Sunday, July 27, 2008

Book Review : Diplomatic Baggage: The Adventures of a Trailing Spouse

As a Trailing Spouse to Egypt, this was a book recommended at an Inter-cultural training session that I attended.

I am glad I waited 2 years to read this book (I might have been terrified of the move) although I'm kicking myself for spending money on it, even though I got it at a discounted price on Amazon.

I got carried away by William Dalrymple's (an author I greatly admire) review of it: "Brigid Keenan, is a new comic genius.... very, very funny"

Later in the book, I figured out that he spent time at their house in Damascus, while researching his book From the Holy Mountain.

Why did I hate the book so much?
Except for the last chapter, the author was constantly whining and groaning about the hardships that life had tossed at her. This after choosing to marry her husband of her own free will, knowing the kind of job he did and loved would take him to obtuse corners of the world. It was a fully informed decision that she took. Even spending some days with him, in what she calls a "chicken shed" in Kathmandu before deciding to marry him.

She constantly whines about everything from the help, to the kids, to her husband, to location.... in short, she whines about Everything.

The life of a Diplomatic Trailing Spouse is much easier than that of other Trailing Spouses. Accommodation, household help, office help, everything is put in place before the diplomatic family even arrives at their new location. Brigid's grouse is that some of the other European embassies provide more services to the spouses than her husbands European Commission ambassadors office does.

She promotes herself as a glamorous, successful young London fashion journalist, but later in the book accepts and acknowledges that her children were the worst dressed in their school.

I do not know Brigid personally, but what I read in her this autobiography of hers, made me think of her as a spoiled, over indulged wife who can never find anything positive and good in life.

Granted she had a few scares like the maggots that got under the skin and had to mature and grow and eat their way out, but those kind of experiences were less than you could count on one hand. For the most part, she was preoccupied with how to find whit gloves for a 6 fingered servant in India and wondering why there was no association to put beggars to sleep the way Animal friends does it for animals! At the same time brushing aside her daughters experiences with pedophiles and exposers as casual asides.

Brigid has written about Kashmir's art and crafts and co authored a book on Damascus; which may be worth looking at, but Diplomatic Baggage is not a book you want to buy or gift a friend who is going to be a Trailing Spouse, not unless you want them to cancel all plans and send their spouse to live abroad on their own.

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Camel Market at Birqash

Egypt's Largest Camel Market - Birqash Camel Market is 35km away from Cairo. The best day to visit is supposed to be Friday, when the market is most lively in the earlier parts of the morning 7am-9am. The market is open till 1pm but most of the trading happens before 11am.

This market used to earlier take place in Imbaba, but as the city expanded, the camel market was moved to the suburb of Birqash which is at the edge of the Western Desert.

Hundreds of Camels are sold here everyday. But this is definitely not a market for the Animal lover. The animals aren't in pitiable condition, but they could be treated much, much better than they currently are.

Camels from Sudan are brought into Egypt on the 40 day road via Abu Simbel to the market in Daraw. The unsold camels are then loaded into trucks and brought to Birqash after a 24 hour drive. Camels also arrive from the rest of Egypt and sometimes from Somalia. These camels are traded for other livestock or cash and are mostly bought for farm work or consumption.

Photo opportunities abound, if you can get the angles right since the camels are almost monochromatic in color. The traders have wonderfully charactered faces and I would have loved to be able to take close up portraits and talk to them and listen to their stories. Unfortunately as a woman, taking close up pictures of men is not the sanest thing to do. And my Arabic is too limited to have had a proper conversation with them.

As an obvious foreigner, you will be charged entry to the market. (it has a gated entry) 20LE per person. Then they may try to charge you an additional 10LE per camera. Once you enter, you will not face any obvious resentment. The traders are pretty welcoming of foreigners and try to make a buck or so by posing for pictures with them. There were at least 10 other foreigners the day we visited.The only thing to be aware of is to not behave like an Animal Rights Activist and they will pretty much maintain their distance for the most part.

The market extends inside for a distance with sections cordoned off by walls for certain traders. Small single level constructions provide basic housing for traders. The roofs of which are covered with bales of hay. There are basic ramps built for loading and unloading camels from the trucks.

Obviously not all the camels are sold and some of them may not be worth carrying back. Some don't even survive the truck ride to Birqash. Their corpses are carelessly strewn about the desert as you approach the market. There are a few pictures of that at the bottom. Please don't scroll to the end, if you are squeamish.

