beautiful of course.

The wedding was in the Semi-Ramis Intercontinental, in an awesome grand ballroom, and all of us (current and ex-aiesecers) sat on this far side where they had these awesome, slick high tables and chairs. Soad and her new hubby came in amidst a big bangin’ dance troupe, playing drums and singing. We only arrived at 10.15pm mind you, dinner was served around 1am, and we left the party at 4am! The whole night was generally eventful, from her grand entrance, to her singing Shania Twain to her husband on a mic in front of the entire ballroom, to the dancing we got to do, to the live band performances and wedding singers, a photo display of her childhood, to the grand array of food served, it was non-stop fun! Free-flow strawberry, guava, and orange juice obviously helped...

I was surprised at how different a bride behaves here though — at home a bride is expected to stay sitting, look down to her lap, and act all meek and shy — my sis got told off once for showing her teeth! And here Soad was SINGING live in front of everyone, and DANCING her ass off — She was so cute, she got up several times to dance to AIESEC roll calls with everyone (I think she requested a medley of AIESEC songs — now that’s a diehard aiesecer) And even during dinner, while sitting with her hubby, she was waving her arms about and singing to every song — hats off to her!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

henna

I got invited to my first Egyptian wedding. Soad, an ex-AIESECer here, was sweet enough to give me an invitation to see how the entire thing plays out in this country: from the signing of the marriage contract in a mosque, to the henna night to the wedding reception itself.

Yesterday was her henna night — an all-girls dance party held in her house in Mohandiseen. it’s interesting that in the south Asian cultures and even here, it’s the women who usually get a bachelorette party (mehndi’s/ holuds/henna nights) and the men don’t usually do anything. Whereas in the West, its usually the Bachelor night for the boys that’s a big feature before any wedding.

Anyway, the henna night ended up being a blast — upon entering, I got handed a belly chain to tie around my ass (this made me realize it was a mistake to come wearing my salwar kameez, a belly chain requires something tight to be worn around the ass, like tight pants or a tight skirt).

There are companies here that provide full services for your henna night — from the dj to the henna artist, to a female photographer and 2-3 belly dancers, who also dressed Soad up in different outfits and played the part of egging Soad’s guests to cheer and clap for her as she paraded around and danced for us. There were a few things they made her do which made me wonder where they were derived from, as they didn’t seem like Egyptian traditions. They kept taking Soad upstairs to put on different costumes, with about 5-6 dress changes, once as a Bedouin girl with the niqab on her face, and once she had a Hawaiian hula skirt on (which I’m certain is not an Egyptian custom) and so on. It was pretty funky anyhow.

The belly dancers. One of them totally blew me away. She was probably the best I have ever seen perform. She was totally not attractive, kinda plump, but her constant cheeky smile, her energy and her dancing abilities, totally made up for it. Now I understand why men go ga-ga over fat, ugly bellydancers. I literally couldn’t take my eyes of this woman’s ass, and for the first time ever, I went home wanting to learn to belly-dance myself. I am strongly of the belief though, that belly dancing does not make you lose weight around the belly, contrary to popular belief. This woman must do this routine every single night, and as confident as I am that her abs are probably made of stone, she certainly had a healthy slab of fat above them.

So I went home having attempted some belly-shaking', getting some henna tattoos, eating an awesome buffet dinner, and I also found out that I know a lot more Egyptian songs than I realized! Waiting on train platforms and keeping my window open for street wedding music has clearly paid off…

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

a key to understanding Cairean men

Apparently, fava beans (fuul) are an aphrodisiac for men.

