Monday, October 30, 2006

Me, dad and the mummies

The Sunday Times
April 02, 2006

Me, dad and the mummies

Grown-ups love ’em, but tombs and pyramids for kids? Cool, says Madeleine Wickers (13)

Cairo is huge, everything is written in squiggles, and there are mosques everywhere with neon lights. We arrived late in the evening, went straight to the suburb of Giza, the home of the pyramids, and checked in at Mena House, which has been a hotel since 1869. It has brownish photos of Winston Churchill and the American president Roosevelt making wartime plans on the back of a napkin.

There were roses on our beds and chocolate-covered strawberries on the table. A man brought a tray of juices and cool flannels. I was exhausted, but I had just enough energy to take a look at the Great Pyramid, which was right outside our balcony.

Next day, our guide, Salwa — very nice — took us over to the pyramids. They were ENORMOUS! If you built a wall from all the stones, 10ft high and 10ft wide, it would stretch round the whole of France. Me and dad climbed up one — a bit. We also saw the Sphinx: its face has been worn away by the wind.

Next, we drove to the Egyptian Museum. Everyone in Egypt drives like a maniac, and I clung onto my seat for dear life while trying not to be travel sick. This was the worst part of the holiday: the travelling.

Brilliant Giza: Dad shows Madeleine around the pyramids

We saw Tutankhamun’s tomb, his sarcophagus made from solid gold, and the actual death mask he wore. He was only 18 when he died, and Salwa said he was probably the poorest of all the pharaohs. There were mummified children, fish, crocodiles, cats and dogs, plus 3,400-year-old socks. Really weird.

If we had spent one minute looking at each piece in the museum, we would have been there for nine months. We had lunch instead, then went to see Mohammed Ali’s mosque, which was more like a castle. Just outside, there was a little shop where they dressed me up in a Cleopatra outfit and took my photo. Very embarrassing.

On our third day, we flew to the Nile, where we boarded our boat, the Philae, then went exploring. First stop, Yorkshire Bob — which was the name of a tiny jewellery shop. Dad asked the owner if he’d ever been to Yorkshire. “Never,” he said. “I heard it’s cold and freezing wet.” I doubt whether he’s called Bob, either.

I bought six cartouches — pendants with names spelt in hieroglyphics — for my friends. On the back of each, there is an ankh, a symbol for life, and a scarab beetle, symbolising luck.

We went for a fab ride by horse and carriage. Every driver makes the same joke — “This is Egyptian Ferrari” — and asks for a tip (“baksheesh”), for the horse. It was amazing to ride past the ancient temple of Karnak, built in 250BC, on one side, and a McDonald’s on the other. The temple is ginormous. It could swallow two or three cathedrals.

We also went to the Museum of Mummification, where there were lots of bodies in bandages, plus a mummified monkey and a goose, which both looked gross. We saw a spatula used to remove the brains from skulls. Ugh!

On the way back to the boat, a man across the street yelled to dad, “You have beautiful daughter!” — which was sweet, but really embarrassing.

Next morning, we went by coach to the Valley of the Kings. It was eerie inside the tombs, even though the pharaohs’ bodies are no longer there. The ancient Egyptians believed that the sun was born each morning in the east, then died each night in the west. That’s why they built their temples on the east bank of the Nile, the tombs on the west. I felt tired, and the guide seemed to go on and on.

WE WENT cruising down the Nile next. There were only five children on the boat, including me, and although there was a pool, it was tiny. I liked sitting on the deck, sipping hibiscus juice, looking at the riverbanks.

One evening, we had to dress up as Egyptians. During the afternoon, a load of little rowing boats pulled up beside ours. It was like being attacked by pirates. There was lots of shouting and the boatmen threw up dresses called galabayas — we had to catch them from our cabin balcony and throw back those we didn’t like. If we missed, they were lost in the Nile. The whole thing was absolutely mad.

We bought one each, put the money into plastic bags and chucked them down again. My dad also wore one of the galabayas, and I put on lots of eye liner, very Egyptian-style. Everyone clapped when we came down to dinner in our costumes. The food was FAB, and there was Arabic dancing.

Back in Cairo, we met Salwa again, in a bazaar called Khan el-Khalili. She gave me three presents — a scarab-beetle necklace, an ankh and a little jewellery box. It was so nice of her. The bazaar was amazing, like an ancient Brent Cross, and really crowded. We saw Ian Hislop from Have I Got News For You sitting in a cafe where some people were smoking tobacco through things that looked like hose pipes. Not him, though.

I was so sad that it was our last night in Egypt, but I’d had a brilliant time. Here are my final scores: food, 8 out of 10; comfort on boat and hotels, 10; staff, 10; atmosphere on boat, 7; fellow passengers, 1; cultural interest, 8; Salwa, 10+; shopping, 6; prices, 8.

  • Madeleine Wickers was a guest of Scott Dunn

    Dad's view

    EGYPT CAN work brilliantly for older children, but you’ll need to follow a few do’s and don’ts:

  • DON’T be tempted to go super-cheap in July and August. Your kids will fry.
  • DO book the best boat you can afford on the Nile. Some have poor comfort and dubious hygiene.
  • DON’T skip Cairo. Some packages fly straight to Luxor, but that leaves out the pyramids and the Egyptian Museum, both of which kids love.
  • DO consider a week on the Red Sea at the end. The ancient sites can be hot and heaving: the prospect of a beach break will pep the kids up when history overload beckons.

    How to do it: Scott Dunn (020 8682 5070, has a seven-night itinerary similar to ours from £1,660pp (£1,445 per child under 12), including all flights and most meals. UK regional connections start at £69pp. Or try Thomas Cook (0870 111 1111,, Discover Egypt (020 7407 2111, ) or Explore (0870 333 4001, ).

  • The guide to Sharm el Sheikh

    Times Online
    October 04, 2006

    The guide to Sharm el Sheikh

    Tricia Holly Davis returns to Egypt's Sharm El Sheikh to find a bouyant package crowd on budget holidays, but says they haven't ruined the resort for everyone else

    The sun-faded signpost that stands in the centre of Naama Bay reads, "Sharm El Sheikh, the City of Beauty and Peace." Standing only a hundred metres from the rubble-strewn site of the former Ghazala Gardens Hotel, which was devastated by last summer's suicide bombings, the sign sends a defiant message to terrorists and offers reassurance to visitors.

    "It is safe now, don't worry," says Zizo Safan, a shopkeeper, as we sit outside the San Marino café, one of the many cushion-clad restaurants that flank King of Bahrain Street in the centre of Naama Bay. Zizo tells me there are now at least five security checkpoints on the road to Sharm from Cairo. "Before the bombs there was only one stop but now they check you several times."

    Security inside Sharm's city limits is also tight. All the hotels I visited had airport-style, walk-through metal detectors and guarded gates to prevent random traffic from entering the hotel property. There are also a number of guards posted along the main tourist thoroughfare.

