Thursday, November 30, 2006

Friends New & Old

Got back in touch with an old friend of mine from college days (they seem so far ago) Ria is now in the USA & makes the most beautiful artificial flowers & arrangements. Her company is called St Judes Creations

Her website is worth looking at, even if you aren't planning on ordering any flowers any time soon. They are truly beautiful. As a sample, I am pasting one here below

and a beautiful bridal bouquet

For orders email at : - with number of flowers required, type, color and the date by which you would like them.

Ria is so good, her paper flowers have been used in the movie The World's Fastest Indian starring Anthony Hopkins !

If you are having trouble loading the website, you can also check out Ria's Blog

Also made a new friend today. Sasha, thanks so much for all the help & for showing me around Maadi & showing me where I could buy stuff & all the advice on which brands to buy & from where. That little list you made me on prices of fruits & vegetables was so thoughtful. Thanks again & Au Revoir

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Al Ahram Weekly (English Newspaper) subscription

To subscribe to Al-Ahram Weekly's print edition send your subscription order to:

Al-Ahram Subscription Department,
Galaa St. Cairo, Egypt.

Subscription payments can be made directly in cash or by cheque to the same address.

Annual Subscription Rates (after reduction):

Egypt................................L.E 39.00
Arab Countries.......................$50.00 (original $60)
Other Countries......................$100.00 (original $150)

Al Ahram Weekly

Xmas / Christmas decorations in Cairo

For anyone looking for xmas decorations. Spinneys in City Stars mall had a better range, at better rates than Carre Four. I haven't checked out Maadi yet. But of the lot that I have seen, Spinneys was the best.

If you do go to City Stars mall to buy xmas decorations, theres a shop called Bashayer Style in the Khan El Khalili section on the 4th Floor, which has these hand blown glass balls for hanging on the tree. They are 5 LE each. The painted ones are more expensive. But a nice "local craft" touch to your tree. They even have a tree completely decorated with bedouin woven decorations. (not strictly xmas decorations but they are colorful & look good on the tree.

From what I have heard, the Christmas Bazaars are a good place to pick up decorations. To know where these Christmas Bazaars are hapenning sign up to or

Fuddruckers, Cairo

Tried out Fuddruckers today. They did serve up pretty good burgers in the States. But they weren't as yummy here.

Read the rest of my Review Here

Monday, November 27, 2006

Grocery Shopping in Cairo


I've been figuring my way around shopping for groceries & thought that maybe a couple of you could benefit from my experience.

Metro Markets are dotted around the city. They are each a small supermarket. Like a Foodworld from Bangalore. They have all the baiscs that you need for daily use. Some fresh fruits & vegetables. A small selection of raw meats, marinated meats, cold meats, cheeses & pickles. They have some variety in brands but not a huge lot. They are ok when you need to pick up groceries in a jiffy. But I have found them more expensive than the other local groceries or the bigger ones. The advantage is that most items are labelled in English as are the prices. A lot of expats do their regualr shopping here because of the convenience.

You can also try the Hawary Supermarkets. Its similar to metro but with more reasonable rates. The locals shop here. A word of warning though. Most prices are written in Arabic if they are written at all. The store personnel cannot speak too much English & the stores are quite crowded. The aisles are small & have a lot of people jostling for space for themselves and their trolleys. Once you know which brands you like & can speak a few words in arabic then you can attempt to shop here.

For your major shopping, try Carrefour It’s a French Hyper Market where you can get everything you want, that’s available in Egypt in quite a few varieties. You do get good discounts & they always have some offer or the other on. Most of the service staff can speak some amount of English or can refer you to someone who does speak English, so its quite a pleasure to shop here. The aisles are wide, the air conditioning works, lots of choice, good rates. Drawback : It’s a long drive from most residential areas. There's one on the Cairo-Alex desert road at Dandy Mall & another at Maadi grand mall (which isn't within Maadi as the name may suggest but some way off) They are both located in pretty decent malls, so you can plan a day around the experience. Of the 2, the Maadi mall is a better mall & there's a new one with more shops coming up along side it.

If you are more confident of yourself & know for sure which brands you want to purchase, then Hyper1 is a better option than Carrefour because their prices are much lower & they have a huger range especially of local products. Most locals shop here for their monthly shopping. Its completely worth the drive if you have to spend about 100LE on your groceries, you will save at least 15LE. So very worth it. Nicely spaced out. Only, the identifiers are written mainly in Arabic, prices are written in English numerals but not the names.