This explains alot of things here in Egypt...... Maybe if fuul was to be banned here, us girls would for once be able to walk the streets here in relative peace.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Luxor-on-the-go

Train to Luxor 6am. The 3 hour journey passes in sub-zero temperatures created by the AC. Get to Luxor tired and chilled to the bone. The touts and guides swarm around us, and I progressively get more and more annoyed at people trying to rip us off. We haven’t had breakfast, and sitting down at a café near the station, I get so annoyed at the waiter refusing to give us a menu because they clearly had different prices for tourists, that I refuse to order anything. We end up buying our bus tickets to Hurghada for 2.30pm, and wander off to Luxor Temple. Get there and realise you can see the entire thing from beyond the gates, and since we’re not really Ancient Egypt buffs we take a few cheat-shots: ...From in front of the fence and bugger off to Karnak Temple in a horse carriage. The horse carriage guy tells us its 5 pounds, and we’re like SWEET! Get on and turns out he meant 5 English pounds. Now why in God's name are you giving me English prices? This time we convince the dude that I really do have a student card, and somehow manage to get in at half price (25LE). Awesome! Go in, walk around, go ooh, go aah, and leave after 45mins. It’s too hot and frankly, you’ve seen one long column built 3000 years ago, you’ve seen 'em all.

So we make our way back to the bus ticket office, and the dude who sold us our tickets decides to hitch a ride with us in our taxi to the station. He tries sitting too close, and starts telling me about the sad story of his life, “I see so many women everywhere all day, and when I go home my wife asleep. Problem.” I give him an evil look and inch my way closer to the door and away from him.

We finally get on the bus, endure a constantly-feeling-damp 6 hour journey from 3-9pm to Hurghada with no A/C — and finally we’re there. So that’s Luxor khalas. Maybe I’ll come back for the Valley of the Kings, maybe I wont. But it certainly isn’t a priority anymore.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A different kinda felucca ride

Location: Aswan, Egypt

My head feels like its being cooked alive. I’m wearing sunglasses and a cap and I still want to die. You open your mouth and your throat dries up like you’re sitting in a sauna.

Checked out of my beautiful hotel this morning, and walked downtown. Found a decent budget hotel, Orchida St. George, and paid 35 LE for the night. I also booked a trip to go to Abu Simbel, the High Dam and Philae Temple tomorrow morning for 65 LE. The trip starts at 3am and returns back to Aswan at about 2pm. Then I plan to head to Hurghada.

Spend the afternoon aboard a felucca on the Nile. The Nile here is oh-so-different to that stream of gunk we have in Cairo. It's cleaner, quieter and just so much more like what I imagined of the Nile BEFORE I came to Egypt. It's not lined with 5 star hotels, and it actually has grass-reeds lining its banks, and I can totally imagine a baby Moses floating by on a straw basket (that’s my standard for a good Nile). The boat ride is awesome, my Nubian captains play the drums and sing for me, and I take pictures next to their Bob Marley boat-mast. It's hilarious, a lot of the boats seem to have this Bob Marley mast hanging off their end — I wonder where that came from.

I settle down with lunch on the boat, a feast of Mahroussa and howowshy (one of the best I've had so far) and dip my feet in the water as the boat cruises lazily up and around various little islands dotting the river. The felucca drivers try to get me to go on to Elephantine Island and the Botanical Gardens, but it's so hot that each time I get off and come back within 2 minutes, whining about the heat and collapsing back into the boat. I’d much rather sit on the boat then bake in the sun walking around a bunch of bushes.

Afterwards, I head back to the hotel and rest until the sun has gone down a bit, I walk through the super long bazaar that snakes through Aswan, parallel to the Nile, which conveniently starts from my hotel, and ends at the train station, where I go to enquire about trains/buses to Hurghada.

