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marsa shagra

Living in a bustling metropolis like Cairo can take its toll. Thats why people retreat to the numerous resorts dotted along the coast for some relaxation. We decided to be more adventerous and ventured further to the red sea and the city of Marsa Alam, famous for its sea-life and and a haven for hardcore divers.

We arrived at a diving resort called Marsa Shagra which is situated at the heart of the coral and boasts one of the best diving places in the world. The red sea has a high salinity (4% more than average, apart from the red sea), making it abundant with many species of fish.

By the second day I had tried snorkelling and as I write this it is the third day. This morning I woke up early, wanting to get good visibility in the sea. After a leisurely breakfast, by 8am I put on my life jacket, goggles and snorkels and waded into the sea. Because I’m not a strong swimmer, the life jacket enabled me to go further without drowning.

It was the most inspiring and awe (insert more adjectives) moment in my life.

Wow.

We had arrived on a wednesday and booked ourselves in a royal tent, complete with a mini fridge and fan. By the afternoon they warned us that there was a storm due that evening. As the sunset a flash of lightning struck. The monsterous roar of thunder sounded and a few moments later it started raining. A few drops at first, and then a heavy downpour. People started to panic and grab the cushions to take inside. Others fled into the restaurant. I hadn’t seen rain for a few months and it felt amazing.

That night we moved to a hut and slept to the sound of the wind strongly blowing against the shore, wondering what adventures the morning would bring.

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Egypt, you either love it or hate it

With all the mayhem thats been happening in Egypt of suicide bombings and hundreds of people being sentenced to death, I thought it was the right time to reflect on what I love so much about this country.

  • The sunshine. Of course the first point had to be about the weather. No longer do you need to check the weather report continuously, as every single day is guaranteed sunshine. The number of days that it rains here you can count on one hand. I feel like I am on a permanent vacation, and thats got to be a good thing.
  • The people. You tend to hear bad experiences about how the slimy taxi driver ripped them off with his dodgy meter, queue jumping rife with people thinking its their right to push in and the mountain of rubbish left on every street corner. Sure all of that happens, but let me tell you what I love about the Egyptians. I love the fact that theres a community spirit amongst the locals where you can walk down the street and say hello to the bawab (doorman) or the Imam from the mosque down the road. I love how the guy in my local grocery shop always gives my daughter a banana and before I can fully peel it, she grabs it with her fat hands and gulps it down in a matter of seconds. How the Imam at the mosque likes to rock my daughter in a chair and recite Quran to her whilst she sits mesmerised. Also how there is no shortage of people willing to help you with directions, even if they happen to be directing you the wrong way!
  • The fact that the country is family friendly. Where else in the world can you go out at 1am and see families with young children sitting in a cafe or restaurant? You might be thinking isn’t it past their bedtime? or what are they even doing out at such a late hour, normally reserved for pimps, drunks and night owls? The answer is that in Egypt family comes first, and with people marrying younger and having a football team of kids, don’t expect it to change anytime soon.

I also love how people adore children. In the UK you feel scared and intimidated by others if your child so dares as cry on any form of public transport or even in a restaurant. The fact that crying to a baby is as natural as breathing, is irrelevant to most. Expect evil stares and tutting. But in Egypt I find that people want to hold your child, play with them and genuinely look like they care.

  • Lack of rules. Sure, the fact that there seems to be no order in Egypt can really hack you off, but coming from a country that is so anal about following rules and always being politically correct you loose a sense of freedom. I do like some order to a society, but please, the day when a school can get sued because a child tripped up in the playground and scratched themselves, theres obviously something wrong there.
  • Water fountains dotted along the streets. With the weather being so hot (it was 39 degrees celsius today), It is the best thing when you see one of these and drench your face in the ice cold water. Heaven

To be honest, I could go on and on…

A rumble through the jungle

Thursday nights are the best in Egypt because it signals the start of the weekend and some much needed rest. Cairenes sure know how to party and then at the end of it, how to chill out. Friday mornings are the chill out session, with the usual manic streets now deserted and eerily quiet. The only other time the streets are this quiet is during Iftar when people are at home, too busy stuffing their faces with 15 hours worth of food. Making up for lost time you see.

Friday mornings are the best time to explore Cairo, as the experience is entirely different, and you get to see another side to the smog filled city. Fridays are like a breath of fresh air, and its all yours for the taking.

Jumping into a beat up taxi, we rolled down the windows and enjoyed the fresh morning breeze as the driver whizzed his vehicle along the deserted roads. His dirty finger nails, blackened by the cheap cigarettes he smokes constantly, tapped against the stirring wheel as he turns the dial of the radio. Traditional music blares out from the speakers as we pass the Citadel mosque and the amazing view over the city and its abundance of minarets. I’m surprised no ones thought to build a viewing platform at this point, as the view is breathtaking.

We pass The City of The Dead with its flat roofed plain housing and the numerous minarets dotted in between, and the densely green terrain of Azhar park. Soon enough we are outside khan al Khalili and thats where the adventure begins. It was 10am by now, and already the market was filling up with sellers setting up their stalls. Mini tambourines, cheap looking caps with the Egyptian flag sewn on, tacky belly dancing costumes, fragrant spices from all over the world, and the ubiquitous cheap tourist tat. Helpers set up straw prayer mats outside Hussain Mosque, where in a few hours time, worshippers will be pouring in ready for friday prayers.

Whilst waiting for a friend, I sought respite under a tree, with the sun already out in full force. It just turned May for gods sake! Spotting her, we made our way to Fishawy’s cafe for a morning drink.

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Those of you who have not heard of this cafe (do you live in a cave?!) it is one of the most famous cafes in the area, mainly due to the fact that it never closes and is open 24 hours. The place is alive and kicking especially at night and especially during ramadan. The joyful sounds of the oud serenades customers whilst people congregate and dance, and street hawkers dodge in and out of the small alleyway selling all kinds of things ranging from the useful to plain weird (we were once approached by a man selling stuffed dead animals, and an irate seller who couldn’t understand why we didn’t want to buy a doll). I thought this youtube video summed up the atmosphere.

We managed to easily navigate a pram through the crooked alleyways, grateful for the quiet time we chose.

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Because it was friday before midday prayers, only a few shops were open. We explored the depths of the market taking in the streets and architecture.

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Cutting meat outside a tomb

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IMG-20140502-WA0002 An artist’s painting along Muiz street

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We even visited a three hundred year old shop (thats what the owner claimed) that sold prayer beads and necklaces made from all kinds of material such as wood, amber and camel bones.

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A kitten hiding behind a strung up crocodile skin

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An assortment of animal skins

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I even spotted this Sisi outfit for children in the market, amongst police uniforms. Forget superman, now your little dear ones can dress up like the new superhero on the block, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (Insert sarcastic face).

