Monday, June 30, 2008

Book Review : Cherry Bomb

The entire title Reads - Cherry Bomb : The Ultimate Guide to becoming a Better Flirt, a Tougher Chick and a Hotter Girlfriend, And to Living Life like a Rockstar

I don't read "how-to" books, but the title for this one by Carrie Borzillo-Vrenna had me intrigued and itching to get my hands on it, to read more.

Carrie Borzillo-Vrenna has been a music and entertainment journalist since the last 20 years and is best known for her books on Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, her sex and relationship advice column “Dr. Love” for the Gene Simmons Tongue magazine and her music related articles in People, Billboard, Spin, and Alternative Press magazines.

The title "Cherry Bomb" comes from the song by Joan Jett of The Runaways. Carrie says "Joan Jett's attitude, style and music has always inspired me so I'm happy to reference the Runaways song (in the title) even if some younger people won't know what it means right away. That's ok because cherries are sweet and bombs are badass and the book is all about being a sweet badass! To me, those two words, sum up the book nicely and it's a killer song to boot!"

Cherry Bomb is an alphabetized reference from Absinthe (the new Drink of Choice for the Rock and roll set) to Zig Zags (The Cool Way to Roll a Joint) with Celebrity Pick-up tips, Fetishes, Infidelity Pacts, Orgasms, Piercings, Strip Tease and Tour Bus Etiquette in between .

The tips and techniques are invaluable to a rock chick. There are tips and detailed instructions on how to tie a cherry stem into a knot (using just your mouth- no hands), how to get backstage without being a whore, using bottle service to buy VIP status at the hottest nightclubs, how to perform a striptease (by Burlesque star - Ditta Von Teese) The tips are practical and easily doable, no matter who you are or what kind of budget you are on.

Being in the music industry as a writer and as a wife to a Grammy winning Rockstar - Chris Vrenna who plays keyboards with Marilyn Manson and drums with Gnarls Barkley- Carrie is more than qualified to write this guide. Most of the tips come from her own real life experiences. For the few areas that she did not have first hand experience with when she started writing, she enlisted the help of her celebrity friends including
Cherie Currie of THE RUNAWAYS (on "Cherry Bomb," the song that influenced the book)
Tori Amos (Life Advice)
Betsey Johnson (Breast Cancer Awareness and Personal Style)
Anna Sui (Fashion Inspiration)
Dancing with the Stars' Cheryl Burke (Dancing Tips)
Celeb hairstylist Dean Banowetz (Rockin' Up 'Dos)
Master Chef Dave Rubell (Black Vodka Recipes)
and Stylist Cynthia Freund (Rock Chick Style Tips) among others.

My favorite guest how-to chapter is the one by Peaches' drummer Samantha Maloney on how to play the Drums. It re-ignited an old flame and I just might be inspired enough to go out and get myself into classes and buy myself a drum set. My favorite chapters by Carrie are Jet Setting, Jobs, Money and Networking.

I always thought I had a more than fair knowledge about rock music and rock stars, but on reading Carrie's book, I know I have a lot more to learn and a lot more musicians that I need to listen to at least once. Her list of songs at the end of some chapters seems to be a good place to start. The lists are mood based - songs to Vacuum fast To (the Anger Stage), songs to Eat a Pint of Ice Cream to (the Depression Stage), Funk Fixers etc.

For the Relationship kinda quiz addicts, there are a couple of quizzes as well, to check if you are rockstar girlfriend material and which rock chick you are most like.

The illustrations by Liz Adams are apt and cute (not a word you would associate with rock, but thats truly what they are.)

There is something for everyone in this book. Men can find a lot of the chapters interesting and relevant too. The title hooked my husband and he browsed through the book and loved what he read.

You don't need to be in the rock industry or dating a rock star to use these tips. These tips are great for any independent, confident woman who is comfortable with herself and who she is. From a gangly pre-teen to a grandmother in her 60's, any woman with self assurance can find something of value in this guide and for someone who lacks self assurance, Cherry Bomb is a great place to start.