Thanks to all my online friends who helped me find directions to the market. The best ones were provided by Karim who said Take Cairo/Alex highway to Abu Rawash road. You take a right onto Abu Rawash road which is right before the Carrefour/Dandy mall parking lot. You take this until you reach the end of the road where it intersects with the Mansouriyya Canal road. Take a left onto the Mansouriyya Canal road. Keep going for a ways and start looking for signs, either the suk il gamaal sign or Nimos Farm sign, on the left-hand side of the road. Take left onto small canal road and go until the end where you hit a midaan/circle. There will be a sign pointing towards the suk and it's only a little ways down the road from there. Leaving from downtown on an early Friday morning, this way can get you there in 45 minutes if you use the Mahwar.

Thomas also gave a good alternate route if you are closer to the pyramids
The road that leads there is accessed from right next to the Giza Pyramids, but I can't easily describe how to find it. (Kim's note : at the main circle take the road that goes to Kerdasa/ Mansoureyya) If you ask a couple people in the area, one should point you in the right direction.
Once on this road, you end up following it straight about 20-25 min and then you make a left at the camel market sign (in Arabic) and drive about 1-2 kilometers to the market.
Good luck.

Alex gave me a good tip. He said that the road would make the car smell and it would be better to take a Yellow Cab. While this is extremely true if you take the Imbaba canal route (the road was piled high with garbage on both sides for the most part and quite nauseating even with our windows up and the air conditioning on), the Pyramids, Kerdasa and Abu Rawash routes are more scenic and pleasant and can be done in a regular car.

The Drive through the Nile Delta makes you forget that you are surrounded by the largest desert in the world.
and is very reminiscent of the UP and Punjab fields. The River Nile in the background is of course, unique to Egypt

Some of the camels have one of their legs tied to prevent them from running away.

Walled Compound

Quality check of camels like horses is done by inspecting the teeth. This one showed us his teeth voluntarily.

Unloading of Camels

Sold camels being taken away in a pick-up

Some of the character filled faces

Warning: The pictures below are quite gory.
Please do not scroll down if you are easily upset.

Death is inevitable, but I wish, they could at least dispose the bodies in a less conspicuous and more humane fashion, rather than just leaving it out to the elements.

Some of the facts, come from the Lonely Planet guide for Egypt

Many of the pictures were taken by my husband

Also posted on

Holiday Whistler, Canada - Accomodation

After searching for Whistler Accommodation the last time, I was really happy with this Whistler Lodging site. It gave me the best comparative deals of all sites and has a wide variety of accommodation options from Condo Rental to Ski-in, ski-out town homes perched at the edge of the Whistler Blackcomb slopes.

My interest in this place was further perked by the Whistler TV Series currently running on Star World. (Pehla Connection) The location just seems so beautiful and Romantic on TV that Whistler, Canada looks like a perfect getaway (unfortunate circumstances in the series not withstanding)

Just take a look at their Rainbow Suites

The large deck has a private hot tub and magnificent views of Whistler Village Square. Each House is designed tastefully and has so much character.

Hope this post works as a good hint to my husband if he is reading :)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Disney on Ice

A combination of circumstances meant I wasn't able to attend the "Disney on Ice" show last summer. But after being reassured by friends with kids that the show was as much fun for adults as it was for kids, I managed to catch the last show of this year on the 23rd.

The Disney on Ice show has been coming to Egypt since a couple of years and has been qite a success as they put on a different show each year. This year was built around a family adventure for the Incredibles (who visited Disney Land)

Although reported that tickets would be sold at LinkDOTnet Customer Service Offices in Cairo, I found that wasn't true on a wasted trip to their Dokki office.

The Disney on Ice, Egypt print advertisements and website assured an online booking at Fortunately it was a Cash on Delivery Deal, because the tickets from this mode, never arrived, even 3 days after the show that we had made bookings for.

In the end, it was quite easy to get tickets at the location itself, even though we just turned up a couple of hours before the show. and the stadium wasn't anywhere near even 50% occupied.

With 100LE tickets, we were some distance away from the rink but had a pretty decent view nonetheless.

The tickets said gates would close half an hour before the show was to start. This was a good marketing trick to get parents in with their kids and push them into buying overpriced Popcorn (10/25Le for small boxes) and cotton candy (20LE for 4 balls) The extra price could be for the Disney branded packaging but the popcorn was salty and not worth it. The Cotton Candy was good and it was thoughtful of them to include a wet wipe t the bottom of the packet. That was really neat, practical and great consumer insight.

The Show itself was awesome. The performers were flawless in all their synchronised pieces. There were shades of High School Musical in the opening Sequence. there were some outstanding performers in the lead roles which made it a very enjoyable couple of hours.

The Stadium was comfortable and at a good temperature. So no issues on that front. The only problem here was that seats weren't pre-allotted, so there was a lot of pushing and shoving to get inside. But once we got in, things were fine.

