Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Vanished Persian army found in Egyptian desert?

When we were in Siwa, we heard the tales of the Persian army that was headed to Siwa over two and a half thousand years ago, in search of the temple of Amun, that was cursed and were killed by a sandstorm in the middle of the desert. No one knew if they lost their way or what had actually happenned to them.

Now Italian Researchers claim to have found the remains of the army.

Read the whole story here on msnbc

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

El Koshary Today

Egypt's answer to The Onion.

Its in English, so its great fun for people who want to enjoy the Egyptians sense of humor, but don't follow Arabic.

Take a look at El Koshary Today Egypt's Most Reliable News Source. LOL

Sunday, October 25, 2009

BBC Video Report on Black Cloud in Cairo

A very informative and balanced? report about the black Cloud Hanging over Cairo right now.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8324024.stm

That itchy feeling in your throat right now is more likely due to the pollution in the air right now than Swine flu. Take care of your health, the best you can, given the situation.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Book Review: The Poison Tree - Planted and Grown in Egypt

A friend sent me the link to this yesterday. The book is legally donwloadable for free from Marwa Rakha's own website. While currently available in English, she promises that the Arabic translation too will soon be online.

The book is written in a semi disjointed "part blog-part diary-part letter" fashion and someone who is used to a structured flow when reading, may start out feeling a bit disconcerted. But if you persevere you can gain some insights into Egytian culture, sexuality, morality and society. The unifying theme of the book revolves around gender stereotypes, dating and marriage and how men and women are held to different standards in society. While this may be true across the world, it is more pronounced in Egypt.

I often wondered how so many Egyptian friends and acquaintances kept ending up divorced within barely a year or two of marriage, sometimes with new born kids who were not even a year old. Some have ended up remarrying men who had been unfaithful to them during their first attempt at marriage. This being a very sensitive and private matter, I have never felt comfortable enough to actually ask them the question directly. But Marwa's book has shed some light on at least some of the reasons, which seem to lie in Social Conditioning.

There were parts that I skipped over, but there were also parts that are really insightful.

This book is worth reading if you are interested in human behavior or are visiting Egypt and would like to know a little more about people you will encounter.

But, I would highly recommend the book to any non-Egyptian girl/woman/lady planning to get herself an Egyptian boyfriend or Egyptian husband. Most Egyptian men think and operate differently from "Western" men and its important for a female to know what she is getting herself into before she gets in too deep.

While the book may also be guilty of stereotyping men and women, there are a lot of grains of truth behind the characterisations.

The book could be classified as chick-lit, but there is a lot you can begin to understand about Egyptian society and how it operates through the eyes of a Single Independent Woman

If you would prefer to read the book as a paperback or on kindle, they are both available via Amazon.

Also published on desicritics.org

Time Out visits Luxor

Time out is a magazine that I do enjoy picking up in every country that I visit.

Was pleasantly suprised to see Luxor featured in Time Out Dubai.

Here's the Article.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cairo's unique Ramadan traditions

Interesting article from Gulf News on the unique traditions of Ramadan practiced in Egypt.

I must admit, I have only seen the fanoos in Egypt during Ramadan, not in any other part of the world, so I did know about that. But I've never heard about the Yameesh, which nut is this?

Edited on 13 Sep, to add:
Thanks everyone for the clarifications of Yameesh being any combination of nuts and dry fruits. I guess the reported got it wrong about the Yameesh being unique to Egypt.

So that means, its only the Ramadan Fanoos that is unique to Egypt, or is there anything else that you know of?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Time to change again, in Egypt

Just in time for Ramadan :)

CLOCKS GO BACK ONE HOUR AT 12.00AM FRIDAY MORNING! (11:59:59PM THURSDAY)*

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Home made Cotton mattresses

Was having an interesting discussion with some friends the other day about mattresses and I remembered how, Back home, our mattresses used to be home made, believe it or not. The cotton from our cotton trees (in India cotton grows on trees, not bushes/shrubs) was harvested, we kids would sit to seperate the seeds from the fluff. It used to be great fun and then when we had enuff we made our own pillows by stuffing them with pure cotton into saris and bedsheets recycled as pillow cases.

The help would clean larger quantities of cotton which was then tightly packed to make mattresses. Professional guys came around to stitch the mattresses up and also to refresh them every year or so, when they would open out the mattress, refluff up the cotton and "air it" and then add more cotton to make it nice and firm again.

These cotton mattresses were ideal for the hot humid weather we have back home on the Indian coast. Come to think of it, I dont think spring matresses came to India until the late 70's or so.

It seems this still happens in the rural areas of Egypt and happens in parts of the city too.

I did one day come down to our ground floor in Mohandaseen, to find the whole lobby covered in a snowy substance. Thats right, there were a couple of guys refluffing cotton. I have taken a picture of it, but cant find it right now, will upload when I check my other system.

I was told that the person who makes mattresses in Egypt is called a munaggid .

You can buy fresh cotton, at the Khan. The guy is pretty easy to find. With your back to Bab Zuweila start walking towards the main street of the khan. You will see this beautiful sabeel on your right, the cotton guy is right opposite. I have a picture of him too.

I need to get our photos organised into one hard disk so they are easier to find. Will upload the pictures when I find them.

Pickpocketing scheme

I'd heard about this a couple of months ago and it seems to have re-surfaced.

This information is to help you protect yourself.

The scheme operates like this:
The innocent passerby is stopped by an decent looking well-dressed man, who will point to a spot on the victims pant and motion that there is a stain. When the conman pretends to clean the stain for you, he actually creates the stain, by spitting or by something on his handkerchied. Then as he pretends to clean the stain for you, he pockets the victims wallet and disappears, before the victim even realises it is gone.

Normally these people operate in pairs or groups. If you see someone gesturing that you have a stain, just walk away like you don't understand anything they say. They may be armed, so better to avoid direct confrontation.

This modus operandi has been reported by multiple people around the Shooting Club area, so please be aware of your surroundings when you are out. A little bit of common sense, awareness and confident demeanour, should keep you relativey safe.

Take care.

Fruits & Vegetables being Irrigated with Sewage Water?

Or so reports Al Masry

Thousands of farmland acres producing essential crops comprising Egyptians food basket are irrigated with untreated sewage water. Shocking as it is for consumers, small farmers deal with it in a relaxed way claiming it is their only option taking into consideration the high cost of using good-for-irrigation water.

Watch the video interview on Al Masry

So whether you believe it or not, it makes sense to start rinsing your vegetables in a mild solution of Potassium Permanganate to get most of the icky stuff out. (this cost effective treatment was recommended by a friend who works on water purification installations in houses and offices in India)

Superior Scribbler Award

A month or so ago, Bernadette from http://escapadethroughegypt.wordpress.com/ bestowed me with my first online award for this blog, The Superior Scribbler Award.

For details of this award and its beginnings, visit the original post and blog that started it all: The Scholastic Scribe

As with all Bloggy Awards, there are rules that go with the award:
  1. Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to five most deserving bloggy friends.
  2. Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author and the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
  3. Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog and link to the original post at The Scholastic Scribe which explains The Award.
  4. Each blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit the original post at The Scholastic Scribe and add his/her name to the Mr Linky List. That way, we’ll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who wins This Prestigious Honor!
  5. Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules to his/her blog.

Thanks Bernadette, for considering this blog worthy of the The Superior Scribbler Award. Its good to know that others enjoy my scribblings.

So, here in no particular order are five bloggers that I believe deserve some recognition:

1. Rushina at A Perfect Bite for her awesome recipes and food related writing. She doesn't blog half as often as she writes in print, but its all amazing!

2. Judy for Under the Date Palms She blogs sporadically, but is always interesting to read.

3. Surya at Howdy Neighbour, she's one tech savvy woman, now blogging for the Mobile Industry Review too.

4. Akshay at Trivial Matters who takes the most mind blowing pictures and visits the most interesting places and photoblogs them all. He has just moved to Blind Boys .org but the old blog deserves its share of recognition for the many eyars of work and pictures on it.