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Aside

Not just any notebook…

20140427_233050I thought I’d start the new year of posting with a rather inspirational set of books. These aren’t just your plain run of the mill thin lined paper put together with staples and bounded with a tacky front cover. These beauties, courtesy of my husband, came all the way from the Fabriano shop in Rome. Paper nerds will know that Fabriano are a traditional company based in Italy, specialising in premium quality paper since 1264. They make the best paper you can buy, combine them together and wrap it up in impressively designed covers. This set of seven A5 sized books come in a range of sexy colours aka known as the Bouquet notebooks.

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It’s like buying a piece of art…

20140324_145558Each book contains different thickness of paper and ranging from 80-100 gr. These beauts are so damn good looking, I don’t actually want to write in them. They’re just too good for that. No, these mini delights deserve pride of place on your bookshelf, or neatly arrange on your writing table.

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Aside

Kiosk

kioskHello.

No this isn’t an automated message, but the real deal.

Im back.

Excuse me for my leave of absence. It was a combination of laziness and bad habit that caused me to stay away. I’m breaking that habit right now.

Now.

Coming up from me will be more design inspired posts and the craziness that is mother Cairo. Fasten your seat-belts my fellow readers, this could get bumpy (oh wait i forgot, taxis here don’t actually have seat-belts..)

Drink up

Summer is now upon us. It comes when you least expect it, managing to catch me out before I can prepare, even though I’ve been living here for the past three years.

The whole rituale begins; Make sure you have stock piled your water supply, have a wardrobe full of adequate cotton clothing, a mountain of suncream, spray bottles filled with water dotted around the house, copious amounts of fresh watermelon juice and a full tray of ice cubes ready to hand. All these things help make your summer in Cairo bearable, especially as temperatures can reach 40 degrees.

When I’m out and about though, I like to prepare by visiting one of the numerous kiosks dotted along each street corner. They’re usually a small make shift shack of metal pieced together with a rickety roof on top. I’m amazed at how they manage to stay up, but they do, and in summer they’re a god send.

Imagine that its noon and you’re walking the dusty streets, the sun high above, causes you to squint regardless of your sunglasses. You’ve been walking for the past hour and by now your pace has dramatically slowed and your shirt clings to you, wet with stale sweat. You seek shelter under the nearest tree along a busy road, its orange flowers out in full bloom. Its cooler in the shade, and soon enough the sweat cools you down. You run your finger along dry cracked lips which you quickly try to moisten with a parched tongue. This only makes it worse.

You must have lost a litre in water but all you feel like is a sugary drink that in the long run will cause tooth decay and diabetes. But you don’t care, you’re not thinking long term, but living for the here and now. You walk up to the fridge housing the drinks, amazed at the ingenuity of a single wire attached from the lampost, and used to power the kiosk fridge. Legal? You dont care. All you want right now is to wrap your lips around a cold beverage.

Open the fridge and touch each bottle carefully selecting the one that is chilled to perfection. crack the bottle open with the cap opener attached to the side of the fridge and savour the moment as the cold liquor runs down your throat and cools you down.

Wadi Degla

It’s been getting hotter as the days countdown towards the peak of summer. As soon as the sun rises the temperature slowly starts to become unbearable, and you find yourself confined to the dark and cool rooms of your house.

Now that we are parents, gone are the days of blissful lie-ins and leisurely meals. Instead I find myself being woken up by a small cry, and opening my eyes I am confronted by a smiling face, mouth wide open exposing the first signs of two white baby teeth on the lower gum. Meal times are no longer eaten in a relaxed manner. To get through each meal requires you to gulp down each mouthful in haste without even thinking about the food. Why would you need to think? Leave that for when you finally get to shut your eyes at night (only to be woken up yet again..).

It was another early wake up call today that was the deciding factor in going to Wadi Degla. Within an hour of jumping out of bed, we were dressed, fed and in a taxi speeding our way along the rough roads at 8am.

Wadi Degla is a protected area (founded in 1999) located in Maadi, and is a rocky valley, ideal for hiking, jogging, cycling or just spending time with your family and friends having a BBQ. The scenery is nothing spectacular, and far from beautiful, but its the closest thing you’ll get in Cairo to a ‘park’.

The taxi had to snake its way through waste land and uneven roads pockmarked with craters and random decaying sofas. The area is full of the offices and factories of different businesses, with the constant banging of heavy machinery. I spotted drilling equipment behind a gate and lining the road that leads to the entrance of the Wadi (valley).

People who are lucky enough to have a car are able to bring it into the Wadi itself and drive around until they find a suitable spot to picnic or start their hike. There is a flat pathway, surrounded by mountainous terrain on either side, that winds itself around the valley for roughly 14km.

Milestones (or kilometrestones) mark how far you have gone..

The area is full of stones, that resemble some kind of crumbly cheese

Trash drums are located all around the Wadi

but some people fail to get it in

It was quiet this early, with only the occasional dog walker or hard core jogger. Every now and then a cyclist would zoom past us leaving a trail of smoke in its path. The sun was getting higher in the sky and the temperature was rising quickly. There is little shade in the valley, but we did manage to find some along the ridge of the mountain and sat down on a large sandy rock. The temperature was mild out of the sun and once you drench every part of your clothes and body in water it was amazing. Soon enough a gentle breeze was blowing, cooling the sweat from our backs.

The sun was too bright so I experimented with my sunglasses, using it as a filter. Love the dirty dream like effect that I got

Shop displays

Christmas is the best time for me when it comes to shop displays. I would run on down to Oxford street in London and gaze at the contemporary yet traditional displays in Selfridges, John Lewis and any other shop along that mile stretch. It was a work of art. Every item of clothing, every snowflake was planned meticulously for months and then unveiled in time for the Christmas period.

In fact I wasn’t aware just how much planning went into it until I watched this video on the Selfridges website. amazing.

One of my favourite books is by art critic John Berger called Ways of seeing. In it he argues that what we see is influenced by ideologies. An oil painting of a confident man surrounded by wealth can be seen as enviable, and this is what modern day advertisements try to do.

“The Spectator-buyer is meant to envy herself as she will become if she buys the products. She is meant to imagine herself transformed by the product into an object of envy for others…”

I would highly recommend reading this book and also watching the four part series over on youtube.

In Cairo it seem that they skip the planning and go straight into dressing the window display then and there. If I walked past these displays it wouldn’t make me want to get my wallet out and spend spend spend, or be the envy of others. What do you think?

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halloween face mask

XXL sized mannequin

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masculine haircuts on a mannequin wearing a dress

 

7up design icon

It was hot yesterday so I stopped at a koosk by the side of the road and cracked open an ice cold bottle of 7up. heaven. I must confess that it wasn’t just the weather that made me buy the drink, but the vibrant envy green of the glass and bold typography of the logo. It was seducing. A clear message was sent to coke saying 7up yours, it’s my time in the limelight.

