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Students and teachers alike look forward to the longest holiday of the year, ‘summer’.

In the past summers for me meant packing my bags with all that I would need and move down to Agami, a summer resort just outside of Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea, where my parents had a beach house. There I would spend my days in shorts, t-shirt, swimsuit and flip-flops with my beach bag ready for the beach. Two to three months of swimming, tanning, reading, playing volleyball, running a summer camp for children and catching up with old friends whom I hadn’t seen since the previous summer.

Summer home in Agami- Villa Casa Blanca

Times have changed and friends have moved on. I have not been back to Bianki since 2007. I miss the times, I had there during my teenage years. It is there where I made some of my most memorable memories and met some very interesting people and dear friends.  To date, my summers are split between Alexandria and going abroad to various destinations to get away from the stress that the post revolution has left and the political roller coaster of electorial disappointments we have had to take part in, witness and accept the results of.

The beginning portion of my summer for the past two years has been spent in Alexandria with my parents. My mother and I have been motivating one another to get back in shape and eat healthy. (This as some of you may know has been an ongoing process for me. After  1.5 years of battling the bulge, I am 13Kg away from my target weight!) I would spend an hour working out at home, doing various crunches and sit-ups as well as using an elliptical bike and 3 hours of the day would be spent swimming laps and using various apparatus to help strengthen and tone my arms and legs. For a few weeks, I or we would go abroad.

To go abroad for me is a chance to recharge, re-evaluate, relax and look at things from a different perspective (the change in scenery and climate is also an added bonus). This year my mother and I ventured to London to visit briefly with my sister and to Ireland to attend a family wedding and strengthen family connection with our cousins, whom we had lost contact with over the past few years.

I am fascinated with our family genealogy, especially on the Irish side. I have found that not only do I look Irish, I have a lot of the Irish family traits in me and from listening to stories, I find I learn more and more about myself and why some of the members of our family are the way that they are.

As a young girl London never appealed to me, I had formed an image of it being a dark, grey and gloomy place, much like the Industrial time in England. My opinion changed quickly when I first visited 3 years ago. I look forward to my visits there now, not solely due to it’s undeniable allure but because I actually feel normal there. I don’t worry about what I’m wearing and if I’ll be harassed as I walk down the street or how long it will take me to get to my destination. When I am there the stress of constantly having to be aware of the people around me and looking for signs of possible sexual harassers trying to invade my personal space drops from 100 to 1.

Time spent with my sister, her husband and other members of our family are precious and they always take priority. I try to spend as much time with them as I can, to keep our family bond strong and because I simply love being in their company. There is never a dull moment when we congregate! On extended visits I like to walk around and take in the sights, museums, shows, take pictures and of course shop! (One has to make a contribution to the economy of the country one happens to visit, no?)

It was also exciting to have been there pre-Olympic ceremony. To see the city decorated with flags of the different nations taking part in the games. The excitment and pride of the nationals to host the games. My mum and I missed the ceremony but watched many of the highlights and events once we had made it back to our hotel room and back to Egypt after our trip. The athletes are phenominal in their dedication and inspring!

Family time or giving new meaning to the term, ‘swimming with the fishes’

I have always been very proud and patriotic of my Irish heritage. When I visit I can’t help but be in awe of her beauty. Her beauty, in my opinion becomes more enhanced by her people, who have such a cheerful, friendly, helpful and funny disposition about them. I can’t help but find so many similarities in them and the ‘old’ Egyptian culture that I grew up knowing, ( it saddens me to think that what remains of the ‘old’ Egypt, might soon be lost, if things are not sorted out soon).

During this trip to Ireland, I made sure that I would not be rushing through like a forest fire, but I would actually have time to walk the streets, visit historical landmarks, eat in pubs, shop and talk with the locals, as well as visit with family.

I can not tell you how much I enjoyed touring the capital, learning about how Ireland earned its Independence, driving through the grounds of Phoenix Park, visiting Trinity College and sitting in its grand library of ancient manuscripts and books that were written and read by some of the greatest minds on earth and where some members of my family attended. Although my connection to the country itself isn’t strong, I think this journey has definitely strengthened it.