Below are some of the pictures I took which haven't come out great because of the distance from the stage and the constant movement. But it gives a flavour of what to expect.

Next years theme is "High School Musical" which should draw in the teenage audience too.

Phantom of the Opera by MSA University

The MSA University of Cairo put up the Phantom of the Opera on 4 consecutive nights at the Opera House from the 20th to the 23rd of July.

It was advertised on facebook as
For the first time in Egypt and the Middle- East.

Dr.Nawal El Degwi Proudly invites you to attend the First Musical production (The Phantom Of The Opera) .The first and largest English musical production in the Middle East. This production, "The Phantom of The Opera", is one of the wonders of the international theatre and has been a great success for many years at Broadway .That includes more than 100 students from different nationalities that will be held at the Main Hall of the Cairo Opera House for four running days 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd of July 2008.

All the revenues will be invested in the charity project “Contribute in Building one hundred Schools” which is targeted at renovating and building schools under the supervision of the first Lady of Egypt Mrs. Susan Mubarak".

We caught the 2nd public performance on the 21st.

It started off with 3 songs from the original musical played live by their band. The band was good. Its a pity, they did not play live for the rest of the performance. The drummer and acoustic guitar player were the best. Somehow most of the semi-professional guitar players I have seen in Egypt do not exude the attitude and confidence that most guitarists in other countries do, even though they do play well.

Then a couple of students sang the most famous pieces. The lead Singers Samaa Mohamed and Othman were excellent. Samaa faltered a bit at the start, but quickly recovered to give an admirable performance for the rest of it.

The entire story was shortened to a one hour performance. So obviously a lot of the story line was lost. The accents were a bit hard to follow. Raoul was the clearest speaker but not the strongest performance. The phantom was agood performance but I wish he could have been more menacing. Instead of scaring us, he made us want to give him a hug and tell him "Everything would be ok in the end"

Christine was played well, but the best performance was undoubtedly that of Joseph Boque who had a minuscule speaking part but he was the most authentic of all the characters. Carlotta's acting was good, but with her put on Italian accent it was difficult to follow her lines.

The one professional ballet dancer in the group, who performed a solo (actually a duet, but the male dancer was more of a prop to her dancing) was excellent.
The dancers were good but could have done with more synchronization.

The costumes and sets were Outstanding!

All in all, it was an average college performance studded with a few stellar ones in between. It was definitely over priced, but since all ticket sale money is supposed to go to charity, I guess that makes it worth the price.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Almost half of Egyptian women harassed daily: poll

From Yahoo News

CAIRO (AFP) - Almost half of Egyptian women are sexually harassed on a daily basis with more than half of Egyptian men admitting lewd behaviour, the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights said on Thursday.

The group polled 2,020 people -- including men and foreign women -- in Cairo, and the centre's director, Nihad Abul Qomsan, said that the figures showed harassment was on the rise.

Of those surveyed, 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women said they had been harassed at some point, while 46 percent of Egyptian women and 52 percent of foreign women said they were harassed daily.

Most women said they were harassed in the street or on public transport, with harassment defined as "any unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature which makes women feel uneasy and gives them a feeling of insecurity."

Abul Qomsan said that almost two-thirds of Egyptian men -- 62 percent -- admitted harassing women, including those wearing Islamic headscarves.

"This shows that the belief that harassment is linked to women who wear indecent clothing is false," she said, condemning the fact that in the deeply religious country women often feel responsible despite being victims.

The centre said that last year only 12 percent of women went to the police with a harassment complaint.

In 2006, women's rights activists angrily spoke out against what they called the authorities' acceptance of sexual harassment against women, after a mob of men openly molested women in central Cairo.

The interior ministry said it did not receive any formal complaints and has never admitted any mass harassment occurred despite the incident being widely reported in the press and some bloggers posting footage on the Internet.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What's been happening?

To answer the questions from my loyal readers who have been wondering where I had disappeared....

I had a house full of guests. 8 house guests for 2 weeks and 4 house guests for 4 weeks. Making it an average of 8 Indians in the house for a month with most meals being eaten at home.

So do you know what it takes to feed 8 Indians for a month?
35 cartons (35*12 bottles) of 1.5 litre water bottles
35 kilos of vegetables
25 kilos of wheat flour
16 kilos of rice
15 liters of milk
10 kilos of fruit
8 liters of oil
8 kilos of lentils (dhal)
3 kilos of tea
2 kilos of salt

and thereabouts. I have never bought so many groceries in my life!!!

So now you know what kept me busy for the last month :)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Earthquake this morning?

Did anyone feel the earthquake this morning in Egypt?

Husband woke me up about 6:30am. the shaking bed had woken him up. He wasn't sure if he was dreaming it all, so he woke me up.