Time

Lately I’ve not been able to find anytime for myself. A baby can do that to you. Suck your time and energy until your reduced to a tired wreck whos left making excuses for your absences. No you can’t meet up for lunch and a good old natter because you want to catch up on your sleep. Instead you’ve left them thinking the builders coming round to knock down a wall and build the open plan kitchen you’ve always dreamed of.

After a while it jus got absurd and slowly like an ephiphany I realised one thing. I now appreciate my time more than I ever did when I had it in abundance. So those time whores out there can keep wasting away, I use every second  like its my last.

Japanorama-food

I recently had the amazing opportunity to visit Japan for ten days. This place was out of this world. As soon as the wheels hits the tarmac and you file out of the plane, you feel the sense of organisation. Coming from Cairo I was shocked at how systematic and easy it was to do things. From filling out a landing card to navigating your way around the city, Japan was definitely another planet, and the people, another species.

Food

We landed in Osaka, a modern Japanese city, home of excellent food. I crave food all the time. As soon as I finish breakfast im thinking about lunch, when I eat lunch I’m thinking about what to have for dinner and when I sleep I’m…well you get the picture.

Osaka is mainly famous for its pancakes and in the handy Lonely Planet guide that I used to navigate the city, it says that “the phase kuidaore (eat ’till you drop) was coined to describe Osakans’ love for good food.”

When you first arrive in Osaka, head down to Dotombori Arcade, but be prepared to be wowed on many levels. The place is a maddening crowd of shops, restaurants, Arcade pinball machines, tourist groups and advertisements screaming right in your face to buy this cream or eat in this restaurant because they have the best sushi. My head was spinning at all the information that is available. In an article in the Guardian in 2005 it says that in an entire day you’re likely to see 3,500 marketing messages. In Japan it must be triple that. I became a shopping whore during my time there, so it must have worked.

Dotombori is like the Leicester Square of Japan. Its dirty, sleazy, full of annoying tourists that congregate in large groups and unrefined restaurants in abundance that are over-priced.

restaurant frontWhen it comes to food, the Japanese know how to do it. It’s not just about the way it tastes, but the presentation of the food is very important. It’s the little details that count. When I have a curry at home it looks like a splatter of spices placed in a plain dish with plain bread and served in mis-matched bowls. That’s the no frills approach to food. When the Japanese do food they like to go the whole hog. A bowl of noodles isn’t just wheat flour floating in a brown broth, but a masterpiece of yellow dough surrounded by an array of fish and vegetables cut into fancy shapes, all served in stylish bowls. The portions are small, not friendly to a western belly, so you might need to order a few dishes each.

I even tried some Sashimi, which is raw fish (Tuna and sea bream). Yes i can’t believe I had some, but I even surprised myself as it was tasty. You need to make sure that you order this from a good restaurant as fish that isn’t fresh will just make you ill. Each meal is usually served with endless cups of green tea. You nearly reach the end of your supply, and in an instant the waiter rushes over with their jug to fill replenish your cup. You don’t even have to ask them, they just know. Service is just as important as the food, and I found the Japanese to be very attentive and helpful.

My only problem with the food was eating it with chopsticks. I still didn’t get the hang of it, instead having to adjust them again and again. I think I should youtube a tutorial on using chopsticks for dummies.

salmonA Platter of Salmon served with miso soup, rice, tofu, pickles and soy sauce

A delicacy I loved was octopus tentacles served in a ball made from batter. The octopus is placed in a deep rounded mould and batter is then poured into the moulds. When one side is done, using the wooden handle, the metal plates moulds are flipped over so that the other side can cook. The gooey texture of the batter and chewy octopus was delicious.

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In Koyoto we had a savoury dumpling of vegetables served with green tea. Notice the quaint and stylish presentation.

Even the breakfast at the design hostel we were staying at was stylishly served, resembling a Monocle magazine picture spread. Home made bread served with apple jam, plain yoghurt, fresh orange juice and English Breakfast tea. breakfast

McDonalds got in on the act and transformed a plain milkshake into a green tea flavour which tasted nothing like tea, more like bubble gum.

McDonalds greenteaDrank in individual booths..

Mcdonalds booths

Even the fake food that was used as a visual menu looked good enough to eat

fake food

fake cakes

The food art didn’t stop in Japan, but carried on in the plane back to Cairo (Egyptair).
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Image

Hand made

An ingenius bottle opener stuck on to the tree (in red) and a useful cap catcher, at my local koosk

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Long live Egypt

On the weekend I went to the savage that is City Stars mall, and did the usual -walk around the beast aimlessly ogling at the objects that are either too expensive or useless.

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Sit in a cute as a cupcake coffee shop. Order over priced hot chocolate with cream. Hot, but cheap quality cream from spray bottle. Outside the cafe a fed up African babysitter screeches at two young boys of 12 who refuse to comply with her orders. Frustrated and vexed by their teasing, she tries to take a swipe at them. She misses,instead her blackberry crashes on the polished marble causing the boys to jeer uncontrollably. A tirade of threats and insults ring out of her mouth, yet the little brats retreat happily up the escalator. She follows grudgingly, her thumb furiously tapping away at her Blackberry.

We sought out a burger joint, wanting to cocoon ourselves in some familiarity. All you can eat salad bar with an array of sauces to drench your food.  The 22% service charge is more hefty than the burgers.

I bought some cool t-shirts designed by Nas Trends. Love the graphics.

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A few hours is more than I can take in a mall, before I start craving the fresh air and open spaces not dedicated to consumerism.  We were stopped from going out one exit and told to go down the escalators and turn right. Being such a big mall you would think they would have signs directing you to certain places, but of course with this being Egypt they tend not to think about simple things like that (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve lived here).  It was like a maze trying to find the right exit, until we finally saw a sign directing us to the taxi rank in the car park.

Two casually dressed men stood half leaning against an abandoned shopping trolley, a look of boredom written across their faces. As we approached they stood upright and nodded vigorously when we asked if it was a metered taxi. What no need to haggle the price? Hmmm something seemed too good to be true (and of course it usually is). The driver was in a hurry and was stuffing the pram in the back seat, almost banging into me. He then tried to shut the door causing his window to almost break. We told him to be careful and put the pram in the boot, but he chose to ignore us. A fight broke out between the driver and manager until we were ushered into the taxi behind, where the driver was less aggressive and more easy going.

As the taxi made its way through the over crowded streets the meter seemed to be moving faster than usual, and by the time we reached our first destination it was more than double the price. It turns out that the ‘metered’ taxis in the mall are three times more because you don’t have the hassle of haggling it down. “Everyone knows that” the driver said, well aware that we didn’t.  We paid and hopped out, waiting by the side of the road for another.