Unfortunately, the tourism office next to the train station informs me that there is a bus to Hurghada from Aswan but that its very unreliable, and his best advice is to take a train to Luxor first, then catching a bus from there on to Hurghada. That creates a bit of a pickle, because the only trains to Luxor (somebody explain this to me) are at 6am, 6pm and 9pm. For 2 cities 3 hours apart, why are there such infrequent trains? Catching the 6pm means I’ll reach Luxor at 9pm, making it way too late to catch a bus to Hurghada. So I end up booking the 6am train, legging it back to my hotel and having to cancel my Abu Simbel trip. After much persuasion, the dude gives me 50 LE back and pockets 15 LE claiming he already paid the police registration people for my place among the convoy.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Aswan & the Old Cataract Hotel

4am. Wake up to catch my company car ride to the airport, hop on a paid-for flight to Aswan. Aswan is in Upper Egypt, which is basically south of Cairo/Egypt. What usually takes a 12 hour trian journey to get to, I accomplish on a 90 minute flight during which I mostly sleep.

Land in Aswan and I run into Jonathon Spollen, a fellow journalist from Cairo, also covering the same event. We get to the hotel, and it is gorgeous. It’s grand, very old-school, and the interiors are tasteful made in Moorish-style. We get our individual keys and head first for the buffet breakfast. I can't remember the last time I ate that much. The entire day is spent eating buffet meals and a gourmet dinner, and taking naps in between. I venture out for a swim in the hotel pool, but it turns out to be filthy with dead flies and bugs floating about. I run out after a 2 minute dip, and instead opt to appreciate the luxuriously strong shower in my room. I take advantage of the power shower and give myself a good scrub. Somewhere in the middle of all this laziness and what not, I attend a business loan signing ceremony :P



Sunday, May 27, 2007

If we took a holiday, some time to celebrate...

Oh wow. Just knowing the weekend is near is getting me all hyper and excited. Weekends have started having the same effect on me as chocolate. In university, every day meshed into the next, every day was a sleep-in, everyday a Saturday. Now, I cherish every 2 day weekend I get. If I get a 4 day weekend, well, then it's like Christmas.

Plus I didn't get to do my weekend away earlier this month because my friends came to visit from London, and finally after SIXTEEN days of working straight without even weekends, and getting evicted ... this Tuesday will feel like Eid.

AND I have an awesome break planned:

We get a 4 day weekend from work, meaning Weds–Saturday is off. But on Tuesday, I'm being flown to Aswan for a work trip, and so I have decided to stay on in Aswan after work is done. I am going to stay there until Thursday, and then head to Hurghada to meet my friends, which was the original planned getaway.

I've never been flown somewhere by an external body! It's usually me or my dad who pays for my flights! :D Fair enough, its a domestic flight, but its to beautiful Aswan, and my work will be situated at the Old Cataract Hotel, which apparently is beautiful. They are also putting us up at the hotel that night (!). Now THAT I am looking forward to :D And in Hurghada, I am finally going DIVING! :D We have a friend who is a diving instructor there, so he is going to hook us up.

Now if only I could take Boosboos with me :(

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The epitome of Cairo residency:

Getting evicted. It happens to everyone, most of my friends have been evicted at least once, some unlucky ones TWICE. You can't live in Cairo and not live in at least 4 apartments in the space of 7 months. And really, if you had a choice between a nice flat and my boosboos, I think you would choose my little fur-ball of happiness too.

Nevertheless.....tonight, I need someone to play me the song......

Here's a little song I wrote...
you might want to sing it note for note

don't worry, be happy
in every life we have some trouble,
when you worry you make it double
aint got no place to lay your head,
somebody came and took your bed,
don't worry, be happy

uh huh.

ps. Lets look at the bright side: no more 6 flights of steps. No more getting the metro from Sadat-Dokki and getting jostled by 600 women (I'm moving downtown for sure this time).
Lesson learned: Don't bother decorating your flat or making it a nice cosy home, because as soon you get around to putting up that new lamp you bought from Khan, you'll get evicted the next day.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mum and Dad, I've fallen for an Egyptian boy

Yes, I love an Egyptian male. He's very white... slightly too hairy, but has the most beautiful Blue Eyes I have ever looked into. He came into my life only yesterday, but already my heart aches when I leave him behind in the mornings to go to work. At night, he doesn't let me sleep. He keeps me up, constantly pouncing on me and waking me up. He follows me around, keeping close behind my heels at every turn. Shocking I know....I've only known him for less than 24 hours, and already he is in my bed.