This book is due for release on the 5th of August 2008 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon. For anyone who has ever been interested in the lives of Rock Stars and been envious of their lifestyle, this book is a definite must-buy as it shows you step by simple step how to lead their life with panache and confidence. Cherry Bomb delivers on all its promises and does impart relevant and easy to follow tips on how to become a better flirt, tougher chick and hotter girlfriend.

Published on

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Letter From Cairo - Thomas Friedman

"Letter from Cairo" is the latest column by Thomas Friedman, famous New York Times op-ed columnist and author of the books From Beirut to Jerusalem and The World is Flat.

From The New York Times

Published: June 15, 2008
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

The current global energy-food crisis is, understandably, a pocketbook issue in America. But when you come to Egypt, you see how, in a society where so many more people live close to the edge, food and fuel prices could become enormously destabilizing. If these prices keep soaring, food and fuel could reshape politics around the developing world as much as nationalism or Communism did in their days.

A few years ago, Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, belatedly but clearly embarked on an economic reform path that has produced 7 percent annual growth in the last three years — and now all that growth is being devoured by food and fuel price increases, like a plague of locusts eating through the Nile Delta.

Let’s start the day here at Hussein el-Ashri’s poultry shop — in the lower-middle-class district of Shubra — a shop that gives new meaning to the term “fresh chicken.”

Customers arrive, select a live chicken out of a coop. It’s slaughtered and de-feathered while you wait and handed to you in a bag with all the parts. Business had grown steadily over the years at Ashri’s shop, as Egypt’s lower-middle classes could afford more meat. But in the past six months, the price of chicken has doubled. Ashri explained: “Everything has gone up — electricity, the price of feed, gasoline, labor, the price of medicine for the chickens. Everything.”

For Egypt’s poor, who make up 40 percent of the population, food makes up 60 percent of their household budget. When wheat prices double, because more U.S. farmers plant corn for biofuels, it is devastating for Egyptians, who depend on imported American wheat for their pita bread. Bread riots are now a daily occurrence here. As for chicken, all Ashri knows is that “there are fewer customers and less traffic now.” You need to give your kids meat, complains a lady in a veil, “but now you give them a little smaller piece.”

Next to Ashri, though, the man selling potatoes from a wooden cart is doing a brisk business. “We can’t go out anymore for entertainment,” says one lady, whose husband is on an army pension, as she flips through the potatoes. “But there are people a lot worse off. Some can’t afford food at all.”

Around the corner, at a state bakery selling subsidized bread, a small crowd has gathered, waiting for their daily ration. Someone else has collected a donkey cart full of pita scraps to be sold for animal feed. Nothing wasted.

A discussion breaks out between the potato man and his customers about who has “less of a conscience” — schoolteachers in the state school system who have to be paid to give after-school lessons because they have 80 kids in their classes and no one can learn there, or doctors in the state system who have to be bribed for decent care. It is not that they’re evil; they’re all being squeezed.

What’s happening is that the basic bargain between the Egyptian regime and its people — which said, “We will guarantee you cheap food, a job, education and health care, and you will stay out of politics” — is fraying. Even with the growth of the last three years, government subsidies and wages can’t keep up with today’s food and fuel price rises. The only part of the bargain that’s left is: “and you will stay out of politics.”

From Shubra we drive into the desert toward Alexandria. The highway is full of cars. How can all these Egyptians afford to be driving, I wonder? Answer: The government will spend almost $11 billion this year to subsidize gasoline and cooking fuel; gas here is only about $1.30 a gallon. Sounds like a good deal for the poor — only the poor have no cars, and the fuel subsidies mean less money for mass transit.

Think about these numbers: This year Egypt will spend $6 billion on education and $3 billion on health care, far less than the subsidies for fuel. This is a terrible trap. The subsidies should have been phased out when food and fuel prices were lower. Now that they have soared, the pain of removing the subsidies would be politically suicidal. So education and health care get killed instead.

But Egypt today is one country with two systems. Along the Alexandria highway, we pass one gated community filled with McMansions — with names like “Moon Valley,” “Hyde Park” and “Beverly Hills.” One has a 99-hole golf complex. They are populated by Egyptians who have worked hard and made money in the gulf or who are part of the globalized business class here. They are entitled to their McMansions as much as Americans. But the energy and water implications of all these new gated communities is also fueling the soaring global demand.