I was fuming at having been conned (even after three years of living here) and was thinking why I moved here. Luckily though, the next taxi driver reminded me why. He was a jovial man, even though he looked as though he was driving for ten hours straight. At first glance I wanted to dismiss him just like the rest of them, but what he said changed my mind. He started to tell us that the Quran mentions Egypt many times directly and non directly. That Jesus passed through Egypt, Moses came to mount Sinai and that Muhammad (pbuh) passed through on his night journey.

The prophet (Pbuh) said that he is “the son of the two slaughtered ones”:

Mu`awiya (Allah be well-pleased with him) related that a Bedouin once addressed the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace): “O Son of the Two Sacrificed Ones!” (ya ibna al-dhabihayn) i.e. O descendant of both Isma`il (upon him peace) and `Abd Allah b. `Abd al-Muttalib, whom his father had vowed to sacrifice at the Ka`aba but then he was allowed to sacrifice 100 camels instead.

Prohphet Abrahams wife Hajar was Egyptian and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) married a coptic called Maria who was also Egyptian. We are also told in a hadith to be good to the people of Egypt:

The Prophet (s) looked far back into history and evoked ties of kinship going back centuries, when he enjoined good treatment of the people of Egypt, as is recorded in the hadith narrated by Muslim:

´You will conquer Egypt, so when you conquer it, treat its people well, for they have protection (dhimmah) and the ties of kinship (rahm).’ Or he said: ´… protection and the relationship by marriage (sihr).’

The ‘ulam , explained that ra­m here referred to Hajar the mother of Isma’il, and sihr referred to Maryah, the mother of the Prophet’s son Ibrahim – both of who came from Egypt.  Source

The driver told us that it was fate that we were overcharged because now we are sitting in his Taxi, learning some interesting facts about Egypt. In that split second all negative thoughts about being conned, and living here evaporated. Instead I was reminded of the beauty and optimism both within the land and people. تحيا مصر (Long live Egypt)

News of the day

When catching up on the news of the day, a good place to start is the Guardian newspaper. I like to go straight to picture desk live and view some of the news of the day summarized.

In health news an interesting read claiming that cutting the umbilical cord of a baby too early can cause anaemia. They want the NHS to view its policy of clamping the cord straight away, and instead wait 30 seconds to a minute before doing so.

“Research has shown that delayed cord-clamping of more than 30 seconds may benefit the newborn in reducing anaemia. It also allows time for the transfusions of placental blood to the newborn, especially in cases of premature birth.”

 

In law changes, campaigners are looking to change the law so that 17 year olds are treated like juveniles as opposed to adults.

“It argues that 17-year-olds do not know what is in their best interest and should routinely be provided with the support of a parent or appropriate adult when in custody.”

 

Another good place is to head on over to twitter and read a variety of factual and strange news stories. Heres some i picked out from my feed:

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Video

Mohammed Ali TedX event at Vatican

Brilliant and inspiring. If theres one thing you watch today, then make it this. Thank me later

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Inspire. change. now

Hijab styling

I’m always on the look out for inspiration everywhere i go. I love walking around my area and spotting something that no one else has noticed. The ancient rusted up car that people meander past not stopping to appreciate the curved sexiness of the bumper or the vivid 50’s diner green of the surface, now pocketed with rust and the ever ubiquitous scratch.  They dont appreciate the history of the car or think about how many people this beauty has safely transported over its life time. No to them its just a rusty old model, long due for retirement in the scrap yard.

I came across this book for different hijab stylings called Aalias HIjab Styling Guide. Who would have thought there was so many ways to style a hijab? Styles that include those who wear glasses, winter hijab styles, wedding styles and also a casual gym styled hijab.

I loved the book and prefer hard copy versions of anything as opposed to watching youtube videos. With the book you can pull it off your bookshelf and flick to the relevant page in a couple of seconds. The design is brilliantly executed and the step by step pictures make it easy to follow.

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Pictures kindly provided by Aalia

www.aaqilahpublishing.com

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Ramadan is here

So tomorrow is the first day of ramadan, and where most people moan at the slow pace and lack of work done during this time, I’m really excited. Supermarkets are decorated with colourful material and shelves stacked up with dates, nuts, dried fruit, hibiscus juice and all manner of festive products. It’s a time for people to gain that spiritually that seems to be lacking in their lives, and of course to be extra generous in giving to the poor.

I also just found out that Egypt’s Intelligence Chief (and VP for a few days during the revolution) Omair Suleiman has suddenly died while receiving treatment in the US. I can’t see many people shedding a tear for him over here in Egypt. Instead they’re probably wondering why Mubarak is still alive!

Here’s some interesting articles about the man and the claims of his involvement in torture:

abc news

AL-Jazeera: Profile of Omar Suleiman

Olympics 2012

The Olympics are upon us in a few days in London, and with all the bad press of missiles being placed on East London rooftops, the spiralling cost of the Olympics and the farce that is the Orbit Tower (even though its received some good reviews, in my eyes paying £15 to go up a scrap metal helter skelter is ridiculous) it’ll be interesting to see how the games actually do.

For some inspirational Guerilla art check out this this group who tackle street advertising and call themselves Brandalism

Business cards and Ramadan countdown

Since i’ve last wrote, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces have disolved Parliament, Mohammed Morsi won the Presidency in Cairo and has been sworn in and the countdown to ramadan has begun.

I’ve been very busy lately tending to my Arabic lessons and doing some freelance writing. I also took a trip down to Attaba last weekend with my husband to get his business cards made. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Attaba then let me explain. It’s a maze of windy streets, polluted, crowded, full of Del Boy types and most importantly exciting. When walking through you want to stop and gaze at the wood workshops, the bright display of fresh vegetables, the unlimited amount of work tools being sold and the make shift stalls selling taser guns. But be warned, its dangerous to not pay attention in this place as you could get crushed by the rusty cars or swarm of people unsympathetic to your browsing.

When you see this place you do wonder how Egypt is experiencing any economic problems.

Also the countdown to ramadan has begun. I know because I was in my supermarket last week doing a late night shop and they’ve decked the place out in colourful cloth, arranged bags of nuts, dates, figs and dried beans near the entrance and have started the special offers. I usually hate shopping in ramadan as the shops tend to be busier (surely you eat less not more?) and people are crazier (could be the lack of food). This is my 3rd ramadan here and I am excited beyond belief. Egypt truly is magical during this blessed month.

Update

Unless you’ve had your head under a blanket for the past few weeks than you will not have failed to see the elections in Egypt. You can’t enjoy the scenery around Cairo without it being rudely interrupted by the smirking ageing face of Ahmed Shafiq or the teddy bear mug of Muhammad Morsi. I have a feeling the faded torn posters will still be around even when the elections are over.