Introducing the new man in my life:






His name is Bousbous..
Bous means 'kiss' in Arabic. Literal translation of his name - 'kisskiss'
Full name: Boosboos Pookie Alam
However, generally referred by me as Pooky, Picky, baby, jaanu, $%^%$^%....and things of that nature.

the new light in my life

I really can't wait to go home. All day I keep sitting here at my desk wondering if Bousbous is okay. It's his first day all alone in the flat, which I left all closed up, with his litter next to the doors. I hope he remembers to use it. I hope he isn't lonely.

Last night, I left him alone in the living room when I went off to bed, but unlike other nights, I left my bedroom door wide open, just in case he needed something during the night. About two minutes into closing my eyes, I hear the tiniest meow and I immediately got up and looked around my room in the dark, wondering where the hell his meow was coming from. I turned my phone on to use the light, and found Bousbous sitting next to my side of the bed, looking up at me. My heart absolutely melted. I quickly scooped him up and held him close.

Eventually, after some prancing about on my head, chest and back, he settled down to sleep on the head of my pillow. After about five minutes, I looked back at him and he was gone! Later on, around 4am, I woke up to him jumping around and playing with the chains on my shorts.....he eventually got thrown out of the room. In the morning, I woke up and ran to open my door. He was nowhere to be seen! I started calling him and after about 10 seconds, he comes bounding out towards me, and as I went about my morning routine, packing my bag, showering and getting dressed he kept running around directly behind my heels....it was adorable!

I had a BBQ last night and he was such a HIT! Friends kept threatening to kidnap him home, and I had to carry out bag searches on everyone upon their exit.....oh, and how did I get him? The most important detail! I was throwing a BBQ at my flat last night, and completely unaware that I was about to get a kitten.....Omar had told me 2 months back that his aunt had persian kittens, and was willing to give one away, but I kinda forgot about it since they still had to be reared by the mother initially....2 days ago, he emails me "Do you want a male or female cat?" and I mailed back saying Male but still not really thinking about when I would get the cat or anything.

Yesterday, at 7pm, while I was frantically cleaning the house in the sweltering heat that was yesterday, Omar turns up and rings my doorbell with Bous on his shoulder. You wouldn't believe the shock on my face. I was totally unprepared! After that, I pretty much forgot about the BBQ. I had to call up Sarah Keller immediately, and asked her to bring me some kitty litter and food/milk appropriate for a 2 month old baby. She has a cat too, so she knew what to do, whereas I havent actually had a cat since I was 16! Plus I have never kept a cat in a flat, we always lived in an open house with a garden. Luckily, I have a large balcony.

Anyway, so I take the little one into my bedroom first and he seemed a little scared so I sat him down on my armchair....and he promptly spread his body out totally flat and fell asleep! Later, I realised he was just really really hot, and kept panting, (it was the hottest day of the year so far), and when i gave him a little pot of water, he wouldnt stop lapping it up!
This little thing has done wonders for my stress levels. I went into work this morning, even though i was exhausted, and I sat in my morning meeting with a big smile on my face, and I just feel all warm and happy and wanting to hug everyone all day! I think George Bush needs to get a kitten. He wouldn't be nuking the world if he did.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

take it to the baladi guy first. always.

So after 2 years passing since I bought my once-very-white-now-kinda-grey iBook, the charger cable decides to wear out and stop charging my laptop.

Life hits a standstill. I spend 2 days using the old iMac in the office which hangs everytime I go on the Daily Star website.

Things become desperate. I take advice from EVERYONE.

Some say go to the apple store and buy a new one. Some come up with asking this dude who knows another man who can get me a cheaper one from China at 30% discount and will last approx. 1 year before going kaput. Some tell me I should get my mum to look for my warranty card sitting somewhere in my room in Singapore. Some suggest going to the apple store and just asking how much a repair would cost.