Between Hyper1 & Carrefour, I would recommend Carrefour for cold meats (cheaper) & unpacked spices in barrels -which you decide how much you want(labelled in English) For everything else Hyper1 is a better bet.

I've heard that the CityStars Mall in Nasr City has a Grocery store too in a Khan El Khalili Section, but I haven't really checked it out. So I can't comment. The Virgin store, located here is excellent for music & books & the Food Court is humongous. But I digress. Longer post on that sometime.

The local markets are always good for fruits & vegetables. Whatever I've seen of them, they look fresher than the stuff inside the supermarkets. I'm not yet too comfortable haggling in Arabic, so I've not attempted them yet. Although I have been told by locals, that they sell at a fixed price & there's no need to bargain. But given that I have no clue what the fixed rate should be, I'm still apprehensive. Maybe in the next couple of weeks.

You can buy lovely spices at the Khan El Khalili for much lower rate than at the above mentioned locations. But be ready to bargain. Most of these guys can speak enough English to bargain with them because of the sheer number of tourists that visit the market.

Your neighbourhood grocer will have a lot of the stuff that you may suddenly run out of, but I feel that the guy next to my house is overcharging me. Its easier to walk up to Metro Markets where prices are fixed & marked. At least there I know that I'm being overcharged the same as the other customers. LOL ! Your bowab or his wife will just as easily pick up the stuff for you from the grocer for a small tip (50p to 2LE depending on how much stuff he has to carry up)

Anything else you would like to add or would like me to answer ? Just drop me a comment. I'll be posting again in detail on what things are available & not available in Cairo.

Edit Add (29 Nov 06) : Spinneys at City Stars mall is similar to Hyper1 & Carrefour but I found its meat section cleaner & the general overall ambience was much better. But I was just window shopping, so I can't really comment on the prices vis a vis the others. Whatever little I saw, they were comparable & they have a better section of clothes here.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Indian Embassy in Cairo & ECNR

Visited the Indian Embassy in Cairo today (its near Metro Cinema in the Downtown area) We had to get husbands passport back.

For those who did not know the story, husband had applied for his renewed passport in a hurry in Delhi. At that time he was travelling to Malaysia in a hurry & did not need the ECNR stamped on the passport. He did not realise that it hadn't been stamped at all till he had already left Delhi.

He did not need to use that passport again till he had moved to Bombay. But the Bombay passport office refused to stamp an ECNR on his passport & told him that he would have to go back & get it done in Delhi. But Delhi would not do it because he no longer had proof of residing at the address mentioned in the passport. (Perils of transferable jobs)

I've summed the situation up in 4 sentences, but it took us 3 months to figure there was no option but to keep applying to a labor court & paying 50-500rs for a temporary stamp before each trip abroad which was quite tiresome & iriitating.

Finally got it done for 60LE without any hassle at the Embassy here just on production of a photocopy of graduation certificate. Heard that a 10th standard certificate is now enough for an ECNR stamp. My passport (newly issued this Oct) has this page completely removed. The pasport came back with a little note saying that the ECNR was no longer a required stamp in a passport.

Husband has been having this trouble, solely becuase the notification has not reached the right people & an outdated piece of legislation has costed us more than 500 working hours in the last 3 months before we left Bombay.

Essentially the ECNR (Emigration Check Not Required) was created as a safeguard for Indians who were going abroad as cheap labour. So unless you had a graduation degree your passport would be stamped as ECR (Emigration Check Required)

So unless you had an ECNR, you could not travel to certain countries. Theoretically it was sound. But over the years as is the case with most Indian legislation it is a wasteful exercise of time & money. Those who do not have a graduation degree still manage to get an ECNR stamped & a few like my husband get stuck in red tape.

Ok rant over.

Back to the Embassy, it was run pretty much the same as the Indian Passport offices are, minus the crowds. Things took as long as they would in any government office. But at least it got done !

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Cough Syrup

With the change in temeperature, I have been having an itchy throat for the last 2 days. Salt water gargling was not helping. So I needed to buy a syrup to soothe my throat.

Now the question was which brand could be trustworthy enough to be bought ? Fortunately one of the locals at husbands office recommended a syrup called "Balsam" She said she used it for her son too. Safe enough for her son, was safe enough for me & it worked instantly. Thats why I'm recommending it here.

