Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Award from a fellow blogger

A Fellow blogger in Cairo, Noles Family presented this blog of mine with an award:
“This blog invests and believes, in ‘proximity’ meaning, that blogging makes us 'close'. They are all charming blogs, and the majority of them aim to show the marvels of friendship; there are persons who are not interested when we give them a prize, and then they help to cut these bows; do we want that they are cut, or that they propagate? Then let’s try to give more attention to them!”

Thank you for sharing your lives and experiences the Noles family appreciates each and every one of your blogs.

Thanks Noles Family. Its always good to know that someone is benefiting from what you blog in cyberspace :)

Buy Fresh Pizza Dough in Maadi

Manisha also blogged about an interesting "raw" material available in Maadi. . .

. . . . . . . . Fresh Pizza Dough at 16LE/kg.

Check out the details here.

Cons posing as cops

Manisha from Living in Egypt blogged about a new con game in town here

I haven't faced that yet. But I have encountered people in regular clothes stopping me at the pyramids saying they are cops and demanding to see my tickets etc.

How do you know that someone approaching you at the pyramids is not a plains clothes policeman? (a con would be speaking tourist guide/tout English, a cop will speak more halting Egyptian - English)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Restaurant Review : Sports Cafe, Cairo

Sports Cafe
37, El Batal Ahmed Abdel Aziz St.
3345 8425/8426/8427

Food and drink was better than average. Ambiance wasn't too great, but it can be ignored. This looks like a place that students wanting to watch a game would hang out at.

Read the entire review here: on my restaurant review blog

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Maadi Women's Guild Christmas Bazaar

One of the Best Bazaars that I have attended in Cairo. This was a mammoth effort. Around 80 stalls. There were the usual suspects from the Tupperware/jewelry designers/shawls/sweaters/candles brigade.
But what was truly unique was the sheer number of charities and NGO's that were given the opportunity to present the handiwork of their wards. Some beautiful work was exhibited by the nuns of St Barsoum Monastery - Toys, decorations, embroidery, lace, knits, Coptic Icons, Stained Glass and needle point made by underprivileged families in the Helwan area. They have a wide variety of handicrafts and I would highly recommend visiting their workshops at El Maasara in Helwan.

Other Charities that exhibited work of wonderful quality (which is so hard to find in Egypt) were House of Charity (3381 1063), Woodwork Center of Hagaza (012 759 9479), Touch her World and Tukul Crafts.
There were products created by orphans, young girls, prisoners, refugees and other marginalised groups. This was an excellent opportunity to pick up Christmas gifts in one location while contributing to some great causes.

Entry was 30Le which was completely worth it, unlike the over priced bazaar at Narmer American College

There were stalls that had activities of finger painting, wax hand impressions, decoupage etc. for the little kids, like Art Cafe

There were quite a few Food stalls too. Chinese by Peking and Dragon House, Shawarmas from Bistro, Smiley, Max's Restaurant and a few others.
Amera was offering some excellent hot dogs (I wonder where they buy their sausages from, but they are the best quality and consistency I have eaten in Egypt)

Jared's bagels were making fresh waffles and corn dogs on the spot. I'm not sure if corn dogs are on the regular menu at their Road 9 outlet. I'll have to check the next time I'm there.

If you attend only one bazaar in the Christmas run-up, then this should be it!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Eid Mubarak - Kol Sena Wenta Tayieb

Eid Mubarak to all my friends who celebrate this feast.

Cairo has these special colored cloths associated with different feasts through the year. The color for this festival is red as seen in the pictures below of the butchers shop all decorated for Eid.

They were taken from a moving car, so the picture may not be as sharp, but its colorful :)

Handmade - Hobby Space & Craft Item Supplier in Cairo

39, Abdel Moneim Riad Street

3749 7242

I saw a stall that the people behind this store had organised at one of the Christmas Bazaars around town.

They sell knitting yarns, patterns, crochet hooks and a lot of other accessories.

They do have some embroidery kits that seem to be imported, they were a bit expensive at around 250LE, but I guess they can afford to charge a premium since I haven't seen these kits anywhere else in Cairo, yet.

They also offer courses in knitting, crocheting, needlepoint, drawing, painting and decorative crafts for adults, teens and children.

Call them for rates

Zafir - the Egyptian t-shirt shop!

Zafir is a cute Egyptian T-shirt shop on
15B Taha Hussein Street
off Marashly street.
(walk left from Kipling)

Right next to Touch of Glass

The designs on the tshirts are unique. some have Arabic calligraphy on them with proverbs, some have truck art, some pun on Egyptian pronunciations and some are just cute!

The tshirts come in a range of size and colours and there are a specially curved cuts for women.
They all cost a uniform 110LE and if there is any defect you can bring it back within a week.

Each tshirt comes with a printed card attached explaining the significance of the particular design in English and Arabic. So they are really cute gifts for people back home.

The overall cloth quality looks good. Will let you know how well it washes once I wash my own :)

Edited on 24 May 2009 to add:
Daily News Egypt, did a full length article on this store a couple of years ago. Read the article here.

Siwa House - Shop for Siwan Items in Cairo

Siwa House
Hand Embroidery and natural products from Siwa Oasis.
17 Ahmed Heshmat Street

+2 02 2737 3014
+2 02 2736 3139

They have a really interesting range of items from Siwa. There are 2 parts to their collection - Siwa Creations and Siwa Organics

Their shop in Cairo is much fancier than the counterpart in Siwa which is quite basic. The walls of the shop are decorated with salt crystals and Siwan pebbles.

Siwa Creations items include hand embroidered clothes and Siwan Jewelry. These may seem a little expensive at first glance unless you feel it is worth the price for individually crafted items.

Siwa Organics comprises of Organically grown Siwan specialties like Olives and Dates and products made out of them like tapenades and salad dressings.

You can buy Extra Virgin Olive Oil in Lemon and Orange flavors too. (upto 65LE for a liter)
Pickled and herbed olives also cost about 25LE for a regular sized bottle.
Tapenades and jams (olive, carrot, sycamore, bitter orange marmalade) are also 25 LE.
There is a wonderful variety of Salad dressings in olive tomato, orange and sycamore flavors for 25 LE.
A Kilo of organic dates costs 10LE.
They also have pure organic salt crystals in small jars (165 gms) for 10LE, the olive flavored salt goes for 20LE. These can again be used in salads in their natural form.

Touch of Glass - Shop for Glass Work in Cairo

Touch of Glass is located on
15A, Taha Hussein Street

+2 02 2737 1488
They have some really nice items in glass to serve food in and for decorative purposes in different colors.

Their rates seemed reasonable, in the range of 100LE onwards.

They also have a small selection of scented and decorative candles.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Cakes and Cookies from Hope Village Society in Cairo

The Hope Village Society makes and sells cakes on behalf of street children in Egypt.

Not only is this a worthy cause, but their cakes are truly awesome.