The bed was indeed shaking more than the slight vibrations we feel each time the local train passes by (every 15 minutes) and then he pointed to the suspended light fixture which was oscillating (but not too wildly)

I realised there were some vibrations, but didn't think it was serious enough to panic. So I rolled over and went back to sleep (anyone who knows me, knows I am not a 6:30am person unless I have stayed up until then) I think he was a bit miffed but I had my reasons.

We are on the top floor in our building and I would think staying in, is safer than trying to run out. Logic being it may be easier to survive falling down (a couple of storeys) than having heavy stuff fall on top of you (if you even manage to reach street level in the crowded streets of Mohandaseen)

Woke up later (a couple of hours later) to hear that there had been an underwater earthquake in Greece

The reports say the earthquake struck at 11:34GMT which would logically be 2:00am in Egypt right now (because of DST), but we felt it at 6:30am.

Now that I am wide awake, I was just wondering if the buildings in Egypt are earthquake proof. and what can I do to be prepared in future.

Seriously considering putting all our important papers into one small suitcase and having it handy in case of an emergency. So if the need arises, I can rush out with the suitcase, my laptop and the cat.

Any other ideas?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Ancient Egypt Settlement Sheds Light on Everyday Life

From National Geographic News

Andrew Bossone in Cairo
for National Geographic News
July 2, 2008

A well-preserved mud-brick settlement in southern Egypt is providing a rare glimpse into nearly 3,000 years of ancient Egyptian daily life, archaeologists announced Tuesday. (See photos.)

The Tell Edfu site includes a public town center that was used for collecting taxes, conducting business, recording accounting, and writing documents.

Ancient Egypt mud-brick settlement near Edfu picture

Enlarge Photo

The discovery paints a picture of a relatively advanced system of society during ancient times, with commerce playing an intricate part of daily Egyptian life, according to the University of Chicago and the Egyptian Supreme Council on Antiquities.

Until now, information on common life in Egypt had come mostly from scrolls of papyrus and other documents. Part of the cause is that archaeologists have long focused on monuments and gold artifacts associated with royalty.

"Town settlements have not been excavated very much, and people were not very interested in it," said mission leader Nadine Moeller, an assistant professor in Egyptian archaeology at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute.

"These towns were all made of mud-brick, so that's obviously not as glamorous as stone architecture."

(Related: "Egypt's Earliest Farming Village Found" [February 12, 2008].)

Heart of Things

The settlement was discovered several years ago next to the Edfu Temple, one of the best-preserved large temples from ancient Egypt.

The town center contains an open hall with eight silos, partially used to collect grain taxes from farmers.

Ranging from 18 to 21 feet (5.5 to 6.5 meters) in diameter, the silos are the largest ever found in an Egyptian town center, archaeologists say.

Above the silos are rectangular storage containers containing gray ash to protect them from pests. The silos hail from the 17th dynasty, which lasted from about 1570 to 1540 B.C.

The whole complex was attached to a 16-column hall, part of an old governor's palace that eventually was transformed into a center of commerce and administration, the archaeologists say.


Part of the reason so little is known about ancient Egypt's basic settlements is because there are so few.

Many were destroyed during thousands of years of construction or from farmers who used the ancient Nile mud for fertilizer at the turn of the 20th century.

Archaeologists also say that interest in studying ancient Egyptian settlements has only bloomed in the last 20 or 30 years.

"This has been changing, and people are more and more interested in how settlements were organized and how normal people lived," Moeller said.

Vivian Davies is an archaeologist at the British Museum who is excavating at a nearby site in Edfu.

"[The Tell Edfu settlement] rectifies the imbalance in our picture of ancient Egypt, which is largely derived from tombs and temples," Davies said.

"We need to complement that picture with archaeology in the places where Egyptians lived, as opposed to the places where they worshiped and where they were placed when they were dead."

Complex Politics

The find also helps illuminate the complex political relationships during the 17th dynasty. At the time pharaohs were based in the city of Thebes south of Edfu, where they were beset by aggressive neighbors such as the Hyksos in the north and Nubian Kushites in the south.

"We do know something about these people, but it's one of the more obscure periods of ancient Egyptian history," Moeller said.

Local authorities wielded considerable power, due to the pharaohs' eagerness to recruit allies.

For instance, Queen Sebekemsaf, wife of pharaoh Antef Nubkheperre, was actually the daughter of the governor of Edfu, Moeller said. "We know that from bracelets that have been found with her name as well as her husband."

The pharaoh's remains have been found in the Valley of the Kings near Thebes, but records indicate that Sebekemsaf was buried in Edfu.

Archaeologists say the queen must not have been royalty if she was buried locally, supporting the idea that Theban kings made ties with local governors.

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