5. Deepti at Things That Bang writes from her heart and carries her readers along with the emotions.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Service Apartments in Cairo

This is an idea long overdue in Cairo. I have had many friends and newbies ask for just such an option, but I did not know if one existed so far (leave me a comment, if you know of any others) The Hilton Suites does offer this, but as far as I know they are 2 bedroom suites and slightly on the higher side to rent out. (It works out cheaper to rent an apartment for long stays)

A service apartment offers the convenience of a hotel (someone else does the cleaning, changes sheets, picks up your mail etc) and a home (you can cook your own food, order home delivery from restaurants that aren't a part of the hotel et al)

You can stay for as little as a day to long stays like a year or 2. Saves you the hassle of having to handle the plumbing and electric connections which could save a large chunk of time, especially in Cairo.

The StayBridge Suites have just opened in City Stars and hopefully will emerge as a more reasonable option than the Hilton Suites.

They have 56 double bedrooms, 84 single bedrooms, 140 suites. And this is what I really appreciate: 80 non smoking rooms! So you dont have to breathe the all permeating, all intrusive stale cigarette smoke from previous occupants.

They promise a weekly Friday Barbeque for the residents. There is a laundromat on the premises where residents can do their own laundry. There is also a minimal fitness centre on the premises and for an extra charge guests can use the Health club at the Intercontinental Hotel next door. They also promise to provide free wifi in all the rooms.

Ok, I just did a dummy search on the site and turns out it isnt that cheap after all. The starting price for a single studio looks like 180$ per night + 13.44% tax + 12% service charge. And the average rate seems to be about 250$ per night + taxes. I don't remember even the 4 seasons being that expensive. hmmmm. Lets see how long they can command these prices. . .

Solar Cities eco-tour

Solar Cities eco-tour, when someone mentioned this on an online forum. I was like "What? Are you sure this is happening in Egypt? in Cairo? People in this city are harnessing solar energy? Are we talking about the same Cairo?"

She gave this site for reference: http://solarcities.blogspot.com and I was completely wowed just reading about the concept.

One of the founders was inspired by an "inner city eco-tourism" opportunity he got on a trip to Johannesburg in 2002. Global nomads T.H. Culhane and Sybille Culhane are now working on the Solar C3.I.T.I.E.S. mission: "Connecting Community Catalysts Integrating Technologies for Industrial Ecology Systems"

They brought solar power to some of the neediest neighbourhoods in Cairo and it has made a difference in the lives of the residents.

To read more about this story and sign up for your own tour, visit the blog http://solarcities.blogspot.com/ I know I hope to do this the next time I'm in Cairo.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Not carrying a valid driving licence in Arabic, could land you in jail

If you plan to drive in Cairo, then make sure that you always carry a valid drivers licence in Arabic while at the wheel.

A new law has been passed / or is currently being strictly implemented, I'm not sure which.

But a non-Egyptian friend found this out the hard way when she got a call saying that her Egyptian husband had been jailed for a traffic offense. Her first reaction was that : someone had been badly hurt as a result of her husband's driving, but it seems that the infraction was a minor one: He was not carrying the international translation paper for his licence (grey coloured one with your photo in it)

He was later released when the right papers were produced, but it was a rude shock for the entire family which has never seen the inside of a jail before.

Please, if you plan to drive in Egypt, do carry all the necessary documents including a translation if you have an IDL issued in any language other than Arabic.

Stay safe, drive safe.

Someone else brought to my attention that if you are an Egyptian Resident or an Egyptian, then you need to have an Egyptian Driving License. An IDL from another (your own home) country is useless, if you are a resident here.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Croc takes a mid-air stroll on Egypt Air flight

From Sydney Morning Herald

To think of all the paperwork we had to do before our cat could fly with us. . . .

And what about the hand baggage screening machines where they stop passengers from carrying drinking water? Did they think this was a crocodile leather bag or something? Wasnt it emitting heat to show it was alive, or is a croc a cold blooded animal?

Monday, July 27, 2009

ET Story on The Abu Simbel Relocation

On the occassion of the 50th Anniversary of the relocation of the Abu Simbel temples to rescue them from the rising Nile waters (due to the construction of the High Dam) Egypt Today has published an article on the story.

Although the article seems a bit biased, it does throw up some fascinating insights like, how the seams in the temple fa├žades and inner walls were filled in with epoxy resin and rock dust collected during the carving process, giving the surfaces a natural, uncut look.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Harassment of Women on Cairo Streets

Warning: While most of my posts are General Audience, this post has some material that you may not want young children reading.

Sexual Harassment on the streets of Cairo is a common topic that comes up whenever a couple of women here in Egypt meet up, online or in someone's home.

There are those that say that it isnt really bad, incidents of rape are so low compared to the US, what's the harm in a little cat calling? The problem is that if you ignore the cat calling, it then turns to men masturbating at the sight of a women (I've had friends who said they saw their taxi drivers masturbating with one hand while driving with the other, simply because a foreign looking woman got into the back seat of their car), groping (which happens in a lot of cases) and could eventually by progression lead to rape if this malaise is not stopped in its tracks.

I've posted before, about Sexual Harassment but its mostly been newspaper articles or other people's experiences. Few women choose to detail their own humiliation for dissection to the world (its a different matter between close friends who understand and have gone through the same - that is in a way, slightly therapeautic)

When I last traveled to Dubai in March, most papers were filled with the news of 2 construction worker immigrants who were facing court proceedings for cat calling/ whistling at a South East Asian maid.

Points to be noted about Dubai.
1. Women (foreigners/expats) here cover far less than the majority of women in Egypt. (think tank tops and shorts to the maximum, but off shoulder, backless, low necklines are pretty common too)
2. This is a muslim majority country and local Emirati women are predominantly dressed in the black abaya type hijab. Fully covered black robes and heads/hair covered.
3. There is a high number of single men - men who have left their wives behind in home countries because they cannot afford to bring them over when they are here on long work contracts/ unmarried men.
4. There is a large population of hired labour living in what would be considered as Below Poverty Line status in the rest of the world.

All of these have been used as excuses to brush away sexual harassment in Egypt, yet Sexual harassment in Dubai overall is not even 0.1% of what "I" face in Egypt on a daily basis.

Why? Mainly because authorities take action about any such complaint. The law is tough and it is applied without fail. No excuses.

I'm not saying that everything about Dubai culture is perfect or everything about Egypt is imperfect (I've lived in Egypt for 3 years) but harassment on the roads makes me tend to avoid going out unless absolutely necessary or in a large group of friends. I know a lot of expat women in Egypt who are here on husbands postings, who do not visit anywhere that is not an expat dominated location for fear of being assaulted. While such fears may not be justified, it is a real feeling that these women live with daily.

A closer look at my wardrobe, shows me much higher necks and back lines than 3 years ago. Sleeves below the elbows, loose fitting semi-shapeless clothes. Visiting Lebanon and Dubai makes me realise how much I have changed my own style of dressing to suit this country. (Not that I ever wore plunging necklines to work in India, but they didnt all end above my collar bone either) Changing the way I dress, was just one of the adaptations to blend into the culture and surroundings in Egypt.

My husband and I both love traveling around the country/city and discovering hidden gems of cultural, architectural and historical interest which takes us into sometimes weird areas. Our driver/translator despairs when 'Madame' wants to visit Souk al Gumma (The second-hand Friday market) and other such areas, which he tells me even his mother and sister who have lived in Cairo all their lives, avoid.

But a part of the charm and beauty of living in another country is to explore its nooks and crannies. Unfortunately in Egypt, exploration into some of these nooks and crannies brings a lot of unwanted attention and in many cases, especially if my husband isnt with me, harassment both verbal and sometimes physical. So one has to be extra careful about where one goes, with whom one goes and what kind of clothes one is wearing.

Fortunately, not being cursed with blond hair, white skin and blue eyes, the harassment that I face is less than those who look "foreign" even if they are conservatively dressed.

Yes, making a scene helps and you don't need to speak in Arabic. I remember generally strolling around the pyramids alone when my husband went inside one of them (I'm claustrophobic and chose to not go in) one of those camel ride guys was persistently trying to get my attention. As is the case with most touts in the pyramids area (I have visited over 25 times in the last 3 years) I continued to ignore him, as though I couldn't understand him and refused to make eye contact. (this may seem rude, but works in most cases of persistent touts) Usually after 3-4 tries they leave me alone. This guy actually touched my hand and attempted to give me the riding whip/stick for the camel. While his gesture was not sexual, he was still "touching" me without my permission and when I had given him absolutely no reason to believe I was interested.