Its all natural. Has a mixture of Guava (go figure) Thyme, Tilia flowers, Fennel Oil & purified honey. Worked on my light congestion too as a decongestant.

It worked extremely well & my throat infection did not develop into a full blown runny nose cold which anyone who knows me will tell you is as close to a miracle as you can get.

It tasted good but a little strange, thats when I realised it was the lack of alcohol in it that was making it taste different. :)

It costed me 7.45LE at the pharmacy. This was the printed price.

I also picked a pack of 22 lozenges in honey lemon flavor of a local brand called Seem for 14.90LE which worked well too.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

William Dalrymple in Cairo

William Dalrymple in Cairo

William Dalrymple, internationally acclaimed British

writer, historian and broadcaster was in Cairo to give 2 lectures.

Islam and Christianity: Clash or Clasp of Civilizations - at the American University

of Cairo (AUC) in the Oriental Hall at 5 PM on Thursday, November 16, 2006.

From The Holy Mountain-A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium - an illustrated

talk on the demise of Christianity in its Middle Eastern homeland. Held at St. John's Church/Maadi at 7 PM on Saturday,

November 18, 2006.

I attended the first Lecture today. Sole intention initially was to hear someone speak in English for an hour. (I'm a little tired of

hearing Arabic & Hindi all the time, also tired of people telling me "Oh you were in the US, that's why you speak English so

well"... these people should talk to my Nana who has never left Dakshina Kannada - ok end of rant)

William Dalrymple speaks the way he writes. Loaded with facts. There was so many

interesting facts that he mentioned & questions that he posed & similarities that he underlined. I'll just outline a few here.
1. The first University in the world was the Al Azhar university in Egypt - quite a well known fact in Egypt but not elsewhere in

the world.
2. In the initial days there was an easy camaraderie between Christians & Muslims. Muslims revered certain Christian saints

& prophets (they believe that Jesus Christ is also a prophet) & made gifts to monasteries. Even today the keys to 1 of the

famous churches in Jerusalem are entrusted to a muslim family (I couldn't catch the name of the church)
3. In India (William so loves the country he now spends 6 months a year living in India) Akbar (muslim ruler) held joint

conferences for all faiths to understand them all.
4. Lent is a 40 day period. The Lent followed by the Coptic Christians (who follow an older, less modernised form of Christianity)

is much more gruelling than among the Western Christians. Ramadan too lasts 40 days.

I do not want to get into a debate here, so I'm not posting more of the points he mentioned. I thoroughly enjoyed the lecture.

Picked up a copy of Will post a review on the book sometime soon. I've just read

the 1st couple of pages & I'm thoroughly hooked. It talks about the areas that I'm hoping to visit on a more adventurous

scale. Wait for the review :)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Days of the Week

My days of the week are all completely messed up from what used to be normal.

Friday is the compulsory off. Making it like a Sunday.
Saturday is an optional off so it remains a Saturday.
Sunday is back to work so its like a Monday but the appropriate phrase would be Sunday morning blues (never ever thought I would suffer from that !)
But Sunday is also the day, family back home comes online, so at least I get to talk to them & envy their holiday lunches & dinners.

Thursday is like a Friday. & the rest of the days just blend into each other.

If you are looking for the Arabic Equivalents here they are :
Sunday = al-Ahad
Monday = al-Ithnein
Tuesday = al-Thulatha
Wednesday = al-Irba'a
Thursday = el-Khamis
Friday = el-Gum'a
Saturday = el-Sabt

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Ironing / Pressing

Most of the expat sites that I read for Egypt said that getting clothes ironed by an external guy was easy & cheap.....

Then I landed in Egypt !

Hotel rates of course are not even worth mentioning. With what we spent in a week, on cleaning of clothes at the Cairo Sheraton, I could buy myself another outfit or 2. But, companies only reimburse laundry bills not shopping bills :(

Getting back to topic : once we moved into our house, getting clothes washed wasn't a problem, since furnished apartment means a washing machine is definitely included in the house fittings. So clothes duly washed & dried it was now time for stage 3 (1. washing, 2. drying... keep up with me) which was the ironing.