    Like most of the proprietors in Sharm, Zizo has learned to speak fluent English, Italian, and Russian - the three most prevalent tourist ethnicities there.

    "The Italians are coming back so that's a good sign because they were really scared," says Zizo. "On the night of the attacks they all slept on the beach because they were scared that their hotel would be blown up. The Brits are better. They'll go anywhere."

    And so it seems the British are a resilient bunch... or they just find it hard to resist a good deal. Perhaps it's a bit of both, but the end result is the same. Tourism is trickling back in, as evidenced by my full flight to Sharm aboard British Airways (operated as GB Airways), which commenced direct flights from Gatwick in October. Taha Abdalla, director of sales, Jolie Ville Movenpick Golf & Resort hotel, says Sharm has seen a 30 per cent boost in British tourists since the new flights began.

    While the cheap beach package crowd can't be avoided and are helping to rebuild Sharm's tourism market, they are mostly confined to one area of the coast, and have thus far avoided giving Sharm a downmarket feel.

    Back at the San Marino, located adjacent to the Diar Nama Hotel, the café's owner, Hassam Zaky Mohme, or Sam, chuckles lightly as first-timers puzzle over the menu, whispering, "Shisha? Is that one of those water pipes?" But he is happy to have customers again. "Business was not so good after the bombs but it's getting better."

    From what I observed it's getting a lot better. I went back to the San Marino three times and on my last visit I had to wait for a table. Still, I could tell tourism wasn't at the same level it was when I first visited Sharm in February 2005.

    Located on the Southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, Sharm El Sheikh's expansive coral reef and crystal clear water have earned it the reputation as one of the best scuba diving spots in the world. Over the past 10 years, people have flocked from Cairo and Alexandria to build elaborate resorts and casinos, and set-up "Sea Food" restaurants and shops selling "Genuine Egyptian Perfume", spices, and other tourist trinkets.

    Off the beach, the city resembles a Hollywood set, with unfinished buildings and roads lurking behind the shadows of grand resorts that line the seaside. Sharm seems to be waiting patiently for the world to notice it, and inject enough into the economy to help it realise its full potential.

    During the day, quintessential seaside activities abound. The men shuffle off to play cards or balls, while the women flock to their water aerobics classes. Although there are signs everywhere that scream, "No topless!" many women, namely the Italians, ignore this rule. Another observation about the Italians is that they have taken a page from the Germans, sneaking down to the beach at first light to lay their towel on the best seats.

    Those unlucky enough to be spotted sitting idly on the beach will be quickly recruited by the "animation" staff, whose job is to encourage guests to get up on a large stage in the centre of the beach and perform YMCA. At the Marriott, this pleasure occurred everyday at 1 pm. Although I never danced on stage, by the third day I had developed a Pavlovian response to the song, complete with a rumbling belly and strong desire to break open the first Sakara Gold (the local lager) of the day. Admittedly, I kind of miss it.

    Where to stay

    In terms of value for money, service, food, rooms, amenities, cleanliness and proximity to Naama Bay, the five-star Marriott and Hilton Beach Resorts are the top choices. Those in search of something more exclusive should book at the Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons or Conrad, all of which are about a 10-minute drive to Naama Bay and offer complimentary shuttle service. Of the three, the palatial Ritz Carlton is my favourite, but a word of warning: the rocky beach is more like Brighton than the Red Sea.

    Eating out

    For food, Naama Bay has a plethora of restaurants which are priced at a fraction of the hotels, but are a better choice for dinner. Marriott has a great outdoor pizza restaurant, Parmizzano's, which is good for lunch or dinner. For a late lunch and a good happy hour pad over to the Hilton, located five minutes walk from the Marriott.

    The Hilton also has an outdoor shisha bar and restaurant, grilling up lamb koftas and the catch of the day. Sunset cocktails are best had on the terrace of the Sofitel, which sits atop the main resort strip and overlooks the sea. For dinner, the buffet at Jolie Ville is a must-even if you're not a buffet fan. If you can afford it, head over to the Ritz Carlton's Lebanese restaurant for a full feast (£100 with wine), and good belly dancing show, otherwise just go there to check out the bar.


    At night, downtown Naama Bay is a buzz of activity, with tourists crowding into row upon row of restaurants and bars. The Camel Bar is a favourite with the Brits, and its rooftop turns into a lively club at the weekend. The Alf Leila Wa Leila, located a few kilometres from Naama Bay, holds the best shows in Sharm, despite the fact that its prized performer is a male belly dancer named Tito. For late night partying, head to the Hard Rock Café.

    What to do

    In Sharm, as in Cairo, bartering is the currency of choice. Unlike Cairo, however, where the vendors practically assault you as you walk by, Naama Bay is far more relaxed, and the sales pitch far more subtle. Trying to guess the nationality of passer-bys is the favoured approach. "English? Italiano?" vendors persist in an effort to lure you into their shops.

    For a town whose tourism market has barely reached adolescence, Sharm has a mature, western approach to tourism, which recognises that service sells. Old Sharm is worth seeing once, but it is still in the early development stage, and the vendors are far more aggressive than in Naama Bay.

    Unfortunately, vendors such as Wella Ramadan, a former economics student from Cairo, feel people take advantage of the negative impact terrorism has had on Sharm's tourist trade. "They know we are struggling so will accept lower prices than we would normally," he tells me.

    As I watched people haggle to death the simplest of purchases ("Three [Egyptian] pounds for water! I'll give you one!"), I realised he had a point. Perhaps this is why, much to my husband's dismay, I didn't bother to bargain down the price of my shisha pipe, which cost me the equivalent of £20, including charcoal and what I estimate is a five year's supply of apple-flavoured tobacco. Now if only I could remember how to assemble it.

    My Secret Cairo

    My Secret Cairo
    The Times
    October 28, 2006

    There’s much more to the city than Pyramids and relics. Philip Hensher praises its hidden beauty

    Above: Philip Hensher at the 9th-century mosque of Ibn Tulun (Ahmad Hosni for The Times/Panos). Below: Islamic Cairo comes to life at its local cafés and restaurants
    YOU’VE gone on a two-week guided tour of Egypt, and now you’re in Cairo. This morning, you went to the Egyptian Museum and peered at Tutankhamun’s funerary mask in a densely sweating crowd. This afternoon, you’re in a coach coming back from the Pyramids. Your fellow tourists are full of complaints about the lewd liberties taken by the camel-drivers, you’re laden down with tawdry purchases, and the coach is stuck in traffic on one of the flyovers that cut through central Cairo. You look out, and in the middle of the expanse of biscuit-dry roofs is an extraordinary thing: a delicate stone pinnacle, carved into elaborate, fantastic forms. A little farther away, another and another; a dome rippling with lace-like arabesques.

    The coach moves on and the disloyal thought occurs to you: why aren’t we looking at that? But you’re flying to Luxor tomorrow and there won’t be time.