In Egypt, Egyptian women will never permit a strange man to ever touch them, so why do they think it is ok with tourists/foreigners? Anyhow I screamed at him in English "How dare you touch me, what do you think of yourself, what gives you the right to even touch me?" Nothing abusive, nothing indecent. In English and loudly. It was enough to make the people around stop and look and stare at the man. There was nothing confrontational about my attitude. I just made a noise to attract the attention of other people around to what was clearly something this camel guy should not have been doing. He immediately apologised and slunk away. The incident shocked him (I train people in NLP and Body language, so I KNOW he was shocked) and I doubt he will be touching any women any time soon.

But why do foreign women coming to/visiting Egypt allow these men to touch them, hand on shoulders, holding hands (not shaking hands) People whom they have just met in a shop, not people they know. They would not allow men in their home country to impose on their personal space this way, but yet some of them are perceivably ok when it happens to them in a new country. Any theories?

Point to be noted. Most of the harassment, my friends & I have faced, has been in Cairo. Men in Luxor, Aswan, Alexandria (unless during the Cairene summer invasion), Dahab, Sharm el Sheikh, Hurghada, Abu Simbel, Bahariyya, Siwa, Sinai have been way more respectful of women.

Also published on desicritics.org

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

St Andrews Refugee Center Craft Shop

Visited the St Andrews Refugee Centre again today. A lot of new classrooms have come up since I last visited, a little over a month ago.

For the first time, I saw children leaving after school was out and the sheer joy and happiness at attneding school, on most of their faces was infectious.

Today the Craft shop was also open and I popped in for a quick look-see. Lovely paintings and water colours by some of the extemely talented refugees take up the most space. There are also papier mache mirrors with African designs on them. A few bits of African jewelry and some other bits and bobs.

The prices are very reasonable and the proceeds all go to a great cause. Helping these wonderful and talented people stand on their feet and earn a living.

I've blogged about the other services available at St Andrews before.

Give a call to check when the craft shop will be open on check their website:
www.standrewsrefugeeservices.org

If you are leaving Cairo and have things that are in usable condition and you can't take them with you, please consider donating to St Andrews. They make sure that it reaches people who really need it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Belly Dancer's Blog

I was chuffed to see "BellyLorna" as one the Followers of My Blog.

I visited her blog and found it very interesting. We always see the performance side of a dancer and don't really have an insight into the dancers point of view. Lorna's blog http://bellylorna.blogspot.com/ gives the reader that insight. She is a Scottish lady who now performs in Cairo.

I enjoyed reading her blog posts and then found a link to a video of her performance:



I realised I have watched her perform on the Nile Pharoahs Boat at least 4 times. And I always recommend our house guests to do their Dinner Cruise with Nile Pharoahs, because she is the best Belly Dancer on the boats as of now and the Boat also serves Indian Food if you book in advance.

So yes, I am a fan of Lorna's dancing and her blog. I'd recommend the blog, it makes really interesting reading.

Here's another older video

Pet Store : Chez Berge - Mohandaseen

I normally pick up pet supplies like cat food and kitty litter from Hyper One / Carre Four/ Metro. But sometimes I just need a new treat for my cat that these stores just don't offer.

The usual fall back is Sami's on 26th July street in Zamalek who has a wide range of pet grooming and play products, but I just discovered a much nicer option.

Chez Berge is located on 40 el Falah Street (off Lebanon street in Mohandaseen) Their number is 3305 4806

They stock a lot of Italian Pet supplies that are much better quality than a lot of stuff I have seen in Cairo in regular stores. The brand they stock is Ferplast which has much smoother finish on its plastic items.

They do name tags engraving for pets, stock litter boxes, baskets, sleeping rugs, carriers, toys, food, grooming brushes, litter. The whole shebang, at least for cats and dogs

They also have a vet on premises. But call for the doctors timings.

If you do buy a carrier from them, they are much better quality than most available in Egypt, but do note that the locking mechanism on ferplast carriers may not be allowed on a lot of airlines. Most airlines only allow a double spring lock door carrier on board as checked in baggage or cargo. So do verify with your airline, if you are planning to buy a carrier for air travel.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Precautions to take against H1N1

The World Health Organisation has brought out some practical and reasonable guidelines to try and prevent falling prey to the virus at http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/frequently_asked_questions/what/en/index.html

What can I do?

Updated 11 June 2009

What can I do to protect myself from catching influenza A(H1N1)?

The main route of transmission of the new influenza A(H1N1) virus seems to be similar to seasonal influenza, via droplets that are expelled by speaking, sneezing or coughing. You can prevent getting infected by avoiding close contact with people who show influenza-like symptoms (trying to maintain a distance of about 1 metre if possible) and taking the following measures:

  • avoid touching your mouth and nose;
  • clean hands thoroughly with soap and water, or cleanse them with an alcohol-based hand rub on a regular basis (especially if touching the mouth and nose, or surfaces that are potentially contaminated);
  • avoid close contact with people who might be ill;
  • reduce the time spent in crowded settings if possible;
  • improve airflow in your living space by opening windows;
  • practise good health habits including adequate sleep, eating nutritious food, and keeping physically active.

What about using a mask? What does WHO recommend?

If you are not sick you do not have to wear a mask.

If you are caring for a sick person, you can wear a mask when you are in close contact with the ill person and dispose of it immediately after contact, and cleanse your hands thoroughly afterwards.

When and how to use a mask?

If you are sick and must travel or be around others, cover your mouth and nose.

Using a mask correctly in all situations is essential. Incorrect use actually increases the chance of spreading infection.

How do I know if I have influenza A(H1N1)?

You will not be able to tell the difference between seasonal flu and influenza A(H1N1) without medical help. Typical symptoms to watch for are similar to seasonal viruses and include fever, cough, headache, body aches, sore throat and runny nose. Only your medical practitioner and local health authority can confirm a case of influenza A(H1N1).

What should I do if I think I have the illness?

If you feel unwell, have high fever, cough or sore throat:

  • stay at home and keep away from work, school or crowds;
  • rest and take plenty of fluids;
  • cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing and, if using tissues, make sure you dispose of them carefully. Clean your hands immediately after with soap and water or cleanse them with an alcohol-based hand rub;
  • if you do not have a tissue close by when you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth as much as possible with the crook of your elbow;
  • use a mask to help you contain the spread of droplets when you are around others, but be sure to do so correctly;
  • inform family and friends about your illness and try to avoid contact with other people;
  • If possible, contact a health professional before traveling to a health facility to discuss whether a medical examination is necessary.

Should I take an antiviral now just in case I catch the new virus?

No. You should only take an antiviral, such as oseltamivir or zanamivir, if your health care provider advises you to do so. Individuals should not buy medicines to prevent or fight this new influenza without a prescription, and they should exercise caution in buying antivirals over the Internet.

Warning on purchase of antivirals without a prescription [pdf 35kb]

What about breastfeeding? Should I stop if I am ill?

No, not unless your health care provider advises it. Studies on other influenza infections show that breastfeeding is most likely protective for babies - it passes on helpful maternal immunities and lowers the risk of respiratory disease. Breastfeeding provides the best overall nutrition for babies and increases their defense factors to fight illness.

When should someone seek medical care?

A person should seek medical care if they experience shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, or if a fever continues more than three days. For parents with a young child who is ill, seek medical care if a child has fast or labored breathing, continuing fever or convulsions (seizures).

Supportive care at home - resting, drinking plenty of fluids and using a pain reliever for aches - is adequate for recovery in most cases. (A non-aspirin pain reliever should be used by children and young adults because of the risk of Reye's syndrome.)

Should I go to work if I have the flu but am feeling OK?

No. Whether you have influenza A(H1N1) or a seasonal influenza, you should stay home and away from work through the duration of your symptoms. This is a precaution that can protect your work colleagues and others.

Can I travel?

If you are feeling unwell or have symptoms of influenza, you should not travel. If you have any doubts about your health, you should check with your health care provider.