                                                       
                        The scene from the brige where my cousin wed his bride. Tintern Abbey-Rosslare

My cousin whom I had only reconnected with over the last three years and hadn’t seen in twenty, invited my family and I to attend his wedding. The place in which the nuptials took place and the ceremony itself was unlike any wedding that I have ever been to or seen before. It was a Humanist Wedding/Ceremony, filled with spirituality, tradition and love. It was held on a bridge on a beautiful summer’s day with beautiful landscape encompassing the couple and their families and friends. Nothing could have made it more magical, meaningful or beautiful in my opinion.  The two-day event was packed with entertainment, food and great times. Most importantly it was shared with people who truly cared for the couple and genuinely wished them nothing but happiness in their future life together. It was at this event, where I made new connections and bonds with members of our family whom I had lost contact with and those I had never met before. (Now, I know where I get my energy, drive, motivation to succeed, love of learning, sense of humor and love of partying from, The McSorley Clan)

The third part of our trip was spent visiting the area of where my grandmother and generations before her had come from. In some strange way, Wexford, a small county by the sea reminded me of Alexandria. It is here where my mother attended boarding school as a young girl and where she spent many summers with her aunt, uncle and cousins at a nearby resort called Rosslare. As I walked the quay and breathed in the fresh Irish sea air and took in the scenic views, I couldn’t help but be grateful for the opportunity to have traveled to the land of my ancestors, to see where half of me is from and to be able to pass down the stories that have been told to me by my aunt, mother and cousins, so, that our history isn’t lost or forgotten.

In Wexford we strengthened existing ties with family we are in touch with. It was also a second opportunity for my mother to spend time her aged aunt of 97 years and to thank her for all the wonderful summers she had spent with them as a child and all the other things she and her late husband did for her growing up. (Moments like that should be seised, because they may never come again).

There is so much more for me to see and learn of Ireland but I have an itching desire to learn as much as I can about my family as I can. I hope to be able to go back there again soon in the near future.

Upon returning to Egypt I couldn’t help but feel depressed. Ireland might be in dire straits economically but the people have the drive to rebuild the country to get it back on its feet again. Egypt, a nation of great potential and historical as well as cultural wealth seems to be sinking before our eyes and very few seem willing to get their hands dirty. I have said it before and I will say it again. I fear for Egypt’s future and her children. I pray that I am wrong and that she will not suffer in the hands of men like Rasputin. Perhaps the Egyptian Olympians who preformed so well at the London 2012 games, might inspire their country men and women that hard work does pay off and that they can not only achieve great things but be recognised for them in the long run, if they pull together and move forward in rebuilding the country rather than pointing the finger of blame.

London Riots 2011 (http://jafarianews.com/en/?attachment_id=10725)

On Sunday I vaguely remember hearing something on the news about riots in London, but I didn’t pay much attention until the following day. On Monday there were more reports on the vandalism that took place the previous night and that a building had been set ablaze. The scenes struck an all too familiar nerve and brought back the raw memories of the looting that took place after the 13,000 or so convicts had escaped from prisons across Egypt. I stayed up Monday night watching the news, with my blackberry in hand following the instant tweets that were appearing on my mini-feed. What made the horror of what was happening in London frustrating for me is that my sister, who is newly married just moved there to be with her husband and they live a stone’s throw away from Clapham Junction.  For a moment I thought history was going to repeat itself, when my parents and sister were in Alexandria and the governor’s office building across the street from my parents house, was looted and then torched. While I was in Cairo and could only contact them via  the land line phone. I felt helpless as I heard their coughs and dismay on the receiving end. I prayed that she would not have to witness the same fate twice. The un-necessary destruction that those hooligans have been causing, isn’t helping their situation, their families or the economy in any way. It’s making it much worse. If the reason for their acts is because they are angry at the government for taking away University (in the sense they now have to pay for it) and that there are no jobs, how does destroying your own neighbourhood and local shops prove your point or help the circumstances? How does setting a store on fire, where residence live above it make it O.K?

If they are going to say that they are discriminated against because of their ethnicity, then they are fueling people’s views. If they are going to say it’s because they live in poverty, then they need a reality check. If they want to see REAL poverty, they need to be brought to Egypt, to the City of the Dead, where people live in tombs and cemeteries, where there is no electricity or running water because the government doesn’t subsidise or provide them with housing! (http://www.todayszaman.com/news-200122-living-people-in-cairos-city-of-the-dead.html) Perhaps ‘Hayat Zabaleen, where people live in a sea of Cairo’s garbage?!  If not Egypt, then perhaps to drought and famine stricken Somalia where thousands, upon thousands of children would give their left eye for the benefits that they have, instead of wasting away and dying. If they compare their standard of living to those who really live in poverty, they will find they have a lot to be grateful for and by comparison live like kings!