The good news: More Egyptians today can afford to live like Americans. The bad news: Even more Egyptians can’t even afford to live like Egyptians anymore. This is not good — not for them, not for us.

The Last Hurra

From The Washington Post

U.S. Network Falters in Mideast Mission
By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 23, 2008

The Egyptian bureau of al-Hurra, an Arabic-language television network financed by the U.S. government, boasts a spectacular view of the Nile River and the capital's bustling streets. But inside, all is quiet.

The bureau's satellite link was unplugged with little explanation a few weeks ago by a local company, making it impossible to broadcast live. Since then, staffers have had to use a studio controlled by the Egyptian secret police, who have warned guests not to say anything controversial on the air.

Al-Hurra -- "The Free One" in Arabic -- is the centerpiece of a U.S. government campaign to spread democracy in the Middle East. Taxpayers have spent $350 million on the project. But more than four years after it began broadcasting, the station is widely regarded as a flop in the Arab world, where it has struggled to attract viewers and overcome skepticism about its mission.

Propaganda has become a primary front in the war against terrorism, with the United States and al-Qaeda each investing heavily to win over hearts and minds. This article examines one aspect of the U.S. effort to influence people through the airwaves. Tomorrow, another will look at al-Qaeda's online propaganda campaign.

Since its inception, al-Hurra has been plagued by mediocre programming, congressional interference and a succession of executives who either had little experience in television or could not speak Arabic, according to interviews with former staffers, other Arab journalists and viewers in the Middle East.


It has also been embarrassed by journalistic blunders. One news anchor greeted the station's predominantly Muslim audience on Easter by declaring, "Jesus is risen today!" After al-Hurra covered a December 2006 Holocaust-denial conference in Iran and aired, unedited, an hour-long speech by the leader of Hezbollah, Congress convened hearings and threatened to cut the station's budget.

"Many people just didn't know how to do their job," said Yasser Thabet, a former senior editor at al-Hurra. "If some problem happened on the air, people would just joke with each other, saying, 'Well, nobody watches us anyway.' It was very self-defeating."

According to critics, the U.S. government miscalculated in assuming that al-Hurra could repeat the success of Radio Free Europe during the Cold War, when information-starved listeners behind the Iron Curtain tuned in on their shortwave radios.

Al-Hurra, by contrast, faces cutthroat competition. About 200 other stations beam Arabic-language programming to satellite dishes reaching even the poorest neighborhoods in the Middle East and North Africa. The BBC launched an Arabic-language news channel this year, and more rivals loom.

"Arabs sit in their homes in front of the television, and they surf like crazy," said Hisham Melhem, a Washington-based anchor for al-Arabiya, a Saudi-owned satellite TV network. "You rarely find someone who says they watch al-Hurra. It may be number 10 on their dial. But definitely not first, not second, not third, not fourth."

"They failed in finding their own niche, and they failed in presenting something different about America to the Arab world," he added. "It's a glitzy operation, a costly operation, with very little impact."

In April 2003, Congress created al-Hurra as a counterweight to al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based network that built a large following in the Middle East with aggressive coverage of the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories.

After scrambling to hire staff, al-Hurra began broadcasting via satellite in February 2004 from an office park in Springfield, Va. Arabic-language programming now airs commercial-free 24 hours a day, with news updates at least every 30 minutes.

The station's mission is to provide objective news for a region where hostility to U.S. policy is widespread. Executives said they have accomplished that goal.

"It's taken time to show that we're not the propaganda channel, that we're not the Bush channel," said Brian T. Conniff, president of Middle East Broadcasting Networks, the nonprofit founded by Congress to run al-Hurra.

Conniff said the network gives priority to covering democracy and other sensitive subjects in the Arab world. Key programs include "Town Hall," a talk show that rotates among different cities, and "Equality," which focuses on women's issues. Al-Hurra has also emphasized U.S. news, such as the 2008 presidential campaign.

There have been a few journalistic coups, such as when the station broke word of Saddam Hussein's execution. But there have been plenty of embarrassments, too.