There is a dry cleaning guy & an ironing guy hardly a door away from our building (quite common all over Cairo) so sent dear husband down with almost a suitcase full of clothes to be ironed. (they were mostly HIS clothes anyway {grin})

He comes back up & says the rate is 1.5 LE thats 12 rupees TWELVE Rupees. (Ok Ok, I'm desi, I've hardly been here a month, I'm still converting.) But 12 Rupees !!! to iron a shirt ! I thought my Bombay dhobhi was expensive when he charged me 2rs an item since my Hyderabad dhobhi only charged me 1rs. With over 20 items of clothing, that worked out to 30 pounds thats 240rupees. This may be a cheap rate for someone from the Western world where the options are d-i-y or Dry Cleaners, ($3 - $5 = Rs135-Rs225 a garment) but not for any self respecting desi from India.

For a change even hubby thought the rate was too much & he promptly pronounced that henceforth he would iron his own clothes. Lofty & noble intentions should not be discouraged & all good ideas should be encouraged. So I agreed with him wondering how long these good intentions would last.

Well that suitcase load of ironed clothes ran out today & as he rushed out of the front door hubby sheepishly asked me with the sweetest of grins "Kim, can you please iron a pair of pants for me, I don't have clothes for tomorrow"

He's esp busy this weekend. Was working yesterday (Friday - weekly off in Egypt) so I could hardly say "No"

Until today I was happily dumping the dried clothes into one of the bedrooms which I have converted to a laundry room (with the door closed) so I dont have to observe the growing piles of clothes.

So faced with this request, I had to face the *Laundry Room*

Now I'm no stranger to ironing. I used to iron my own clothes until I got married & husband convinced me that it was easier & worth it to pay off the dhobhi to iron them for me. I come from a mental framework of ironing & washing my own clothes. In hostel I created a record of firing 3 dhobhis in 4 days because I didnt like the way my clothes smelt when they brought them back. I was then part of the "Crazy South Indian" group which insisted on washing their own clothes in cramped hostel bathrooms in the middle of some truly gruelling study & party schedules.

Flash back over. Cut to present : I still iron my delicate salwar suits & saris myself because I dont trust a dhobhi with my expensive stuff. But I had compromised with husband to let the dhobhi iron my daily wear clothes. But husband has never ironed clothes in his life. Not because he led a completely spoilt childhood devoid of any physical labour or household chores (which he did), but because in the North of India (cultural divide in play here) it’s a very rare household that doesn't send all its clothes to a dhobhi for ironing. There's one in every neighbourhood (dhobhi not household) who comes door to door to collect & return clothes. So hardly any houses would own an iron.

Whereas in my part of the country, if you didn’t have a batallion of maids to do the household chores, everyone pitched in & did their share. Work & resource allocation was my mom's specialty. With 4 kids & a travelling husband we were initiated into chores appropriate for our age quite early. One of which was ironing our own school uniforms.

Now any of the convent school educated girls out there who have ironed their own skirts would know that although the nuns imparted good education (debatable) & designed smart uniforms (debatable) the uniforms were extremely difficult to iron (non-debatable) With a multitude of tiny pleats which had to be folded & ironed just right to preserve those multitude of creases, ironing skirts honed those skills completely. Come to think of it, maybe that was the idea : the education was an eyewash of womens lib, while what they really wanted to teach us was to be perfect homemakers & ironing was a requisite skill.

So yes, I ironed my own clothes & womens clothes after those dratted skirts are quite easy to iron. Men's shirts and trousers are more painful. Tousers have pleats which remind me of those aforementioned nightmare inducing skirts. The only time I ironed men's shirts was when my brothers managed to blackmail or plead sufficiently or dad "requested" that I iron their shirts/trousers. Which wasn't very often (Tip of the day: If you do a job badly enough, people stop asking you for help)

So today when I shook out my husbands trousers & started to iron, it brought back all the above memories which was why I decided to transcribe it into a blog post.

If you are looking for insights into special ironing techniques used in Egypt, then maybe what you really need to view is ABC's Foreign Correspondents - Egypt - The Ironing Man.

Where Jennifer Byrne explains that Ironing is an art form in the back alleys of Cairo, where successive generations ply their craft with not a steam iron in sight. In fact, Cairo’s ironing men are dismissive of the humble iron, preferring the ancient method of a heated metal block pushed carefully around the garment with one foot. Jennifer Byrne takes in a treasured blouse to sample the difference from the service offered at her Cairo hotel. Initial impressions aren’t great for the ironing man sprays water over the blouse with his mouth before taking to it with his foot. But presto…it really works!