I've tried their Lemon Cake (from 10LE - 20LE depending on size) and Coffee Cake (15LE).

The best of their baked goods that I have tasted so far are the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (20LE for a dozen) These are some of the best cookies that I have eaten in Egypt.

Check out the Hope Village Society at http://egyhopevillage.com

You can contact them for details on ordering at "hopevillage1988 @ hotmail . com" (without the spaces)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Siwa Oasis : The Collection

These are the links to the Eleven Parts in a beautiful series of articles written by my friend Gabi Philips who has spent an extended period of time in Siwa.

Part 1 : Transportation
Part 2 : Where to Stay
Part 3 : Where to Stay (contd)
Part 4 : Shali
Part 5 : Places to Visit
Part 6 : Aghourmy : The Oracle & the Broken Rock
Part 7 : Cleopatra Spring, the mountains & Fatanas island
Part 8 : The House of Siwa
Part 9 : The Annual Celebration
Part 10 : The Desert
Part 11 : When to go, Where to eat and more

I hope to add to this collection when I make my own trip to this alluring oasis.

Siwa Oasis - Part 11 : When to go, Where to eat and more

This is the Eleventh in a beautiful series of articles written by my friend Gabi Philips who has spent an extended period of time in Siwa.

Also Read
Part 1 : Transportation
Part 2 : Where to Stay
Part 3 : Where to Stay (contd)
Part 4 : Shali
Part 5 : Places to Visit
Part 6 : Aghourmy : The Oracle & the Broken Rock
Part 7 : Cleopatra Spring, the mountains & Fatanas island
Part 8 : The House of Siwa
Part 9 : The Annual Celebration
Part 10 : The Desert

When to go:
All year round if you don't care about weather :)
April, May, October and November if you consider good weather.
October if you want to attend the celebration.
Summer (June, July, August) if you're going for treatment by burying in the sand.
And Summer till September if you want to drink "lagby" or try tasting "robb".

Lagby is a drink from palm trees, they cut on special parts in the palm tree at night and leave it to "sweat" overnight, and the liquid is collected in a pot. It should be drunk before sunrise, otherwise it gets fermented and turns into an alcoholic drink. I'm not sure if it is bottled in some way, to be sold and drunk at any time of the day.

Robb is the dates honey. It is like making a juice from dates, very sugary, looks like and almost tastes like molasses.

Where to eat:
The most famous is Abdou restaurant in the main square.
There is also East-West restaurant between the main square and the big mosque.
Also you can try restaurants at hotels like the one on the roof of Kelani hotel at the main square with a charming view on Shali.
You can arrange to have a "special meal" at dream lodge or the restaurant at Kenoz Shali Lodge hotel.

More photos and more about Siwa:

Some Tips:
When in town, don't show a lot of skin.
Men try not to wear shorts.
Ladies cover at least upto knees and upper arms.
This is not for safety but to respect local traditions and culture.
Siwa is one of the safest places you can visit.

For ladies, when at Cleopatra spring, at least put a T-shirt on over the swim wear, this is because Cleopatra spring is a public place and locals may be offended.
It is less restricted in other "private" or far away springs like the one in Fatanas island, in Abo Shrouf or any of the those in the desert.

When you are walking between gardens and want to eat some dates, eat as much as you like but don't carry a single date away with you.

You can rent a bicycle for a complete day for only 10 L.E.
Other means of transportation is the donkey cart, or you can hire a truck/ toktok/ bike to visit the far away places.

Siwa Oasis - Part 10 : The desert : Is it the original Siwa? Hiking in Siwa!

This is the Tenth in a beautiful series of articles written by my friend Gabi Philips who has spent an extended period of time in Siwa.

Also Read
Part 1 : Transportation
Part 2 : Where to Stay
Part 3 : Where to Stay (contd)
Part 4 : Shali
Part 5 : Places to Visit
Part 6 : Aghourmy : The Oracle & the Broken Rock
Part 7 : Cleopatra Spring, the mountains & Fatanas island
Part 8 : The House of Siwa
Part 9 : The Annual Celebration

I have been to Siwa twice, but haven't experience a desert safari yet. I like to leave something to do during my next visit :)

The basic desert safari in Siwa is visiting Bir Wahed (Well Number One), and to an area called Sheyata.

Bir Wahed is about 15 kms to the South-West of Siwa. It was closed for a period of time to control smuggling through the Egyptian/Libyan borders. The well was dug while searching for petrol (please correct me if wrong), now it can be visited after getting theappropriate permissions (the safari organisers handle them).

Sheyata is another area to the West with a lovely scene at sunset and not far from the paved road and the inhabited areas. It is the place where they go for the cheapest safari trip. When you pay more, you go deeper in the desert to more "special" places. I say special because while I was talking with one of the people who works as a desert driver he said that each driver keeps to himself some special places.

There is a place to visit known as the petrified village.

I was talking to an Arabian person from Matrouh who owns a shop in the main square in Siwa. He hold me that when he was a kid, he used to travel with his family (nomads) until they reached Mauritania, and that his grandfather was told by his ancestors that current Siwa is not the one they used to go to! Could this be real? Is the petrified village the original Siwa? I don't know.

One more interesting thing he told me was about some food his grandfather used to prepare and eat for such long distance travel (as far as I remember it is called "telbina" and is made basically from camel's milk and barley/she3eer).

There is a Siwa protectorate in the West. I have heard that there are some 4-6 ibex there, which sounds like good news :)

Hiking in Siwa:
Is there any desert hiking in Siwa? I don't think so, but the project manager of the Italian development project in Siwa (called Shali project) said to someone familiar with the desert "go find me routes suitable for hiking in the desert, in the area of Sheyata for example".

There was a suggestion for hiking to Bir Wahed, but it would be a long distanceto cover in one day (going and returning) and there is no shade along the way.

There are three uninhabited oasis around Siwa (on the route from Siwa to Bahareya, their names are el-Bahrain, el-Arag & Nawameesa.

There is also the oasis of Qaret omm el-Shagheir, about 130 kms to the northeast of Siwa and needs special permission to be visited. There is a complete article about it in the Al-Ahram newspaper, as far as I remember it was dated 26 September 2006.

Siwa Oasis - Part 9 : The Annual Celebration

This is the Ninth in a beautiful series of articles written by my friend Gabi Philips who has spent an extended period of time in Siwa.

Also Read
Part 1 : Transportation
Part 2 : Where to Stay
Part 3 : Where to Stay (contd)
Part 4 : Shali
Part 5 : Places to Visit
Part 6 : Aghourmy : The Oracle & the Broken Rock
Part 7 : Cleopatra Spring, the mountains & Fatanas island
Part 8 : The House of Siwa

Konwn as "3eed el-sol7" (peace making celebration), the celebration is held at Gebel El-Dakroury over 3 days at the full moon (or around) in October, after the harvest season of dates and olives.