In 2004, when an Israeli airstrike killed the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, virtually all Arabic news channels interrupted their regular programming. Al-Hurra continued with a cooking show.

Internal surveys show that al-Hurra's audience has expanded by roughly 28 percent over the past four years. The most recent figures show that an estimated 25.8 million adults in 13 countries, with a combined population of more than 200 million, tune into al-Hurra at least once a week, according to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the U.S. agency that oversees it.

It is difficult to verify those numbers, however. In a report two years ago, the Government Accountability Office, Congress's investigative arm, questioned their reliability, citing "weaknesses" in sampling methodology and documentation.

Independent surveys indicate that al-Hurra attracts a far smaller audience than its chief competitors, al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya. In a public opinion poll of six Arab countries released in March by the University of Maryland and Zogby International, 54 percent of those surveyed said they watched al-Jazeera most often for international news, compared with 9 percent for al-Arabiya. Al-Hurra got 2 percent, tied with al-Manar -- Hezbollah's satellite propaganda channel.

Al-Hurra executives said their goal is not necessarily to outdraw those networks, but to offer a credible alternative news source. "We're not saying we're winning the race," said Bruce Sherman, director of strategic planning for the Broadcasting Board of Governors. "What we're saying is we have a horse in the race."

Al-Hurra's largest audience by far, with about 9 million weekly viewers, is in Iraq, where the network operates a separate dedicated satellite channel. But it has found it harder to make inroads elsewhere. In Egypt, which has a population of almost 82 million and is the cultural heart of the Arab world, fewer than 8 percent of adults watch al-Hurra weekly, according to U.S. government surveys.

Arab journalists and viewers say al-Hurra has a basic problem: It is boring. Investigative pieces are rare, and critics say the channel generally doesn't make waves.

Salameh Nematt, a Jordanian journalist based in Washington, said that al-Hurra, like many of its competitors, has ignored controversial issues such as financial corruption involving Arab leaders and the use of torture by security forces.

"Al-Hurra would have been the number one station in the Arab world had they done one-quarter of what they should have covered," Nematt said. "People say if it's an American station, nobody will watch it. That's crap. If it's an American station that does a good job, everybody will watch it."

A String of Missteps

Al-Hurra's founding father was Norman J. Pattiz, a Democrat on the Broadcasting Board of Governors who helped persuade Congress to fund the station. The chairman of Westwood One, a leading distributor of radio programming, Pattiz assembled the team to build al-Hurra.

He recruited Bert Kleinman, a former Westwood One official whose radio career included producing "American Top 40 With Casey Kasem" and "The History of Rock and Roll." He also hired Farrell Meisel, a television executive with experience in Asian and European broadcasting.

"We had a very short timetable, almost unheard-of," Meisel recalled. "And we had to compete in the most challenging television footprint in the world."

None of the team members spoke Arabic. For that, they relied on Mouafac Harb, a Lebanese journalist hired as al-Hurra's first news director.

According to former al-Hurra staffers, Harb filled the newsroom with Lebanese employees, many of whom had thin journalistic credentials. Anchors spoke in heavy Lebanese dialects, turning off viewers from other countries. On-air reporting errors were common.

"He hired his friends -- this was the problem -- and they didn't have any experience," said Magdi Khalil, a former producer who clashed with Harb. "I told him, 'We need to improve the quality.' He said, 'No, no -- we need to fill the air.' He had no idea what being a news station means."

In a telephone interview from Beirut, Harb said it wasn't easy to persuade leading Arab journalists to come to Washington to work for a station funded by the U.S. government. He denied that his anchors and news-show hosts spoke in dialects but acknowledged that the staff was top-heavy with Lebanese.

Harb resigned in 2006. He said he left, in part, because Pattiz had stepped down, but also because he sensed the Broadcasting Board of Governors wanted al-Hurra to promote U.S. foreign policy instead of just reporting the news. He said the station has since become more cautious. "There is a tendency to please Washington and not the audience," he said. "It looks like C-SPAN in Arabic -- who cares?"

Other former al-Hurra staffers said Harb was encouraged to leave. His replacement as news director, Larry Register, a veteran producer and Middle East correspondent for CNN, said the board of governors gave him a clear mission: to overhaul editorial operations and impose basic standards.