Egypt's city of the dead- National Georgraphic photo

 

Many are comparing the riots to the revolution in Egypt. These are two very different incidence, Egypt had been oppressed for decades and the people were denied the right to voice their opinions, basic human needs/rights and the poor were getting poorer. The teenage punks terrorising London don’t have a political agenda, their agenda os selfish. The public service men and women are not standing by letting things get out of control they are trying to fight crime, but they are out numbered. The rioters are not armed dangerous convicts who escaped from prison who are walking around with swords, spears, machetes, hand guns, rifles or automatic weapons, these are kids. The only thing these two incidents have in common are the crimes that have been caused, violence against other civilians and terrorising people and making them fear for their safety.

Cryodon London-Donna Newberry

looting looks the same no matter where you are

I do hope that the Police and Scotland Yard can get matters under control, if they are unable to then I hope the army is brought it to round them up. If the army isn’t dispatched then, there are only two other alternatives in my opinion; 1- The people of London, do as the Egyptians did and take to the streets to defend and protect their businesses, property and homes. I’m 75% sure that the little terrors will be too chicken to face a mass confrontation of neighbourhood watch people armed with frying pans and rolling pins! (I’m not poking fun, I’m serious). The Turks, Kurds and Asian immigrants took to the streets to defend their businesses last night. If more people do that, there is a chance this will be resolved sooner, rather than later. 2- If confrontation isn’t something you think you can do, then make sure you’re well stocked for the long haul and that you have enough provisions to keep you for a few days, have your homes securely locked and pray that no one gets hurt.

I sympathies and understand the overflow of emotions that the Londoners and other  districts of England are feeling and experiencing. I hope all of those from the UK who happen to be reading this remain un-harmed and stay safe. I pray that the madness ends soon.

When it does end I hope those responsible are held accountable and have the book thrown at them and receive just punishment for the crimes they have committed.

I went to London for the first time in my life! I know…it’s taken 32 years, but I got there eventually. It wasn’t what I had expected. I had such a gloomy image of London in my mind, where the food was bland and lacked taste! I have to say that it definitely exceeded my expectations!

I had hoped to be able to go sight-seeing with my Mum, but unfortunately she wasn’t well enough to walk around the city. So, I didn’t waste any time! Armed with my cap, camera and map I made mental routes in my head to get to the places that I wanted to go and visit.

The first thing on my agenda was to go to a park and enjoy the foliage and open space.
To walk around and enjoy nature and not have to constantly be on high alert expecting to be harassed or followed by men was such a treat. Unless you have lived in Egypt or the Middle East,you will not understand how liberating it was to be able to sit in a park and listen to the birds chirping away to one another, ducks and swans swimming in a lake, children running around, pet owners taking their dogs out for a walk in the park and being able to hear your own thoughts!! Another bonus to the park was people minding their own business, no one watching you, people spoke in low voices AND they threw their rubbish away! What made the experience even better was that the weather was perfect, it wasn’t too hot or too cold and hardly any rain at all! BLISS!

I made sure that every route I took went through the park, so that I could satisfy my craving before I had to come back to Egypt.
People in Europe and the West have NO idea how lucky they are to have parks that are well maintained and respected by their locals. I wish the few that we have were as well looked after.

Another desire that had to be satisfied was going to Art Galleries and Museums! I was so starved for culture that I went to three museums  in one day! I walked through Kensington Gardens, to Albert Hall and continued on towards the Science Museum. As I walked from one exhibit to another I was over come with a wave of mixed emotions. I was so excited to be there and to learn as I intently read the signs and listened to the explanations but I couldn’t help but feel very deprived. I would give anything to be able to take my students in Cairo to a museum like that. They would benefit so much from them. Getting information from a text-book is great but when you are in a place where what you are learning about is in 3D and visible to you, it can make a HUGE difference. Another benefit is for the students is to be able to experience and take part in the experiments that they have there.
From there I went to the Natural History Museum and I have to admit that I was BLOWN away!!! It was fantastic!! I am pretty sure that I went to every single exhibit that they had! I loved everything about that place! It’s a great place to take children to learn about Volcanic Eruptions and different species of animals. Once I had felt that I had seen everything that I wanted to see, I went across the street to the Victoria and Albert museum. By this time I was pretty tired, I had done a lot of walking, stair climbing, reading and picture-taking but I trudged onwards!