More on WHO travel recommendations

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

US Embassy Directive on H1N1 Flu in Egypt

Date: June 09, 2009

To: The American Community

From: Embassy of the United States, Cairo

Subject: Warden Message dated June 09, 2009

This Warden Message alerts U.S. citizens to the latest information regarding human cases of 2009-H1N1 Influenza. The Egyptian Ministry of Health has reported eight confirmed cases of H1N1 virus in Egypt. Seven of these cases are students from the American University in Cairo, all resident in AUC's downtown Zamalek dormitory. AUC has suspended classes and campus activities through Sunday morning, June 14, 2009, and all residents of the Zamalek dormitory are currently in quarantine, are being tested, and will remain under observation for one week. Cairo airport has also instituted new health screening procedures and they can be found at http://egypt. usembassy. gov/consular/ pa060809. htm

The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens that most cases of influenza are not 2009-H1N1 Influenza. Any questions or concerns about influenza or other illnesses should be directed to a medical professional. Although the Embassy cannot provide medical advice or provide medical services to the public, a list of hospitals and doctors can be found on our website at http://egypt. usembassy. gov.

For further information about 2009-H1N1 Influenza, including steps you can take to stay healthy, please consult the Department of State information at http://travel. state.gov/ travel/cis_ pa_tw/pa/ pa_pandemic. html, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control website at http://www.cdc. gov/h1n1flu/ , the U.S. Government pandemic influenza website at http://www.pandemicflu.gov, and the World Health Organization website at http://www.who. int/csr/disease/ swineflu/ en/index. html. For additional travel safety information, please consult the State Department's website at http://www.travel. state.gov.

2 More H1N1 cases detected in Alexandria

Supposedly 2 more people in Alexandria have tested positive for the H1N1 virus.

This is the link to the story in Arabic:
http://www.youm7.com/News.asp?NewsID=106984

and the English translation?
http://soberhigh.wordpress.com/2009/06/10/1252-10-h1n1/

Dangerous Driving in Cairo

Anyone who has lived or visited CAiro, knows how dangerous the roads can be. But its sometimes difficult to explain how bad it is to folks back home.

Voila, BBC produces a video on the topic.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7904171.stm?lss

This will give the folks back home something to think about.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

5 more H1N1 cases at AUC dorm

After 2 students at AUC dorm in Zamalek were diagnosed with H1N1, all the students at the dorm were quarantined and checked for the virus.





5 new cases have been identified as stated in the Straits Times. The nationalities of these students hasn't been identified.

Maybe now is the time to start talking serious preventive measures. Like washing hands with soap and water and maintaining basic hygience.

Monday, June 08, 2009

H1N1 virus detected in 2 students at AUC Zamalek Dorm

Looks like the virus has entered the city, inspite of the thermal imaging and masks and gloves at the airport & the extermination of pigs. See H1N1 for reference.

2 American AUC Students were found to be infected and the whole dorm of 140 students has been put under quarantine. Reuters broke the story earlier today. Classes on the campus seem to have been suspended for a week.

This email was circulated to the students of AUC earlier this morning. (I have removed the email addresses to prevent them from being spammed by harvesters)

From: Brian MacDougall
Date: Mon, Jun 8, 2009 at 8:27 AM
Subject: H1N1 Flu
To:

Please be advised that overnight the Egyptian Ministry of Health confirmed positive H1N1 test results for two AUC students. These two students have been hospitalized and are receiving the necessary medical treatment. A third student was also hospitalized as a cautionary measure because she had a high fever, which is symptomatic of this flu.

These students are all residents of the Zamalek dormitory and as a result the dormitory has been quarantined for 24 hours. The Ministry of Health has obtained samples from all residents of the dormitory and those results are expected later today.

AUC's medical clinic is working closely with the Egyptian Miistry of Health to effectively manage this testing process and to provide the necessary care for all of our students.

This is all of the information available at this time; as we receive further information, it will be shared immediately with the AUC community.

--
Brian MacDougall
VP for Planning and Administration
The American University in Cairo
AUC Avenue, PO Box 74
New Cairo 11835, Egypt
Office Tel: +20-2-2615-2212

Obama's Speech in Cairo

I wanted to write about it the moment I started to hear him speak, but life has an irritating habit of getting in the way. What is normal after such intereference by life, is that I shelve the idea. But this particular event is just too important to be lightly tossed aside in my "expired" folder.

The fact that a US President would be visiting a "Muslim Majority" Country before Israel, was in itself a huge departure in recent practice. There was speculation as to where he would speak from. Options ranged from Al Azhar Mosque (which I personally think would have been an excellent, yet impractical location) to Sharm el Sheikh. He settled on Cairo University.

The whole city of Cairo virtually came to a standstill on June 4th. Rumors abounded of 10,000+ snipers, 20,000 troops coming in on their own helicopters from the US and other such fantastic numbers were bandied about.

Passes to the event were carefully distributed by the American Embassy from what I gathered, to ensure an appropriate balance of profiles. 15 students from each major university were invited.

The Government declared a holiday for all its offices. A lot of Universities postponed exams to cope with this extra holiday. A number of private companies too decided to give employees the day off, fearing that they may be stuck in one of the road clearance drives. People who had parked their cars in certain areas along the route, were told to remove them the day before the President was due to arrive. (Now if we can only get similar celebrities to visit different parts of Cairo each day, we may be able to get those broken down heaps that masquerade as cars, that take up precious parking space to get towed away - How's that as a long term solution to Cairo's parking woes?)

But I digress. Coming back to the speech.

It was absolutely brilliant. There was no fault that an unvested interest could find in that speech except perhaps for him mis-pronouncing hijab and Al Azhar. But given the content and message, those are errors that can be easily overlooked.

The greatest strength of his speech was that he identified with his audience on a personal level. Compared to his predecessor whose speech writers made assume a superior and supercillious tone, Obama came across as "one of us". He drew attention to his Indonesian and Chicago life experiences amongst muslim communities.

He gave them praise where it was due, for their innovations in printing, algebra, architecture and then came to his main point. That he would fight negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they may appear. A statement that was greeted with loud applause, that almost died down with his following sentence "But the same principle should apply to Muslim stereotypes of America" This did not seem to be what the crowd wanted to hear. Until then, Obama had seemed to be a cheerleader for the Muslim world, but this statement showed that he wasn't going to unilaterally support the Muslim world. There was going to have to be some give and take.

Once the audience reconciled themselves to this idea, things improved again.

I will not get into the rest of the content of his speech, as it has been discussed ad nauseum on multiple fora.

It was a wonderful bit of speech writing to include references from the Torah, the Bible and the Quran. When he said "Jerusalem - is a place for all the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully", I had goosebumps and I know many Americans who have made Egypt their home, who were moved to tears by this sentence.

His body language was firm yet conveyed his openness to change. He came across as determined while engaging the public through eye contact and clear speech. Again, notable when compared with the last guy to hold his post.

He changed the terminology from the aggressive posturing of the previous government to one based on mutual understanding and dialogue. Instead of general nonsensical terms like "War on terror", he firmly stated that "America is not at War with Islam"

Another firm departure from previous policy was when he clearly stated "America does not presume to know what is best for everyone" If he can follow through on this and not have American Foreign policy and their idea of Democracy being stuffed down the throats of unwilling citizens of countries that aren't ready for the American idea of Democracy, it will go a long way in building bridges that had seemed burned and irrepairable a year ago.

The speech was transmitted live on Facebook and was texted as sms in English, Arabic, Farsi and Urdu. Thus upholding his campaign strategies of involving the younger generations by utilising media more familiar and accessible to them. It has also been uploaded onto Youtube.


The reaction to his speech by most locals that I know, has been "Let's wait and watch" "We want to see actions, not words" This guy is talking about change in policy, so maybe we can stop suspcecting the littlest sneeze. But to start trusting the Americans, we need to see concrete proof. We need to see steps being taken in the right direction. Words will not be enough.

It is undeniable that the US has a large role to play in World Politics. We can only hope and pray that instead of mindless wars and Nuclear arms races, we can at least have dialogue and hope for a future of peace.

In Obama's Words "All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort – a sustained effort – to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings"

Also Published on desicritics.org

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

FlyDubai, Dubai's First Low Cost Carrier Starts Operations

Flydubai, Dubai’s first low-cost airline began its commercial operations on June 1st.

The inaugural flight took off from Dubai International’s Terminal 2 at 10:30 bound for Beirut.

FlyDubai is currently flying to Beirut and Amman. They will start flights to Damascus and Alexandria next week and plan to expand rapidly to countries in the Middle East, GCC and India. The evenutal plan as stated on their website is to extend to Iran, Eastern Europe and North & East Africa.