I asked an OLD Siwan man about the festival and asked why they celebrate it. As his mother tongue is the Siwan language, I felt he was struggling to tell me the story in a foreign language (Arabic). He was trying hard to find the right words and here is the story as he narrated it to me:

Many years ago, there were huge problems (between Eastern & Western Siwans as I understood) and there was a good man who was trying to solve the problems. It took him three days to make peace among all the Siwans. To celebrate the peace they searched for a place where all could gather eat and celebrate together (eating together is a sign of peace) and they chose Gebel El-Dakroury.

He also told me about the preparations nowadays. People start to collect the food (ro2a2/kind of bread) across 17-18 mosques in the town, then food is distributed at Gebel El-Dakroury. The Implication is that it is not known who the person who offered the food that was eaten/finished. (It looked to me that if someone's food is eaten/finished, this means something good).

The kids were wearing nice colorful clothing, playing some games like those at normal "Mulid". Lots of street vendors including some from Matrouh who come over in the hopes of making some profit.

This celebration as much as I understood from that old man and from Dr. Ahmed Fakhrey's book is a unique Siwan event.

To my surprise when a journalist questioned one of people at the celebration who looked like a leader, he said the festival originated in Libya.

Personally, I believe the journalist had some wrong info from wrong sources and she was trying to put words in his mouth.

The Leaders' name is Sheikh/Ahmed Beshir el-Madani, the Sheikh of the Madaneya Shazeleya Tarika (way). He is the decendant of the founder of the Tarika Sheikh elMadany (Sheikh/Mohammed Hasan Hamza Ghafer Elmadani). He stated that this is a religious event (not a local event), "we are here and we're from Libia" and called "3eed elseya7a"(tourism celebration)

Seyaha/tourism in this context has the meaning of spiritual religious thing (related to walking very long distances that may reach hundreds of kilometers). They sing some religious songs. One of them is a poem telling the story of his great grandfather (Sheikh elMadany).

While he was telling this to the journalist I interrupted him twice to drop a hint because what he was saying contradicted with what I read before. After the second time he commented on what I mentioned by saying "you know a lot". I was sure now that the information I had was right and left the journalist so she could feel happy that she was "controlling the situation" and that she would have an "interesting" article.

You can read a books and if you attend the event yourself.

Enjoy the photos of the celebration on the following link:

Siwa Oasis - Part 8 : The House of Siwa : The Grandmother...and the gun

This is the Eighth in a beautiful series of articles written by my friend Gabi Philips who has spent an extended period of time in Siwa.

Also Read
Part 1 : Transportation
Part 2 : Where to Stay
Part 3 : Where to Stay (contd)
Part 4 : Shali
Part 5 : Places to Visit
Part 6 : Aghourmy : The Oracle & the Broken Rock
Part 7 : Cleopatra Spring, the mountains & Fatanas island

The House of Siwa:
It was built recently to demonstrate how the traditional houses of Siwa were built. Its exhibits show glimpses of how daily life used to be, the traditional dresses and the jewelry.

At the entrance of the house there are three mannequins wearing three different dresses usually worn by the bride on the first, third and seventh days after her wedding. On the first day for her friends (ladies of course), on the third day for her aunts, and on the seventh day for her mother (yes, the mother doesn't visit except on the seventh day).
There is a warm corner in the house where the grandmother used to sit every night and gather the children around her for story telling: stories about their history, heroes and culture. The guide taking me around sadly remarked "but now the hero on TV, is the one who has the gun in his hand, not the one with good manners".

I heard this a couple of years ago, but understood it last October when I attended the annual celebration. ALL the kids had plastic guns in their hand and were "shooting" each other. I was shot twice, before a kind old man told the kids not to play/bother older guests.

I think as a "Siwan kid" after watching TV "the hero is the one having a gun in his hand not the one who is well mannered as the grandmother used to say :("

More pictures can be seen at :

When the "House of Siwa" was newly constructed a couple of years ago, it was operated voluntarily by some people from the town council (magles elmadina), now there is a trained employee who is in charge.

Visiting Hours:
From October to March: 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. and 2 - 5 p.m.
From April to September: 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. and 4 - 7 p.m.

Siwa Oasis - Part 7 : Cleopatra Spring, the mountains & Fatanas island

This is the Seventh in a beautiful series of articles written by my friend Gabi Philips who has spent an extended period of time in Siwa.

Also Read
Part 1 : Transportation
Part 2 : Where to Stay
Part 3 : Where to Stay (contd)
Part 4 : Shali
Part 5 : Places to Visit
Part 6 : Aghourmy : The Oracle & the Broken Rock

Cleopatra Spring:
Located to the East of Siwa, it is believed that Cleopatra used this spring for bathing. In the late 90's, the wall of the spring was covered with ceramic!! Now it has been removed to maintain its original look.
People do swim in the pool, but ladies must show some respect to the local community traditions and culture by not showing too much skin (bikini/swimsuit should not be worn - its recommended to wear a t-shirt over a swimsuit before getting in).
Check the photos to see how local kids look strangely (and may by offended) at some tourists not respecting their culture.

Gebel El-Dakroury (El-Dakroury mountain):
The mountain is to the east of Siwa. It is famous for curing rheumatic disease by a therapy involving being buried in the sand, usually in the summer (June, July & August).
This mountain is also the site for the annual Siwan celebration which lasts for three days. Usually held on or around the full moon in October after the dates and olives harvest season.

There is more than one opinion about how the mountain got its name. The only one I remember is that the area was a slave trading point, where slaves used to come from Dakar.

Gebel el-Mawta (Mountain of the dead):
Located in the northern part of the oasis, it is the first archeological site you see on arriving at the oasis (it will be to the left). It contains many tombs from Pharonic times. Four of them have drawings on their walls. It was used by Siwans and English soldiers as a refuge during World War II, and so several drawings/paintings were destroyed by the war or removed and taken away by English soldiers. these paintings could have helped identify the inhabitants of the tombs.

There are some ruins in front of the mountain.
The big mosque is just off the main square on the way to Gebel el- mawta, it was build by King Fouad and there is a shrine beside it.

Fatanas Island:
It is an island in the Western Salty Lake, famous for its magnificent sunset view. The salty lake was created from agricultural sewage water. However, few years ago an agricultural sewage project took place to solve the problem of excessive waste water. This moved the natural borders of water away from the island, but tourism to the island wasn't affected. The locals say that the project was like a temporary "pain killer" and did not "cure" the problem.

There is a fresh water spring where people can swim.
Please check more photos on the following link

Siwa Oasis - Part 6 : Aghourmy : The Oracle & the Broken Rock

This is the Sixth in a beautiful series of articles written by my friend Gabi Philips who has spent an extended period of time in Siwa.