    It’s a great oddity. Millions of tourists go to Cairo, and almost all of them take the same route, visiting only the ancient relics at Giza and in the Egyptian Museum. But Cairo was not a city of the ancient Egyptians. The city was founded by the Copts as Babylon — one theory holds that its name has nothing to do with the biblical city, but rather Bab il-On, the Gate of On. After the Arab conquest in 641, it became perhaps the greatest Islamic city in the world.

    Its mosques and monuments are preserved as far back as the flood-recording Nilometer of 861 and the mosque of Ibn Tulun, built in 879. There are architectural treasures from almost every historical period since then, including a supreme run of Mamluk architecture, the dynasty which ruled between 1250 and 1517. It’s a cornucopia that compares with treasures from the Roman Baroque, or the Florentine Renaissance.

    To plunge into Islamic Cairo ankle-deep — perhaps literally so, since the streets round here are not that well-kept — start with your back to Khan al-Khalili, and cross the road. You might recognise the two towering buildings, exuberantly striped and ornamented, from a famous painting by the Victorian artist David Roberts. These are the Ghouriya, a complex of religious buildings built by the last-but-one of the Mamluk sultans, al-Ghouri. They combine several purposes — a madrassa, or religious school with a mosque, is on the right. On the left, there is a mausoleum and a sabil-kuttab, or a combination of public fountain and elementary school.

    The beautiful mosque of al-Ghouri is a good starting point. Its thick walls and complex entrance remove you from the raucous world of the street; an ingenious system of air circulation keeps the building cool and fresh. Inside, the light is rich and velvety; there are high windows of bright stained glass, greens against reds, and everywhere a transfixing mastery of ornament. The calligraphic verses from the Koran merge almost seamlessly into geometrical patterns and plant forms; the whole effect is restrained and organic.

    Most of Cairo’s mosques are still in use and it’s important to approach them in a polite spirit, removing your shoes and asking permission to take photographs. In almost every case, the non-Muslim will be welcomed, though perhaps with a little bemusement, and sometimes with excessive deference. Most mosques, for some reason, are strewn with supine men, giving a very good impersonation of being asleep. The custodian of Barsbay’s mosque, after welcoming me in, officiously dashed about waking all of them up, telling them to sit up and make a good impression.

    These beautiful buildings are effectively buried in the mud and chaos of Cairo’s urban life. Walking away from the Ghouriya, you find yourself in the middle of what seems to be the women’s underwear bazaar: stalls of vast bras and knickers in washload-destroying shades of red and pink and peach.

    There are boys with vats of karkaday (hibiscus tea) on barrows, sacks of guavas, cotton bales, an ice-merchant carrying a glistening 6ft plank of ice on his shoulder; and suddenly you see the extraordinary vision of the Sabil of Tusun Pasha, with its Rococo styling and bulging walls, very like a miniature Paris Opera.

    The Egyptian Government doesn’t seem to have its Islamic heritage high on its “to do” list. Some of the most fabulous stretches of Islamic Cairo, notably the street from al-Azhar to Bab al-Futuh, take place along streets that are like bomb sites.

    Occasionally, a piece of exemplary restoration has taken place. There are two splendid medieval palaces that shouldn’t be missed: a merchant’s house, called Beit al-Sihami and, just by the Ibn Tulun mosque, the GayerAnderson museum, also known as the Beit al-Kritliya. Lucky old Major Gayer-Anderson had a well in his garden which turns out to be the underground entrance to the palace of the Sultan of the Bats, the evil genius of The Thousand and One Nights, where the Sultan’s seven daughters still lie asleep on golden beds. That’s what I call a water-feature.

    In both houses, you can see the seductive rhythms of medieval domestic life; the rooms melt from interior to exterior, the purpose of each not firmly defined as the household would move around in search of coolness.

    There are public and private spaces; the private areas, lived in by women, have mashrabiyyas, or wooden lattice-work screens, overlooking the public areas or the street — readers of Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace Walk will remember the erotic potential of these veiled openings, as the heroines peep out and even let their faces be seen by young men.

    The mixed and fluid uses of buildings is very marked in Cairo. One of the loveliest of the sabil-kuttabs, Qaytbay’s, is no longer used as a neighbourhood fountain, but has gone on serving its function as a centre of learning — there is an excellent library on the upper floors in which you are made very welcome. Visiting one of the most ingenious and beautiful of all mosques, Qijmas al-Ishaqi, it is enchanting to overhear the noisy chanting of children from the attached kuttab.

    The oddest mixture, however, is in the so-called City of the Dead, or the two great cemeteries. Though they were built as cemeteries, Egyptians always lived among the dead, and now they are thriving urban centres with frequent tombs interspersed. Here, in the Northern Cemetery, is an awe-inspiring sequence of late Mamluk mosques.

    In a just world, the ornamental fantasy of the Qaytbay funerary complex, its dazzling lace-draped dome above all, would be as celebrated as the greatest of Venetian churches. In reality, you will have it all to yourself.

    But you may be just as beguiled by the friendly, if slightly surprised, greetings from the inhabitants of this oddest of urban developments, as you walk along the streets afterwards.

    Need to know

    Philip Hensher travelled with Bales Worldwide (0870 7559851,, which offers five nights at the Nile Hilton hotel, Cairo, on a B&B basis, from £630pp, based on two sharing. The price includes flights with Egypt Air from Heathrow and transfers. Half-day sightseeing tour of Islamic Cairo with private guide costs £42pp (based on two sharing).

    Reading: Islamic Monuments in Cairo, by Caroline Williams (American University in Cairo Press, £14.95). The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz (Everyman’s Library, £20).


    Traditional and elegant: Abou El Sid, off 26th July Street, Zamalek(00 20 2 735 9640).

    Chic and international: L’Aubergine, 5 El Sayed al-Bakry Street, Zamalek (738 0080).

    Drinking: For chic, Nile-side settings try La Bodega, 157, 26th July Street, Zamalek (735 0543); Sangria, Casino El Shagara, Corniche El Nile, Maspero (579 6511), and La Sequoia, Aboul Feda Street, Zamalek (735 0014).

    Go green: Half the £299 you pay for a ten-day Eco Egypt tour goes to a children’s home in Cairo. Departures on February 14 and September 5 with On the Go Egypt (020-7371 1113,

    Thursday, October 26, 2006

    The Lebanese Roastery

    Strolled into this really interesting shop on our evening walk today called the Lebanese Roastery. Only after coming home & "googling it" did I realise how large a chain it was.

    The entry was filled with a variety of the Lebanese nougat sweets. As we went further inside there were whole spices available, a little further the display changed to a variety of nuts & even further inside was the roasted coffee section.

    The nuts were around 70-90LE per kg & came in many flavored options.

    The server there - Mahmood - was extremely polite & helpful. He even offerred us a complimentary coffee of our choice. I had tried Arabic coffee a couple of days agao. (an extremely mild decoction that is had sugarless with small bites of dates taken in between) so I decided to try the Turkish coffee. Big mistake. It was too strong for me since I am definitely not a "black coffee" person. Turkish coffee is a very strong decoction of coffee. Much much much stronger than an espresso. So I had to discreetly hide the almost untouched cup of coffee.