"In their view, al-Hurra was a propaganda channel which only really covered Lebanon," Register said. "They wanted me to help it become more like a real newsroom."

Register said it was obvious that al-Hurra didn't have enough bureaus in the Middle East and had overpaid for external programming. The executive editor and managing editor, he learned, hadn't been on speaking terms for months.

"There was no assignment desk, none. I was like, 'Well, how does this work?' " he recalled. "There wasn't a great talent pool. There were a lot who were just there for the paycheck and the green card."

In an interview, James K. Glassman, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors since June 2007, acknowledged many of the problems.

"Some of the basics had not been well established," said Glassman, who is a former publisher of the New Republic as well as a former business columnist for The Washington Post. "I'm not sure it was clear to all the journalists what the rules were." He said training has increased since then and the caliber of work has improved.

"They are doing objective, professional journalism," he said.

A Dearth of Journalists

But Register didn't speak Arabic, either. According to former staffers, he and other top executives often didn't learn of broadcast blunders until well after the fact, if at all.

James Martone, a former CNN Middle East correspondent, was hired by al-Hurra as a producer in early 2007. Fluent in Arabic, he acted as an unofficial watchdog, cataloguing errors and reporting them to senior management. He said he had to teach many al-Hurra staffers the basics of what they could or could not say on the air.

"There were a lot of people working for the organization who weren't really journalists," said Martone, who resigned after several months. "When I started pointing out what was actually on the air, it became my full-time job. . . . The people upstairs, the Americans, I don't think they knew what was going on."

Few others in Washington knew what was being broadcast, either. Under a Cold War-era law, al-Hurra and other media outlets financed by the U.S. government are prohibited from broadcasting at home. The intent is to prevent the government from aiming propaganda at its own citizens.

In June 2007, Register was forced to resign after the Wall Street Journal editorial page disclosed that al-Hurra had broadcast the unedited speech by Hasan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader.

Since then, al-Hurra's news operations have been led by Daniel Nassif, another Lebanese native. Nassif had previously served as news director of Radio Sawa, a U.S.-financed FM radio station that broadcasts pop music in the Middle East. Before that, he had worked for a Washington-based advocacy group that sought to end the Syrian military occupation of Lebanon.

Nassif described his position as a "consultant and activist" who helped Lebanese generals and other anti-Syrian figures meet U.S. lawmakers and policymakers. He said that he stopped doing advocacy work in 2002 after he was hired by Radio Sawa and that his lack of formal journalism experience had not hindered him.

"You don't have to go to Columbia Journalism School to be a good journalist," he said.

What Station?

On a busy shopping street in Cairo one recent evening, it was difficult to turn up loyal al-Hurra viewers. Most people said they had not heard of the station or had only a passing familiarity with it.

"I've watched it a couple of times, but I mostly watch al-Jazeera," said Hayam Saad, 35, a homemaker. "There are just too many channels on the satellite dish, and people want something they can relate to."

Other people cited al-Hurra's strange mix of programming: old documentaries with Arabic subtitles, a program about a Jewish singing group on tour in Australia, a show on the history of bluejeans.

Amina Khairy, a Cairo-based correspondent for al-Hayat, an Arabic-language newspaper widely read in the Middle East, said al-Hurra stirred strong public antipathy when it was launched in 2004 simply because it was American. But nowadays, she said, the channel draws little attention.

"Nobody ever says, 'Did you see what al-Hurra did yesterday?' " Khairy said.

Unlike some Egyptians, Mohamed Ahmed Mohamed, a 67-year-old contractor, said it didn't bother him that al-Hurra was financed by the U.S. government. But he, too, complained that the programming was dull.

"I've clicked on it, but nothing's stopped me," he said. "Whether it's American or French or Israeli, good shows attract viewers. And I haven't seen anything interesting on al-Hurra."

Special correspondent Munir Ladaa in Berlin contributed to this report.

Summer Coolers in Egypt

This article (with recipes) by me was published in this months - Oasis - the magazine from CSA.

Appeared in Summer 2008 Issue.