Right now there is news coming in that Morsi has won the presidency but the margin is too tight yet to confirm. I must say that it has come as a surprise, considering most people were predicting (or fearing) that Shafiq would win. Of course with this being Egypt unpredictable events happen often and are part and parcel of life here. The SCAF (Supreme Council of Armed Forces) has disolved Parliament. That means that a new Parliament will have to be elected soon, but it also means that SCAF has a lot of power.

In other news (concerning me), I went to get my visa renewed but was denied one and told to go back to my country by an old bored woman with a face like a sour lemon. I, of course need my visa renewed to get out of the country so I’m considering going back again and trying my luck. Hopefully I won’t experience any forms of ‘racism’ on my trip back.

Election day

Went to see a polling station near my house today and the queues were surprisingly small. By 9:30am the sun was scorching. Some women bought along their colourful umbrellas that provided them some shade whilst they waited to cast their vote.

Pre election news

Watched a classic Woody Allen film yesterday called Bananas, which is more of a comedy. Yet with all woody Allen films this one was about relationships with his trademark humour, that only he can get away with.

So Egyptian elections are being held tomorrow and thursday, and the atmosphere is rife with talk about who people think should win. You can’t go anywhere without someone asking for your opinion. I’m not Egyptian so how would I know? Why ask an expat, what is best for Egypt? I must admit that I’ve not been following the election trail until recently and even then I couldn’t give an opinion on who is best for the country. All I can comment on is the fact that all the candidates are past their sell by date.

Lets see what’s being said out there…

Ed Husain has some interesting opinions, even if I don’t necessarily agree with him on most occasions

and my favourite one of his..

Journalist Evan Hill

Pictures

Election photo story

The Guardian 

Egypt election: nationalist Hamdeen Sabahy offers third way

Muslim Brotherhood stages show of strength on eve of Egyptian election

A Cairo Minute

Check out mine and my partners pictures from our project A Cairo Minute, on the photo journalist website Renounce/Reverb

Election colours

So elections in two days, but as usual life goes on. People still getting on with their daily routine. Today I bought some vegetables and fresh fruit. Pretty mundane, but that’s life moving on.

Saw a massive Abd al Fatooh rally in a park in Zamalek on friday, with jubilant supporters waving vibrant orange flags with his face embedded on them. Orange the colour that has come to symbolise his campaign. Orange the colour that is associated with joy and represents enthusiasm, creativity, determination, attraction and success.

Abu Al Fatooh. Picture taken from the internet

So what colours are the other candidates using?

Amr Mousa

Amr Mousa strikes a dignified pose. Picture taken from internet

Amr Mousa looks relaxed, without a tie, his top shirt button undone and his hands placed in his pocket. Image taken from the internet

His Election posters are reminiscent of hollywood movies with the camera angled from below to make him appear tall and powerful. He is looking into the distance, contemplating the future of Egypt, and looks serious and in control. Exactly what egypt needs right now. His posters also feature mosques and churches in the background, telling us that he supports all people no matter what faith and also that his supporters are people from every background.

His second poster shows a more relaxed looking candidate, one who isn’t afraid to let loose, take off his tie and smile showing his perfectly whitened teeth. Its very unusual for a candidate to smile open mouthed, so I was shocked to see this, but I think it works well. Even though he’s 76 the relax manner gives him a certain youth like quality.

His posters feature the colour blue. Blue is calming for the mind and body, but symbolises piety and sincerity and is linked to consciousness and intellect. It is also a strong masculine colour.

Muhammad Morsee

Muhammad Morsee. Image taken from the internet

Morsee’s election poster is not about gimmicks. Theres no fancy Hollywood graphics . Here he just looks straight at the voters and says politely “Vote for me”. The colour red on his poster is associated with fire and blood and also love, energy, vitality, power, passion and determination. He wants the people to know that he’s the one to bring a change to Egypt.

Ahmed Shafiq

Ahmed Shafiq means business. His poster says “Action, not just talk” Image taken from the internet

His poster shows a faintly smiling Shafiq who wants your votes. Plain and simple. The blue symbolises knowledge, integrity and seriousness.

So an election poster isn’t just a poster but a vital tool in controlling how a person casts their vote. Colours affect us more than we realise and maybe when we decide who we will vote for, we determine our choices based on the poster, without even realising it. So next time you see one of these campaigns, stop and think about the colours, images and the tag lines.

For more information on what colours represent check this website out

Smaller camera vs an SLR

Recently we decided to purchase a new camera and were debating the merits of an SLR over a smaller camera e.g a Leica. Then I came across a blog post by Eric Kim on the merits of using a smaller camera. It’s given me something to think about, and I would recommend it if your having trouble just like me, in deciding.

Printing workshop

Yesterday I had opportunity to go to a printing workshop in Giza, Cairo, located just near the famous toblerone shaped pyramids. It was fascinating to see the process of printing leaflets, and how books are made from every stage starting from the printing, gluing, and cutting to create a perfect product. There was various machines in charge of different tasks, with my  favourite being one that resembles a wheel. All the pages of a book are slotted into the compartment and the wheel spins round where glue is attached to the spine by another part of the machine, the cover pushed onto the glued, and then the final process is the machine closing the book together. Genius.

This particular workshop prints leaflets, posters (most recently election posters), school text books and packaging for pharmaceutical companies.

Printing plates

Checking plates for dust and then wetting it before putting into machine to start the printing process

Checking sample plate for mistakes in colour and print

Finished product

Andreas Gursky

Shopping in the beast that is Carrefour yesterday, I was reminded of the genius photographer Andreas Gursky who did a whole series of pictures set in a discount store in the U.S. I admire the composition of the shots and the colourful nature, along with the serious message of over consumption. It makes you view your surroundings in a totally different way.

Check out this site for more of his wonderful work

Business card with a twist

This has to be the best business card I’ve ever seen, made from a metro ticket.

My love of the VW Beetle

There’s been a few earthquake tremors lately, and apparently there was a tiny one today, but I was washing the dishes at the time and didn’t feel a thing. I wonder if it’s a sign of things to come?

Walking around Cairo I can’t help but notice the abundance of classic cars dotted around the city. Old Fiats that look at though they’re past retirement age still continue to dominate the roads, confusing me into thinking we’re living in the 1950’s. One thing that stands out though is the scores of classic VW Beetles. Everywhere I go I see them parked up on the main road, in alleyways, in driveways, being driven erratically or lovingly and in dire need of a wash. Some have punctured tires, numerous scrapes and bumps or badly rusted where the paint has peeled off, further adding to it’s charm. I see a multitude of colours from bright yellow, sun yellow, maroon, silver, blue, white, turquoise and dusty black.

I’m now officially obsessed about this classic curvaceous car.