Also Read
Part 1 : Transportation
Part 2 : Where to Stay
Part 3 : Where to Stay (contd)
Part 4 : Shali
Part 5 : Places to Visit

The Oracle Temple:
Siwa is historically famous for the Temple of the Oracle which 'Alexander the Great' traveled for almost 18 days in the desert to visit. No one knows what he was told there, but he conquered the world after that.

The Oracle Temple is located on a huge rock called "Aghourmy" about 3 kms to the East of the main square. Aghourmy rock is suffering old age and is almost broken (split into two halves) in the place beneath the temple, but some restoration work has been done to save the temple from collapsing.

Over the years, people started to build their houses on top of the Aghourmy rock and around the temple, but they are now in ruins. The restoration mission started by restoring the mosque first to gain the respect and cooperation of the locals.

In the rocks of the wall of the temple, there are traces of marine fossils.

Temple of "Um Eibeida":
Not far from the Oracle Temple, this temple was completely destroyed in 1898 by an officer who wanted to use the rocks as building material for a house. At that time, there was no awareness about archeological sites. However, the construction of the temple and the drawings on its walls was previously recorded by other travelers/explorers.

View more of Gabi's pictures on http://www.worldisround.com/articles/345617/index.html

Siwa Oasis - Part 5 : Places to Visit

This is the fifth in a beautiful series of articles written by my friend Gabi Philips who has spent an extended period of time in Siwa.

Also Read
Part 1 : Transportation
Part 2 : Where to Stay
Part 3 : Where to Stay (contd)
Part 4 : Shali

There is a lot to be seen in Siwa. I have been there only twice, the first was as a tourist among a group, the second time was on my own. (Kims Note : Gabi has visited Siwa again since he wrote this)

The basic sightseeing that can be done in one day are all on the Eastern side. You can start the day by visiting Gebel El-Mawta (Mountain of the Dead), very close to the main square to the North, then starting from the main square: The Oracle temple, the destroyed temple of Amun know as "Um e'beida", then Cleopatra spring, then Gelel El-Dakroury (El-Dakroury mountain), then circle back to the main square where you can end your circuit at Shali. At sunset you can go to Fatans islands on the Western lake.

The above tour can be done by bicycle, donkey cart or car but the first two modes will take more time. There is a professional Siwan archeologist who conducts such tours if you're interested, his name is "Fatehy Diab". He has done great amount of research on siwa.

The house of Siwa is a must see.

There is also Siwa museum behind Gebel el-Mawta but I haven't yet visited it.

To the East there is "Abo Shrouf" which has a water spring for swimming and very beautiful scenery, it is about 25 kms to the East of Siwa.

In the West (about 20 kms) there is an area called "el-maraki" where there is more than one temple to be visited.

Siwa is famous for its desert safari, there are several travel agencies in the Siwa market who offer such trips.

There is also a handicraft center at the entrance of the oasis in the North (can't remember the exact name).

Qaret om el-sagheir is a small oasis 130 kms away from Siwa. You need special permission to visit.

Some descriptions for most of the mentioned places will be in the following messages.

Siwa Oasis - Part 4 : Shali

This is the fourth in a beautiful series of articles written by my friend Gabi Philips who has spent an extended period of time in Siwa.

I had started posting these in May and then got side tracked. Here are the rest of the series.

Also Read
Part 1 : Transportation
Part 2 : Where to Stay
Part 3 : Where to Stay (contd)

Shali in the Siwan language means "town", it could also mean "citadel".

Shali was built in 1203 to protect the Siwans from attacks. It is built from "karsheif" which is mainly from the local salty soil in Siwa. It was partially destroyed during 3 days heavy rain in 1926.

Shali used to have one main gate that closed by sunset and was called "el-bab enshal" (as far as I know, it means the main gate), it was divided between Eastern Siwans and Western Siwans, each living in the East/West half of Shali. The houses sometimes reached 7 & 8 levels (floors) as there was no space for horizontal extensions.

My aunt who visited Siwa thrice in the 80's told me that there were people still living in Shali and who hadn't left it. She also said that you had to go with a local to be able to find your way through the maze of streets.

To compare Siwa before the heavy downpour and now please click the link.


In the third photo, you will notice new buildings down Shali. It is a hotel less than 2 years old, named "el-bab enshal" also made by the same owner of Adrar Amellal.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Misr Cafe - Home Delivery of Coffee Powder

I just heard about this company and its services from a friend.

Misr Cafe manufactures a variety of coffee powders and specialty coffee mixes.

These include:
Misr Café
Coffee Break
Life Break
Turkish Coffee
Arabic Coffee
Speciality Coffee
Mister Café
Master Café

Life Break is a Coffee substitute made from barley and malt. Turkish Coffee is available with and without cardamom ground into the mix.

My friends said that if you call them and order, they will even deliver home.

I haven't used them myself as I only drink a special fresh coffee mix that my uncle makes and sends me from home to make authentic South Indian Filter coffee.

But you can try out this site by visiting http://misrcafe.com.eg/

New Campus - AUC, Future University Egypt - AUC Book Sale

Since we had already driven all the way to New Cairo and the AUC Press bi-annual sale was supposed to start today, we decided to take a look at the bookstore on the new campus.

We just got to see a bit of the campus when we drove in at the Visitors Gate (no1) . The buildings do look beautiful and they have tried to replicate the architecture of the original campus in some ways, but even the briefest look showed us that the campus wasn't ready to be functioning full time.

The bookstore at the new campus that was opened at the end of August, had more space and seemed well laid out. They are offering a flat 20% off on all books, but the bargain books (upto60% off) are only available at the downtown campus. The sale will continue until the 5th of December. The downtown bookstore remains my favorite of their 3 locations and we returned here to buy our book fix :) today.

New Campus Bookstore 2797 5927
Downtown Bookstore 2797 5887
Zamalek Bookstore 2739 7045

While on our way to AUC's new campus, we also passed by the Future University of Egypt. I'm not sure about the University itself, bu their building did stand out on the road, kind of like a modern structure pushing its way out of the Roman Colosseum. Take a look.

Narmer American College - Christmas Bazaar

Narmer American College is situated in New Cairo. They had advertised their Christmas Bazaar quite heavily, so we thought it may be worth our while to drive all the way across town to check it out.

Big Mistake! We should have realized that, when they charged us Entry fee of 30LE each. (most Xmas bazaars charge 10LE and the few really good ones charge 20LE) My husband who has insider insight, mentioned that if the gate priceis too high, then it means they can't make money off of you on the inside.

There were a lot of stalls, but 90% of them were focused on kids toys and accessories. The only good stall around was The Bookspot run by 2 lovely ladies, but I normally pick up books from their store on Road 9 in Maadi and prefer to browse the wider collection that they have in store.

What was really irritating was that the snow and streamer cans were being sold for about 5LE and badly behaved brats from ages 6 to 14 were running riotously around the place spraying the snow all over the silk and pashmina items in stalls, the books, the food stalls and the live animals stall! Terrible behavior by the kids and complete lack of interest and control and respect for other peoples property by their parents! It was disgraceful!
The better behaved younger kids were occupied with the bouncy castle and slides and the wide open playgrounds while the older ones assaulted our ears with some off key and off beat blaring karaoke!

