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?

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:

THANKS for thinking of St. Andrew's!
Dr. Kathleen R. Kamphoefner
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

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.'


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.


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
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.
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