For those who happened across this post when looking for an instruction manual on ironing for dummies, here goes : (ooh I feel like Martha Stewart)

Step 1 :
Wash clothes. (duh....)
Some washing machines come with a ironing friendly setting which minimises creasing in clothes. Use that to make your life & job easier.
For those of u who believe in conserving water & recycling clothes, skip step 1

Step 2 :
Dry or semi dry clothes. A little moisture in the clothes ensures a steam press. But not soaking wet or damp clothes. Just lightly moist. Otherwise you may create a sauna in your laundry room by the time you can iron out the moisture.

Step 3:
Check the setting on your iron (please turn it on first) Cotton needs higher heat than synthetics & don’t even try to iron pure wool (the smell will be worse than burnt food on your gas range) If you must iron woolens please hand them over to a professional. Check the heat of the iron (WARNING : NOT by touching the metal plate !!! Run the iron on the iron board & then place your hand on the iron board & check to see if your fabric can handle that heat.) If in doubt, start at the lowest heat & slowly work your way upwards. Too hot & your clothes will burn ( so although you may save something on self ironing you will lose much more in replenishing your rapidly diminishing wardrobe)

Step 4 :
Lay the item of clothing on the ironing table & straighten out all folds in the material, then lightly run the iron over it

If you need this manual to teach you how to iron your clothes, then lets not even get into the folding part of it. Either wear immediately or put up on a hanger.

But know this : seeing the creases getting ironed out as you go is instant gratification for people in management or who don’t often get to immediately see the results of their efforts. Hoping to use this argument to convince husband to iron his own clothes {grin} If that doesn' work I'll try & get him this ironing board.

If you want the Martha Stewart version, then this is where you wanna go Martha Stewart Guide to Ironing a Shirt

Dhobhi : hindi term for the guy who washes your clothes for you. Sometimes used generically for the guy who irons your clothes instead of the longer drawn : istriwallah


Remember the wonderful dish i spoke about in Wasted a Whole Day" ?

Its called Koshary / koshari / kosharee & is almost like a national dish. Costing between 1-5LE its often the only thing that the poorer locals can afford but inspite of the low cost its absolutely yummilicious.

Tour Egypt has a brilliant article on the Koshary by Heba Fatteen Bizzari from which I've posted excerpts below :

Koshary, a famous Egyptian dish
Imagine, mixing into a single dish, pasta, rice, lentil, chick peas, onions and garlic and adding to this chili sauce. The idea sounds horrific, until one tries out an Egyptian favorite called Koshary.

Koshary is a traditional Egyptian meal that consists of a strange combination of macaroni, spaghetti, rice, black lentils, chick peas, garlic sauce and a spicy tomato chili sauce, all topped with fried onions. It is sold from carts by street vendors, in restaurants or even made at home and each is considered a different taste experience.

ingredients for KosharyThe Koshary man stands in front of the large containers that hold each of the dish's ingredient. Usually, there is a line of people waiting to be served. Once you place your order, you stand in a row waiting to give the Koshary man your receipt that states the price of your dish. At the moment you give him the receipt the Koshary man grabs a bowl, and scoops a little of each ingredient into the bowl and sends it to your table. Each Koshary dish takes about five seconds to prepare (of course, after the ingredients are cooked).

His speed can be surprising to you.

As the Koshary man scoops, he knocks his metal spoon against the sides of the bowls, making the Koshary symphony that you won’t hear elsewhere. When the Koshary man prepares an A table laiden with Koshary order of more than four the restaurant fills with sound as if it was a rehearsal for a concert. “The restaurants of Koshary are very noisy. One sits to eat while the Koshary man practices his drums in your ears."

At the table, all the dishes are aluminum except the two glass bottles that contain two different kinds of sauce, one made from vinegar and oil, the other from spicy red pepper. “The chili is a whole new dimension for the meal. You can eat Koshary and it would taste good, but for it to be this delicious you have to use chili. That creates all the taste,” said Waleed Abdullah, an office boy.

Koshary is considered a meal that is inexpensive yet fills up the stomach of an average Egyptian. “Koshary is eaten anytime, anywhere. It’s a meal that is both affordable and delicious."

On Tour Egypt, there is a recipe by famed cook, Mary Kay Radnich.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Quick Note on Coptic Christianity

The Coptic Church
Most people associate Egypt with Islam today, but Christianity was actually the dominant religion between the 4th century AD and 641 AD, when Islam officially took over. St. Mark first preached Christianity in 50 AD, and Egypt was one of the first countries to adopt the still young faith.