Spring in full bloom

Spring is a time when Egypt is totally transformed from an area of brown dust to a burst of colours. Dirty streets are lined with exotic trees, their branches flowing with blossom-pink, red, purple, green, orange, yellow, all competing with each other. They are the makeup added to a dull canvas.

The spring breeze gently blows away the layers of dust and grime that colonised all stationary objects during the winter months. The luminous colour of a retro Volkswagon beetle basks in the sun, oozing sex appeal. An idle dog sleeps under the shade of a car, half stirring when a small family of four stroll past. Two friends sit on worn plastic chairs deep in conversation about the upcoming elections due in May. As the day moves on, one friend decides to make tea in the tiny faded hut, its roof made from sticks intertwined to form a giant sombrero. A cart burdened with woven baskets sits vacant under the shade of a tree, its deep basket used as a bed by a jaded street cat.

Slowly though as the season comes to an end, so to do the flowers. The intense colours are steadily fading, the edges shrivelling and turning brown. The bottom of a tree is covered in a carpet of pink, momentarily disturbed as a speeding car cruises past. Soon the trees will be naked, only green leaves to cover the bare branches. Soon the dust will settle once again, and soon the streets will go back to the dull tinge of brown.

Travel

“Live in this world as (if you are) a wayfarer or a stranger”
(Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him)

The American boy, now a young man in his early 20’s, at the prime of his life, decides to embark on a journey, to travel across the world. He has never stepped foot outside his home town, and the prospect of leaving his state is daunting for him. He didn’t own a passport until two weeks ago when it arrived through the post, freshly printed and the crisp pages still possessing the lingering smell of wet ink. It was to him, the smell of hope and excitement, of unfamiliar places he had yet to discover. The pages blank, ready for him to fill with his adventures and life changing experiences.

A young female, recently graduated wearily lies down on her bed, her flowery bedspread engulfing her petite frame. She craves for some independence in her life, and hoped she would achieve this at university, but living at home meant she didn’t quite gain the experience she had dreamed of. Unlike her friends, she didn’t know how it felt to cook for one, how to read the mundane bills that came through the door and how to solve real problems. Her parents did all that for her. A graduate, she felt she would be prepared for the real world, but she suddenly realised that she wasn’t. She had not even travelled far beyond her campus walls. How could she be independent if she hadn’t been introduced to the world, the one outside her front door?

A recently divorced father of three sits dejected in his compact one bedroom flat situated on a dismal road in East London. His family meant everything to him, but now that he had lost custody of them, he was numb. What were his interests apart from playing hide and seek and pulling funny faces which made his children laugh uncontrollably?

He had never travelled before, preferring Butlins or day trips to Margate to entertain the children. All throughout the holiday he would lie on a lounger and try to get a tan from the sun that was quickly disappearing behind a dirty cloud. Now he yearned for real interests, his own interests. He longed to climb the highest mountain and go scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef. To mingle with shoppers in an over crowded market in Delhi and to seek solitude in a Buddhist temple on the hills of Nepal. As he let his mind wander over his dreams, outside the sky had slowly blackened.  The heavy clouds suddenly burst, releasing their burden and bringing fresh rain down onto the empty streets.

We travel to broaden our horizons and our minds as we are introduced to many different lands, cultures, food and way of thinking. We might get ripped off by the pushy taxi driver at the airport and charged too much for a hotel room with two single beds pushed together in the pretence of being a double, but that’s what travelling is all about. You make these silly mistakes, all in the hope that it’ll help you to grow as a person. Most of the times though you come back with lighter pockets, a lost passport and a journal full of amusing stories.

To view pictures of my travels click here or visit the ‘photography’ page at the top of the blog

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Mark Twain

Anniversary

Today is my two year anniversary of living in Cairo, and I must say that it’s gone by quickly. I can still remember arriving at the start of the hot weather and being suffocated by a blast of warm air as I exited the airport. Also there to welcome me was a mob of taxi touts refusing to believe I already had a ride. They’d loiter on to me like flies on crap, and only moved away when I gave them ‘the eye’. ‘The eye’ is a certain look that displays displeasure and tells those who dare, not to mess with you. To achieve this you need to show no emotion on your face and instead stare directly at the person’s eyes. Staring intimidates people, causing them to back off. Of course there are some persistant people who won’t be affected by this, so you use the ignoring technique-play deaf and pretend they don’t exist.

I was put in the deep end when I first arrived in our neighborhood. An all Egyptian area, I was glued to the window of the taxi as we passed through bustling markets, lively ahwas (cafes) full of nonchalant men gazing at a battered television set whilst leisurely smoking on a shisha pipe, bare footed children playing amongst an abandon car and piles of rubbish lining the street corners. Even the sounds emulating into the house from the streets below all seemed unfamiliar. The animated voices of children playing football on the dusty streets, the morning chatter of neighbours from their balconies and the habitual daily visit of the street seller, his voice momentarily overshadowing the din.

It took me a few months to assimilate to my new life, but now every time I visit the UK I find the life there so strange. There’s no children playing on the streets, nor rubbish discarded at the end of the road. Drivers indicate when changing lanes and traffic actually seems to be following some sort of order. But I would always feel homesick and longing to be back into the hot and suffocating bosom of Cairo.

So to celebrate my anniversary, here’s some highlights over the past two years:

  • Asking someone where the toilet is in Arabic and instead asking them where the donkey is
  • Having to hold on to the broken door of a moving microbus to stop it from falling apart, until the driver stopped and pieced it together again
  • Our neighbours always sending plates of fish, sticky rice and falafel stuffed in bread. I thought it was a nice gesture until I realised they did it out of sympathy because they thought I couldn’t cook
  • The deafening music played every weekend from the wedding marquee behind our house, until 1am
  • The warmth and generosity we received during the revolution with food, security advice and invites upstairs for hot tea and sticky baklava
  • Having some of my pictures of the revolution displayed in a photo exhibition in AUC, titled Tahrir
  • Living in a city full of thousands of years of history, art and culture
  • Being chatted up by an eager taxi driver looking for a second wife
  • The ubiquitous brightly coloured lamps appearing in front of every building and street, indicating the start of ramadan
  • The excitement in the lead up to ramadan, with people stocking up on food and attending special events. The local youth club was always full of boys playing football until 1am and children sitting on the wall outside my window singing the shisha song all throughout the night
  • The sound of the caller during ramadan, waking the neighbourhood up for pre dawn breakfast.
  • Having the opportunity to visit Palestine, Siwa and Ain Sokhna
  • Meeting great people who have passed through Cairo, some settling down, others who have now moved on
Happy anniversary to my comrade Cairo. May we have many more enlightening and amusing years to come.