    We picked up a half kg of assorted nuts convincing ourselves that we had avoided the less healthier option - SWEETS. Having rationalised our purchase, we headed on as happy as can be.

    Had a lovely dinner at Andrea later this evening. Read my Review Here

    Monday, October 23, 2006

    Late Posting

    Hey, I don't have regular net access right now. So although I am writing daily, I can't get it online immediately. I have to wait till I reach the company guest house to use their dial up connection.

    So I'll post a coupla days worth in a matter of a few hours (sigh, dial ups are so painful) but with original timestamp of when I wrote the piece.

    Will upload the pictures after a couple of days when I get a better connection than this dial up. Do drop me comments

    Phone Cards in Egypt

    Got a temporary pre-paid mobile connection as its really important for me to be contactable & in contact.

    Someone from the office helped us arrange this, so I'm not too sure about the formalities for acquiring one. I do know that thee is some address proof & the like required for post paid connections. More on that once I convert. Supposedly I can convert to post paid without having to change my cell number which sounds great.

    On pre paid the rates are quite high. Need to analyse whether it makes better economic sense to be on international roaming or pre paid for ISD calls.

    Had to recharge the phone because the initial amount ran out quite quickly, what with Diwali & all.

    So when to the local supermarket chain "Metro Market" & asked for 1 - 500LE card, 1 - 200 LE card & 1 - 100LE card. (3 of our cells had run out at the same time, that was quite hilarious too. 3 local cell phones & we had to all 3 call local numbers on international roaming cells from India because we all 3 ran out of currency at the same time) He only had 100LE cards so I asked for 6 of these (thinking I would add the balance sometime later)

    Now with a 100LE recharge, you only get about 93LE value of talk time. When the bill got printed (difficult to converse with store clerks in English in some areas) I found I had been charge 115LE for each 100LE recharge card. I thought the supermarket was gypping me, but on further clarification I found that this is the standard practice.

    The printed value on the recharge card is 100LE, the selling price is 115LE & the actual value of talk time available is 93LE. So be aware.

    Will need to check how much the 200 LE & 500LE cards cost at retail

    Sunday, October 22, 2006

    American University of Cairo

    Just spent the whole day roaming around the city, getting a feel of the whole place. Streets arent as crowded because of the Id holidays. Went up to the CSA office hoping to get some valuable insight into the right locations and estate agents to help with house hunting. But they are closed until Thursday too.

    Totally missing my wireless data card. Finally figured that I can't access wifi networks thru this laptop. Such a pain. Figured it out after sitting down in a cafe that promised free wifi access & ordering a milkshake that I wasnt even in the mood to drink :( The breakfast that I have at the Hotel keeps me going at least till 5PM

    Visited the American University of Cairo to figure out if I could do a PhD from here. The American University of Cairo is supposed to be the best in Cairo & also the most expensive. Turns out they dont have a PhD program although they do hire Research Assistants. Decided to go into this further once I have settled the basic living arrangements. there are laso a couple of other interesting courses like some on Middle Eastern studies, Womens studies................................................................... Trying to figure out which one will stand me in good stead in the long run. What would u recommend ? Do drop me a comment telling me.

    Drove around Zamalek, another part of the city which is supposed to have pretty decent accomodations. It looked good. Lot of the apartments are Nile Facing, but look and feel wise. Maadi is a much better residential area.

    The World of Na`sah By Ishinan : History of Egyptian Women

    The life of a Fallahah is a simple and a hard one. Little has changed in rural Egypt since ancient times. Its is no coincidence that the Fallahiyn have best preserved the folkways and life of earlier times in Egypt. The photograph, above is from the late 19th-early 20thc. It depicts Egyptian Fallahat dressed in traditional black gallabiyahs covered with a milayah and a tarhah while wearing their hair in braids hanging down their shoulders and held together by a headscarf adorned with sequins, "mandiyl" bi tirtir. They are not veiled. (Ishinan)

    The following is an essay on the "history of Egyptian Women" which hitherto, rests on a simple distorted reality .

    Throughout the years, we have been taught in school an extreme and narrow version of our actual history, which has been written basically with "Ahl al-zawat" or al-khasah (people of good stock, or the Aristocracy) in mind. Actually this group, though vocal and affluent, represented only a minute section of the Egyptian society and therefore could not be considered a true repesentation of the whole of Egyptian society.

    Historians, both Egyptians and especially foreigners, are simply oblivious of the true history of the majority of Egyptians or `amat al-sha`b. The latter, representing a major group of people whose history is seldom breached or adequately explored.

    For example, when dealing with subject matter such as "Egyptian Women's Liberation", and the Veil or the lack thereof, we traditionally tend to talk about the roles of the likes of Huda al-sha`rawiy, Qasim Amiyn, etc. Anything else falls by the wayside and/or is conveniently swept under the rug. As a result we end up with a "Parallel universe" or "alternate reality" version of our history which is a self-contained separate reality coexisting with our own, but not necessary a true reflection of our own world.

    The following essay entitled, "The World of Na`sah," is not about validating whether or not an Egyptian woman should wear the veil. Rather, it is about the true reality of the life of a typical Egyptian Fallahah, living at the turn of the last century. Hopefully, her harsh living conditions and abject poverty will illuminate our understanding of this complicated subject matter.

    Na`sah is a mother of four. Who, along with her husband and children, lives in a typical Egyptian village. This is her story.

    In the village where Na`sah lives, mud is used as a building material. Her village borders a filthy artificial pond (mustanqa`) from which mud for bricks is dug. In a cluster of such huts, along a branch of the Nile, lives Na`sah and her family including her husband `Uways and their four surviving children (five others died in infancy).

    The mud huts of Na`sah's village huddle tightly together near the river, some of the houses sharing a common wall. Stretching out in three directions behind the village are lush green fields, beautifully laid out in crops of cotton, corn, beans, or clover, intersected by irrigation canals. These crops are carefully rotated from season to season. The village itself is bare, except for a single cluster of gracefully swaying date palms. The "lanes" between the huts are ankle-deep in dust and pulverized dung, teeming with fleas, lice, bedbugs, flies, and mosquitoes.

    Her house has a wooden frame door, but otherwise it is made exclusively of mud and straw. An external staircase leads to the flat roof, where Na`sah squats to pat camel dung into flat discs to dry in the sun and later to use as cooking fuel. When you enter the house proper, you step into a rather large reception room, running the width of the building which Na`sah and her husband `Uways and her children share with their animals.

    At one end, Na`sah cooks over a mud-plastered oven called tannuwr and/or kanuwn, and somewhere towards the center, `Uways her husband and his male guests sit on a straw mat sipping, shayy Kushariy bil ni`na`, heavily-brewed tea with mint. Their only source of social intercourse is spending their spare time, in the evening,gossiping. Occasionally Na`sah will interject herself in the conversation with her husband's guests and contribute with her comments if the subject matter concerns the family or topic of marriages.