The Egyptian branch of Christianity is called the Coptic Church. Unlike other branches of Christianity, the Coptics believe that Christ was a wholly divine being and not God made flesh. One in every ten Egyptians is a Coptic today. The Coptic Church has its own Pope, and many ceremonies are still held in the ancient Coptic language.

The Holy Family's Journey
If you know the bible well, you'll remember that Jesus and the Holy family fled from Bethlehem to Egypt, seeking refuge from a bloodthirsty King Herod. They made an arduous 2,000km trek by donkey over four years which took them over 30 different places in Egypt, from Al-Farma down to the Al-Muharraq monastery.

Needless to say, the Holy Family's Journey is an extremely important event in the Coptic tradition, and they celebrate Jesus' arrival in Egypt every year on June 1st (the 24th day of the Coptic month Bashans).

Coptic Monuments
Alexandria was once one of the major seats of the Roman Empire and many beautiful Coptic monuments record the great triumphs of those years of glory.

Virgin's Tree
Many places are named in honour of the Virgin Mary, but the Virgin's tree is one of very few to have been visited by Mary herself with young Jesus by her side. They're thought to have taken shelter beneath the tree's bowed branches, refreshing themselves from the same spring that waters its old roots.

Al-Muaallaqah (Hanging) Church
pictureDating the Al-Muaallaqah church definitively has proven difficult due to its various makeovers throughout the years, but it was completed sometime between the 7th and 9th century on top of what was the Water Gate on the southern wall of the fortress of Babylon. In fact, the gate is still visible through a hole in the baptistery's floor.

The church's two bell towers soar to an awe-inspiring 13m at their highest peak. Beneath its hallowed vaulted ceilings, the major events of the Coptic calendar are celebrated to a spectacular effect. During the Enthronement of the Patriarch, its impressive collection of censers, chalices and crosses in gold, silver and gilt go on full display.

Saint Catherine's Monastery
pictureIt was at the top of Mt Sinai that Moses received the ten commandments from God. At its base, besides what is rumoured to be the burning bush of biblical fame, is the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint Catherine.

The monastery was named after an early Christian martyr from Alexandria and the Emperor Justinian had a basilica built to house her recovered remains many centuries later. Today, the church is lined with spectacularly ornate icons and scriptural paintings. Its monastery museum is home to the world's second largest collection of illuminated manuscripts in Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Coptic and Georgian.

Church of Mar Guirguis (St George)
pictureNot to be confused with England's dragon-slaying hero, Mar Guirguis was an early martyr from Palestine, put to death by the Romans in the 4th century. The first church to bear his name was built some six centuries later.
The elegant circular domed church you see today stands on its fire-ravaged remains, built at the turn of the 20th century. Inside, the church is bathed in the magnificent multicoloured glow of its striking stained glass windows.

The Coptic Museum (Old Cairo)
Just approaching it's first century, the Coptic Museum in Cairo is a treasure trove of relics from Egypt's early Christians, where you can find : scraps of painted textiles, manuscripts and icons, frescoes and carvings in wood, ivory, glass and stone.

Behind its understated scallop-shell archways, the 13 halls of the old wing are currently undergoing a massive face-lift. However, the 17 halls of the new wing house the bulk of the exhibits and an enclosed garden.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

My landlady is a Sweetheart

My landlady is such a sweetheart compared to the other landlords & ladies we have been dealing with for the guest houses.

She is really scrubbing the entire house clean & has done all the other changes that we requested. Then on her own she is retiling a part of the roof (from the terrace) which might affect 2 of the rooms on the floor we will be living in. (We have taken the penthouse duplex) She agreed to everything we wanted & she brought the rent down to suit our budget. Plus she has now gone and bought fire extinguishers for the house on her own.

After a quick visit to the house I went to pick up some flowers for someone who was sick. Bouquets here cost onwards of 20 LE. Some really pretty flowers & boquet arrangements are available here. Although you dont really get rose buds but fully bloomed flowers. I'm assuming this is because the flowers have to be shipped in from some other continent. But they do wrap them up beautifully & set them in some beautiful fancy jars which no one could throw out ever, since you can keep reusing them to display flowers in your home.

They also have a fantastic selection of dried flower arrangements in all colors which are pretty reasonable too. Flower shops are easily available & not too much bargaining is necessary. Unlike Bombay where u can get the price down to half the originally quoted one. Didnt click pictures since I hadnt carried the camera. But will definitely display pictures at a later date. Also will upload more pics on my blogs once I get my broadband connection since uploading on a dial up is a royal pain.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Birds in Cairo

Well, whatever I have seen in the last coupla days, one never has to worry about bird shit when parking. There are hardly any birds around. Compared to the scores of pigeons who think the entire city of Bombay is a shit pot.