The Victoria and Albert Museum wasn’t what I had expected it to be. I thought it would be about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert but it wasn’t. It was more of an Art museum, which suited me fine, but there was SO MUCH to see!!
I wasn’t too excited at first but once I went from one room to another and saw the sculptures, paintings, furniture, traditional costumes from around the world, I was hooked and needed to see more!
I have to admit that I was exhausted and I toyed with the idea of walking to Buckingham Palace from there but I didn’t have enough steam to make it there. I hadn’t eaten or drank anything since 9am that morning and I was exhausted but I decided to go and see Harrods. I wanted to see what the fuss was about.

Well…, I wasn’t very impressed to tell you the truth. I live in North Africa and I have lived in the Middle East and when I walked in to the renowned building I felt nauseous. It was SWARMING with overly doused cologne smelling ARABS!!!!  It was as though the place was infested with them! It didn’t matter what floor you were one, they were everywhere! I didn’t spend very long there as you might have guessed. Don’t misunderstand me, I have nothing against the Arabs, I just can’t deal with too many of them in a confined space smelling of Gucci, Aramani, Hilfiger and other scents at the same time! It turns my stomach! . From there I walked my weary feet back to the Hotel and spent the rest of the night downloading my 400 something photo’s on to my memory stick and showing my Mom the adventure I had been on that day.

While I was in London I had hoped that HRH Queen Elizabeth II would have at least asked me over for tea, but she mustn’t have gotten the message that I was in town, so I decided to walk over to Buckingham Palace and pay her a visit. Well, apparently a few hundred other people had the same idea, because I couldn’t get close enough to the gate! I had gotten there half way through the changing of the guard ceremony! I think her Majesty must have only just seen Mama Mia, because the band only played ABBA!

My colleague and friend Nora, (aka Falafel and Chips) was able to find me amidst the crowd. We used our Giraffe technique to take pictures of the changing of the guard, (standing on the tips of your toes, reaching ours arms high above our heads and aiming in the direction the music was coming from). Once the crowd dispersed we made our way to Westminster Abby and Big Ben. We didn’t linger there for long. We decided to take the tube and make our way to the Tower of London. (I had never been on the tube before either!)

* If you are going to go to London, YOU WILL NEED an Oyster card. It’s a prepaid pass that you can purchase at the tube station. I recommend you get it for all the zones! It saves standing in line to buy a ticket and when you’re almost out of credit, you just top it up with more money!

I had been watching the show the Tudors here in Egypt before going on Holiday and had previously taught some ‘English’ history so I wanted to go to a place that I had heard so much about. I have to admit that the entrance fee is worth EVERY penny!! I thoroughly enjoyed going around with one of the Beef Eaters and learning about some of the most famous events that took place there! It was fascinating to learn what went on in one place! So Much History!! We spent the entire afternoon there walking in and out of buildings, up and down winding stair cases and going from one exhibit to another!
I really enjoyed having Nora there.

I didn’t go to a single night club while I was there. The thought just didn’t appeal to me and who was I going to go with? All of the people I know who live in London, were either away or far to busy to meet up with me! So, I just kept myself entertained!

My Mum had hoped that I might run in to my future husband there…but NO SUCH LUCK! I have to admit the men in the UK are aesthetically pleasing to the eye!

I hadn’t expected to do much shopping there, but I did. I did some clothes shopping but most of my luggage carried DVDs! I am a movie junkie and HMV just fueled my movie addiction! They have a great collection of films and they have AWESOME special offers! I bought DVDs from EVERY HMV store I went in to! Collectively my mother and I came back with almost 30 DVDs and 3 box sets!

I really enjoyed my 9 days in Lond and I was sad to have leave and return to Egypt. I wouldn’t mind going back to London to visit. I really enjoyed the freedom that I had there, it was very liberating. Another reason why I HAVE to go back is because there are a lot more places that I would like to go and visit. In some ways it reminded me of Montreal where there is a diversity of nationalities and languages spoken.

Believe it or not the last time I was in England was for my cousin’s wedding in 1992, which is 18 years ago! Since we last saw one another a lot has changed as you can imagine. My sister and I had grown a few more inches in height (and I in width), graduated from High School, University and have left the nest.
They have become older and wiser, started families of their own and work themselves silly.