I do that and they say its not doable, and that a new charger costs 850 LE. thats more than my rent per month! Oh my Gosh....

:(

After 2-3 days of paralysis, general panic settling in about how this charger is going to cost me my desperately needed monthly weekend getaway.....I take the charger to a baladi electrician, and for 4 LE, he cuts the plastic, fixes the wire and puts it all back together with white industrial tape and some sort of rubbery glue I cant seem to fathom.

Now that's what i call efficient repair services.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

potluck adventures

To me, a fully veg potluck party that's actually lip-smackingly good is an anomaly. But not when it is Indian veg dishes and prepared in a nice Maadi kitchen with 5-6 friends all at the same time :)

The Menu:

1) Freshly made chapati
2) Daal
3) Chana masala
4) Sagh paneer
5)Shakshoka
6)Fried Spice Potatoes
7)Egyptian Salad
8) Sweet homemade Lassi
9) Masala Chai

Ok fair enough, points get taken off because Sagar ordered in the sagh and the chana masala cuz he cant cook, but not that we were complaining!! and shakshoka isn't necessarily Desi but hell it was still awesome! :P

my dahl

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Scene: Sleazy Belly-dancing joint downtown

"Kent got a lapdance from a full-dressed pregnant 'client-servicer' last night, who started pulling his hair because he was too cheap to tip her, and who — when he finally did hand her 5 pounds — proceeded to wave the note around laughing to show everyone how cheap he (still) is."

Now there's a line you don't get to say everyday.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

frozen

There is no time to breathe. Sleep is a thing of the past. I'm waiting for just one night, where I can just stay home, and catch up on my prison break downloads. Waiting to get out of Cairo, waiting for my first weekend. Work is hectic. Life after work is hectic. I keep saying I will start this, and that, like Arabic lessons, when I finally 'settle down' — but when the hell am I going to settle down? It's nearly 2 months since I came back.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Home....

.....is in the form of a Helen's kebab and 2 boxes of Hare & Tortoise King Prawn Fried Rice
.....frozen in a small baker street fridge the night before
......and then flown all the way from London to Cairo
.....is in the form of friends who know exactly what would make you deliriously happy after leaving London 7 months ago and living in Cairo where food is rubbish.


King Prawn Fried Rice with Chilli Oil - from Hare & Tortoise, Brunswick Centre
Lamb Kebab from Helen's on Edgware Road, London
Lesson 1: How to heat up a day old shwarma without an oven or toaster or microwave of any kind.
First, place kebab on pan.
Wait for Kebab to heat up.
Realise Kebab isnt cooking inside.


Go crazy with knife and chop up shwarma into 4 parts.Cook.
Eat.
Die of happiness.
Actually.....
make that 'bawl with happiness and homesickness'.
sigh.


You rock. You ARE my rock.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I hate Egypt day

I just had my first ‘I hate Egypt’ day. I've never had them before; Egypt and I have usually gotten on marvelously. I even managed to bypass ‘culture shock’ pretty smoothly, because I think it hit just when my mum visited in December, so I was very distracted with warm hugs and yummy food.

It really mainly consists of little things annoying you. People, most of the time. Before I was able to ignore men hassling me on the streets, and just keep walking by, but now if I hear one indecipherable comment in Arabic, my blood starts to boil and I want to thump the guy with a spiked bat. The hypocrisy of people’s attitudes are also starting to piss me off. Don’t give me a holier-than-thou attitude about the family values and Islamic, conservative values of this country if you have hordes of men assaulting and raping men on Eid downtown. "We are religious, but our men are sexually repressed rapists who will mass assault women on the streets if they can.” That’s not a country with family values, that’s a country with no clue how to bring up and control its people.