I initially thought that there were no birds in Cairo at all. But on a visit to the Pharaonic village we spied some brilliantly colored birds & some unusual crows (shades of gray rather than black)

Hooded crow "Corvus corone"

So the city does have birds, especially around water bodies. Plan to do a detailed brid watching some time. Until then, I'm trying to familiarise myself with some birds on the web.

Slender-billed Gull"Larus genei"
Slender-billed Gull"Larus genei"
Cattle Egret"Bubulcus ibis"

Also see Hany Zorkanys documenting of a whole dramatic story of a bird by photos.

Yahoo! News Story - Fierce debate over veils in Egypt

Associated Press Writer
Tue Oct 31, 1:52 PM ET
from Yahoo News

CAIRO, Egypt - The origin of the debate could not be more intimate: what a woman chooses to wear before she leaves home. But the increasing popularity of the full Muslim face veil has set off an emotional dispute in the Arab world over whether the covering is required by Islam for modesty or a dangerous sign of political extremism.

The debate is most intense in Egypt, the world's largest Arab country, where one university two weeks ago banned women who wear the face veil, or niqab, from living in a hostel, and government-backed newspapers have launched a campaign against it.

"The niqab vogue: an imported innovation, used by the political extremists," read a recent banner on the pro-government Al Mussawar Weekly. "Our new battle is against the niqab," added Mohammed Fatouh, a specialist on Islamic issues in another government-owned weekly, Rose el-Youssef.

Salama Ahmed Salama, a columnist in Egypt's biggest government daily, Al-Ahram, was more blunt: "It expresses an extremist attitude ... Wearing the niqab is as outrageous as wearing a bathing suit or pajamas to the office."

On any given street in the capital, the face of one woman will be fully covered, with only her eyes peering through; nearby another woman will cover her hair, leaving her face bare, and still another will have her face and hair free of any covering.

The dispute highlights the growing wave of conservative Islamic practice across the Arab world — and among Muslims living in the West — and the intense struggle between secular governments and Islamic opposition groups. Head scarves fell out of favor among some urban Arab women in the 1920s and 1930s but began reappearing in the 1970s and 1980s. The evolution has been steady with more women covering their hair each year and more also wearing body cloaks.

But the biggest dispute has been over the niqab — a full facial veil that leaves only a slit for the eyes that re-emerged in Egypt in the late 1980s and has since grown in popularity, both in the Arab world and among Arab Muslims in the West.

Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in early October that he asks women who visit his office to remove the veil so he can see their faces, and called it a disturbing sign of the divisions in British society. Aishah Azmi, a 24-year-old Muslim teaching assistant in northern England, was then suspended from her job for refusing to remove a black veil that left only her eyes visible.

In Egypt, the issue has simmered for years and caught new fire after Straw's comments.

The president of Helwan University on the outskirts of Cairo banned students who wear the niqab from living at the university's hostel, citing security reasons — and leading to small protests by students.

The female head of the Islamic department of the women's college at Al-Azhar University, Soad Saleh, was recently sued by a radical cleric and received death threats after she said she was "disgusted by women in niqab."

In the West, traditional Muslim dress is seen as a refusal by Muslim immigrants to assimilate and accept Europe's secular values. Two years ago, France banned head scarves and other religious symbols from public places, enraging many Muslim immigrants. Australia's top Islamic cleric also recently sparked outrage when he said that women who do not dress modestly invite rape.

In the Arab world, the dispute centers on fears of growing Islamic extremism and concerns by secular governments, like Egypt's, that they will lose ground to Islamic opposition groups.

Complicating the issue, there is no uniform religious opinion across the Muslim world about whether a head scarf — much less a face veil — is required. Some view various forms of head scarves and niqabs as signs of cultural or Islamic pride. Others, however, view face veils as indications of Islamic extremist political opposition.

But some who wear the face veil contend they do so for purely personal religious reasons.

"Believe me, we are normal human beings. But they deal with us like terrorists who are going to blow up everything," said Ashgan, a woman wearing the veil at Helwan University, who would give only her first name during an interview with The Associated Press because she did not want to appear immodest.

She began wearing the niqab three years ago, and takes it off her face just before she enters the hostel's gate, she said.