Summer Coolers

Karishma Pais (Kim)

Now that the temperatures are regularly crossing 40C, maybe most of you like me are more interested in consuming cooling liquids and eating light salads.

While the aerated beverages are easy and seem convenient, they are most definitely not the best thing for your family’s health. There are the easy options available like the fresh orange juice sold at Metro (clean & healthy) and the many bottled fruit juices from Isis. I find the Isis juices a little strong and like to dilute them a bit with water.

Options with a little work involved are milkshakes with Nesquick or Vitrac’s flavored syrups. The almond one is especially yum.

But if you don’t mind putting in a little effort, then there is a vast mouth watering and thirst quenching range of drinks that you can prepare by yourself at home, with ingredients easily available in Egypt. The advantage is that you know that you have prepared them from healthy ingredients without any additives, artificial colors or preservatives. You can easily substitute the sugar in any of these recipes with Stevia or Splenda. Please note that the quantities mentioned are indicative. You can adjust them to your own taste.

Fresh Lime Juice/Lemonade

Squeeze the juice of 5-8 lemons (depending on size) into a pitcher. Discard the seeds. Add sugar and salt to taste. Fill with water. This can be kept chilling in the fridge and consumed over a 24 hour period.

Fresh Orange Juice

Squeeze 2 oranges and strain the juice. Add sugar to taste. Cool in the refrigerator before serving. If you want to drink it really fresh – store the oranges in the refrigerator before squeezing.

Almond Sherbet

Blanch half a kilo of almonds and skin them. Make a thin puree of the nuts in a blender/liquidizer adding a little water if necessary. (You can do this in multiple lots depending on the capacity of your blender)

Make a syrup with quarter kilo sugar (1.25 cups) and one liter water, cooking till it reaches single thread consistency.

Pour the almond puree into the syrup and cook till thickened, taking care to keep stirring.

The syrup should be thick but of pouring consistency.

You can add a teaspoon of rose water at this stage if you like.

Cool and fill into bottles.

It can be refrigerated for 2 weeks.

Serve diluted with water or milk and crushed ice.

Tamarind Juice

Very refreshing in the summers.

Clean 1/4 kg of tamarind, cover it with water (about 1.5 liters) and boil for 5 minutes. Then let it soak in that water for at least 6 hours.

Strain the liquid of any solid pieces. Add 2 cups of sugar.

Bottle & refrigerate.

Dilute with chilled water when you want to drink it.

Home made Karkadih

Rinse ¼ kg dried karkadih. Add one liter water and boil for 5 minutes.

Let it soak in that water for at least 1 hour.

Strain and sweeten with 1 cup sugar.

Bottle and refrigerate.

Dilute with chilled water when you want to drink it.


This is a staple in most Indian households during the hot summer months. It cools down the body completely and can be had in sweet or salty versions. There are so many flavors that you can add to the basic lassi. Below are a few versions to get you started.

Whisk together 450ml yoghurt (plain) with 300ml cold water. The consistency should be that of full cream milk. This is your basic lassi.

Flavor with a pinch of ginger or 1 sliced green chilli or cumin powder or a teaspoon of shredded mint or a teaspoon of chopped cilantro. Stir well. You can add salt to taste.

For a sweet version, add sugar to taste (about 1 teaspoon) to the yoghurt and water blend. You can flavor it with a dash of rose essence or orange blossom water.

For a really fancy lassi, garnish the sweet version with a tablespoon of crushed almonds or pistachios.

For a healthy lassi, whisk the mixture with 2 tablespoons of pureed fruit.

Amar al Din- Apricot juice

Get those pressed Apricot sheets from the grocery store (they are normally sold in yellow cellophane paper and are widely available during Ramadan, but even now you can find them)

Cut the Apricot sheets into thin strips and cover with cold water. Soak them until the strips dissolve.

Strain away the solid pieces and sweeten the juice to taste.

Bottle and refrigerate.

Dilute with chilled water when you want to drink it.

Watermelon Cocktail

Cut watermelon into small cubes and deseed.

Sprinkle some lemon juice and sugar on top.

Add a few shredded mint leaves.

Cover and chill.

Serve in cocktail glasses as is or after pureeing the mix.

Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Fresh Juices

There are a wide variety of fruits available in the market. You can prepare fresh juices by pureeing the flesh of these fruits, adding sugar to taste and diluting with water or milk.

Remember : Citrus fruits don’t go very well with milk.

Try out some combinations on your own and maybe next year, you could be writing your recipes for the Oasis J

Kim has a background in HR and freelances as an Intercultural Trainer, Writer and HR Consultant. Currently she is a trailing wife in Egypt and uses her training, counseling and empathy skills to help other expats adjust to the move. She blogs about Egypt at

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Warning : Al-Diwan language school, Nasr city

This post is actually by a friend of mine, Linda who came to Egypt to study at the Al-Diwan language school in Nasr City.

Following is her experience studying at this particular institute and in the area surrounding the institute.

To put her message in perspective, (she isn't a naive student away from the US for the first time in her life! She has traveled to Syria, Palestine, and Jordan and never experienced it like this. This is not a rant against Egypt or Arabs or Muslim societies. This is information that any female expat considering studying at this school should be aware of)

I'm at the Al-Diwan language school here, and while the language school is great, the surrounding area is not kind to females who don't wear the hijab or niqab.

I cover everything save my hair and arms, and get harassed every single day, several times a day by men and even children who jeer and say disgusting things. The day I decided to wear the hijab for my own safety, I was followed and groped by four males in a car as I was walking to school. I decided not to wear it again.

I've spoken with other international female students living in Nasr City, and I've heard similar horror stories: taxi drivers exposing their private parts; men slapping them on the ass telling them to cover up; not being able to go outside to the corner store without being chided for walking the streets alone. To say that we're treated like prostitutes is not an exaggeration. A friend of mine was offered money for sexual favors by a taxi driver as she walked home.

Al-Diwan is a great school, and because I can't get a refund even if I wanted one, I asked to transfer to the Garden City branch. The Nasr City manager said he could not transfer me for several weeks so I decided just to cut my time here short. I hadn't been informed that a Garden City branch existed and didn't find out until the first day I arrived, as it wasn't advertised until the Nasr City branch filled up.

I've since heard of an unhealthy competition by the two branch managers which is quite unsettling, seeing that I had requested a transfer once I arrived and was denied until the day I was groped ten yards from the school and walked in, in hysterics.

I'm on a fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education, and this school is approved by them. I will be recommending to them, as I did to the Nasr City manager, that female students be advised of the problems of sexual harassment that are being experienced here. From reports I've heard of Egyptian friends who live in Nasr City and do not wear the hijab, the situation has gotten much worse for them in the last ten years, and it's getting worse every day. I encourage anyone who knows of a female thinking of studying in Nasr City to pass this message along.

- Linda

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

With a word, Egyptians leave it all to fate

From the New York Times - International Edition

By Michael Slackman
Published: June 20, 2008

CAIRO: The McDonald's here has golden arches, the same golden arches as anywhere else in the world. The food is prepared the same assembly-line way, too. But there is an invisible, or more precisely, divine, element in bringing that burger to the plate that the uninitiated may not be prepared for.

"Inshallah," or "God willing," the counterman said as he walked off to see about a burger without onions at the McDonald's on the Alexandria Desert road, 30 miles from the center of Cairo.

Egyptians have always been religious, from Pharaonic times to the present. Any guidebook to Egypt alerts tourists to Egyptians' frequent use of inshallah in discussing future events, a signal of their deep faith and belief that all events occur, or don't occur, at God's will. "See you tomorrow," is almost always followed by a smile and, "inshallah."

But there has been inshallah creep, to the extreme. It is now attached to the answer for any question, past, present and future. What's your name, for example, might be answered, "Muhammad, inshallah."

"I say to them, 'You are already Muhammad or you are going to be Muhammad?' " said Attiat el-Abnoudy, a documentary filmmaker in Cairo.

Inshallah has become the linguistic equivalent of the head scarf on women and the prayer bump, the spot where worshipers press their foreheads into the ground during prayers, on men. It has become a public display of piety and fashion, a symbol of faith and the times. Inshallah has become a reflex, a bit of a linguistic tick that has attached itself to nearly every moment, every question, like the word "like" in English. But it is a powerful reference, intended or not.

