Thursday, May 31, 2007


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 cafĂ© 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 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
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


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.... 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 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.
Die of happiness.
make that 'bawl with happiness and homesickness'.

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. 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.