Fares are really low. For eg there is currently a flight from Alexandria to Dubai for 825(LE) Egyptian pounds. When I checked a week ago. A return flight between Cairo and Dubai was roughly costing about 3000LE on Emirates airlines and 2100LE on Egypt Air.

How does flydubai keep its fares low?
1. The tickets are one way tickets for one person, priced on a system based on availability, demand, time of day etc etc. Quoted prices include all applicable taxes. Prices will be quoted in the currency of the country of departure of the flight
2. You pay to change: If for some reason, you need to change your flight, you pay 100dhs per ticket plus the price difference from your original ticket if upwards and get a voucher refunded to you if the price moves downwards. You do have to pay the 100dhs charge per ticket, no matter what the scenario. (There are "free to change" tickets too, but these are normally priced higher than "pay to change")
3. Changes or cancellations can only be carried out 24 hours prior to the flight. Any later than that, you lose the whole amount.
4. Children above the age of 2, pay full fare.
5. If traveling with a child below the age of 2, there is a service charge of 50dhs plus taxes.
6. Fares are lower if you book from the website. A service charge is levied if you book via their dedicated call center (35dhs) or through an agent.
7. The quoted fare allows you upto 10kilos of hand baggage. You have to pay higher for more luggage. If you pre book your extra luggage on the website, it will be cheaper than just arriving at the airport and then paying for the luggage.
For eg: Your 1st piece of checked in baggage (upto 32 kilos) if pre booked online will cost 40dhs, but if you do it at the airport, it will cost you 150 dhs. The 2nd piece will cost 100 and 150 respectively.
8. If you want to select your seat, you pay 5dhs.
9. If you want a seat with extra legroom, it is 50 dhs.
10. A boarding pass is issued as soon as you book your ticket.

In these times of Recession, this airline could really take off, if they find a large enough market segment.

As I see it, business and holiday travelers without much luggage could find this airline cheaper than its competitors.

For those people I have often seen in the Dubai airport ahead of me, trying to check in 5-7 suitcases each on Egypt Air flights back to Cairo while trying to semi-conceal another 4-6 pieces of hand luggage, this would not be an economical choice.

Nor would it work for people who travel to Dubai with the primary purpose of shopping. I have seen so many piles of new clothes and childrens toys unceremoniously dumped in heaps at Dubai's airport, because paying the excess baggage fee on Emirates airlines does not make those clothes and toys worth it. People seem to find it cheaper to just dump the stuff (some with tags not yet removed) than pay the excess baggae fee. These people aren't going to be travely FlyDubai any time soon.

This will work for people who just carry their laptop and a change of clothes or two. Its also just 40dhs more for 1 piece of checked in baggae provided you book it online at the time of booking your ticket. So this option will work for a weeks long travel.

I wonder if the airline allows toiletries in hand luggage with the above restrictions that they have placed. If they dont, it would be cheaper to buy and discard toiletries on arrival than pay 100dhs to check it in.

They must have researched their pricing before coming out with this strategy. It will be interesting to see how full their flights go. There is a large market, given that it is still impossible to get a ticket on a Thursday evening Emirates flight from Dubai to Cairo, if you haven't booked well in advance.

You can book tickets directly on their site:
http://flydubai.com/


Also Published on desicritics.org

Shark Attack off Marsa Alam

In the first time since the last 4 years, a shark attacked and killed a French tourist off the coast of Marsa Alam.

"This very rarely happens. It seems that the victim aggravated the shark or presented it with food, which caused a change in the shark's behaviour," MENA quoted Amr Ali, the president of the Society for the Preservation of the Red Sea Environment, as saying.

Sharks are common in the area and tourists often take pictures, but attacks are rare. The last person killed by a shark in Egypt was attacked while snorkelling near the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in 2004


From Reuters


For a record of shark attacks across the world, check http://www.sharkattackfile.net/

Egypt Reports 1st case of swine flu

A young girl with American Citizenship of Egyptian origin was coming from America to Egypt on holiday on Monday, on a flight from Europe.

Health Minister Hatem el-Gabali said she showed flu symptoms and tested positive for the virus and is being treated. He said she is in good condition.

Read the news here:
Voice of America News

in Arabic - Masrawy

An earlier news report had said that Egypt had suspected 101 cases of H1N1 and 100 had tested negative. At the time of the report, the 101st person was being quarantined and tested.

Looks like those Thermal Scanning cameras at the airport worked, but the culling of pigs seems to have surprisingly not had any effect in scaring the virus away from entering the country.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Nile FM - English Radio Station

104.2 is the Nile FM channel that plays English music with English speaking DJ's if you are craving a bit of English music on Radio.

Nile FM has some lovely shows. I enjoy all of them except for the trance/house music on Saturday evenings, because that's one kind of music that I just don't enjoy.

You can also listen to Nile FM online http://www.nilefmonline.com/

There are plenty of Arabic channels on the radio, some play music, some are filled with talk shows and conversations.

There are some channels that play Instrumental Music.

www.soundofsakia.com is another great station

Obama's visit to Egypt

Got this in the mail today. I think its a translated version of an Arabic news article.

CAIRO: The Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm published Monday a detailed schedule of US President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Egypt June 4.

Obama is due to address the Muslim world from Egypt, though the US had not given any details on where Obama will be making his speech.

A US Embassy official told Daily News Egypt, “The official schedule for President Obama’s visit has not been released. Planning and preparations are underway and we look forward to an exciting visit.”

The newspaper has surmised that the speech will be given from Cairo University. Quoting a diplomatic source, Al-Masry Al-Youm stated that Obama would only stay in Egypt for eight hours before heading to Germany.

The US embassy couldn’t confirm whether Cairo University would be the designated venue or whether the published itinerary is the right one.

According to the paper, Obama will arrive at 10 am and be received by President Hosni Mubarak at Abdeen Palace an hour later for a 45-minute get-together. He then will make his speech from beneath the hallowed dome of Cairo University at 12:30 pm. The speech will reportedly last for an hour.

After the speech Obama is then set to meet with officials from the US Embassy before departing Egypt at 6 pm.

The newspaper also reported that a massive clean up project had begun at the university in preparation for Obama’s visit.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Is BISC being ethical?

I just heard an extremely disturbing piece of news today.

It seems that the British School in Cairo (BISC) which recently moved from Zamalek to 6th October has come up with a new demand for money.

BISC normally collects students fees in British Pounds. FYI: The going rate for admissions is a one time 85,000LE (yes 3 zeroes after 85) or so. This is over and above the annual school fees which hovers around 50,000LE.

Egyptian Residents who do not work with British companies or get salaries in British Pounds have to buy British pounds to pay the fees. This means they lose some amount on conversion. Imagine the amount they would lose on converting 85K LE to GBP.

This year because the British Pound depreciated, the school has supposedly lost money by collecting fees in British Pounds. Hence although the amount collected in British Pounds was on target, it was not on target when calculating the EGP equivalent. Part of the risk of playing the currency market, you would say.

BISC does not consider this a risk that they should absorb, and hence they have asked the parents to pay the difference AS CALCULATED BY BISC as to the amount the school has supposedly lost by collecting fees in British Pounds RETROSPECTIVELY for the last year!!!

Is this Fair?

Is this Ethical?

The parents aren't saying anything because the cost of moving their child/children to another International school would mean shelling out another non-refundable sum of 85,000LE or more!

This is the story as I have pieced together from multiple reliable sources. Can any action be taken against the school? Is anyone willing to initiate the action?

Its not really MY problem as I don't have children whose education I have to worry about right now. But this was just too unethical to let it pass by unmentioned.

Opinions? Views?

Correction:
Annual fee is about 85,000LE. The admission fee is lower.

Services available at St Andrew's Refugee Services

I have met Kathy and they are doing some really wonderful work at the St Andrews Refugee Centre. Below is a mail from her on all the services they offer through the center.

We have a number of services related to questions that frequently come up on this list:

Donations: We accept donations of used clothing, shoes, household goods, furniture, opened shampoos and lotions, [legal] pharmaceuticals, etc. Please remember us when you are leaving Cairo. If you have a lot of things, we can arrange to pick them up. Call Ahmed at our office: 2575-9471.

Translation or Interpreters from Arabic to English: we have trained interpreters and translators available for standard rates (usually about 50 LE per page or per hour). Call us.

Printing t-shirts: we can screen print t-shirts with almost any design you want--or we can design one for you. You can specify colors, how many, Arabic or English. Call us.