The senior class boys who were manning the bake stall were much better behaved, compared to the rest of the lot.
Not at all a bazaar I would recommend to anyone unless you had no time to visit toy shops to pick up Chritmas gifts. If the European Embassies Bazaar was a 7.5, this one was a 1.5

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Condetti, Cairo

Condetti Restaurant & Cafe
Locations in Dokki and Maadi
33 Amman Street, Off Mohi ed Din abu el Azz st. 3760 4114
10 Street 82, off street 6. 2359 2440

Portions are on the smaller side for Egypt. My Ceasar Salad(25LE) was half the size of a similar salad at Crocodile Grill, Fuddruckers, Chillis or Trianon. But I must admit that it had a nice grilled chicken and just the right amount of cheese to give it flavour without beating the purpose of ordering a salad (light and crunchy)

Read my entire review here.

Managing Overseas Houseguests

Wrote this article for the Oasis Magazine this month. Hadn't got round to scanning and posting it.

Managing Overseas Houseguests

Having moved to Egypt, the one thing most expats have in common other than being hassled for baksheesh, is houseguests. Egypt is a country most people have had secret dreams of visiting from the time they first studied or read about it. Having someone living in this exotic country gives them the added incentive to visit. Having you here, gives your houseguests a chance to spend time with their loved ones (you and your family) besides saving on accommodation costs and having a companion guide accompany them on sightseeing trips, who can speak to them in a familiar language or accent.

We have had about 50 houseguests over the last one year and all of them have been welcome ones and we have been on good terms even after they left. It may seem like an impossible feat, but it is quite possible for you to achieve the same whether you have a deluge of visitors or a couple of them every year. There are a couple of tips that can help you achieve this state of zen. The most essential tip is to screen your guests before they even arrive.

Tip 1: Do not issue invitations to people you do not want visiting, the acquaintances who make you want to our lock your house and check into a hotel for the duration of their visit, the ones who will drive your spouse to drink, incite your children to rebel or your household staff to walk out. Your staff has that option, your family members don’t, so make sure that your family is also comfortable having these people over as houseguests.

If trouble making acquaintances want to visit, then respond with a polite no and feel free to embellish with excuses that you won’t be around or someone else is visiting during that time. Your long term family harmony is more important than the guilt you may feel, over saying “no”

Tip 2: Once you have invited someone to come over, check for any dietary requirements or restrictions. This gives you a chance to be prepared ahead of time and source hard to locate items, plan your menus, identify appropriate restaurants and have a well stocked larder so that there is no panic at the last moment.

Tip 3: If your guests plan to visit anything outside of Cairo, then clarify this as soon as they book their tickets to Egypt. Hotel, train, cruise and domestic flight bookings need to be made in advance and often you can get better deals if you book ahead of time. Often these bookings are cheaper if made within Egypt than outside. Knowing this, the choice is up to you on whether you want to volunteer to make these bookings on their behalf. If you do make these bookings, have it clear upfront as to who will make the payment to whom and how, to avoid any nasty repercussions later.

Tip 4: Most polite houseguests (we have tried to eliminate the other kind with Tip 1) will ask you what you would like them to bring for you and your family. Have a list ready for such occasions, with hard to locate items/ingredients in Egypt or items which are frightfully expensive here when compared with back home. Most visitors also travel light, so the heavy electric comforter you did not bring back to Egypt on your last trip home because you did not want to pay excess baggage, may easily fit into your sisters baggage when she visits. If someone is coming from India, I normally ask for Indian cooking spices, spice mixes, medicines(favored brands) or local movies that aren’t available in Egypt. If someone is coming from the US, then I check with them if it will fit within their baggage weight limits then buy books online from Amazon and have it shipped to their location to bring along.

Tip 5: Every visitor (above 21) is allowed to buy 3 bottles of alcohol from the Duty Free shop in Egypt on the day that they arrive. If you would like to stock your bar, then request to use their limit. A small note will be made on their passport, but it is only to prevent them re-using their limit, it won’t cause any other problems.

Who pays for what is a cultural thing. Take a call on this based on your own relationships.

Tip 6: Once they arrive, don’t hesitate to set some ground rules. These could be any of your house rules that are really important to you - ranging from restricted TV viewing hours for the children to bedtimes. Decide before hand which house rules are ok to be suspended when you have house guests and which ones cannot be compromised.

For eg: I am not an sunrise worshipper, so for my early bird guests, I let them know the night before where all the breakfast items are and how the gas and microwave operate and let them fix themselves their morning meal. This way I don’t resent their being around and having to realign my schedule and they don’t feel like they are over-imposing.

Tip 7: Always familiarize your guests with the kitchen even if you have round-the-clock house help, so they can help themselves to a snack or fix themselves a cup of coffee at odd hours without feeling too bad about it.

Tip 8: The main reason why most visitors come to Egypt other than to see you, is to see the sights. If you have just one or 2 sets of a visitors a year and you are really close to them, you may consider visiting some of the sights with them and doing a fair bit of guiding. But, if the thought of another viewing of the pyramids or the citadel is just too painful to contemplate then you have 2 options depending on your guests.

The first option is to fix them up with a guide or sight seeing service that you have used before or has been personally recommended to you. There are a lot of fly-by-night operators out there, so make sure you use someone reliable.

The second option is to fix them up with a cab company or your own driver who will take them and bring them back from the sights. If you give them your own driver then have a plan for who will take the family around on their daily routes.

Tip 9: Prepping your guests: Most of my guests have been the do-it-yourself kind of travelers. So I hand over the most appropriate guide book for each location, draw up a rough map telling them which sights are not to be missed at the location and give them any other require information. I also give them insights, like the Egyptian museum not allowing cameras and photography inside the museum, but there is a safe counter outside where they can leave their cameras if stopped.

Guests will find information like the cleanest washrooms, best places to stop for a bite and how much to tip, invaluable, especially if they are sightseeing without a guide.

Remind your guests to constantly sip on water to combat the dry heat of Cairo and give them at least one bottle of chilled water when leaving the house. These little personal touches will make your guests feel really welcome and at ease.

Tip 10: Souvenirs: Every visitor would like to take some kind of souvenir back with them. It is up to you whether you send them shopping on their own into the khan / City stars section of the khan or go with them.

I like to shop with my visitors to make sure that they aren’t completely ripped off. I have my regular shops in the khan where the vendors start at lower rates than they would with complete strangers. Then I let my friends do the choosing and bargaining while I sip on a shai or karkadee that almost all shopkeepers offer on each visit.

It is important to let your guests do the choosing and bargaining so they end up buying what they want and pay what they are willing to pay and not something you like and what you think it is worth.