    At the other end of the room is a motley assortment of chickens, a sickly, one-eyed kitten, two geese, and a goat. The queen of the animals in the house is the gamuwsah, the beautiful bluish-black, broad-backed water buffalo, the Fallah's chief work animal and provider of milk, yogurt, and white cheese.

    Na`sah and her husband get their rare bit of cash from selling the calf the gamuwsah produces yearly. Keeping these animals inside the house means that the dirt floor is littered with animal dung of every description. But the family cannot take a chance on them being stolen, and Na`sah never considers her animals secure unless they are locked inside the house with the family. The loss of a gamuwsah is of a traumatic consequence to any peasant family and hence is treated as the equivalent of a member of the family. No wonder this is a serious matter on which all Fallahiyn are adamant; the animals-must live inside the house. Losing a gamuwsah amounts to a death in the family.

    This peasant family dresses simply. `Uways wears a full length cotton gown called a gallabiyah and usually a skullcap on his head. Sometimes, he winds a white turban around the cap. His four children dress like miniature `Uwayses, in little gallabiyahs (gallaliyb) and knitted caps and, like their father, all are barefoot. Na`sah drapes herself in a black sheet "milayah" and/or tarhah covering her head and falling on her shoulders, underneath which she wears a headscarf "mandiyl" bi tirtir (a sheer black or colored headscarf adorned with sequins). Her dress is a black or colorful cotton gallabiyah. She does not wear a veil (1) and wears her hair in braids (dafa`iyr) hanging down her shoulders. Within village life, she is NOT segregated (see picture below). Anyone who has intimate knowledge of the village knows that both sexes in rural families have to work closely together and therefore segregation would be unworkable and unthinkable.

    Exigencies of life have taught Na`sah to be practical. Though, like her husband, she is illiterate, she knows how to make herself useful. She works hard beside her husband `Uways in the fields. She goes into the rice paddy, grabs her gallabiyah from the back hem, pulls it through her legs to the front and tucks it in, her legs are visible up to the thigh. Not far from her, `Uways and his neighbor Hammuwdah strip and wade into the water.

    Egypt's rice output at the dawn of the 20th century (1905-1909) toped 1,020,000 ardabs. The crop is entirely credited to the Egyptian Fallahat (women peasants). Thanks to the gifted hands of a woman, the Fallahah is an essential part of the Egyptian agriculture work force. Her additional contribution in harvesting the legendary Egyptian cotton, which hits a record output of 6,372,000 qintar, is credited to her expertise and delicate picking of the cotton blossoms and extracting the seeds from them.

    All her children bathe in the filthy irrigation canal, while Na`sah squats in the mud on the bank and does the family laundry. For cooking and drinking, the long-suffering Na`sah carries water to the village in a pottery jar (Ballas) which is neatly balanced on her head. She has to walk hundreds of yards back and forth, and with every load of water, she unknowingly carries a fresh injection of disease to her family. Na`sah, and some ten million Fallahiyn (2) like her, knows so little of sanitation that in the early 1900's they are among the most diseased people on earth. It is little wonder that half their babies die before they reach the age of six. Debilitated by disease, the Fallah mechanically and monotonously does his farm work in a pattern laid down by his ancestors.

    At night, `Uways and his family leave the animals in the big room and withdraw to the small bedrooms in the rear of the house. A rare moment of wealth, found Na`sahanxious and nervous for fear that her husband might take another wife. But thanks to God, `Uways instead has bought her an iron-posted bed in which both sleep. Before that, the whole family, including the children, shared straw mats on mud ledges projecting from the walls. Na`sah is relieved this time, and thanks God for her husband’s choice of an iron-posted bed and not another woman, but still she cannot totally rid herself of the fear of abandonment. Because Na`sah, deep inside her, knows that the Fallah in general counts his wealth in children, and no amount of statistics can convince him that there should be any limits to the number of his offspring. Na`sah is saved from sharing her husband with another woman by the stark economic facts of life facing her husband. `Uways rents three acres of land from the owner of his village, and that tiny plot barely keeps the family alive.

    The silt-laden Nile provides water for this family's drinking, washing and cooking. This murky water is literally crawling with tiny marine life, but Na`sah, like her ancestors in ancient times, swears by this water as a nutritious beverage. For six thousand years, the Fallah's biggest problem has been getting water to his thirsty fields, and through the ages he has used the same methods of irrigation.

    It is a literal truth that a Fallah is strong and relatively healthy if he has only one disease. The vast majority have at least one chronic eye disease and one chronic intestinal. Snails in the canals carry the parasite of bilharzia, a debilitating internal disease said to reduce Egyptian productivity by at least a third.

    Sixty-five to eighty-five per cent of the Egyptian population is infected with bilharzia, and there is little hope of getting rid of the disease so long as the fallahiyn drink, bathe, and work in infected canals. Amebic dysentery in varying degrees of intensity is well-nigh universal in the villages, and trachoma and opthalmia are widespread. Undernourished Egyptian peasants are an easy prey to typhoid, malaria, and tuberculosis. The average span life of a Fallahah in the early 1900's is 40 years, her male counterpart is 38.6.

    Glimpses of ancient Egypt are present when she follows her husband among the furrowed fields scattering the seeds, or at harvest time when she throws the grains against the wind into the air with a winnowing fork, the chaff blown away and the wheat remaining. Or when the blindfolded gamuwsah walks tirelessly around and around to tread out the grain on the threshing floor.

    As years pass away, the more children she has the less each member of the family has to eat. For in general, the Fallah's production, low as it might be is going largely to others. Na`sah's family rarely work their own land, they sharecrop, rent or work by the day on the land of Egypt's fabulously rich landlords, who have the Fallahiyn at their mercy. Na`sah realizes that her family has being working all their lives to provide a life of incredible luxury for those strong enough to usurp the land.

    Overwhelmed by poverty, ignorance and disease, and quite ignored by the enlightened members of the society, Na`sah is still resilient and endowed with remarkable fatalism and patience. She leans upon her husband's shoulder and gazes out onto the land, the emptiness of the ages in her face, and on her back the burden of the world.

    In my opinion, any fair assessment of empowerment of women's material and spiritual development in the Egyptian society ought to be carefully measured against how far and how deep the world of Na`sah has changed to the betterment not only of women's condition, but to the peasant life in general.

    No matter how much prosperity came to Egypt, very little of it really trickled down to Na`sah's world. While the so called feminist movement concentrated on symbolic gestures such as discarding the Yashmak (the arstocratic Turkish version of a veil), the movement was completely anesthetized in one respect. It failed to understand that Na`sah could not read the tracts written by the movement in French. Instead what Na`sah really needed was a pair of sandals or shabashib to enable her to walk free of disease to the nearest school.

    According to a Chinese proverb: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." Preferably wearing comfortable footwear, I should add.


    (1) See above photos, vintage of late 19th- early 20th c. and a drawing by T. W. Holmes from the middle of the 19thc.