Referrals for Cleaners, Electricians, Computer Techs: If you need a good housecleaner, electricians, computer tech, call us. We have started a job bank to match refugees with potential employers. You can employ a refugee who has been well trained in such services.

Arts and crafts, paintings: We have several talented staff artists. Come by to see the products and paintings available for gifts for friends and family. If you want to take a suitcase of things to sell at home or paintings to arrange an exhibition, we can make arrangements.

Internships and volunteers: We have a lot of opportunities for internships and volunteers. You can tutor or teach, help with construction, help prepare legal testimonies, market products, write grants, help with homework, or be a conversation partner for refugees. If you have time to give, anything from 2 hours weekly to full-time, we'll put you to work. It's very rewarding!

We have a webpage with information on volunteering and people can email us from it, also. Its address is: www.standrewsrefugeeservices.org

THANKS for thinking of St. Andrew's!
--
Dr. Kathleen R. Kamphoefner
Co-Director
St. Andrew's Refugee Services
38 July 26th Street
(above the Nasser Metro Stop, Midan Isa'af)
office: [20-2] 2575-9451

How to use a squat toilet

A lot of Western visitors arriving in Egypt are confronted with squat toilets for the first time in their lives.

For someone who has never seen one, much less used one, it is quite a challenge to figure out how to use the hole in the floor, which may be the only option at some of the tourist and remote locations or even while camping in the desert.

This video is quite instructional without being obscene.



Do note that in Egypt most squat toilets will be private and there are no pigs left in the country if newspaper reports are to be believed {grin}

Don't feel bad that you need to view an instuctional video to use a squat.

Even Japanese children need to be taught this today
http://www.asahi.com/english/Herald-asahi/TKY200903300051.html

and sometimes even a reverse training may be necessary.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Latest update on Quarantine at Cairo Airport

Flew in this morning from Dubai. Had heard a few stories of the nurses at the Cairo airport, most of them uncomplimentary. Was completely prepared to give them a earfull - Egyptian style - if they decided to thrust a reused thermometer in my ear, wiped with the same swab of cotton over the day.

They were a lot less nurses swarming around, than when I returned to Cairo at the beginning of the month. They seemed to be better organised. I didn't see signs of a thermometer, but there were 2 video cameras which passengers had to file in front of. Some passengers were made to show their side profiles, chin up-chin down the type of mug shots you see taken in Hollywood before seomeone is thrown into jail. How these passengers were singled out, I have no clue.

I did what I normally do in Egypt, ignore everyone and walk past them, unless they are authority figures who try really hard to get your attention for a seemingly relevant reason ("I want to marry you", "are you married?" does not count)

Some of the Immigration officials who were walking around, among the queued up public had masks on, but the latex gloves were no longer visible.

So that's the status today at 7:30am.

Have a pic of the video sessions, will try & upload that, once I download it off my phone.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Obama to speak from Al Azhar mosque?

Almost everyone seems to know that President Obama will be addressing the Arab nations from somewhere in Egypt on the 4th of June before heading to France.

While speculation is on as to whether he will even speak from Cairo - Sharm el Sheikh seems to be a favourite of Foreign Dignitaries who visit Egypt and hosts international summits too - one of the rumours is that he may speak from the Al Azhar Mosque in Cairo.

See article in DNA here

As an outsider who has lived in Egypt for close to 3 years, it seems like a great choice.

An American President visiting an Arab nation before Israel (hence breakinga non-official protocol that has been enduring since many decades) shows that there may be hope yet for an improved Arab-American relationship, but I'm not sure how the Egyptian masses perceive this step.

The Al Azhar mosque itself is a widely respected platform across the Islamic world, but what would be the wider reaction to a non-muslim, speaking at such a historic, spirtual and cultural center.

Another interesting development to look forward to. . .

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Horrific Expereince of a British family visitng Sharm el Sheikh on Holiday

From The Electric New Paper

Treat this as a cautionary tale, but hope for the best, if you plan to travel into Egypt shortly, especially if you have a Mexico stamp in your passport.

THEY expected a great family holiday in Egypt - and encountered fear instead.
14 May 2009

THEY expected a great family holiday in Egypt - and encountered fear instead.

British engineer Stewart Harbut, his pregnant wife Sasha and their four young children, aged between 2 and 8, had a hellish time when armed guards held them in quarantine.

They claim Egyptian guards, in what was seen as an act of panic in the midst of a possible Influenza A (H1N1) virus outbreak, 'pinned them down' at the country's Sharm El Sheikh International Hospital while doctors forced them to give swabs.

Mr Harbut, 37, told Sky News Online that his family spent £6,000 ($13,400) on their holiday.

But as soon as he and his family arrived at Sharm El Shiek airport, their holiday was anything but enjoyable.

He said: 'We were queuing up with the rest of the holidaymakers, looking forward to the break. All of a sudden, we were surrounded by armed guards and police. There must have been about 30.

'All the kids were crying, my wife was crying and I could not believe it. It felt like something out of a drug-smuggling film.'

Guns

Mr Harbut said he and his family saw guns trained on them as they were bundled into the back of a van and sent to the hospital with a police escort.

He thought his family was singled out because their passports showed they had visited Mexico six months ago.

Mr Harbut said he was promised that he and his family would be released in a few hours, but instead, they were held in a dusty room with just five beds.

He said: 'The kids were pinned down and instruments were put down their throats. The Egyptians were in a complete panic.'

When he tried to leave the hospital, he was confronted by three armed guards who blocked his way.

He said: 'There was absolutely no way out - there were large iron gates slammed shut at the front of the hospital and as I walked towards them, three armed guards came towards me holding their guns.'

The Harbuts were only allowed to leave the hospital yesterday after all of the tests were confirmed as negative, nearly 24 hours after landing in Egypt.

Speaking from their Red Sea resort hotel after his release, Mr Harbut said he had been treated like a drug smuggler.

He said: 'This was absolute hell. We're just hoping that the kids aren't too traumatised.'

Mr Harbut wanted to warn travellers about the current level of panic over the H1N1 virus in the country.

Screening at Egypt Airports - Advisory from Danish Embassy

Thanks "S" for forwarding this info.

Dear Colleague

I obtained the following information from a variety of sources, Ministry of Health, all UK Honorary Consul's (apart from Alexandria) and the MFA and would be grateful if you could pass to all EU colleagues. Their input and experiences would be useful if they have any additional information they can share with us all.

The Ministry of Health are still confirming no reported cases in Egypt of the H1N1 virus

Airport Screening:- Currently in place at Cairo, Hurghada, Luxor, Sharm El Sheikh and Taba airports

Full medical screening is aimed specifically at those fliights arriving in Egypt from countries that have confirmed/suspected cases of the virus. As well as this, passenger passports are checked on all international flights coming in and those passengers with Mexican stamps in their passports are subject to this screening.

The screening process and the make up of the medical teams should be identical for each airport. These consist of at least 5 doctors, 2 nurses and one medical technician per team.

All passengers arriving are processed by currently having a temperature check by use of a thermometer in the ear to gauge the temperature. Disposable tips for the thermometers are not being effectively employed. The same tip being used for a number of passengers then changed. The Ministry of Health were reluctant to confirm that this was the case and said that there was one tip for each passenger tested - however, on the ground evidence from tour operators in Sharm contradict this statement, the same tips being used on multiple passengers.

However, it is important to note that at Luxor airport for instance - full screening is not being carried out and thermometers are not being used. They have doctors present for international arrivals but their intervention is negligible. Sharm also reports that some of the flights checked appear to be on a random basis. Therefore the medical screening is not consistent and seems to differ from airport to airport despite the guidelines detailed by the Ministry of Health.

To date, no thermal imagers/scanners have been installed at any of the airports.

The benchmark temperature is 38 degrees - anyone showing a temperature above this, is taken to an isolation room at the airport and from there they are transported to the nearest isolation facility where swabs are taken. For airports outside Cairo - all swabs are flown to Cairo for testing. The isolation centre for each airport is as follows:

Cairo: Al-Matar Mental Health Hospital located in the Heliopolis district of Cairo which is the closest medical facilty to Cairo International airport.

Sharm El Sheikh: Sharm International Hospital - a number of rooms at this facility have been set aside as an isolation area

Luxor: Luxor International Hospital - the nearest large hospital with adequate facilities to the airport

Hurghada: Hurghada International Hospital
Alexandria: Not known at this time

Taba: Taba Hospital

Period of quarantine is unknown and each case (if they do confirm one) will be dealt with in line with WHO guidelines on treatment.