Bulk buying at Costco

I came upon this amusing blog post by Allena Dillon on her blog and was transported back to last summer when I had a peak in my mums store cupboard. Stacked up in uniform order was colossal jars of Rowse Manuka Honey, epic sized bottles of Nandos extra hot chili sauce and a mountain of quilted toilet paper. Was she preparing for the next nuclear war or the apocalypse? No, she had just been to Costco.

Costco is an American brand of warehouse selling anything from dietary supplements, security cameras and holidays to buying your very own funeral casket available in a variety of mournful colours. Bulk buying is their moto. Don’t bother going there if you’re single, a couple sans children or a die hard minimalist. Costco only attracts and encourages swarms of families with a football team of children to clothe and feed and the fanatical hoarder.

I wonder what the rate of hoarding is since Costco opened up. I assume it to have more than doubled and judging by the scene in the store cupboard that day, the disease has already permeated my family.

*After posting this entry, my sister emailed to inform me that they were actually in Costco getting their eyes checked at the optician. As I mentioned before, they are obsessed by the monstrosity that is Costco. Her emailed only proved my point.

Bake me a pie as fast as you can

Today started like any other day. Get up, shower, breakfast, carry out the house chores and then take a well-earned rest by lounging on the sofa with a good book. Of course after the book I needed to prepare dinner. That’s where the problem kicks in. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time trying to figure out what to cook every day. I used to be disorganised. An hour before Mr S is due home I would lazily open the fridge door and see what ingredients I had. The shelves would generally appear bare, with the odd rotten onion and a bruised courgette.

Miserably placing the ingredients on the kitchen counter I would hunt the internet for recipes according to what I had. Of course this was bound to be a disaster, as no one wants to eat a tasteless dish of saute onions and courgette. Something had to be done, and fast. So I got wise. I mobilised, I planned, and I executed. I devised a daily menu for the week which I jotted down on a white board, mainly as a reminder for myself and a look at exciting things to come for Mr S (okay lentil curry and rice is hardly thrilling, but it’s easy to make).

No one wants to spend a long time planning a menu, we all lead busy lives right? But trust me, writing one will save you a lot of time, money and excessive trips to the shops. As I had written down all the ingredients, I no longer had to waste my time idling in the isles whilst I tried to remember what I needed. Or worse yet, return home and remember that I had forgotten something.

Today I was craving something typically British and my mouth was salivating when I thought of cheese and onion pie. Good old cheese and onion pie. Whenever I went shopping in my local town centre, I would always stop by the bakers Greggs for a pasty. I have fond memories of biting into the hot center whilst cheese oozed out and the pastry would flake, leaving a mountain of crumbs all over my chin. But now I live in Cairo, and not in the position to saunter into my local Greggs. If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad will go to the mountain.

So mopping the drool away from my keyboard I typed the words “cheese and onion pie recipes” and hit the enter button. Over 16,400,000 results turned up, and all for a humble cheese pie. After reading through various recipes and different versions (some which contained parsley?) I came across a blog by the hungrymanc. He describes his preferences as “I like to cook, I like to eat, I like to read and talk about food.” Being a Manc myself, and at that point a very hungry one, I took this as some sign from God himself telling me to read on. The hungrymanc recommends various recipes, and one that directed me there was a recipe by Geordie duo the Hairy Bikers.

When shopping, I had to wait a ridiculous amount of time at the supermarket cheese counter whilst the lady in front of me ordered everything in sight, only to find that they had no mature cheddar. So I had to settle with a mixture of gouda and Egyptian rumi. I only hoped the pie would turn out fine.

Ingredients

  • Frozen ready-made puff pastry (1)
  • 50ml/2oz whole milk (2)
  • 150g mature cheddar cheese grated (3). I wasn’t able to get hold of cheddar so I used a mixture of Gouda and Egyptian Rumi cheese
  • 1 tbsp plain flour (4)
  • 2 onions, finely sliced (5)
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and cut into cubes (6)
  • ½ tsp English mustard (7) 
  • Salt and pepper (8)
  • 50ml/2oz double cream
  • 1 egg beaten for glazing the pie
Pastry
Usually I like to make my own short crust pastry, but today I cheated and bought ready-made puff pastry. To make your own and for detailed instructions of the pie recipe follow this link.

The dish turned out tasty and was wolfed down served with a salad, and my favourite food-Heinz Baked Beans. I was surprised at how easy it was to follow this recipe. No elaborate ingredients from a Gordon Ramsey dish, no experimental cooking Heston Blumenthal style. Just plain and simple. Rather like the dish itself.

Hazem Abu Ismail

Face cut out of Hazem found in Tahrir, and now residing in my home

The Writers’ Centre

A few days ago I went to the opening of the Writers’ Centre in the heart of Islamic Cairo. The centre has been set up by Linda Cleary, who describes herself as:

 “..a poet – writer – performer, originally from UK with a theatre background and Diploma in LAMDA Speech and Drama. As well as her own work as a writer, actor and performer she has been delivering workshops in creative writing, theatre and related arts for many years; working in Holland, Czech Republic, Australia, UK and Egypt..”

There has always been an art scene in Cairo, but ever since the revolution it has exploded. Walls are liberally covered in revolutionary graffiti, expressing distaste for the military and political parties. Demands are noted and murals are executed onto the blank canvas of a wall, paying homage to those who have passed away. Even the downtown Townhouse Gallery, which was established in 2000 caught on to this. They held an exhibition last year titled “This Is Not Graffiti”, inviting local artists to experiment with their work, bringing the conventional public art into a private space.

Writing and poetry are another form of art and one that the Writers Centre has been established to support. It is unexpectedly situated on the roof of the Arabian Hotel, five minutes from the hectic market of Khan Al-Khalili. You have to wade through hordes of sellers, tackle the treacherous traffic and turn a blind eye to the grubby streets in order to reach there. The hotel sign is enormous, brightly lit up in red, a beacon penetrating the grime. It’s hard to miss.

Climb up the three flights of stairs (mind the wobbly banister) and walk through the door into the alfresco centre. The opening was already in full swing, with individuals narrating their poems or stories. Long benches were lined up against the walls and a colourful cloth helped separate another seating area. Covering half the roof was a canopy made from wood, offering shade during the day. I quickly grabbed a seat and immediately became engrossed in the readings. I experienced a fusion of emotions, at times reflecting on the words and other times laughing out loud.

One poem was about a paper bag and the need to break free from the constraints of it. Only when it rains is the person able to break free and breathe again. A humorous story by a British ex tour guide recounts his experience of leading a group in Luxor all by donkey. He opened his story with the words of an Egyptian donkey handler, who informed him the donkey he will be riding is called Bob Marley. The story weaves a comical narration of dialogue and incidents, most notably when the animal gets too amorous.

A white and orange striped cat (that resembled a skinnier version of my own portly house cat) leisurely roamed around, causing some distraction to recitals. She weaved in and out of our legs seeming to frantically forage for something (most likely food). At the end I found her blissfully curled up on someones lap, savouring the attention she was searching for.