It is important to know that money can break many relationships, so be upfront about this. Who pays for what, is very culture and relationship dependant, so there is no hard and fast rule. Work out what works best for you and your family and be clear about it.

In low context cultures, it is common for house guests to treat the family they are staying with to dinner and drinks at a restaurant on most evenings. In high context cultures it may be expected for the host to do a lot of the cooking at home, especially in Egypt where home style cooking may not be available outside the house.

Your guests may like to try the local cuisine or they may like to cook for you one evening. Keep yourself flexible to adapt to these things and accept a few last minute changes, rather than making a plan a month in advance and trying to stick to it as far as possible. This will keep you in a more relaxed mood.

I also like to let my guests set their own pace for sightseeing. I give them a brief idea on what are the main highlights to be seen in Egypt and let them plan their own time in Egypt. This relieves me of the pressure of planning and they do not feel the pressure of following my time table. Instead they can enjoy spending the most time doing what they like best.

Also remember, everyone needs space and time to themselves. While accepting this of your guests, also accept this of your family. Do not expect your spouse and children to spend all their time at home making polite conversation with your visiting aunt and uncle. Let them enjoy their evenings too, doing things they normally do.

The key is to keep things as normal as possible for you and your family and be prepared for some flexibility in your routine. This will ensure that your house guests have an enjoyable stay in Egypt and you and your family retain your sanity and good humor.

Karishma Pais (Kim) is an expat trailing wife in Cairo. She has a Masters Degree in Human Resources and Behavior. She consults on HR projects, delivers intercultural training at the CSA, counsels new and experienced expats, writes for several magazines – online and offline, she runs whazzupcairo@yahoogroups.com and whazzupcairo@googlegroups.com among other activities. Her Social Commentary and blog about life in Egypt can be read at http://whazzupegypt.blogspot.com

Friday, November 28, 2008

Arabic Lessons

From The New York Times

Arabic Lessons


One dark afternoon last winter, after too many hours spent studying Arabic verbs, I found myself staring uncomprehendingly at a video on my computer screen. An Arab man was holding forth tediously, his words half drowned by the rain outside. At first all I could make out was the usual farrago of angry consonants and strangled vowels. No progress there. Then, at last, the letters lighted up at the back of my brain.

“I understand what he’s saying!” I shrieked to the empty apartment, spinning backward in my desk chair. “I understand every word!”

I felt a warm rush of gratitude to the speaker, a bespectacled doctor. It made no difference that he was Ayman al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda’s No. 2 man, or that he was threatening to slaughter large numbers of Americans. He spoke a slow, clear fusha, the formal version of Arabic I had been struggling to decipher on the page for 10 hours a day. Even better, his words matched my limited vocabulary: arsala, “to send”; jaish, “army”; raees, “president.” I was almost drunk with exhilaration.

Moments later the darkness dropped again. The terrorist disappeared, his rarefied language replaced by the clipped, quotidian accents of a political analyst. This was closer to the ordinary Arabic I would need for my work, and I understood precisely nothing. Was I wasting my time?

Learning Arabic has been like that: moments of elation alternating with grim, soul-churning despair. The language is not so much hard as it is vast, with dozens of ways to form the plural and words that vary from region to region, town to town. With every sign of progress it seems to deepen beneath you like a coastal shelf. It is only small comfort to read about the early struggles of distinguished Arabists like Gertrude Bell, who complained that she could pronounce the Arabic “h” only while holding down her tongue with one finger, or Tim Mackintosh-Smith, who writes of years spent in an alternate world called “Dictionary Land.”

But the rigors of study were a small price for the chance to catch up with my surroundings. After spending the better part of two years as a reporter in Baghdad, I was tired of playing the doltish Westerner, eyes always darting blankly between translator and interviewee. The scattered phrases I knew seemed only to underscore my ignorance: Wayn alinfijar? I’d say (“Where’s the explosion?”), or Shaku maku? (“How’s it going?”), and I’d get a condescending pat on the back. When my bosses offered a year of intensive language training, I jumped at the chance.

For anyone who knows only European languages, to wade into Arabic is to discover an endlessly strange and yet oddly ordered lexical universe. Some words have definitions that go on for pages and seem to encompass all possible meanings; others are outlandishly precise. Paging through the dictionary one night, I found a word that means “to cut off the upper end of an okra.” There are lovely verbs like sara, “to set out at night”; comical ones like tabaadawa, “to pose as a Bedouin”; and simply bizarre ones like dabiba, “to abound in lizards.” Dabiba (presumably applied to towns or regions) is medieval, but I wouldn’t put it past Dr. Zawahri to revive it.

The language can also be surprisingly vague to a Western ear. I was always troubled by Arabic’s tendency to elide the distinction between “a lot” and “too much.” I will never forget hearing an Iraqi friend, as we walked down a crowded Brooklyn street together, say loudly in English, “There are too many black people here.”

At the same time, all Arabic words have simple three- or four-letter roots, with systematically derived cognates that allow you to unfold a whole range of meanings from a single word. The word for “to cook,” for instance, is related in a predictable way to the words for “kitchen,” “dish,”

“chef,” and so on. Arabic speakers are often dismayed to discover that the same principle is less common in English.

As the months passed, the sounds of the language were gradually transformed. Arabic’s hard “h” letter, so difficult to pronounce at first, began to seem like a lovely breath of air, as if countless tiny parachutes were lifting the words above their glottal base. The notorious “ayn” sound, which often takes months for English speakers to produce, lost its guttural edge and acquired, to my ear, the throaty rumble of a well-tuned sports car.

Soon I began marching into the Arabic markets on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, near where I live, and testing out my textbook phrases. Generally I was met with a confused look and then a smiling apology: “We don’t hear too much fusha around here.” Linguistically speaking, what I had done was a bit like asking an Italian for directions in Latin. Modern fusha, also known as Modern Standard Arabic, is a modified version of the Classical Arabic in the Koran. It is the language of public address, and of any newscast on Al Jazeera and other Arabic television stations. It also corresponds to the written language, and any educated Arab can understand it. Arabs have enormous respect for fusha (“eloquent” is the word’s literal meaning), especially in its fully inflected Koranic form; that is why Al Qaeda’s leaders, like clerics and most political leaders, place great emphasis on the classical idiom.

But the language of the street is different. The colloquial versions of Arabic are derived from fusha, and they are dialects rather than wholly separate languages. Still, the gulf can be substantial in vocabulary as well as pronunciation, and takes getting used to.

One of the pleasures of learning Arabic is hearing long-familiar words in their natural context, shorn of the poisonous ideological garb they often bear in this country. Once you begin to do that, American attitudes toward the language itself, along with all things Arab and Muslim, can begin to seem jarringly hostile and suspicious.