I can confirm that the major UK tour companies flying into Egypt are advising clients of medical screening procedures at airports via their websites. They are also advising passengers of this before leaving the UK and on the aircraft whilst enroute.

It may be a good idea if colleagues from countries who do have suspected/confirmed cases perhaps advise their tour operators to do the same.

Regards

Jim Warren

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Latest news on Swine Flu scenario in Egypt

Saw this in the Al Ahram Weekly:

Quite an interesting article

Read the article here

Egyptian marriage fatwa causes stir

As you can see, I have a little time to catch up on some newspaper reading for about 24 hours and I am sharing the most interesting of the lot.

From The National Newspaper:
Dar al Iftaa, an authoritative Islamic research institute in Cairo headed by Egypt’s grand mufti, just passed a fatwa condoning a controversial form of marriage called “Misyar”, in which a bride forgoes typical premarital financial commitments from her would-be husband.

There are two sides to this argument. One being that this is a way to legalise prostitution, the other saying that this will allow some of the poorer sections of society who cannot afford the shabka and other financial requirements thrust upon them during a wedding (not living expenses) to still get married (. . . and maybe reduce some of the sexual frustration, which sometimes manifests on the roads)

Read the entire article here:

A friend also forwarded an interesting link that relates to this fatwa.
Misyaar Marriage in Saudi Arabia – What is it and Who would Want It?

Islamic hip hop, or a load of hype?

The article is a bit dated (22 April), but I just got to it and thought that it would interest those who read this blog.

From The BBC.

A satellite channel has launched in Egypt claiming to be the first Islamic MTV.

The studio presenter takes viewers' phone calls and interviews artists in baggy jeans, while music videos are played. . .

. . . 4Shbab aims to promote traditional Islamic values through hip hop, rap and pop music, using new and established artists whose lyrics and visuals address Islamic themes. . . .

What follows in the article; is an interesting snap shot of a debate on the pros and cons of such a channel. An interesting read, for sure.

Warning : Estoril Restaurant, Downtown

We found cockroaches in our drink and in the tomato soup last Thursday night at ESTORIL . I would recommend avoiding this place.
When we complained, the management tried to convince us that they must have flown in when the door was opened and just shrugged their shoulders. The only thing they offered was to replace the drink and soup. But we could not eat another bite after these two simultaneous discoveries and just left the rest of the food (that we did pay for) and walked out.

The Management was completely nonchalant and unapologetic about the episode and that was most galling. Even if the Management did not have the courtesy or the wherewithal to waive our bill, the least we expected was an apology, but there was absolutely no chance of that happening, the way things were going.

This place is best avoided.

Egyptian court 'bans porn sites'

From The BBC

How they are going to implement it. . . . . . . . . . . . . is something I would love to see.

Galabeyya to become National Dress of Egypt?

Egyptian MP Mustapha al-Gindy wants the Galabeya to be recognised as Egypt's National Dress.

"In Egypt, if you wear a galabeyya, you might find yourself barred from 70% of public places. This is both unconstitutional and inhuman."

. . . What he calls "the war against the galabeyya" has resulted in other costumes coming to prominence and he believes threatening the national identity. . .

. . . And he wants Egyptians to wear their own national galabeyya with pride when they travel abroad, instead of adopting the local variations.

While some MPs wear the galabeyya in the Majlis or parliament, Mr Gindy says you will only see Saudi tourists in their national dress at places such as the opera house or up-market hotels. . .

Read the Entire article on BBC.

It will be interesting to see how he plans to go about getting the Galabeyya its National Status and even more interesting to see what happens once it gets national status.

I know of restaurants that have a No-Galabeyya policy and deny entry to those males dressed in this ankle length gown. (Most of the restaurants that have this policy also serve alcohol and also try to restrict entry to veiled women - purportedly to not offend the religious sentiments of those who are seen as being more religious - simply by virtue of their clothing)

Would they be able to deny entry to those clad in galabeyyas, once it is declared the national dress?

In my home country India, men wearing the traditional dress of a dhothi, a lungi, a mundu, or sometimes even kurta pyjama are denied entry into certain settings, even though these items of clothing are worn by members of parliament when they go about their political meetings. Women's Traditional dresses, on the other hand, are still commonly worn and have never been used as an excuse for denying them entry anywhere.

It will be interesting to see how this progresses.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Swine Flu Quarantine for Travellers into Egypt?

There have been some rumors in some parts of the world about Travelers into Egypt being Quarantined. Today I received the same question from 3 different people. Is Egypt quarantining Air travelers and for how long? Since this may be a question that others would like an answer to as well, I am posting it on my blog.

The question of quarantine in Egypt may have arisen, from articles such as this one.

1. From My Personal Experience - 4 May 09:
I flew back to Egypt on the 4th of May from Lebanon. There were about 40 women in masks and gloves standing at the entry into the terminal building when we got off the shuttle bus. They had clipboards in hand. From the bus it looked to us like the terminal was full and it would take forever to complete Immigration. But it was just these women standing around that gave the impression of a huge crowd.

All the passengers walked past these women and went straight to the Immigration desks. The Women did not stop anyone.

The Immigration officials were wearing latex gloves and that was the extent of the precautions that we saw at the Cairo airport.

2. My Husbands Experience - 10 May 09:
My Husband returned from Istanbul, Turkey today. He said that there was a similar crowd of masked women at the terminal building. They seemed to have paired themselves in two's and were asking for passenger passports. My husband handed over his passport to them. The two women did a lot of giggling as they flipped through his passport and then they let him move on to Immigration. He did not fathom what they were looking for. I sincerely hope that they were perhaps looking for proof that the passenger had not passed through Mexico or other badly affected countries, recently.

The Immigration officials were no longer wearing latex gloves.

We both have Resident Visas for Cairo and have been living here for almost 3 years. But we frequently travel in and out of the country.

3. I heard from someone who arrived on the 8th of May 09, that he was asked to fill a form with Name, Address in Egypt and Nationality. Thermometer strips were then used (and reused) to take the passengers temperatures before letting them through.

I have not yet heard of any person being quarantined for the virus, so I would say that it is still safe to travel into Cairo without fear of enforced bed rest at a hospital.

I will keep you informed if any new information comes up that is significant to this issue.

Added on 13 May 09:
International SOS reports:
The government has ordered a psychiatric hospital near Cairo International Airport (CAI) to be converted into a quarantine centre for passengers suspected of infection.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Swine Flu and its Effects in Egypt

Fact : Swine Flu is now being called Influenza A (H1N1)

Fact : “We don’t see any evidence that anyone is getting infected from pigs,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the World Health Organization’s assistant director general. “This appears to be a virus which is moving from person to person.”

Fact : Pork has disappeared off the menu's of the few restaurants in Cairo that did serve it.

Fact : There were about 40 masked (not veiled, but masked) women to receive us at the entry from the shuttle bus to the actual terminal in Cairo Airport, when we landed 3 days ago, all holding very fancy looking official clipboards. Every single passenger just walked past them and they did not stop a single person.

Fact : The immigration Officials at Cairo airport are all wearing Latex Gloves.

Some stories from across the press world on how Swine Flu is being handled in Egypt and reactions.
New York Times
IRIN Middle East
MSNBC
BBC
Yahoo News

Cairo Traffic Commentary on the BBC

From The BBC

Christian Fraser discovers that a brush with death on Cairo's congested roads leaves no appetite for life in the fast lane.

Life in Cairo is a do or die race, in which you trample or are trampled. . .

. . . Modern Cairo was built to house four million people. It has now swelled to some 17 million which is why narrow two-way streets on the banks of the River Nile, are by 0900 local time transformed into four-lane carriageways. . .

. . .For a country that invented precision-engineered pyramids, its taxis are primitive, in all the wrong ways.

The upholstery of my taxi was the cheap nylon kind that delivers electric shocks to sweaty thighs. . .

. . . Ironically, the congestion that had brought us to this standstill was formed of rubberneckers, craning to look at the grisly aftermath of a five-car pile up on the other side. . .


Read the Entire Article here.


Thanks Rhonda for steering me towards this article.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Book Review : Egypt Pocket Guides - Alberto Silioti

The AUC Press has brought out a wonderful series of pocket guides for Egypt by Alberto Silioti.