    (2) total population of Egypt in the pre-war period 1904-13, was averaging between 10,484,000 - 11,998,00. At that time 90% of the population lived in rural areas.

    Ishinan © Copyright 2001

    The Egyptian Chronicles is a cooperative effort by a group of Egyptian authors pooling together their talents for the sake of Egypt's Future. Articles contained in these pages are the personal views and/or work of the authors, who bear the sole responsibility of the content of their work. This Monthly Electronic Magazine is a non-profit, commercial free zone and is answerable to no one.

    Saturday, October 21, 2006

    House Hunting in Cairo

    Since I was "acclimatising" myself (nicer way of saying I was lazing around) for the last 2 days & Friday is a day when nothing works, today was the first chance I got to look at apartments. The lady from Coldwell Banker was very helpful. She lined up 3 houses for me to look at. Today being a Saturday (2nd day of the weekend here) the traffic on the road was much lower than usual, so we finished with all 3 in under an hour.

    The second & third did not have a bathroom attached to the master bedroom so they were automatically out. The third was cosy & had a brilliant view from the Sitting room (called Reception here) balcony. It overloked a huge club called the shooting club & you could see 1 of the pyramids in the distance. The first was nice but ostentatious. To put it in perspective : most higher income localites take their interior design inspiration from the French chateaus & try to compress that into a 2 bedroom apartment. Or maybe I'm making a generalisation too soon.

    Also most houses are in very crowded localities, there is no concept of a boundary wall as far as I could see. No car parks : people park on the street & leave the vehicles in neutral so you can push it out of your way when you need to reverse out. Because of the close quarters, you end up having to look at the wall of another building barely 5 metres away. from your large French windows. Reminds me of the older Delhi neighbourhoods. Too cramped & claustrophobic for me.

    Before coming here, some friends on the Expat Focus Forum mentioned that Maadi was a nice place to live. When I mentioned this to the lady from Coldwell Banker she decided to take me for a drive to that area. The houses here were better spaced out. More greenery. Little garden area around the houses. Individaul villas coupled with high rises but newer constructions that seemed more artistically designed.

    Hopefully I can see better houses once id is over. With 4 days of holidays for id in the coming week, most people have added a few days on either side & taken a 10 day break. Even getting someone on a cell phone is close to impossible. So doesn't look likely that we will be moving into our own place any time soon.

    Ended the Day with a brilliant Fatour Buffet at the hotel. Got to taste a lot of the local delicacies. Read My review on the food here

    Tip for the Day : Booking a hotel room thru a Travel Agent is cheaper than booking it yourself. Spoke to the reception of Cairo Sheraton to extend our stay & they advised me to extend it thru our agent. Rate if we booked directly would be 168USD per day & 120USD per day if done through our agent.

    The Office Boy

    Just heard this story today. With husbands company being newly set up in Egypt, there are a 100 little things to be done over & above the major ones. One of these is finding an office boy & a cook cum cleaner for the guest house (3 bedroom apartment)

    So these couple of guys from India HQ tell their local contact what they are looking for & ask if he can help. When he hears this request & it gets to the ears of one of the senior guys in the local company, this senior person decides to take it upon himself to hire the best possible person. This senior guy then dedicates over 2 hours a day over a week, interviewing cooks & cleaners & office boys. Finally our desi guys decide that enough time has been wasted & choose the best of the lot of the guys interviewed & decide to hire him. Before they can do that, our Egyptian contact says that a police verification HAS TO BE done. So, ok, we are more lenient about this in India, but if thats whats done in this country then so be it.

    Egypt contact comes back 2 days later saying this guy has a police record & can't be hired. So what has this office boy done to get a police record ? Murder ? Robbery ? Petty theft ? pickpocketing ? No, nothing that grave ! He has a police record for Tax Evasion !!!! Imagine, an office boy/cleaner has a police record for Tax Evasion of all things. How many Sadar Bazaar Traders have Police records ? hehehe. Had a good laugh at this.

    Thursday, October 19, 2006

    Spent the day, just acclimatising myself to this new country (Euphemism for having lazed around the whole day) Woke up late. Finally caught a full 8 hour sleep. Actually finished Jeffery Archers "Cat O Nine Tails" at one sitting. Cant remember when was the last time that I completed an entire book at one sitting. Happily postponing reading the guide books to Egypt that we have bought, because that would get me started on making lists of places to visit & then that will put pressure on me to do something. So I'm enjoying a few days of being in limbo & just chilling for awhile.

    Visited a business bigwigs house in the evening as husband had a short meeting & thought he could at least talk to me on the drive to & fro. This was my first visit to a locals house & I must say it took my breath away. The man rears Arabian thoroughbreds & has over 15 prize stallions & mares at his stables near the house. His own tennis courts & swimming pool. I liked the concept of his joint family. Each of his sons has a bungalow on the same property so they are in close quarters but each has their own privacy. Although with a batallion of maids & nannies & drivers & gardeners & stable hands & ..... don't know how much privacy one can have. But this was a much larger property than any I have seen in the US (maybe I wasn't going to the right kinda house {grin} )& worth the visit.

    Plus they kept plying us with food. Nuts of varied types are always available on the table in the Reception (Sitting room) Water as soon as we enter, offering of nuts & dates (fresh, dried, stuffed - variety of preparations) then an assortment of light tea cakes & biscuits & a few spicy mixes (what we called chiwda) In the meanwhile an aerated beverage was served. Before we could even sip at it, we were served Arabic Coffee (light decoction of coffee, no sugar, no milk) which is drunk in transparent glasses by alternating it with a date for sweetness. Before this was finished we were offerred a variety of teas (they only use tea bags, I havent seen tea leaves or tea powder available anywhere in the stores) & tea was made individually for each of us. All this in barely an hour. The hospitality of the Egyptians is amazing.

    Thursday, October 12, 2006

    Day of Rest

    hmmmmmmmmmm ..........

    Woke up leisurely at 11 since I didnt have to rush anywhere. Such a relief after all the Night Outs that I have been putting. Finally the body aches have subsided. Packing in case u didnt know it, is an intensely physical job.

    Today just sorted thru all our important documents. Which ones we need to carry with us : (Last 3 year tax returns, Last 6 months bank statements etc etc) & those that can follow by ship. Documents to have handy include those needed by myriad government officials to clear visas etc, those needed in case I plan to apply for a job there & those that are too precious to be allowed to be lost in "customs"dom

    Walked down Bazaar Road in Bandra, to pick up masalas from Evergreen masala shop.
    Had a mini meal on the way : Paani Puri at the chaat & bhelpuri stall. Samosas & bheja cutlets at Jeffs Caterers & wonderfual malpua at Tawakkal Sweets. Packed some phirni for dessert & that was awesome too.

    Caught up with some friends for dinner.

    The international packers come in tomorrow, so house gets closed by tomorrow evening.