The Metro is doing my head in. I used to think it a wonder, since compared to my 60 LE taxi to Ericsson, getting a 1 LE train ride to Maadi anytime of the day is a breeze. But now its finally getting to me. The trains here have all women carriages, and while that is a blessing because you don’t have pervy men staring at you during your commute twice a day, it means being literally hoarded into the carriage like a cattle of cows. The trains get so so crowded here during peak hours, and the doors close shut so bloody fast that there is no such thing here as ‘letting passengers out before making your way in’. The doors open and its every woman for herself — sometimes I fear I wont be able to get out at my stop because of the women pushing their way in.

And I’m getting so angry these days that sometimes when I’m getting out I make it a point to stampede my way out and if I step on anyone’s foot or shove someones shoulder, I feel a distinct curl of pleasure inside me. And sometimes the carriage is so packed with women, and then there are even more women trying to push push push their way in, you don’t even have to hold a pole to prevent yourself from falling, the women around you do the job quite well.

Another thing. I listen to my iPod everyday on the train. Granted that women stare at me anyway since I look foreign, I think they stare at me more because of the iPod. I know this because on several occasions I have had someone asking about the iPod wondering what it is. Plus my earphones leak music. So one day, I’m sitting next to this woman reading the Quran on the metro, and she pokes me and tells me to basically turn down my music. Fair enough, but now every time I catch someone staring at me, I imagine them silently judging me for listening to my sinful Western music — ok ok I know I’m being a dickhead. For some reason, I’m finding niqabi women very threatening these days. It's never happened to me before. I don’t know what's prompting it now.

And I’m also having the opposite of I-hate-Egypt days. I’m having I-miss-The-West days too. Where you can walk the streets and no one stares at you or hisses dirty things into your ear. Where you can do a hop and a jiggle on the street, and no one will bat an eye. Where people understand me and I understand them.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

my first...






...white sauce in 7 years.
....ever attempt at cooking macaroni and cheese.
....online cooking assistant in the form of Kent on MSN.

Hurghada and worms

Yes, it’s a bright, neon, Russian infested tourist resort town.

No, it doesn’t feel like you're in Egypt anymore, it feels more like you’re in Moscow in year 2098 and global warming has warped the climate completely. People are dressed like they’re from a bad 80s flick, and there are more white faces than brown. It’s refreshing in a depressing way, after all that pent up frustration from life in comparatively super-conservative Cairo.

We find an ‘apartment’, for 100 LE a night, for four of us. Now, if that sounds dodgy to you, and has you thinking, “Hmm, that can’t be right…” — you’re right, it wasn’t. I express my doubts on the apartment upon entering — the bathroom has some 5 year old faeces swimming in the bowl, and the sheets don’t look washed — but seeing as how all my friends are pretty broke, I decide not to make too much of a fuss. We notice some tiny red wormy looking things in the bathtub, but we figure they crawled out of the drain, and hey, we’re soldiers.

The next day, after going diving all day (more on that later), I get in the shower to wash my hair. I do what I always do, I flip my hair down, place my head below the tap and let the water soak my strands.

Suddenly, I notice a little red worm on my hand. And like a really bad, slow-motion horror film, I swivel my head to look at the floor of the bathtub — and it has like a 100 little red worms all over it. Worms that were not there before I turned the water on.

All hell breaks lose. I start hyperventilating, and my mate has to come into the bathroom, and only after getting me to calm down to the point where my screams become an occasional whimper and shudder, proceeds to pick each and every worm out of my hair, one by one. Every time one drops onto my skin, I go crazy and have to be calmed down all over again.

All clean and worm-free, I get out of the bathroom and give my friends the dirtiest, nastiest look possible and go into my room. That's it, I am getting out of this shit-hole and getting a hotel for the night. Somehow they convince me not to, of course, and for the rest of the 1.5 days we are there, I buy bottled mineral water for everything: showering, brushing my teeth, number ones, twos, everything.