The top theological authority of Al-Azhar University, the highest seat of Sunni Muslim learning, said he accepted the Helwan University decision to keep women wearing niqabs from the hostel as long as Helwan officials do not require women to also remove their head scarves.

Clerics who believe women should be veiled refer to a verse in the Quran to back up their beliefs: "O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks all over their bodies."

Many Islamic scholars do say that covering the hair is a religious duty, but others disagree and say the verse has other interpretations. As for the face veil, the majority of Islamic scholars say it is not required but is merely a custom that dates back to tribal, nomadic societies living in the Arabian desert before Islam began.

In Saudi Arabia, most women wear a face veil along with a head scarf and full black cloak — or face harassment by religious police.

Many Egyptian women took off their head scarves in the 1920s. But Egypt became more religious in the 1970s and women began wearing scarves again, even though the government does not encourage it.

Egypt keeps newscasters who wear head scarves off its TV stations; the president's wife, Suzanne Mubarak, and most female officials wear neither head scarf nor face veil.

But the streets are full of veiled women. There are no accurate statistics on Egypt's 75 million people, about 10 percent of whom are Christian Copts who do not wear veils. But between 70-80 percent of all Egyptian Muslim women are believed to wear a head scarf, according to most estimates.

Wasted a Whole Day

& I do mean "Wasted". Not drunk "wasted" not lazing around "Wasted" But an Absolute Waste of an Entire Day !

Had to go to the passport office in the morning to get our visas extended. Since Marico has not yet been formed in Egypt, husband cant get an e-visa (employment visa) so we are on tourist/business visas, (kinda like the american B1/B2) which we need to get extended.

so off we went with this consultant in the morning to the passport office which turned out to be more crowded than the one in Bombay India. 45 different counters in a straight line, with barely enough place for 6 people to stand in each line before the line hit the wall & most counters except the Palestinian one had over 10 people per line. So it was quite chaotic.

It was also interesting to see people from different countries speking different languages all g]focused on a single goal "getting the attention of the person across the counter" Kinda like a plebian UN session :)

But given the pressing crowds & the pressing matter of our own visa, I couldnt dawdle & "people watch"

Unfortunately inspite of husbands effort of dressing in blazer & stuff, passport officer asked us to get another letter on a letterhead & appear again the day after tomorrow (baad bukra : bukra is tomorrow & baad bukra means day after tomorrow)

Another guy from the company & his family got their extensions done in ten minutes just yesterday with the same papers that we carried ourselves. My guess : the "consultant" who accompanied us as translator did not have a clue & was quite confused. Guess we drew the short straw on this one.

After that we saw another 15 houses on our house hunt. But all were a complete WAFWOT (David Dcosta to be credited for this term. ask him for the exact translation - basic translation : complete waste of time) We had told all estate agents that we were almost certain to be closing a house tomorrow, so all of them wanted "one last chance sir" We hoped the pressure would bring out the best houses with the lowest prices to snatch the deal. Unfortunately none of the houses they showed us today could compare to the one that we have almost finalised so the entire exercise was a complete WAFWOT.

Only silver lining today was I embarked on another food adventure. Walked up to a place called Abou Yoosef. Their menu was in Arabic. Everyone there only spoke arabic. I pointed to 2 items on the menu & patiently awaited opening my mystery suprise package. One turned out to be a chicken fillet sandwich roll. The other was some local dish.

Now the problem is I have no clue about the name. I do not remember which item I pointed to, so its going to take some time to figure out what we ate.

But let me try & give u a description. (no picture : we were too ravenous after the house hunt that we did not bother with wasting time on taking pictures) the dish is a mix of 4 types of pasta
1. a very short tubular pasta 2mm length
2. a circular spoke pasta 2mm diameter
3. short spaghetti
4. vermicilli
and some arborio rice. All boiled seperately with just salt & then mixed in almost equal quantities. The dish is then topped with some boiled whole masoor dhal & deep fried browned onions. & a sprinkling of chickpeas (chole)
A tomato based gravy was served on the side to be mixed into the dish. I was wearing a salwar kameez & bindi, so he realisd i was indian. pointed to my bindi & handed me a second packet which turned out to be a spicy chilli mix which we added to the tomato gravy before pouring it into the carbs.

The dish was really yummy & I doubt my description has done it justice. Also its a wonderful vegetarian option for veggies who come to this country & are forced to live on French fries. Next mission is to somehow describe this to a local who can tell me its name.
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