    Mentally much more relaxed since the major problem of sorting items is over. Hope my pasport gets delivered tomorrow while I'm supervising packing else i will have to do chowkidhari in an empty flat on Saturday & maybe Monday too.

    Keeping fingers crossed.

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    Passport Blues & Reds & Oranges, but no Greens :(

    Went to the passport office this morning. Turns out, the person who was "helping" us secure the passport had received wrong inforamtion. My passport had not yet been despatched.

    The friend who received her passport after applying on the same day as me had only applied for extra pages in her passport.

    Found the right "contact" within the old RPO at Worli. Once you know whom to talk to, its quite a simple process. Just put in a word & things start working like clockwork. Had a 10 sec meeting with the RPO who said that my passport would be despatched tomorrow & scribbled something on my application to expedite the process. All I could read was the numbers 12/10 Hope it means what he said.

    After 7/11, they no longer handover passports at the passport office counter. U have to b present at your home when the postman comes calling. So this means going n sitting in a bare house waiting for the postman. Hence postponed international packing by another day so I at least have something to keep me occupied while I wait on Friday.

    Anyway, co. people said they will follow up at the post offices to check when it will reach so i can b at home at the right time.

    Went back home today to finish packing what we will take with us on the flight. So finished that. Now brought a bundle of papers back to the service apartment to sort so I only carry the most important documents as hand luggage. Everything else follows by flight.

    Problem is each airline has its own regulations. Some allow 2 pieces of check in baggage. Egypt Air only allows 20
    kgs check in baggage each. Unles su r a frequent flyer which allows u 10kgs more. Egypt air flies directly to Egypt from Bombay on Saturdays & Wednesdays.

    SOme others insist that yr each suitcase not weigh a gram over 30kgs.

    Since program is still in flux, don't know which date we are flying, nor which carrier. Hope things get sorted soon.

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    Move Part 1 : to Service Apartment

    Finished the domestic packing today. Over 100 packages of all sizes & weights. Smallest in size was a single stabiliser. Largest were our 3 books cases (U can c how crazy v both r about books)

    Would have loved to have put up pictures but kept camera safely locked inside a cupboard, so it wouldnt get packed inot one of the cartons.

    Strange to see our house bare but not empty. Absolutely zero furniture (since v dont plan to take any to egypt) but piles of books, cutlery etc etc in little clumps on the floor & window seats. Fortunately landlord had built in cupboards so clothes & linen are safely inside without much exposure to dust. Else with the amount of dust that escapes from under the heavy furniture, I would have been washing 2 cupboards of clothes for my first 2 months after unpacking without a chance to even get a glimpse of the pyramids :)

    Domestic stuff all packed, loaded on a truck & dispatched.

    Then went to HyperCity to pick up some basic masalas which I'm not sure if I will get there. Amchoor, garam masala, tikhalal chilli powder, jaljira powder, hing, kasoori methi (not a powder). Had to buy all the stuff afresh since to clear customs its advisable that your masala powders are sealed & stamped with the brand of a wellknown company. Need to get a couple of lakshman rekha sticks from a grocery tomorrow, as it wasnt in stock at HyperCity

    Then looked at the moon & my husband said a prayer for him and ate some chaat on the occassion of Karwa Chauth Too lazy to write the details of the fast/feast here so you can check out Essays on Karwa Chauth if you are interested to know more.

    Huge difference in celebration this year from the last year when I kept the fast for the first time as a new bride with my Mother in law to give me company & guide me in the proper observance. Last year we stood on our terrace from 7pm to 11pm before the moon decided to give us a glimpse of itself. This time I've actually been fasting for almost the previous week preceding & most probably the week to come too. Theres just no time to eat.
    + point : I'm losing some much needed weight.
    - point : I dont think that this is the healthiest way to do it.

    Major problems with passport. Supposedly it was dispatched on Friday, but still not reached me. Hope it comes in tomorrow, ow I will have to sit in an empty flat the whole day, just waiting for the postman. even worse : hubby may have to fly out without me again :''''''(

    Plan is to visit passport office tomorrow & check where the delay is. A friend who applied on the same day as me got her passport on Saturday.

    Since all our dates are so fluid & we have a lot of luggage, we decided to move to a service apartment rather than a hotel. Neat clean & spacious enough for our current needs. More details on this tomorrow.

    Monday, October 09, 2006

    Complete Chaos

    Well the packers have finished packing the bulk of the stuff.

    Kept the washing machine, clothes drying stand, bed, fridge, AC & some other small stuff unpacked, so we can spend the night at home.

    By end of the day I was quite tired & wanted a nice quiet dinner somewhere out, within close driving distance & currently we are trying to eat at as many restaurants in Bombay as possible that sound interesting in the Times Food Guide. "Poush" fitted the bill quite well. Closeby & Kashmiri food. Supposedly the only Kashmiri "restaurant" in India. It was a brilliant experience & totally worth it. Detailed review on my Restaurants & Pubs Blog when I get the chance to blog more enthusiastically.

    sneak peek : we lounged inside our personal shikhara for our meal
    big regret : didnt carry our camera. :(
    bigger regret : we didnt discover this place sooner.

    Came back & finished half of the packing that we will carry on flight.

    Tired as hell & wanna sleep, so goodnight

    Home is getting bare

    Today (Well technically yesterday, but I haven't gone to sleep yet, so it feels like today even though its 5:30am Monday) the packers packed up our curios & glass shelves & essentially all the small stuff in the hall & dining rooms. Some of the books got packed oo.

    Essentially, these packers are used to packing house from one corner to the other (During one of my transfers, the maid had kept her lunch box in the kitchen & gone to clean up some stuff in the neighbours flat. Being completely unaware of the fact, I let the packers pack the kitchen, when she came back she made a hue & cry over her missing lunch box, but they had no idea which carton they had put it into & weren't about to undo all the work they had done) SO I moved with the tiffin box after giving her some compensation to calm her down.

    At my destination, imagine my horror when I realised that her lunch was still in that box. A good 30 days from the date it was packed. I had to dispose a lot of items from that particular carton. But I still get nauseous when I see lunch boxes in that particular shape & size) Ok digresion complete. Coming back to the point :

    We have been trying to get them to slow down the packing since the cartons are essentially of 7 types
    1. in laws place keep packed
    2. inlaws place to be opened & used
    3. parents place to be kept packed
    4. parents place to be open & used
    5. aunts place to be kept packed
    6. aunts place to be opened & used
    7. Not to be touched since international packer will handle that later
    This means a good 6 variables more than they are used to or comfortable with. Since they have a serial cum parallel processing system. It was getting complicated.

    Ergo, I have been up the whole night splitting my whole kitchen into 7 subdivisions seperated by innovative dividers. Colorful plastic bags, unwanted glass jars et al. Kitchen currently looks like squatters have been thrown out of their house or something to that effect. If the metaphor doesn't sound right, blame it on my lack of sleep.

    Same goes for the study too. Just that here its all about papers & books.