Political and social commentators here say its frequent use reflects or fuels, or both, the increasing degree to which people have dressed the routine of daily life up with religious accessories. Will the taxi get me to my destination? Will my sandwich come without onions? What's my name? It's always, "God willing."

"Now inshallah is used in a much broader way than 20 years ago," said the Egyptian playwright Aly Salem. "We always used to say inshallah in relation to plans we were going to do in the future. Now it is part of the appearance of piety."

The starting point for inshallah is faith, but just like the increasing popularity of the head scarf and the prayer bump, its new off-the-rack status reflects the rising tide of religion around the region. Observance, if not necessarily piety, is on the rise, as Islam becomes — for many — the cornerstone of identity. That has put the symbols of Islam at the center of culture, and routine.

"Over the past three decades, the role of religion has been expanded in everything in our lives,"' said Ghada Shahbendar, a political activist who studied linguistics at American University in Cairo.

Deference to the divine has become a communal reflex, a compulsive habit, like the incessant honking of Egyptian cabdrivers — even when there are no other cars on the street.

Samer Fathi, 40, has a small kiosk that sells chips and cigarettes and phone cards downtown. He was asked for a 100-unit phone card and responded almost absent-mindedly "inshallah," as he flipped through the stack to find one.

At 19 Ismael Street the elevator door opened.

"Going down?"

"Inshallah," a passenger replied.

As it has become routine, inshallah has also become a kind of convenience, a useful dodge, a bit of theological bobbing-and-weaving to avoid commitment. No need to say no. If it doesn't happen, well, God didn't mean it to happen. Nazly Shahbendar, Ghada's daughter, said for example if she was invited to a party she did not want to attend, she would never say no.

"I'd say inshallah," said Shahbendar who is 24 and anything but a picture of the new religiosity. She is not veiled or shy about talking to men; she smokes in front of her mother.

She also points out that inshallah is not the only religious term to infiltrate the lexicon of routine. The younger Shahbendar, like many people here, have taken to using the Shahada, the Muslim declaration of belief, as a routine greeting. So instead of "How are you? Fine, and you?" she will say to a friend "There is no God but God," to which the friend will complete the statement. "And Muhammad is his prophet."

People now answer the phone that way, too, skipping hello altogether. It would be something like Christians greeting each other with "Christ is risen!" followed by "Christ will come again." Not just on Sundays, but every day.

"We are a very religious people, Egyptians," said Mostafa Said, 25, as he told his friend he hoped, inshallah, to have his car turn indicator fixed by next week. "We believe God is responsible for what happens, even to the car."

But it is not just about faith in the celestial, that has people invoking God. It is also, at least for some, a lack of faith in the earthbound rulers who run the place. People here are tired — of the rising prices and the eroding wages, of the traffic, of the corruption, of the sense that it is every man for himself.

"In this place, when something works, or you want something to work, you thank God, because it's certainly not the government who is going to help you," said Sherif Issa, 48, a taxi driver in Cairo with a nicotine-stained mustache and a fair size belly. "It's because everything is going in the wrong direction — who can we look up to except God?"

That Issa is a Christian is evidence that the use of inshallah is not just a phenomenon of Egypt's Muslims.

"It doesn't matter whether you're a Christian or a Muslim," he said. "I'm going to take you to your house, arriving there in a decent amount of time is already a miracle. Of course I say inshallah!"

Nadim Audi contributed reporting.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

This Blog recognised by Culture Crossing

The good folks at have recognised the relevance of the posts on this blog and included it in their list of blogs for travelers/expats to Egypt.

The link is here

Monday, June 02, 2008

Arab women push boundaries gently

From LA Times

Many have become opinion makers and talk openly about sex, politics and other topics.
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
June 1, 2008
BEIRUT -- The censors didn't quite know what to do with Lina Khoury's play about sex, rape, menopause and a visit to the gynecologist, but Islamic hard-liners were pretty specific: One wanted to stone the 32-year-old writer; others accused her of being an Israeli agent planting immoral ideas in the Arab world.

Read the rest of the article at LA Times
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