To take a recent example: Last winter, New York City announced plans for a new Arabic-language public secondary school in Brooklyn. An aggressive campaign against the school soon sprang up, despite the uncontroversial presence of Chinese, Russian, Spanish and other dual-language schools in the city. Opponents and local newspaper columnists began branding the (as yet unopened) school a “jihad recruiting center” and a “madrassa” and demanding it be closed. For Arabic speakers, the very title of the “Stop the Madrassa” campaign — now national in scope — is bound to have an uncomfortable ring. Madrassa is the Arabic word for “school”; it could not be more wholesome. But as the school’s opponents know, in this country it has taken on a far more sinister valence, thanks to press reports about religious schools in Pakistan that are said to teach Taliban-style militancy. The school’s principal was later replaced after a fracas over another Arabic word, intifada, that has taken on a meaning here entirely different from the one it has among Arabs.

One has to wonder whether these attitudes have inhibited our ability to train more Arabic speakers. Although enrollments in postsecondary Arabic study more than doubled from 2002 to 2006, the attrition rate is high, and the number of students who persist and become truly proficient — much harder to measure — is very small. The government and military are still struggling to find the translators they need.

The reasons for this failure are many, and inseparable from the Arab world’s long history of troubled relations with the West. But alongside them is the simple fact that even with the best of teachers — like mine — the language requires a degree of patience and commitment that verges on the absurd. “Don’t worry,” one of my teachers told me half-jokingly. “Arabic is only hard for the first 10 years. After that it gets easier.”

Robert F. Worth is the Beirut bureau chief for The Times.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Please say a prayer/make dua for my friends in Bombay/Mumbai

A wave of terror was unleashed this night in Bombay.

Before we moved to Egypt, we were based in Bombay/Mumbai for 2 years. We have a lot of friends and family in the city.

The terror attacks were concentrated around the business district of South Bombay where a lot of our friends were working late, living or eating out after office hours.

4 hours of terror: grenades, machine guns, explosions have left over 80 dead (last count, sure to go up) and many more, wounded.

We have not yet been able to get in touch with a lot of our friends. Please pray for the safety of our friends and the people in Mumbai (residents and visitors) - innocents who were caught in the crossfire for no fault of theirs but for the fact that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Thank you.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cairo Opera House Schedule

Its been almost impossible to buy the annual opera house schedule this year. This schedule costs about 50-100LE and is a boon when you are trying to plan your evenings and book tickets in advance.

The ticket booking desk does not carry a schedule. They will redirect you to the information desk. the information desk only has the monthly schedule. Some person in the office of the Cairo Opera house is the sole person who is allowed to sell this schedule and HE IS NEVER AROUND!.
I have tried almost every hour between 9am to 7pm to meet him and he is never around. After 7pm, the guards at the inner gate of the Opera House, will not let you pass unless you are completely dressed up for the opera!

The past 2 years, we picked up our schedule when attending a performance early in the year. With our hectic travel schedule this year, we have not been able to attend an evening performance yet.

If you go before 7pm, the security guard inside the office will tell you to wait for this person (Mr Sameh?) to arrive. He also will not let you use a washroom on the premises while you wait.

Its just so bloody inconvenient! Why can't they just have some copies for sale at the information desk or at the ticket desk? Its not like it is some super secret information!

The only good thing this year, is that they FINALLY have a website with information in English, Arabic & French, which I discovered after protesting at the shoddy treatment and run-around that we were being given AGAIN last evening. All these years, it was only available in Arabic. The website is pretty decent.

Check out http://cairoopera.org/

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Movie Theatre/ Cinema at the Ramses Hilton Annexe vs City Stars

Someone told us that there was a 5 screen theatre on the 7th floor of the Ramses Hilton Annexe (RHA) and we thought this may be a better idea than driving all the way to City Stars (CS) for a movie.

In comparison,
RHA - no parking space close by.
CS - underground parking and chaos of open parking on the outside.

Ticket costs at both locations is 30LE. RHA offers tickets at 15LE for the 10am at 1pm shows.

Booking tickets is relatively simple at both locations. while CS has one ticket counter per running movie, RHA had one ticket counter only, but she was quite efficient.

Snacks at CS are fresher and lower price than RHA. The only fresh snacks that RHA had was popcorn. RHA also does not allow self service (you are supposed to sit down on one of their many sofas in the lobby) and adds a service charge and sales tax to your bill. Plus the waiter expects baksheesh.

RHA cafeteria was heavily over staffed in their cafeteria for the 6:30pm show. Husband and me were the only 2 people (they have 5 screens) buying anything at the cafeteria. They had 8 waiters and 2 managers at a desk. The waiters were busy playing mobile games near the wash rooms.

Our movie was supposed to begin at 6:30. Doors were opened at 6:20. Lights were on when we entered, but the usher insisted on showing us to our seats, turning on a completely redundant flashlight and equally insistently demanded baksheesh for the service. We have been to 6 other theaters in Cairo and have never faced this situation, although I had heard about it. The other 23 people who were in the RHA theater for "Quantum of Solace" paid up without even being asked. So it seems to be a norm at this theater, even though the ticket prices are on par with CS.

With just 23 people in the audience of a theatre built to fit around 1000 people (yes RHA is much much larger than CS), pickings must have been slim although it was a Saturday evening. While we waited in the lobby, it did not look like there were too many people visiting the other 4 screens either.

Adherence to time. For a 7pm movie at CS, the ads start rolling by 6:30pm, trailers anytime between 6:45 to 6:50pm and the movie normally starts on time. At RHA, our movie was supposed to start at 6:30pm. They played some horribly depressing music till 7:05pm, then there was one trailer for another movie running in the same theater. The movie finally started at 7:10pm.

Washrooms at CS are quite clean and in functioning condition most of the time. At RHA, there were no locks on some doors, they had fancy copper sinks which werent properly fixed and there was no soap or toilet paper.

Price - With all the baksheesh and taxes, Ramses Hilton Annexe works out more expensive than City Stars.
Service at RHA, I would rate at 4 (for the ticket counter lady, no one else), CS I would rate at 8.
Timeliness - CS -9 (high on time performance) RHA - 1 (for actually screening the movie)
RHA does score higher on convenience, easy access and time saved if you are based around Downtown, Mohandaseen, Dokki and with the crazy traffic on 6th of October bridge in the last 2 months, it does give RHA an advantage (but this is just due to their location)

I'd rather go to the Diamond mall theater in 6th of October, if it is just a time saving that I am hoping for.

European Embassies Christmas Bazaar at the Nile Hilton

Visited the Christmas Bazaar organised by the European Embassies at the Nile Hilton yesterday. As was to be expected, the quality of goods on offer was way superior to most bazaars in Egypt as the goods had been imported from various European embassies.