Next time, I am not going cheap. Next time, if I can’t afford to get a decent hotel, I’m not bloody going. I don’t care if you think I’m being a princess, you can bloody go stick those little red worms up your arse and we’ll see how you feel!

Ok fine, it's kinda funny when you look back on it afterwards.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

number 1s in the Desert (i had to dedicate a post to this)

Well, I survived the toileting side, I will have you know. And, yes I agree with Tom, it really is liberating sitting out in the open, feeling the breeze on your ass and doin' what you gotta do in such silence. Daytime toilet trips I very much enjoyed, can't say the same for night visits however. Having to go out with a flashlight, even with 3 girls in tow, into absolute darkness is kinda scary. The 'breeze' you enjoyed during the day becomes more of a whipping wind at night, and you just want to get over with it and return back to camp pronto.

In fact, on the first morning out in the desert, woken up by the sunlight at 6.30am, I was one of the first ones up....so I took my mattress and walked up away from the camp and settled down on a dune overlooking the entire area. The silence was incredible. It really is hard to find that kind of silence, especially having born and brought up in the city all my life. Sometimes someone would say something at the camp, and even though i was so far away the noise would be carried over to me by the wind. After enjoying the crisp morning sun for an hour or so, I got up and walked around my dune....I discovered a little nook behind a rock, which i then promptly staked out as my very own personal bathroom. No chance of anyone sneaking up on me. Like a little cat, I did my doings, covered it up and walked back to camp.

There were traumatising incidents of course. Stopping at a random spot in the desert while jeeping around, I, Natasha and Sara just HAD to go. Now the problem with being out in the open desert: Yes it is big and vast, and the dunes are big enough to hide you....but they are actually so big and wide that firstly climbing out to get behind one away from the cars is a task on its own, and then having to worry that one of the jeeps will come driving down the dune and catch you with your ass in the air.....it just doesnt bode well for peaceful toileting.

Lesson learnt: Don't tell anyone on a camping trip that you have baby wipes. Most importantly, don't tell certain Nigerians who will sneak it out of your handbag when you're not looking.

Siwa: 6th-9th April 2007

I'm not sure where to start. Or where to stop. Borrowing Tom Gara's favorite word, Siwa was AWESOME. The people I traveled with, the Bedouins who organized everything for us, just AWESOME.

Firstly, I am officially in love with the desert. Forget beaches. Forget mountains. Forget the ocean. The desert is my favorite get-away at the moment. The enormous size of the dunes, the vastness, the absolute brightness and color of the sand. In some spots, the sand is ever so soft, and on our first evening, I spent a good half-an-hour just sitting on this random patch of soft soft sand just feeling it run through my fingers, and burying my legs in it. But the desert was not made for human habitation. How did people manage to cross it on horse or camel-back back in the day? Sitting in 4x4s I felt like we could never conquer this desert......just riding up and down dunes was complicated enough, with at least one of our trio of jeeps always getting stuck and having to be dug out. We found shells buried in the sand a few times, and the realization that this used to be an ocean once-upon-a-time scares the crap out of you.

Highlights: Huddling around the fire as soon as the Bedouins would light one up for us in the evenings. The simple needs you have being out in the desert, where all you want is the warmth from the fire. Watching the sky explode with stars as nighttime falls. There really is no such thing as light pollution out there. Starving by the end of a day of non-stop exploring, and then eating an incredible barbecued meal cooked by the Bedouins. Feeling the sand crunch between your teeth when taking a bite out of the chicken just enhances the taste to be honest. Sticking your head out of the window of a jeep while it shoots across the desert (well not quite shoots, but the wind in your face and hair certainly made it feel like we were shooting). The 2-second wait where the Jeep is sitting on the edge of an enormous sand dune — and then hollering your lungs out when it rushes down it, thinking you're going to crash at the end, but inevitably don't. Not bringing a camera on a trip with me for the first time ever and being able to just enjoy each and every moment instead of trying to view it through a lens.