 Our family connection is not as solid or sound as it had been a decade or so ago, but what I find comforting is that, even with all the time that has passed there is still that untouchable ‘bond’ that unites us. It’s ‘our’ Clans traits, genes, blood and wicked sense of humour!
I don’t think there is anything that could ever dilute or sever it!

I have been fortunate to travel to many different locations, spend summers on the Mediterranean, meet fascinating people and be exposed to so many things but NON of that can compare to spending time with my cousins. There’s just something about being with them that is so natural and in our family HIGHLY entertaining.
We may not get to see or keep in contact with one another as often as we would like to but deep down we know that our ties are deeply rooted and that we will always be there for one another. I supposed that’s why when I’m with them I don’t feel like I’ve been away for long. When we are together, it feels as though we have been apart only for a short time. What I do regret is missing out on being there for the birth of their children and watching and participating in their lives as they grew up. Being there in spirit isn’t the same as physically being there!

When I’m with my family, I don’t think there’s a day that passed, where we weren’t brought to tears by fits of laughter brought on by something someone said, did or memory that had been remembered. When families get together there is usually some kind of beverage flowing ;)  and there is always food!

Seeing them and spending time with their families was the highlight of my trip to England this summer.

 

After a wonderful vacation with family in the UK and sight-seeing in London, I have returned to the reality of my every day life. It was a much needed break from my routine and I feel as though my energy levels have been revitalized and I am ready to face another year of teaching, studying, self-improvement and writing but I come back wishing I was still in England and questioning what possessed me to return. 

The BMI flight to Cairo from Heathrow was fantastic. It didn’t feel like a four hour flight and getting through immigration and customs at Cairo Airport was a piece of cake and stress free. It was quick and pain-free. Usually it’s a bloody night mare! 

My mother and I made it back to Alexandria in one piece and settled in like two peas in a pod.  By this time I’m thinking…’maybe this isn’t so bad’, that was until I was sent out to do the grocery shopping because the cupboards were bare and the fridges were hollow. So, I hopped in to my car and make my way to Carrefour, park the car, enter in to the building, and walk over to the hyper market and that’s when it hits me. ‘I AM BACK!’ 

The scene before me was one of shopping chaos. It can best be described as a shopping competition to see who can get the most groceries in their trolley. Why? Well, the Islamic month of fasting, known as Ramadan will be starting in about 2 weeks time. For some unknown reason it sends everyone in Egypt in to a frenzy! If you could see the way they shop you would swear that they were going to go in to hibernation for the Fall and Winter or they were going to go underground and want to take as many provisions as they possibly can. The pasta and rice section of the supermarket was as bare as the cupboards at home. What really boggles my mind is that they know Ramadan is coming, it’s not a surprise and the supermarkets aren’t going any where why do they have to by 20 Kilos of rice and pasta in one shot? They aren’t even on offer! 

As I stand at the entrance trying to regain my senses I get a cart and enter the Ramadan shopping madness. I felt like I was in a Play Station Game going around scoring points for every item I was able to find on the shopping list. I don’t think I would have been as calm as I was if I hadn’t had my iPod to listen too. The noise level in the Hyper Marché was as bad as the sound of Cairo traffic. I took me 2 HOURS to get the shopping done!! Why? Well, at first I was still in Euro mode, waiting patiently in line and following the universal rules of shopping etiquette, but when it’s Ramadan Madness shopping you throw those rules out and go in to defense shopping. You edge your way sneakily towards the items that you are targeting and as quick as a pick pocket you put it in to your trolley before anyone else snatches it. When you wait in line to have your veg and fruit weighed or when you are paying for the groceries you block any potential line cutters with your cart or your back. 

By the time I got home I wasn’t in the best of moods because the porter/bowab/care taker of the building was nowhere to be found, (surprise, surprise) and I had to make 3 trips from where I had parked the car up to the apartment to get everything home. Without a word of a lie, I remained silent for the rest of the night and didn’t utter a word. 

I just couldn’t believe the contrast in shopping at Tesco’s to shopping at Carrefour! I don’t know why I get culture shock every time I come back. I know how things are done here, but I suppose that I get used to a simpler and polite way of dealing with people on my trips abroad that I come back hoping that things have changed here.

To avoid the Family Fued of shopping, the best time to go shopping is at 10am when the shops first open.  Actually make it a GOLDEN RULE to shop at that time all the time!

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