Each of the books gives a quick glimpse into the area it covers, in just enough depth for the average tourist.

The aerial view maps reminiscent of the DK Eyewitness guides are much easier to navigate than flat maps.

The books are printed on glossy paper which brings the photographs used to life. There are just enough technical details for those mildly interested in them but not too much to bore those who aren't.


Egypt Pocket Guide : The Pyramids covers the pyramids of Giza, Saqqara, Dahshur and Meidum. It also includes Memphis just to complete the Pharonic circuit around Cairo.


Egypt Pocket Guide : Luxor, Karnak and the Theban Temples includes everything that you would want to see in and around Luxor. Luxor Temple, Avenue of sphinxes, Karnak Temple, Colossi of Memnon, Medinat Habu, Ramesseum, Hatchepsuts Temple, Luxor Museum, Mummification Museum and Dendara.


Egypt Pocket Guide : Islamic Cairo gives the historical time frame of the various Islamic dynasties. It also covers the major Islamic Monuments in Cairo : Ibn tulun Mosque, Gayer Anderson Museum, al Ghuri Complex, Al Azhar mosque, al Hakim mosque, Khan al Khalili, Qalawun & Barquq Complexes, Sultan Hassan Madrassa, al Muayyad Mosque, Blue Mosque, Citadel, Mamluk Tombs, Nilometer and the Museum of Islamic Art.


Egypt Pocket Guide : Coptic Egypt starts with an informative section on Coptic Christianity and monasticism. It only covers the Synagogue of Ben Ezra, Coptic Museum and Hanging Church in detail. The rest of the churches in the Coptic area; it just skims over. It does give details of all 4 monasteries in Wadi Natrun and the 2 monasteries of the Red Sea but not those of Upper Egypt.


Egypt Pocket Guide : Alexandria and the North Coast covers everything of interest in Alexandria: the Qaitbay Fort, Lighthouse of Alexandria, Serapeum, Pompei's Pillar, Roman Theater, Catacombs, Greco Roman museum, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Jewelry Museum, Montaza Palace and some of the Ncropolis around Alexandria and Abu Qir. It even covers Alamein.

Each of these books costs 30Le if you buy them in Egypt.

Book Review : An ABC Escapade through Egypt


An ABC Escapade through Egypt is a wonderful book for children within Egypt or outside to learn a little about things uniquely Egyptian.

It isn't just for the little ones who are learning the alphabet, but can be a reading tool even for slightly older children.

Cactus Crunching Camels and Underwater Urchins share space with crunchy konafa and jumping jerboas. Bernadette Simpson uses alliterations to create a fun reading experience accompanied with some lovely colorful photographs that make reading fun as well as informative.

Bernadette first moved to Cairo in 1993 with her parents and did a part of her schooling in this country before returning to the US to study further. She then came back to Cairo and was inspired with all the activity around her to write a book that would be fun, educational, informative and have content that would be familiar to its readers. This book is the result of those efforts.

Her book is available in Egypt in most of the major bookstores:
http://bernadettesimpson.com/buythebook.html

Also available on Amazon:

If, after reading the book, you still want more, you can visit her blog http://escapadethroughegypt.wordpress.com/ which lists more alliterations for the alphabet.

Her mother Ginda Simpson is also a writer and painter.

Friday, April 24, 2009

One stop shop for Interiors and Furnishings

Designopolis is a mall that has opened in 6th of October which will soon be completely occupied (currently only 3 stores have opened doors) with shops selling every need you have to furnish your house.

They also plan to open a similar mall in New Cairo.

I haven't been here yet, but it sounds like a great idea.

I just read about the 3 stores in an article in Business Today.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Samir and Aly - Stationery shop - Cairo

I haven't really needed any stationery after coming to Egypt as I had a surfeit of branded pens, folders and notepads from my client companies that accompanied us during our move here. I tend to store most information on my computer though and don't use too much stationery either.

But today, we needed some canvas and we tried a couple of stationery stores in Mohandaseen. Samir & Aly was the only store among those we checked which carried canvas. Not just any canvas, they had different sizes, pre-stretched on a wooden frame.

They also carry a ton of different stuff. They have a lot of Pidilite/Fevicol products for those familiar with this Indian brand. It was interesting to see the Fevicol craft idea books in this store. The books are dual language and it was surreal to see books with Hindi script being sold in an Egyptian store. (instructions are also in English)

Any kind of pens, pencils, paint brushes are available. It seemed like you just had to think of a stationery product and it was available, including spiral binding machinery and computer printers.

One section I found really interesting was products to make miniature models of houses. Tiny lamp posts, hedges, palm trees, cars etc. I remember that earlier we had to make each of these items ourselves to use in our models. Now they are imported cheap from China :)

They have a section on childrens books and a few educational toys too.

The branch I visited was on Shehab Street in Mohandaseen. But they do have other branches across the city.

Its a one stop shop for your stationery needs.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cattery/ Cat Sitting in Cairo - Cairo Animal Inn - Cairo Suzi

There is a lovely lady named Suzi who has a cattery in Maadi. I leave our cat with her when we travel.

She has an open cattery. The cats are allowed to roam around the house through the day and she only boards them at night.

The single room option is 25LE a day.

There are other options like 4 large cages in a room for 10-20 LE. These are really large cages - half the height of the room and different lengths and widths.

If it’s a long term cat sit and depending on your cats personality, she may even take the cat to her own home. (she has her own cats at her home)

If you have more than one cat, they can be boarded in the same enclosure.

You pay her 50% in advance and give her the dry food for the duration (she feeds them the wet food herself) and she has a form which she needs you to fill regarding your cats habits and other details.

She really loves cats and I feel comfortable leaving ourbaby with her when we travel away for more than 2 nights. I've been doing this since the last 2 years.

Suzy's number is +2 010 567 0915. Her boarding facilities are called Cairo Animal Inn.

I did research a lot of catteries when I was initially searching for a boarding option for our cat 2 years ago. Most of them boarded the cats in tiny cages, that barely had space for the cat, her feeding bowls and a litter box.

Anyone who knows cat behavior, would know that they do not like their food bowls and litter boxes in proximity to each other. These cages were quite cramped.

Suzy's Cairo Animal Inn was the only place I saw that had open boarding and space.

She does occasionally board a dog or two, but away from the cats.

The cats get human contact for more than a couple of hours each day.

The money she collects, she uses to spay and neuter the stray cats in her area and get the strays medical attention when necessary.

I would highly recommend this place.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sushi Recommendations in Cairo

Sushi is one of the few foods, that I do not like. I've tasted it in different forms and locations, but it is not something I have developed a taste for.

Hence I cannot provide a primer on the best sushi in Cairo. But my friend Mona Daoud, loves sushi and this is her list of recommendations for sushi in Cairo.

"Mori Sushi. There are two in Zamalek; one which is right before the fish gardens and the other is a branch in Sequoia (reservation essential) It tops the other branch because they serve alcohol and have a pretty view. There is also a branch in Mohandessin.
In Maadi, there is Gaya on Road 253 next to seoudi market (stick to their temaky, it's awesome)

Then there is the Makani chain (excellent fresh salmon sashimi) but their other stuff is good too. There is a branch in Maadi next to Maadi grand mall and one in Mohandessin somewhere near Syria street. I heard the one in Heliopolis was horrible. There are other branches but I have no idea where.

There is also Sapporo (Fresh and basic, no fusion, no experimentation, authentic and positively succulent) at the Sheraton in Dokki. The prices are like sushi everywhere.

(Gaya and Makani are the cheapest two in Cairo)

Jo Sushi
on Mohamed Mazhar street in Zamalek has it's on days and off days. Depends on your luck... just make sure to tell them not to use wasabi while preparing sushi for you because they mistakenly think that if they're generous with it, it will taste better.

There's also INakaYa , 6A Midan Aswan in Mohandessin. They have all you can eat nights for 90 LE on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday. I haven't tried them though, so I'm not sure if they're good. I only heard about them.

Asia Bar on Blue Nile (boat in Zamalek) They have amazing sushi though it's more expensive than all other places, but it's worth it.

And there's Hanami in Giza, overlooking the Nile. 70% of the time their sushi was spot on.

There's L'Asiatique in Le Pacha but I don't like their sushi.

Bon Apetit"
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