    So hope tomorrow will go faster. I had specifically requested that only 2 of the packers come in today.(They normally come in groups of 6 or so) So that I could pace out the packing. But 4 of them landed up & hence some confusion. Only hope not more than four come tomorrow. (oops actually today) & then I can ensure that they are packing according to my instructions.

    On the other frontier, inlaws bade a teary farewell to us & returned to their hometown quite reluctantly. Their son has always been closeby & although the direct flight from India to Egypt is just 5 hours & return fares are about 25k (I remember flying delhi bangalore returns for 18k before the price wars erupted between airlines) they still feel that "beta aur bahu videsh jaa rahe hain" And although they are trying their best to put up brave fronts, we know that its hurting them inside. But they will never say it or try to hold us back. Thats what makes both our sets of parents so cpmpletely & amazingly wonderful.

    My Father in law summed it up best when he said "do u think it is the right decision for you guys to go there ?" "Have you considered all the aspects the pros & cons?" "Are you both happy about the move - new company, new country, new culture ?" When we answered in the affirmative to these questions, he just said "You are both mature adults, if you have considered all aspects & think its the right decision to move then by all means do so. We just want you to be happy & successful" That was just so sweet of him & it did give us the comfort that they had accepted our decision. & yes it did lessen the guilt (a feeling most indian women are born with & which continues through life in varying intensities but always pervasive)

    Now I need to shut my eyes for at least 2 hours before the packers come in again.

    Sunday, October 08, 2006

    Packing Part 3

    The Leo Packers guys are here. Started packing some of our delicate stuff. Curios et al. Leaving them behind as we hope to acquire new ones there.

    Our Ganesh collection has reached 101. This was the target husband had kept for himself. So now I'm threatening him that he can't buy anymore, but we will accept them as gifts :)

    Unfortunately we have to leave this collection packed in India, because of the antiquities & artefacts restrictions in India & Egypt. Although our collection doesn't fall in this category, we can't take the risk with customs on either side.

    Have to pack most of our library. No point taking books that we have read to Egypt. But since we can't bear to part with them, we aren't distributing / selling them either.

    Some of our stuff is on sale. Sofa set, Refrigerator, Carpets, 2 beds et al. So people are coming in to take a look at this stuff & to pick it up too. There's so much confusion & DUST. I'm also sneezing non-stop because of that. Coupled with the painting of the building exterior, the cold germs are hovering around me. Fortunately I am managing to get enough sleep.

    I'm operating on a very short fuse right now & poor hubby is getting the brunt of it. He must be wishing that today was a working day & thanking his blessings that tomorrow IS a working day when I will be finishing the bulk of the packing.

    Friday, October 06, 2006

    So many unanswered questions......

    Right now trying to figure out the restrictions on what can & can't be carried into Egypt. We plan to carry some clothes with us on the flight, but the bulk of items will follow by ship or air with the packers.

    We have been told that carrying alcohol is not possible. So liquer cabinet is being emptied through some heavy consumption patterns.

    Jewellery can't be carried in cargo. I have anyhow, left all my stuff with parents & inlaws. All those heavy Indian Wedding sets !! Does anyone wear them again ? Other than to your siblings weddings ?

    Now doing a check on spice mixes. I know I wont get my Garam masala, Bottle masala, Ghoda masala, sambhar powder etc etc in Egypt. Grinding them fresh each time is a pain. The simple stuff like jeera & corriander aren't so bad, but the spice mixes are tricky. Plus I have my favorite brands here which I definitely want to carry along.

    So I've picked up a few extra packets of them all & am crossing my fingers hoping I can ship them over.

    Picked up standard medications in excess. Nothing works as well as Dr Morepens Lemolate when I feel myself coming down with a cold, not actifed, not any other medicine, so carrying a copule of extra strips of all such medication which we have tried & tested including Sitopaladi Churna (Chief, thanks for introducing me to this herbal powder for cough, it has been a huge Godsend & has always speeded up my recovery)

    I have some dangerous looking knives & coconut grating equipment (will post a pic sometime) which I'm hoping I can carry, without it being branded as terrorist material. . .

    Can I take this ?
    If Yes, Good, Problem Solved.
    If no :
    Will my mother or Mother-in-law use it ?
    Do I want it kept packed for 2 years ?
    If both are no's,
    then considering giving it to charity or the security guards/driver/dhobhi......

    Questions & Decisions are the centrepoint right now. Life is revolving around this.

    Packing !!!!

    Ok, I'm officially going insane.

    I've moved cities 7 times post MBA at XLRI including Bangalore to USA & back, but I've never had so much trouble.

    Well the Bangalore-Us-Bangalore transfers, were when I was still living a utilitarian life with the bare essentials. But now that complete ghar-grihasti has happened including a husband, there are so many more things to be taken care of.

    My work commitments + passport problems ensured that husband made 2 recce trips alone & I'm flying blind into this new country.

    It seems that the furnished flats that you get in Egypt are pretty good, clean & neat depending on the area & the amount u r willing to spend. So that means that I have to figure out a new home for all my existing furniture. Some of the furniture we are offerring at a garage sale. {Comment on this post with yr email id, if u r interested in picking up some things & want a list : note we are currently in Mumbai} Some of the furniture has been designed by me/us & I can't bear to part with it. My inlaws have been kind enough to offer to store some furniture at their house. So we are splitting the furniture & other items that we can't bear to part with between my parents, inlaws & an aunts house. These are in 3 different cities. 2 of which are not regular locations for most good quality packers. So prices are obviously on the higher side.

    The good domestic packers don't do international moving & the International packers charge much higher rates for domestic moving too. SO we have currenlty decided to use one packer for domestic & another for our International packing. We have settled on Leo Packers for our domestic packing. They have transferred us on our last few moves & we are extremely happy with their service. Now trying to finalise the International Packer.

    Now I'm stuck deciding what goes where. That's one of my key tasks as of now. Which books get packed, which come with us ? What kitchen implements do I carry, which ones do I leave behind ? Decisions, decisions, more decisions.

    So excuse me while I go back to sorting items & our house which looks like a hurricane has hit it. & I will keep you informed.

    Tuesday, October 03, 2006

    Husbands move to Egypt is in the papers

    Tuesday, October 03, 2006

    Brajesh Bajpai (BMD 96) to Head Marico Acquisition in Egypt

    Marico eyes more buys in Egypt

    Priyanka Sangani / Mumbai October 03, 2006
    From Business Standard

    After acquiring the Egyptian hair care brand Fiancee last month, Mumbai-based Marico Industries is hungry for more. The company was scanning the Egyptian market for more acquisitions, Marico CFO Milind Sarwate told Business Standard.

    This time Marico is looking closely at the beauty and wellness segments. Marico may also examine rationalising the Fiancee portfolio.

    To get a closer grip on its Egyptian operations, Marico recently appointed Brajesh Bajpai, a former executive of Frito Lay India, as its country head for the African nation. Marico might also make Egypt the hub for its expansion into other African markets.

    Read the Entire Article
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