We reached about 11am and the place was overflowing. We were wondering what the rush was about, as we haven't seen such crowds at any of the previous bazaars that we have attended in Egypt. People had even come with strolleys and suitcases.
When we went in, we figured that a large majority of the crowd was there to buy the alcohol that was freely available. A lot of embassies had their countries traditional alcohol on offer: Russian vodkas, Pimms from UK, Irish Whiskey, Gordons Gin, the range was much wider than you would ever see in the Duty Free Shop in Egypt. Prices were a little higher than the Duty Free Shops. We did not pick up any alcohol as we travel frequently between the 2 of us and normally bring our legally allowed limit in with us. But a lot of people were stocking up for the holiday season.

Alcohol was just the surface of the goods on offer. Traditional foods, home baked goodies, snacks on site, traditional embroidery, crystal, jewelry, souvenirs. All these were in plenty.

We picked up some Croatian pasta sauce which I have yet to try and fresh chocolate cake from Greece. The cake we got was charred on the bottom, and more like a chocolate flavored bread.

On location we had a European Union brunch ranging from cheese toast from Holland to crepes, waffles, Hungarian Goulash and Slovenian burgers, British Pimms based punch to Irish coffee. The Swiss cheese Raclette smelt a little too strong for our taste but plenty of people were enjoying that with potatoes and gherkins.

Children's Christmas Choirs provided background music and there was even a Santa's grotto for the younger ones. Entry at 20LE was a bit more than most other bazaars, but all the money was being collected for Egyptian charities.

An enjoyable start to the day.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wady Craft Shop / Tukul Crafts - Free Trade

The Craft Shop next to the All Saints Cathedral has been in existence since 2003. It is called the Wady Craft Shop.

What I do like about this place is that all the products are created by disadvantaged groups: hearing impaired, visually impaired, refugees, prisoners and other disadvantaged families. The center sticks products from the Tukul Craft Program for Refugees, The Boulaq Centre (a women’s aid program for widows and single mothers), The Deaf School Vocational Training Centre, Shams El Birr (a school for visually impaired people),The Menouf Social Service, The Prison Ministry and several independent producers including African refugees and Egyptians.

Whatever you buy here is fairly priced and helps support these people.

I've seen a range of gift options available at this location. African print bags, purses, pot holders, hand made albums, jewelry, mother of pearl inlay work, embroidery, wood work.

, ,

You can find the shop on the side of the All Saints Cathedral (inside the Cathedral gates, to the left when you are facing the Cathedral)
5 Michael Lutfallah Street

Open Daily
Winter : 9:30-5:00pm
Summer : 9:30-6:00pm
Sundays & Fridays 11:00-4:00

Tel: 2735 4350

You can view some of the products here:
Tukul Craft Program

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lecture by Michael Haag - Author - Vintage Alexandria

Had the good fortune of attending a lecture by Michael Haag, eminent Photographer and author of multiple books about Egypt.

Although he is from London, he has been visiting Alexandria since 1973, prior to which he already had a lot of friends who had emigrated to the UK from Alexandria. Michael's passion for Alexandria emanates from every photograph and is evident in every word that he speaks.

For today's lecture, he focused on a series of old photographs that he collected from private family albums of long term residents of Alexandria. The pictures in this book span a century- between 1860 and 1960. He showcased 30 of the pictures and told us stories behind each one and took us on a marvelous journey into "Vintage Alexandria"

While the costumes were strange (3 piece suits worn while lounging on the sea shore for example) a lot of the buildings were recognisable. Although some of the buildings were destroyed in the bombing of the Western harbour during World War II and a lot of the buildings have been torn down to give way for new ones.

In Michael's eyes, Alexandria was the ultimate Cosmopolitan city until 1971, because the blend of cultures had not come through occupation or colonialism. The Greeks, Italians and other nationalities who lived in the city for over 150 years had been invited by Mohammed Ali to trade through the Alexandria port.

We saw a lot of previously unseen pictures of Lawrence Durell, Safinaz Zulfikar (later married to King Farouk as Queen Farida), Antony Benaki (the Greek cotton trader whose collection formed the basis of the famous Benaki Museum in Athens), Robert Koch (who isolated the cholera virus and developed a vaccine in an Alexandria laboratory) and other famous Alexandrians.

He showed us a picture of Constantine Cavafy from a business card he had printed and handed over to a friend during her wedding. The funny part was that the picture had been taken 15 years earlier! Cavafy continued to use the same picture for the rest of his life :)

The one thing that hasn't changed since the time of Cleopatra seems to be the layout of the Eastern Harbour, although a lot of the land has been reclaimed. The Hotel Cecil stands on reclaimed land and just beyond the original location of one of Celopatra's needles, which is currently in Central Park, New York.

It was an extremely illuminating lecture and it was a pleasure to be taken back in time to an era that was more gentle and cultured and "quiet"?

Most of his books that I browsed through seem worth buying. Visit Michael's website on http://www.michaelhaag.com

Buying Tea Bags in Cairo

If you are looking to buy Tea bags in Cairo, there are a couple of brands that you can try.
Twinnings - the tea bags available here are imported for the most part. So quality is assured.
Ahmad Tea - again imported. Quality good.
Lipton - Both imported and locally prepared tea bags are available. Locally made tea bags for plain tea are pretty decent. The flavored and special teas arent as good as the imported varieties.
Isis - local herbal teas. Good quality. I adore the hibiscus and cinnamon variety which is rarely available. So I stock up when it is available.

Flavored and herbal teas are available in a wide range of flavours.

Locally made tea bags will be much more reasonable than the imported ones. You may need to try which brands are acceptable to you and which ones it makes sense to buy the imported variety or bring them with you from home.

For an idea of prices. A box of 15 hibiscus and cinnamon tea bags by Isis costs 2.95LE.

Hibiscus tea (karkadi) is quite unique to this part of the world and is a nice souvenir from Egypt for a gourmand friend back home.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Buying Garlic Paste in Cairo

The concept of ready made garlic paste does not exist in Cairo while it is an essential in Indian cooking. Until a few months ago, the only option I had was to make the paste myself. But recently I have found that "Gold Alex" offers a passable substitute.
Its a bottle of finely minced garlic preserved in a bit of oil and salt. Costs about 5.25LE. . Its handy to have in the fridge for the days when cooking in a hurry.

Buying Rice in Egypt

I'm often asked which brand of rice I use in Egypt. The answer is best given in a series of points.
1. I do not use Egyptian rice for anything except making rice pudding (kheer/ruz bi laban) or risotto because it has a sticky consistency like arborio or sushi rice. This particular rice needs perfection to cook as a side dish for curries, which doesnt suit my touch, taste, see, smell, feel style of cooking
2. To make Indian dosas (rice pancakes of different types) I bring the appropriate rice back from India
3. To make regular rice for daily use, I buy the "Cooker" brand. This used to come in a green topped box, now it comes in a red topped box.

A 2kilo box costs about 26LE. It is also available in 1kilo boxes and also in plastic bags. If you buy a box that isnt dented already, the boxes are very durable and air tight so they can be reused for storing other things at home.

The bottle in front is a current offer at Hyper One where you get a bottle of Crystal hot sauce with a 2 kilo box.
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