There was mesmorising music by a violin player, and a clarinet band. Interesting enough, one of the songs played by the clarinet band was called Gollywog’s Cakewalk, by the French composer Charles Debussy. Much to the delight of attendees, there was entertainment provided by the local Egyptian Tannoura group. Three traditionally dressed men played instruments while a young teenager, clothed in a voluminous coloured skirt, twirled to the beat. It was impressive watching him keep his pose and at the same time perform some amazing stunts with the skirt.

Linda has worked really hard in opening the centre and although it is far from complete (book shelves are needed and books), it looks great and you can tell a lot of devotion has gone into it. Attending the event inspired me to write more and I’m hoping that being amidst the books and inspirational minds, it will propel me forward. Hopefully the centre will help you to.

The Writers’ Centre
Roof of the Arabian Hotel
10 Al Aaded Street (Off Al Mansouria Street)
El Darassa
Old Cairo

Opening hours: Daily, 12:30pm to 10:30pm

Facilities: Wi-Fi access, bathroom and parking by the hotel

Another taxi conversation

“I want to marry a Pakistani girl,” the taxi driver said whilst half turning to see my reaction. I squirmed uncomfortably in my seat trying to ignore the comment. Suddenly I became aware of how hot the inside of the taxi was. It was 6:30pm and the sun was quickly setting with the call to prayer bellowing from the mosque speakers. We had been stuck in traffic for a while now, and although I had shut my window to keep the smog out, I now desperately wound down the glass. The warm dirty air swept into the taxi, cooling my face.

I thought to myself how predictable these conversations have now become. Someone asks you where you’re from and you reply with Pakistan, or if you’re feeling playful that day you might say India. The responses are usually one of three, or if you’re unlucky all of the below:

1) “Aaaahhhhh sharuk khan, Amita Bachan!”

2) “They worship many gods, sah? (right)”

3) “Osama Bin Laden…”

While I was busy deep in thought, the driver again repeated his wish, just incase I had missed it. I looked up and noticed for the first time since I had got in the taxi, that he had a tuft of curly hair forming just below his ears. He was in his early 40’s and had the look of a man attempting to pursue his mid-life crisis.

He endeavoured to get a reaction by staring in the rear view mirror and smiling. I tried to avoid eye contact, and after racking my brain, for what seemed like an extensive amount of time, I managed to come out with a response “Go to Pakistan and find one”. A huge smile formed on his lips and he laughed to himself, “You’re going Pakistan? When?”. There seemed to be a language communication problem, and in that moment I wished I hadn’t been so sluggish when it came to revising my Arabic.

“No, I’m not going Pakistan, you go to Pakistan and find one”, I said through gritted teeth. A nervous laughter resonated from his mouth, trying to hide the dent in his ego. The car turned silent and after thumbing through my notebook, I stared out the window wanting to find some other form of distraction. The roads around Khan Al-Khalili were abuzz with street sellers, peddling cheap “made in China” tat, most notably a toy cat with flashing green eyes. The empty tourist shops looked strangely enticing with pyramid paper weights, papyrus scrolls and belly dancing costumes for the more adventurous.

My attention was rudely distracted by the driver of the run-down car next to us who had the face of a pressure cooker on the brink of bursting. He clenched the steering wheel till his knuckles grew pale and ground his teeth like a mad man in an attempt to control the situation. The undercutting of one car abruptly released the trapped steam and he exploded releasing a tirade of abuse.

Thankfully, it was time for me to get out as the taxi pulled in beside the lively entrance of the market. I handed the driver the fare as he looked up at me, his hopeful eyes searching for any change of heart on my part. I turned around, and no longer in his view quickly disappeared amongst the crowd.

*Read Taxi, A wonderfully narrated book by The Egyptian writer Khaled Al Khamissi on his experiences of numerous taxi journeys

Final day-Lake Siwa

After all the excitement of yesterday I had a well deserved lie-in before stirring at 9am. We ordered breakfast and ate on our veranda overlooking the garden surrounded by palm trees. The faint sound of a rooster could be heard somewhere in the near distance, and the sweet chirping of birds rang loud. The sound of nature was graceful and some how unfamiliar to my ears that were attuned to the hubbub of the city.

Today we wanted to visit Lake Siwa and the small secluded Fatnas Spring for a dip before we travelled back to Cairo later that evening. We hopped on our ramshackle bikes and cycled the lengthy 6km. The road was easy to navigate and very quiet. After leaving behind the town centre we slowed down to a leisurely pace taking in our surroundings. Motorised rickshaws steadily passed us by reflecting the relaxed environment. At every opportunity, we would stop and ask for directions, just to make sure we were going the right way. We didn’t want to cycle for 6km and then realise that we’ve been going in totally the wrong direction!

By now we had passed no living soul for 15 minutes and it truly did feel like we had the whole oases to ourselves. Palm trees were dotted by the road side and small cement holes filled with water seemed to pop up off the beaten track. Soon the palm trees dwindled out and the landscape gave way to open land. In the distance I could make out the still reflection of water.

The vivid colours next to a derelict house grabs our attention and makes us stop to get a better look. Beside the house was a ditch that had caused the soil to turn an intense deep red, and stick to the bottom of my shoes when I ventured too close to the edge. Juicy dates were left out in the hot sun to dry, causing them to wrinkle and harden. Moving on, the perspective suddenly changed with the lake appearing on either side of the straight road. This in all its glory was Lake Siwa.

Soon the road closed in on a forest of palm trees and came to a stop besides the Fatnas Spring. With the sun now rising higher in the sky the spring looked so refreshing that I just wanted to dive in fully clothed! A hand-made sign reminded people to be careful as the water was deep and not for weak swimmers (Me!). Pass the sign and through the heavy foliage was a cafe ahead and a toilet to the left. Although the toilet looked promising from the outside, the interior was dirty and unsuitable to use. It was only good enough to quickly get changed in, which I did.


The Spring has a few steps that lead you gently into the water. I stayed besides these steps, and only when I mustered up the courage to swim across did I manage to leave it’s safety. At this time the place was deserted and we had the place to ourselves. Although the spring was hot, it still felt cooling to feel the water against my body.

After a good swim we walked through the thick canopy and to a cafe that overlooked the lake. During the summer when the sun is fierce, the water dries up leaving only salty terrain. Now though as the season was Spring, the lake was full. The water was intensely still and tiny fish swam by careful to not disturb the tranquility.

A palm tree had toppled over into the water creating a perfect spot to sit and admire the lake close up. I can honestly say that I did not want to leave that place. And as I sat on a mat in the shade of a tree sipping a cold mint juice, I knew I would return here one day. Soon. Please pray it will be soon.